April 30, 2010

Broken Boxes

This has been one of those weeks in which everything I’m reading seems related and is clicking for me. It’s got my mind churning, and I’m still not sure what to think of it all.

The first is from Will Richardson and is titled The End of Books (At Least, For Me?), a provocative statement to be sure. Don’t panic – it’s not really about the end of books, just print books for his own use.

“Turns out my iPad Kindle app syncs up all of my highlights and notes to my Amazon account. Who knew? When I finally got to the page Ted pointed me to in my own account, the page that listed every highlight and every note that I had taken on my Kindle version of John Seely Brown’s new book Pull, I could only think two words:

Game. Changer.

All of a sudden, by reading the book electronically as opposed to in print, I now have:

  • all of the most relevant, thought-provoking passages from the book listed on one web page, as in my own condensed version of just the best pieces
  • all of my notes and reflections attached to those individual notes
  • the ability to copy and paste all of those notes and highlights into Evernote which makes them searchable, editable, organizable, connectable and remixable
  • the ability to access my book notes and highlights from anywhere I have an Internet connection.

Game. Changer.

I keep thinking, what if I had every note and highlight that I had ever taken in a paper book available to search through, to connect with other similar ideas from other books, to synthesize electronically?…”

Honestly, I didn’t know about this, either, and I’m now seriously considering going back to reading nonfiction on my Kindle, something I had stopped doing when I couldn’t get at my highlights and free them. As far as I was concerned, they were bricked text. But I logged in at http://kindle.amazon.com and sure enough, there were the highlights from the three nonfiction books I’d read on my Kindle.

On the one hand, this is incredibly appealing, to have all of the excerpts I’ve highlighted as interesting to me accessible, searchable, and remixable. Really appealing, and the fact that I can now get text out of Kindle books makes it a platform I may be more willing to deal with again, although the inability to share a book with a friend is still causing some hesitation.

As I began contemplating this, I read Steven Johnson’s recent post, The Glass Box and Commonplace Book. It really resonated with me on a number of levels. First, Johnson revives the idea of the “commonplace book.”

“Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, ‘commonplacing,’ as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing.”

He then goes on to talk about a major problem with the iPad, the way it locks down text (including public domain works) in a way that prevents users from creating their own commonplace books.

“[when you try to copy a paragraph of text] …you get the familiar iPhone-style clipping handles, and you get two options ‘Highlight’ and’“Bookmark.’ But you can’t actually copy the text, to paste it into your own private commonplace book, or email it to a friend, or blog about it. And of course there’s no way to link to it. What’s worse: the book in question is Penguin’s edition of Darwin’s Descent of Man, which is in the public domain. Those are our words on that screen. We have a right to them.”

Johnson then goes on to describe (in a much more articulate way than I’ve been able to) what bothers me so much about the iPhone and iPad.

“We can try to put a protective layer of glass of the words, or we can embrace the idea that we are all better off when words are allowed to network with each other. What’s the point of going to all this trouble to build machines capable of displaying digital text if we can’t exploit the basic interactivity of that text?… Yes, the iPad makes it easier to carry around a dozen books and magazines, but that’s not the only promise of the technology. The promise also lies in doing things with the words, forging new links of association, remixing them. We have all the tools at our disposal to create commonplace books that would astound Locke and Jefferson. And yet we are, deliberately, trying to crawl back into the glass box.

…When your digital news feed doesn’t contain links, when it cannot be linked to, when it can’t be indexed, when you can’t copy a paragraph and paste it into another application: when this happens your news feed is not flawed or backwards looking or frustrating. It is broken.

The force that enables these unlikely encounters between people of different persuasions, the force that makes the web a space of serendipity and discovery, is precisely the open, combinatorial, connective nature of the medium. So when we choose to take our text out of that medium, when we keep our words from being copied, linked, indexed, that’s a choice with real civic consequences that are not to be taken lightly.”

And that’s a huge dealbreaker for me. Make no mistake – apps are just software. I’m lucky enough to have the entire internet at my fingertips, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy an interface to it for which one company controls what software I can use to access the great, big, beautiful web (in this case, Apple, but there are other products with this same problem). I don’t take that lightly at all, especially when I read things like David Lankes’ brilliant take on what networked text could be like. Of course, your mileage may vary, and you may not have the problem with these closed systems that I do (and it’s not just with Apple), but that’s my personal value. Johnson would fully support Will Richardson’s right to create his commonplace book, as do I.

While synthesizing my reactions to both of these posts, I started reading Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget. I’m only a few chapters into it, but it’s already extending how I think about Facebook (a subject for another post) and the iPhone/iPad.

One of Lanier’s concerns is how decisions made in the design of our digital tools lock us in to behaviors that reduce – and even remove – our humanity. For the ebook context, an alternative title for his book could have been “You Are Not an App.” It’s really tough to quote excerpts from the book without losing a lot of context and his supporting arguments, but the following excerpts are a glimpse.

