Archive | September, 2007

The Real Pangs of Librarian 2.0

25 Sep

Michelle Boule recently responded to my Librarian 2.0 / Library 2.0 post with a response of her own. In it she writes:

“I thought the post was going to be about how we have produced a larger number of 2.0 Librarians, but sadly, very few 2.0 Libraries.”

I was surprised, because what she wrote there was pretty much what I thought I wrote, except maybe take out the “sadly” part. I took a look at 3 basic indicators of a 2.0 library — comments and tags in the catalogue, gaming permitted and the use of social softwares and commented on how we are doing with the three, but concluded that, ultimately, the change has happened in librarians more than it has in libraries. Perhaps I was too kind on libraries for not making change happen quickly enough.

Michelle believes that 2.0 librarians in 1.0 libraries are frustrated at the rate of change in libraries. She thinks, ultimately, that 2.0 librarians will move elsewhere to places where innovation is encouraged more. I think there is some merit in what she says. I do think librarians will move to where the good libraries are.  In general.  Sort of.

In specific, where I see 1.0-ness in MPOW as almost solely my own responsibility. Somehow,  I didn’t work hard enough, plan well enough or speak convincingly enough to make the change happen.

I cannot make a 2.0 library without each and every last staff person coming along with me — and that includes the very ludditest of luddite 1.0 librarians. Whereas some are calling for radical change, I am willing to work with steady forward progress. Why? Well here are some good reasons:

I could be bored to death waiting for a Second Life patron to visit our Second Life Library

I have been on Second Life three times recently at different times of the day and all three times, no one was there. Not librarians. Not anyone. Right now, the supply of Second Life libraries far exceeds the demand. In fact, I see the area as totally confusing right now with libraries from just about everywhere crowding a space where one library would suffice.

I have never done any creation on SL, nor do I fully understand how the process works, but what I am really looking for — librarians & library-interested patrons — are just not there.   I am really happy not have to choose between staffing a service that is bringing little value to my users, or worse, worrying that a my MPOW’s name is out there in a ghostland.

So, the truth is, maybe people ought to lay off the Second Life thing and let the libraries that are there currently gather a patron base.   That could happen — I see the potential of Second Life — but I’m more than happy to have gone slow in this instance.

I could have a totally RSS’d up website that users hate

I love RSS.   I think the model of library service that RSS enables is great too — get the library news where you get your local news.    I have seen examples of websites that are high on RSS and very very low on usability.   In order to use an RSS feed, people need to find the RSS feed.   Finding the RSS feed takes architecture and architecture takes time.

Although unscientific, here is some data I have that might suggest the predominance of RSS with librarians.   And, frankly, I bet this data is amplified for the rest of the world.

When a popular blog like, LISNews, Information Wants to be Free, Library Stuff or Librarian in Black links to me, I can see my stats go from an average of 50-100 hits per day (might be more now) to about 250-350 for the duration that the post is interesting.     My guess is that these are folks who are subscribed to these blogs’ RSS feeds and find their way to me.

Last week, the ALA e-Newsletter put a link to my blog for the “Under the Hood” post.   My stats had a full two days of 800+ posts and I’m still ranging in the 400+ range.   In short, email is still the major mode of information access — for librarians and regular public.   RSS will grow, but for now, it is absolutely on the margins of information access points.

I could put out big promises in an arena where we cannot meet expectations.

Our customers expect us to know everything about technology.    We do not.   If we put out a service, people will expect us to be able to help them get at it.   If they cannot, they will ask us for help.   If, when they ask us for help, and staff go “Flickr, who?” we look absolutely dumb.   That is why I keep on harping on the training benefits of something like Learning 2.0.

I could be evil.

More than one person pointed this out, but Web 2.0 doesn’t really address the digital divide in specific terms.   Putting out services that benefit a few, high-tech oriented users at the cost (however minimal) of services that may directly resolve serious community needs is evil.  We can’t call ourselves professionals unless we put time and thought into ethics of a new service.

Process Matters.

