Wednesday, 9 April 2008

DLF - Digital Libraries (are) Fundamental

I'm speaking at the Digital Libraries Federation spring forum in a couple of weeks in Minneapolis (28th-30th April if you're interested).

The last industry event I was at had a real "bunker" mentality. Budgets seemed under pressure, people felt unappreciated and there was a dearth of great work. Same old same old I suppose, but in the presentation I gave, I tried to offer some hope.

In the library and museum communities we are currently sitting at a happy collision of a burning desire to have universal access to all human knowledge and the appearance of an array of tools that make that dream realisable. The people who will realise that dream were sitting in the room. How much more of an exciting challenge do you want in your career?

As we slowly make inroads into the vast mountain of paper than needs converting to binary information, libraries are moving centre stage.

I hope DLF Minneapolis is full of people excited by the challenge and not those wishing life was like it used to be - analogue.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Seadragon surfaces at last

In January 2006 Blaise Aguera y Arcas sold his company, Seadragon, to Microsoft. He'd built some pretty cool technology - it was imaging technology for the web that came with four promises:
- Speed of navigation is independent of the size or number of objects.
- Performance depends only on the ratio of bandwidth to pixels on the screen.
- Transitions are smooth as butter.
- Scaling is near perfect and rapid for screens of any resolution.

Think about that. Pretty scary.

We met up that year in his swanky new Microsoft office up the Smith tower in Seattle, and what he was doing blew me away. Luckily he was kind enough to express admiration for what we were doing as well.

Anyway, Blaise and his team got sidelined to work on the Photosynth technology (post to come on that too...) and there was radio silence for a looong time.

Until last week, when Microsoft released Deep Zoom Composer, a technology that's related to, but not identical to Seadragon. Take a look at a demo:

Does it deliver on the promises? Kind of. It's all inside a Silverlight 2 wrapper, so when the original Seadragon had 3D effects, this one doesn't. Also, I was REALLY hoping it would be using hdphoto, the new format currently undergoing ISO approval, and it doesn't - it's plain old jpegs. This is a big deal as hdphoto (or JPEG XR as it will be known) offers high dynamic range and compression twice as good as jpegs.

I know the softies wanted to keep the Silverlight 2 download as small as possible, but surely they could have snuck this one in?

Take a look at the demo and mentally swap Hardrock cafe memorabilia for 100 paintings from the Louvre, or 1000 stamps, or the entire works of Shakespeare.