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.


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, 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 débâ­cle 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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