Monday, 26 July 2010

Reading List Hackathon - a Summary

On Thursday and Friday of last week, I attended a Reading List Hackathon run by DevCSI, at the Møller Centre, Cambridge. The event was designed to encourage the hacking of library information systems and reading list software.

We looked at two major pieces of reading list software:


with talks from Mendeley (who provide citation software), Talis (who provide library software and reading list software, amongst other things) and Emerald (a publisher who are creating peer-reviewed reading lists as a free service).

After these talks, we got together into teams, and started hacking, creating, amongst other things:

  • a way of pushing Emerald RSS feeds through Yahoo pipes, allowing filtered searching
  • some extensions to List8D
  • Six degrees of Harry Potter, which used Talis API data to generate a graph of degrees of separation
  • Compare the Citation: a teaching tool to educate undergraduates about citation styles
  • an extension to a library catalogue, showing availability of items on a reading list
  • an extension to List8D, allowing users to display citations in different styles
  • using the Talis APIs in List8D
  • Llikes, a tool to reorder a reading list based on social metrics

I'll write a couple of blog posts detailing what people said in their talks, and more about what was created during the event.

But basically, I had a really good time; I discovered lots of new things; some really cool and interesting things were created, and I'd love to go to a similar event again.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Reading List Hackathon

One of the things we're interested in doing is innovating ways to disseminate and manage Reading Lists.

Our latest widget, the Reference List widget I mentioned last week, covers a related but slightly different use case to Reading Lists. Reading Lists are much more broad, and could include published books, journals, local (e.g. departmental) reading material etc; whereas the Reference List widget caters for lists of citations in a very well defined format.

Right now one of our team members, Verity, is at a DevCSI workshop exploring the interoperability between reading list software and other software systems - we'll let you know of any useful things she picks up at the Hackathon.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A new widget and a new gallery!

Over the past few weeks we've started a "production line" of widgets where widgets start off life as ideas, become prototypes, then emerge as demos and gradually develop into more finished products. Watch this space for more news about some of the other widgets we have in "incubation" in the production line.

The first new widget to emerge from this production line as a "beta" release is a Reference List widget - this displays a list of journal citations and allows the user to filter them by various criteria like keyword and author. This could be used as a handy way for a course lecturer to disseminate the References relevant to various lectures within a course. It is powered by public JSON feed from a Google Spreadsheet which makes it easy for non-developers to maintain the source data. I'll blog a bit more about how this widget works in a later post.

In the meantime, I've set up a quick and dirty Gallery Page to show off our widgets as they emerge from the production line - you can see the Reference List widget in action on there, along with the two other widgets that are in a ready-to-demo state (see earlier posts for more about them). The widgets and the Gallery Page itself have some rough-edges which we'll tidy-up in the coming weeks but for now you get a flavour of what we've been up to. We also hope to supplement this demo page with a more "directory-like" page, a bit like an "app store", which will tell you more about each widget, and allow you to add the widgets to your own portals (e.g. Facebook, iGoogle).

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Widgets, mobile and atomized services

Interesting thoughts from Lorcan Dempsey:

Talking about mobile devices, but one point in particular is very relevant to widget design

"Atomization: get to relevance quickly. Mobile encourages designers to think of atomic services rather than complicated workflows or rich multilayered experiences. And to think about services that are immediately relevant and convenient. Room or equipment booking or bus time tables may become more visible, for example."

The simplest widget just takes an existing web page and puts it in a box - but this really isn't a very effective use of the medium.

When we're discussing ideas, a question we ask ourselves is "what makes you want to turn this into a widget?" Just because you can doesn't mean you ought to.

A few possible reasons:
  • You want to make services/information available outside traditional interfaces i.e. in social networking sites
  • You want to isolate a particular, commonly used service and provide a streamlined way to access it
  • You want to bundle a few related services/bits of information together around a particular set of workflows
I suppose the "widgetisation" of an interface is to do with how and where you want access to happen. But the restrictions (i.e. space) on widget development make you think very hard about use.

In a nutshell, it seems to me that widget development is about providing relevant services in a context. You could probably say this about all development, but there's something about widgets which concentrates the mind!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Another Hello

Hello my name is Anne and I am a CARET-based developer who will be working on Library Widgets with Raymond.

I am getting up to speed with this project and took part in a Widgets Brainstorming session last week. I have also been benefiting from reading everyone's postings on this Blog.

I have been tasked with writing PHP mediator scripts to automatically run a series of searches using both the Aquabrowser and Voyager APIs. The results from these searches will be merged together to allow Search Widgets to do their stuff with the data.

I'm looking forward to meeting and working with our colleagues at the UL.