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Sep. 14th, 2009

Tags and Bookmarks

I love tagging - it's fun! Not the kind of tagging where you go out to the park with a bag full of spraypaint cans while your buddies watch for cops...web page tagging, where you take your blog post or Goodreads entry or whatever and mark it all up. It's almost like an informal sort of cataloging, because you're not only trying to figure out the best tag words to describe and sort your entries for yourself, you're also (if you're looking for new eyeballs, anyway) trying to figure out what tag words other people are going to look for that will get them to your page - that whole folksonomy thing. If tagging is done well, and you're speaking the same folksonomy as your readers (or the readers can figure yours out), it can really improve the accessibility of information on a web site. If it's not done well, on the other hand, like if the tags are either too broad, too specific, or too personal, then it can end up being a lot of extra work for nothing. Although even broad tags can be useful in combination with other search options - in our library's aquabrowser catalog, for instance, a generic tag like "adventure" can be combined with the aquabrowser's other built-in options for refining the search to get something closer to the type of adventure that you want.

Social bookmarking, on the other hand, I haven't really done too much with at this point. I can definitely see where tracking and sharing favorite web pages remotely would have its uses, certainly for librarians since we're always looking for more and better sources of information on just about everything. One use that definitely came to mind is a replacement for the old rolodex that we used to keep in our branch for some of the more obscure/hard-to-find contact information that patrons used to ask us about. Two of us have been going through that rolodex cleaning out cards we don't need any more, and a lot of the cards we're getting rid of are because the information is now available on the web. Some of the ones that are on the web but still take more digging than a simple google search could be compiled into a social bookmark list. But out of all the web 2.0 applications so far, it's not something that I personally would expect to use nearly as much as some of the others. I seldom even think to use ordinary link directories like IPL, so it's hard to see myself getting heavily involved in any social bookmarking that involves registering an account.

Sep. 1st, 2009

Frailty, thy name is Wiki

Out of everything on this assignment list, wikis are what I've had by far the most practice with. I've been registered on Wikipedia for several years, and I've also made good use of Memory Alpha (Star Trek wiki), Wookieepedia (Star Wars wiki), Narutopedia (Naruto wiki), and of course the various wikis our library system has put up in the last year or two. I'm just going to highlight a couple of major points from my experiences with wikis, both good and bad.

One of the most useful ideas I've seen on wikipedia is the "wikiproject." Groups of people who have a common interest in a subject get together and create a wikiproject for that subject, with a goal of substantially improving all the Wikipedia pages relating to their topic. I was once involved in Wikiproject:Harry Potter, and while I was a member I started some pages that hadn't been created yet, added and labeled quite a few photographs for pages that were already up, and did a lot of general rewriting and cleanup. Another things that wikiprojects often take charge of are the style and layout of the topic's pages, like deciding what should go in the "data boxes" on the right side of the page, and creating the navigation boxes on the bottom of the page. The wikiproject concept could easily be adapted for library wikis. Say, for instance, you were developing a system programming wiki - you could find the most enthusiastic programmers in the system about doing kids stuff, and ditto for doing teen stuff and adult stuff, and have each group collectively "own" that area of the wiki. Anyone approved could still make edits of course, but the wikiproject group would be the ones figuring out what pages were needed and making sure that they contained all necessary information, like a virtual programming committee 2.0.

On the other hand, a major drawback of wikis is the high potential for "editor fatigue." When anyone can change a page, they're often just as likely to spoil the best parts of the article as they are to improve the worst parts. It gets frustrating after a while to work hard getting an article cleaned up, clear, and readable, only for someone else to come along behind you and mess it up again. And then there are the arguments. Wikipedia runs on consensus, but what happens when an exceptionally stubborn person refuses to accept the consensus? I ran into that on a hockey stats page, of all places. The page listed the highest scoring NHL players by nationality, and we had agreed that for multi-national players we'd follow the Hockey Hall of Fame's standards for determining nationality. That way there'd be no contradictions for anyone researching the topic. That worked fine until a hardcore Irish nationalist came along one day and objected to our listing certain players as Northern Irish who were born before the 1922 partition. Those players were Irish, he insisted, no matter what the HHOF said. After a solid week of explanations, arguments, edit wars, multiple lockings and unlockings of the page, and a million posts on the talk board, I unchecked the page from my watch list because just seeing it up there all the time was wearing me out. Two weeks after that I peeked at the page again, and this guy was STILL going at it with everyone and refusing to accept any solution but his own. That was just one of several incidents that wore me out on wikipedia - I still use it, especially as a source of sources, but I haven't made any edits or contributions in a long time.

