Thursday, April 12, 2007

purple ketchup innovation

Steven Bell has written a blog entry that in many ways I wish I had written.

In it he discusses meaningful innovation versus innovation for innovation's sake: "better, more meaningful services" versus "novel products and services." He references an article by Dan Saffer in BusinessWeek Online that brings up the purple ketchup of this entry's title -- purple ketchup is innovation for innovation's sake, and is a product "that no one needs and few actually desire." He contrasts it with the iPod or TiVo, products that no one knew they needed until they existed, and then discovered how vital they were. The products resonate with consumers.

The post basically reminds us to think twice about innovations -- are they really innovative? Will they provide a service that our users will find indispensable, or are they just 2.0 for the sake of 2.0? Do we need to develop oodles of new interface widgets, or do we need strategies to make our data more open and accessible for our collaborative partners and our end users to use our data and collections as needed? I know we need make our core service interfaces more usable, but we also need to make our underlying data more usable.

The post also references another posting on the results of the Nine Questions on Technology Innovation in Libraries survey. We were happy to see Fedora on the list of "The Top Ten Models of Technology Innovation." Steven Bell wonders if institutional repositories are innovative, as repository software appears twice on the list. First, I think that Fedora is mis-categorized as an institutional repository on the list -- it's actually an open source architecture and a toolkit that can be used to build applications of many types, not just IRs. I've seen content management systems, production tools, and preservation repositories in addition to IRs. I am hoping that Fedora is on the list because it's a successful open-source collaborative development model and flexible toolkit (F is for flexible). Second, for many institutions, IRs are still innovative, because support for open access and digital preservation is still an innovation. Even if some IR tools can be challenging to use, it's still an innovation to have a place to, at some level, preserve their output. Let's not confuse the innovative nature of the goal with issues around specific tools. And, as is pointed out, we may need to develop better communications strategies to explain why this is a vital service that our faculties did not know they needed.

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