Digital Culture Library Issues

Last thoughts on SWIFT at CiL2008

SWIFT at CiL2008Just wanted to wrap up a few thoughts I had after sitting through the “input session” organized by ITI and The Otter Group on the whole SWIFT/CiL thing. Several really important points came up during that session, which I felt like needed to be pulled out for comment.

First was Ryan Deschamps comment during the (admittedly somewhat tense) discussion. Paraphrased, it was “you don’t just have to be good, you have to be better than me.” This wasn’t said egoistically, just to point out that any particular tool, especially a tool that is commercial in nature, has to be better in significant ways than the tools that are available for free. As well, the tool has to do something that the individual attendees of the conference can’t do either as easily or as quickly by themselves. While I’m quite sure that not everyone at Computers in Libraries is as talented as Ryan, I’m equally sure that anything he or any of the other seriously talented people who were at the input session were to build would be sharable and community driven. As Michael Sauers pointed out on, several presenters created tools for free, for the hell of it, that ended up being huge drivers of the conference. SWIFT has to be better than them, and it’s not.

Second was the issue that I have with perceived audience of this product. The product is marketed at people who use tools that rely on tags as metadata…flickr, blogs, delicious, etc. It, by necessity, has to have tags in order to pull all the disparate pieces together. But the very people using those services are the people who don’t need SWIFT. The Otter Group developed a platform that is useless for the very people that must use it for it to work.

Kathleen GilroyThird and last is what the session turned out to be. Meredith Farkas has, as usual, a thoughtful post on her take on the session, and comments on the very real tension in the room. I think the tension was a result of the clash between expectation and implementation…we expected an actual feedback session, and we got a sales pitch. Meredith got to the party a little late, and might have missed the fascinating anecdote about where Kathleen got the name for the product (SWIFT is named after a bird!).

We. Don’t. Care. We use products called things like ooVoo, Tumblr, Hulu, and Twitter. Clearly names are not at the top of our list when we choose products or service. We didn’t care about the history of the product, nor even really about its intended use. The street finds its own uses. The point of Web2.0 and Library 2.0 is to provide tools.

Several people in the room commented on the fact that The Otter Group seemed not at all interested in really hearing about the problems with the product. Everything was blamed on “being beta”, or on the lawyers, or something. My take on it is that they just don’t seem to get the social web, as hard as they tried and as much history as they have in trying to make it a commercial product. They fell hard once with their ALA Bootcamp, and if possible fell even harder with Cil2008 and SWIFT.

Oh, and since I know that eventually Kathleen and The Otter Group will see this: Who won the Wii?

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

8 replies on “Last thoughts on SWIFT at CiL2008”

I caught enough of her presentation to know that it was incredibly misguided. I’m not sure how she thought that better explaining what SWIFT was would help. I guess she really believes that SWIFT is amazing and we just don’t get it. Sigh…

I know when I created a wiki for the Buying and Selling eContent conference for Information Today last year, there was a company that wanted to display their feed of blogs about eContent (which they didn’t know how to display themselves, but that’s another story). When I found out that they were SELLING mashed up feeds like that, I was baffled, because it’s something you can accomplish with any number of free tools (RSSMixer, Feed Digest, Yahoo! Pipes, etc.). It seems like the best market for tools like that is for people who know nothing about the technologies and just want to pay for something that works. Of course, SWIFT can’t even do that because they need to market it to people who tag things who, for the most part, know how to do this stuff on their own. I find it interesting that companies like this are still managing to make money when there are so many models for doing this sort of stuff for $0. And even if the conference organizers don’t want to put it all together themselves, there are lots of people like us who would be happy to do that for them for a lot less than these companies charge.

So, techie conference organizers, look for help from within. There are lots of smart, able folks who would love to set up or build you what you want and will charge you a lot less to do it.

Ryan, thanks for the summary. Although some of us were a bit harsh, I think we said what she/Otto Group needed to hear. We didn’t get it what made SWIFT better than what we’re doing now. And we were their test market.

The feedback continued at the reception afterwards. I was pleased to hear Dick Kaiser talk about it. They had jumped at what sounded like an idea, but the decisions sounded rushed. I think he appreciated our input and questions. In our case, we were able to think about it in a way that they could not.

BTW now I’m glad I took those photos! (I wondered if they would be useful….)

[…] Jason Griffey summed up my conclusions almost to the letter.  See, there was this meeting with the Otter Group. I was only at the meeting with the Otter Group for twenty minutes, since I had to catch a flight, but it seemed o.k., as far as meetings go. […]

Well said, Jason. I respect ITI for trying something new–heck, isn’t that what we always say libraries and librarians should be doing? Taking risks? Daring to fall? Getting back up again and trying something else? But any harshness we had for SWIFT itself was, as far as I’m concerned, the ugly truth. It’s not just librarians who care about terms of service. It’s not just webby librarians who can navigate and aggregate without needing a commercial platform. Maybe there are conference-goers who want SWIFT and would use it, but I think there are more people than just those of us in the room who wouldn’t need it at all. And while I appreciate what Kathleen Gilroy’s original motivation and inspiration was…in the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the result, the product. And it’s just not something I see any use for.

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