May 15, 2011

Library-related Kindle Screensavers

Note: Be sure to read Frank Skornia’s comment below about the consequences of jailbreaking your Kindle.

I finally took some time to personalize the screensavers on my Kindle 3, thinking it would be a quick hour or less. And indeed, the process of jailbreaking a Kindle and hacking it to load your own screensavers is drop dead simple. That part really didn’t take any time at all.

The hard part is more deciding what pictures you want to see as a screensaver every day, a task that ended up taking me all afternoon. I first got caught up thumbing through the free downloads on the Kindle Wallpapers Tumblr, which is fascinating on its own.

Then I decided to add a few of my own pictures, so I found a half dozen of my favorites, converted them to black and white, and shrunk them down to 600 x 800.

When I posted on Facebook about what I was doing, someone lamented that she’d recently left her Kindle on a plane, which made me flash back to something I read several years ago. I can’t find a reference to it right now (little help?), but I remember reading about a guy who took pictures of himself and text on signs about how to return the camera if someone found it. He then kept those picture at the beginning of his camera’s memory card in case someone ever found the camera and looked through the photos.

I’ve always thought that was brilliant, so I figured I’d try it with my Kindle. I took a picture, added some text, and then loaded it as a screensaver.

"Thank you" in advance for returning my Kindle (should I ever lose it)

Granted, it’s unlikely that this particular image will be displaying if I lose my Kindle, but my hope is that whoever finds it will be interested enough in the screensaver that is showing to scroll through them. I know it’s a long shot, but it was also something fun to do.

Which then got me thinking about libraries. Are there any libraries customizing the screensavers on their Kindles? As a librarian, I came across some free, library-related screensavers, so I put a few of them on my own device. If you, too, want some library-themed screensavers, here are the ones I’ve found so far:

Do you know of other images we could use to build a list for libraries and librarians?


10:00 pm Comments (10)

February 18, 2011

Changes to My Site

I’ve been trying to get back to blogging for the past couple of years, but so far out of all of the things I do in the 24 hours of a day, it’s the activity that’s fallen by the wayside the most. I still hope to blog more this year, but the reason I implemented the lifestreaming back in 2009 was to provide an aggregated glimpse into my overall online activity in the meantime.

Unfortunately, the wp-lifestream plugin I was using died for no apparent reason last October. I spent a couple of months trying to get it working again but to no avail. I haven’t been able to find a good replacement that lets me import my activity into my site (as opposed to just displaying something that only lives elsewhere) and publishes it as a daily blog post.

The best I’ve been able to do is hack the heck out of the complexlife plugin to display my lifestream on my home page. It’s not as comprehensive as the sites available in wp-lifestream, but it’ll do for now. Right now, it’s displaying my public Flickr pictures, my tweets, tweets I’ve favorited, my public Diigo bookmarks, things I’ve liked on FriendFeed, shared items from Google Reader, and posts I’ve made on ALA Connect.

If you want to track even more of what I’m sharing online, you’re better off looking at my FriendFeed stream until I figure out how to add more sites here in complexlife. If you want to subscribe to my online activity to get daily updates pushed to you, I’d suggest using my FriendFeed RSS feed.

So now if you visit the TSL home page, you should see a link to the latest blog post at the top, followed by 30 days of lifestream activity. If/when I get back to blogging, I’ll probably play around with the home page again to better display the blog posts, but for now subscribing to the main RSS feed will again show just the posts; in other words, not much.

You can also go directly to the blog page to view just the posts. Overall, my goal is to post shorter, tumblr-like posts going forward to try to get back in the swing of things, but we’ll see how I do.


7:39 am Comments (3)

December 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Comcast/Xfinity

When we got home yesterday, we were surprised to find a weird “activate your device” message when we tried to go online. I turned on the TV, and there were no cable channels. Something was afoot.

So I called the number on the “activate” screen and had an automated message tell me that my account was delinquent, I owed hundreds of dollars, and my service had been discounted. Imagine my shock to learn this when I’d had NO PREVIOUS NOTICE. Even worse, I couldn’t get through to a customer service representative without paying my bill first (sleazy – what if it had been your mistake?).

