What makes good apps great? How people use them – Part 1

A successful app is determined by intelligent design, simplicity, cost and consumer need. Of course there are successful apps which are exceptions to this, say for instance angry birds but hey sometimes you can’t argue with the mob.

An important characteristic outside of the app which can be a key determinant of its success is how well the app is adopted by the user. Coming from the perspective of a social determinist, a successful app is one which the user chooses to integrate into their lives. One which the user adjusts or evolves their current practices as a consequence of the recognized advantage created by the use of the app. 

Whilst the eventual successful adoption of an app may have begun with an ambivalent decision along the lines of “meh, it’s only $2 dollars”, the success of an app can’t be determined by the user pressing the download/purchase button. If your honest with yourself how many apps have you downloaded, used for a couple of days…maybe a week and then proceeded to never look at again? auditing my iPad i’ve got a couple: ABC iView because its obscenely expensive on 3G, Evernote not because its bad (I’m going to touch on the advantages of the app) but because it doesn’t suit the way I work, and Lego monsters…it was just plain bad. There have however been a couple which I have adopted and have integrated into my processes. GoodReader for managing and marking up my documents, PenUltimate for note taking, GoodReads to track what I’m reading and what I want to read and the Twitter app for my news, laughs and keeping track of technology and library trends. 

So what actions on the part of the user turn a good app into a great one? Sometimes you just get lucky and find an app that slips into your life but most of the time unlocking the potential of an app requires changing your practices. What considerations should you make before buy or download a new app? 

Tune in next week – for part 2 and app reviews (ok I’m cheating a little bit but hey its a long weekend so cut me some slack) 

Open access – the good, the bad, the awesome

“Open access”…two words that can put fear in the hearts of publishers and at the same time delight into the hearts of many librarians. As an individual who recognises the value and importance of information and information equality my natural response is to be an ardent member of the group shouting “we need open access now!” however  attaining an effective and efficient accessible environment isn’t that simple? Especially if you want access to validated and reliable information (without all the ads).

So how do we get closer to an environment which creates information equality and  ensures that a level of quality and reliability in the information provided? I think the UK Government may *fingers crossed* have the solution.

In mid-2012 the Government accepted all recommendations put forward by a team of academics, research funders and publishers chaired by Dame Janet Finch CBE into a model which would be being both effective and sustainable facilitate expanding access to published research. The Finch report makes the following recommendations, inter alia:

  • publication in open access or hybrid journals should be the main vehicle for the publication of government funded research
  • the restrictions surroundings rights of use and re-use should be removed or modified to facilitate publication in open access publications
  • institutional and subject based repositories should be given more attention to by authors and publishers as a means of providing access to research data and grey literature (1) as well as digital preservation
  • there should be greater consideration and/or reconsideration about the embargo period’s traditional publishers impose upon works.

But how is it going to be obtained? Answer, through reform of policy, publication in open access/hybrid journals, licensing and repositories. Personally the primary reform that needs to take place is a mindset shift on the part of authors and the academic/professional circles that place greater stake in the traditional closed access journal.  Its really a case of spot the difference between open access and closed access and really I can only see the cost as being the difference: both are often funded using government grants (which are heavily vetted), the publication of both open and closed depends on the article being reviewed and edited by members/experts of the field, both are read and cited by other/further research. The only difference is money. A cost which creates a false aura of exclusivity around research and prevents access to people who work for institutions and organisations which cannot or don’t support funding subscriptions. The perspective that this cost creates quality assurance will not change overnight and the Finch Report proposes the right steps to change the perceptions towards them, steps which have been adopted by the government. Whats the primary change? Reducing the  exclusivity of the closed journal to Government funded articles to a short period of time prior to it being made publicly available via open access. Because a lot of research is government funded this is a simple and effective move to change perceptions towards the lesser perception of going straight to open access and lets hope result in the development of information equality in the future.

Lets hope the Australian Government (and all Governments) take note of the positive step taken by the UK Government and adopt similar policies. After all if taxpayers are funding the research shouldn’t we have access to the result?


(1) Adopting the definition provided by the University of New England grey literature is unpublished or non-commercial research such as government papers, policy statements, fact sheets, draft papers, theses and dissertations. (Source: UNE, eSkills Plus, accessed 20/1/13 <http://www.une.edu.au/library/find/eskillsplus/research/grey.php&gt;)

Disruptive technologies – A whole lot of fuss and bother about nothing new…

Disruptive technology has reappeared as a buzz word of late with librarians seeking to combat the apparently catastrophic and disruptive effect of technology. Disruptive technologies seem to promote the doomsday-ish perspective of the technological determinist, which was famously popularised by Marshall McLuhan(1). Before I distract myself and get stuck in a rant about the inaccuracies of technological determinism I’ll get back to the proposition at hand…the term ‘disruptive technology’ doesn’t apply for libraries! Why you ask? because as library and information professionals our role is to meet the user needs, to go where the user goes which includes ensuring that we are present on the technology they are most active upon therefore we adapt and evolve to the user’s needs.

So…what is a disruptive technology? Just like everything else within the technology and information theory field a clear definition of disruptive technology is (surprise surprise) incredibly ambiguous being defined as many different things by different people. There is a commonality however disruptive technologies are defined not by the characteristics of the technology itself but by the perceived impact of the technology. Leifer et.al identify the development of disruptive technologies as:

“radical or breakthrough innovations [that] transform the relationship between customers and suppliers, restructure marketplace economics, displace current products and create entirely new product categories”(2)

Padgett and Mulveny (3) place disruptive technology into the wider genus of innovation describing disruptive technologies as those which “come to change the products mainstream customers use”.

So whats the big deal? I’d argue that there isn’t one because the primary ethos behind libraries, information products and the information science field as a whole is serving the user/client. In order to be useful to the user we must be findable where the user is! So if technologies are adopted by the user (be the technology regarded as disruptive, evolutionary or simply useful) library and information professionals need to be in-tune to where their user is and ensure that they are there for the user to provide support on that new technology platform.

Take away: the primary issue is not that there are disruptive technologies out there but that we, as library and information professionals, need to be where our users are, if that’s on a new technology so be it.

(1) Marshall McLuhan a Canadian philosopher of communication theory coined the expressions ‘the medium and the message’ and the ‘global village’. His works include The Mechanical Bride (1951), The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and The Medium is the Massage: An inventor of effects(1967).

(2) Leifer et.al (2001) in Lafferty, S & Edwards J. Disruptive technologies: what future universities and their libraries? (2004) Library Management, volume 25 No 6-7

(3) Padgett, D & Mulvey, M.S (2007) Differentiation via technology:Strategic Positioning of Services Following the Introduction of Disruptive Technology, Journal of Retailing. December 2007, pp375-391.