Thursday, 10 May 2007

Amazon interface

Being an OPAC nerd, I encounter a lot of conversations about the desirability of an Amazonesque interface for the library catalogue.

I agree that there might be some useful crossover points - reviews, ratings, automated recommendations (after tweaking so it doesn't pick up on the Harry Potter books I buy for my mum) - but the two are fundamentally different. Amazon's catalogue is far bigger than any library's is likely to be.

Anyway, I've been doing some research on books to buy for the Graphic Novel Group, and when I went to Amazon a couple of minutes ago I saw this:

It's probably a bit small, but the first heading says "What do customers buy after viewing this item?" It then gives an interesting comparison of what people who looked at one of the books I'd looked at went on to buy.

Can you imagine this as an OPAC function? Previously, the idea has always been to offer a "people who borrowed x also borrowed y" recommendation, based on some fairly straightforward loan data. The image above is much more sophisticated and appeals to me because it quantifies things. Yet surely it can't be much more technically demanding? I like it!

It's important that we start to look outside of libraries for ideas. If we don't, we'll end up recycling the same old notions of what we do and how we do it. But it's difficult, because we need to make sure we don't go too far down that line. I've never been happy with the idea that bookshops offer an ideal source of techniques for us to pinch. There just aren't many similarities. You could say the same about the OPAC and Amazon: maybe I'm just a hypocrite, or maybe what I'm trying to say is that we need to consider these things individually, rather than buying them wholesale.