“We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence. (p.5)

Lock-in makes us forget the lost freedoms we had in the digital past. That can make it harder to see the freedoms we have in the digital present. Fortunately, difficult as it is, we can still try to change some expressions of philosophy that are on the verge of becoming locked in place in the tools we use to understand one another and the world.” (p.14)

Lanier takes an opposite approach to where Richardson is headed. Will is going to end up with Johnson’s commonplace book in digital form, and that’s extremely appealing to him. I totally understand why, and it’s great if that works well for him. However, it’s interesting to read how Lanier worries about this kind of future and the impact it will have on all of us and our very humanity. What might we lose in the process of digitizing every book and making the content available as unanchored bytes?

“If the books in the cloud are accessed via user interfaces that encourage mashups of fragments that obscure the context and authorship of each fragment, there will be only one book. (p.46)”

It’s not an argument for a closed system, just better and more thoughtful options, interactions, delineation of authorship, etc., and I can’t disagree with that. What will the civic consequences be of Richardson’s commonplace book (or mine, if I go down that path)? Can text be too networked? Are there any clues to this in how we currently use our full text databases, where we’ve already digitized every bit and made it remixable?

Overall, I don’t agree with 100% of anything any of these gentleman have written (although I come pretty close with Johnson). They’ve all contributed to a very thought-provoking week for me and I really appreciate that. I’m still trying to work through a lot of this in my own mind, and other than the fact that I’m against devices that lock me in to their vision of the internet, I’m still not sure where I really come down in this whole thing.

And what’s the significance for libraries? I’m not sure how much Will Richardson uses libraries now, but what does it mean when he can network the text from his Kindle but his library can’t circulate any content to it? That’s also a design decision (made by publishers) with very specific civic consequences.

Johnson ends his post by calling on journalists, educators, publishers, and software developers to fight for common places (not glass boxes) and connections. What responsibilities do libraries have to prevent the civic consequences he describes? In the pages I’ve read so far, Lanier encourages developers to think carefully about the behaviors their products lock people into – does that include libraries? How can we help maintain commonplace books in a world of digital text while still maintaining the edges of authorship? Do we as librarians really want to promote the iPad’s lock-in, especially if we’re not explaining those civic consequences to the next generation of readers and content generators?

At this point, I have a lot more questions than answers.


April 24, 2010

How to Use Facebook and Still Be Completely Private

I’m one of the many people who doesn’t like some of the recent changes to Facebook’s default privacy settings, and I agree completely with Anil Dash that if those defaults aren’t good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, then maybe they should be changed.

However, I think I’ve discovered a way to participate on Facebook with my friends and still be completely hidden from the web, even more so than in the past, but I need your help to figure out what’s going on.

my public Facebook profile has disappeared

A couple of days ago, by pure chance I noticed that the public version of my Facebook profile had disappeared from Google’s search results completely. If you’d searched for me in the past, you would have gotten a link to my public profile, which displayed my name, picture, friends list, some groups I belong to, and (I think) some pages I’ve fanned.

After this week’s changes to Facebook’s defaults, however, that profile no longer comes up at all in a search on Google or Bing. In fact, if you’re not logged in to Facebook and you click on a link to my profile with my personal URL (which I assure you does still exist), you’ll get a “page not found” error.

I’ve confirmed this with others, even people who I’m friends with on Facebook. If you’re logged out, there’s no way to get to my profile. My theory is that one of two things is causing this to happen.

  1. I’ve always been wary of providing Facebook with too much information, so I never filled out any interests.
  2. A couple of days ago, I went to Facebook to read my feed and got a popup window asking me to link my profile to one of the pages for my high school, college, graduate school, and my city network. I didn’t want to do that, so I clicked on the “ask me later” button, which should mean I’m not part of any networks right now.

I’m sure Facebook thinks it’s punishing me for not participating in its new advertising system, but this is a pretty sweet spot for me to be in because my Facebook account is one of the very few that I truly keep private and where I’m only adding “friends” now (as opposed to anyone who friends me). I get to participate with my friends the way I always have and don’t have to deal with all of the new “like” crud and privacy issues. And I think any true friends can still find me, as I believe that anyone logged in to Facebook can still find my profile. In fact, I think I’m still showing up on other peoples’ “recommendations” sidebar, because I’m still getting friend requests from people I don’t really know.

This is great, and I’m very happy with this setup, inadvertent as I think Facebook meant it to be. I’m also not willing to change it to test what’s causing it, so this is where I need your help. I don’t want to add any interests or link my profile to a network in order to find out if that changes anything, because I may not be able to undo the change. So I’m asking for your help in answering the following questions so that we can all figure out what’s going on. Hopefully those of us who want to be private on Facebook can truly do that now. It would also be helpful to have this information so that we know if/when Facebook figures this out and changes it.

Please leave answers in the comments, and thanks for your help!

  1. If you’re logged out of Facebook, can you see my profile? http://facebook.com/shifted
  2. If you’re logged in to Facebook, can you see my profile?
  3. If you’re not friends with me in Facebook and you can see my profile, what do you see? Please be specific in listing which pieces (eg, name, picture, groups, etc.)
  4. Does your public profile display in search results?
  5. If your public profile displays, either when others click on it or in search results, do you have interests listed in your profile?
  6. Can you completely remove your interests from your profile?
  7. Have you seen the popup window asking you to link your profile to specific pages/networks?
  8. If your public profile displays, is your profile linked to any of these pages/networks?
  9. Can you remove your profile from being linked to any of these pages/networks?
  10. If you go through these steps of removing interests and links to pages/networks, does that remove your public profile altogether, the way it did mine?
  11. I’ve also unchecked the box to allow personalization in my privacy settings. If your public profile isn’t displaying, have you done that?

