what i've been working on


I've been somewhat vague about the work I've been doing at Microsoft this year, for a couple of reasons. First, much of the work was vague...I spent a lot of time talking to people, acting as consultant and catalyst, rather than creating things. Second, some of the projects I worked on were (and mostly still are) still not public knowledge.

There's one project, though, that's really my baby. I conceived it, spec'ed it, and am in the process of seeing it get built. And I've reached an agreement with MIcrosoft about the IP for this project that means I can now blog about it unfettered. So, for those wondering what I've really been working on, here it is.

It's called PULP...for "personal ubiquitous library project." (It was originally just "personal library project," but I added the "ubiquitous" so it would have an easy to remember name.) And it's the result of mashing up features from social bookmarking tools like del.icio.us and CiteULike and LibraryThing, personal library tools like Delicious Library and MediaMan, and mobile scanning and annotation tools like Aura.

So, why does the world need another social bookmarking/library tool? I'm not sure it does. But this one is intended to address some problems I've had with the tools listed above.

First, it's going to be an enterprise-based tool, that will be installed and managed on your own server. That's because centrally-owned and managed social bookmarking tools present a problem for people working on non-public projects. I was made aware of how much of a public trail I can leave in my bookmarks when one of my students knew about my plans to come to Seattle before my department chair did--all because he'd noticed what I was bookmarking and how I was tagging it. When I started working here at Microsoft on competitive projects, I cut way back on my use of del.icio.us, because I was concerned that I might give away too much of what I was working on to competitors.

Second, it's going the leverage the extreme coolness of Marc Smith's AURA project to enable SmartPhone and PocketPC-based data entry. I love that Delicious Library and MediaMan let me use a webcam to scan barcodes. But that's not useful when I'm walking through a bookstore, or visiting a friend's house. I want to be able to scan in the barcode of a book with my mobile device and add it to my collection.

Third, it will distinguish between items that I have (or have access to), and items that I'd like to have but don't. I love the idea of being able to browse a colleague's virtual bookshelf...but it's much more helpful to me if I know that these are items that s/he actually has and that I can therefore look at or borrow. That's even more helpful when I'm in a bookstore, since I'll be able to find out immediately if the book I'm considering purchasing is one that someone I work with already has a copy of.

That's all planned for the first version of the system, which I'm hoping we'll be able to deploy at RIT and MSR this fall so that we can do some research into how people use the system.

In the second version, I have a more ambitious plan. I want to develop a rich desktop client for the data that will incorporate p2p sharing, much like iTunes does for music. That way, even if my server is at RIT, and yours is at, say Yahoo, we can meet up at a conference and share items with each other. I can browse the stuff that people near me have marked as public, and I can share out items tagged for a talk I've given or a topic I'm studying. (I was delighted today when I came across this post describing how someone essentially turned iTunes into a paper-sharing tool.)

The way this is going to work from an IP and development resources standpoint is that MSR is developing the backend database for the service, and the mobile client will be based directly on the AURA client that will be made widely available in the foreseeable future. Everything that my students and I create--the UI, the web pages, the code to make the interface talk to the database--will be in the public domain. MSR is quite generously funding my students for this work, with sufficient funds for me to be able to get some great RIT students working hard on it all next year. So really, everybody wins. And I'm very grateful to Marc Smith and Turner Whitted at MSR for supporting this project, and making it possible for me and my students to continue working on it even after I return to RIT.

As we get further along in development, I'll be posting more information about the project.


Interesting stuff! Shoot me a note some time if you want to talk about ways we can help each other out. - Tim

Very cool. I'm sure you're already aware of the dogear project at IBM Research. It sounds like PULP further extends the "corporate folksonomy" idea.

I was wondering what you had been up to. And here I thought you were working on the next version of the Batmobile. Can you share any "juicy" screen shots? :)


this looks like an interesting piece of work. Could I interest you in submitting it - or ideas related to it - to the 'Mashing up the Library' competition at www.talis.com/tdn/competition ?

The competition carries a £1,000 prize and is inviting a wide range of 'mashups' relevant to libraries. The point, though, is to nurture and drive a conversation around the uses to which data from, in and about libraries might be put in delivering new or better services to the broader community. Rather than consign library data to the library and its website, what begins to happen when it gets out onto the web and is combined with ideas, data and applications from elsewhere?

This is a conversation in which we need to engage librarians, library systems vendors, library users, and the users and builders of a whole range of applications well beyond the library walls.

Interesting. You may know that we are working on something similar (only hosted like Socialtext), and will be launching a private beta in the next couple of weeks.

If anyone's interested in taking part, drop me a line at niall@tiggi.com.

The fact that Tim and Paul already commented makes my comment a bit redundant, but... I'd like to see it tie into what the enterprise library owns (using xISBN, of course)


There is an identity management angle to social bookmarking. Some deft users have multiple accounts under different handles. There is some overhead involved remembering who they are when they are non-public identified. :)

The selling point is very much your tie in to mobile scanning. Anne Galloway at Pursed Lips Square Jaw who works in the anthropology of the design process and researches ubicomp implementations might be interested in how your project unfolds. She has a several posts on annotation projects.

Very interesting!

The point about the public character of a lot of social software is something that occurred to me in the last session of this year's symposium, when people were asked to submit their ideas about what software, tools, innovations and so on that they'd like to see, and others responded with provisioning information about work-in-progress or research on those subjects. There was no question in my mind that people withheld information about a lot of the suggestions for exactly the reason you cite, that what you share in that context is information you have that doesn't give away some advantage or investment you're making.

The absolutely key thing for me would be scanning barcodes with a mobile device. I sometimes buy books in bookstores or off Amazon simply because I've seen them and don't want to forget about them.

I realize I'm awfully late to the game, but I came across a link to this post while researching personal library cataloging tools, and I'm interested to know whatever happened to PULP? Did it get shut down? Did it end up being rolled into something current? Thanks!

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on June 27, 2006 3:55 PM.

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