In the end, I guess librarian 2.0 has to ask his or herself “is this resistance to change flat-out stubbornness or due process?”   If its the former, than I think Michelle is right — we are going to see people moving away from the laggard libraries and fighting for jobs in the innovative (and probably resource rich) libraries.

If it’s the latter, I think librarian 2.0 needs to hold on for a moment and look at how to move forward.    Some people feel as if they hit a brick wall when the bureaucracy gets heavy.   But sometimes the wall is there for good reason.    The good news is that the wall does not always have to come down to make change happen.  Scaling the wall is sometimes just as good.  The important thing is to think your way through the problem and focus less on a “golden age” of library 2.0 and more on the next positive step in that direction.

Sometimes gradual is better; sometimes gradual is faster.


I agree that it is frustrating that Librarian 2.0 is happening faster than Library 2.0.   Sometimes lack of change happens because of stubborn staff, lack of leadership, or literal suppression by the environment (ie. resistance happening external to the library).  This is where librarian 2.0 needs to consider looking elsewhere to be the librarian she/he always wanted to be.

Other times, lack of change is just imminent but slow change.   This is where librarian 2.0 needs to look even deeper into the culture of his/her POW and see where, precisely, the change can take root.  Here are some suggested questions:

  • Who are the people that make things happen in the organization?   Focus on these people first.   Hint:  It’s not always the person with the highest salary.
  • What are the basic assumptions that people make when they think of service?  Try to translate the current change in terms of those assumptions if it is possible to do so.
  • What are the benefits of what you are proposing?   What’s the best way to illustrate these benefits?
  • Stay focussed on the problem and illustrate your Library 2.0 idea as one alternative solution to the problem.    If your resistor kindly agrees that “yes, we really need a way to access non-users,” than it will get harder and harder to say “no” as you repeatedly illustrate how (say) RSS can do the job with little-to-know cost.   It will be particularly hard when the resistor has no ideas flowing his/herself.
  • Keep moving forward and be persistent.
  • Sometimes the smallest opportunity opens alot of doors to new thinking.  Be on the lookout.

Library 2.0 will happen (though it may not be called Library 2.0 by the time we get there), so long as librarians 2.0 continue moving forward, however slowly.   Frustration is fine so long as it remains an emotion and does not fester into a way of life.   No one will benefit from an upgrade to frustration 1.0.

A Late-Comer but More on Surveys

18 Sep

A little ways back, Meredith Farkas ran an article called “What Makes a Blog Successful?”

In it, she started a survey asking people to offer their three favorite blogs.

I love this idea just so long as Meredith reserves spot #22 on it for me. :) Please Meredith? Think of it as the 13th floor at a hotel. I know all that stuff about validity and all, but there’s a principle involved here.

A few points about measuring blogs from my view:

  • Subscriptions are a hard thing. I may subscribe to a blog simply because I can read through it easily in my aggregator. Library Stuff is a good example — a perfectly RSS-able blog. Other blogs I won’t subscribe to or visit often because I want to pay some attention to the writing. Katherine Schneider, Dorothea Salo and Walt Crawford are good examples.
  • I am definitely a critic of the OED survey (except for the me being #22 part), but I will say this. If you do not have any library blogs in your aggregator, that survey offers a decent cross-section of blog-types. In my view, an aggregator should have at least one of the following:
    1. A “Cool Look at This” blog, like Librarian in Black, Library Stuff, Stephen’s Lighthouse and a whole whack of link-based blogs flying around.
    2. A “Holy Mokers this Might be Close to Scientific” library blog.    Info Tangle by Elyssa Kroski probably fits into this category.  Walt Crawford is probably another one.
    3. A “OMG I can’t believe he/she just SAID THAT (if only I said it first)!” blog.   Caveat Lector and Free Range Librarian are my categories for this.
    4. A OMG ROTFLWMPLFOMHTGFLT (o my god rolling on the floor laughing while my personal library falls on my head thank goodness for library thing) blog. Add Annoyed Librarian and Library Man Michael Porter to that list.
    5. A “CHANGE DAMMIT!” blog. Tame the Web, anyone?  David Lee King, Helene Blowers and Emily Clasper probably fit into this category too.
    6. Then there are the blogs that are great simply because they have personality.   It’s not so much what is said [which is mostly good], or even how its said [which is usually good too], but there’s a hipness to the way these folks blog.  The key blogs here are Information Wants to be Free (Meredith Farkas) and Librarian.Net (Jessamyn West).  These folks have serious blog charisma.   Maybe its a Vermont thing.
    7. [ . . . ]

