Risks of using embeds in digital collection sites

This morning I read the news that Getty Images was going to start allowing people to use their images for free for non-commercial uses. This would be accomplished via an embed mechanism common on many other media sites where the sites provide some HTML code that you can paste into web pages or other online services. The code will retrieve the image from Getty’s servers whenever the web page / blog post / tweet / etc is viewed.

While certainly a useful feature and one that will make it a lot easier for people to share these photos legally, the use of embeds does raise an issue that I think librarians need to be aware of:

“Embeds from Twitter and YouTube are already a crucial part of the modern web, but they’ve also enabled a more advanced kind of link rot, as deleted tweets and videos leave holes in old blog posts. If the new embeds take off, becoming a standard for low-rent WordPress blogs, they’ll extend that webby decay to the images themselves. On an embed-powered web, a change in contracts could leave millions of posts with no lead image, or completely erase a post…”

This reminded me of a discussion I had earlier this week regarding the potential use of embeds in a future digital collection site. Specifically, one of the curators was interested in using TimelineJS to create and embed a timeline as supplemental content to the digital collection itself. The TimelineJS allows you to create a timeline on their site and then provides you with code that you can paste into your own web pages. That code retrieves your timeline from the TimelineJS web site and displays it in your own web page.

I can understand how this kind of functionality is attractive to librarians, since it allows you to provide enhanced content, integration, or functionality on your web site with very little effort. In addition, there no need to go through your likely-already-overtaxed systems group to implement the same functionality on the library’s own servers. You can just cut-and-paste and you are done!

In some cases, this approach makes complete sense, especially when you are dealing with information or content that is temporary or transitory. (Note: There are risks relating to security and privacy when embedding someone elses code on your web site. Do your homework!)

When we’re talking about digital collections, however, our timelines stretch out some. Most folks expect digital collections to be available for a long time, sometimes persisting as-is, sometime via a series of platform migrations. For me, if a curator invests their time in developing a timeline to accompany the digital collection, I want to make sure that timeline, like the digital objects that make up the collection, is available to visitors for as long as the site exists. If I use an embed to pull the timeline from another web service, there is a good chance that in 2, 5 10 years that the embed will fail resulting in an empty space on my digital collection site.

There are ways to mitigate against this problem. For TimelineJS we could grab the source code and run it off our own servers, but that requires time from the systems folks and becomes yet another web service that we are committing to run and maintain. In many other cases, setting up a local instance of the service isn’t even an option. At the very least, make sure that you have some sort of local copy of the content that you could use to recreate and/or replace the embed should you need to. For example, if we decided to embed a timeline using TimelineJS we’d want to try to grab a static image of the timeline as well as the source data the curator uploaded to Timeline JS to create it.

The ability to embed content and functionality from other services into your library’s web site can be an effective way enhancing your patrons user experience on the site, but remember that when it comes to building digital exhibits and collections we need make sure we don’t sacrifice long-term access and preservation requirements to our desire to just get things done.

Visits per hour

I was digging up some 2013 web stats for someone else and came up with two quick stats that might be of interest to some:

Averaged over the year (2013), our digital exhibit and collection sites saw around 100 visits per hour, while our main web site saw around 280 visits per hour.

Or if you prefer, digitization sites saw ~2,400 visits/day, while the web site saw ~6700 visits per day.

No idea how this compares to other places, but good to know if only as a benchmark.

Update on running iOS 7 on my iPhone 4 (A4)

If you have a first-generation iPhone 4 (i.e. running the A4 processor) and are considering upgrading to iOS 7 my recommendation would be to hold off until you have a new phone with the processing power to handle it.

After upgrading to iOS 7 after a few weeks ago, I can safely say that while the phone remains usable, it is a lot more sluggish even for basic operations. Sometimes the lag is barely noticeable, sometimes maddenly so.

It wasn’t too hard to get used to the changes in the interface, but I while the UI for iOS 7 is different, I’m not sure it is any better. Learning the new way of doing things felt like climbing a hill to get back to where I was. Except that everything is a bit slower.

So aside from getting to play with the new UI, in my opinion there is no upside to upgrading a first-gen iPhone 4 to iOS 7.

Update (Mar 10): This Ars Technica article takes a more detailed look at running iOS7 on an iPhone 4 and more or less jives with what I’ve experienced myself.

Running iOS 7 on an old iPhone 4

After putting it off for what seems like forever, I recently decided to give in to the nagging iTunes dialog box and upgrade my iPhone 4 to iOS 7.

I have a first-gen iPhone 4, meaning that it runs the older A4 processor. I was already seeing performance issues as I updated my apps to versions designed to take advantage of the newest iPhone hardware Apple had to offer. Everything still worked, but the responsiveness left a lot to be desired.

