I’m not able to participate synchronously with the rescheduled TechSource Trends webinar about ALA Annual, but I wanted to chime in and explain a bit about my somewhat vague set of slides that I put up just after the technical issues from the originally scheduled one. So here are my thoughts, and the talking points that I had for the slides if I were able to participate. So sorry that I won’t be there, but I’m sure it’s going to be awesome.
One of the things that I’ve been harping on for the last few months is that libraries need to start thinking about how we handle digital devices becoming commodities rather than luxuries. Right now, Playaway is the only company really taking advantage of the discrepancy between content and container in a library context. The cost of the hardware to play MP3’s is so low that they include the container when you buy the content. One can imagine a time in the not-so-distant future where eInk readers like the Kindle or the Nook are cheap enough that eBooks might be treated in a similar way--buy the content, and the container is just a convenient way to circulate said content.
While there were a few companies at ALA selling the content half of eBooks, I couldn’t find any of the major eReader manufacturers. No Amazon and Kindle, no B&N and Nook, no Kobo, none of the half-dozen other manufacturers with products on the market. And, despite their announcement of a Reader Library Program, no Sony on the exhibition floor. It’s pretty clear that these companies are just missing an enormous marketI I don't undersrand why, but it’s something I plan to keep watching, and hopefully get an answer to as CES2011 rolls around.
iPad, iPad, iPad
If there was a major gadget that won ALA2010, it was the Apple iPad. Not only could you not throw a rock without hitting a vendor that was giving one away in the exhibit hall, but nearly every presentation that touched technology was talking about it. I’m guilty of that as well, mentioning it in my discussion of what I see as a major tech trend, that of touch-based interfaces for information retrieval and interaction. It’s clear that Apple has a commercial hit on their hands, but I think it’s actually more important than just being a market leader. I think the iPad illustrates the importance of user interface and user interaction with information, and merges interface with content in a way that other digital devices simply do not. We would be well advised to pay close attention to the way that touch-based interfaces change the metaphors of information management and consumption if we want to try and stay ahead of the curve in presenting our users with the content we have.
I saw exactly one major web company (for a reasonable value of “major”) in the exhibit hall, and that was Microsoft, in the person of their search engine, Bing. There was a Bing booth, where two Microsoft employees would show you around the interface, explain how it works, and give you some Bing stickers to take back home with you. But they weren’t selling anything, and they weren’t asking libraries to let them scan their entire collections (a la Google)...they were just there to gain some mindshare, and, I assume, to try and get librarians using Bing. I thought it was odd, at first...until I remembered that it’s estimated that just 1% of the online search market is worth almost a billion dollars. If Bing can steal any market share away from Google at all (and in some areas they are), Microsoft stands to make big money.
I really was most interested in what I didn’t see at the exhibit hall at ALA 2010. I didn’t see Google, I didn’t see eReader manufacturers, and I am continually disappointed with the degree to which libraries are not seen as a major market for personal electronics. Don’t get me wrong, in all my years attending ALA Annual, the exhibit hall is one of my favorite things. I love seeing all the new things for libraries. But I would love to see more and more of the digital world at ALA, because as I’ve argued in both an issue of Library Technology Reports and a book, personal electronic devices are going to be the containers for our content moving forward. We need to understand them, and we won’t understand them as a profession until they are a part of our professional conferences.