Friday, April 3, 2009

Three Teeny Things (#13-15)

I must admit at the outset that this is a purely mercenary post, made at the last minute to ensure that I'm eligible for the prize drawing in stage 2 of the TCCL "23 Things" process. The excited flush of my first foray into the Things has faded, and I had to make myself sit down and complete the latest three Things.

There are a couple of reasons. One is simple busyness. There's a lot going on in my life right now, and doing the Things seems somehow frivolous in the face of work responsibilities and family obligations.

But also, much that is in Things 7-15 has been familiar to me. For instance, I was an early adopter of, in part because I knew its creator through his previous project, memepool [Caution: questionable content may appear there], where I'm still listed as an author.

So, old Internet hand that I am, what can I possibly learn about, Technorati, and Library 2.0 that I don't already know?

Hubris, of course. There is much to learn (and relearn) about anything if you take the time.

Thing #13 -
As I mentioned, I'm a long-time user of del, and I have it cross-linked to several of my other online spaces, but I don't use it very often any more. In many ways, sites like Facebook and Twitter have taken over the social aspect of sharing sites for me, and my online world has narrowed significantly, such that I rarely look for anything I can't readily find on Wikipedia or through a Google search. When I revisited my del bookmarks recently, I rediscovered the site's value as a search tool.

I used to often recommend the Librarians' Internet Index to patrons in my Internet classes as an alternative to broad mechanical searches like Google and other engines. LII is a collection of hand-selected links, chosen by librarians. It's "New This Week" news post is still one of the best RSS feeds for librarians to know. But there's only so much a small group of individuals (no matter how dedicated) can do to make sense of the vastness of the Web. How can and other link-tagging sites solve the problem? Volume! Volume! Volume!

In the spirit of The Wisdom of Crowds, del depends on the aggregate intelligence of a whole lot of people. When it turned five last November, the userbase numbered more than 5.3 million. In this way, it's a lot like Wikipedia, counting on the cream to rise to the top. I think it does a great job.

Thing #14 - Technorati
Technorati, in web terms, is old. Practically ancient. I can't think of a time that I've been on the web that I haven't seen blog posts with Technorati tags on them. So why haven't I paid attention to them before? I'm not sure, but in fact, I haven't. When I looked at Technorati for Thing #9, I went ahead and checked to see if I'd ever signed up, and I had, but for the life of me I can't remember when. For some reason, it's just under my radar.

Having said that, I've spent some time with it today, tracking the "Will Google Buy Twitter?" story, and I do like the design and the content, but something about it just doesn't grab me. Hard to express what it is, I guess.

Thing #15 - Web/Library 2.0
It's all too much.

As individuals in the collective Library, (not speaking of TCCL here, but more broadly and universally) I think we are caught in the middle, tossed by forces beyond our control. There is a struggle between stakeholders, including:
  • the Users (who want complete, unfettered, free access to everything all the time, and want to be able to tag, edit, and adjust it all to make it fit their needs)

  • the Community (which has standards to be met, expectations to be considered, and of course, funds to be solicited)

  • the Staff (who need to understand all this stuff to make it work for the users, and need to feel that they're not being made irrelevant by technology)

  • the Management (which needs to keep everyone happy, or at least strive for an equal distribution of discontent.)

Compounding the problem is that these aren't discrete groups, are they? Librarians are users every time they answer a reference question or look for a book on the shelf. Users are the Community. Management is Staff. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery... sorry.

That's about all I have to say, I'm afraid. Thanks for reading this far!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thing #12 - This is How I Roll

I liked Rollyo, and created a little roll that allows me to search Instructables and WikiHow for how-to kinds of things. I have to say, though, that I'm not that enthused. I think I prefer to search more directly on my own.

What I'd really like is a way to create a custom Google search using some of their sooper sekrit tags. My favorite is allintext:, which looks for your search terms only in the body of the page, ignoring titles, headers, footers, etc. It's surprising how much more targeted my results get with that in my search.

For more on digging into Google's guts, read the first few chapters of the book Mining Google Web Services. Great stuff!

LibraryThing, or angst, agida, and depression

As you can see by the timestamps of my last two posts, I've been stopped for a bit by the LibraryThing Thing. This is not because I have any kind of aversion to it. In fact, I'm an early adopter (see who paid for a cheap lifetime membership back when LibraryThing was in its infancy. I even have a repurposed CueCat scanner that I used to scan in ISBNs for awhile.

