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Friday, March 16, 2007

What Web2.0 Developer Networks Should Be...

I recently sent something out internally as a "look at this". Got zilch back, when I was expecting a bit more of an "Oh wow". So, I might as well try here, and explain why I saw an"Oh, wow".

My first failing on exciting interest is that this relates to gaming and PS3. WAIT. COME BACK. that's it, there, there. It's going to be ok - trust me, this is going somewhere.

There's a video here which you probably need to look at first, though this post should all make sense if you don't. The video's showing a game from the recent Sony development conference, and is cut half-way through a keynote. Just before this, the two demonstrators have been showing how those two cute guys on screen can easily plug together little 3d objects which interact using real-world physics. We join them for the last minute of this demo (that spinning thing good example of the plug-play I'm talking about) before they go off and show a world they've put together previously. They end up explaining that anyone can build like this, both objects and world, and anyone can share.

Right, watch it for a few minutes till you get bored (it's worth watching to end just for the sKateboard but your call - just want you to get the concept)...

Web2.0 is about community participation. It is about inclusion. It is about mash-ups, creating new applications from the bits 'n' pieces of other applications. I'd like to argue its not practising what it preaches.

As I'm not a developer, I'm excluded. Comprehensively excluded. I'm only allowed to join in when the development community chooses to let me in - add a review, a tag, a rating. "But I want to build my own mash-ups and applications using library-relevant web services - I've got loads of ideas", I shout. "No", says Mr Developer, "you can't. Only we're allowed to do that because we have 'special knowledge'".

The game demonstrated is the first true example where this is not the case. It is expressing the "API's" or Web Services (or, for you non-techs, the discrete functional bits which do stuff) at the highest layer, within the user interface. It passes my favourite validation criteria for technology - namely "Could my Mum do it?" Within this game, my Mum can become as good a developer as anyone else because ALL developer complexity has been hidden. She can build new objects (content, with associated function), share these (expose via API) or build new applications entirely (using existing objects/functions which come with the "platform", use the one's she's developed, or use objects/functions that are out in the cloud).

Couple of other interesting points. Firstly, the PS3 is placing this development environment in a very interesting place - the front living room - its the Web2.0 concept of moving to the point where the user is more comfortable interacting. Secondly, Sony's philosophy for the future of gaming is tagged "emergent gaming". What was an industry-scorned sound bite is shown in the video to be a truly unique concept. The players make up their own game (purpose, goals, business rules) as they play. Because it's an open sandbox, they can choose to stop and do something else fun with what's on the screen. Or, interestingly, they can add to the screen - mash-up on the fly, if you will. Think about that...not only is this a development platform which 6billion people could use, its a real-time collaborative development environment.

Now, consider Web2.0 and the whole "web as a platform". Currently, this is exclusive, and hidden behind techno-babble for the majority of the population. We talk about opening up the silo's of data, about network participation and user collaboration. Well, surely its also about opening up the functionality using the same concepts. And not just to an insular community, but to everyone. Why shouldn't I be able to build my own "OPAC" (I hate that term). Yes, me. Not my web team. Not a software house. Me. As a librarian. A true library platform is something librarians can build with, throwing function and content together not just in isolation, but in a collaborative way, all together. And our users can do the same. Not just tweak some preferences in their account settings - literally drag/drop content and function around the screen to create their own unique OPAC-like application. Or build their own content/function, and share that too.

Yeah, I'm a dreamer. But this shouldn't have to be a dream. As Web2.0 matures, I anticipate seeing this dream emerging, and we all - everyone one of us - wake up in a world where there is no such thing as a "Developer Network". There are just people, everyday people (including my Mum!), building, sharing and creating. And then we will see true innovation.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reader Development podcast finally available

It took some time (all my own fault) but the second podcast with the Young Librarians of the Future is finally available. This time we covered reader development, and what exactly "The Reader offer" means to libraries. As always, this is practitioner-centric, with lots of interesting debate and practical experiences shared. So, what you waiting for!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Masters of the Scrum!

Andy and myself have just returned from QCon (wishing we had the time to stay for the full conference). We are now both Certified Scrum Masters, a title you've just gotto love. Not only that, we were lucky enough to have Jeff Sutherland who co-founded Scrum as our tutor!

Talis adopted Scrum 8 months ago now, and I was fortunate enough to be on the first project utilising it. It's been a journey, and one that will be continuing now we both have our certification under our belts - I was shocked how much we were doing right (and how advanced we are when compared to many other attendees), but there are definitely some areas which we need to look into as part of the continual process improvement Scrum demands we commit to.

