Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Squatting in the Library? Visitors and Residents at UKSG

The most tweeted soundbite from Andy Powell's opening presentation for day two of UKSG was 'content should be of the web, not on the web'. This nicely sums up several of the comments and observations of plenary speakers over the first two days. People, we need to be nicer to our content and help it grow to reach its real potential. Content, I'm sorry, you are going to have to work much harder! It was interesting to note that Cliff Lynch was making very similar points to Andy on the other side of the pond, at CNI2011. The well known work 'The Machine is Us/ing Us' demonstrates this well.

Andy drew on a now seminal piece of work on 'Visitors and Residents' by Dave White of Oxford University. This describes how we interact with the online environments - with Residents spending a significant portion of their time online, building a known profile / identity and contributing to the process of creation online. Visitors are more likely to use the web as a tool, dipping in and out to find specific resources or answer specific questions. Both groups are equally valid, but we need to be able to cater for both. To date, digital libraries have tended to focus purely on the Visitor.

So what does this mean to those offering services using an online medium? The changing focus on Residents helps us to move from a controlling "this is you and this is what you are allowed to do' attitude to one where the user has more control - ''this is me and what I have done". Andy posits that social interaction is what creates content, and queries whether the approach of institutional repositories in working in this context. Few researchers see value in depositing or providing metadata, which has let to a culture of mandates - they very controlling approach that does not support the user.

One of the ways we can think about making some simple but significant changes for our content and services is to exploit the potential of URIs (of this type, not this type). URIs support the notion of 'of the web' not 'on the web'. Instead of saying where something is, they say WHAT something is. This moves us closer to the concept of intelligent, linked data and helps provide a platform for the type of social activity that is building content.

Andy notes that the environment and culture for openness does not simply appear over night but that companies are beginning to exploit the benefits of linked data - the 'Facebook Like' button for example relies on linked data to achieve its aims, and that little button is appearing everywhere!

The takeaway from the talk? Probably a call for both libraries and publishers to think more about how their services are supporting Residents and not just Visitors to provide a truly effective service in an online environment.

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