Fortunately, a smaller wiki like a library would set up is probably less prone to causing editor fatigue, due to a smaller pool of editors and the nature of the information that would normally go up on it, but if you were going to get people from the library system involved in wiki editing, it would probably be a good idea to rotate the volunteers in and out, so that they don't get completely burned out.

Aug. 19th, 2009

Good Reads on Goodreads

I first tried LibraryThing a couple of years ago, when we tried to start a monthly staff book discussion at our branch. It didn't last long, but while it was active we used LibraryThing to keep track of everyone's book recommendations. It worked okay, but to be honest I never liked LibraryThing very much. It seemed kind of clunky to me and didn't have exactly the functionality that I wanted, so I was never tempted to set up my own account.

Now, as I pondered this project and the prospect of creating an LT account that I wasn't likely to use much, I happened to click over to CJ's blog. She had just posted her report on this exploration, and her opinion of LibraryThing was similar to mine, so she tried a different site called Goodreads. It sounded promising, so I went back to the assignment page, saw that it was allowable, and decided to go explore it.  Within five minutes, I had signed myself up for an account. This is a site that I can see myself using for a long, long time.

So what appeals to me about Goodreads?

First, it's very clean and easy to use. Signing up is a quick process, and you can start adding books to your lists right away. Their search engine does a great job of finding what you want - the item records are all labeled well. Like when I wanted to add all the Xanth novels I read back in high school to the "books I've read" list, I only had to type Xanth and it brought up the whole series - even our library catalog misses a few.

Second, the setup makes it easy to add as much or as little information about a book as you want. If you're working down a long list, you can just give the book a star rating and it will automatically add it to your "books I've read" list without taking you off the page. If you want to add more, you can click to raise a pop-up window where you can add the date you last read the book (I love that idea!) and a review if you want, but none of that is required.

Third, for someone like me who's always been a total geek about making lists out of everything, this site is great! It lets you keep track of books you've read, books you're reading right now, and books that you want to read, and every list is fully sortable. It's also very easy to connect with your friends on the site and see what their lists look like too, and to sign up for updates on what they've been reading.

All in all, I think this is going to be great for me as a librarian. I'll be able to keep better track of everything I've been reading, so if someone comes to the desk with the familiar "do you have any more books like such-and-such?" question, and I know that I read something similar a while back but can't remember the title, now I can just log in and check my list. The friend connections will help too; for instance if I know someone who reads in a genre that I don't, I can peek in on what they've enjoyed lately. The "want to read" list is also going to be great, because I am the type of person who gets interested in reading so many books that I can't always keep track of them - I end up with titles and authors jotted down in six different places, and some always slip through the cracks. Hopefully now that won't happen so much. The other thing I thought about is that I have tons of notes and mini-reviews left over from books that I read for both the YA Great Books committee and the Maryland Author Awards committee, all currently stored in various Word documents on my hard drive. Most of those notes could be synthesized into book reviews for Goodreads with only a minimum of time and cleanup, and it would be the perfect way to recycle my old work and give it a second life.

My profile on Goodreads is at:  www.goodreads.com/user/show/2638524

Aug. 14th, 2009

RSS Feeds, and Some Not-So-Nostalgic Memories

You know that old saying about, "the more things change?" That was the feeling that I got as I did this assignment, at least where Feed Readers were concerned. Folks who were on the internet for Web 1.0 (or maybe Web 0.1) in the early to mid 90's might remember when newsgroups were at the peak of their popularity, with their multi-part names like "alt.binaries.automobiles.pictures" or "rec.games.video.arcade.collecting" (which I used to frequent back around 1997-98). The newsgroups were kind of like the ancestors of modern discussion forums, except harder to use and even more disorganized, and the way most people accessed them was through newsreader programs, which in concept were very similar to the RSS Feed Reader that I tried out for this exercise. You downloaded and/or signed up for a newsreader service, told the newsreader which groups you wanted to read, and it would track those groups and pull new messages so you could read them. 