Addendum: I think Polly found the actual answer (noted in the comments below). There’s a setting in the privacy –> search settings that may finally remove your profile completely from public view.

"public search" setting in Facebook

Make sure you uncheck the “allow” box, and if you want even more privacy, change the “Facebook search results” setting to “friends only.” I should also note that I know for a fact this setting either wasn’t there or wasn’t working properly last month, as I had a debate with someone about privacy and looked at my public profile while not logged in, so something definitely changed recently to allow for this level of privacy. What I’m unsure of now is whether that “allow” box is checked by default or not (question #12?). I have to say that if that box is not checked by default, I’m pretty impressed with Facebook’s new stance.

And as Phil noted in his comment, make sure you change the pri­vacy –> pro­file infor­ma­tion set­tings to man­age what your friends can share about you. That’s a really impor­tant one.

The big deal: It looks like Facebook has indeed changed its stance on privacy and has defaulted the “allow” in the search settings to opt-in, rather than opt-out. I think this is new, and it’s very welcome in my opinion, especially since you can further narrow the “Facebook search results” setting. Has anyone seen that “allow” box checked by default?

If this is true, profiles have disappeared from Google, right? Is this a preemptive move on Facebook’s part to take over people search from Google? I don’t know, but it seems like something has changed.


12:28 pm Comments (24)

March 30, 2010

Living in My Cloud

This weekend, I did something really cool (for me). I got to watch a March Madness game on my TV that CBS wasn’t showing in my local market on my TV, without paying the cable company. Life is full of short victories, and this is one of mine. More importantly, I realized I’m living in the heavenly jukebox I used to talk about in my presentations years ago.

I’ve been actively building my cloud for the last six months, but I’ve been building towards this for the last ten years. The caveat is that the way I’ve built this setup works for me, and one-size definitely doesn’t fit all. I’m lucky to have the resources to build my cloud, and I know most people won’t go to these lengths to get more media. It should all be easier and work better than it does in 2010, but there’s no one really great solution yet (that I know of).

Why a cloud?

It started last August when I decided it was time to investigate a centralized backup solution, a way to listen to our music collection from anywhere, and the ability to listen to different music in different rooms of the house. In my ideal world, I also wanted similar access for video, a way to easily watch internet video (eg, YouTube, Hulu) on my TV, and the ability to stream Netflix to my TV. The offsite storage is important to me (I used to backup to Mozy, but I also want to own my data, and the idea of replicating sensitive documents on servers owned by companies focused on the bottom line (Dropbox, Microsoft Live, etc.) wasn’t very appealing to me.

I did a lot of research and couldn’t find anything that let me do everything, but Windows Home Server software came close, so I purchased an HP Mediasmart EX485 server. As the name implies, the Mediasmart series is designed to give consumers access to their media from anywhere. It comes with Windows Home Server software pre-installed and out of the box, it’s supposed to do the following things:

  • Backup all of the computers on your network automatically on a schedule you set. This includes differential backups and restores.
  • Periodically grab media from all of those computers and copy it to the server.
  • Maintain your router and DNS settings so that your server is accessible from outside of your network.
  • Give you access to all of your documents, files, music, and video from anywhere.

I say “supposedly,” because I’ve never been able to get the media collector to work consistently, and the interface to the music collection is under-described by the term “sucks.” I had to rip most of my CDs for the first time at a higher bitrate, so I just ended up copying files to the server manually in big chunks. I’m also the main person in the house who purchases music, so I can maintain that routine pretty easily.

My Jukebox in the Cloud (so named by Deanna)

The interface problems and lack of functionality were bigger issues, though. For example, there’s no way to get details about songs, rate them, or create playlists, all of which is pretty unforgivable in a product designed specifically for consumers. After further research, I installed Orb, which is some pretty cool, free software that does a big piece of what Windows Home Server does. It gives you remote access to files, music, pictures, and video on the computer where it’s installed, plus you can manage internet radio stations, favorite songs, rate songs, create playlists, and create a dashboard view. Did I mention it’s free? If you have a computer you always leave on, you can emulate some of my setup for free using this software.


My music library in Orb

Where Windows Home Server beats Orb is in its ability to update port forwarding on the router automatically, backup all of the computers on your network, and offer a RAID solution for that storage. I have 400GB+ of files, music, pictures, and video on one 750GB drive, but I was able to drop in a second drive, and the software automatically started mirroring files to it for redundancy. That part was pretty amazing, and I can access all of those files remotely, whether that means at work or in different rooms in the house. Pretty sweet.

