OCLC, massive library conglomerate and the organization behind WorldCat, has debuted a new visualization of identity connection using its Search API and Identities Database. Users are able to browse through connections between creators, companies, participants, subjects, and fictional characters.
The interface is exciting and organized. When you browse along the line, connections pleasantly burst out of each topic and create nice little identity molecules. It's very exciting to find a record with a lot of connections, suddenly wire structures pop into life all over your screen. I’m not crazy about the color scheme, but the effect is pleasant, fun, and clean. I like that OCLC is still experimenting and struggling with the purpose of print authority control on the internet. The Identities Database from whence this idea came is really quite useful and has more careful feel.
The visualization is only as good as the cataloging on WorldCat and even so, title/author names are sometimes abbreviated confusingly for visual effect. Since the data comes from many MARC fields, there are repeats and many visualizations are less than useful. Connections are identified in the visualization only if they can be differentiated in the catalog, roles like author and illustrator are differentiated but subjects just hang there without explanation. I think this is an interesting experiment in the failure of classic authority control to make sense in a visual, changeable, digital environment. My search of the catalog made me curious enough to embark on a Wikipedia journey which proved through hyperlinks much more fruitful and diverting than the record-created visualization. We have become used to a more diverse and fragrant bouquet of connections than that provided by traditional cataloging alone.
This is something to think about in developing and reforming systems like Pocket Knowledge. To make a system like this more useful, we’ll have to consider our existing metadata and what kinds of connections we should make between creators and collections. This system reminds me of PK, it uses the same colors, but also evokes the same feeling of great content locked away by inefficient access.
It’s a nice thought, but like so many things, doesn’t do very much that google isn’t already doing better.