Friday, 12 November 2010

"Final Post"

I'm in a slightly odd position writing a final post for this project. There's two reasons for that.

The first is that we're still working on future versions of all of the things we produced in this project, and will for some time. This blog won't be stopping, please don't unsubscribe! You'll miss out on all our future widgets.

The second is that I'm used to writing formal final reports, where we detail what the project has achieved, this time it's already on the blog. It's also very difficult to get the tone right in such a different environment.

I don't think it's worthwhile duplicating all that detail, but I'll summarize it here, and you can find the detail if you're interested.

First, you'll have seen the financial statement. The project management side of things seemed to work well, and we've also forged some good relationships within the University, for example getting a feed from our Student Information System.

The widgets we're proudest of, probably because they're the most advanced, are the "Library Widget" which provides the functionality you'd expect from a library (catalogue, books on loan, etc), in a single widget, embeddable in our VLE, in Facebook and in iGoogle. A related widget provides the same functionality on a mobile. These were half-done at the start of the project, through institutional commitment, but it was great to spend the time and effort to put them into production as a proper University service. The uptake was dramatic, and a little scary (see previous posts). If you want hard numbers for impact, that's where you'll find some pretty impressive ones!

Whilst Huw was working on productionising more developed widgets, like the general purpose library widget, and the mobile interface, I was responsible for getting the new widgets off the ground and into alpha. You can see inside the laboratory here, to see what's coming. But a laboratory can be dangerous, these widgets really are all in "alpha", and will almost certainly break at some point in the future, on their path to production. So have a play, but don't be surprised if something odd happens!

More advanced widgets are here on our demo page, and our forthcoming "storefront" is here. With three more widgets due for release in the next couple of weeks, we'll do a big announcement of the storefront to the University at that point.

I'm personally particularly excited about "sputnik" which isn't so much a widget in the traditional sense, but a Firefox plugin (Chrome to follow) which advertises how your library (or University more widely) can cope whilst you surf the web. In some ways it resembles Libx, and was inspired by the iCite life sciences plugin, but it's much less shy than either of them and, we think, has massive potential. For example, if you can't use the OPAC, find it in Amazon, and we'll tell you where it is in the library. Commercial vendors are not going to be shy about their offerings, they're not going to hide their information one or two clicks away, so why should we be reticent about our alternatives on commercial pages, particularly as the user will have to actively elect to install the plugin. The large area set aside also gives room for us to go beyond holdings in the future.

The exam paper widget (and associated uploader) helps students find exams and knows their subjects from our student information system. That's pretty much the first time we've integrated with our SIS, and we now have a feed which can help contextualise information. We have to work to the natural student year for this widget, of course, we can't move exams, and also the natural round of meetings of committees, but we've already got many papers from one of our subjects and approval to include more, so watch out for future posts on this subject.

Cambridge has many libraries and which library a student is a member of is not trivial to work out. We did it in the end, though, and now you'll see a widget which allows a student only to search libraries which they actually have access to. We think this is the first time this has been possible!

We've widgetised a reading list for a course (data entered via google spreadsheet) and are working on genericising it to other data sources including the possibility of linking it to Zotero or some other reading list manager.

We mustn't forget what might be the most valuable output of the project, the services for others to use, and our advice pages for widget writers which summarize much better than I am doing here the advantages of the approach.

Thanks to JISC for their support, and keep on looking for future updates. I've probably missed something out which I'll remember over the weekend, so I'll continue this shortly. In the meantime, here's a screenshot of my (personal) favourite "Sputnik" plugin, which I've already personally found invaluable (and see also Huw's usage graphs in other posts!). All the code for these widgets, even the experimental ones, should be in our googlecode svn (seach for culwidgets), and we'll make sure they're all complete at release of each widget.

In the spirit of the brave new world of blog, if you'd like further information on this project, or would like to steer any updates as to outcomes, just comment below and I'll happily answer.


  1. Do you have a way to synchronise my Amazon wishlist with my public library catalogue ?
    that could be really useful !

  2. Thanks Phil, interesting idea - we haven't looked at public libraries yet, but we'll take a peek!