Long story short, when my card number was stolen back in October, the bank canceled it and issued a new one. I forgot that the old one was registered for your automatic payment program, so your were unable to process payment in November and December. Fair enough, but maybe you could have mentioned that to me at some point before taking the extreme step of disconnecting my service.

Clearly you had my email address. While I received weekly “Xfinity What to Watch” spamails that I was too lazy to unsubscribe from, I never once received a “hey, there’s a problem with your payment” notice. And when I called to try to talk to a human being about the problem, the automated voice verified the last four digits of my phone number, so obviously you know how to reach me by phone. In fact, after a second call when I could finally reach a real person, I received an automated telephone survey, so calling me is proven to work. Not once, though, did I receive a “hey, we’re going to disconnect your service” call during the last two months.

And while we’re at it, we’re on the verge of 2011 and you’re my cable and internet provider. Don’t you have the technology to pop up a message on a screen saying, “hope you’re enjoying this, we’d like you to keep enjoying this, but can we talk about the problem with your card number? please call.” On the TV or on my computer screen – your choice. Or go old school because you know what else still works? Postal mail, a channel you and I will be returning to using.

Honestly – in 2010, you couldn’t find *some* way to contact me to let me know there was a problem? On top of that, I now have to go anti-green and re-activate paper bills if I want to be sure I see problem notices, because the only billing-related emails I received from you during the last two months looked exactly like the one below. Which looks exactly like every other “your statement is ready for viewing” message I get each month.

Comcast thinks this message equals "we're going to disconnect your service"

That message is the only billing-related one I received from you for the entire month of December. If you saw that message every month from your electric company, would you think there was a problem? Would you expect a little something more from them that they’re turning off your service? I expected more from you.

Yes, I could have logged in during those two months and seen a notice on the screen, but I also think you could have added a notice to that email or sent a separate notice to make sure I knew there was a problem. Good customer service this ain’t.

And now you want to charge reconnection fees because you disconnected my service without any heads up that there was a problem. Seriously?

Now that I’ve calmed down, I’m submitting the following requests so that others don’t have to spend a frustrating evening the way I did.

  • Change your procedures so that customers using your e-bill service receive separate notifications that there’s a problem with payment. Or add a notice to the standard template, but provide some type of heads-up that there’s an issue without the person having to log in to find out about it.
  • Change your procedures so that customers using your e-bill service receive separate notifications that you’re going to disconnect their service. While it likely won’t be anytime soon, I’d like to be able to trust your e-bill notices in the future and stop receiving paper bills again someday.
  • Make it possible for someone who’s as confused about an unknown problem as I was to talk to a human being first without having to cough up a credit card number first.

And I want my reconnection fees waived, because I would have paid my bill (as I have for years) had I known there was something wrong. It’s a shame your customer service representative couldn’t do that for me. I had no confidence that any complaints I submitted to an unempowered frontline person would get me anywhere, which is what made me blog this open letter to you. I know you think you’re protecting your CS folks by taking away their ability to judge a situation and make a customer happy, but all you’re doing is upsetting customers like me who want to discuss how to resolve a valid complaint.

Please fix these problems. You can do better, and you owe your customers better communication.

Sincerely,
Jenny


September 7, 2010

My Last Paperback?

A couple of years ago, my brother bought me a first generation Kindle for my birthday. At first I used it quite a bit, but then in 2009 I started reading a series of books I knew I’d want to highlight the heck out of and physically share with others (Here Comes Everybody, Community, Groundswell, What Would Google Do, You Are Not a Gadget, Switch, etc.), so I switched to print reading.

It wasn’t as conscious a decision as that summary makes it sound. Both of us in the house wanted to read them, so buying for the Kindle just wasn’t practical. All of a sudden, months had gone by and I realized I hadn’t used the device in quite a while, so I pulled it back out. I was also feeling a pull to go back to using it because of Will Richardson’s post about kindle.amazon.com, explaining how I’d finally be able to get my highlighted text out of an ebook.

