OCLC plans to launch a new developer network and WorldCat Grid early in the new year. Essentially it seems that it's geared toward providing and developing new library web services/API's, toolkits, resolvers and registries and a network of library technology developers.
Here's hoping for success! And hopefully for some SOA basis behind the API's.
Many months back we'd started CISTI Lab, a website for CISTI developers to expose some beta applications and to illustrate some of the more experimental work that's not yet ready for prime time, but that could use some exposure and a few more eyes.
The Lab has recently been revamped, and now includes some of the work being done by the CISTI Research group, as well as a wiki that explains some of the work. As time goes on we hope to be adding some new additions, hopefully including some SOA-based architecture and related services, tools and applications. For one, I'm hoping to revamp or replace the CISTI Toolbar application I wrote with something a bit better... most likely LibX based.
From the CISTI Lab site:
CISTI Lab visitors and collaborators will be able to test and
evaluate Web-based experimental applications for science libraries. It
is a place for CISTI to demonstrate prototypes, collaborate with
researchers within NRC as well as Universities, libraries and the
private sector and to obtain feedback from early adopters.
CISTI Lab has at its disposal a significant collection of electronic
documents and meta-data about these documents as well as a collection
of software tools and APIs for building Web applications and Web
From an architecture perspective, it's a place that we hope we can use to help prove architecture and technology concepts, expose some experimental web services, and to encourage innovation in the area of libraries and technology. More generally, CISTI is hoping to encourage collaboration and interest from like minded individuals and organizations.
Richard pointed out a recent article in the Globe entitled Unlocking the Potential of SOA that got me thinking. The article points out that that "about 40 percent of Canadian companies have started investing in SOA", at least in some fashion, but that SOA has yet failed to catch on strongly because "vendors have found it difficult to get across to business managers why SOA was important".
Now, depending on how you read the words Vendors and SOA, I suspect the issue may actually be that SOA vendors have had difficultly selling their 'solutions' to companies... and perhaps with good reason. That said, I feel that there remains a huge gap between technologists and business management with regard to the potential of services as valuable business products in themselves.
In my own experience, it has been reasonably easy (or at least possible) to convince people that SOA is good, and that it has advantages as a technology implementation strategy. What is more difficult is explaining the ways that SOA and services can change how we think about doing business, and the ways that business is done.
I'm not saying that businesses should neglect their web interfaces, but I do advocate considering the possibility that simply exposing services has potential as products of their own. These services could be for free use, pay-per-use, or through a subscription for access model (just as with many websites).
Too often I've seen business managers confused by the difference between a web site and a (web) service. Essentially, the difference boils down to: A web site is an appropriate interface for humans, whereas a (web) service is an appropriate interface for computers/applications.
If you build an infrastructure based on Service Oriented Architecture and the build your web sites on top of those services you've worked towards improving the agility, maintenance and sustainability of your technical infrastructure. If you also expose those underlying services, then you have an additional (essentially free) new business opportunity. Sell the services you've already built, unmediated by a web site!
Libraries in particular have a great opportunity to share service access to provide better services for their patrons. If every library offered an SRU service, and select libraries offered speciality services (things like metadata conversion, XISBN, Book Cover Images for example) larger institutions could benefit from increased revenues for charging for service access, while smaller libraries could benefit from less dependency in large vendor 'solutions' or infrastructure in order to provide simple abilities for their patrons.
Another aspect is the fact that patrons don't consider the library (nor
the libraries website) the first (nor second, nor third) place to go
when seeking information. To continue to provide value for patrons,
libraries must interact with them wherever they are on the Internet...
library services must be accessible in the medium of the users choice.
Web portals can never achieve this goal because they still assume that
patrons will (virtually) come to the library. Karen at Library Web Chic makes this point clearly:
meeting your users where they are isn’t about making them come to
the library website. In considering our long term virtual presence
plans, the library website is a given. People who come to the site know
we exist and want to use our services. To truly be successful we have
to get our content into the path of the people who wouldn’t walk
through our door (physical or virtual).
We couldn’t possibly begin to do this with our old site because of
its static architecture. Long term I’d like a site which has a series
of web services that can be exploited by my developers but also my the
university web developers and who knows who else.
Who knows who else indeed.
Of course, the vision of a service-exposed world is perhaps naive or idealistic... but I think it's an essential potential value of SOA that is generally less understood and less emphasized. And for the record, I do lean towards the attitude that libraries should expose such services freely where possible... but I do also recognize that financial sustainability is likely an important aspect and incentive.