You will often need to find and evaluate new tools as part of planning a digital project. In many cases, the best tool for a humanities project will not be the one that is best known generally. This can make it hard to determine which tools are most useful for your project. This is an especially common problem for evaluating digital tools, including software and hosting platforms. In addition to making sure the tool performs the basic functions you need, some factors that are especially important to consider for humanities projects are:
Cost: make sure you are not using the public pricing, as many very expensive programs have free or low-cost versions available for academic or cultural institutions. Also consider how up-front costs versus ongoing costs may change your calculations, especially if you have a project that ends up taking longer than you expect.
Available training: consider how you will learn to use the tool. Are there classes available in-person at your institution, through a training site you have access to (like Lynda), or on the website? Take a look at the classes themselves, as many tutorials available online through software websites or on youtube will be directed at users with priorities that are very different than yours. Search for digital humanities guides to using that tool, but make sure to look for one that was written within the last year or two, as programs and approaches change frequently. You may save both time and money using a more complex tool that has better training and support than using a supposedly “easy” tool.
Ownership: consider whether you want an open-source application, and whether the application uses proprietary formats that can’t be used in other programs. Proprietary applications and file formats often have more advanced features and better support for inexperienced users, but they can be limiting if you are then forced into continuing to use their format or if they stop making or supporting the application. If you use a proprietary system, make sure you know how you will export and archive your content.
Once you have begun your project, you are likely to run into problems and need external help. Start by googling your question, making sure to include the name of the program you are using in your search. The initial results may not be helpful, but if you see something similar, click on it: often there will be links to similar questions on the same page, or the question + answer descriptions may give you other terminology to use in searching. Videos are especially helpful because they will show you the steps to solve a problem, while written solutions often assume you know specialized vocabulary. Many applications also have their own reference guides, and you can browse them to find help even if you don’t know how to describe your problem.
It is common in digital humanities projects to run into a question no one has had before about a product, because humanities projects are often using applications for uses outside the initial purpose of the application. Many of the help areas that will come up in a general search also allow you to post your own questions and get help (for free!) from other users. These sites typically include information about how to post a question that will get useful answers, so make sure to read that guide first. Try:
An online forum connected with your software or its parent company. Sometimes employees of the company answer questions on these platforms along with other users.
A general support site for tech/software/coding questions or one with subforums for tech questions, like stackoverflow.com, quora.com. Search your topic or application + “forum” to find these.
Twitter, especially if you’re using an open-source application or tool. Look for hashtags related to your topic and use them in your tweet to get to people directly interested in the topic.
Librarians or data specialists at your institution. If you don’t already know who works on these topics at your institution, the librarians will know even if they’re not the ones doing it.