One thing that post made me realize is how print has become a barrier to my blogging about books I’m reading because I don’t have time to transcribe the passages I’d want to refer to in my writing. And like others, I was worried that buying a book in Kindle format meant I’d lose it if I ever stopped using that particular device. Luckily, though, Amazon finally figured out it needed to make its books software-based instead of hardware-dependent, so I feel like this is less of an issue now that Kindle books live on multiple platforms.

my highlighted text from "Hamlet's Blackberry"
I have 347 highlights from “Hamlet’s Blackberry” that have automatically been transcribed for me!

 

(Side note to publishers and bookstores: you still need to move to a universal format. This doesn’t let you off the hook for working this out.)

This left one major barrier to a complete conversion to ebooks, one I thought I was still struggling with – the sharing. But when I read Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus and realized I’d have to manually type all of those interesting quotes… well, that’s when my personal practicality started to tip the scale away from print towards electronic. In fact, my desire to share those passages widely has actually trumped my traditional love of sharing physical books locally.

This revelation astounded me. I knew my desire to share content was the prime driver of the format I was choosing, but I didn’t realize how quickly it was shifting in the opposite direction. I now want to share one-to-many, not one-to-one, and I just don’t have the time or resources to transcribe everything I want to share. It makes me sad to look at that long list of print books I’ve read over the past year that I likely won’t share here because I can’t copy and paste.

Around this same time, I realized I wanted to take a fiction break, and I knew exactly what I wanted to read – Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End – a book Eli Neiburger had recommended to me as the most realistic picture of libraries and information in the future (boy was he right, but that’s a discussion for another post). I’ve wanted to read it for quite a while, but I’ve been trying to move my fiction reading to ebooks, and this particular title isn’t available electronically.

I really needed that fiction break, though, so I broke down and bought the paperback. I get in most of my reading on the train to and from work, and while hardcovers aren’t exactly a convenient format, this paperback was even less so. It’s obviously been a while since I’ve read a paperback, because I found myself thinking the format was awkward and annoying. If it had been a different story, I might have even given up on it, but it made me realize this was likely my last such purchase. I might still buy a print book here and there for the pictures or for the trophy shelf, but I’m not sure what would make me buy a mass market paperback again. (Apparently I’m not alone in this opinion.)

So I’m back to using my Kindle, remembering what I loved so much about it at the beginning, to the point where I’ve even ordered a new third generation version because I love the focused nature of a dedicated ebook reader. That may change in the future, but for now I’m definitely a specialist, enjoying how the device lets me focus on reading without distractions. (That first generation Kindle can’t ever leave the family, because Cory Doctorow was kind enough to sign it two years ago, so I’ll be keeping it for pretty much ever.)

However, I’m also recognizing new benefits I hadn’t picked up on before. I’ve had a couple of serious bouts of insomnia in my life, which I finally cured by reading like crazy until I fell asleep. The unfortunate side effect of this solution was that I trained myself to fall asleep when reading books. The rhythm of the train doesn’t help either, and by the end of the week I’m so tired that I usually drift off on the train ride home, regardless of how much I enjoy the book itself.

Interestingly, though, I don’t fall asleep on the train quite as often with the Kindle, although it does still happen. Apparently a book is a print book is an ebook to my brain, but electronic ink seems to keep me awake a tiny bit better (but not too awake to be a problem at night). I just finished reading Hamlet’s Blackberry, and I found that I read more of it at a time because I stayed awake. I’m also reading faster on the Kindle than I was in print, which I don’t remember noticing before. Finally, I tend to highlight more, knowing that it will all be searchable in the end.

Of course, your mileage may vary, but I think I’ve finally crossed over to the ebook side. I’ll have to go to bookstores and the library just to touch new books for old time’s sake. Only time will tell if there’s a “feature” of print books that can draw me back. My reasons for converting are definitely an edge case, and I haven’t been a heavy user of print resources in libraries in quite some time, but I can’t help but wonder how this type of shift will affect libraries. I see more and more ereaders on my commute every day.


August 13, 2010

It’s, Like, So Confusing

Following up on last week’s post about how Facebook is changing the meaning of “like” online, I’ve been noticing more disconcerting behavior on Target’s Facebook page.

