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Archive for the 'Syndication' Category

Google Book Settlement will help stimulate eBook availability in libraries

books_logo So says former Google Book Search product manager Frances Haugen in her contribution to the debate on the September Library 2.0 Gang.

This month’s Gang was kicked off by Orion Pozo from NCSU, where they have rolled out dozens of Kindles and a couple of Sony Readers.  The comparative success of their Kindles ahead of the Sony Reader appears to be because of the simpler process of distributing purchased books across sets of readers and a broader selection of titles at a lower cost.  Currently users request books for the Kindle via an online selection form, then they are purchased and downloaded on to the devices which are then loaned out.  There were no restrictions on titles purchased and they have an approximate 50% split between fiction and non-fiction.

L2Gbanner144-plainThe Gang discussed the drivers that will eventually lead to the wide adoption of eBooks.  This included things like the emergence of open eBook standards, and the evolution of devices, other than dedicated readers, that can provide an acceptable reading experience.   Carl Grant shared his experience of starting a read on his Kindle and then picking it up from where he left off on his iPhone (as he joined his wife whilst shopping).

An obvious issue influencing the availability of eBooks is licensing and author and publisher rights.  This is where the Google Book Settlement comes in to play.  If it works out as she hopes, Frances predicts that over time this will facilitate broader availability of currently unavailable titles.  I paraphrase:

[From approx 26:50] Institutional subscriptions will become available on the 10M books that Google has scanned so far.  Imagine in the future a user with a reader that accepts open formats will be able to get access to the books this institutional license would provide.  Imagine school children having access to 10M books that their library subscribe to, instead of having to formally request one-off books to be added to their device.

[From approx 44:50] There are a huge number of books that are no longer commercially available in the US, for several reasons.  If the rights holders of those books do not opt-out, they will become available for people to purchase access to.  One of the interesting things about the way the settlement is set-up is that you will be able to purchase access either directly or through an institutional subscription.  What is neat is that cycle will put a check on prices as prices for individual books are based upon the demand for the books. So less poplar books will cost less…  So if the price of the institutional subscription ever gets too high libraries can decide to buy one-offs of these books.   I think that whole economic mechanism will substantially increase access to books.

The Gang were in agreement that eBooks will soon overtake paper ones as the de facto delivery format.  It is just a question of how soon.  Some believe that this will be much more rapid than many librarians expect.  A challenge for librarians to take their services in to this eReading world. 

CILIP Podcasts Syndicate Library 2.0 Gang

I was delighted to see that via the newly launched Podcasts area of the CILIP Communities site they are syndicating the Library 2.0 Gang.

The combined feed of podcasts that CILIP have launched, is a great service to CILIP members and a recognition that the traditional ways of learning and keeping up to date are being powerfully supplemented by blogs and podcasts.  I will be interested to see how this develops.

As the monthly round table listen for those that are interested in libraries and the technologies that influence them, I am eager to make it available to all that will benefit from the the insights and opinions from the librarians, vendors, journalists, and commentators that join the Gang.

To that end, whilst welcoming CILIP’s recognition of the Gang, I also invite others in different sectors and geographies that are interested in enriching their site by adding value for the visitors to it,  by syndicating the Library 2.0 Gang series, to drop me a line librarygang@talis.com.

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HigherEd BlogCon starts today

HigherEd BlogCon logo

HigherEd BlogCon, an interesting experiment in online participation, kicked off today with a week of sessions tackling ‘the Impact of New Tools on Teaching‘.

The event runs over the next four weeks, and I’ll be contributing something in week 2.

Take their RSS feed or follow along in Technorati, and help make this event as good as or better than the more expensive face to face ones we were talking about in Friday’s outing for the Library 2.0 Gang.

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‘Truthiness’, mashups, and a different perspective

Dion Hinchcliffe offers a thoughtful response to a post by Nicholas Carr that I almost responded to myself this morning. Dion does it better.

One thing I would add, though, is that opening up our closed silos of data for a little bit of mashing up might actually make our data better, for our purposes.

Imagine one case we’re looking at in the library world right now. There are countless directories of libraries. None of them are comprehensive, even within the area they define as their own. Each of them takes a slightly different perspective (libraries where the cakes are good, public libraries, libraries where students from the Open University can borrow a book, etc). Most of them are chronically out of date. Almost all of them are, on the face of it, a good idea. Almost all of them are, to all intents and purposes, pretty useless when it comes down to it.

They’re all closed boxes. They all serve niche markets. They all expect some poor librarian to remember to tell x different little directories that the library phone number has changed. Or that, next weekend, they’re having a go at Sunday opening.

Aggregate the data into a single Directory, rich with APIs and the rest, and you have a single authoritative source from which all these different directories can draw core information. The librarian with a change to notify only has to do it once, and the data propagates automagically to all those places built on top of the same Directory.

