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November 27, 2006

Repositories and Web 2.0

[Editorial note: I've updated the title and content of this item in response to comments that correctly pointed out that I was over-emphasising the importance of Flash in Web 2.0 service user-interfaces.]

At a couple of meetings recently the relationship between digital repositories as we currently know them in the education sector and Web 2.0 has been discussed.  This happened first at the CETIS Metadata and Digital Repositories SIG meeting in Glasgow that looked at Item Banks, then again at the eBank/R4L/Spectra meeting in London.

In both cases, I found myself asking "What would a Web 2.0 repository look like?".  At the Glasgow meeting there was an interesting discussion about the desirability of separating back-end functionality from the front-end user-interface.  From a purist point of view, this is very much the approach to take - and its an argument I would have made myself until recently.  Let the repository worry about managing the content and let someone (or something) else build the user-interface based on a set of machine-oriented APIs.

Yet what we see in Web 2.0 services is not such a clean separation.  What has become the norm is a default user-interface, typically written in AJAX though often using other technologies such as Flash, that is closely integrated into the back-end content of the Web 2.0 service.  For example, both Flickr and SlideShare follow this model.  Of course, the services also expose an API of some kind (the minimal API being persistent URIs to content and various kinds of RSS feeds) - allowing other services to integrate ("mash") the content and other people to develop their own user-interfaces.  But in some cases at least, the public API isn't rich enough to allow me to build my own version of the default user-interface.

More recently, there has been a little thread on the UK jisc-repositories@jiscmail.ac.uk list about the mashability of digital repositories.  However, it struck me that most of that discussion centered on the repository as the locus of mashing - i.e. external stuff is mashed into the repository user-interface, based on metadata held in repository records.  There seemed to be little discussion about the mashability of the repository content itself - i.e. where resources held in repositories are able to be easily integrated into external services.

One of the significant  hurdles to making repository content more mashable is the way that identifiers are assigned to repository content.  Firstly, there is currently little coherence in the way that identifiers are assigned to research publications in repositories.  This is one of the things we set out to address in the work on the Eprints Application Profile.  Secondly, the 'oai' URIs typically assigned to metadata 'items' in the repository are not Web-friendly and do not dereference (i.e. are not resolvable) in any real sense, without every application developer having to hardcode knowledge about how to dereference them.  To make matters worse, the whole notion of what an 'item' is in the OAI-PMH is quite difficult conceptually, especially for those new to the protocol.

Digital repositories would be significantly more usable in the context of Web 2.0 if they used 'http' URIs throughout, and if those URIs were assigned in a more coherent fashion across the range of repositories being developed.

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這年頭什麼都講 2.0,Institutional Repository(機構典藏/儲存庫) 是不是也要考慮加入 Web 2.0 的一些功能或特色呢? 例如應用 AJAX 的使用者介面,或者開放 API 供 mashup 等。eFoundations 在去年11月�... [Read More]

Comments

This doesn't strike me as a fair representation of Flickr, nor of many other "social" web apps that are part of the Web 2.0 concept (many of which are text/tag based, so not much need for Flash): AJAX, bless it, is the lingua franca here.

Sure Flickr does Flash, particularly for complicated things like organizing photo sets. But Flickr has always been eminently usable as a "plain old HTML" site, sans Flash or Javascript: its graceful degradation has been impressive from the start.

I think you're right about the desirability of standardisation around permanent identifiers for digital objects, that function both as URIs and URLs over HTTP. In addition I'd like to see them instantly resolvable to standardized citations, and vice versa. Cite-U-Like's great, but it's still a pain getting it all right!

Jerry, thanks for setting me straight. Yes... I think you are right. I've been somewhat over-simplistic in my statements :-)

In part I was reacting against what I see as a tendency in parts of the UK academic community to look to Java as the way of developing the more complex parts of a user-interface, which to me now feels less than optimal in the face of what can be done using Flash and AJAX.

Given that neither Flickr nor Slideshare use Flash (nor do many other Wweb 2.0 applications) one wonders about the designation of Flash as the heir apparent. Indeed, because of its opacity (and the fact that you need $800 software to create it) many developers are eschewing Flash. And as pointed out above, AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) is the lingua franca of Web 2.0, not Flash.

Again, thanks for the comments. The MIME type of the object served by Slideshare is set to application/x-shockwave-flash... but, whatever, I was wrong to highlight Flash over AJAX in the way I did and it detracted from the main point of the posting anyway. I've taken the liberty of updating both the title and the content of the item to take account of the comments (see the editorial note at the beginning of the post). Thanks, Andy.

We need to be clear about what "Web 2.0" is. It strikes me that it is in fact used to refer to a _bundle_ of concepts that do not need to go together.

* Web "site" as _application_ with an interface delivered through a browser.
** Interfaces that push the boundaries of responsiveness of the kind of application interface you can deliver through a browser--whether through AJAX, Flash, or something else.

* User contributed content, collaboration

* Data/functionality provided as machine-readable/useable re-useable services that can be mixed and matched and mashed.


These things don't _neccesarily_ go together. One can do some subset of them without doing others. They aren't all neccesarily relevant (or of equal importance/priority) in any given project or goal or solution. I'm not sure it clarifies things to talk about "Web 2.0"--I think it leads to people thinking they're talking about the same thign while really having different ideas, and it leads to lack of clarity about how these different concepts can in fact be separated, they are NOT all part of the same "Web 2.0" thing.

yer, but do we need institutional repositories for web2.0 content? i'm not sure? we don't record all the telephone calls made nor all the television programs made. what about 'significance'? why do we have to keep everything?

hmm, perhaps it would look something like pocketknowledge http://edlab.tc.columbia.edu/index.php?q=node/439

which is a great start, and only really needs to open things up by integrating social citation and discussion/commenting.

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