Until yesterday, Target hadn’t posted anything to its wall since July 26th. It wasn’t clear if they were building a strategy internally, but the new post makes it obvious that they’ve decided to ride out the storm by ignoring it and letting their customers duke it out on their wall. The new post links to specials for college students and makes absolutely no reference to the controversy. As of this morning, there are 303 comments on that post and 367 people “like” it.

Target clearly isn’t going to mention the issues, respond, or engage in a conversation on Facebook. Interesting strategy, and we’ll see how it plays out. But as I’m watching this case study develop, some themes are emerging and raising some problematic flags.

As one might expect after what seems like an eternity online, the commenters are no longer mostly people upset with Target’s actions. And predictably, as seems to happen with so many discussions about politics and homosexuality, the discussion is devolving pretty quickly. Some users are flagging each other for bad behavior, just because they disagree with the person’s opinions. Some are insulting other commenters, and the whole wall is becoming a referendum on a political issue. I haven’t read every comment, but I’m confident Godwin’s Law is proven there somewhere.

None of this is new behavior to be sure, but has this happened before on such a mainstream company’s page, especially while the company itself is ignoring it? The fact that it’s Target makes for some interesting issues.

For example, if you read a sample of the comments closely, you’ll find a potentially worrisome information literacy problem. If you go back to the beginning of the comments thread on the August 12 post, there are some users whose entire comment consists of, “If you don’t like Target, why do you ‘like’ this page?” or “If you don’t like Target, why did you become a fan of them?”

It’s unclear to me whether these folks realize that users have to like the page in order to comment or if they’re just being snarky about it. Even though these folks had to “like” the page themselves in order to leave their own questioning comments, I’m leaning towards believing that they truly don’t realize that “like” now means “comments enabled.” As David Lee King said on my previous post, “it looks like the ‘Like’ but­ton is really an entrance fee/ticket, or the ‘door’ to the event….” But there’s a large group of people out there that don’t realize that “like” now has subtext and is loaded with new meanings and requirements. I worry that they truly don’t understand that the boycotters have no choice but to “like” Target if they want to participate in the discussion.

"Why are you guys even a fan?"

Other commenters honestly can’t seem to understand why someone who is upset with Target would be posting on the company’s wall in the first place. It seems that there’s still a disconnect between “a company’s web presence” and an interactive, community.” Heck, this is true even for Target, which continues to ignore the community and treat its page as a one-way announcement channel. A lot of folks participating in this thread haven’t made the mental leap from “Just Target” to “Target + Others” as a new norm, even though they’re able to scratch their heads in the comments themselves.

"I just wanted to 'Like' a Target page...."

Close reading of the threads also makes it clear that quite a few Target fans didn’t know anything about the controversy until they visited the Facebook page and saw the comments. This further confirms the ongoing switch from a small number of “official,” mainstream news sources to personal news streams on social networking sites. More and more people are getting their news online from their networks, not from newscasters. (Incidentally, if you need to make a case for why your library should be on Facebook, this is a pretty good reason – in order to be part of your users news stream.)

"What did Target do?"

Overall, there’s a lot going on here, and I encourage you to keep tabs on Target’s page to see how it plays out. It can be difficult to dip into the emerging incivility and disrespect, but it’s educational, especially for any organization that has a Facebook presence. These types of cases are illustrating how the shift from us going out to find information to it coming to us, filtered through our networks, will have an impact on organizations. They also expose a whole host of other issues, from information literacy gaps to privacy concerns. For example, I was going to erase the names of the commenters in the screenshots, but technically it’s all public information, so why hide it? Do the people leaving rants and invectives on the Target post/wall truly understand that those comments are completely public?

On Facebook, 831 people “like” confusion, but I’m not sure anyone really likes it in the Target context.


12:35 pm Comments (2)

August 3, 2010

When Like Doesn’t Mean Like

Subtitle: Or, Using Like to Target Target

If you’re watching the Target Facebook page right now, you’re seeing another social media disaster on par with Nestle’s debacle back in March. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, but it’s another great case study for us about what not to do online.

