Library 2.0 Perils

Dion Hinchcliffe made some good points in his blog about some very real issues facing web 2.0, and with the flurry of Library 2.0 activity, I can’t help but see some of the same issues translate over. I had several thoughts that articulated themselves after reading his post.

Let me preface all this by saying that we’re working very hard at AADL to bring a number of major Web 2.0 features online, and you’ll see them in our forthcoming feature releases. We’re excited about it and I believe that the viability of the information access we provide depends on the social connections we allow to happen with the data we have to provide.

1) Hinchcliffe begins his list of “10 issues Facing Web 2.0 Today” with excessive hype. He writes, “Nothing will hurt Web 2.0 more than people loudly proclaiming Web 2.0 is the solution to every problem in software.” I’m not quite sure what he means by “in software”, but I assume he’s talking about interface since he goes on, “Web 2.0 is merely a powerful way of thinking about the design and construction of effective Web experiences.” Before we hype features that the technology elite embrace, ask, “will our patrons feel the same way?” The other consideration you may want to make is, “is it technically feasible to offer these features?” In some libraries, the answer to both these questions might be ‘no’.

2) He makes another good point that much of the social-oriented software requires a permaconnection. I’m used to being online all the time and when I go to my full-blown-geek conferences, I’d say that about 80-90% of the attendees have laptops. When I went to IL05, I’d reckon that percentage was around 35-30%. Apparently, that was the highest ever at an IL, and IL attracts the ‘techie’ library people. When I look at MRTG graphs of AP associations for all four branches in Ann Arbor, I see peaks of 10-15 simultaneous wifi users. While 2.0-type functionality doesn’t necessarily require a permaconnection, I’d venture to guess that these permaconnectees are the minority who will appreciate and use those features.

3) It’s one thing to talk about Web 2.0 or Library 2.0, but if you’re only talking about it, that’s not implementing it in any meaningful way. To implement it, you need to fully understand the technologies behind it. Ajax is a great example, and I pull it from Hinchcliffe’s list at #5. I see “Ajax” bandied about like a tambourine at a Phish show, but if you’ve used it, you’ll agree with me that it’s a tricky beast to get working properly. Does anyone actually USE google reader? I’m not that patient! In fact, Gmail is the only semi-widescale use of Ajax that I know of, and tightened-down Windows 2003 policies break it. Like a lot of things, it’s best in tasteful sprinklings.

4) Face it, our ILS’s are dinosaurs. They are huge masses of bloat and excess. They pervert standards and gobble up money with their cavernous, proprietary maws. They need to be, and I’m serious here, rewritten from the ground up. I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw Jenny Levine’s mockup of a tag cloud in III’s OPAC. If that were my tag data, the last place I’d trust it would be inside III’s belly! Why? I can’t even do a simple item#-to-bib# conversion without running a full blown report, parsing the data, importing it into a real database and THEN running a query. We need openness and transparency so we don’t have to wait for vendors to grace us with hot new features, several years too late, (and several hundred grand lighter in our pocket). It’s complacency with this type of service that will kill 2.0 from the inside out before it even starts. The current model needs to end, or we’re screwed.

Being a hands-on guy, I sometimes ask the dreaded question, “But how?”, or make the statement, “That’s all very good in theory, but…” That can seem negative, but it’s necessary because when you ask those questions for real, you come back the next day with real answers and you say, “Yah, we can do it and it’s gonna be friggin’ sweet!”


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