Friday, October 08, 2004

Getting There vs Being There

A rich day for content discussions.

First, I am going to respond to Mr. Tivo Repairman's comments from yesterday. George, you don't smoke anymore, but you do still drink scotch. Take another role model for this problem: Amanda Cross's detecting academic Kate Fansler doesn't ever seem to have had a problem that a few Laphroaigs didn't help with. Or was it Lagavulin? (My favourite scotch, Scapa, from the Orkney Islands, is given a rather ho-hum review at "Scapa is interesting, but has never been considered a front runner." Oh well, that much might be said of many of us)

George and I actually had a lively exchange on email on the topic of Google Print. George had passed on a remark from someone else that WorldCat records better show up in Google Print results (if you're not familiar with why that might be the case, check out the OCLC Open WorldCat pilots with Google and Yahoo! Search here). My flip response was "why the heck would they?
Open WC doesn't link to content directly at the moment, just metadata. People don't want metadata."

At which point George replied:
"So we might as well not bother doing this [Open WorldCat] at all? If people don't want metadata, why bother with anything except book museums? No way all that text is ever going to be converted to digital content, at least not in our lifetimes."

At which point I mounted one of my herd of trusty hobby horses and replied:

"Well, it's all a bit more complex than that, isn't it? People do want metadata--they just don't know they do. They want it because they want a good 'findability' experience and they want relevant content, and we metadata mavens know that good content is enhanced, augmented, enriched etc by metadata. But to ask ordinary people to be excited by finding metadata not content is akin to expecting the traveler to be given a map at the airport and told to find their own way to Peoria.."whaddya mean you're not impressed? We've given you the map!" Not unreasonably, people want someone else to worry about the mechanics and physics of flying planes so they end up in Peoria without having to think too stenuously about wing flaps and fuel weight. The libraryland equivalent of air travel would have the entire crew and passengers crowded in the cockpit attempting to decipher the metadata guiding the trip to the destination--and yet only 2 people out of 157 are actually interested in and qualified to interpret the metadata.

To add to this, metadata dangles the destination in front of the traveller--"Find In a Library" suggest the traveller might be able to sit back and enjoy the flight--thanks for choosing WorldCat, operated by our partner Google--but actually has them change planes in mid-air without benefit of instructions or parachutes. The "Find In A Library" trip currently leaves them on the wingtip of the AeroFlot Library OPAC, expects them to find a way inside, and navigate an alien layout and language until they find the cockpit....and another map to Peoria!

And of course all content will not be digital but if there are 477 ways to Peoria then the easiest, fastest ones will be the most valued. If there's only one, difficult, unknown way to Shangri-la, then a map will be valued for that journey."

End of soapbox and I hasten to add --as my personal self and my OCLC self--I think Open WorldCat is an excellent step towards getting valuable library content out into the world, and it would be an even better step if we could pass searchers seamlessly from the Google and Yahoo interfaces directly into the OPAC but we can't at the moment because the local system vendors aren't exactly queuing up to work with OCLC to make this happen. Given we've seen really spectacular increases in the number of click throughs from Google and Yahoo, perhaps the ILS vendors will soon see there is a lot of interest in getting inside the OPAC from the Web. And many, many people are unabashedly enthusiastic about the results they ARE getting--imagine when we can streamline the "findability" even more!

George then posed good and hard questions:
"So what do we (the library community, that is) *do* with what we have? So if we do not compete with Amazon and Google, what is our niche?"

Well, that's the hard part, isn't it? And when we--you and me, George--do scanny presentations, aren't we pushing these questions into the forefront of librarians' attention? But we at OCLC have to think hard about this too. But I'm not going to today.

Here's some more very relevant food for thought. Over on, Rafat has Patrick Spain, founder (and a past CEO of Hoover's) of HighBeam Research (used to be eLibrary) as a guest blogger for the week, Oct 4-8. All his posts are interesting but today's really resonated given George's and my conversation.

Here's the main points (if you have time, read his other posts too)
  • Users don't care where the information comes from. They just want to know what is out there. So failing to include the free Web with your paid service is a big mistake.
  • Failing to provide premium for pay information on your free search is just as big a mistake. If the answer to a question relates to health or wealth, people will pay.
  • You have to be very clear and honest with users about what is free and what is paid. Don't try to charge for content that is free elsewhere.
  • Users want a fast, intuitive interface to do their searches. Our typical users decide in a couple of seconds whether we are a useful service.
  • Advertising on a for-pay site that does not interfere with the use of the site (as much of the advertising on free sites does) has no deleterious effects on sign up rates or retention. Done right, advertising enhances the attractiveness of a publication. Just ask The Wall Street Journal.
  • Free search and free trials are essential to demonstrate to users that you can be useful to them.
  • Enable the ability to save and repeat searches, store knowledge and convert that knowledgeable to usable form as a report, a contact, a spreadsheet or a presentation.
  • You can't charge just for content. Charge for the convenience and delight of using your service. Why does Starbucks get 2-3 times what McDonald's does for a cup of coffee?

Why indeed?

I am thinking my librarian's skills would make me a natural for this job. Or that the forecasting aspect of my current job may lead me to this.

Happy Thanksgiving to Canadian readers.


Anonymous said...

Please tone down your background image. I don't mind if you want dots on your page, but they make it a little hard to read your text. Can you fade them out some more? Thanx.

Alane said...

Dear Anonymous...sorry the dots bother you. We just picked a blogger template and I haven't a clue how to do anything to make it look different! Perhaps bloggers need to be licensed before rank amateurs such as myself are allowed to play.