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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...