Category Archives: Digital Culture

Sirsi-Dynix vs Open Source Software

There was a bit of a firestorm online this past weekend, when an Open Source Position paper distributed by Sirsi-Dynix, and authored by Steven Abram, hit the web. This paper was originally believed to be a “leak”, and was even published on wikileaks before Abrams put a link to it directly from his blog, and wrote an entry outlining why the paper was put forward to begin with. From his blog:

Some have expressed surprise about the position paper. Some call it FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. I call it critical thinking and constructive debate – something that everyone in libraries should embrace and engage in.

I do not hope to fully outline my thoughts about this here in a single post. Suffice it to say that I think the paper significantly mis-characterizes Open Source software in general, and Open Source library systems specifically. I am currently aware of three different efforts to annotate and answer the recently released, one of which I started in Google Docs in hopes of getting refutations together for the various points brought up in the Sirsi-Dynix piece. There is also an Etherpad collaborative refutation began by Tim Spalding of Librarything, and the Code4Lib group’s version on their wiki.

I’m going to give just a few excerpts here, and brief responses. I respect Stephen a great deal, but even viewing this paper in the loosest sorts of ways, there are just blatantly misleading statements scattered throughout. So, a few thoughts:

Nevertheless, it should be noted that it is rare for completely open source projects to be successful.

This is only true in the same way that saying “it is rare for projects to be successful” would be true. Many things fail…it’s just that in the open source world, you get to see the failures, whereas in a closed/proprietary world you don’t.

It is very unlikely that an open source solution is any less expensive than a proprietary solution. In fact, in all of the data SirsiDynix has collected, we are not seeing quotes that conflict with this assertion. Indeed there are very few green fields in the ILS marketplace. Most libraries already have an ILS and receive upgrades as part of their maintenance contract from us or other proprietary vendors. These maintenance contracts are a small percentage of the initial price.

I do not have numbers at my fingertips, but I feel very, very certain that if you actually calculated TCO in any rational way, open source wins. Why? Because it’s a difference of where you are choosing to put your money…instead of paying for support, the typical library that moves to open source solutions has chosen instead to put its money into personnel, and while short-term the cost structures may look similar, paying for a position is far, far more flexible than paying on a maintenance contract. You can’t get that contract to do other things you might need done, while a technical support position can be repurposed.

Plus, while maintenance contracts are “a small percentage of the initial price”, that doesn’t mean that they are in any way a small amount of money. MPOW is a small academic library, and what we pay in yearly maintenance would go a long, long way towards another staff position.

In many markets, there are major systems in accounting, intranets, e-learning, and so on that must tie in to the ILS. In many cases, open source is still the minority solution because, for example, the number of Linux desktops is meager compared to Microsoft Windows desktops. By choosing a Linux desktop, a user closes the door on some software because it may never be created for or ported to Linux. Add to this the major changes in allied systems that require an adaptation for the ILS and the issue grows exponentially.
So for libraries that choose an open source system, the opportunity to integrate different systems into the solution is limited, at best.

This is just a mess of an argument. Why would anyone knowingly choose any software solution that wasn’t compatible with the remainder of their infrastructure? And the advantage of an OSS solution is that the data is yours, and can be massaged into whatever format you’d like…you don’t have to wait on the vendor to decide to add the connector that you are looking for. This is just _wrong_, and I’m not even sure how you structure an argument like:

Windows is more popular than Linux on the desktop.
Some software doesn’t run on Linux.
Therefore, Open Source ILS solutions are bad for libraries.

What?

Proprietary software has more features. Period. Proprietary software is much more user-friendly.

Proprietary software often does have more features…as an example, Microsoft Word has _thousands_ of features, compared to…oh, Open Office. But Open Office has the 20 features that cover 99% of the use-cases for word processing. To argue that proprietary software has more features that no one will ever use doesn’t strike me as a particularly good argument.

And user-friendly? Again, that’s just a statement with no backing…I’ve used tons of proprietary software that had horrible usability. In my experience, it’s almost always the niche proprietary software designed for very specific solutions (like, oh…library systems) that has the worst usability of all.

