Saturday, April 4, 2009

Opensearch vs custom toolbar vs smart keyword vs bookmarklet (III)

In a previous post, I discussed the different ways, one can add support to searching OPAC and other library subscribed databases. The four methods were Opensearch plugins , custom toolbars (Conduit toolbar , Google toolbar , Libx) , Smart keyword searches and Search bookmarklets

I already discussed opensearch here, in this post I will discuss the three custom toolbars I'm most familiar with Conduit toolbar , Google toolbar , and Libx. See a partial list of libraries using custom toolbars.

Custom toolbar

There are one or two papers written on the idea of using custom toolbars for library use.

I guess most are familiar with the idea of toolbars, which I think were popularized by Google and their Google toolbar (see below for a customized version that supports JSTOR and Scopus).

These toolbars add a searchbar to your browser which allows users to search various websites without visiting the site first.

They also added various features to aid searching (e.g. highlight of search terms), useful functions (e.g. translation of webpages).

Later toolbars added subscription to RSS feeds, ability to add widgets etc. See list of Google toolbar features and Conduit toolbar features for an idea of what they provide.

For our purposes, the most important feature is that the later toolbars allowed you to add custom searches to any database you chose. This means you can add searches to your OPAC, to JSTOR, Scopus (with ezproxy built-in).

In the image above, you can enter the search term "Singapore river", click on either the Scopus or JSTOR button, and you will be brought to the search results page of either Scopus or JSTOR (you need to log-in through ezproxy) .

There are quite a few custom toolbars you can use, I will cover only the three I am most familar with.

Conduit toolbar

Conduit toolbar is designed to "enable you to deliver one–to–one personalized information and messages to individual users via custom components."

It is highly customizable (logos etc), designed to create a custom toolbar "built around your community". Besides adding custom searches you can

  • Setup RSS feeds of your library blogs or library related blogs
  • Setup "scrolling news-tickers" - for your library announcements
  • Send instant messages to all users who installed your toolbar
  • Common chatroom for all users who installed the toolbars
  • Add custom widgets (think meebo widgets or any library widgets you have created)
  • A highlight button that will highlight search terms
  • Copy text and it will be sent directly to your searchbar
  • Keep track of number of installs to track impact you are making etc..
  • A lot more...

The amazing librarian Guus van den Brekel from Netherlands is probably the biggest advocate of using Conduit toolbars. Here are some of his creations. You can do a lot of additional tricks with Conduit toolbars including creating search widgets but that is probably another whole post.

Many libraries have used Conduit toolbars, here's a paper about one libraries' experience. (subscription needed).

Here's one I toyed with for my Economics community. 100% experimental

It has searches setup to common Economics database, our catalogue, as well as a custom economics search I setup for various Economics websites. Bookmarks built-in are to links in my Economics subject guide. There are various RSS feeds including to new Economics additions to the catalogue (via screenscraper) etc.

Creating and customizing the toolbar is a breeze, it's all point and click, drag and drop etc. No programming required! See some of the screenshots below.

Pros

1. Extremely customizable, huge feature set.

Compared to say Google toolbar or Libx, the toolbar is meant to be rebranded and hence is totally customizable, you can add as many bells and whistles as you wish, put them in any order you wish etc.

I personally find Conduit features more appealing than Google toolbar's though Libx being a specialized built for Library application has some features that Conduit cannot match (see later).

For example, while one can search each customized database as per normal, one also gets the option to do a search comparison, which adds frame at the top of results. (see below)

Clicking on say Scopus above, will give you the same search but for Scopus. Do note that some database vendors might frown on framing their site!

2. Support for older IE browsers as well as Firefox.

As mentioned in an earlier post, compared to Opensearch, Conduit toolbars work for IE 6 and not just IE 7.

3. Supports POST method for both IE and Firefox.

Again as mentioned in an earlier post, this is much better than Opensearch method, since Opensearch using POST method does not work in IE7/8.

Cons

1. Creates additional toolbar for browsers that already have default searchbars.

Confuses users who already have a default searchbar in IE 7 or Firefox.

2. Possible privacy issues and additional technical problems

There has being a some debate (e.g. here and here) in the past by librarians about the merits of Conduit toolbar versus Libx (which is newer), but it is acknowledged that Conduit adds sponsored results in your default google search and worse yet every click you make is sent to Conduit. Potentially they could track you. There has also being some past history with spyware, but this is no longer an issue, but some antispyware programs might continue to consider it suspicious and lead to technical support problems.

Opensearch plugins is far cleaner, and have less potential for causing technical problems.