In this scenario, upgrading to a new OS is probably the last thing one would normally do. Still, hope springs eternal, and after my research failed to turn up any horror stories, I decided that I had little to lose, so I went for it.

Short version: everything is fine.

Here are a few more details for others contemplating the same upgrade:

  • If you are running iOS 6.x on a first-gen iPhone 4, you are already used to somewhat sluggish performance. With iOS 7 I find my phone is slightly less responsive, but still very much usable.
  • The  changes to the iOS 7 UI have a much bigger impact on the usability of the phone than raw performance. The UI isn’t all that bad and I’m sure that I’ll eventually get used to it. First impressions though are that everything just feels kind of “off” and not what you would expect from using an Apple product.
  • Most if not all of the buttons in the UI are gone, replace with text and line-art icons. I seem to have problems ‘clicking’ on these elements, but I can’t tell if that is because the target size has moved or changed, or if the phone just isn’t responding fast enough to my gestures.
  • Battery power seems to drain off a bit faster, but it is still too early to say if this is a will become a major problem.

Those are my initial impressions. I’ll update this post if/when I experience any other issues that I think might be of use to others.

 

 

Slides: Harnessing new technologies to get things DONE

Here are the slides from the presentation Sarah Severson and I gave at CMD 2013 on Monday.

Here’s the short description from the program:

This session will showcase new technologies to help you get things done. Everything from online social spaces, to different tools to manage your own information, to tools that help make your presentations and reports look better ! Sarah and Ed will present tips and tricks that all professionals can use.

We also have a shared document that lists and links to all the tools in our presentation.

http://bit.ly/cmd2013newtech (Google Docs)

Feel free to add in your own!

Google Search… now with ads!

This morning I noticed ads showing up in my Google search results, the first time I’ve seen any in a long time.

I say that it has been a while since I’ve seen ads like this because I’ve long used the Adblock Plus browser extension to remove ads from web sites that I visit. Now either this new ad format hasn’t been added to the Adblock filters or Google has found a way around them. Regardless, all that matters to me is that the top search results being returned by Google are now useless to me.

I was looking for information on how to make networking diagrams using the latest version of Visio, so am I interested in other network mapping tools? No, I’m not. Am I interested, for that matter, in a bunch of related images of networking diagrams? Nope. I’m interested in getting to the info Microsoft has published on the network diagramming features in Visio.

I’ve gotten used to the fact that the Google’s ability to source relevant information has been gradually declining. Blocking the ads on their site has been my way to help Google out, to try to salvage some use out of their search tool. Forcing me to view their crappy ads does little to further endear me to their search product, and everything to make me consider developing new search habits.

Update – Nov 19, 2013: It appears that these ads qualify as acceptable advertizing that adblock agreed to let through their filters. Fortunately, you can turn this off in the add-in options (look in the add-in settings for Adblock Plus and make sure that Filter preferences > Allow some non-intrusive advertizing option is turned off).

 

Searching for a print item

Following up on my previous post on using various tools to try to find a book published in the 1800s, I thought I would try a similar experiment and try another known-item search, this time to find a book that we have at the Library but that is not in the public domain.

I had to try a few titles before I hit upon one: Lave and Wenger’s Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, published in 1991.

Again, I’ll start with a basic search in WorldCat, searching for “situated learning.” The book I’m looking for comes up second in the list.

Clicking through to the details page, I see that we have three copies at the Library, but that none of them are available (two are out on loan and one copy is missing).

I could click on the Request button here which would allow me to have the book recalled, which means that one of the people would get an email notice to return the book within a week or two instead of the original due date.

If the book was on the shelf, I would be able to retrieve it myself by noting the location (branch) and the call number, and then going to the branch and using the signage there to make my way to the book. Alternately, I could click on the Request button to have the book retrieved from the shelf and delivered to the branch of my choice. That process takes a bit longer (a day or two) but saves me from having to hunt for the book. It all depends on how urgently I need the book.

(Note: The recalling and retrieving functionality is actually provided by our Classic Catalogue, or more specifically, on Aleph, the integrated library system (ILS) that we use to run the Library. WorldCat relies on Aleph for all information and functionality relating to circulation.)

Repeating the same search in the Classic Catalogue, the book I’m interested in is at the bottom of the first page of results.

Here again I can see that we have three copies. While I know from experience that students are not always able at first to understand the information here to figure out if the book is available. For a student or user who knows how to use the Catalogue, though, it is fairly straightforward.

To access the recall/request functionality, I need to click on the location/holdings information.

Once advantage the Classic Catalogue has is that there is a Map icon that users can click on to see an interactive map that shows exactly where the book is located in that Library branch.