The thing is, I'm pretty frustrated by the whole concept of online book tracking right now. A couple of years ago, I started keeping track of what I read. At first, I was doing it on paper, but I soon realized that I wanted to share it with others, so I started tracking in Outlook and blogging monthly about what I'd read.

That has fallen by the wayside somewhat, but I'm looking for a very specific solution to meet my need. I don't want to go into too much detail and bore you, but essentially, I want to use my BlackBerry (since it's with me all the time) to do the tracking, but I want a site like LibraryThing or GoodReads to end up with the data so that it can be shared with others and sent out to Twitter, Facebook, and my blog. Unfortunately, it looks more and more like nobody has done what I want, so if I want it, I have to do it myself.

In a nutshell, then, thinking about LibraryThing leads to me thinking about object-oriented programming in Python, which is something I will have to teach myself from scratch if I want to do this. And then I get depressed thinking about how much work I'll have to put into this to get what I want out of it.

Anyway, that's my long-winded way of saying I know LibraryThing. It's great! I just wish it would do something it wasn't designed to do. :-)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thing #10 - Image Generators

Okay, I totally LOVE this! Thanks, 23 Things!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Are Ess Ess? (Things 8 and 9)

I have to admit to being something of an old hand at RSS. However, it's been a long time since I visited Bloglines, so I went back there and looked at some of my old subscriptions. In the process, though, I noticed that there's an RSS icon on the Internet Explorer toolbar:

So I began playing around with that. It turns out the Favorites Center in the library's current version of Internet Explorer has a place for feeds. If you click on the star to the left of your tabs, you can see where they show up.

It's not as full-featured as a real RSS reader, but it's a neat way to add a few feeds to the PC at the reference desk for downtime reading. Fun!

...and then he read Thing #9 and felt really foolish. Heh. Guess I didn't discover anything exciting.

Several of my co-Thingers have remarked that the number of RSS feeds available is overwhelming enough without using something like Technorati to add to the load. With that in mind, here are my capsule reviews: I'm using a search for the term "librarian" to compare them.

Bloglines search - I'm partial to Bloglines since I've used it so much, and its utilitarian look appeals to me. I tend to like a stripped-down screen without much going on.
Search Results: Bloglines searches both posts and blogs at the same time, giving results for posts in the main window, blogs on a right-hand sidebar. I really like the automatic option to subscribe to the search, allowing me to just let Bloglines do it all for me.
Membership: Being a member of Bloglines allows you to immediately subscribe to feeds you find through the search, but not much else. Bloglines remains very focused on RSS.

Syndic8 - Having praised Bloglines' simplistic design, I have to say that Syndic8 looks amateurish.
Search Results: Syndic8 assumes that your search is for entire blogs/feeds, not posts. As I've fooled around with it, I don't see any way to search for posts at all. I do like the tabular form of the results, though. Very easy to read and understand.
Membership: Becoming a member of Syndic8 is more like becoming an employee. They immediately put you to work reviewing feeds for inclusion in their database!

Topix - Topix is clearly intended as a portal more than a search tool. There's a whole lot happening on the front page. It's pretty overwhelming.
Search Results: Here is the opposite of Syndic8's approach. The default is to search posts, and again, I don't see a way to switch.
Membership: Topix goes far beyond simple RSS syndication into the realm of social networking, with its own discussion forums and other features.

Technorati - All about the popularity, which has its place, but I'm not sure that's the best thing when I'm searching for new content. I tend to avoid the mainstream and popular as a general rule.
Search Results: I have to say, Technorati impresses me here. I like the way the results are laid out, and especially the prominent "filter" options that would let me switch from the default posts search to one of blogs. I love the little graph showing how often your search term has been mentioned in the past month, with the tempting offer to compare with another term. Is "librarian" or "library" more popular?
Membership: The most important feature of Technorati membership is the ability to "claim" your blog. You verify that you own a particular blog, and then you can track its popularity and see where other people have linked to your posts. That's a neat feature.