3. Each toolbar cannot be customized per user.

All users of the same toolbar will have the exact same features. Everything is centrally controlled. If I add a new RSS feed, or a new custom search, all users of that toolbar will be pushed the same update and will have the same features. Unlike opensearch plugins, you can't offer a buffet of custom searchs for users to mix and match.

A tech savvy user also can't create his own custom searches.

LibX

I almost left this out (for reasons I will explain later), but added it back in, because this is a special build for Library toolbar. As be-fits a specialized library product it supports the following specialized functions

  1. Allows advanced searches of Opacs
  2. Hotlinking of ISBN/ISSN/DOI/PubmedIDs - clicking on them gives you the appropriate search/link.
  3. Adaptive context menu - If you highlight a ISBN, it will offer a ISBN search option of your catalogue etc.
  4. Search for OpenURL providers
  5. Others - webcues, Google scholar "magic button", Ezproxy support, support for COINS, xISBN and more

Libx is quite popular, currently (April 2008), there are 579 versions of Libx created according to their homepage. Several papers have being written on Libx (See here - subscription required ) . Below is an example of a Libx toolbar I was playing with.

Creating Libx toolbars is quite easy, comparable to creating conduit toolbars. Just fill in the details you need in the web forms (see below).

Pros

1. Support of both IE 6+ and Firefox.

Same as Conduit toolbar.

2.Interesting feature set.

I love the library related features like xisbn support, openurl support, hotlinks of Isbns, dois etc

3. Less privacy concerns

Unlike the above mentioned conduit, Libx does not track clicks of users, does not track usage levels etc. As far as I know Libx does not "phone home" at all, if you turn off the feature that checks for new additional remote web cues.

Cons

1. Creates additional toolbar for browsers that already have default searchbars.

Same as conduit toolbar.

2. Each toolbar cannot be customized per user.

Same as conduit toolbar.

3. Technical issues

Though it is less likely to cause technical issues with security programs because it does not phone home or have a bad reputation, there is still potential for support issues compared to the cleaner Opensearch plugins. Significantly, Libx support for IE is still patchy based on my testing, and the user needs to have Microsoft .NET Framework first.

4. Lack of support for most databases beyond OPACs

This is the reason why I almost didn't add this toolbar to the mix. It works very well with OPACs, but if you try to add specific database searches like Scopus, JStor, it usually doesn't work well. According to this, it is by design

"LibX assumes users know how to create Smart Keywords in Firefox so it does not offer a search function for periodical databases. It focuses on the library catalog.."

This doesn't quite make sense to me? One can also create smart keywords for the library catalogue search as well??

Google toolbar

Google toolbar is of course probably the most well known example of toolbars. Amusingly I notice that many systems in my University , particularly the older ones already come installed with Google toolbar (albeit a older version) .

In the early days, many webmasters installed the toolbar to gain access to the PR (page rank) of websites, while other users loved features like the highlighter, autofill, popup blockers etc..

But these days Google toolbar is far more flexible allowing you to add custom searches to any place you want.

Of the custom toolbars mentioned so far, my impressions (based on reading papers on subject Libx and Conduit are the ones usually mentioned) is that Libraries have not typically leveraged on the relative popularity of Google toolbar to add their custom searches. Not quite sure why this is so. Here's one exception, here's another (they offer a clickable xml file that will instantly add the search to your google toolbar).

In many ways, creating custom searches for Google toolbar is very similar to creating opensearch plugins, you create and offer the file in xml format. The glory details are here .

Unlike opensearch plugins though, there are almost no web form builders that allow you to quickly create the xml file needed. This is the only one I'm aware of that generates xml files for both opensearch and google custom buttons , but it currently does not work? Still, it takes very little skill to manually edit an existing xml file and replacing the url string with the one you want.

Users can also add custom searches themselves in a way similar to adding smart keywords.

  1. Open the search page you want to create a search button for.
  2. Right-click on the search box on that page that you want to use, select "Generate Custom Search...", then click "Add". [Source]


Pros

1. Support of both IE 6+ and Firefox.

Same as Conduit toolbar.

2. Many users might have Google toolbar installed already

If they already have Google toolbar they will be more receptive.

3. Supports POST method for both IE and Firefox.

Google toolbar allows you to setup searches using the POST method. Again as mentioned in an earlier post, this is much better than Opensearch method, since Opensearch using POST method does not work in IE7/8.

3. Each toolbar can be customized per user.

Unlike the other toolbars mentioned, each google toolbar can be customized to add whatever searches they want. This makes it similar to opensearch plugins.

Cons

1. Creates additional toolbar for browsers that already have default searchbars.

Same as conduit toolbar.

2. Privacy concerns and technical issues

Same as for Conduit, except to a lesser extent as Google is a known quality.

Conclusion

Phew that was a long post. Next up, smart keyword searches and search bookmarklets.

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