Monday, May 21, 2007

Google's API for their search appliance

Interestingly, Google says that it's releasing an API for their search appliance that will allow the appliance to tap into lots of external content stores. I wonder if this could be adapted to an ILS, digital collections system, or some other application in libraries.

ASPs and decentralizing IT

Just noticed that our HR department is going to use software for applicant tracking based on an ASP model, whose website says, "The ASP model eliminates the need for IT assistance during implementation while ensuring that your system is running on the latest, fully redundant hardware in a secure hosted facility."

Evidence to support my thesis in this post.

Google Universal Search

Lorcan Dempsey points out that Google's just introduced a strategy to bring together results from many of their vertical search engines (books, images, web, video, etc.). It's called "universal search". This would have been a good thing to bring up at the presentation I did on federated searching at the Oregon Library Association conference. I was trying to make the case that search engines are really the future of federated searching, or at least worth looking at for important trends.

Unfortunately, they don't mention bringing Scholar on board universal search. I'm also wondering about the ability to integrate search appliance results with Google Search engine results. We're thinking of indexing some of our local content with an Appliance, and if we could mix results from the Appliance with Google Web and Scholar results, maybe we could put together something like federated searching with Google technology.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

network apps and the demise of centralized IT

Some observations...
  • We're seeing more and more powerful network based applications, available for free on the Internet: GMail, Google productivity apps, Flickr, etc.;
  • Often, these applications are arguably, the best of breed in their class; they work better than anything you'd pay for and install on your desktop or on your network's local servers
  • People can adopt these applications independently or in small communities within their organizations; no central coordination or IT support is necessary;
  • They can be used across organizational boundaries--folks from different companies or universities can dive in an work together;
  • They can, increasingly, be purchased and adapted to an organizational setting (see Google Apps)
As network-based applications mature and we see more of them become available in niche areas, a dramatically reduced role for centralized information technology support in organizations. Central IT used to be a necessity because of the infrastructure required to support systems. Technology support will gravitate to the edges of the organization, with the focus shifting to the rightful application of the technology rather than technology as infrastructure.

This, I suppose, will happen faster in loosely coupled organizations like universities. In the university environment, I can imagine administrative computing being done between the business office and the registrar, with relevant applications hosted off site in a style. The public web site designed and maintained by the communications office and hosted by an off site firm, including supporting back end databases, search services, etc. The communications systems (email, groupware, etc.) will be chosen and maintained by organizational development folks in HR. Academic technology will be applied in an ever diffuse fashion, with communities of practice developing across institutional boundaries, and institution-specific applications like CMSs maintained out of a Center for Teaching and Learning. Libraries have already seen a lot of the tools that they offer become remotely hosted web applications, and in some ways, they will lose more control. Their role will be facilitation and customization of these networked-applications.

IT will be there to support the plumbing: keeping up network and the relevant devices. Even some of the plumbing, especially data centers at smaller organizations, will go away. There will also be a persistent need for integration and standardization. But the strategic role of centralized IT will diminish, just like it did for those VP's of electricity in the last century according to Nick Carr.

A centralized IT operation was important in the past because you could aggregate software/hardware and knowledge in one place. But following that model was always dangerous as it removed those working on the IT from the parts of the organization that IT was designed to serve. As the support for equipment and software becomes more easily outsourced on the network, we'll see centrifugal tendencies accelerate.

The IT department that tries to maintain control too tightly will get "worked around" and just accelerate the phenomenon.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I've learned a great deal about NITLE recently, as I'm going to be the new campus liaison for L&C.

Interestingly, NITLE is an "incubated" organization by a larger nonprofit known as ITHAKA. ITHAKA is behind projects such as ARTstor and JSTOR.

The chief benefit of NITLE, in my mind, is that it allows cooperative technology work among institutions with similar missions (liberal arts college). Even though our regional cooperatives (like Orbis Cascade Alliance) work superbly in many instances where geography is key (physical resource sharing), I think it can make more sense to collaborate based on mission on these more content and teaching-and-learning focused initiatives.

I particularly like the discipline focused programs that NITLE offers: Al-Musharaka (Middle Eastern Studies), Sunoikisis (Classics), foreign languages, and a couple digital collections: IDEAS and REALIA. The organization also has its fingers in many other pies. These programs, plus quite a few others, reflect a pretty creative, innovative group.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Giving WorldCat Local a Go

UW (not the great, Badger State UW, rather that lesser institution: the University of Washington) launched WorldCat Local today. I can't say that there are too many surprises to me in the implementation, as it is based on the now familiar platform.

But a few observations:

I knew that they would be offering fairly direct requesting for items held in the Summit consortium. This works pretty well and, interestingly, even works for me as someone at Lewis & Clark. Even if I come across an item that is held at the UW libraries, I am offered the ability to request it on Summit.

One thing I don't really care for is the display of holding libraries closest to me that is shown when I've selected a book...this just seems irrelevant and confusing to me when I'm a member of the Summit network.

The relevance ranking seems to be based a great deal on how many libraries hold an item. This is definitely a good direction to go and could be likened to Google PageRank. But it doesn't always work well. When I searched for "Bend Oregon", for example, the top hit is an EPA publication: "Pressure and vacuum sewer demonstration project Bend, Oregon". I also got lots of references to government documents with the title: "Amending the Bend Pine Nursery Land Conveyance Act..."--it's held by like 189 libraries. (I think this offers some hint of the redundancy involved in acquiring and cataloging government documents across libraries when these types of documents are often rarely used and available openly on the web).

The book that "should" come to the top is probably "Bend, in Central Oregon", which is the main book ABOUT the city Bend, OR...WorldCat Local needs to work on that "aboutness" thing...not sure how. Perhaps they need to be doing more creative things with subject headings or somehow move govt. publications lower in the ranks. Or bring in circulation stats...those would quickly lower govt. docs in the rank.

Interestingly, seems to have more sensible results when you search for "Bend Oregon"...perhaps they are using more of a public library relevance ranking system that doesn't report all those depository library holdings

Relevance ranking is not an easy thing to do, of course, and is much more than a popularity contest. It's funny how library holdings are a strange take on "popularity."

Another complaint: the facets for authors don't always work very well. Seems like corporate authors without much meaning ("United States") often float to the top. Also, it's hard to browse around the publication date facet.

I don't see many openings for mashups and RSS feeds or apis advertised. I have hopes that OCLC will open things up.

The other question that's hard to answer is the degree of local configurability. Generally speaking, it's a pretty busy display when looking at a particular title, but it would be nice to think it could be configured locally and streamlined.

I applaud the inclusion of articles and hope this expands. Bringing on board large aggregations of articles could be great. Better resolver integration would be nice as more articles appear.

Overall, this is a pretty good first shot at an OPAC product by the behemoth OCLC.