Data, freed from its little box, becomes more visible, more used, and more valuable. Suddenly, people who stand to benefit from it start finding it and using it. And the Open University student who tried to get into a library that claimed to provide access but didn’t, or who found that their own local library did allow access, but hadn’t told anyone has more of an interest in that data being current and accurate than the administrative assistant who supposedly maintains the old directory of such things, 0.1 hours per month, alongside the other jobs that make up the 140% of hours she is meant to work.

So, by letting others mash up your data, maybe your data gets better. You don’t need to be in a Directory for that to happen. But if you’re not, you’ve got an awful lot of places to tell about the correction that one of your new users just sent you…

Did I mention that Nicholas and I were on the Radio together…? 🙂

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Web 2.0 components visible in the wild… but hardly mainstream

Richard MacManus

Richard MacManus recently posted to his Web 2.0 Explorer blog on ZDNet, outlining five features of Web 2.0 that – he suggests – are now so mainstream as to not be that special anymore.

“A lot of the features and functionality of so-called Web 2.0 sites are now common elements in most current web apps and sites. It’s really gone beyond what was labelled ‘Web 2.0’ last year, because so many mainstream websites are now using these elements. It’s no longer a niche trend.”

The features and functions he highlights are:

  • tagging
  • aggregation
  • filters and ranking
  • syndication
  • mash-ups

Each of these is certainly more common than last year, but I’d argue that none of them are yet in mainstream deployment across even a significant minority of the sites that might beneficially use them.

Whilst an increasing number of commentators in this space take such fundamental shifts in approach as syndicating content and services and inviting user/customer/audience participation for granted, the reality on the ground remains very much Web 1.0. Just because the places to which we (most readers of this blog, probably) choose to give our attention are rushing to adopt these models, doesn’t mean that we are that far up the adoption curve yet. For example, Michael Arrington does a great job with TechCrunch, one of those blogs I make a point of reading every day, but the constant stream of innovative new companies discussed on his blog can be misleading. There’s a far larger pool of equally innovative companies, for whom transforming the way in which they invite interaction and custom online is perhaps less of a priority. In their particular industry, that different emphasis may well be appropriate… for now.

There’s a long way to go, and a lot of hard work to be done in evangelising about the visionary companies that Michael tracks, and what the changes they have made could mean to those following along behind. It’s not about copying, but about learning what works, what doesn’t, and how any of it helps you to meet the needs of those seeking to gain value from your offerings. We also need a better understanding of the ways in which existing organisations like Talis are adapting and evolving; you don’t need to be a start-up to be – or to do – Web 2.0.

When you live it every day, Web 2.0 is obvious. When you talk about it every day, Web 2.0 is old news. When you observe those to whom you are talking about it, you realise just how radical some of it is. We could all do, perhaps, with remembering how exciting these ideas were the first time we heard them or thought them.

Take a library example. We’re talking about sweeping aside the financial, technical and procedural barriers that make it so hard for libraries to tell both other libraries and library users about what they hold. We’re talking about making a Platform of data and services available, upon which third parties can orchestrate (possibly a better term than mash-up) new services in a way that fundamentally challenges existing software and data supply models in the sector. Once you’ve heard it, it seems blindingly obvious and eminently desirable. But despite that obviousness, no one else has done it.

Don’t let us permit familiarity to breed contempt.

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Mashups in today’s Guardian

Guardian Unlimited logo

Jack Schofield writes about the mashup in today’s Guardian newspaper.

“’What makes mashups really different is that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist,’ says [US-based journalist, David] Berlind. Relatively few people had the programming skills needed to turn their ideas into PC applications, but with mashups, ‘the barrier for turning your creativity into an innovation is very much lower. Your grandmother could do it,’ says Berlind. Well, maybe not yet, he adds, but that’s the way things are heading.

‘The other great thing about this system is that you don’t have to get anyone’s permission to add an API to it, and then anybody can use it. Where there’s one person or a group in control, that by itself can slow down innovation,’ says Berlind.”

This is an area in which Talis continues to work, and much of our Library 2.0 [PDF] activity is relevant here as we seek to unbundle library systems into a set of discrete functions suitable for incorporating into other applications, whether ours or belonging to someone else.

The Whisper demonstrator is, essentially, a mashup, although we prefer to think about it as an orchestration of a number of services in order to build something greater than the sum of the parts. As the Platform becomes increasingly visible, the whole point is that third parties outside Talis should be able to do things with the data and services, too.

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Amazon gives its authors blogs

Amazon Connect logo from Amazon.com

The Bookseller this morning reports a story sourced from Reuters, covering the move by Amazon to get authors blogging via the Amazon site.

“The Amazon Connect program lets authors post messages in blog format to readers who have bought their work at Amazon in the past or those sign up for the program.”

