Apps are taking the world by storm. There are literally millions of apps (according to Statista, in June 2016, there were 2.2 million for Android users and 2 million for iOS) that you could put on your mobile device—but you probably don’t want to be quite that overwhelmed. You’re more likely to pick the ones you use the most (WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Uber?) or that are situational (airlines, hotels when you’re traveling). And get rid of irrelevant ones—do you really need the app for a conference you attended 3 years ago?
For information professionals, apps raise several issues. If it’s web design, the user experience (UX) implications are significant. Responsive design should accommodate many different devices and screen sizes, but how to achieve this may not be as obvious as you’d like.
It also brings the opportunity for librarians to create their own apps, as Joseph Sanchez, Mesa County Public Library, did with Wild Colorado, and Ben Rawlins did for library research guidance at Georgetown College. These librarians not only had to make decisions about content but also presentation, technology, and usability.
Online searching on mobile devices brings its own dilemmas. Now that web search engines can give different results depending upon the device where the search originated—with the preference being mobile—you need to check results from a desktop versus mobile search. Oh great. One more step in the search process! Further complicating this is the search engines’ predilection over the years to give different results depending on which browser you use, which adds yet another step in the search process.
At what point will search apps replace web search? We won’t launch a browser, we’ll open a search app. Will we talk about info apps instead of search engines? If so, we’ll need to be careful about intellectual property. A German patent search company is named infoapps and holds both the infoapps.de and infoapps.com domain names. Information Builders, Inc. has trademarked InfoApps, according to its filing with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
What’s exciting about apps is expanding opportunities and new things to learn. But with so many apps appearing daily, it’s also necessary to exercise our information professional super powers of evaluation before indiscriminately downloading or recommend apps. Remember that Facebook and YouTube tend to be data hogs. Snapchat can drain your battery faster than you can snap a photo.
On an unhappy note, even apps can’t completely preserve information. When the Turkish government shut down the Zaman newspaper and took its entire archive offline, none of the millions of apps Statista cites could revive the lost news. When a newspaper disappears, history is lost.
Semi-sad note: This issue marks the last On the Net column from Greg R. Notess. It premiered in March 1993 as On the Nets. But Greg isn’t completely abandoning Online Searcher; he will continue to write his Search Engine Update column, for which we are very happy.