Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Blood and Horizon

We had a new product manager join my group in October. Nathan Guinn is a veteran of other local technology companies (Word Perfect, Novell, and the embedded open source company Lineo Inc.), but he's new blood to us. Having Nathan on board has reminded me how good it is to bring in fresh perspectives, fresh energy, and new ideas from time to time. Nathan is working on the web services offerings we have for SirsiDynix Symphony and for our new Discovery Platform. The Discovery Platform is the technology behind our the SirsiDynix Enterprise product. Enterprise 3.0 uses the Symphony Web Services to get information about real-time item availability.

Looking ahead, there's lots more interaction planned for Enterprise and the Symphony Web Services--account information, hold transactions, authentication... The great thing about the web services, though, is that it's not just SirsiDynix products that will use them. Nathan has also begun working with some of our Strategic Partner Program participants to create new web services for the applications our partners and customers want to build.

We really wanted a fresh set of eyes for that job. Nathan is responsible for looking at the whole world of web services we could build and choosing what to build first.

Nathan is going to be working closely with Ed Riding, the product manager for SirsiDynix Horizon. Ed knows how Horizon works and he understands the customer perspective thoroughly. From his first library job at New York Public through more than 20 years with this company, Ed has humbly kept learning and is never one to shy away from the details. Ed provides background knowledge to balance Nathan's fresh perspective.

Nathan and Ed will be collaborating on web service-based interactions between the Discovery Platform and the Horizon ILS. The Discovery Platform currently harvests bibliographic data from both Symphony and Horizon. Web services give us a way to expand the interaction between the Horizon ILS and Discovery Platform clients like the SirsiDynix Enterprise discovery interface. We want, for example, to give library users real-time availability information from Horizon. It also lets Horizon library users take advantage of everything new we're building into Enterprise. Having Ed and Nathan working together bodes well for the Horizon user experience.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Community Content

Being lovers, my wife and I spent some time in August wandering through Virginia (Williamsburg, Monticello, Shenandoah, Tangier Island...). Turns out, Bing and Google both produce very helpful results when you search for, say, “hotels near charlottesville va”. Both produce a list of hotels highlighted on a map. From the map, you can look at pictures, compare locations, check prices, and even zoom in for a panoramic street view.

The Bing Travel interface had an advantage in the way results were sorted by price. The Google interface had an advantage in the maps feature because when you zoom in or out, the search is re-launched and other hotel options appear in the view. Mind bogglingly cool stuff.

As amazing as the price and map stuff was, though, the most useful piece of information I encountered may have been the integrated reviews and ratings in the Google interface (Bing didn’t have enough reviews to be of any real use). One night, for example, we were tempted by what looked like a great price. The brand (hotel chain) was one we’d trusted before and the location seemed perfect for our plans. The reviews, though, told us what the map could not. “Sticky tables in the rooms.” “Mold in the bathroom.” “Some guests seem to be living there.” “Management surly and indifferent.” We’re price conscious, but not that price conscious—we went elsewhere.

The reviews and ratings are community content that Google is harvesting into their interface from non-Google sources. Most of the hotels I looked at on Google had more than 60 reviews that were harvested from online traveler communities like and When I can quickly browse through 60 reviews for a single hotel, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good sense of the place, a huge benefit to a casual searcher like me. People generally aren’t coming to Google to have a conversation about hotels. They might occasionally comment on a conversation they find there, but the vast majority of Google users are only going to be interested in reading what others have written.

I think the same holds true for ratings and reviews in library interfaces. The bulk of interesting reviews for a library interface are going to come from communities that come together specifically to talk about books (Goodreads, for example) or movies (IMDB, for example). As a builder of library interfaces, I’m interested in tapping into those communities. Users of my interface may occasionally want to add their comments to the mix, but mostly they want to see what others have said.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Collection Development 'Druthers'

Several people I’ve talked to lately wish they could do collection development with information they can’t easily get right now.