However,

“Authors can post their thoughts as frequently as they like, but the communication is one-way.”

Author comments appear on the author’s own page at Amazon, in the page for one of their books, and – if you’ve bought their work previously or otherwise opted in – in the new ‘plog‘ at the top of your personalised Amazon home page.

None of this seems to work on Amazon.co.uk yet, though.

It’s certainly an interesting step by Amazon, but I wonder how it relates to moves by publishers to bring their authors online. Will authors really want to maintain an online presence with Amazon, one with their publisher, and (perhaps) one of their own? Don’t they have better things to do… like writing books? And doesn’t this dilution of their effort mean that none of their online spaces will be that rich, topical or current?

There is surely scope to leverage appropriate syndication through RSS in order to have the messages appear all over the place, filling appropriately branded wrapping pages at Amazon, a publisher site, and elsewhere.

Sensible syndication arrangements would also allow libraries, of course, to take some of the data and use it to drive interest in authors and their works…

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Microsoft embraces RSS in a big way

Internet Explorer 7 logo from Microsoft

Microsoft yesterday released a beta for version 7 of their Internet Explorer web browser. The beta only runs on Windows XP with Service Pack 2, but the final version is expected to be available on other versions of Windows. Those of us using something else (a Mac, in my case) get to stick with their current browser.

In some senses, this new browser merely brings Microsoft’s product in line with features like tabbed browsing and RSS support that Mac users have had with Safari for some time, or that those willing and able to download something like Firefox could get on any platform.

The fundamental difference to Firefox is that this browser will ship on every new PC running the next version of Windows, Vista. It may well be deployed almost automatically on existing PCs running Windows XP as part of a future Service Pack. It will get absolutely everywhere, in a way that Firefox has failed to manage despite its clear benefits over the previous version of Internet Explorer. It will also, through Vista, tie closely to Microsoft’s new Platform strategy, Live. As Mike Arrington wrote on TechCrunch last week;

“Microsoft will allow gadgets to be dragged and dropped back and forth between live.com and the desktop (operating system). And they aren’t waiting for Vista – an update to Windows XP will be coming soon that will allow this drag and drop functionality.”

Dave Winer commented on the beta release yesterday, writing;

“This release is significant for publishers who provide RSS 2.0 feeds for their content because this is the first Microsoft release that includes comprehensive support for RSS not only on the producing side, but also on the consuming side. Until now, Microsoft has not shipped an RSS reader, and now they have, for Windows XP, a operating system with many millions of users. Their aggregator, and the underlying platform, is likely to be used in very large volume, likely becoming the most-installed aggregator.”

RSS support is about much more, though, than millions of Windows users suddenly being able to subscribe to this blog using software that’s a core part of the software shipped with their computer.

As Microsoft’s Technology Overview document [MS Word .doc file] states,

“The Windows RSS Platform will be included as part of Internet Explorer 7 for Windows Vista and Windows XP. This platform provides rich functionality for downloading, storing and accessing feeds across the entire operating system, and will enable more users than ever to embrace RSS. This means that once a feed is subscribed to in one application, that subscription and associated content will be made available for all applications across the operating system. The days of having siloed RSS data in different applications are over.

The Windows RSS Platform provides this rich data layer through two primary components: the Common Feed List and the Common Data Store. The Common Feed List — accessible through either the Windows RSS Platform APIs or the file system — provides a common storage location for all subscribed-to sites. Any application can add or delete sites and can share information about the feeds, such as how subscriptions are organized in folders, for example. The Common Data Store — accessible through either the Windows RSS Platform APIs or the file system — handles downloading, storing and managing read and unread status of feed data.

Microsoft expects that the use of RSS enclosures will increase substantially over the coming months. The Common Data Store is an ideal tool for ensuring that the most updated content — such as text, calendar entries, pictures, podcasts and many other types of files — is delivered and accessible to anyone who subscribes to it. Further, because the platform does all the hard work of synching, parsing and storing RSS feeds, application developers will have a much easier time building applications that use RSS for their synching strategy. Microsoft believes that this platform technology will help enable a major increase in the number of applications that use RSS.

The primary initial users of the Windows RSS Platform will be technical enthusiasts who already use and subscribe to RSS as well as application developers who are looking for a new technology to help them share varied content between applications. As RSS adoption grows and Internet Explorer installations increase, Microsoft expects general users to begin using RSS ubiquitously, without even knowing it. Microsoft believes that this is a win-win situation for developers and end users.”

[my emphasis]

We see RSS as a powerful means of moving all sorts of data between a wide range of applications, and demonstrated some of the simpler possibilities for catalogue-driven use a year ago. Microsoft clearly agrees.

As Richard Wallis mentioned back in September, the browser also supports the OpenSearch formats from Amazon’s A9 venture. Deep searching of a catalogue from right inside the browser, anyone? [go here, and type ‘OPAC’ into the “type here to find columns” box]

Whether IE 7 is innovative or not, its arrival changes the game for RSS, and that change can only be good for those of us trying to make the most of this deceptively simple technology.

