Wednesday, 22 April 2009

There's an app for that

I bought an iPhone last year to replace my six-year-old cellphone because (a) I needed to use it for work and (b) all the other mobile phones I looked at were so complicated that I had to ask my teenage children how to work them.

But the iPhone isn't being advertised on the basis of its design or on its ease of use. Instead Apple are churning out advert after advert about all the applications that people have written for the device. The phone-as-a-platform for useful little 'apps' seems to be a winning story, and I have seen rabid anti-Apple friends and colleagues being won around to buying one on this basis.

Apple's slogan is "there's an app for that" - whether you're trying to find a local restaurant, go bird watching, get directions, authorise a visa transaction, print shipping labels, rent an apartment or buy a textbook. And they don't even mention the word "phone" in their ads any more.

You can probably see where I'm going with this - the repository as a platform, a locus for useful services, an environment for innovation. I've said it before - we need to cram a lot more interesting and useful services into our repositories - stuff that will pique the interest of researchers and users, not just digital librarians and developers. Apparently not everyone goes faint at the thought of preservation, APIs and service oriented architectures.

So I was delighted that Adam Field came up with a new EPrints export plugin today that helps me to show off the contents of my repository. Called the DocumentGrid it simply displays a linked table of thumbnails for the records in a collection or in the results of a search. It is really simple and it took him about twenty minutes to write, but it is one of those really useful functions that I find myself needing. It answers the question "show me what's in your repository", or "let me see what's in that collection". It's useful, and it's eye candy at the same time.

Let's have some more of these! Half the stuff for the iPhone is eyecandy, or only useful in really specific circumstances, so I don't think we should be afraid of making things that aren't profound and respectable and adaptable. Of course people want to show off their work - and not just in CVs. There should be tons more apps that help researchers to look good and show off their stuff.

This one is available for download at the EPrints distribution repository:

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