    22.   The Other Librarian. :)     I don’t care about the rest of you, #22 is mine.   It’s even more significant if you are into Numerology.    See, it’s especially cool, because my life path number is 11, which is also a “master number.”   Consider this: if you read the Other Librarian, you will be fulfilled spiritually (maybe only because I am good for the occasional laugh, but if that’s the case, I’ll take it).

“Slap Some of This Powder on your Face, Paula Ryan” and More Media Baloney

14 Sep

I’m in a bad mood lately about mainstream media. Here are some examples:

1. The Appalling video about Paula Ryan giving advice to librarians about how to dress.

A couple of points:

  • The dowdy librarian is nowhere close to my reality, where I see a wide group of well-groomed, smartly dressed and professional looking librarians around me all the time. I would even describe some of them as fashionistas. Of course, calling a fashionista on to complain about the presentation wouldn’t have drawn the same controversy.
  • We do “judge a book by its cover?” Hell right. Paula, you look like a shallow retail clerk with a fear of aging. I’m sure your advertisers appreciate your message about planning appearance, largely because that planning inevitably means buying new clothes, make-up, shampoos, cosmetics and the like.
  • I didn’t see a single man in the video, except for the one in the frock.
  • The comments on the video are even more narrow-minded and disgusting. Not a single one of those folk, Paul Ryan included could handle one day in the shoes of a public librarian.

2. BBC News article on how “Facebook costs business dearly”

A couple of points:

  • I’ve said it before, productivity can be increase a wide number of ways, not just by removing distractions.
  • In Canada, it’s lack of innovation, not effort, that’s costing us in productivity.
  • Want to find the actual survey data? It’s certainly not easily findable on the web. This raises quite a few questions about public accountability and consultancy. How can a group send a press release out that basically accuses the population of sloth, yet not make any smidgeon of their research reasonably findable so the public can defend itself? Shame on Penninsula-UK and worse, shame on the BBC for airing that story. I talked about this in the last episode of Uncontrolled Vocabulary (in case you are wondering, I said “Ooops” to test that I still had voice available, even though I didn’t have audio).
  • I suppose it should not be a surprise that I went to the Penninsula site after seeing the article. I bet that story brought them lots of attention, and maybe even more business.

Remember the Milk — Web 2.0 Task Master

14 Sep

Something interesting to try is “Remember the Milk.”   It is similar to alot of calendar task tools, with some very interesting approaches to keeping you abreast of what needs to be done.

While it has nothing to do with the actual functioning of the site, I really like how the registration screen uses ajax to confirm that your data (eg. email) is valid while you are typing it in, and then gives you a checkmark when it is complete to satisfaction.    That kind of detail to improve user experience is pretty symptomatic of what the rest of the service will be like.

I also see quite a bit of sharing — Google Maps for locations, iCalendar compatibility, Google Gears compatibility so you can continue to get your tasks offline, you can add tasks and receive notices via Twitter and lots more.

There are a wide range of features as well — tagging, shared tasks and so on.   I think its a worthwhile product to try.

Facebook and Rapport

10 Sep

Facebook appears to be the latest and best thing in the World Wide Web right now. This poses a challenge to libraries.   For instance, while many libraries are exploring library search applications, others are concerned that students do not want their librarians in their social space.

While some critics will tell you that Library 2.0 is no different from previous service models, others will say that services like Facebook pose a problem largely because of library culture. I concur with the latter view, not because I think Library 2.0 strategies are always better, but because Library 2.0 strategies require librarians to unlearn certain things in order to be truly effective.

