Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hosting a Party on the web

There's been a lot of talk as of late about social networking software. To my mind, there's been too much attention given to 'software' and scant attention given to the 'social'.

So next time someone you know suggests that the website in question could benefit from a wiki, comments, or a discussion area, make sure you ask them who is going to host the party.

In this interview with .net magazine, Flickr founder Caterina Fake likens building an online community to throwing a party:

According to Caterina: "The most difficult part is not the technology but actually getting the people to behave well." When first starting the community the Flickr team were spending nearly 24 hours online greeting each individual user, introducing them to each other and cultivating the community. "After a certain point you can let go and the community will start to maintain itself, explains Caterina. "People will greet each other and introduce their own practices into the social software. It's always underestimated, but early on you need someone in there everyday who is kind of like the host of the party, who introduces everybody and takes their coat.

I recall those early days of Flickr...Stewart and Caterina were everywhere, commenting on everything. A core group of people followed their example and began to do the same, including Heather Champ, who now manages Flickr's community in an official capacity. Matt did a similar thing with MetaFilter too...he spent a lot of time interacting with people on there, taking their coats, and before long others were pitching in. [kottke]

With all the social software options out there, at least failure is cheaper now.

Back in my day (*ahem*) virtual communities were all the rage. In fact, a corporation that I was working for decided to create its own virtual community for a certain segment of a certain industry because one of the company's VPs had read this book. And after thousands (tens? hundreds?) were spent in developing the site, it was ready to launch.

I was skeptical of the whole enterprise and so I was surprised that after the first day, users were posting questions in the (empty) discussion boards. But no one in the corporation bothered to respond until later in the week. You see, while the VP didn't spare any expense in getting a great outside development team to create the site, he essentially tacked on the content responsibilities to existing employees with already stressed and busy work lives and furthermore, gave them no incentive to participate in *his* project. The site was stillborn.

Like most things, it needed love and attention to survive. And a party atmosphere.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

By sharing we learn what has been lost

Today I felt a little delight and a little disappointment as I tried out some of the newest Refworks features.

I love love love RefGrabIt and the ability to create RSS feeds from RefWorks folders has made me giddy thinking of the possibilities of integrating RSS feeds into our library's website. In my eagerness to create an RSS feed of articles that I can't help but write about on my other blog, I started trolling my library's databases for some past gems. And that's when I noticed that Art Spiegelman's "Drawing Controversy" article was not available online. It's the article that reprints "the danish cartoons". I was horribly worried about this until I realized that at least the Leddy Library still subscribes to the microfilm version of the magazine so present and future researchers will not be shortchanged by the idiosyncrasies of online reprinting rights.

Anyway, this all got me thinking that library consortiums should start designating "library of last resort" status to our collective print serial collections because we can't assume that someone has a copy somewhere. Because sharing responsibility is just as important as sharing resources.

From MemoryBlog

MemoryBlog: "From Michael Ravnitzky, a frequent contributor to The Memory Hole, comes this article on 'the Directorate of Legal Research (DLR), a little known but well-regarded and highly influential research department contained within the Library of Congress.' As with its sibling, the Congressional Research Service, the massive amounts of world-class research being produced by the DLR (almost 2,000 publications in 2004 alone) virtually never make it to the public, despite being funded by taxpayers. "

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanks George!

Solvitur ambulando » Blog Archive » Library-in-a-Box: First thoughts: "George Soros and a host of other funders are going to pay smart people around the world to develop free and open source software for libraries, specifically targeted at libraries in the developing world. This is kind of a big deal."

I think its a very big deal indeed!

Friday, November 10, 2006

The people's history of the Marginal Librarian

I found out from Library Juice that my alma mater's publication, the Marginal Librarian has recently published another fine issue of library school goodness.

And I was pleased to see that this issue had a little section on the history of the 'Marginal'. I was there at the beginning and I can say that what is written is correct. Although, it is missing a little 'pre-history'...

Before Andre took upon the task of starting up a student publication for the library school, myself and my seat-mates in the back of the classroom would entertain ourselves during class by producing a little sloppy zine called 'The Marginal Librarian'.

The first issues of the Marginal Librarian

I think I have all but one of the issues. I'll check with one of the other partners in crime to see if she still has the one I'm missing.

Anyway. Keep fighting the power, Marginal!

I like Wikimedia

Hey. If you are ever looking for graphics for your website, library or otherwise, a great source is The Wikimedia Commons.

I'm currently in the process of creating a website for a friend and found the site quite useful. I was in need of images of flags of a number of countries found Wikimedia most useful because it offered images in a vector format which makes for perfect rescaling to get everything just the right size.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The trouble with tagging

Am I the only person who thinks that giving the user the ability to add 'tags' to the library catalogue is a bad idea? This thought isn't completely apropos of nothing. Folks are meeting to discuss the future of the Integrated Library System. I don't want 'tagging' in our future OPAC.

Here's why:

To me, tagging makes best sense in a context where words need to be added in order to be found. Photos (Flickr) and videos (YouTube) are just two instances where tagging makes it easy and rewarding for the user to annotate their own work because otherwise it would be unlikely that the piece would be found at all. But when you are tagging a piece of text that you've written, in essence you are either duplicating the words that you already used in your piece of text, or you are using more generalized words or synonyms of the main ideas in your piece of text. Essentially you are tagging a text with words that you didn't think were important to include in the text in the first place.

Now when we think of tagging in the library context, we are thinking of a user supplementing a text record (created by a professional) to make it more complete and findable. The idea is that, with tagging enabled the library catalogue becomes social entity, being improved upon by the wisdom of the crowds. But unlike projects like Wikipedia, there is no social reward for improving a catalogue through tagging. There's no incentive - no boost to the ego. And then there's the chance for vandalism.

I think my biggest concern about tagging is that there is the understanding that tags never expire. Once a record is tagged for someone's to read list, it will stay there forever. The idea is that every record will accumulate enough "correct" tags that the signal will overcome the noise. But that's not necessarily going to happen [via]. Over time, tags clouds inevitably amount to a collection of very general words and we know, as librarians that searching for generalized words like 'history' create very large and useless search results.

All this criticism aside, I don't want to take away from the work that the University of Pennsylvania Library has done in creating a library catalogue with tags. For one, they've demonstrated that the temptation to 'deface' a library catalogue with junk tags is largely unrealized. Besides, I think they've created a better tagging service than Amazon and there are very few instances when one can say that of our library systems.