SRF Timelines – the biography tool
by Christian Vogg, Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen SRF
TIMELINES is a joyful access to the deep waters of SRF archives – available online. The user types in a date, preferably a birth date and the tool offers an almost random selection of audios and videos along your life-line. It starts with “this happened on your birthday”, and continues to “this was your childhood”, “teenie-time”, “finally adult!”, and so on, till “you are retired now” and, finally, “current developments”. As a special feature TIMELINES also offers also content “before you were born”, reaching back to the 1930ies for the oldest content available online from SRF archives.
Basically, the tool explores more than 1.3 million files which are all online on Play SRF, the Mediathek of SRF. Almost half of them are videos, spanning over 80 years of Swiss and world history. In the data pool some 500 items are marked as “milestones”. The search algorithm has a preference to find and display them prominent. But in total TIMELINES is a random view into archives, it is not a simple search engine. And this exploratory mood even comes with a sort of a drug addictive flavour.
At every single “anchor point” on the individual timeline a maximum of 5 audios and/or videos is shown. Additionally, at every hit a similarity search can be conducted, showing again 5 similar items. And so on and so forth. At the end of the timeline the user might switch over to Play SRF, the video (and audio) platform of SRF, for a specific search.
In order to narrow down the selected content there are several filters available: on content categories, on Swiss regions, on audio/video.
Of course, every timeline can be shared via WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook or via the user’s email-account. A QR-code offers the same functionality.
As a special feature TIMELINES is also available in other languages: in Romansh, and soon in French as well. An Italian version might come at a later stage. This gives the tool a real national colour in a country with four official languages.
The technical clou in the background is that for the first time archive metadata were merged with metadata from the video-audio-platform Play SRF. Only this enables the search index to have enough valuable hits for any given date back to the first half of the 20th century. Part of these “connections” between archive metadata and the corresponding video/audio were retrieved with sophisticated technical measures. And part of them were already known because of the so-called archive-opening-process. Under this regime SRF archives continuously re-publish online old linear programs – if the rights are cleared. The Swiss media law encourages SRF to do so, stating that the media company shall make all its broadcasted content available to the Swiss public.
For years this official order was followed by putting thousands and thousands of videos (and lately also audios) online. But as the search engine of Play SRF is optimized on a seven-days-catch-up routine, most of the precious archive items were never found. Therefore, TIMELINES is the solution to uncover this treasury to the public.
The application is also available for the public in the Swiss National Museum in Zurich on specially configured tablet computers.