The Institute for the Future (IFTF) is a non-profit think tank that was established in 1968. Over the past half-century IFTF has published numerous influential reports, many of which only existed in a paper format before this project.
Problem / Opportunity
After a small fire broke out at the IFTF offices, I realized there was only one copy of the physical archive, and the early history of IFTF could go up in smoke at any minute!
I took it upon myself to ensure the long-term preservation of historical documents, and improve accessibility through the creation of an archive website.
The archive holds many treasures, such as this letter from renowned futurist Alvin Toffler to Olaf Helmer, the founder of IFTF, in wihch Mr. Toffler references a conversation with Arthur C. Clarke, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential authors of Science Fiction.
The Institute for the Future was born out of work from the RAND Corporation, and the U.S. Government's Advanced Research projects Agency. The Delphi Machine was intended to predict the future. A few people thought that power should be used for the public good, and they started IFTF.
Before starting this project, I was not familiar with archival standards. I consulted with my friend Heather Yager, who at the time was an Archivist for the Computer History Museum, and I began attending workshops hosted by the California Preservation Program.
As the project continued, I would learn more from Stanford University, and an Artificial Intelligence. But first, with a better understanding of what digitizing an archive would entail I wrote a project proposal that was quickly approved.
IFTF’s more recently published reports are already digitized, but many of the older ones only exist in paper format. More specifically, there are:
• 617 reports
• Over 26,000 pages
• Totaling 25.5 linear feet
• Stored in 47 manuscript boxes
As per standard archival practices, I created a catalog of holdings, and properly labeled every report. For digitization of the archive, and long-term housing, I partnered with the Stanford Special Collections Library.
Several months after I delivered all 47 boxes of archival material to Stanford, they provided me with a single hard drive holding the entire collection. I can't help but wonder what the founders of IFTF would think, and the journey isn't over yet.
Each of the digitized pages was analyzed with optical character recognition software, making the text searchable. This goes a long way towards improving usability, but I still needed to create a high-level information architecture that would allow people to browse documents based on category.
Instead of manually reading and key-wording each document, again I reached out for help – this time to an artificial intelligence. Thanks to Quid Inc. and their AI’s algorithms, we were able to reveal patterns in the archive, and create a set of keywords, which would inform the Topic Categories and Keyword tagging on the IFTF Archive website.
With all of the digital content and an information architecture in place, it was time to develop the website.
I went with a minimalist design that would read well on mobile and desktop. Mark Burdett helped develop the website.
You can see it live at archive.iftf.org.