Monday, January 30, 2006

Amazon Approval Slips

I've never had much fondness for third-party approval plans for buying library books because I haven't had much luck with them. Now, I understand that many of these approval plan companies are revamping their products and I haven't tried these next generation systems yet. For their collective sake, I hope they come up with something as simple and as powerful as Amazon's Approval Slips.

I just realized that only librarians will read the phrase "Amazon Approval Slips" and know that slips is meant as a noun and not a verb. Library jargon can sound so silly.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture

I learned from The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture that it is thought that 30% of the web is porn. I was also reminded of the time before Google when most search engines would regularly have porn sites in their results of even the user had the most benign of intentions. That pretty much stopped once Google and its vastly superior indexing algorithms appeared on the web and well, then pretty much took over.

John Battelle begins the book not the conventional way that I have done by mentioning the superior results that Google first brought but reminds us that every search begins with an intention and that Google has, in its sea of servers, the largest database of human wants the world has ever seen. This is just one of the reasons why Google is increasingly becoming a conduit for business on the internet and why businesses like Amazon are getting into the business of search.

This book is more than a simple history of a business - and not just because Google is positioned to be more than just another company. At the moment, Google is the best "Yellow Pages" of the Internet but in the future it could very well become a new layer of Internet infrastructure. Ironically, after reading the book, I'm more wary of this future because Google now seems much more human to me. Recommended.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Asking Metafilter

I have recently become enamoured with Ask Metafilter:
Ask MetaFilter is a discussion area for sharing knowledge among members of MetaFilter. There is also a filtered view of this page showing just questions with "best" marked answers and another page of fantastic questions and answers suggested by members.
Last year, when I did information literacy sessions for first year students I would frequently begin by asking the class where did they normally go when they need answers to their questions. They would answer: friends, google, professor, library, parents... and with some pressing, they would then expand their answers a little to include such things as The Yellow Pages. One reason I liked beginning this way was it let the students know that we knew that the library was just one of the places they went for when they needed help.

No one answered "my virtual community".

I haven't even heard the phrase virtual community in years. Years ago, I once worked a company that tried to build one (inspired by this book) and it failed miserably. I think the phrase died because it was too grandiose and community is a very hard ideal to meet. So the phrase doesn't describe what I think Ask Metafilter is. But its close.

Ask Metafilter Its an active (almost too active) discussion area where there are (mostly) intelligent, confounding questions and (mostly) intelligent, insightful answers. I think Ask Metafilter works because it has a large population filled with folks from all different parts and varied different backgrounds and because the one time $5 donation to join in keeps most of the bozos out. As a librarian who is obsessing over questions at the moment, I love Ask Metafilter but I know I'm late to the game as jessamyn from has been answering questions there for a while now.

Which got me thinking. I think a public library of a city with a relatively large population should try hosting a local copy of Ask Metafilter. The set-up would be exactly the same - with a possible exception or variation of the $5 manditory donation. There would be librarians partcipating but unlike "traditional online reference service" any library user could answer anyone else's question. The more I think about the idea, the more I like it. It would demonstrate that the library is a place where conversations occur and questions are raised and answered. And it would recognize and reward the everyday experts in the community. Librarians have to recognize that sometimes the fastest way of getting an answer is not to pick up a book, but to pick up the phone and call that someone you know who's read that book.

While I'm relatively optimistic of such a project in a public library, I don't think this could work in an educational setting as there are too many students already that don't parse their assignments properly into bite-sized questions. These are the types that bomb mailing lists and such with their assignment verbetim. But then again, an Ask LibraryFilter may be a way to demonstrate the benefits of being able to ask a good question.

I should Ask Metafilter to see what they think of its viability.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Predictions for 2006

I'm taking up Karen's request for Top Trends that will affect libraries.
Here's three ideas:

1. More discussion about The Long Tail will ensue

I'm cheating: I know there will be *some* further discussion of this idea in 2006 because Chris Anderson has expanded his influential essay in WIRED into a book due to be published in June. I know librarians will be talking about it as librarians have responded positively to the idea of the Long Tail because its a new way to explain the value of libraries. As libraries are storehouses of rarely used out-of-print material, we are the original long tail. But there are greater ramifications of this theory as Lorcan Dempsey suggests in his presentation at Access 2005. The Long Tail suggests that we have to distribute "deep" goods over a "wide" audience. Will this further drive consortial partnerships or collaboration with OCLC?

2. Google will lose a bit of its luster

I'm wagering that Google's honeymoon period is going to end soon. Granted, my thinking is coloured by my recent reading of The Search but recent developments hint that the general public is eventually going to realize that Google's is a search engine that is meant to drive the vehicle for commerce and that whole "Don't Be Evil" shtick was just engineer hubris. Libraries will look more favourably to Amazon because of its A9 service.

3. Someone is going to develop automatic tagging

Or structured blogging is going to emerge. Or GoogleBase will be re-designed so it will make more sense to its users. Or some other attempt to bring about the labeling necessary to bring rise to the Semantic Web is going to come about.

New Jack Librarian is so very 1999

The only incidence of New Jack Librarian that I can find on the web is from 1999. Concidently, in 1999 I started my current job at the Leddy Library at the University of Windsor. So I think it will make an appropriate title for this blog on some of my thoughts on libraryland.