Now, if I search for ‘situated learning’ in Google, unsurprisingly all the results are pointing to information on the topic of situation learning, and not the book of that title.

Google does pull up what looks like a book as a sidebar item, but that only launches a new search with the complete title of the book. Regardless, most folks who are searching for a specific kind of thing with Google will choose the facet that interests them: images, videos, etc and in our case, we’re looking for a book, so we’ll just click on Books:

Here, the book I’m looking for is first in the results. Lets click through and see what we get:

07-sl-google-searchresults-bookdetail

Here, I have an online preview of the book, which is not the full book, but could still do in a pinch depending on what you are looking for. But let’s say I want the book. Well, Google was good enough to put a big, red GET PRINT BOOK button on the page, so let’s assume that most people are going to click that.

08-sl-google-getprintbook

So I have a list of places where I can purchase a copy of the book, along with the price at each for comparison. Better yet, there is a link above this list that says “Find in a library”. Clicking that takes us to the WorldCat page for the item.

09-sl-google-oclcdetail

Actually, since I am currently on the McGill network, WorldCat detected that I was on the McGill network and offered to redirect me to the McGill-localized version of WorldCat, but I declined since I wanted to consider a ‘worst-case’ scenario where the patron was from McGill but not necessarily on the McGill network (i.e. not physically on campus or connecting through VPN). And although this is the generic WorldCat UI you can see that it provides a note that I am on the McGill Network and gives me links to McGill services that interlibrary loan as well as a link the book’s page in WorldCat Local (WCL) instance.

The WorldCat page (above) gives me a list of libraries that have copies of the book. The page appears to be location-aware: there is a postal code entered in the location box that isn’t my postal code, so I’m assuming it was provided by Google or by my browser… or maybe it is WorldCat that is somehow doing the lookup?

I’d need to do more research to figure out how my location is being determined, but at the moment all that is important is that I have a list of libraries that have the book and McGill is at the top of that list. Clicking on McGill University I’m taken to the Catalogue entry for the book, with all the benefits and potential confusion that that entails.

10-sl-google-classicholdings

Still, you can see that here again Google works just fine for a known-item search, even if that item is a book only available in print format at the Library.

***

I didn’t try this last time, but let me see what happens when I use the Books facet in Google to find Ville-Marie, the Alfred Sandham book I was looking for last time. Searching again on ‘alfred sandham’ then clicking on books, Ville-Marie is second in the list. Clicking through, I’m taken to the same book display as we saw with Situated Learning.

11-villem-google-readebook

The difference here is that since this book has been digitized and is in the public domain I can flip through it right there on the page or I can again click the big, red READ EBOOK button in the upper left-hand corner of the page to download a PDF or EPUB version of the book.

Actually, you see these options if you hover over the button. If you click the button the book gets added to your Books on Google Play. You can easily read the book on the screen, and if you click on My Books to get back to your list of all books, you can use the context menu on the each book cover to download PDF or EPUB versions.

However, if you have the Google Books app installed on your tablet or phone, the book you’ve added will show up there and with one more click to download you can read it.

So for public domain ebooks, the known item search in Google is pretty slick.

***

Now that I’ve tried looking for books in the public domain ebooks and now print books, next I will turn my attention to searching for restricted ebooks, that is, ebooks that the Library pays for and that can only be accessed by members of the McGill community.

…but that will have to wait for the next post!

Browser statistics: What a difference a year makes!

I came across a tweet this morning from a librarian who noted that 40% of their users are on Google Chrome. That number struck me as quite high, so I thought I would take a quick look at the usage statistics for the Library’s web site and see where we were at.

I also thought I’d compare it to last years numbers to get a sense of how things had shifted, if at all.

Browser Sept 2012 Sept 2013 Change
Internet Explorer 44% 38% -6%
Firefox 22% 20% -2%
Chrome 16% 23% +7%
Safari 16% 18% +2%

While we are no where near a 40% share for Chrome, Chrome has made the largest gain in our user base, to the point where it is now the second-most-used browser, usurping the long-held order of IE-Firefox-Chrome-Safari!

Again, this isn’t altogether surprising, although I would have expected Firefox to have gained a part of the share lost to IE. Still, it is interesting to note, if only to firmly establish Chrome as browser ascendant.

 

An example of discovery

This past weekend I was reading a book on the history and architecture of Old Montreal, and I came across a reference to a Alfred Sandham, a Montrealer who wrote about life in the young city in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. According to the book I was reading, Sandham’s most well-known work was Ville-Marie, or, Sketches of Montreal : past and present, which was published in 1870. Interested, I thought I would see if we had a copy at the Library.