Ok. So let me start with the Facebook library search application. It is fine, but my opinion is that few people besides librarians are going to add the applications to their profiles. The technology is Web 2.0, but the strategy is still Library 1.0. Why? Because the model is still, “I am librarian. I can help. Come to me (ie. my Facebook page) and I will serve.” The applications, though offering marginally better service for little cost, are not taking advantage of what Facebook offers its clients.

A Facebook application should be something your average person wants to show their friends. The most obvious application, therefore, is something that shows the books you enjoy reading. Unfortunately, Books iRead already beat us to that punch. But thinking in a Facebook way requires some innovation — we need to give something with which the user will identify. Off the top of my head, how about an application that provides a cartoony-like character that identifies the user as a certain kind of geek, according to a specific discipline? Then, the cartoon offers a series of articles, books and websites that display the geeky interest? For instance, an Anthro geek would have a series of citations related to Anthropology. This avenue is cheekier, more likely to be applied to a user’s page, and, in the end, a totally foreign approach to service for librarians.   Another possibility is to offer people a Dewey or LC code — though you might get into trouble for that.

Consider this a challenge, but I’d be surprised to see a library come up with anything comparable to these ideas in the near future. Given time, some developer may steal these ideas though (or something like them) — in fact, similar applications  may exist already. A library would be concerned about its “professional” image; a developer would just make it happen — assuming the idea is feasible and sound. A librarian-entrepreneur might make it happen outside of the confines of their library, but I’ve already discussed that issue.

I do not intend this to be another slight on “non-hip” or “change resisting” librarians. This is library culture. It is the stuff that has helped us survive for decades or even longer. But it is not a library 2.0 strategy. I am not convinced that a Library 2.0 strategy is necessarily what we ought to be doing, but what we are pretending is library 2.0 is actually not very.

Facebook, Librarians and Culture

In the end, the reason students will say they do not want to see librarians and educators on Facebook is that the culture of Libraries clashes with the culture of Facebook. If we approach Facebook using our typical library assumptions and with little awareness of typical Facebook assumptions, we will be intruders on the Facebook territory. If we can establish rapport with the Facebook community, we will matter to them.

Culture is important to any community interaction, and Facebook is a complex web of community interaction. I have a Facebook profile. It would be fairly difficult to understand which friends are important to me. Some “friends” are actually “friends” in my world. Others are merely people I’ve encountered in my travels through life. Some are old high school buddies I’m keeping track of. Others are just people who “friended” me and I was too polite to just say “leave me alone.”

That said, to say that Facebook does not have a culture would be wrong. Here are some basic Facebook traits based on my own observations.

  • The Facebook model affirms extroversion. Even if you are the sort to have only a few good friends in your life, that attitude will not get you far on Facebook. How can you tell? Well, look at how the Facebook application assumes you want more friends. Not only that — it assumes that your friends want the same Facebook applications.   It even assumes that when you remove a relationship detail on your profile, it’s because of a breakup.
  • Unlike MySpace, the Facebook model tries to set itself apart from the World Wide Web. The goal is not to be “out there” but “in here” — “here” being Facebook itself. Evidence? Look at the login screen — very plain, divulging very little about what’s going on inside. Apparently this is changing somewhat, but the fact that this is considered a change tells you that the assumption exists.
  • Facebook assumes that its users want their attention diverted. “Poke” exists for no other reason than to divert your attention to your friends. A good number of Facebook applications are actually advanced “poking” utilities. For instance there is “superpoke” which lets you slap instead of poke. There are also Pirate and Jedi related pokes for people to play around with.

For libraries to engage Facebook requires rapport. Establishing such a rapport takes at least four things.

  1. Understand the culture of the Facebook universe (covered in part above)
  2. Understand the bits of the Facebook universe that clash with library culture. For instance, Facebook wants the World Wide Web to be “outside” Facebook; libraries want to try and bring such resources “in.”
  3. Use cross-cultural communication techniques to put the library message/service on the same wavelength as Facebook.
  4. Do the above without sacrificing the things that make libraries unique and important.