Hint: don’t set your page to show only your posts first and then abandon it when controversy arises. If you’re not familiar with the current controversy, you can go here to read about Target’s donation to a homophobic gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. Be sure to click on “just others” on Target’s wall to see the angry, former customers and pornographic spam.

When Like Doesn't Mean Like

I’m sure they’ve spent the last few days bringing in consultants to come up with a strategy for how to deal with this, but it’s surprising that someone hasn’t already said, “We need to at least post *something* on our Facebook page and acknowledge what’s happening.” So far, Target doesn’t seem to be learning from others’ past mistakes, so don’t fall into the same trap if this ever happens to you.

I think that’s the biggest, immediate takeaway for libraries and nonprofits (well, for everyone, really), but personally I’m more fascinated right now by how people have been forced to give the term “like” different meanings in different contexts because of the box Facebook has forced them into, which this situation illustrates so well.

We first saw this type of attempt to subvert the term “is” in Facebook’s early years. Long-time users remember when your status update automatically included the word “is” so you were forced to use adjectives, present progressive tense, or future tense. Nothing could happen in your past unless you were creative in your use of language, which some people went out of their way to be. Others just started ignoring the “is” and writing whatever they wanted. You might also remember the petition many of us “signed” asking Facebook to remove the “is.” It all seems so quaint now, but those two letters went from being a new way to describe ourselves to being too restrictive pretty quickly.

Now we’re running into another limit that the Facebook one-size-fits-all box forces on us – “like.” We’ve all seen, and maybe even written, “dislike” on a friend’s status update when they say they have a cold or something bad has happened. And yet we still go ahead and click on “like” in order to signify some type of solidarity, even though the term is wholly inaccurate. Sometimes we specifically go out of our way to add a comment “I don’t really ‘like’ this” or “liking even though I don’t like.” But we don’t really have any other options, do we?

When Like Doesn't Mean Like

And even though Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook might someday add a “dislike” button (which it won’t out of fear users’ “dislike” of companies will drive advertisers away), that wouldn’t really cover it, would it? My range of emotions doesn’t run the gamut from A to B, but instead includes a million shades of grey in between, just as I don’t always talk solely in the present progressive tense.

So when an issue like the Target controversy comes up and I want to leave a comment on Target’s wall saying I’m now boycotting them and why, I have to first “like” Target in order to leave that comment. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I can then add my thoughts and if I want to show support for other protesters, I can “like” their comments, which I do (some more than others), but “like” probably isn’t the word I would have chosen given my shades of grey.

The only satisfaction I can really get is when I leave my comment and then “unlike” Target, but *that* update doesn’t get posted to my wall – only the “like” does.

When Like Doesn't Mean Like
“I do not think that word means what you think it means”

I recently read Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget, which for the most part I loved. I wrote a little about Lanier’s take on the future of authorship, but it also made me think about the way websites force our lifesize selves into one-size-fits-all templates. (Sorry I can’t quote a relevant piece, but I’ve lent my copy out, so I don’t have it handy – a blog post for another day.) At least software like WordPress lets bloggers choose from a variety of templates and even edit them, but it made me glad that I’ve personalized my own site to be truly unique, just like me.

However, Facebook now has 500 million users, most of whom don’t have their own websites as a unique presence for themselves online. Instead, we have hundreds of millions of average users who all look the same and conform to Facebook’s interface constraints as their major representation on the web. If it wasn’t for the picture, it would be difficult to tell one John Doe FB profile from another in Google’s search results.

The lowest common denominator used to be a yellow page listing, but now it’s become Facebook’s profiles. At least a Facebook user can personalize the text in her profile, but we’re all stuck with “like.” That word is taking on a lot more responsibility since we have to figure out ways to use it to convey other meanings. How do we indicate when “like” means don’t like, favorite, bookmark, agree, disagree, support, bummer, share, read this later, funny, and more?

Facebook eventually wised up and removed the “is,” but how will it route around advertisers to provide the spectrum beyond “like?” It’s boxing itself, as well as us, into a corner, which I definitely don’t like.