Connecting the server to the home system

That was all well and good, but I also wanted to play music without having to queue it up on a laptop first, which meant we needed a way to get the server content to play through the home theater system. Plus, we wanted to start streaming Netflix videos to watch on the TV, as opposed to our computers. I again started doing research, which led me to the discovery that the Xbox 360 that was just sitting on the shelf (we play more Wii than Xbox) was actually a solution waiting for us to recognize it.

Because the server and Xbox are both Microsoft products, they talk to each other pretty easily. This opened up a whole new world for us, because now we could show any picture and play any music or video from the server on the big HDTV and the sound through the audio receiver and 5.1 surround-sound system without the need for a computer in between. In addition, the Xbox gives us that desired access to Netflix, Pandora, and even Last.FM through the existing system. I can also create my playlists in Orb via a web browser and play them through the Xbox. More sweetness.


Watching “Battlestar Galactica” via Netflix’s streaming service through the Xbox on the HDTV

My biggest complaint about this setup is that the Xbox isn’t designed to be a media center, even though it has all of that functionality built into it. This means the interface isn’t very good here, either (no playlists, incomplete display of metadata, long lists to scroll through), but I didn’t have to buy any additional equipment, so that was a big plus. If Microsoft ever decides to spend time working on interfaces, it would have some killer products for the consumer market.

More video

This setup does almost everything on my original list, but I still wanted to be able to watch Hulu through the existing system, and I didn’t want to have to manually download YouTube videos to watch them on the TV. Looking around, I came across the amazing PlayOn software ($40), which was the final piece of our puzzle. By loading this software on the server, we gained the ability to watch Hulu, YouTube, and some custom PlayOn channels for The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and NCAA March Madness games on demand. Really sweet! This piece was a little bit more difficult, but it all works if you follow the instructions.


Picking an episode of “Modern Family” to watch from Hulu via PlayOn through the Xbox to the HDTV

Making it all easier to use

I then tied everything together with a hand-me-down Logitech Harmony remote to make it easy to manage all of the various pieces. The “watch TV” button turns on the TV to the right input, the audio receiver to the right input, and controls the cable box. The “watch a movie” button turns everything on with the right settings to watch a DVD, but pretty much everything else except the Wii runs through the “listen to music” button, because that’s what starts up the Xbox. This is especially helpful because without the universal remote, I’d probably be the only one in the house who’d be able to turn things on and off for different activities. Another big plus is that we can control the Xbox with easy-to-understand buttons, rather the game controller that came with the console. I can’t recommend a Logitech univeral remote highly enough.

Conclusion

For the most part, this is all working very well for us. We listen to our music a lot more, including at work, and sometimes the internet video piece really comes in handy (like during March Madness). We especially like streaming Netflix (which can also be done through the PlayOn software if you don’t have an Xbox). At this point, the biggest issue is that I still need a way to backup the server offsite, but I can’t find a reasonably priced service for this (most companies charge business-level prices because they haven’t yet recognized there’s a growing consumer market). Someone’s going to make a killing offering a consumer backup service for media, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. I’m looking at other workarounds right now, but I haven’t found an ideal solution. (Have you? Leave a comment!)

It’s been a long road to get to this point, but it’s exciting to have all of this geeky functionality working. In the future, I hope to get rid of a lot of paper by scanning it to the server, and I may investigate adding a TV tuner to record programs directly to the server and setting up printing over the internet to our home printer.

How you can do some of this

This is pretty geeky stuff, although most of the process was easier than I thought it would be. It’s also a Microsoft-centric approach, somewhat by accident. I still think Microsoft needs to do a better job with its interfaces before its home server/media center products could go mainstream. However, there are ways to do pieces of all of this easily, without Microsoft products, and sometimes even for free.

  • If you have a computer that you leave on all the time, you can stream music and video or access files from it for free by installing Orb. You can even hook up an external drive to that computer if you need more storage. (It works on Macs, too.)
  • If you have an old computer lying around or can pick one up cheap, you can purchase Windows Home Server for $99 and convert that machine into a home server. I only paid the $500 for the HP Mediasmart server for the convenience factor of having it pre-installed with the software and a 750GB hard drive. If I’d had more time, I might have built it myself.
  • You don’t need an Xbox to get content from the server to the TV/home theater system. Internet TVs and DVD players are on the market (everything will have access to the internet built-in eventually), and there’s middleware like the Roku. Because I was able to get the Xbox working in about 10 minutes, I didn’t investigate which of the other options might be best. Interestingly, TiVO is entering this market with its new TiVO Premiere box, but it’ll still require a monthly fee, which I wasn’t willing to pay. I don’t think it provides access to the user’s collection, although it does bring in all of that internet content.
  • There are also other ways to stream sites like Hulu and Netflix to your TV. You can install the PlayOn software on a regular computer (as opposed to a server) to watch those channels, but you’ll still need the middleware to get the stream to the TV. Of course, you can also just install PlayOn on a computer and watch the channels on that computer, or hook it up to a TV using an A/V cable. That’s what I used to do, but I wanted to be able to use my laptop while watching “TV.” Note that PlayOn will also work with a Nintendo Wii or Playstation 3.
  • Jason Griffey has written about using the Drobo system for backups. I probably would have gone this route if I didn’t also want the remote access to my media files. However, if you’re looking strictly for a backup solution or if you aren’t backup up your data, this is an excellent option.