So, that's my take on the four feed searches. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thing 6: Picasa Web Albums (and, as it turns out, Thing 7 as well)

From Zimmermania

I am a flickr user for the most part, so I was interested to look at Picasa Web Albums. Right away, I was shocked to find that I already had three albums of my own! It turns out that, because Google owns both Blogger and Picasa, it has integrated them in such a way that any photos posted to a Blogger blog are automagically saved in Picasa albums.

I was excited by this, and immediately set about playing with the photos I have. I worked on doing some face tagging as noted in Thing 5, and I geotagged a couple of photos. As I was doing so, though, I noticed something odd. Many of the photos in my main blog don't appear on Picasa at all. In fact, they seem to have stopped abruptly right about the time of last winter's ice storm. As I looked into things more closely, I discovered the reason.

As I mentioned before, I use a service called Utterli to do my blog posting. It cleverly allows me to make my post in one place and have it populated all over (in my case, that means my blog, twitter, and flickr). The downside appears to be that the Picasa/Google/Blogger collective does not recognize my photo as "a photo" and copy it over to Picasa. "Okay," I thought, "I'll just have Utterli send my posts to Picasa, too." Unfortunately, no can do. Grr.

So now I have to decide what I want to do. As it currently stands, if I want my photos to go to Picasa when I blog, I either have to copy Picasa on the e-mail I send to Utterli (not a huge problem, but a bit annoying) or figure out how to get one of my other destinations to cross-post there. Another possibility would be to drop Utterli and go back to posting direct to Blogger. It would then send my photos to Picasa, but I'd lose the connection to Twitter and Flickr and would have to figure out other ways to get them in the loop.

Here's where this morphs into Thing #7: Blog About Technology. The more time I spend with Web 2.0, the more it starts to feel like quicksand. Or maybe Br'er Rabbit's Tar Baby. I see something interesting, get immersed in it, and it leads me to something else. These two work together, and also work with this other cool thing, and before I know it, I'm in the situation I have now. It's hard to even say how my blog posting currently works without resorting to an image, so I'm going to go ahead and just make one...
From 23 Things

As you can see, a basic post to my blog goes immediately to three different places. This doesn't count anything that uses my RSS feed. If I posted from Utterli, that adds two more right away, and my Facebook friends start getting annoyed, because they see the post in my Notes, they see my flickr photostream update with the same photo, and they see my Twitter app updated with a message about the same post.

In a way, it's like that picture. In order to make it, I created the diagram using Publisher, because that's the tool we have on the library computers that I'm most comfortable with. I took a screenshot, then pasted it into Paint and saved it as a .jpg. I used three different kinds of software (plus the browser to upload it) to get that image.

But here's the difference. There are programs designed for making screenshots that would replace them all in one fell swoop, but if I started using one of them, Publisher wouldn't get offended. MS Paint wouldn't say, "Hey, I wonder why Karl doesn't use us any more." With social networks, once you've spent a certain amount of time on one, you are obligated to keep updating it. I have friends on LJ who don't read my blog and aren't on facebook. If I drop the LJ feed, they will miss me. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just ego. Or neediness.

I've wandered pretty far afield, partly because I've written this post on three different computers (using two different operating systems) over a period of about six hours. I'm not sure I even have a point any more, unless it's this: technology is amazing, it's useful, and it opens up new possibilities in the world every day, but it can be dangerous (or at least distracting) and addictive. It's deceptively easy to spend a lot of time doing things that appear productive, but are not. In an effort to save time, you can easily waste hours searching for a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

7.5 Habits

In response to PLCMC's presentation, TCCL has asked that we talk about which of these habits is easiest, and which is hardest for us personally.

My initial reaction is that none of them are really that difficult for me, so for easiest, I'm going to choose Habit 4: Have Confidence In Yourself as a Competent, Effective Learner. To be honest, I've always been teacher's pet, head of the class, do-gooder, nerd, what-have-you. I often say that, if I win the lottery, I'll go back to college and stay there. I love learning new things, especially in a structured environment like a classroom.

That brings me to my downfall. Habit 1: Begin With The End In Mind is quite difficult for me. I tend to have a hard time planning ahead, and I rely a lot on others' structure. As an example, I have taken two creative writing classes in my life, one in high school, and one in college. During those classes, I was highly productive, writing poems, short stories, and other works with frantic speed. Once I left the classroom, though, without the formal structure of assignments and deadlines, I just quit. I need that outside pressure to drive me to succeed.