To set up my RSS feeds I downloaded and installed a reader called FeedDemon - as soon as I saw that name I had to give it a whirl! It turns out that it's not just a clever name, though - this program was a PC Magazine Editor's Choice winner a year or two ago. I can see why, because it's very user-friendly but still offers a lot of options. If you're interested in a reader that's it's own program, not online-based, it's one I'd definitely recommend trying. It did remind me of the old newsreader programs, but I think it will avoid the biggest issue that drove me away from newsreaders: I could never keep up with all the new postings. I only subscribed to three or four newsgroups at a time, but some of them had 50+ posts a day; multiply that by several groups and it was too time-consuming to read everything (and heaven forbid if you missed a day!). That shouldn't be an issue with an RSS reader, though, because the only feeds I can think of that might update that frequently are major news outlets, and I don't plan on telling FeedDemon to subscribe to CNN or the BBC. I actually have an RSS feed in my Firefox browser at home for BBC world news, but I rarely do more with that one than occasionally glance at the headlines, because there are always too many articles and they change constantly.

Now I'll admit that I've always seen RSS feeds as a mixed bag, probably because of my previous experience with newsgroups, but I think that when used judiciously they can be very effective. For users who actually check their feeds, it's a great way to give them the information you want to share. For instance, I think it would be great for us to have an RSS feed someday that we updated with information about upcoming programs, as another way of getting the word out to people who don't read the Happenings. The down side is the risk of information overload, to where you get someone who comes home, sees ten new items posted, and says, "Aaaah, I'm not going to read all that!" So they just hit "mark all read" and end up missing something important. That's why I think RSS feeds actually work better for a blog that updates less often. The goal is to have people excited to see an update from you, not to bombard them with so many posts that you scare them off, like that BBC feed does to me.

Aug. 10th, 2009

Flickr Exploration

Ah, you gotta love procrastination. But...this Web 2.0 project is now seriously on the clock, so it's time to crack the whip on myself.

The next module on the list is Flickr, and as luck would have it, I already had a Flickr account before we ever got this assignment. I never really did much with it, though. I uploaded a bunch of family pictures, tagged and captioned them, set all of the permissions for viewing them to "family and friends" only so that nobody would invade their privacy, and that was pretty much it. I'm still not making those public, but I am unlocking a couple of my old Christmas '07 pics for purposes of this assignment.

Anyway, here's the link to my two photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22372781@N02/ Tagged, captioned, titled, and notated.

Assigned questions:

How could a library use Flickr with staff?
- How could a library use Flickr with patrons?

From a library perspective, there are definitely good uses I can see for flickr, or photo sharing places like it in general. For instance:
*Documenting/preserving local history. A chance to share rare photographs with the community, to preserve them digitally from the ravages of time, to ask for community input on photos with unknown histories, and so on.
*Self-promotion. The library can use photo sharing to show itself off. It can promote the building, the collection, computer access, branch programming, or whatever it wants to put out there.
*Patron assistance. Unfortunately, Flickr still isn't going to help those patrons who want to save their e-mail attachments but don't have a flash drive. It could be useful for other things, though. Since we aren't restricted to just uploading photos, a library could upload images and documents that patrons might find useful. For instance, a library could have a link to its Flickr page from its web site, and then on Flickr have photographs, floor plan diagrams, and cross-street maps for each branch in the system. Or, if the library is thinking about discontinuing a very useful brochure just because it's too expensive to print in large quantities, they could scan the brochure and upload it to Flickr instead, and now whenever someone is interested in the featured service, they or the staff can just go in and print off the images.

- Something cool you found on Flickr
http://www.flickr.com/photos/21410041@N04/collections/72157606200509291/ - this guy has uploaded photographs that he took of a bunch of legendary hard rock and metal bands in concert in their primes, back in the 70's and 80's.

- What are some other uses for Flickr?
The first thing that came to mind is its usefulness as a temporary storage space. I'm a longtime user of discussion forums, and most forums worth their salt allow you to attach pictures to your posts. However, many of them also require those pictures to be linked from the web; you can't post them directly from your hard drive. So back in the old days you'd have to have your own personal web site, like a Geocities page or something, upload your picture there, and then link back to it in the forum. The problem with that, besides being time-consuming, was that nine times out of ten the thing you were uploading had nothing to do with the rest of your web site. Flickr solves that whole problem by giving you an easy place to upload whatever photo or illustration you want to post and keeping it separate from your other online spaces.

Aug. 18th, 2008

And so it begins...

Here's the  Web 2.0 Flying Ace being awakened to fly his first dawn patrol. My mission is to learn about blogs and wikis and RSS feeds and everything else related to web 2.0.

The funny thing about this assignment is that I've been reading other people's entries on LiveJournal for over six years now, but I always chose not to sign up for a blog myself because I've seen with some of my online friends how addictive it can be. Now my library system comes along and tells me it's time to start keeping a personal blog. Oh well, there are certainly much worse addictions to have.