Monday, 29 October 2007

Exciting Times: The Repository Desktop Experience

I battled with my laptop over the weekend to upgrade it to the latest version of the Mac environment (why is it that my teenage children had no problem with their upgrades?) but I think that the brave new world of "Leopard" is probably worth it.

How is this related to repositories, I hear you cry? Aren't we a little "off-piste"? Well, stick with me, because Apple have been addressing the issue of browsing through collections. First of all it was music collections (iTunes) and then picture collections (iPhoto), but now they have put some of that experience into viewing large collections of documents and files. The Finder (the mac equivalent of the Windows Explorer) has stolen the so-called "cover flow" visualisation from iTunes, to allow you to get the experience of quickly flicking through a stack of albums to identify the one you want by its artwork. The result is that I can flick through the contents of dozens or hundreds of files on my hard disk (powerpoint slideshows, article PDFs, conference posters, funding proposals, committee minutes, photos, videos, the lot). I don't have to open them one at a time in the application that created them. I don't have to stare at lists of file names or grids of icons any more. I can just flick through the contents.

So, by using the simple "Zip" export plugin in EPrints, I can get the files associated with any set of eprints and "Cover Flow" browse them on my laptop. See a video demonstration of what I'm talking about. Please excuse the cheesy voiceover!

Is this "quite cute" or is this "really useful"? Well, it's already really useful for some of the applications that we have at the moment - cover flow or slide shows or similar visualisations are good ways to show off our repository contents. Whether someone is trying to sell the repository to the faculty, or sell the faculty to the funders, or sell the funders to the government, or (as in the video example) sell their own educational achievements to their prospective employers then good presentations are essential.

But I think that this kind of visualisation might well prove useful for helping researchers interact with large collections of research material. Time (and experience) will tell. What is clear is that the user's desktop experience is going to become more multimedia and more interactive and that repositories will need to have a closer integration with the desktop, both for information upload and for information reuse.

No comments:

Post a Comment