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Re: Comments on LLD from ExLibris

From: Karen Coyle <kcoyle@kcoyle.net>
Date: Thu, 04 Aug 2011 09:15:18 -0700
Message-ID: <20110804091518.25987cnh4a0nk3h2@kcoyle.net>
To: public-lld@w3.org
Cc: Carl Grant <Carl.Grant@exlibrisgroup.com>
Carl Grant asked me to post the text of his blog post here, which I  
should have thought of. This way it's in our email record, and it may  
make discussion here more "fluid." Thanks, Carl.

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The Library Linked Data Model ? from a librarian/vendor point of view
by Carl Grant, Chief Librarian, Ex Libris Group

The discussions about the Library Linked Data Model indicate that many  
people clearly feel it is an important topic for librarianship.   The  
desire to make hundreds of silos of data more accessible, usable and  
maintainable are shared by the community and it is equally of interest  
to the many organizations that provide products and services to that  
community.  Ex Libris, as one of those organizations, frequently gets  
asked: How we feel about this topic and where do we see it fitting  
into our plans?   As you might suspect, the answers, while seemingly  
simple, are actually far more complex.

I was at the ELAG 2011 conference in Prague in the Czech Republic  
recently and was sitting on a panel when an attendee asked the vendor  
organizations on the panel (a representative of OCLC and me):  What  
were our plans concerning Library Linked Data?  The audience, as  
indicated by the Tweets that followed, was concerned when they learned  
that neither organization had detailed plans to share.  Clearly,  
thought and movement is being give to the technology in both  
organizations, but uncertainty exists.  For organizations, like Ex  
Libris, that enjoy the reputation for being forward thinking, one  
might wonder what are the reasons for that?

It includes a lack of clear understanding of what exactly are the  
problems being solved for the profession by this technology that can  
only be solved with the Library Linked Data model or that can?t be  
otherwise solved?  Are these problems shared across the profession,  
across institutions?  Is it agreed that the Library Linked Data model  
is the solution?  If so, how many institutions, or even personal  
services, are in production status using this model to solve those  
problems?

Please don?t misunderstand or think that we read the benefit  
statements and fail to understand them.  That is simply not the case.   
We totally get it.  We see the potential of unleashed innovation, the  
embodiment of the concepts of the Semantic Web.  We understand the  
stated benefits and possibilities. We too are excited by what this  
technology could bring to end-users. The drive for innovation could  
certainly help transform librarianship and enable it to become more  
dynamic in meeting the needs of end-users.  We agree upon all points.

However, as stated in the title of this post, take a moment and slide  
around the table and sit in our chair.   From here, what you?ll see is  
a situation best described by the E.M. Rogers, ?Diffusion of  
Innovations? Bell curve which was later enhanced by Geoffrey Moore,  
when he introduced the concept of ?Crossing the Chasm? into the model.  
It?s a fascinating description of how technology goes from being an  
idea to a product on towards the end-of-life. Rogers does this by  
dividing the technology market for any product into five segments.   
Moore introduced the chasm in the model, into which many technologies  
fall and fail if they can?t successfully clear the gap between the  
first two segments and those that follow. For the purpose of this  
discussion, let?s focus on those first two segments as they are  
particularly relevant in the discussion of Library Linked Data at this  
point in time:

?	Innovators, or Technology Enthusiasts.  This is the ?bleeding edge?.  
  Typically about 2.5% of most markets. Organizations here comprise  
the initial leading edge of the curve.  They represent those who like  
to be the first because they believe it will improve life.    
Organizations in this group rarely have much money.
?	Early Adopters or Visionaries.   About 13.5% of organizations.   
These are the revolutionaries, those who will actually break with the  
past and embrace a new future.  They also like to be known as  
visionaries, so they?re very good about talking about what they?re  
doing.   Better yet, in most markets, these organizations have money  
to implement their vision.  However, these organizations also want  
products customized to meet their needs, sometimes asking for things  
few other organizations will want.

Those two groups together constitute what Rogers/Moore calls the  
?early market?, i.e., the leading thinkers. Together they constitute  
about 16% of any technology market segment.  The other 85% are called  
Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards.  Each bears its own  
behavior patterns and descriptions (and if you want to read about  
them, Moore?s book is excellent).  The point is this; that 85% form  
the majority of any market for a product/service.  For a vendor,  
taking the technology across the chasm between the leading edge and  
the market majority is the key to being successful and clearly it is  
no easy task.  It?s a combination of timing, development and  
management and certainly even an element of luck.

What most developers/providers of products analyzing the potential of  
Library Linked Data would see is that at this stage, this technology  
is very much in the research stage.  There are a lot of ideas being  
discussed, a lot of possibilities described and a lot of unanswered  
questions being asked.  In terms of pushing forward with  
implementation, the vendor sees that the first 16% of the market  
consists of 3.5% that typically (but not always) has no money to spend  
and consequently their participation will be solely through in-kind  
donations of brainpower and people time.  This is not to be minimized.  
  It is a very important contribution to the development of new  
technology and helps to bring ideas to life.  However, at this stage,  
for a vendor, it doesn?t help to pay our staff or bills.    When we do  
the business case study, we need to wait until at least the 13.5% of a  
market that more likely has money engages.  However, even then, we  
have to factor in that this market is already facing extremely  
challenging financial times and they have little time for fully  
exploiting their existing technology, much less exploring the  
possibilities of new technology.   It?s just a reality of the times.  
At the end of that business case analysis we come up with some very,  
very small numbers over which to spread the costs and return it will  
take to implement this major overhaul in core data structures and  
related software that runs on top of those structures.  Which makes  
the product unaffordable at this point in time.