There's around 700(ish) Masters in the UK, so its a fairly elite club we're joining. It's been great to liaise with the other attendees (even better for me to be meeting people from the development community outside of Talis, an opportunity I haven't been afforded to much and something I want to continue doing). Andy/myself are keen to get more actively involved in the UK Scrum community, increasing knowledge and experience sharing, so something to start scheduling into coming "sprints" (read "months"!) as we find ways to do this.

I hope to take some time in the next week to get a videocast together for customers (and non-customers), explaining a bit more about the benefits Scrum is going to bring for them. Keep an eye on the TDN, though I'll blog about it as soon as I get it together.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"Books to your Door" - Welcome to the competitive market

About two years ago, I remember doing a series of presentations around Library2.0, some to The Combined Regions", others to Library schools, some more to our customers. To make a point on one of the Library2.0 themes, that of "bringing the service to the user", I used several examples of how Web2.0 technology concepts applied to the physical services we offered.

Example One was the coffee cart - you don't put a cafe in your library, you find out what the customer wants to drink and bring it to them where they're working. Slightly silly, but useful in explaining a point.

Example Two picked up on my own thoughts as a library user - I hadn't got time to go to the library to collect/return my books. I wanted them posted to me, with an envelope to post them back. I 'd just subscribed to a similar service for film (LoveFilm), and it was starting to look obvious that libraries needed to revisit their satisfaction models (for either local/ILL loans) before an Amazon or similar organisation stepped in to fill the breach.

Looks like it's starting...with BookSwim.

When I mentioned this second example, the responses ranged from "impossible" to "Talis and/or you don't understand libraries" to "we'd love to, but it will be a lot of effort and requires co-operation which doesn't happen overnight". I remember getting so frustrated, as it seemed to me/Talis that the whole ILL model needed to be revisited (ILL2.0, if you will) to move libraries into a competitive strongpoint so that if other commercial concerns entered our market, the would find an established, highly competitive, national satisfaction solution already in place - one that people trusted. We couldn't go on treading the same old ground with a similar service, as the world was changing.

There is the BookNow research from COPAC which emerged in 2005 - I'd be interested to find out which authorities have tried implementing/testing this. However, 2 years on, and its certainly not been offered to me at my home, so I'm assuming this is the usual 5 year turnaround for libraries as the endless politics and culture changes run there course. Its so frustrating - this is why I left libraries and moved to the private sector - I wanted to make a difference, but the red tape became something I couldn't deal with. I want to have an idea in the morning and implement it in the afternoon. Not endure 3months of meetings to get approval to move a shelf...grrrrr...

BookSwim doesn't strike me as an immediate threat to UK libraries - but it's now certainly on the way. We probably have 12 months to solve the problem and get a service out there. The clock is ticking...and we've already wasted 24 months...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Join the revolution - the "20 minute union catalogue"...

Any professional, from Head of Service to ILL Librarian to local Web Developer, MUST watch this video - it's revolutionary, and will challange many of your perceptions about what a union catalogue is. It is also the first indicator of Talis' moving from "talking the talk" to "walking the walk".

After a 10 minute intro, Rob takes 20 minutes to build a working Union database with a simple UI, offering searching and refining, which returns bibliographic records and deep-linked holdings. He then takes a few more minutes to add some faceting in, just because he can!

A brief caveat - if you're non-technical, watch the first 10 mins, and the last 2 (if rushed, just read this post which explains the value to your institution). If you're a web developer for your authority, watch the whole thing and discover how you can build your own union with 170 lines of code (I kid you not!). Then, see if you can find yourself 20mins...

Your data has been siloed for a long time now. If you wanted to build a union, it meant complex, time consuming projects and great expense. It meant meta-search and Z39.50 and working through the many external political, cultural and social barriers libraries have spent so long erecting and vendors have positively encouraged (so they can sell their latest and greatest solution to this "silo" problem). It meant slow results as 5, or 10 or 50 servers were hit (and just forget any de-duping or relevancy ranking or facets).

What Rob has shown here is that it's not complex - it's simple. It's not time-consuming - you can do it over your lunch (maybe even your coffee break!). And most importantly, it's not expensive - it's FREE.

Take 5 mins, and consider what Union you want to build. I'm going to pretend I'm back as an "in the field" librarian...

"Well, the first one I want is strategic - a "cross-sectoral union". I'm going to start in the morning with a union which has both the public library and local academic institution in it (University, Further Education, etc). Yeah, it may take a month of pointless chat to break down those logistic barriers, but it'll only take me an hour to build it and surely that will help build the foundation to start the discussion.