What else have you tried? How are you building your cloud?


6:54 am Comments (6)

March 5, 2010

Games and Libraries – Wendy Leseman (akla10)

started out playing “Just Dance” on the Wii (whoo-hoo!)
Wii is a great place to start
when you’re ready to learn how to use a Wii, send your 12-year old out of the house because they show you too quickly 😉
you can teach yourself to do this (really, you can)

why gaming?
– connect with patrons who are gamers; they love it when you show an interest in something that’s important to them; it’s good to know about gaming regardless of what type of library you’re in
– promote multiple types of literacy
– increase traffic
– it’s fun

applied for ALA’s Gaming, Learning, and Literacy grant with the Verizon Foundation
got $5000, $4000 of which was spent on Wiis & DDR for each library in the school district
had a few logistical problems but money from the Verizon Foundation was slow in coming, which forced some changes
she also loans her equipment out to teachers
also exploring having kids create games using Scratch

$1000 for gaming at her school – computers, console, and board games
kids have become the experts and help each other

they do a family fun night at least once a year
Wendy sets up DDR and Guitar Hero + Band Hero
PS2s aren’t as versatile as the Wii but can still be good to get you started, especially with DDR
had trouble finding games that would run on their old computers
– used Civilization, a vet game, Star Wars (which is the most popular and is her only T game)

gets shy and non-sports kids involved
it’s fun to watch them socialize and help each other

now we’re playing group Backseat Drawing – awesome!

showed some books with game themes
they also read a lot of guides and cheats – they do a ton of reading around gaming

mentioned “Libraries Got Game” by Brian Mayer and Chris Harris and their alignment of board games with AASL’s standards (much love in the room for this)

Wendy was supposed to defend the grant to the school board because they weren’t sure they wanted to accept “gaming” money, but they had already accepted it by the time she got there

examples of computer strategy games – Spore (although her older computers won’t run it), Civilization

showed ALA’s Online Toolkit for librarians

free online games, which often have a cause-related theme (hunger, justice, etc.)
in her district, anything that has “game” in it is automatically blocked, so she works with them to let certain ones through

Games for Change
Genesee Valley’s database of games let you search by game time and ROI


3:59 pm Comments (1)

The Mind of the Researcher – Daniel Russell (akla10)

Daniel Russell, Google Search Quality & User Happiness
2010 Alaska Library Association Conference, opening keynote speaker

Lewis & Clark left without a decent map
it’s a complicated world out there and you don’t want to end up like the Donner Party (hey, go that way; it looks good)
what does the current information map look like?
let’s be adventurers but keep our eyes and minds open

did a demo of Google Earth
cost to put the flyover together = $0 and four minutes of time
Google will crawl it within 48 hours
when Lewis & Clark published about their trip, it took 10 years
we see the world differently, and the library isn’t what it used to be
stacks are no longer a core competence – the information landscape has radically changed

1200 exabytes of new content are generated each year (1.2 yottabytes if that helps or 1.2 billion terrabytes)
3.6 zetabytes per person per year (mostly music and video)
libraries don’t have to curate and manage that – it stream to you
text words per pseron per year = .1% of that total
the good news is that the amount of reading per person per year has gone up by 3X since 1980 (primarily due to internet access); happening online, not print
so need to develop new skills and new literacies

showed Google Books
can click on the places in a book and travel to all of them
can actually recapitulate Huck Finn’s journey down the river

LoC has 10 terabytes of text data or .01 petabytes
he has 2 LoCs at home
an exabyte = 50,000 years of DVD or 10 billion copies of The Economist (there aren’t enough trees in Alaska to print them all)

we’re supporting this renaissance of access to print culture at the same time we’re expanding online content
1.5 million out of copyright books that can be printed for $8 each

do you care about all of this as long as you can get to the stuff that you care about?
what Google is trying to figure out is how can I read your mind from the couple of words you gave me – which pages you want to see of theirs out of all of those exabytes of data?
it’s not just text anymore

mentioned Hans Rosling’s TED talk about visualizing statistics
mentioned Baby Names Voyager
Google bought software to add visual statistics to Google Docs
the cool part is I can type my name and see when my name peaked
is this a book? no. is it a visualization? yes. but it’s also interactive. where/how do I catalog this?
these kinds of interactive documents allow you to understand in ways that were not possible before
showed what happened to names that begin with vowels during the 40s and 50s – “the valley of the vowels”
the answer to what happened is in the hard consonants
no one knew this until they could see it in this visualization
our notion of what constitutes information and librarianship is changing

how do people search now?
suppose you’re Google and you get the query “jaguar” – what do they want?
one of the differences about being Google though is that you’re at a reference desk where a billion people a day ask the question

what about “iraq?” today, it’s the way; 15 years ago, it was probably antiquities
Google sees queries shifting a lot
“latest release Thinkpad drivers touchpad” = I know exactly what they want
“ebay” = in the top 10 most popular queries in English per day
“google” is also in the top 10 queries per day – why?? are they trying to cause the recursive meltdown of Google’s servers?
there are 20,000 ways to mis-spell “Britany Spears” (and they all want pictures of her)