June 7, 2010

My foursquare “Aha” Moment

You remember your first time, right? The moment you realized email was more than just cool? Or the web, or blogging, or Facebook, or cellphones, or or or – take your pick. There’s always that moment where you realize that this shiny, new thing actually has value for you, and that’s when you really buy into integrating it into your life.

I’ve been using foursquare for a while and having fun with it, but my “aha” moment finally came last month on a trip to Washington D.C. Foursquare (and services like it) use GPS built-in to your smartphone to locate you. They show you venues nearby and let you “check in” at a specific one. Foursquare treats this like a game, and if you check in often enough at a specific location (and more often than anyone else), you become “the mayor” until someone else has more check-ins there than you do. Foursquare also allows businesses to offer “specials” to those checking in, such as discounts or free items. Other services, like Gowalla, BrightKite, and Loopt, mostly just show you where your friends are, which can be handy if you end up near each other and don’t know it. In general, you can also broadcast your location on Twitter or Facebook, and sometime this year Facebook is supposed to implement its own location-based check-in service.

I'm currently the Mayor of ALA

Sure, it was fun when I was the original mayor of MPOW, and I got a glimpse of how useful a location-based service could be during ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston in January, when I could see friends checked in at the convention center or a nearby restaurant. But let’s face it – it wasn’t difficult to become the first mayor of ALA, and you expect to see specific types of checkins at a conference. It’s really the unexpected moments that result in a “whoa” or “aha.”

I had two of those on the D.C. trip. The first happened when I checked in at the National Building Museum and foursquare showed me that “Fiesta Asia Street Fair” was a nearby trending place. This piqued my interest, so I looked it up on the web and found out it was actually the National Asian Heritage Festival, which was happening just a few blocks away on Pennsylvania Avenue. I changed my plans, headed down there, and found music, food, vendors, and more. I had a great time, and I wouldn’t even have known about the Festival if I hadn’t checked in on foursquare at the right time in the right-ish place.

I caught another glimpse of the power of information plus location when we went to dinner that night. I checked in at Rosa Mexicano and got a little popup with historical information about where we were courtesy of The History Channel. I’d read about THC’s campaign using foursquare, but surprisingly I only ran into two factoids twice while in D.C. This first one noted we were at the spot where Samuel Morse opened the world’s first telegraph office.

History Channel factoid that popped up during dinner

The second one popped up when I checked in at the National Portrait Gallery. Unfortunately, we’re still at a point where “location” can be a little geographically-challenged, so even though I was precise about where I was checking in, the factoid that displayed was for the nearby International Spy Museum. It was also worded in a way that implied the information was about the Portrait Gallery, which is unfortunate. It’s a good heads up that if you end up writing these kinds of descriptions for a local history tour or other orientation to your town, be sure to be explicit in naming places in the description.

History Channel factoid about the International Spy Museum

Still, it was pretty cool to have information displayed to me based on my location with very little effort on my part. And while I’m calling this my “foursquare moment,” it’s really my location-based services one. It could have happened on any of them, although foursquare seems to have the most critical mass (I very rarely have to enter a venue anymore) and the “trending places” feature has been unique for me so far.

That said, I’m very interested in Gowalla’s trips feature, which lets you create a tour or itinerary for friends. I’m very intrigued by this, and I believe it could be a great opportunity for libraries to offer local information, but Gowalla didn’t click for me on this trip the way foursquare did. I did dual checkins to both services, and while I think I picked up a couple of random “items” on Gowalla, I also had to enter a couple of venues myself, a sign that it doesn’t have the same adoption rate. I had hoped to find some good D.C. “trips” to consider following, but unfortunately the Gowalla app doesn’t show nearby trips, which sorely limits the utility of the service. Every time I checked nearby trips, I got the same list of national ones, even though the Washington Post recently created one specifically for D.C., as did National Geographic.

I expect to see a lot more use of both services during ALA’s Annual Conference in a few weeks. If you’re attending, make a note of the Gowalla trips ahead of time, because you won’t find them serendipitously via the app. If you’re using foursquare, help us make the conference hotspots trending places. And if you have a smartphone and aren’t using either of these services, you might want to give them a try onsite to see if you have your own aha moment.


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