WorldCat iPhone “app”: a quick review

September 24, 2008, 10:52 am


First things first, it is not an app, but a website that was designed for the iPhone screen size. I guess they are waiting for Mr. Jobs to approve it—I hear there is a long queue of pending apps.

Aesthetically it looks fine. Everything fits and it has the iPhone feel. The interface is a vast improvement over First Search.

Functionally— it has some problems. I am going to assume that most users are not going to mess around with the settings. When I open the page I am presented with single search box and a go button. Beneath that are a few headings: biography, graphic novels, personal finance, movie review, and many more.

I searched for Little Brother (the book I am currently reading, recommended by Jason Puckett) and the title does not show up in the first thirty hits so it is basically non-existent.

I tried with a more common title: Native Son. It appears as #7, which is good, but there are several other questionable titles before it: The tenderness of wolves, The Maytrees, and Zorro: a novel, to name a few.

I get that they want to provide keyword searching but they should tinker with the algorithm so that if someone enters a known title it presents it above all other records.

Let’s compare. I entered the keyword cloning into three book engines. Here are the top three results for each tool:

1. Double identity
2. Cell of cells : the global race to capture and control the stem cell
3. The house of the scorpion

1. Cloning: A Beginner's Guide
2. After Dolly: The Promise and Perils of Cloning
3. Stem Cells and Cloning (2nd Edition)

Google Book Search
1. Cloning Human Beings: Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission
2. Cloning
3. Who's Afraid of Human Cloning?

I think I have to award the point to Amazon, but I guess it depends what you are looking for.

Back to WorldCat. So I find the entry for Native Son. It gives me a nice image of the cover, the author, and date of publication, but doesn’t provide any details. I expect to find a short synopsis, keywords, or something. The only options I have are to find: Related books, Related subjects, Find in a library, and E-mail this title.

Let’s try the email. It prompts me with a single text box and reads “Add a note if you’d like and click OK, or Cancel to go back.” So wait, am I entering an email address or a note or a subject heading—this feels like a usability issue. Eventually it gets me to the iPhone mail interface, but that “note” prompt through me off a little. I say skip the note because I can add content to the message once I get to the email interface. Your “note” just gets in my way.

Let’s see if my library has it. I enter my zip code and I see that Georgia Tech owns the title. Now “find in a library” is replaced with “borrow this title from…”—I click and it plops me into the Georgia Tech Catalog. It performs an ISBN search and fails. No matches found. Hmm.

Ok, let’s try a journal. I am in class. My prof mentions a study in the recent issue of the Journal of Heat Transfer… does my library have it? Using WorldCat mobile it doesn’t appear in the first thirty results so I bail on it. Let’s try something a bit more obvious: The New York Times. Doesn’t appear in top ten, so I break down and do an actual title search… NYT is no whereto be found. Student: I guess it doesn’t carry newspapers, hmmm, this library stuff is too hard and doesn’t work, guess I’ll go use Google, or better yet, the New York Times iPhone app.

I commend OCLC for branching out into the mobile world, but at first glance and 20 minutes of playing around I have to say that it’s not ready for prime time yet. I wanted to like it. I wanted to hype it to my students, but in its current form I just can’t do that. However again, I commend the effort. My library is not even talking about offering mobile services. I wish we had something like our friends down the road at NCSU.

- Display more than 10 titles per search; iPhone users are used to scrolling.
- Searching is a tad slow even on fast connection.
- Tweak the known searches. If I enter an exact title I expect it to appear first or second in the results.
- Make the email option a bit more transparent—it feels hacky (?)
- Add a texting option linked to the iPhone address book.
- Provide more content—more than just a title, author, date, and book jacket image.
- Add a saving / bookmark option—something like or citeulike. When I use mobile web I typically scroll, scan, or search for 2 – 4 minutes and then move on. If I find a title and can save to an online site, I can review that title again when I am at a desktop or laptop connection. Think ubiquity.
- If WorldCat indicates that my library owns the item then I expect it to show up in my catalog.
- After I enter my zip code and select a library, please just jump me to that catalog, don’t make the user push another button. Reduce the steps that separate me from the book.
- I wish there was an icon or text to indicate fiction vs. non-fiction. For example, when I ran the keyword search for cloning many fiction titles surfaced. It that’s what I wanted great—but if I wanted a primer or textbook it fails me.
- It would be niceto have a “book bag” or grouping option. If I am searching for books on the civil war and find three or four that I like, let me mark them, store them, or group them together some how.
- It would be nice to have a “profile” or at least to be able to store my location. If I indicate that Georgia Tech is my primarily library, WorldCat should take that into account and maybe adjust that to my searching. For example, some type of “at your library” icon would appear next to the record if my library allegedly owns it. (i.e. SFX)
- It's an iPhone! Connect to the phone's GPS and tell me where the nearest library is that owns the title. Why stop there, link it to the iPhone Map app as well.

Just a few quick thoughts.

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