Next, I'm going to start considering local institutions, businesses, archives, corporates - anyone with a library who wants to "open it up a bit". And if they don't, but maybe they're prepared to do some inter-lending, then I'll build a closed union which just staff use. Cross-sectoral collaboration - you've got to love it!

In the afternoon, I'm going to create a union for my region, because it will help for regional ILL's. Just something simple - I don't know, the "North West" or "East Midlands". We can create our own branding and community (another hour...sigh...all this effort...I need a drink...)

Ahhh...thats better, sitting at home by my PC. Hmmm, well, its an hour before "Battlestar Galactica" starts - I might as well build a National Union for Scotland - I'm sure they were looking at doing that - this way, I could save them a lot of time and effort and money - it's the professional thing to do...

And so, to bed. Its been a busy day - I've formed a partnership with my local university and created a public union of both our catalogues. I got talking with some local businesses and institutions, and we set up a closed union so we can interlend to one another and share resources (and maybe expose opportunites for further collaboration in the future). Then I did that regional union - that should be a real boon for the public as well as staff, being able to easily see what books are in the collections of nearby authorities (and if they are in or not at the moment, with that deep-linking to their OPAC's). And then, before the cylons attacked, I got all altruisitc and created that National Union for Scotland."

This is something unique which other domain solutions, like Worldcat or UnityUK, just do not offer currently. This is the true openness, of both data and function, which Talis have been talking about. It's about value, sharing and collaboration, the cornerstones of librarianship. It is about you developing solutions to directly benefit your users, your institution and your partners. The Talis Platform demonstrates that your data need not be locked away in another "walled garden" with a ridiculously high entry fee. It can be re-shaped, re-used, revitalising your strategy and organisation. With a little imagination, think what you can achieve.

So, I wonder what my "in the field" librarian will do tomorrow? What will you do? In fact, more importantly, I wonder what Talis will do tomorrow...don't you?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A changing relationship between libraries and advertising?

The emerging considerations around DLC (downloadable content) is not just relevant to the library world - its pervasive across all domains. Being an avid follower of the gaming industry, there are a range of ongoing debates which parallel our own. I'd just like to pick up on one, something raised by Dave Perry (read "God" in gaming terms) in a recent Edge article. Bear with me while I summarise the scenario he debates, before looking at what this could mean to libraries:

I buy a game, which is peppered with advertising (this occurs within the game play - a "Coke" sign on the wall of a bar, for example - its similar to the whole product placement you see in movies/tv). This draws the wrath of gamers. Dave Perry has proposed introducing an option to switch this off (yay, goes Mr Gamer - when asked, 100% said they'd use this switch). Dave then asked the question "Why would you switch it back on?", resulting in the predictable response that no-one would. Dave extended the metaphor to TV - "would you switch adverts off". "Yes, we would" said Mr Gamer. So, asks Dave, what if I gave you free access to pay-per-view movies if you switched advertising back on? Suddenly, 97% said they would happily see a few adverts within their normal channels. Thats quite a shift...

Extending this to the game world, I go to buy some DLC for a game I'm playing (a new level, a new sword for my character, whatever) and rather than forking out my £3, I get the alternative option "Coca Cola have offered to buy this sword for you - do you accept?" If you do, then the advert is closed and no more mention is made of Cokes involvement in the transaction - the customer is left with a positive view of the sponsor and the sponsor has a very cheap means of accessed a well defined market (remember, these are virtual objects - look into Second Life for more on their virtual economy).

Now, to the crux - would you take library-content if it was sponsored in a similar way? A book jacket in your OPAC intrinsically sponsored by Amazon? A mp3 for a track on a CD you hold sponsored by Apple? At what point does this sponsorship infringe your political, cultural or moral standpoint? If your end users weren't aware of this "arrangement", would you find it acceptable? More interestingly, what if the sponsorship note popped up in your OPAC - a user selected to view the full text and got a quick message "Coca Cola have offered to reimburse the library for you to view this article - do you accept y/n?".

Now, for the second (and more important) point. With the explosion of Web2.0, and the whole shift in placing your library content where the user is interacting (e.g. showing your library holdings within Amazon or Itunes or MySpace or FaceBook), I think we need to revisit our previous assumptions around corporate sponsorship and advertising. As your data becomes more widely consumed in a myriad of places, all of which will be discretely (or indiscreetly) advertising to the user, you will be placing your content within an advert-rich space. In fact, its not "will be" - you likely already are! A libraries historical reluctance to be associated with adverts has begun to end - maybe its time to start considering how libraries can realise some benefit in this changing relationship...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Forget everything I said last time...

