Saturday, April 4, 2009

Opensearch vs custom toolbar vs smart keyword vs bookmarklet (IV)

In a previous post, I discussed the different ways, one can add support to searching OPAC and other library subscribed databases. The four methods were Opensearch plugins , custom toolbars (Conduit toolbar , Google toolbar , Libx) , Smart keyword searches and Search bookmarklets

I already discussed opensearch here, and the various custom toolbars here . In the last part of this series, I will discuss the much lesser used Smart keyword searches and Search bookmarklets.

Smart keywords

This is a feature that some power-users of Firefox might use to create quick searches. Though this feature is not new, later versions of Firefox makes adding smart keywords easier. The details are here

Above, I set up a keyword search for JSTOR, using js. Basically you right click in the search box , select "Add a keyword for this search", then in the dialog box choose a keyword, in the example above I choose "js".

This basically setups a bookmark, which is recognized by Firefox. Libraries can offer bookmarks to be added by users to add smart keyword searches.

Once it is setup, you can do a search for Jstor, by typing js followed by your search terms (singapore river in the example below) in the address bar and clicking enter as shown below.

Personally I don't recommend smart keyword searches as a method due to the following disadvantages

1. Works only in mostly Firefox.

Sadly this feature works only in Firefox. Internet explorer users can turn on this feature, but it's not easy. Opera has essentially the same feature , while you can add a similar feature using keywurls or Safarikeywords

2.Not portable between different kinds of browsers

Sadly, as far as I know though these features look similar in Firefox, Opera and Internet explorer, they aren't portable from one browser to another.

I.e if you create a smart keyword search in Firefox (which exists as a bookmark), moving it to opera does not get you the same feature (setting is stored in search.ini), neither does it work in Internet explorer (the setting is stored in the registry).

This is a lot more clumsy than opensearch plugins, where you can create one plugin for both Firefox and IE.

3. Memory load on users

Powerusers love the fact that you can quickly type the keyword and do a search in the address bar. However most users will find such a method taxing on their memory.

Bookmarklets

So far all the methods mentioned Opensearch plugins , custom toolbars (Conduit toolbar , Google toolbar , Libx) , Smart keyword searches etc have one huge disadvantage, they don't support Mac users who insist on using Safari!

Safari users are usually a small but vocal minority and possibly you might want to consider some way to include them. Besides keywurls or Safarikeywords , there are also Safari only methods such as AcidSearch and Inquistor.

But is there a way to support all users on all browsers?

In theory bookmarklets would be a way around this. Bookmarklets rely only on javascript, and I think it might be possible to create a search bookmarklet that would work for IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari.

Once created, all you need to do is to click on the bookmarklet, and it will pop up a dialog box to enter your search term. Other bookmarklet versions also allow you to highlight some text, click on the bookmarklet and it will search those terms highlighted.

To create a search bookmarklet, you can either use the method here (though the bookmarklet it generates might not work for all browsers) or modify an existing search bookmarklet like the one here which I verified to work for IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari (according to the site).

The version here however does not offer the additional feature of copying text and then clicking the bookmarklet to search though. Anyone know of the correct javascript that will work for IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari that includes this feature?

Pros

1. Requires no installation, light-weight

In many ways bookmarklets are as lightweight as opensearch plugins. Just add the bookmark, and it instantly works without the need to restart the browser (which is required for custom toolbars). Technical issues are likely to be less, though high security settings in IE might prevent the bookmarklet from working.

2.Supports all browsers

If you want to support as many browsers as you can with one method, search bookmarklets are your best hope.

Cons

1. Unable to support POST method?

It is possible in theory for bookmarklets to support post method , but I highly suspect it is not possible to make one that works for IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari, but my skills are too poor to figure this out.

2. Limitation in length of bookmarklet for IE 6.

See the following page

Conclusion

This comes to end of my series on the four different ways to bring our library searches to the browser. We covered

1. OpenSearch (my review here)

2. Custom toolbars (my review here)

3. Smart keyword search (covered in this post)

4. Bookmarklets (covered in this post)

Each method has their own strengths and weaknesses, but they all give users quick access to our library catalogues and subcribed databases. Personally, I think on the balance, OpenSearch plugins have the greatest potential, though support for users on older browsers (IE 6 and below) is lacking. However as time passes, such users will become a minority, but this still does not solve the problem of Safari users requring support.

Until Safari starts supporting Opensearch, the only workaround I might consider using is creating search bookmarklets.

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