one of the interesting things they do is use machine-generated algorithms
they don’t have to mis-spell a new celebrities name 20,000 times – their users will do that for them
that’s how informaiton works now

he goes to peoples’ homes a lot to talk to them and watch their behavior
showed a video clip of someone searching at home for which celebrity has won the most Oscars
(she was pretty confused with the results she was getting – didn’t realize she had moved into the “Google News” section)
she has a graduate degree, runs her own website, and has her own tv show
the equivalent of watching someone looking at a textbook in the library and wondering why she’s suddenly looking at the news
this is why he has a job 😉
he sees problems in the world and tries to fix them

weekly statistics:
3.9 visits per user
9.4 searches per user
11.2 search clicks per user
4 minutes duration
29% query refinement rate
they’re not spending a lot of time in “the stacks”

66% of their users have less than one query per day
average query length is less than 3 words
the “very confident” people in a Pew study search multiple times per day (34%)
success makes them search more often
92% feel confident in their searching ability
you don’t get good doing anything less than once per day (for four minutes, no less)
55% call themselves an “expert searcher” (despite how little I use the system)

they’re happy when they get a result from a search
people think of expertise as being socially-normed
“all of my friends say I’m the best searcher” – you want to say you’re good
people like to take on tasks they can succeed at
showed an example where the difference in the question was “ghost town” vs “abandoned city”
the “ghost town” people didn’t do well searching and were unhappy – took them a lot longer to find the information
librarians are synonym professionals
“functional fixed-ness” – being stuck on a search term, not being able to think of a synonym

Google is trying to convert people from the “ghost town” group to the “abandoned city” group
they can see improvement over time

but the information landscape is so complex

Google launches about 10 products per week, although more are invisible (tweaks to the algorithm, etc.)
but so far this year (and it’s only March 5), they’ve launched:
a really long list of things
these are all things that happened to our information landscape in the last two months
new kinds of content are coming online all the time
3D models in SketchUp
“what’s a flying buttress? let me show” vs a 2D picture in a Time-Life book

new kinds of querying information
eg, Google Goggle – “Google, what’s that?”
“your cellphone – it’s not just for typing anymore”
“wait – when did cellphones become standard for typing?”
taking a picture of a book gives you the metadata about it (same for a bottle of wine, etc.)
you don’t have to type as much anymore
the way you interact with Google is changing

with Google Earth, if you fly to the Prado in Madrid, you can fly into the building and even into one of the pictures; they’ll throw you out of the building if you try that in Spain
get a level of detail you can’t see if you go there

Google Flu Trends
can tell when flu outbreaks are happening around the world by watching for where queries are being made from
showed chart that illustrates Alaska got it worse than other places and the outbreak peaked in October
anyone can run queries in Google Trends

how do you find Google Translation Services? it’s not a book on a shelf
“when in doubt, search it out”
they’re working radically fast to change our world

Quantam ESP experiment
showed the old “psychic rabbit” trick with playing cards
the point is that everything changes
you can’t pay attention to everything
you’re smart – why didn’t you remember all of the cards? because he told you to focus on one
there’s lots of stuff going on with your perception and what you’re paying attention to

what have you noticed? what have you not noticed?
no one notices things like the little arrow that expands the map or lets you pan around the map and the “more” link
nobody sees these things – he has the logs to prove it
they’re focusing on what they’re trying to do
“perceptual or change blindness”
showed the difference between a Google Map from 5 years ago versus today
nobody noticed the results moved from the right side to the left
they change things all the time and nobody notices

how do we learn? how do we help our patrons learn?
it’s not like they’re shipping a new version of an OS – they’re changing everything all the time, every day
and it’s not all nicely curated or indexed
that’s the growth rate we have to be thinking about

“how do we help our patrons”
of the 4 Rs, the fourth one is really “research”
in order to write comprehensively and deeply, you need to do deep research
it’s not just looking up a call number – that’s just the beginning
this is no longer optional – now the whole culture has to understand this, not just librarians

analysis from 40 interviews:
everybody knows what a query is, what a result is
but no one knows what “search on page” and “search in results” mean
it’s not helped by clickbombs like the “miserable failure” search results
if you’re not on the inside with a mechanism to understand how this stuff works, you think Google is monkeying with the system, even though they aren’t; someone else is
most people don’t understand “classic search engine optimization”
makes it impossible to have a coherent mental model for how the web works

without a detailed model, we’re “cargo cultists” (New Guinea)
when someone tells you to reboot the router to get wireless back, you’re a cargo cultist
“never click up there”

“I dunno how it works. I just type words, and answers come back to me… about anything… anything at all…” – student
within his realm, he was a good searcher
developed vocabulary and domain knowledge around expensive watches but can’t find the capital of Alaska

when you’re in WestLaw, you have to know how to make the operators work
in Google, you have to know how to come up with good search terms