Remember this from Bumptop in a previous post? Was a sweeeeeet desktop. Well, the problem with being at Talis is I'm surrounded by people far more resourceful/intelligent than myself (though not as handsome/funny - you win some, you lose some ;-).

The day after, Rob wanders over and tell me he pointed to that 6 months ago on one of the internal wiki's (Rob sparked my interest in this "interaction space" malarky - which I would readily admit to having a puppy-like enthusiasm for rather than any ability to demonstrate genuine knowledge). Already feeling slightly dented, Simon mails out this on "multi-touch driven computer screens". Go on, click it...(and ignore the first 20 seconds advert).

First thing I thought was "wow" - that eclipses my bumptop/Wii remote vision.
Second thing was that the same metaphor as was being used for Bumptop (lasso'ing icons, icons having weight, etc) was beign used in this method - which I found interesting. As was some of the facet-driven looking stuff (LivePlasma-like).
Thirdly, I thought "big screen - I want one" (I'm in the market for one - PS3 is soon!). Which reminded me about OLEDs (organic TV's) which looks like the next wave - you'll literally "paste these to your wall" - imagine all those interactive promotions or dynamic shelving info scattered through the library, constantly changing, constantly prompting users to engage with stock, explore this, etc...

Anyhow, the point - I did a talk at LJMU a year ago to post-grads, talking about professional development. One point I made was concerning building a network to share professional reading, and the social dynamics of this network (too much to describe here). At Talis, it can be an avalanche at times but my professional development/knowledge has grown massively, especially the last 24 months. And not only is it important to passively read this stuff, but to comment - to exercise those old braincells, either with physical (e.g. at coffee machine, at desk, at pub) or electronic interaction.

I was wondering how much of this interaction occurs in uk libraries? Would I be as professionally aware working in a library today as I am working at Talis? I don't know - I'd anticipate getting anything from 15-30 articles/posts/blogs/websites/podcasts passed to me in a typical day, + being on the periphary of many challanging conversations (see earlier point re: resourceful/intelligent people). What sort of volume occurs in a public library? How does your professional development network work and support you - or do you have to motivate yourself, and hunt this stuff down? I take this level of interaction as granted now - is that right, or should I be counting my blessings...?

PS: The link to the funky interaction screen video came with the subject "Imagine this applied to catalogue searching...". I think that says everything about why my job is, at times, just great!

PPS: There's a good article supporting the Han video here.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Considering data conversion in an agile world

Having just typed that title, I'm already sensing a "Part 1" being appended to it any second. However, lets forge on...

We've been integrating agile development methodologies at Talis recently, and I was fortunate enough to be on one of the first projects to explore this, alongside the Scrum project framework. Bottom line - its been a great success, but its not the topic I want to explore here. I'm currently looking at data conversion, and it struck me that the approach to this may be different under an agile framework.

A 30 second google revealed Agile Data from Scott Ambler, quickly followed by this article on "The Joy of Legacy Data". Result! I'll be coming back to this in a later post, as I'm interested to apply the agile manifesto with the data conversion arena and incorporate some of this.

However, before my googling, and after one too many beers at 1am last night, I'd scribbled some thoughts on this down (using yellow "post its" - this agile stuff is getting to me). The first was that, as a product owner, my responsibilities for specifying a data conversion are similar/equivalent to those of a "functional" user story. I'm representing a customer, I'm understanding the value (in their data), and the goals they have (with this data).

Secondly, this led my to conclusion that the descrete elements of a data conversion can be written as stories - goal, value, estimate - and as such can likely be managed as such. This will allow iterations, and the developer/customer negotiation that applies to functional stories to work as efficiently for data conversion stories.

Thirdly, as both a librarian and an analyst (and having managed/analysed more conversions than I should admit), I have always felt the data conversion is the key to a successful solution. I've never tried to verbablise why, but the agile approach has made me start to consider this. Its because the value of a software application is in the data and not in the the application itself. Remove the data/metadata/content, and any application is redundent. Worthless. It is the data itself which gives the application functionality purpose and value. Its like putting no petrol in your ferarri - looks great, but it won't be able to go anywhere...

