There’s enormous promise in the Open Library project, which we’re hearing about today at Berkman’s lunch event from Aaron Swartz. The idea is wonderfully simple: to create a single web page per book. That web page can aggregate lots of data and metadata about each book. In turn, the database can be structured to indicate very interesting relationships between books, ideas, and people. The public presentation of the information is via a structured wiki.

I’m most interested in hearing what Open Library thinks it needs in the way of help. They have a cool demo here. It seems to me that one way to succeed in this project is to combine what start-ups call “business development” with what scholars do for a living with what non-profits think of as crowd-sourcing or encouraging user generated content or whatever. There’s a lot that could be done if the publishers and libraries contributed the core data (should be in everyone’s interest, long-term anyway); scholars need to opt in an do their part in an open way; Open Library needs to get the data structured and rendered right (curious as to whether OPML or other syndicated data structures are in play, or could be in play, here); and human beings need to contribute, contribute, contribute as they have to Wikipedia and other web 2.0 megasites.

A note from a participant: “libraries resist user-generated cataloguing.” This seems to me a cultural issue that is worth exploring. We do need to balance the authority of librarians in with what the crowds have to offer. But I’m pretty sure it’s not an either-or choice, as David Weinberger makes clear through his work.

One thing that makes a lot of sense is their plan for supporting the site over time. The combination of philanthropy (at least as start-up funds, if not for special projects over time) plus revenue generated through affiliate links over time makes a lot of sense as a sustainable business plan.

One could also see linkages between Open Library and 1) our H2O Playlists initiative (hat-tip to JZ) to allow people to share their reading lists as well as 2) what Gene Koo and John Mayer at CALI are doing with the eLangdell project.

It’s not a surprise that the truly wonderful David Weinberger — I can see him blogging this in front of me — brought Aaron here today to talk about this.

Where I’m left, at the end of lunch, is with a sense of wonder about what we (broadly, collectively) can accomplish with these technologies, a bit of leadership, a bit of capital, good communications strategies, and some good luck in the public interest over time. It’s awe-inspiring.

Open development of Open Document Format testimony

Today I am finalizing what I will say tomorrow morning at the Massachusetts State House’s forum on the Open Document Format procurement policy issue. It’ll be held from 10 – 12 noon in the Senate Reading Room.

I’m trying to read and listen to as many sources as I can in writing up what I’ll say. If you have anything I should pay attention to — an idea, a link, a news source — please feel free to send it my way at jpalfrey AT

Here’s the agenda, as of yesterday (received by e-mail from the State House):

An Open Forum on the Future of Electronic Data Formats for the Commonwealth

December 14, 2005
10:00 AM – Noon
Senate Reading Room, State House

Hosted by: Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Sen. Jack Hart & Rep. Dan Bosley, Chairs
The Science & Technology Caucus, Sen. Jack Hart, Rep. Cory Atkins, & Secretary Ranch Kimball, Chairs


10:00 Welcome and Introductory Remarks

10:05 Open Standards and the Evolution of the OpenDocument Standard: How did we get here?

John Palfrey, Executive Director
Berkman Center on Internet and Society
Harvard Law School

10:25 Introduction of Panelists

* Bob Sutor, IBM
* Alan Yates, Microsoft General Manager of Information Worker Business Strategy
* Peter Quinn/Linda Hamel, ITD
* Bob Sproull, Sun Microsystems
* Judy Brewer, Web Accessibility Initiative, W3C
* Alan Cote, Secretary of State’s Office

10:45 Moderated Panel Discussion

Noon Adjourn