The Universal Viewer started life in 2012 as the Wellcome Player (http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2012/11/the-player-a-new-way-of-viewing-digital-collections/), developed by Digirati for the Wellcome Library's digitisation programme alongside our development of their Digital Delivery System (http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue71/henshaw-kiley).
In a pattern repeated many times across Cultural Heritage institutions, we developed a rich multimedia player that used a custom data model and delivery format, to support the presentation of Deep Zoom images, audio, video and PDF assets, with search, bookmarking, downloads and other features.
The Player was then generously open sourced on GitHub by the Wellcome Library.
2013 and 2014 saw, for the first time, the emergence of open standards for the sharing of images and the presentation of complex digital objects in viewers: the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). The standards have been taken up by many National Libraries, Universities, Museums and other cultural heritage institutions.
In 2013 and 2014 the British Library undertook a comparative review of players and viewers in use across the sector, with the intention of replacing multiple non-interoperable existing viewers on British Library web sites, focusing initially on books and manuscripts. They chose the Wellcome Player as the basis for this, and in 2014 Digirati were asked to produce a proof of concept conversion of the Wellcome Player to IIIF.
Shortly afterwards Digirati were engaged by the British Library to produce the Universal Viewer (UV). As well as converting the Wellcome Player to IIIF, many new features were added to support British Library use cases across their collections.
Since then, the Universal Viewer has been adopted by dozens of institutions and has a growing community of contributors and adopters. Digirati have been commissioned to develop funded enhancements for the National Library of Wales, Princeton University, Stanford University as well as further development for the British Library and Wellcome. Other institutions have committed further enhancements of their own to the project.
The UV has an active Slack channel and a community call every two weeks.