In reading a background paper for the American Social History Online portal, I was reacquainted with a paper by Muriel Foulonneau, Thomas Habing and Tim Cole from UIUC called "Automated Capture of Thumbnails and Thumbshots for Use by Metadata Aggregation Services." ((Foulonneau, M., Habing, T.G., Cole, T.W. (2006). Automated Capture of Thumbnails and Thumbshots for Use by Metadata Aggregation Services. D-Lib Magazine, 12(1) DOI: 10.1045/january2006-foulonneau)) This is the abstract:
The practice of including thumbnails in short record displays, increasingly common in local implementations, is being adopted by metadata aggregation service providers as well. In addition, thumbnails and Web thumbshots have begun appearing as part of Web search results. This article reports on a project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to make more comprehensible heterogeneous resources available on the UIUC CIC metadata portal by incorporating thumbnails and thumbshots of image and Webpage resources in the context of the OAI Protocol for Metadata Harvesting. In addition to thumbnails provided by partner data providers, UIUC has developed an automated process to generate thumbnails and thumbshots from the Webpages resources pointed to by the metadata records.
The paper cites dissatisfaction with results from metadata portals that consist exclusively of textual descriptions of the objects. It also cites studies that show the addition of thumbnail images to the results display improves user satisfaction. With that in mind, UIUC wrote-- a Windows application written in Visual Basic that uses Internet Explorer to find images in websites and/or take image snapshots of web pages as they have been rendered. In the UIUC context, the application is fed URLs from records harvested via OAI-PMH, although it would seem like it would be able to process any arbitrary list of URLs.
This is a useful tool to keep in mind as we think more about aggregating the metadata records into vertical (subject-specific) portals and repurpose metadata records in other ways.