OPACPress: Our Talis Incubator proposal

Yesterday, I submitted a proposal to Talis under their Incubator fund. If successful, I would have the pleasure of working with Paul Stainthorp, E-Resources Librarian at the University of Lincoln, and Casey Bisson,  Information Architect at Plymouth State University. The bid is to develop an idea which I’ve posted about before, based on Casey’s work on Scriblio and our adventures with WordPress MU, in particular, JISCPress.

Anyway, rather than re-iterating the bid here. You can read it in full by clicking here.

Comments are very welcome. Thanks.

UPDATE: We made it into the second round of judging but were unsuccessful in the end. Here’s the useful and fair feedback we received.

  • like the idea and how, like the Moodle repository, it can help open up existing content through data sharing. The same question as for others remains of how and why institutions would subscribe to the service.
  • I like this but I think it significantly underestimates the IP issues around library catalogue records which has been a major stumbling block for other activities in this area. That said, I think it is worth taking forward at this stage. The team looks very strong.
  • Ambitious in scope and technology, but /feels/ right for the innovative approach of this fund.
  • “Imagine that a significant number of UK universities and colleges… chose to make use of such a platform.” This type of language frightens me, indicating that they have no partnerships established, where other proposals already do. The point on issues with catalog records (above) should not be overlooked.
  • The use cases won me over. Not without risks ( as they say) and some major challenges
  • this one strikes me as particularly promising, because it has such strong ties to UK institutions and could connect to things Talis does

Open Education: Talis Incubator Proposal

Back in May, I woke up with an idea in my head which, in a slightly modified form, I’d now like to try and find funding for.1) The idea is based on work we’re doing on our JISCPress project, which itself is based on work Tony and I have been doing with WriteToReply since February. In my original blog post, I proposed that WordPress Multi User2 and Scriblio, a set of plugins for WordPress which allows you to import an OPAC library catalogue and benefit from all the advantages of the WordPress ecosystem, would together allow libraries to host independently branded catalogues on an open, union platform.

Imagine that JISC, Talis or Eduserv offered such a platform to UK university libraries. It could be a service, not unlike wordpress.com, where authorised institutions, could self-register for a site and easily import their OPAC, apply a theme, tweak some CSS, choose from a few useful plugins, and within less than a day or two, have a branded, cutting-edge search and browse interface to their OPAC, running under their own domain.

Paul and I gave a Lightening Talk about this at Mashoop North, which I present to you below.

Slide four is the useful one. It show the various slices of the platform and, by implication, the various uses each layer offers.  The bottom slice shows the OPACs converge with WPMU to the benefit of the institution. It’s a nice, easy, hosted service that would offer an end-user experience not unlike the one that Plymouth State offer to their users. The middle slice – the WPMU bit – is where the OPACs converge together in union, under a single administrative interface that is easy to manage, widely used and supported. For $5000/year, Automattic, the company that leads the development of WordPress and runs wordpress.com, would provide support and advice with a six hour SLA. On top of that, anyone with a knowledge of PHP, can quickly learn the guts of WordPress, as Alex who’s working on JISCPress, will testify. My point is that this is a well tested and widely understood technology.

Now, once you have one or more OPACs hosted on WPMU, you bring together a lot of library catalogue data into one database and the platform’s web analytics (i.e. usage trends) can be a rich source of data for learning about what library users are looking for. Each library, would have access to their own analytics, while the analytics for the entire platform would also be collected. I do this on our university WPMU installation.

The next slice in our diagram, shows a few different ways of getting data out of the platform (and this would also apply to each individual catalogue site, too).  First, you can see that the platform as a whole could act as a union catalogue where, from a single site, users could search across library holdings. That union catalogue would have all the useful features of WordPress, too. Next to that, you can see Triplify, a nice little web application that transforms a relational database into RDF/N3, JSON and Linked Data. Triplify could re-present the data in each catalogue as semantic data and this could be subsequently hosted on the Talis platform.  We’re already doing this with JISCPress. Every night, changes to any of the library catalogue data could be pushed to Talis, where the data can be queried and mashed up using the Talis API. Finally, don’t forget good old RSS and Atom feeds, which are available for almost every WordPress endpoint URL, as I’ve previously documented.