Someone will ask: Isn?t this why you do R&D?  Isn?t this how you  
develop a new market?  If you want to be leading edge, shouldn?t you  
be engaged?   Again, fair questions but let?s continue our examination  
from the vendor view in order to answer those questions.   
Specifically, we see the following issues needing more narrative, more  
agreement and resolution:

1.	Let?s start by going back to the critical need to answer the  
question about the problems being solved for the profession by the use  
of this technology that can only be solved by using this model?   To  
answer that, I?ll repeat what customers tell us all the time when we  
bring them new products, services and ideas: ?Show me?.  Yes, it can  
be frustrating to face that question. However it is the nature of this  
marketplace.  Not without good cause.   We understand that the  
majority of this market is buying products/services with money that is  
entrusted to them to be spent very wisely.  As a result, the  
profession of librarianship is very careful.  They want to see what  
they?re buying before they buy it.   The challenge becomes to develop  
some working demonstrations of Library Linked Data, that can be widely  
shared, widely used and clearly and easily demonstrate the remarkable  
benefits.  If one of the main benefits is ?unleashed innovation?, how  
do you show that?   Not easy, but we do need at least a few really  
good examples. This will help to fuel the interest in moving this  
technology forward.  One possible answer?  For the innovators;  
technology enthusiasts, early adopters and visionaries to bind  
together and develop some working examples of the innovative  
possibilities.  Use a limited set of data, but develop some  
demonstrations and, at the same time, try to answer some of the points  
below through those demonstrations.
2.	How this technology will get implemented also needs more clarity.    
Do we see it as technology that will be implemented only with newly  
created data?  Can we, as a profession, afford to wait the amount of  
time that would take?  That doesn?t seem likely.  So, if not, how are  
we going to convert data from the existing data structures and silos  
into this format?  Who is going to do that, when and how? Will it be  
something expected of the vendors? Certainly to get the data to work  
with our end products, we know we will have to write some amount of  
conversion software.  To do this, any organization will need a lot of  
details in order to spec out the amount of time and effort and  
therefore cost it will take to achieve answer this need.
3.	How do we see this data being maintained?  We all know, and  
numerous posts have pointed out, the data is dynamic.  It?s constantly  
being corrected, updated, revised and enhanced.  Maybe not in huge  
quantities compared to the total body of data, but still it must be  
accommodated.  Certainly the possibility for linked data to reduce the  
number of times the data will need to be replicated streamlines this  
need.  However, the need still exists.  So we need to understand how  
exactly this will get done, by who and how frequently?  Our customers  
will not want to capture the benefits of linked data and then seem  
them slowly erode due to the data increasingly becoming outdated over  
time. The answers to these questions are an essential component.
4.	If the answers to some of the points above are to come from open  
communities, be it open-source or others, we also need to factor in  
the maturity and sustainability of the tools that are put forth.  In  
some instances, we?ve had experiences where we moved to adopt OSS  
tools only to find the development/maintenance resources behind those  
tools vaporize and the tools languished.  Yes, of course we realize  
that we could pick that up that task, but like most organizations, we  
have our development resources tightly scheduled far in advance and  
therefore this is not always an immediate option for us. So we?ve  
learned to adopt such tools after they?ve demonstrated a level of  
independent sustainability.  Ex Libris, with thousands of customers,  
has to ensure that anything we incorporate or rely upon is stable and  
sustainable.  It?s important for all our customers, but especially  
important for the very many large, enterprise level organizations that  
use our products.

All of this information will also be factored into the cost to move to  
using this technology, converting our thousands of customers, and  
therefore pricing the final products and testing that pricing with  
customers. This is needed to help us assess the viability of  
developing products using this technology.   In the end, we?ll perform  
a business case analysis to determine if the return on the investment  
will meet or exceed that of other ideas and technology that we?re  
considering implementing. This can be challenging because assigning  
value to things like ?unleashed innovation? intuitively seems easy.   
However, when you?re trying to show sharp-penciled funding authorities  
that value, they like to see numbers and they like accountability  
around those numbers.   Like all organizations, we have limited  
resources and we want to make sure we make wise choices in order to  
provide that accountability and that will ultimately serve customers  
and our best interests.  This is not easy to do without solid answers  
and informed, well-grounded projections.

Conceptually, we?re on board with the ideas behind the Library Linked  
Data model and in fact, we?re designing our new system Alma with the  
necessary capabilities at the core to support the Library Linked Data  
model.   We?re actively developing it.  However, from a business  
perspective, the technology and the ideas that will result from the  
model seem too nascent for us to be able to provide the answers and  
projections needed in order to bet major development resources.  We  
believe that will change.  It?s going to take more time.  Until then,  
we plan on putting the foundation in place, participating in the  
discussions, contributing ideas and information where possible and  
planning for the day when we?ll have those answers in hand and to be  
able to offer a firm development schedule for the delivery of the  
Library Linked Data model in our products and services.

Carl Grant, Ex Libris Group
Received on Thursday, 4 August 2011 16:16:07 GMT

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