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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?