Sunday, April 19, 2009

Library Services

My emotional favorite: Two young people, tremendous technical skill and creativity. Not the richest site, but it's terribly easy to use, and the enthusiasm they have for their product is palpable.  I love the clean design.  I wish there were a few more controls over layout and content, and that their search engine had all the features of LibraryThing, but wow, it just feels good to use.  It has two features I absolutely love (and I seldom love things about software): 1. I can download my library data, so it's not captive, and 2. it goes to Amazon every night and produces a value estimate, which I then squirrel away for my insurance company.  I also really like their integration into other social network software... so much so that I broke a personal rule and authorized their application on my FaceBook page. Nice work, folks.

My technical favorite:  Vast power at your fingertips.  Elegant integration with lots of libraries. They should license the webcam barcode scanner from GuruLib--if they had, I might never have gone looking and found GuruLib in the first place.

Not enough time spent yet:

A note on the GuruLib webcam tool: this is just an excellent piece of UI design.  It opens a small window with the current image from your webcam, with a blank beneath and a single "add" button.  You hold a book up to your webcam until the ISBN barcode fills the image. When it recognizes a barcode, it beeps, snapshots the frame, draws a scan bar across the barcode showing what it is interpreting, and holds until the image changes significantly (e.g. you move the book away), whereupon it goes back to a live webcam view. Then, if you agree that it got the right barcode value, you can click the add button and it locates your book using its user-defined search source list (Amazon, Library of Congress, and hundreds of public libraries). It is excellent primarily because of the way it manages the "conversation" with you, the user.  It doesn't require you to do anything with your hands except handle books and click the add button.  When I use it, my mouse never moves, so I just punch the mouse button to add.  It provides great feedback: it tells you what part of the image it used, you can evaluate if the image is clean and bright enough to be accurate, and actually compare the interpreted barcode value to the value printed on the barcode itself if that isn't enough.  It doesn't bother you with extra notifications or weird visual tics. I didn't even notice the switch between snapshot and live scan until I started thinking about why I like it.  It does just what you expect it to do quietly, cleanly, and efficiently.  Sweet.

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