Published 5 November 2012 by Gero von der Stein

Discovering Treasures

By Anders Bárány & Wolfgang Huang

Mapping the rich history of scientific exchange in Lindau, the mediatheque provides countless connecting points to the major baselines and developments of contemporary science and research. A continuous extensive review and optimisation is in progress.

At the time of writing in December 2012, the mediatheque of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings contained roughly 1,500 items, and more are being added every week. These items are divided into six groups: meetings, Laureate profiles, abstracts, videos, pictures, and topic clusters. If someone would open up every document and spend just two minutes on each, it would take about one week of full-time working hours. In addition, listening to all the lectures recorded as videos or presented as slide shows with sound files would add yet another five weeks. These simple estimates identify one of the main challenges for the mediatheque: how to direct the interested visitor to special documents and topics of interest?

A first step on the way to meet this challenge has been taken during the past year: the introduction of topic clusters. The first two clusters, on cosmology and sub-atomic particles respectively, went online just before the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, and allowed in-depth preparation for participants. Consisting of short texts with links to lectures (or parts thereof) presented at the Lindau Meetings, they are complemented with so-called mini lectures. Together, they
form an introduction and a link to another 50 lectures available in the mediatheque. More topic clusters are currently under development and in production, such as “X-Ray Diffraction”, “Carbon”, “Molecules of Life” and “Life of Proteins”,  as well as “Science, Ethics and Society” and “Currency in Crisis”. One of the challenges will be to lift as many of the hidden treasures as possible and illuminate cross-links, while at the same time avoiding too much overlap.

The mediatheque aims not only at an exclusive target group of university students and researchers, but also at a broad audience.

The mediatheque aims not only at an exclusive target group of university students and researchers, but also at a broad audience. For example, a schoolteacher might want to use some of the lectures in the mediatheque for his students. Looking for interesting lectures, the teacher will very soon find that some are much too difficult for the  students. With more than 250 lectures to choose from today, the teacher might very well give up before locating suitable lectures. So another challenge for the mediatheque is to find a way of categorizing the lectures, making it easier not only for the schoolteacher, but also for the interested surfer, to find suitable ones.

The new mini lectures will become another important tool for teachers and pupils: they will combine the most interesting parts from different lectures into one educational video piece (approx. 8–12 minutes in length), enriched with didactic narration and vivid, yet precise, animations. Topic clusters and mini lectures will be designed with usage in schools as well as with modern “consumer behaviour” in mind: They provide yet another path of (easy) entry.

Cooperation with selected expert partner institutions and authors will ensure the high (didactic) quality. In the early years of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings most lectures were presented in German. This was no problem at the time, because most students and young researchers then came from Germanspeaking countries. Today, English is by far the dominant language at the meetings. In order to make the historic parts of the mediatheque available for today’s meeting participants and visitors from all around the world, many of the lectures need to be transcribed and translated. Work in this direction has already begun; the challenge is to reach the target of around 500 lectures being available in
German and English within the next two years. This will also include full transcriptions, which make scientific work, research and citations so much easier. Plus, we intend to add more languages, such as French, Spanish, Arabic or Chinese.

The current general technical environment for developing and running a rich web application with high bandwidth demand and yet rather limited resources is certainly a challenge of its own. The past few months have seen the rapid decline of technologies that have been reliable multimedia web standards for many years, especially Flash. Next up is a discontinuation of Java plugins by many browsers. The current mediatheque is based on Microsoft’s Silverlight technology, which is a proprietary framework as well, and unfortunately not fully supported on Unix and most mobile device operating systems. Our analyses show that currently 87 per cent of the mediatheque visitors may
access it without problems, leaving another 13 per cent with an unsatisfactory experience, or no access at all. The next major version of the mediatheque will offer at least partial access to these users. We also intend to develop a version  that is accessible on all operating systems and all devices, without choosing the wrong path of particularisation by designing many different short-lived apps. In summary, the challenge is to provide full access to all users without  diminishing the richness of features, and with the limited resources available.

Gero von der Stein

Gero von der Stein worked for the communications department of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings from 2013 to 2019. As head of communications, he was responsible for all public relations activities of the Council and the Foundation. Every summer during the Lindau Meetings, he is enthralled by the informal exchange between scientists from more than 80 countries.