March 20, 2005

A Talis demonstrator for the new evolution of RSS - A9's OpenSearch

You can always tell when a technology has become established, when it starts being used for something else. How many remember that http was a protocol just designed to shift hypertext around a network, or that SGML with its offsprings of HTML & XML, was just something to make typesetters life easier.

Well with Amazon A9's announcement of OpenSearch RSS has reached that stage in its evolution. Whatever the arguments about what the letters RSS actually stand for [my favorite and the one in the specification, is still Really Simple Syndication], its use up until now has been about providing alerts or newsfeeds of events to users.

The few variations on this such as Podcasting, and our own Personalised RSS, are still basicly all about alerting you of events. Even MSN's RSS search alerts you that a search is now returning some new results.

So how has OpenSearch evolved beyond the original concept of RSS?

Firstly the staring point. RSS is not only really simple but it is established. If you want to do anything with it from a development point of view, there is sufficient stuff out there for you not to have to bother with any of the low-level stuff. If you are in the Java world, just pull down Rome and away you go, similarly in the .net universe.

Secondly, problems its implementation components solve are very similar to other problems out there. This is where OpenSearch gets in to the story. Newsfeeds provide lists of genericly described items in a results set. For a search engine to return an anser it needs to provide lists of genericly described items in a results set.

So with the launch of OpenSearch A9 have created an instant comunity for search, that most engines would want to be part of, and have made it very easy to join.

The best way to prove exactly how easy, is to do it.

And over the last couple of days, that is what I have done. Talis now have prototype OpenSearch interface to the demonstration Prism Library OPAC.

The following link takes you to the OpenSearch standard Description Document:
http://demo.talis.com:6080/TalisPrism/OpenSearch.xml
Its contents describe the OpenSearch as provided by Prism, and the way to access it.

The 'Url' element contains the Url used to access to the service, encoded in the OpenSearch Query Syntax. By replacing the '{}' encoded tags with values A9's service can construct requests to search and then page through sets of results, thus:


Not rocket science as you can see. So it won't be long before A9 is not the only OpenSearch client on the block

If you have been clicking on these links in your browser you will only be seeing XML. Try pasting the links in to your favorite RSS reader to see the effect.

Better still try it from A9 [You will have to register & login, but its worth it] Enter the description url [http://demo.talis.com:6080/TalisPrism/OpenSearch.xml] in to their Create New column page and press load.

You will then see the description in a more readable form, and more importantly a preview of what the results will look like in A9 is loaded at the right of the page.

The exciting bit, from the potential user's point of view, is that by clicking on the title of a result you are taken to the detail for the result, displayed in the Prism interface. If you were in a real library you could then go on and place a reservation request for the item, or discover which branches the item was held at, etc. As an aside this functionality is provided by yet another technology that is spreading its wings beyond its original concept, OpenUrl. But that's another story.

So where next?

  • The Talis Prim OpenSearch interface, that will move in to project Bluebird which is all about communicating with users, using technologies like RSS, SMS, etc.
  • OpenSearch I fully expect to grow beyond A9. It has a great opportunity to become a defacto simple search interface. With a bit of help from the library community, there is no reason why it couldn't be built upon to become a suitable alternative for some of our search protocols, that are not so simple. [Do I hear a little cheer from the developers who have ever tried to get their head around implementing Z39.50]

53 Comments:

Blogger Ralph LeVan said...

If you think this is exciting, you should be following the SRW work. It is a richer set of functionality exposed as a web service. Connection to the base URL gets you a structured explanation of the capabilities of the service, including a list of indexes and available record schemas. In addition, all the responses can be accompanied with a stylesheet reference. That means that browsers and client applications have equal access to the service.

You can see an example of it at http://alcme.oclc.org/srw/search/ORPublicationsA search equivalent to the one given in the original post would be: http://alcme.oclc.org/srw/search/ORPublications?query=levan&recordPosition=1&maximumRecords=10So, besides having a working service explanation capability and rich functionality in the search requests, SRW also supports index browses. Finally, SRW supports a rich, standardized query grammar, CQL.

More information about SRW can be found at http://www.loc.gov/z3950/agency/zing/srw/OCLC Research's Open Source SRW work can be found at http://www.oclc.org/research/software/srw

2:57 pm  
Blogger Richard Wallis said...

Ralph, thanks for your comment.

I have been tracking SRU/W & CQL for a while and promoting them as the standards to go for when integrating library systems in many forums, including the VIEWS group.

The type of search that A9 is promoting is the 'good enough' search that people are used to via the Amazoogles of the world.

Your sample search & results screens, as a member of the Library industry, impress me with their obvious underlying power and capability.

From the point of view of a non-library aware person, they frighten the life out of me! (And even when I get to see the results, how do I ask the library to reserve a copy for me?)

The type, power, and user-friendliness, of a search interface, has to be tuned to user and not necessarily the system that is powering it.

So to sum up my thoughts on this, SRU & SRW do most definitely have their place, but so do things like OpenSearch.

As a library system developer I may even choose to deliver OpenSearch as an adaptor on top of my SRW service.

For a developer, who is not library aware, [which after all most of the web developers out there are] that quickly wants to deliver a search interface in to a search system, and that system has a choice of OpenSearch, Z39.50, SRU, or SRW. I know which one I would expect them to choose. If their UI is RSS capable, they may not even have to write any code to do it.

For many end users OpenSearch will be sufficient. Such things throw down the challenge to the library world, for us to be able to intuitively return results from a simple ‘keyword’ search, to help them. This we will need to do that whilst at the same time keeping the librarians and researchers happy.

Richard.

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