Sunday, 27 September 2009

Top Web Trend 2 of 5: Real-Time Web

The "real time web" is no longer a future trend, its here. As ReadWriteWeb noted in its second top 5 web trends: Real Time Web "has become a core part of many Internet products this year: Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, Google, Delicious, Wordpress, and many others. Because real time web is about communicating information that is both immediate and public, it is also having a profound impact on what and how libraries can harvest information, as well as deliver information to their client base.

Let’s not forget that real time web functionality also allows a library's client base to communicate among themselves (as well as back to the library) in real time. However, because the communication is immediate there is an expectation that the response, or answer, will also be immediate. Despite the introduction of excellent services such as Ask a Librarian, are libraries really set up to meet this expectation? For example, on Sunday afternoon as I write this blog post the "Ask a Librarian" service is not available. In the brave new world of social media, real time web implies 27/7, and not 10 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Of course real time information in a library setting does not have to be driven by physical librarians staffing some sort of online client contact centre (the mortal in the portal). News feeds, be they driven by RSS or Twitter, or links to community-of-interest forums, are two other ways of embedding real time updates into a library portal. These and other methods allow a library to provide real time information updates 24/7, though of course they can't necessarily answer specific reference questions.

It is interesting, given the growing importance of real time information, that library portals offering updated real time content on the fly seem far and few between. Interesting, because in my experience, embedding automatically updating information does help make for a very compelling library portal. For example, the library I work at has (like many libraries) an internal wiki. However, many of the articles in the wiki now present buttons which launch updated information harvested from specific news and blog searches. The underlying feed is often aggregated, filtered and de-duplicated before being presented in either relevancy or reverse date order. This means that breaking or more up to date information on the specific topic can be embedded directly into the wiki without the need of library staff (or patrons) to manually update the content.

Lots of libraries offer RSS feeds alerting clients when there are updates and changes in the library's content, but why don’t more libraries embed information that has been filtered and delivered on the fly? After all, it is the skill of the librarian as an information professional that is essential in setting up the filtering to ensure only the best results are delivered. Hopefully one of the top trends for libraries will be an increase in the use of embedded real time information.

In the meantime there is a very good post on the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) blog which lists some of the characteristics of the real-time library. These are:
  • The real-time library is socially networked but it’s about more than just owning social network accounts; the real-time library has an active presence and shares information in real time.
  • The real-time library updates its status regularly.
  • The real-time library offers targeted services to the networked community.
  • The real-time library is accessible on real-time communication devices.
  • The real-time library is ready and waiting – all the time – to deliver information services.
  • The real-time library monitors the multitude of emerging real-time web services and experiments to find those with the potential to enhance service in real-time mode.
  • The real-time library designs information services specifically for delivery and use on the real-time web.
  • Real-time librarians are adept at creating relationships with real-time library users.

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