Category Archives: interface

“Good APIs”

What makes a “good” API”? Can we say anything about good practice in providing or using machine interfaces to third party services on the web? UKOLN have consulted widely and suggest, among other things, that providers of APIs should make it useful, keep it simple, follow standards and use consistent naming structures. For API users there is perhaps less obvious good practice, but it’s important to choose the API carefully (they explain what this might mean), to think about risks, and respect the API terms of use.
UKOLN are now asking developers to comment on these principles; do they seem right? Is it useful to document them? For whom? How?
If you’ve got views on this then here’s where to post comments:

Developer Happiness Days Winners Announced…Soon!

As many of you will know from the longtail of developer happiness days (tag: dev8D), the shortlist for the developer decathlon has now been announced. Potential winners of the Five Thousand Pound Grand Prize (or even the two-thousand pound runner up prize) include:

“List8D” prototype by Team Bsmmmm

“Lazy Lecturer” prototype by Team Three Lazy Geeks

“sh!” prototype by team Rangtangdingdong

“splashurl” prototype by team halfHourHacks

“SpACE tool” prototype by team SpACEmen (second video here):


Information Environment Rapid Innovation Grants

We (Andy, Amber, Balviar, David, James) are happy to announce that we are about to issue a new Grant-Funded Call for rapid innovation projects within the Information Environment on 6 March 2009.  You’ll be able to read all the text about what money is available and the conditions for using it in more detail in the Grant but to give an overview of what we are looking for:

  • Innovative projects that create a ‘something’ related to a user need from a named community.  That something could be a new interface, a service that brings together existing services or a tool of some sort;
  • The scope is quite simply something that is within the Information Environment (see: for definition).  We are not being overly prescriptive;
  • The projects should be up to six months in length and between £15,000 and £40,000;
  • The documentation for everything in the Call is going to be kept lightweight so we can keep the focus on solutions to user needs rather than filling out forms.  We’re just looking for five pages in the bid and the project documentation is going to be kept to blogs or wikis so we know what you’re aiming to do and how you are getting on with achieving it but you don’t spend hours telling us about it;
  • The approaches should be agile or open.  We’d like to see early engagement with users and for that engagement to be kept up so what is produced responds to their needs and is user-led rather than technology-led.

The drivers for this grant have come from a number of different directions:

  • dev8D ( proved to be very successful in getting users and developers together to create innovative solutions to user needs.  We felt we should be doing more of this in the Information Environment;
  • Whilst we recognise that certain big central services such as the UK federation could and should be provided by JISC, we also recognise that there needs to be funding for smaller, lighter tools, services and interfaces that help users achieve their goals;
  • Whilst there is a place for bigger projects that involve senior managers, we feel that there is equally a place for projects where the bulk of the money goes to developers;
  • The last few years have seen an increase in the development of lightweight solutions that respond rapidly to user needs across both the academic and commercial sectors.

We’re looking forward to seeing what bids come back.  This forms the perfect opportunity for:

  • Those who have bid for funding before and would like funding to try out new areas where we may not want to fund via a big project;
  • Those new to JISC who would like to dip their toe in the water and try a smaller JISC project before going for something bigger;
  • Developers who have good ideas that they might not have quite enough time to fully develop within their normal schedule;
  • Technical managers who may want to have funding to ‘try out’ new members for their team on a student placement basis, for example.

The tag for discussion on this rapid innovation Call is jiscri.  Please use this if you’re commenting on the Call via Twitter or posting on other blogs and social media about it so we can easily gather all those comments together and learn and respond as we go along.  Subscribe to the JISC-ANNOUNCE list at to get notified about this or other funding opportunities from JISC or go along to on 6 March to get the call.

Interesting repository user interfaces

There are a number of interesting repository user interfaces being developed by the repositories in the start up and enhancement strand of the JISC repositories and preservation programme.

The Faroes project is developing a repository for language teachers called language box. The repository is designed to be very lightweight and is collecting basic learning resources (web pages, power points, images, videos, etc) rather than complex learning objects.

Their beta repository can be seen at: The bull fighting resource is a particularly good example of how the repostitory interface handles different types of resources. I think the interface pulls off the trick of being instantly familiar, you can start to use the repository without stopping to think or scanning around the interface for the option you want.

The Kultur project is developing a repository for the creative arts departments at 3 institutions. As most of their deposits contain images of artworks then they needed to develop their eprints interface to suit these objects. The demo that they have so far is very attractive: The slideshow on the home page makes it clear that we are dealing with a visual repository and they have taken the interesting option of hiding all metadata for an item until you click on the further information box.

The Lirolem project produced a repository that has a simple but very effective way of displaying items which consist of multiple formats. Here is an example of an item that is text and images: Notice how responsive the interface is, clicking between the document and images tabs is instant as is clicking between different images. They have also chosen to include a “bookmark this” link on every repository item.

I am also hearing good things about the new, improved interface for Primo: 

All of these interfaces have taken the approach of displaying the item in the most prominent and appropriate way while relegating the metadata to the bottom of the screen or hiding it in a clickable box.

I know all these examples are eprints and that most of the work developing these examples has been done by Southampton, but these are the ones that have come to my attention so far. Apologies if I have missed any others. I would love to hear about interesting interfaces on other software platforms.