I could spend many hours digging through this, but I’ll let the collaborative documents tell the rest of the tale. I completely agree with Stephen that all libraries should carefully examine their needs and resources when deciding on what solutions to move to. But this document paints with far too broad a brush, is misleading at best on many points, and simply fails to any test of accuracy. I understand that this is a sales brochure, but I am disappointed at the tone taken….you can critically evaluate without hyperbolic statements like “jumping into open source would be dangerous, at best.” This is more Fox News than CNN, more USA Today than New York Times. I hadn’t hoped for more from Sirsi-Dynix, but I had hoped for more from Stephen Abrams….whether that is fair or not.

I’ve embedded the Google Doc that I started below, but you should definitely check out both the Etherpad and the Code4Lib wiki to see how a large number of librarians are responding. Not everyone put in their thoughts, but the list of people with access to edit is: Nicole Engard, Chris Cormack, Toby Greenwalt, Kathryn Greenhill, Karen Schneider, Melissa Houlroyd, Tara Robertson, Dweaver, Lori Ayre, Heather Braum, Laura Crossett, Josh Neff, and a few others who have usernames that I can’t decipher. 🙂

Google Wave and Igor

For the BIGWIG Showcase this year, I talked about and put together a presentation on Google Wave, and what I think it will do to library services. One of the things I talked about was the ability for software robots to watch the Wave, and alter it in specific ways. Well, it looks like we’ve got our first bibliographic example of this, with Igor. Stew over at Flags & Lollipops has put together a robot that will watch a given Wave for mentions of citations, and then query and automagically fill in footnotes from PubMed, Connotea, or CiteULike (for now, I’m sure that Zotero and other coverage is easily possible).

I’ve got no idea how he did this, given that Wave isn’t public yet…but the demo shows what’s going to be possible with Wave. Take a look, and get ready….Wave might change everything. You may need to click through and enlarge the player to really see what’s going on.

Igor – a Google Wave robot to manage your references from Stew Fnl on Vimeo.

Igor is a robot for Google Wave written in Java and running on Google App Engine.

It allows users to pull in references from PubMed & personal libraries on Connotea or CiteULike by querying services with keywords that they supply inline with the article you’re writing.

LyricRat

Just found an awesome new reference tool…LyricRat is a site that will take a snippet of lyrics that you give it, and then tell you the song, album, artist that the lyrics are from.

My favorite bit? If you tweet a lyric to @lyricrat, they will reply with the song and a link to the lyricrat site!

So very cool, and easy to use. Huge fan of services like this that provide a service in an almost completely transparent way: no sign up, no log in, no barriers.

CluetrainPlus10 – Thesis 17

Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.

As many will probably say about The Cluetrain Manifesto, it’s almost scary how precient it was. To put it into perspective, when the authors were writing Cluetrain, Google had less than a dozen employees and has just moved out of a garage. The word “blog” had yet to be used to describe a chronological website. Napster hadn’t shattered the media industry yet. And statistics put the number of people on the Internet at just about 150 million, or around 10% of the current number.

Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger put together an amazing set of principles that are even more relevant today than they were 10 years ago.  The sad part about Thesis 17, in particular, is that companies haven’t yet learned this lesson. Some of them are trying, with standouts like Zappos. But far too many companies are failing to see the benefits of participatory marketing and extreme customer service.

The market is no longer passive. Almost no one under the age of 35 these days interacts with products in the way the older generation did…we expect to be involved in our consumption, connected to it. We ask friends, we poll our social networks, we take recommendations of the people we know very seriously. We have to love both the object and the process or we just don’t buy. And loving means becoming involved, knowing more, interacting with the makers, asking questions, and otherwise being active.

We want a relationship with our products, and producers who try to feed us advertising may be ok short-term, but the days of the passive are over. The new market is fragmented and participatory, and content producers will have to adjust or die. Making a better product isn’t enough. The companies that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that understand and cultivate the one-to-one relationships with their customers and their potential customers.

This post is a part of the larger CluetrainPlus10 project. Follow other reflections on the Cluetrain there!