Given the work we’ve done on JISCPress, which covers our experience with WPMU and Triplify, I think that a demonstrator prototype, using entirely open source software, could be developed within the constraints of the Talis Incubator fund. I canvassed my original idea to the Scriblio mailing list and had positive and useful feedback from Ross Singer at Talis. Leigh Dodds at Talis also sees potential in the use of WPMU and Triplify, although I understand that neither of these people are endorsing the idea for the Talis Incubator fund, but their interest has been encouraging.

So, what I’m proposing is that Paul and I work with Casey Bisson, the Scriblio developer, on a short project to get this all up and running. In my mind, Scriblio needs some more work to make the set up process easier for a variety of library catalogues and the last time I looked, it needed documenting better, too. I think that the maximum of £15,000 from the Talis fund is workable. In fact, I’d like to bring it down a little to make it more attractive to the judges. Paul would bring his knowledge and expertise from working with our university library catalogue, I would bring what we’ve learned from JISCPress and could manage the WPMU server side of things and the project in general, as well as write documentation, while Casey could be funded to spend some dedicated time fine tuning Scriblio to meet our objectives.

So what do you think? A wordpress.com like platform for library OPACs that pushes semantic data to the Talis platform. Each catalogue remains under the control of its owner institution, while contributing to a wider union OPAC that will benefit users and offer the library community some useful analytics. The platform as a technology, would be as flexible as WordPress itself is, so additional features could be developed for the platform by other future projects. Only last week, Tony was discussing on his new Arcadia project blog, how it would be useful to be able to capture library catalogue links as QR codes. Well, using WordPress in the way I’ve described, we could implement that across every UK HEI Library catalogue in a snap using this plugin. Hoorah!

  1. I figure that if I repeat this idea enough times, someone will see that it’s worth funding ;- []
  2. and here I’ll repeat what is becoming my mantra: ‘the same software that runs six million blogs on wordpress.com’ []

Getting your Triples into Talis Connected Commons

A few days ago, I wrote about adding Triplify to your web application. Specifically, I wrote about adding it to WordPress, but the same information can be applied to most web publishing platforms. Earlier this month, TALIS announced their Connected Commons platform and yesterday they announced a commercial version of their platform for the structured storage of Linked Data. Storage is all very well, but more importantly they have an API for developers, so that the data can be queried and creatively re-used or mashed up.

So this got me thinking about JISCPress, our recent JISC Rapid Innovation Programme bid, which proposes a WordPress Multi-User based platform for publishing JISC funding calls and the reports of funded projects. This is based on my experience of running WriteToReply with Tony Hirst.

Although a service for comment and discussion around documents, one of the things that interests me most about WriteToReply and, consequently the JISCPress proposal, is the cumulative storage of data on the platform and how that data might be used. No surprise really as my background is in archiving and collections management. As with the University of Lincoln blogs, WriteToReply and the proposed JISCPress platform, aggregate published content into a site-wide ‘tags’ site that allows anyone to search and browse through all content that has been published to the public. In the case of the university blogs, that’s a large percentage of blogs, but for WriteToReply and JISCPress, it would be pretty much every document hosted on the platform.

You can see from the WriteToReply tags site that over time, a rich store of public documents could be created for querying and re-use. The site design is a bit clunky right now but under the hood you’ll notice that you can search across the text of every document, browse by document type and by tag. The tags are created by publishing the content to OpenCalais, which returns a whole bunch of semantic keywords for each document section. You’ll also notice that an RSS feed is available for any search query, any category and any tag or combination of tags.