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Libraries411.com – another example of placing libraries on the map

A fair number of library bloggers are talking about Libraries411.com at the moment, and it is of course a site we’ve been playing with here for a little while, too.

Like earlier demonstrators from Talis (LibMap and parts of Whisper, for example), OCLC and others, it harnesses the capabilities of third party mapping services and plots information relating to libraries on the map in a way that’s so much more useful than the bare postal addresses we’re used to receiving from finder services.

I particularly like the way this application switches reasonably well between Google and Yahoo! mapping; I may still prefer Google Maps right now, but we should be able to use whichever of the two is best for a given problem, or ditch both of them should something better come along. And maybe the searcher should choose their favourite, rather than having to use ours?

The site only covers public (not academic or corporate) libraries, and only those in the USA and Canada, but it’s a nice example of capabilities that are becoming increasingly within reach of each and every library. It also includes a feature allowing individual libraries to add themselves if they’re not already featured.

Search a catalogue straight from the map with the Directory

I do think that taking the approach we have, with a Directory of libraries powering a Platform upon which we and others are then free to build a wealth of services, offers more potential in the long term than ‘just’ a database of library locations linked to a map. The Directory, for example, handles things like query structure in order to allow the inclusion of a simple ‘search’ box within the balloon that Google Maps pops up over a library. That knowledge could, equally, be used to pass queries from any other kind of interface deep into the library system. The Directory keeps a watchful eye on your visible (web site) and invisible (Z39.50, etc) interfaces, and informs those who need to know when something goes wrong. The Directory offers a single point to inform of any change, instantly updating any Directory-dependent applications anywhere in the world in order to keep them current, running, and valuable. The Directory offers potential to link in other information such as opening hours, reading groups, collection strengths and more.

A number of people have been exploring the possibilities in this area. Libraries411 appears to be the first to get out into the wild with something approaching a service. Before too many more waste time, money and effort gathering very similar data with which to build a differently valuable solution, maybe we should take a serious look at the sort of Directory model that Talis has been talking about, and see if we can’t drum up a little more cooperation around the best ways to proceed here.

We are all competing with someone, implicitly or explicitly. But there are some areas where cooperation makes more sense. Can we collect ‘core’ data once, in a standard and structured form, and then make it available for all sorts of applications to use? Can we work together on the data structure and on some of the web services or APIs to query those data? If we could, the value and differentiation would come in terms of what we did with the data you entrusted to us; not how many of you we happened to have stuck address details for into a database. It’s a different model. Surely it’s a better model?

Are you on the map yet? Is it our map, OCLC’s map, Libraries411’s map, or someone else’s map? Wouldn’t you rather be on all of them, ideally for less pain and more gain than was involved in getting you on one before today? Talk to us. Talk to the others. Agitate for common solutions. Common doesn’t mean bland. Common doesn’t mean hostage to fortune. Common means money and effort saved on the boring backroom stuff that can be expended on building the rich applications that all this data is meant for. Common means an end to expensive closed clubs taking your data off you, and then charging you for the privilege of seeing it again. Just seeing where your library is might be ‘cool’, but it really is only the beginning.

Talis is doing this anyway. We want to do it in partnership. Ask us about it. I think you might be pleasantly surprised by some of the answers you get.

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Aggregation in the travel business

dohop logo

Karen Blakeman draws my attention to dohop, which appears to be a useful step forwards in helping the search for flight options. The interface is clean (apart from the inevitable strip of ads to the right), yet functional and heavily AJAX-enriched.

This Icelandic company provides a tool that permits searches of both budget and traditional airlines, and it appears to return results from a variety of ticket resellers, such as Expedia and Opodo.

It is reasonably intelligent, allowing the searcher to look for flights from ‘London’, rather than restricting yourself to just one of London’s multitude of airports, and a variety of sliders allow the painless refinement of a search by time, airline, etc.

Two things I’d like, which no tool yet seems to offer, are:

  • restricting searches by frequent flier programme (Star Alliance, please) rather than airline (bmi, by preference, although they now appear to be getting as stingy with the refreshments as US carriers);
  • offering a little more airport selection intelligence (I can usually fly from almost anywhere in the UK, and might prefer a late morning flight from Manchester, but be prepared to take a mid-afternoon flight from London rather than a flight from Manchester that required a change).

It would also be nice to have tools that more intelligently integrate getting me to the airport, getting me to my hotel, and picking a hotel near where I actually need to be, but now I really am wishing for the impossible. Planning a trip in anything approaching an informed manner remains more painful and time consuming than it should be. dohop maybe (I’ll try it, to get to Computers in Libraries) makes it a little less painful?

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