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My 2.0 Advice to Vendors

A nice email from Michael got me started into thinking about what advice I’d give the large library vendors when they start trying to “2.0”-ize their tools (websites, databases, etc.). Please feel free to add your own pointers.

  • Find out what your users want. Before anything else, ask your users what they want. Will adding profiles/comments/customized lists help them, or just be an annoying distraction? Does it actually serve a pragmatic purpose, or is it just a neat, pretty toy dreamed up by coders for the coolness factor? Don’t get me wrong, I <3 neat, pretty tech toys as much as the next geeky librarian, but I don’t want to subject my users to them unless they ask for ‘em.
  • Find out what your users need. Every reference librarian can tell you that just because a user can articulate what they want (“Where are your art books?”), that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what they need (A biography of Picasso that includes pictures, criticism, and an extensive bibliography of sources). Figure out the best resource for their needs, and then get them to it in the least number of clicks possible. This is why a Google search is awesome–it corrects my spelling, gives me scholarly and consumer information in one view, and provides additional information (addresses, phone numbers, news stories) on a contextual basis. Can your tool do that?
  • Steal your users’ ideas. Just like every place of business, I find myself in ad-hoc brainstorming sessions all the time during regular meetings. A new technology or tool comes up, and we find ourselves asking if we want to do that or something similar. And yet, my gut reaction is, “Why don’t we have a student here to tell us if they’d actually use this?” Better than a bunch of librarians/vendors/coders coming up with ideas would be users coming up with them.
  • Find out who your users are. Remember that no matter who the target audience is, you always have a diverse user population. Librarians are your users. Students are your users. Faculty & staff are your users. Members of the public are your users. People of many ages, skill levels, degree of ability and background are all your users. Each one searches differently. How does your tool cater to their needs?
  • Let your users generate & change content. The larger your tool, the more you need this. Your organization’s workers won’t look at every remote record, but your users will. That’s the power of the long tail- -put your users to work, by having them correct and enhance records. A “report this page” link should be on every page of your site. Are you worried about vandalism and authority? Just make it a mediated process, and the technicians who normally would be tasked with fixing records will now approve user-changed/enhanced content. Unpaid volunteer workers–what administrator wouldn’t want that?
  • Fix it yesterday. Have we become an impatient society? Yes. And yet, users are willing to wait for ILL and other in-person services, but they want web-based tools to work instantaneously. After all, they can get it instantaneously elsewhere. There are always ways to improve turnaround time, and your competitors are already using them. All it takes is one negative experience to lose a user forever (just ask Friendster).
  • But you didn’t tell me to include profiles, wikis, or any other 2.0 tools?!? You’re right! Because the Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 concepts aren’t about tools–they’re about users, and making the user experience easier and richer. Just like the Internet Bust of the ’90s, many of the tools you see today will disappear or be merged with time. What you should be doing is asking your users what they want, because they will be be the ones to come up with the next “big idea” for your business, based around what they want and need. And it is in making those ideas a reality that will give your business the edge.
  • Oh yeah, and ask your users. Yup, I’m saying it again. Are you redesigning your interface? Ask the users. Want to introduce a natural language search? Ask your users. Thinking of adding tags? Ask your users. Want to go out for Italian at lunch? Ask your users. The users are your audience–they are who you are writing/building/creating/coding/designing for. To create anything without their input is a waste of time and energy.
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