“The better we can understand dictatorship, the better we can shape democracy.” These words by Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records Roland Jahn are highly topical nowadays. Roland Jahn turned his words into action. In 2014 his authority assigned Retresco GmbH with the semantic development of a range of document collections in its archive. The result can be surveyed since January 8th 2015 at stasi-mediathek.de. Technological core of this project is the semantic full-text search by Retresco.
What an archive! More than 111 km of files – Folder next to folder. Besides that, there are more than 1,7 million pictures as well as ten thousands hours of film footage and sound recordings. It is one of biggest archive stocks in Germany. Now parts of it are available to the general public with the help of Retresco – exactly 25 years after courageous demonstrators entered the Berlin Stasi headquarter.
A highly ambitious publishing project
At stasi-mediathek.de you can find more than 2.500 document sites, 250 single frames, six hours of sound recordings and 15 hours movies online at choice. This offer is constantly being expanded. A social relevant as well as technological highly ambitious multimedia publishing project – political educational media for young and adult citizen and historical expert information below one surface. The entry point to this web-application is the search function: Keywords entered into a search mask lead to documents and all the other content. Videos, audio-data and descriptions of pictures can also be searched via full-text. Through a timeline, contents can intuitively be found: It displays from which period documents concerning specific topics are available. The entire given search methods can be combined randomly.
Established linguistic-semantic algorithms
Specialists from Retresco use their, in countless projects established, linguistic-semantic algorithms in order to automatically assign every piece in the archive certain relevant keywords like “death sentence” or “flight from the GDR”. Entities such as persons, organisations, incidents or places play another important role. These and other semantic tags with all their synonyms and grammatical forms are part of the search index and therefore can be used to connect documents within a content management system.
Users can use these connections by following their intuition while navigating through semantically linked up data. However this enrichment can also be used for a specific search: an autocomplete function suggests the user only relevant keywords and entities dependent on the particular selection of documents. Retrescos technology dynamically calculates the suggested terms out of the remaining documents that are not filtered. “A masterly performance” states Federal Commissioner Roland Jahn spontaneously on the overall result of this project. The interactive user interface in a responsive design contributes to this overwhelming impression. Retrescos Partner and subcontractor 3pc GmbH has designed and implemented this beauty. An adaption of surface and controls at the terminal device, which are of various sizes, enables spectacular and sometimes oppressive “semantic storytelling” on all device platforms. The offer reaches from browsing and discovering on a smartphone or tablet to targeted research on a desktop pc.
Retresco-Technology fascinates client and public
Not only the client is happy – also the public sees the platform in a very positive way. Countless tweets at the first day after going public spread the link to the new website of the Stasi-Archive. From the USA came the evaluation “the coolest thing ever.” Berlin based newspaper Berliner Morgenpost thinks it is “a exiting offer for people of all ages”, mdrlNEO sees it as “a rewarding journey in time”.
For us at Retresco it was an exciting project, in which we could contribute with our leading technologies in the areas of automatic keyword tagging, in-text-linking and semantic search. Because of these technologies, accessibility to the documents as well as the user experience improved enormously. „Specific Stasi jargon was a big challenge in the beginning, which we had to overcome. And we made it. The result, from our point of view, is a very special and pleasant cooperation of technology, design and exciting content” says Retrescos project manager Wolf Winkler.