Clipboards go social

Social bookmarking is swell, but suddenly it seems so limited, so 2005. Or so it seems to me after watching Dan Chudnov’s screencast unAPI and the Gates of the Dawn of Social Clipboards a couple of times. I can attest that it’ll get you thinking — even if, like me, your programming skills extend not much beyond the coffee maker.

You know about gates, you know about dawn, and you should know that APIs are blending web services in dynamic ways. unAPI (‘un’ pronounced as in “universal,” not as in ”poor Syd Barrett, he’s un’appy”) is, as the term might suggest, a simple website API convention that allows a broad array of services to be syndicated and harvested. This is a lightweight, generic tool, unlike an API tailor-made to a service (like, say, the GoogleMaps API). More on unAPI here. Now, for some hurried idea of how unAPI enables social clipboarding, get comfortable and spend some quality minutes with the dchud screencast:

D’ja get that? Social bookmarking = a straightjacketed social clipboard, in which we share only urls and tags. With something like unAPI, the straightjacket comes off, the information we share gets richer and more varied. Click, drag, and toss into the communal pot objects that are linked to full bibliographic metadata — toss even whole images in. Once, in order to share information on the web, you had to code in HTML and FTP your creation up to a server. Then, blogs, wikis, and various administration tools like let you publish content through a web interface. Soon, it seems, you’ll be clicking and dragging web objects around directly. It’s a weird feeling: try it at a demo for Microsoft’s similar new experiment, Live Clipboard.

Chudnov’s emphasis on the new social possibilities of clipboards seems typical of 2.0 library services. My professional mission as a librarian is this: (he’s written) Help people build their own libraries. That’s it. That’s all I care about. Note the plural ‘people.’ If web objects can be readily swapped, studied, shared — if their harvesting and dissemination is conducted, from beginning to end, in networked spaces — it’s easier than ever to see that ‘collection’ is molting ever more into a publicly driven and defined activity.

Librarians once spent time carefully assembling web links for their patrons, and what an onerous job — one plagued by link rot, bedeviled by the fluidity of the web. Social bookmarking is a welcome alternative to the professedly authoritative link collection because it leverages a vast range of expertise, instinct, and attention, while allowing for discovery and customization. A 2.0 librarian (for lack of a better term) will do everything he can to promote this kind of activity.

Similarly, digital collections were once mounted in standalone boxes, and left gathered in a corner of a library website. Social clipboarding is 2.0 collection because, once again, it drags assets out into the pale sunshine of use and interchange. The 2.0 librarian will do everything she can to ensure that a digital collection is easily discovered, harvested, tagged, swapped around, recontextualized, re-collected, and (whenever legal) re-published.

Such decentralized, user-driven, unpredictable shuffling of digital assets might seem to diminish the role of your library. You need not go there, you need not apply there for access, you need not be cognizant of the dimensions of its actual collection. But look at what’s going on behind the scenes, in terms of programming, standardization of conventions, preservation and exposure of assets. And in front of the scenes, you can bet that librarians will evolve ever more into consultants, offering strategies for the successful customization and manipulation of information. If APIs start scattering assets of all sorts onto communally shared clipboards, ‘collection’ takes another step towards the need-based, on-the-fly assemblage of information transforming our world (dare we say) into one big library.

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