6 kinds of knowledge & skills needed to search:
– pure engine technique (choosing good terms, double quotes, etc.)
– information mapping (reverse dictionary, contents of domains, Wikipedia, etc.)
– domain knowledge (medical knowledge, plumbing knowledge, etc.)
– search strategy (knowing when to shift strategies, move from wide to narrow, preserving state, etc.)
– assessment (how do you assess the credibility of a resource? a lot of this is tied up in domain knowledge, which 16-year olds don’t have)
– site-specific knowledge (knowing how a site works, is laid out, etc.)

basic skills:
– Control-F to find
– tabs (how to use effectively to organize search)
– keyword query choice (effective choices; low/high frequencies terms)
– tactics (when to focus on particular resource)
– strategies (how long to pursue a tactic; when to switch; how to discover)
– understanding what you find (reading for understanding SERPs; not “overreading”)

teaching research skills
– want people to understand the world and do research so they understand the world
– not just web search skills
– authority assessment
– crap detection
– staying on task
– discovery
– notetaking
– data integration
– representation construction

findings:
1 – very uneven individual level of search skill (everyone showed at least one “deep” skill; everyone showed at least one mistaken understanding; 90% wished they knew how to search better, but only 10% will take a class)
search behavior patterns
users don’t know the names of parts or recognize them (including URL, site, query; it’s hard to search for things you can’t name; don’t want to click on that because it might bring up porn)

2 – comfort level is VERY important
users choose familiar over scary
people tend not to explore things they dn’t know
they worry about finding porn
they worry about having unkonwn things happen when they click on strange links
– education is accidental
– people are not good reporters of their own behavior (“I don’t have a toolbar; I don’t do image search”)

3 – people don’t know much about Google as a whole (an opportunity for librarians)
they don’t know what’s possible
a CTO who didn’t know how to find Google Maps to find a pub in Palo Alto
a PhD cognitive psychologist didn’t know about Google Scholar
– target site knowledge is critical

where do we go next?
– there is a big, big, big need for help – it’s not all intuitive; they can’t yet do mind-reading
– huge range of mental models among users
– users, for the most part, have little idea what’s possible in web search or how to use it effectively
they’re learning accidentally from peers or from librarians
we’re looking at an information-illiterate population
no one else is showing them

– show them the shape of the information landscape
– teach your patrons
– make time to continually educate yourself (you’re now enrolled in a permanent education process; if you miss it for a couple of years, good luck catching up)

everything is shifting and moving faster, so make time for continual self-improvement
“be the Lewis, be the Clark” – communicate this stuff to our patrons
be the core of discovery for patrons


1:23 pm Comments Off on The Mind of the Researcher – Daniel Russell (akla10)

February 24, 2010

Library 2.0: Not Just for Users

The concept of “Library 2.0” has been around long enough now that we’ve gone through all the stages and argued it to death, as noticed by Andy Woodworth in a post titled Deconstructing Library 2.0. That’s a good thing, and you should go read his thoughts on the subject.

No matter which side you of the debate you come down on, you can probably prove your case. Me? I agree with Andrew Burkhardt when he notes, “The time has come for libraries to be social on the web. Social is the new normal. It has become mainstream and people expect it. Library 2.0 is not dead, it has just become boring and commonplace. And to quote Clay Shirky, ‘Tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.’ ”

In his paper Participatory Networks: The Library As Conversation, Dave Lankes said that “libraries should focus on the phenomena made possible by the technology,” not the technology itself, which I think is a pretty good way of thinking about “Library 2.0.” Maybe that’s where we are now, which would be a great way to continue the discussion, hopefully without the moniker. I think several of us thought that’s what we were doing, but it didn’t come across that way.

The hard part, though, is that Library 2.0 doesn’t really replace anything. Like so many library services, the opportunities these new tools afford us are in addition to everything we’re already doing, which causes problems, because we don’t get additional resources to implement them. To serve as many of your users as possible, you have to be in as many of the places where they are as possible. That principle has been the philosophy behind this site from day one, eight years ago. That means being out in your community physically and digitally, and that’s one of the pieces of L2 that I think was never adequately explained.

We’re already pretty good at getting out from behind the physical reference desk. We know how to do it, and we know how we could do it better given more resources. I worry that this is less true in the online world, and that’s where I always hoped L2 would help. As much as I support, love, and advocate for user-centered planning and design, my big regret about the whole “movement” is that it hasn’t focused more on how L2 helps staff.

So that’s what I tend to concentrate my own presentations on – the practical ways in which these new tools can help you. I’ve been a big promoter of RSS since 2002, and I still don’t understand why libraries don’t use it more. Yes, one of the benefits of syndicating content is that your users can subscribe to it, but equally important for me is that it allows me as an organization to get my content off my website so that it’s more visible where my users are. Most importantly, it automates that process so that I don’t have to spend precious resources manually updating a multitude of sites, inevitably forgetting about one of them. The fact that I can syndicate lists of new materials from my OPAC anywhere without human intervention? Priceless.

