Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Adding your library catalogue results next to Google results using WebMynd

Recently, I started to realize that our page on the proxy bookmarklet (a bookmark that allows quick access to full text articles via the library's subscription even when the user doesn't use the library portal as a starting point) is extremely popular, despite being burred deep in our current portal design. 

For instance it's one of the most shared/liked pages on FaceBook, our FAQ system (LibAnswers) shows it a very popular query search and anecdotal evidence from experience teaching students and environment scanning shows it is a big hit with our students.

Why? The popularity of proxy bookmarklet (and similar tools like LibX, Conduit Toolbar) provides a very big hint that our users are doing most of their searches away from the library site. Chances are they are using Google (or occasionally google scholar) instinctively as their first search rather than any of our library catalogues or databases.

The Google instinct is very strong indeed. The danger here is students might be just happy with what they get in Google (Wikipedia I'm looking at you) and be done with it. What if a plugin could be installed such that whenever the student did a search in Google/Yahoo etc and it would automatically overlay library catalogue results next to it? This leverages the user's strong "Google instinct" and without any additional effort he can see the library catalogue results together with Google's

More than a year ago, a speculated on how it could be done , in Adding your library catalogue results next to Google and I mentioned a product called WebMynd. This product allows the installation of a plugin that automatically shows results from various sources (Twitter, Youtube, Google books, Amazon,  etc) next to Google and Yahoo results.

Back then I explored the idea privately of adding library catalogue results as a source , but it was very difficult to do and needed custom work by the company.

Recently, I was informed this has changed. Anyone with a bit of understanding of html and CSS selectors and you can create a plugin for your library's catalogue.



As you can see, I did a normal Google search and it pulls out the normal Google results, additionally on the right there's a sidebar showing results from other sources. One of the sources is LINC (our library catalogue)

This works also if the user did a search via the search bar or from the search box in Google.com etc.

Of course the user must first download and install a plugin. The nice thing is plugins exist for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome!

How easy is it to create one for your library? Here's how it looks when you set it up.


Essentially what it is doing is data scraping of your OPAC result pages, similar to how services can create RSS feeds from structured html pages.  Currently it's not quite as easy to use as say Dapper, where you point and click parts of the pages and it automatically sets it up to you, but with some help from the people from WebMynd I managed to set it up.

Clicking on "test these selectors" will help you see if you did it correctly. The colored area corresponds to parts of the page that will be used in the sidebar results.



Once you have finished doing so, it will create a setup/landing page that you can offer to users.

For example see this setup/landing page . It seems to be a dynamic link, will redirect to the appropriate setup page with appropriate instructions depending on the browser. Here's what a Chrome user sees when he clicks on the link.




It's still early days yet and I haven't fully tested it  (there might be some teething problems) but it looks very interesting.

Supposedly it can also work for sources that require logins such as Linkedin, FaceBook, Gmail, Google webhistory etc as long as users have signed in, though I'm not quite sure if this would work through our ezproxy enabled resources and also whether licensing agreement would prohibit using our resources this way.

It's totally free, though there is some advertising , this might be objectionable to some, but many libraries are using Conduit Toolbar which has similar advertising.


Conclusion


I think this is a very interesting product/service. In a sense it's a bit like a "federated search in reverse".

In a normal federated search, Google is just one of many sources you can query together with other sources. The main drawback is it requires the user to go to the library webpage to use the federated search but do users remember or care to do so?

WebMynd appears to be the reverse, Google is primary here and you overlay other results. Given that most users have the "google instinct", WebMynd  might perhaps be a more natural approach to users.

There is a one-time setup cost of course to get a user to install, though one way to reduce this is to automatically install it on all library controlled computers.

So dear librarian readers, what do you think? Will this be useful to our users? If you have any questions about the product, feel free to leave comments below.
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