I picked up my tablet, navigated to the Library home page, and typed “Alfred Sandham” in the search box that appears there. That search box searches against our WorldCat Local discovery layer, and I was interested in seeing how well it handled my search.

As it turns out, Ville-Marie showed up third in the list of search results that were displayed.

wcl-as1

I was expecting to have to filter by type or redo the search as a title search, but the author name appeared to be enough to pull up what I was looking for. I clicked on the record to see how I could get my hands on the book.

wcl-as2

As you can see, the WorldCat record shows that we have several copies of the work, but all of them in our rare collections and available for in-library consultation only. If this book was central to research I was doing, and if I was looking for a reason to spend a few hours nestled amongst our finest books, this would have been enough for me. However, my interest is more personal and my time too limited. I was hoping to have a copy I could take out and browse when I had a spare moment here and there.

Fortunately, I noticed that under Find a copy online, there is a link to an online version of the book that we have access to through Hathi Trust.

wcl-as3

According to the “viewability” section of the Hathi record, there are three digitized copies of the work: one from the University of Virginia, one from the University of Michigan, and one from Harvard University. Clicking on any one of these brings be to the digitized copy of the book displayed in page.

wcl-as4

Note that if I login to Hathi Trust (using my McGill username and password, thank you shibboleth!), I can also download the full PDF of the book if I so desire.

I thought I would compare this search experience with what would have happened had I searched for the item in our Classic Catalogue.

(I’m doing this not to disparage the Classic Catalogue: for some use cases, it is the right tool for the job. What I want to suggest through this example is that for some cases, and maybe many cases, WorldCat (or another discovery tool) does/can do a better job of providing our users with access to the information they are seeking.)

So, the Classic Catalogue. I go to the default search box and type in “alfred sandham”.

wcl-as5

The first entry for Ville-Marie is eighth in the list, but it says “microform” next to it. I click through anyway, but I only see more information about microfiche, and nothing about print or electronic copies that might be available.

wcl-as6

Let’s assume that I know what microform/fiche means, and I also decide that there must be a print copy at the Library, and that I just haven’t found it yet. I go back to the search results and keep scanning. Nothing else on page one, so I go to page two of the results.

wcl-as7

There I see that there are print copies available, but they are by consultation only. No mention of an electronic version anywhere.

As I said before, the are certain situations where a patron will make the effort to visit Rare Books and Special Collections (or Osler) and sit and read the book on site. But not many. Or rather, if that this is only way people believe they can access this book, then I am reducing the potential use of that book considerably.

As a third point of comparison, I’ll repeat the same search with Google. If I search for “alfred sandham”, I notice in the description of the third item in the search results the title of the book I am interested in (Ville-Marie).

wcl-as8

It is a link to the Internet Archive, which takes me to a list of books by Alfred Sandham. The second item in the list is the University of Michigan’s digitized copy of the text (which being in the Internet Archive has the extra bonus of being available in many formats including epub).

wcl-as9

So Google fares quite well in handling this search as well… I do wonder how well Google would work, though, with a restricted resource (i.e. something not freely available online or in electronic format). I think I’ll have to save that for a future post!

In any case, for me last weekend, the ability to plug in the author’s name and within a few clicks be browsing an electronic version of the book I was interested in was certainly a positive user experience, and one that I wanted to share if only to provide an example of what is possible and what we are working towards.

Note: I refer to WorldCat here but my comments could easily be in support of other discovery layers as well. WorldCat, like any system, has its limitations and problems, and like any library, we are constantly working to make things better.

Notes from the SIS Summer Practicum poster session

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending and helping out at a poster session at McGill’s School of Information Studies. The poster session was an opportunity for the students to showcase the work they did over the summer at their various practicum sites. There was a fairly good turnout to see the posters, and overall based on what I observed and what I heard from people, the event was a success*.

The one thing that did strike me was how well-done the posters were. In the past it has seemed to me that students didn’t put that much effort into their posters. Copier paper (and sometimes construction paper) cut and glued onto Bristol board, etc. Some prepared and had printed a proper poster, but those were the minority.

This year, all the posters I saw were top-notch, well-designed and properly printed. Some of the students also incorporated presentations on laptops or tablets. All of them presented themselves very well and did a good job of describing their work and interacting with the people that came to see them.

I think it is important for students to realize that posters are an important form of professional communication, and they should make sure they take any opportunity they have to learn and practice creating and presenting posters. I was glad to see this awareness take root in the practicum poster session, and I hope that future students are as attentive and professional as this summer’s group were!

* Disclosure: My spouse is the practicum coordinator for SIS, and I was there helping out taking photos for the School to use in their communications.