Browsing FactGrid with the FactGrid Viewer

FactGrid is a wonderful, free and collaborative resource that the Gotha Research Center of the University of Erfurt in Germany has made available to the international historical community through the efforts of Olaf Simons. Many potential users are unfortunately put off by its apparent complexity. It is true that an initiation is necessary to exploit all its possibilities. In the future, new tools should make it much easier to use. In the meantime, it is possible to use a certain number of tools that already exist on the platform. Here I will introduce the FactGrid Viewer tool.

A first use of FactGrid is simply to search and browse the database. This is accessible to everyone, without the need to log in. However, the user interface (technically that of Wikidata, the platform for which Wikibase was produced) is not very engaging. In fact, it looks more like an input mask than a user interface. This is why I developed the Viewer, which allows you to browse FactGrid easily and comfortably. This post is a presentation of the tool and a user guide.

Presentation of the Viewer

The Viewer is a small Javascript application (it is written in Typescript with the help of the Angular framework, then transcompiled in Javascript) of about 1MB. This means that it runs on the user’s computer. The Viewer allows users to navigate within FactGrid by displaying data as structured pages in the language of their choice. To open the application, use this blog’s menu above (where it says FactGrid Browsers), use the left-hand sidebar under the Browse category of the wikibase platform or go directly to the address https://database.factgrid.de/viewer.

Viewer homepage

The Viewer home page is very simple. From top to bottom: (1) a banner with two icons on the right (language-icon and settings icon); (2) a simple search form; (3) two links: “advanced search” and “SPARQL query”; (4) on a black background, the list of Items already consulted on the computer (with the same browser) (max. 50) with, for each, an open-in-new icon.

You can select the language in which you wish to display the data. The default language is English. To change the language, click on the language-icon and select the language of your choice. Four languages are currently available: English, German, French and Spanish. Once the language is selected, the change is implemented in the browser (if necessary after refreshing the page) and all labels, aliases and descriptions are displayed in that language; if text is missing in the selected language, the Viewer will display the text in the default language, i.e. English.

It is also possible to select a larger research area of special interest to you. By default, the search is performed on all Items in FactGrid. To limit the search to a specific theme, click on the settings-icon and select the theme of your choice. If necessary, refresh the page to implement the change in the browser.

The simple search is done with the form (where the Ex. Goethe indication is). As you type in characters, the Viewer almost instantaneously explores the 500,000 Items in FactGrid and returns those whose labels (including their aliases) begin with the characters you typed. The number of Items returned cannot exceed 50. The labels and descriptions are displayed in the selected language. To view the data for an Item, simply click on its Q-ID (in blue).

The Viewer pages are the heart of the Viewer. They enable all the data relating to the Items contained in FactGrid (label, description, aliases, statements) to be displayed in the selected language.

Layout of a page

The Viewer organises the pages to make the data more readable and consistent. The layout is adapted to the size of the screen (responsive display), so that FactGrid can be consulted comfortably on a mobile phone as well as on a large screen. See the example of the page of Johann Wofgang von Goethe.

A page on the Viewer consists of two horizontal strips and five blocks.

The two strips

On the top strip (in straw yellow), a “new search” link takes you back to the home page. On the lower strip (in black), a “linked pages” link with a chevron leads to the left-hand removable panel.

The header block and the statement block

The two main blocks, on a white background, are :

(1) The header block. It includes the label of the Item in large bold type, followed by all its aliases and description, its Q-ID (clickable to go to the Item FactGrid page) and a series of general statements. The first of these statements indicates the “Instance of” for the Item (for example: Human). This statement is mandatory. If it is missing, the Viewer displays a warning message. Other optional statements may follow, like “Subclasses of”, “FactGrid research area”, “Research projects that contributed to this data set”, etc. The labels are displayed without description.

(2) The statement block. This block contains all the statements related to the Item, except for the general statements in the header and the external links. A statement must consist of a property and an object (which can itself be a FactGrid Item). The statement block can be divided into thematic sub-blocks, the theme of which is indicated by a title in red (e.g. “Life and Family”, “Location”, “Activities”, etc.).

Statements grouped by property

The statements in a block are grouped by property, each group being separated from the next by a grey line. In a group the property label is displayed in bold blue (e.g. “Career statements”) and the object labels are displayed below in black, each on one line, followed in general by their description in grey (except in the “Life and family” thematic sub-block where the descriptions, almost always obvious, have been considered unnecessary). An open-in-new icon may be used to go to the corresponding page.

A statement may include additional information. Firstly, there are qualifiers (e.g. a date or a place). These are displayed after the main information on the object in smaller characters (the name of the qualifier, i.e. the label of the corresponding property, is in blue italics, the label of the object is in black roman and the description in grey). Then there are the references (e.g. the mention of a source), also in small print (the name of the reference, i.e. the label of the corresponding property, is in red italics, its object is in black roman and the description in grey). The statements of the same group are automatically ordered chronologically when date qualifiers exist.

The image block and the link block

The three other blocks are :

(1) The image block where illustrations relating to the Item may be displayed. This block is at the top right on a computer screen and below the main blocks on a mobile phone screen.

(2) The link block, with a yellow background, where external links and Wiki links (e.g. links to Wikidata or Wikipedia pages) are displayed. This block is on the right on a computer screen and below the main blocks on a mobile phone screen (in any case below the image block when it exists).

(3) The block of pages already consulted on the computer (with the same browser) (max. 50), on a black background, with an open-in-new icon for each one (this block is also present on the home page). This block is below the link block, on the right on a computer screen and below on a mobile phone screen. The block on the left-hand side panel, accessible by clicking on “linked pages”, contains a list of all the pages which are linked to the displayed Item, i.e. for which there is a statement (main statement or qualifier) whose object is the displayed Item. A open-in-new icon allows you to go to the Item page.

Other features

In addition, the Viewer gives systematic access to lists obtained by SPARQL queries. The list can be displayed or downloaded by a click. As an example see the list of members of the Mesmerist Society of Paris.

the Viewer displays on OpenStreetMap, the location corresponding to the geographical coordinates declared for an Item (for example a city) and the locations corresponding to the geographical coordinates declared for a set of Items obtained by a SPARQL query. For example, on the page of the Rue de la Paix in Paris, there are two maps: a map with the location of the street and a map with all the house numbers of this street in early Nineteenth century. The second map is the product of a SPARQL query.

the Viewer displays stemmas of manuscripts or published works with the EntiTree genealogies tool. See the case of the German editions of Robinson Crusoe

The FactGrid viewer also includes an advanced search and a SPARQL query service.

The advanced search is not yet operational.

The SPARQL query service in the Viewer provides a model. It must be used in the same way as the FactGrid query service, keeping the two bottom lines (introduced by BIND) in order to generate for each returned item a ?viewer link to the Viewer.

The Viewer can be improved. Feel free to comment. Any suggestions are welcome at bbelhoste@gmail.com.

See the GitHub repository.

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