Sponsoring Iconclass

Two conditions must be met for a more stable basis for Iconclass: some form of financing needs to be organized to help the Henri van de Waal Foundation carry the costs of maintenance and development. That is the aim for the Foundation for 2022 and 2023.
In the long run, however, it is just as important that a larger group of people has detailed knowledge about editing the system and programming the software that runs it. Open data and open source software are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition...
To provide a platform and a structure for that support, the Foundation is considering to set up a Consortium for the Support of Iconclass. However, before a Consortium can start fundraising initiatives or provide more systematic documentation about the editorial rules and the source code of the Browser system, several questions need to be asked and answered to ensure an open and transparant dialogue between the Foundation and the community of users.

  • Who are the institutional and the individual users of the system, and how large is the actual and the potential Iconclass user community?
  • What effort is required to sustain the Iconclass Browser, technically and editorially?
  • How much of the effort is structural, and how much is incidental?
  • What are the estimated structural and incidental costs, divided over software development, editorial maintenance, server hardware and bandwidth?
  • What will the Consortium membership entail?
  • What are the plans for (software) products to support the wider acceptance of the Iconclass classification?
The user community

The Iconclass Browser has always been available to unregistered users, so we shall first have to build an administration of this elusive user base before we can estimate its size and composition. The new version uses a system of registration for certain features, such as the sample illustrations or the feedback button to function properly. Privacy rules obviously dictate that we shall have to ask the explicit permission of those who now register, to be approached about supporting the Consortium.
For the same reason we shall also ask registered users whether they are prepared to publicly share information about the collection they are describing with Iconclass. It can help prevent unnecessary duplication of efforts if we can have some form of centralized administration of iconographic projects, but, more positively, it can be extremely useful to share insights and experiences with colleagues in similar projects.

Estimated effort

The amount of work that goes into editing the contents of Iconclass, and writing the software to run the system, can be extrapolated from our own experiences of the past two decades. Extrapolations always have a margin of error, but because in our case there was no funding, there also was no bureaucracy and hence no detailed administration. In addition the workload fluctuated, so these calculations are of necessity estimates.

  • Editorial

Maintaining the contents of the system can be subdivided into structural work and incidental work. Structural in this case means the correction of small errors and the occasional additions of better keywords or new concepts. Incidental work would be the addition of substantial groups of new concepts (as in Alchemy or Costume) or the revision of outdated terminology, as in Peoples and nationalities. A major editorial effort can also be required to accommodate new translations of the whole system. A rough estimate would be that the structural work would add up to a few days per month, once the new version of the Browser is in place. A new Browser version also brings editorial work as testing it also reveals small errors of content.
Incidental expansions of the system's content require efforts that should be measured in weeks or even months of work, usually spread out over longer periods.

In addition to the Iconclass Browser per se we are also adding a significant amount of documentation about the system and its history on the site. Compiling this is incidental and has cost a few weeks work in all. The effort of maintenance obviously depends on how much is published elsewehere. A framework should be put in place where Iconclass-related projects and publications can be registered.

  • Software

Here too, structural and incidental efforts can be distinguished. The investment in a completely new version of the Browser has already taken more than six months FTE. Once it is in place, maintenance can again be calculated in a few days per month. Several extensions are envisaged; they too will need initial investments in weeks or months FTE. Once in place, maintenance will be required, but on a more modest scale.

  • Consultation

The registration of projects involving Iconclass could be complemented with a framework for mutual support, where the members of the community can exchange experiences and ideas. If sufficient interest is expressed, online courses can be organized.

Membership costs and benefits

The size of the community, and in particular the number of institutions using of Iconclass, are determining factors in the calculations of membership contributions. Contributions would be voluntary, and they could be in cash or kind. Since the whole point is to provide a firmer basis for Iconclass, "in kind" participation in the editorial or the programming effort would also be very welcome.
Using the Iconclass Browser will continue to be free, as will be the registration.
If we cannot gather sufficient support it will simply lead to the eventual discontinuation of the Iconclass Browser and the website. It would mean that the investment many institutions have done to provide access to image content in a standardized way, will go to waste.

The price of a daily cappuccino

For all calculations - from the exact number of institutions using Iconclass to the number of daily users or the amount of editorial hours needed in the near future - we need to take a margin of uncertainty into account. Like we said above the best we can do now is to extrapolate from the experience of the past fifteen years, mixed in with what we expect from a future where scholars will take iconographic research more seriously than in recent years.
In the end this adds up to the equivalent of a daily cup of cappuccino in a reasonably priced European coffee shop, so we would ask institutional users to sponsor the Foundation with an annual contribution of 750 euro.

For individual sponsors we are contemplating a voluntary donation scheme comparable to e.g. the archive.org website.