Wisdom from Reznor

Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, recently said this in a Wired interview:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think music should be free,” Reznor says. “But the climate is such that it’s impossible for me to change that, because the record labels have established a sense of mistrust. So everything we’ve tried to do has been from the point of view of, ‘What would I want if I were a fan? How would I want to be treated?’ Now let’s work back from that. Let’s find a way for that to make sense and monetize it.”

How’s that for a customer service mantra? Try that for your library: What would you want, if you were a patron? How would you want to be treated? Work back from that, find a way for that to make sense.

Hackintosh




hackintosh

Originally uploaded by griffey.

This is the “About This Mac” screen from what is not an Apple product at all. After seeing the sale that Dell was having a few weeks ago, and getting my first royalty check from my book, I decided to splurge a bit and grab a Dell Mini 9. I had a copy of OS X 10.5.6 that I got when I bought the Mac Box Set a few months ago when upgrading my iLife and iWork, so I was covered on the legal copy of OS X.

After that, it was a reasonable simple matter. I’ll throw together a separate post with the directions I followed. What I mainly wanted to note here was how incredibly well the Mini 9 runs OS X. Seriously solid, and with NO hesitation. It’s kind of mind-blowing.

Inherit the Wind

There has been a conflation of blog posts and news stories that have really set my brain on fire this week, starting with an amazing post and comment discussion over at Walking Paper by Aaron Schmidt.  Then there was a quick email conversation with Michael Porter about the future of libraries if we don’t get ahead of the digital content curve and fast. On top of all that, someone pointed me to the  amazing “future of education” slideshow that I linked to yesterday by Dr. David Wiley. And now David Lee King puts together this amazing post about The New Normal, which links out to yet more stories about how the Music Industry and other once-solvent American institutions are undergoing change so radical as to make what comes out the other side almost unrecognizable.

In the midst of all this, at MPOW we are building a new library. So I’m thinking a LOT about several different time horizons. How do I plan for the realities of opening a new library in 2-3 years, but still allow for what I see as the likely outcomes for collections, services, and such in 5, or 10, or 20 years? This is a non-trivial problem…while no one can really tell whats coming, we have to remember that we are creating the future every day.

I agree with David on most of his points, but some of it bears repeating. Here are the sort of “talking points” that I’ve been rolling around in my head for the last month or so.

  • It isn’t likely that any major national newspaper will still be in print in 5 years.
  • Magazines will almost certainly follow…their collapse may be more slow motion because they have a different advertising base, but it will come.
  • Hardcover books are next to go. They are, in effect, just publicity engines.
  • After that, I’m betting that the slowly-dwindling dead-tree printing that is done becomes, essentially, a beskpoke process where there are paper-fetishists who purchase “books” for their sensory natures. But 99.9% of publications will be digital.

In addition to this 5-10 year spiral, we have the parallel procedures of the major content providers hoping to rent the future to us digitally. Ebook models have been unilaterally horrific, insisting on DRM that only punishes the hopeful consumers of the printed word. Digital video and audio on a consumer level are starting to come around, with the iTunes store being the last major consumer provider of digital audio to go DRM free. Consumer video is slowly moving from a subscription-subsidized with advertising model like cable to a free-streaming, a la carte, advertising based model like Hulu, but even there content creators are still fighting the inevitable by insisting that only they get to decide where media can live.

Content providers have insisted on holding tight to a model of selling their wares where content is scarce, connections are hard, and communication is expensive. We live in a world, however, where content is ubiquitous, connections are trivial, and communication is essentially free. These two worlds cannot coexist, and library vendors from Overdrive to OCLC must change their models. If they don’t, they will die as certainly as newspapers, magazines, the recording industry, television, and printed books.

Where does all of this leave the library? As the analog dies and the digital rises, unless we get in front of the content providers and claim our place at the digital table, we run the risk of being increasingly marginalized. There are places for us in this new world, but we need to make them, to carve them from the bytes. Stewart Brand’s comment that “information wants to be free” has never been more true, but just because it wants to be free doesn’t mean it doesn’t need caretakers.

The title of this post is inspired by a quote from Eric Hoffer, who said: “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” In this brave new world, libraries and librarians must be learners. If not, we run the risk of inheriting not the information-rich digital world of the future, but the wind.