I've done both good and bad conversions (far more of the first, I hasten to add). I've always tried to add value to the data as it moves between systems. One key aspect of doing this is understanding the function/value a piece of data provides both within the system, and externally outside the system boundary (e.g. supporting business practice). A single Y/N flag can signify or support many complex business processes - or create many business problems. One of the reasons for conversion is often to remove these problems (not to replicate or add them!), and this is as inherent in the data as the function of the recieving system. The bottom line is that a poor conversion, or one that doesn't allow the recieving system to demonstrate its potential, means that all the functionality you've spent months building will not work.

One example - last sprint (for those not in "the know", thats a 30-day development cycle) we added a simple tool that allows a postcode to be clicked to launch google-maps. Useful, but de rigour nowadays. If the data conversion can't get the postcode into the right field, the story which built this is redundent. Another way of considering this is that we write acceptance tests for functional stories - it could be argued that a data conversion could effectively cause these acceptance tests to fail.

Now, we can reasonably argue that the customer could manually move this data pre/post, and this is often a very real argument with the developer/customer throwing this back and forth. Agile to the rescue! By dividing the conversion into discrete stories, the developer estimate is exposed. The customer business value is understood. The customer also has the facility to add their own estimate into the mix for their time to manually clean. The methodology ensures all these attributes in the decision are clearly quantified and exposed. We move from an argument, to an open negotiation where informed decisions can be made.

In practice, I don't see a story for every data map - the obvious 1-to-1's are no brainers. Its the one's that result in effort/pain that a story can provide a real benefit to. Which includes the ability to be more iterative in tackling these.

I'm definately feeling this is a "part one" of a longer thread, and hope to return to this as I explore this practically over coming months and discover everything I've just said is wrong...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A perfect desktop...?

Forget Vista. Forget Macs. Ancient history, my friends. Check out this YouTube video from the Dynamics Graphics Project, a visual research paper "Pushing the desktop metaphor with Physics, Piles and the Pen in Bumptop". Its worth sticking to the end of this, as just keeps getting better...

Got sent this from a friend at Codemasters, with whom I've exhanged several conversations on Human Computer Interaction, with obvious reference to the Wii (something I was posting about a year or so ago as changing the interaction metaphor - and having now experienced, am increasingly driven to see this replace my mouse and/or pile of remotes). Coupling the two interaction tools together, a Wii remote with this virtual bumptop, is what I want to experience. Now. Please...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reader development is so important...

We had a successful recording session today with the Future Librarians, where we discussed Reader Development and a modernised reader service. Will probably be a few weeks for it to be passed through the mill and get onto the podcasts page, so I'll post when it finally goes up.

I must admit to finding these podcasts a massively rewarding experience, mainly as an opportunity to hear such enthusiasm about our profession - doubly so it felt today around this topic. I am known for getting carried away with "my pet passions", and reader dev has always been one for me but I really feel strongly that reader dev is something the entire profession needs to be (and is, it appears) enthusing about.

If we are to present "a really brilliant reader offer", to engage both with users and non-users, to align with the whole "community agenda", it is by being passionate about reading. We have the opportunity, with the convergence of both technologies (Web2) and philosophy (Library2), to drive libraries into a position of dominance in the reading domain. I strongly feel the Talis Platform could be a key to this, and with the ideas exposed today, I am even more focussed on banging the drum in this area. So, keep listening...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Young Librarians of the Future podcast...

So, one of the things I've been up to in the last year is hosting my first podcast "Introducing the Future Librarians Gang" where we discussed current/pending issues in librarianship and the profession. This was something I thoroughly enjoyed, even if it was a tad nerve-wracking. Fortunately, the contributors were all fresh and dynamic (unlike my good self) and we've decided to make an irregular series of this. I'm just prepping for a second recording later this week, this time on reader development (a subject I get VERY passionate about as it was very close to me back in my "library days").

I'll keep people informed of progress through this blog, but hope to have this out in the next few weeks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Clusty offers good examples of both of faceting and tag clouds - worth a look to see how a fairly typical metasearch engine can offer a greatly enhanced user experience with a couple of well implemented tools. I like it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Well, I'm back...

Nearly a year has passed since my last post. Why did I stop? Why am I starting again? What's happened in the last year?

I stopped because of a "mantra" I'm trying to apply to my work life - "maximum value, minimum effort". I got to a point where I was putting effort/time into blogging that I felt could be far more effective against the 1001 other things that Talis are doing.

I'm starting again cuz (a) of the effort of telling people this everytime I get an "ooo, you've not put anything on yer blog for a while..." is making me twitch (b) I now feel confident enough to not spend more than 5 mins on a post and (c) it's a good medium for exercising the old brain cells

As for whats happened in the last year, I'm sure I'll mention it at some point...