June 28th 2011 was a big day in search engine & social media land, seeing the launch of Google+ (pronounced ‘Googleplus’ or ‘Googleplussed’?). Well, ‘launch’ is perhaps the wrong word, with only a small amount of early testers having access to it; the general launch date apparently “won’t be long” (https://plus.google.com/). Essentially, Google+ may be seen the introduction of social networking elements with the ubiquitous Google search interface…why use a search engine and a social networking site when you can do both at the same time? Google+ allows users to log into the Google environment and personalise it as usual, with the addition of a live and customisable newsfeed stream called ‘Sparks’ and a way of putting contacts into groups for social networking known as ‘Circles’. ‘Hangouts’ allow a small group of contacts (10) to link up for a webcast session, and a ‘Mobile’ element most notably allows group instant messaging chats. For a fuller description of features, check out the official Google blog at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/introducing-google-project-real-life.html.
Overall, the jury is currently split. Clearly Google is trying to take on Facebook with this venture, with the aim of drawing all users into one information finding & sharing tool. This is not lost on a great many commentators (cf. xkcd’s rather amusing strip), and it’s true that most people are focusing on the looming assault on Facebook. With high-profile failures in the form of Google Buzz and Google Wave, Google really need to do well with this product, though the project is not an off-the-cuff venture and has been in development for some time (cf. this very positive review from Wired). But it seems to be trying to do more…certainly one can see the appeal of having a tool which makes it easy to search and share, and addition of web-conferencing and mobile tools is a powerful incentive to try it. There are downsides with the current version (read Phil Bradley’s blog posting, which highlights the confusion about the ‘+1’ function for web-links which doesn’t seem to act like a ‘like’ button on Facebook), but it’s too early to really tell what will happen. Perhaps the big question many will keep asking is ‘Would it replace Facebook?’, though (speaking personally) this author of this posting would be tempted to try it in a workplace setting before deciding whether or not to shift lock/stock to Google+. Certainly this has the potential to be far more than ‘just another social networking tool’.
Will you be planning to use Google+? Join the debate below!
The profile of open source software (OSS) in the library world, if not the use, has risen exponentially over the last 12 months so it’s great to see a book about open source solutions aimed specifically at libraries. Practical Open Source Software for Libraries by Nicole Engard, is both an extensive (and, yes, practical) introduction to OSS and a whole raft of case studies for those looking to learn more.
The case study interviews with people using open source in libraries around the world covers everything from day-to-day, web access and applications, media, collections, research tools, and automation software. And for those new to open source, there’s both an introduction and an overview of common barriers faced, both real and imagined.
Defining open source is no mean feat (as the recent controversy around Google’s use of the term demonstrates) and Engard provides a great, condensed version of the philosophy behind it. The rest of the book consists of the case studies Q&As; ample ammunition for those looking to make a case for open source in their workplace. It also demonstrates the various ways libraries and librarians can get involved, beyond contributing code.
The bigger OSS names are all here; Firefox, Open Office, Dspace, Koha and Evergreen. But the case studies are a great way to find out about some of the lesser known options. For example, there’s Libstats for data gathering and LimeSurvey open source survey software. SubjectsPlus also looks interesting, a tool for creating online subject guides. LibX is also an impressive project that sometimes gets overlooked in these discussions.
There’s a nice balance of libraries who have made a conscious choice to use Open Source Software and those who have used it where viable alongside proprietary systems. It’s a shame the book doesn’t explore the common misconceptions about open source software in more depth. Barriers such as security concerns and a lack of awareness are still there but increasing financial pressures on libraries are going some way to force a rethink.
Practical Open Source Software for Libraries doesn’t go into the depths required to fully explore open source today, but it’s a good introduction and analysis from a librarian perspective and a great guide for those looking to use or develop open source solutions in their libraries and information services. There’s also a companion website with up-to-date links and facts available at: http://opensource.web2learning.net/