Thursday, 13 December 2007

DeweyBrowser: beta forever!

The beta 1 version of the OCLC Research DeweyBrowser has now been superseded by beta 2. We are, after all, in the age of Web 2.0, where the mantra is 'beta forever'!

The beta 2 DeweyBrowser has some nice features, sporting improved functionality and a new interface (the latter being reminiscent of the similarly slick OCLC Open WorldCat interface - also in beta). Users can search for a topic or DDC number, or drill down by clicking through the Dewey captions which are represented as Dewey clouds. New features include the ability to filter search results by format, language, and OCLC Audience Level. Users can also search within result sets, view search histories, and peruse larger Dewey clouds. Of course, the best thing about DeweyBrowser remains the fact that it provides access to – and interlinks with - one of the biggest databases in the world; a union catalogue of over 1 billion hybrid resources (i.e. the OCLC Worldcat database).

We know the story. DDC is the most widely used classification system in the world, built on sound principles that make it handy as a general knowledge organisation tool. It has expressive notation, which makes it conducive to deployment on the web for improved information retrieval (for example, see HILT or OCLC Terminology Services), as well as well-defined(ish) classes and maturely developed hierarchies for powerful retrieval within other information environments. It is good to see OCLC so active in harnessing all this structured data for doing some good. Take a look at OCLC's FRBR inspired FictionFinder, for example, or the new-ish Open WorldCat. It's about putting all this structured information the LIS community has accrued to good work – and it's about time too!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Microsoft Listas: a chicken or egg conundrum?

Microsoft Live Labs has recently launched a new 'tech preview' called Listas, a personal information management web tool. Essentially this is a social bookmarking and collaborative tagging application (similar to the likes of, RawSugar, etc.), allowing users to share web content they have encountered with other users. As the name suggests, Listas is about creating lists. Lists? Sounds a bit boring, eh? Perhaps it is in a way; however, Listas allows you to create extremely rich lists, comprising text, images, RSS feeds, multimedia and so forth, making Listas more like a web clippings service - which is probably the smartest aspect of this tool.

Part of the supposed attraction of Listas is the ability of users to collaborate and share their lists with other users. Users can also subscribe to persons that create particularly interesting lists (top lists and tags are available on the homepage). There is also a community section where you can find the most popular items from the public lists and peruse the tag clouds.

Microsoft have created a toolbar to assist users in compiling lists quickly, but alas it is only available for IE. The absence of a FireFox plug-in is a spectacular oversight from Microsoft; kind of like cutting off your nose to spite your face. These systems are so reliant on active user communities such that a Catch 22 scenario inevitably ensues: collaborative Web 2.0 tools require an active community to attract more users. The more users; the more powerful the tool becomes.

Although Listas may fulfil the needs of some personal information management junkies (the term 'information management' is used in the loosest possible sense here!) and has some neat web clipping features, I can't imagine this service getting the critical mass it requires to be useful from a community perspective. More to the point, I can't imagine that users would be particularly interested in someone else's shopping list, meeting minutes, or random web clippings. Have Microsoft completely missed the boat here? Or maybe it's me – can I not see the community value in this? Of course, the beauty of Microsoft Live Labs is that it doesn't really matter; let's just try it and see if it works – a nice ethic to have, if you can afford it.