Why should your library have a blog? There are many benefits, but my biggest reason is because it gets your current news and announcements in a syndicated format, the display of which you can automate anywhere. You can easily recycle your content to Twitter, Facebook, elsewhere on your website, and more. Talk about a great way to get out into your community – how about displaying your current news on the village, park district, school, or a department website without any ongoing effort on your part? That’s a huge win-win in my book. And as someone who manually generated archives for daily posts before there were “blogs,” let me just sing the praises of automatic archiving for a moment. If you’re not using a blog for press release-like information, do not pass go. There’s a better way that makes you more efficient and has all of these ancillary benefits with cherries on top.

Being able to offer inexpensive options for chat reference so that you can concentrate on implementation rather than budget? Win. Being able to embed that chat window on your website, in databases, on Facebook, etc., without a huge effort? Win times one million. Putting immediate, synchronous access to a librarian back into the catalog by embedding a chat window there? Win times infinity.

Having easy-to-use alternate announcement channels where you can also talk with and hear from your users (eg, Twitter)? Full of win. Same thing with social bookmarking (delicious – all of your library’s bookmarks in one place, searchable, embeddable), social pictures (Flickr, where you no longer have to worry about resizing images), wikis (cheap intranet possibilities), embeddable subject guides with syndication (LibGuides), and more. They all have the potential to make your job easier. How often does that happen?

So, Andy is right to ask questions about Library 2.0 and reflect about its impact, as are the commenters on his post. For me, though, one place L2 has failed is in making staff understand that these tools can offer big benefits for them, not just library users. If we’re adopting tools to make ourselves more efficient (which I think is the best way to evaluate implementation for staff), then that counts as success in my view. If it reaches new users, offers new services for existing members, or makes things better in general for users at the same time, then we’re really doing something right. That piece is more difficult to measure, which makes the L2 debate somewhat moot, since no one can really prove or disprove it. But when done well, Library 2.0 should help you in your job, too.

I hope we see more articles and presentations about that, instead of rehashing pointless and divisive debates about names, generations, and “sides.”


January 26, 2010

You Don’t Know Me

Or, if you work at certain companies, you do. Or could.

I had some interesting conversations about privacy at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, which got me thinking about which companies probably know the most about me.

I’ve thought about my own “walled garden” a lot and worked through what I’ll share publicly, privately, and pretend privately. Most things I share publicly, and you can see a list of many of the sites I use on my FriendFeed account. It’s not difficult to piece together information about me by tracking these sites, but overall I’m more careful with specific things like location information.

The routine I’ve worked out is that Facebook is my only truly private posting area, although I do occasionally post some pictures for “friends and family only” on Flickr. Since I still don’t trust Facebook to not re-publish or claim ownership of “private” content (like pictures and videos), I don’t post anything original there except status updates and comments on friends’ updates. Even then, I don’t kid myself that those things are truly private (they’re the “pretend privately” I mentioned above). That’s why I’ve become a lot more selective about who I’ll friend there, and why I post some Foursquare location updates there (rather than on Twitter).

So if you can find out so much information about me publicly, which companies know the most about me? It’s been a very thought-provoking exercise to come up with the following list. I tried to rank the companies in order of how much daily information I think they’re accumulating about me, but it’s tough to decide if “what I’m eating” equals “what I’m watching.”

  • Cell carrier/cellphone maker – they know my location at any given time, plus all of the data that goes through my phone (and I don’t have a landline, so everything goes through my cell)
  • Cable company = they know what I watch on TV and what I surf on the net
  • Bank = they know most of the places where I spend my money
  • Credit cards = they know a lot of places I spend my money
  • LISHost – hosts my website and email, which would include a lot of receipts for online purchases
  • Google = knows most of the things I search for and many things I read (via Google Reader); even though I don’t use Gmail, any email I send to Gmail users is in their archives
  • Amazon = knows about a lot of things I purchase and read (including via my Kindle)
  • Facebook = knows a lot about what I say about myself via status updates and who my friends are
  • FriendFeed (now owned by Facebook) = aggregates a lot about what I say about myself publicly online, plus which conversations and people I watch on the site
  • Netflix = knows a lot about what I watch
  • Foursquare = knows some about where I am/go
  • Flickr = knows a lot about where I am/go, who my friends/contacts are, and what interests me
  • Twitter = knows my network and who I interact with the most
  • Health care provider = I’m lucky that I’ve been relatively healthy, but my provider(s) know about any problems
  • Delicious = knows a lot about sites I’ve visited and want to remember
  • Dopplr = knows my trips and some of my friends
  • Evernote = knows about some things I want to remember, although I haven’t put much personal information there yet
  • Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) = I don’t drive nearly as much as I used to anymore, but IDOT knows when I go on tollroads

Obviously I’m okay with what I share publicly, and in many respects, there have been enormous benefits to doing that, but I have very little control over what these companies do with the information they’re collecting about me, and I don’t trust any of them. I think the only company I do trust is LISHost, which hosts my website and email (thanks, Blake!). How much do I really care that Facebook keeps my status updates forever, whereas my email provider keeps my more private messages? And how much do I worry that my private email still goes through my cable provider’s network to get to LISHost?

I’m trying to recognize which companies are collecting ambient information about me, without me proactively posting anything. I’m sure I’m missing some, though. If you’ve thought through this yourself, what’s not on my list?


6:44 am Comments (8)

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