Here’s a sampling from the “wish I had” list:

  • Listings of the most highly reviewed or recommended titles from social networking sites like Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Chilifresh to guide new title purchases
  • A report that indicates likely candidates for re-location based on local demand within a system (not circulating at one library, some circulation at another)
  • Listings of articles or academic journals that are likely candidates for acquisition based on citation rates or less formal buzz within specific disciplines
  • A list of titles that have the highest ratio of holds to orders and copies on hand
  • A list of not-yet-acquired titles that have a high user tag correlation with titles circulated within specific address boundaries. The intent here is to identify the interests of specific populations
  • A list of the titles circulated within specific address boundaries that have the highest rates of user reviews

Some ideas above are fairly easy to do. Some are minor variations on what is available through existing reports. Some require information sources beyond the catalog. One at least may raise some privacy concerns. None of them are impossible. All reflect an effort to anticipate the interests of the patrons they serve.

As I look ahead with our reporting tools, our new web services, and what libraries can do to provide delight in their communities, this is the kind of thinking I thrive on.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Question about Cataloging and Local Control

This month marks my fourth year making software for libraries. I readily admit to being something of a novice in the library space. I offer that disclaimer to blunt any suspicion of ill intent behind an informal one-question survey I’m taking:

Why do you still do local cataloging?

I don’t mean that as a leading question, I honestly want to know. We’re long past the days when individual libraries typed up their own cards. The quality of bibliographic records available from aggregate sources (jobbers, publishers, OCLC, etc.) generally sound. Most people I talk to, though, still do quite a bit of local cataloging so I’m interested in getting a sample of current local practice.

Are you working with local collections that aren’t available from jobbers, publishers, LoC, or OCLC? Do you have local standards that require editing of delivered records? Is there a cost advantage with local work?

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What do you mean by “Open System”?

SirsiDynix people at conferences and in calls have used that phrase a fair bit lately. Many of our customers nod with glazed eyes as we say it, assuming it must be a good thing and there must be someone who wants that. A few, though, like the child at the emperor’s underwear parade, have had the temerity to ask what it means, so I’ll venture an answer.

An open system is one that a provides standard and well-defined interfaces for customization and interoperability. The phrase was actually first used in the early days of Unix and was a precursor to the notion of “open source”. See, if etymologies make you smile.

Though we at SirsiDynix have no plans to move to open source, we’ve taken pains for many years to write open system software. I say pains, because it’s harder to maintain a system that accommodates everyone’s customizations. We believe it’s well worth the effort, though, because we value the ways that libraries are unique. Acting on that belief, we have several initiatives under way to expand our open interfaces and to make them easier to use. Some examples:

  • SirsiDynix® Symphony® has the most extensive ILS API in the industry. We’re working to make that API available through web services. People who want to want to write iPhone applications, browser plugins, or connections to reporting and accounting systems, will find the web services much easier to use.

  • For a long time, the Symphony OPAC has had page templates that let customers configure what’s displayed to patrons. For example, on a search results page or in the details page, they might want to plug in mash-up code for things like LibraryThing, Google Books, or ChiliFresh. In the 3.3.1 release (due out in Q4 of this year), we’ll be simplifying the structure of those page templates to provide ready-made plug in regions for mash-ups and content enrichment. We’ll also be providing a new administrative configuration UI, so you won’t have to edit code files at all for some of the most common customizations.

  • SirsiDynix® Enterprise 3.0 (due out in September) takes the ‘no-need-to-edit-code-files’ idea to a whole new level. Enterprise has an administrative UI that lets you configure just about everything we could imagine—page layouts, field selection in the search results pages, LDAP settings, federated search connectors, index scheduling, search limit configuration... You name it and I’ll bet it’s in there. More than that, Enterprise has been built from-the-ground-up on web services. All of the administrative and configuration functionality I’ve described above is done through web services. Early next year, we’ll be publishing a Software Development Kit to encourage our customers and partners to dream up their own uses on top of what we’ve built. We’re hopeful that many of their creations will be added to the shared code repository in our customer API forum. And oh, by the way, Enterprise searches can be performed using the OpenSearch protocol as well as with RSS/ATOM.

That’s what I, we, SirsiDynix calls open system. We think it’s pretty cool.

Jared Oates
Director of Product Strategy, Engineering