Last night, I was thinking about the WriteToReply site architecture (note that when I mention WriteToReply, it almost certainly applies to JISCPress, too – same technology, similar principles, different content). Currently, we categorise each document by document type so you’ll see ‘Consultations‘, ‘Action Plans‘ ‘Discussion Papers‘, etc.. We author all documents under the WriteToReply username, too and tag each document section both manually and via OpenCalais. However, there’s more that we could do, with little effort, to mark up the documents and I’ve started sketching it out.

You’ll see from the diagram that I’m thinking we should introduce location and subject categories. There will be formal classification schemes we could use. For example, I found a Local Government Classification Scheme, which provides some high level subjects that are the type of thing I’m thinking about. I’m not suggesting we start ‘cataloguing’ the documents, but simply borrow, at the top level, from recognised classification schemes that are used elsewhere. I’m also thinking that we should start creating a new author for each document and in the case of WriteToReply, the author would be the agency who issued the consultation, report, or whatever.

So following these changes, we would capture the following data (in bold), for example:

The Home Office created Protecting the public in a changing communications environment on April 27th which is a consultation document for England, Wales and Scotland, categorised under Information and communication technology with 18 sections.

Section one is tagged Governor, Home Department, Office of Public Sector Information, Secretary of State, Surrey.

Section two is tagged communications data, communications industry, emergency services, Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith MP, Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP.

Section three is tagged Broadband, BT, communications, communications changes, communications data, communications data capability, communications data limits, communications environment, communications event, communications industry, communications networks, communications providers, communications service providers, communications services, emergency services, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Home Office, intelligence agencies, internet browsing, Internet Protocol, Internet Service, IP, mobile telephone system, physical networks, public telecommunications service, registered owner, Serious Organised Crime Agency, social networking, specified communications data, The communications industry, United Kingdom.

Section four is tagged …(you get the picture)

Section five, paragraph six, has the comment “fully compatible with the ECHR” is, of course, an assertion made by the government, about its own legislation. Has that assertion ever been tested in a court? authored by Owen Blacker on April 28th 11:32pm.

Selected text from Section five, paragraph eight, has the comment Over my dead body! authored by Mr Angry on April 28th 9:32pm

Note that every author, document, section, paragraph, text selection, category, tag, comment and comment author has a URI, Atom, RSS and RDF end point (actually, text selection and comment author feeds are forthcoming features).

Now, with this basic architecture mapped out, we might wonder what Triplify could add to this. I’ve already shown in my earlier post that, with little effort, it re-publishes data from a relational database as N-Triples semantic data, so everything you see above, could be published as RDF data (and JSON, too).

So, in my simple view of the world, we have a data source that requires very little effort to generate content for and manage (JISCPress/WriteToReply/WordPress), a method of automatically publishing the data for the semantic web (Triplify) and, with TALIS, an API for data storage, data access, query, and augmentation.  As always, my mantra is ‘I am not a developer’, but from where I’m standing, this high-level ‘workflow’ seems reasonable.

The benefits for the JISC community would primarily be felt by using the JISCPress website, in a similar way (albeit with better, more informed design) to the WriteToReply ‘tags’ site. We could search across the full text of funding calls, browse the reports by author, categories and tags and grab news feeds from favourite authors, searches, tags or categories. This is all in addition to the comment, feedback and discussion features we’ve proposed, too. Further benefits would be had from ‘re-publishing’ the site content as semantic data to a platform such as TALIS. Not only could there be further Rapid Innovation projects which worked on this data, but it would be available for any member of the public to query and re-use, too. No longer would our final project reports, often the distillation of our research, sit idle as PDF files on institutional websites and in institutional repositories. If the documentation we produce it worth anything, then it’s worth re-publishing openly as semantic data.

Finally, in order to benefit from the (free) use of TALIS Connected Commons, the data being published needs to be licensed under a public domain or Creative Commons ‘zero’ licence. I suspect Crown Copyright is not compatible with either of these licenses, although why the hell public consultation documents couldn’t be licensed this way, I don’t know. Do you? For JISCPress, this would be a choice JISC could make. The alternative is to use the commercial TALIS platform or something similar.

As usual, tell me what you think… Thanks.