In more specific terms, though — when engaging a service on Facebook libraries should:

  • Aim toward extroversion — the goal is not only to be friendly, and approachable, but inquisitive — chatty even. Banter is what Facebook is all about. You need to ask people questions and understand what it is they like. You also need to ask yourself, “how is a library search box extroverted?”
  • Consider that your staff are probably already out there on your behalf. For instance, a Halifax Public Libraries group already exists and a number of staff are connected already.
  • Pay close attention to the Terms of Use on Facebook. You do not want to find your applications turned off and rejected because they apply principles foreign to the service. Steve Lawson noticed a sudden scare when the first library applications for Facebook came out.
  • Applications are bits of information that you want Facebook users to put on their profiles. To put something on my profile, I want to identify with it and/or I want my friends to know I identify with it.
  • Be fun — Banks don’t offer loans on Facebook (yet). Accountants don’t do your taxes on Facebook (yet). If you have a Facebook strategy, it has to be a relatively non-business-like strategy.

Under the Hood of Web 2.0 : the top ten programming concepts for librarians to understand

6 Sep

So, you “get” the Library 2.0 thing, and you’ve been through the 23 things. You are up-to-date on web services like blogs wikis and the like. You even know a bit of html. But you feel there is something missing in your understanding of Web 2.0. You do not want to get into programming your own web service, but you are the sort who liked those field trips you took at the local print shop. You want to see what’s under the hood of a Web 2.0 service so you can understand what all this stuff is really about. You saw The Machine is Us/ing Us and it got you part of the way there, but it seemed a little too dumbed-down for you. You want to *really* look under the hood of web services.

That said, your mind doesn’t work like a programmer. You are not going to be coding in PHP any time soon. You don’t like manipulating variables and handling loops and all those other weird systems-oriented stuff that the big O’Reilly books tell you about. And when you are honest with yourself, you understand that you will probably always choose television over web development.

The question you have in your mind is “Will I understand what is happening with emerging trends better if I understand more about programming.” My answer to this question is “yes.” But you do not have to learn how to program to understand about programming. Most programming concepts are fairly benign — the devil is always in the details. The good news is that Google and Wikipedia are chock full of good information about most technology. The bad news is that the language techies use to describe what they do is shaded in three-letter-acronyms, technical jargon and obscure references to text-based adventure games. It’s as if they do not want you to know what they are talking about.

Well, I decided to come up with 10 programming concepts that could help you get a better understanding of what brings Web 2.0 about. That way, you don’t have to cover a lot of ground that may not matter to you. I wouldn’t exactly call this mandatory reading, but it is meaningful, trust me. On the other hand, you’ll have to accept some jargon at the same time — so this is not exactly beginner stuff. Either way, you’ll benefit from Googling at least one or two of these concepts, I guarantee it.

So here it is. 10 programming concepts that would benefit a librarian who spent five minutes reading about them.

  • Object-oriented Programming (OOP)

In a nutshell: Creating code that can be re-used in multiple programs.

Why it matters: OOP marked an important change in computing and is probably the main reason you are using a mouse instead of text-based commands. Back when I had my Commodore 64, I was taught to create programs in linear fashion. Do this. Do that. If this is the case, then do that — otherwise do something else. Programs had numbers to show the modus operandi (ahem — notice how, er MARC still uses numbers?).

OOP is different. Instead of “do this, do that,” I create an object. I say “here is a cat. It has whiskers, and fur and a tail. It does some funny things like meow and scratch and puke furballs.” Then I can put that cat into my old-fashioned programs. I can call my cat George. George has long whiskers, blue fur and a bushy tail. He meows when he sees food and scratches when you pull his tail. That’s neat. Except, the real trick is that other programmers can make their own cats too with their own names, shapes and behaviors.

But that’s not all either. Set up a form and you can make it so that your users can create cats too. Aha! Now you know why OOP connects to library 2.0. OOP has been around for a while, but it is the kind of coding practice that makes open source and user-driven products possible.

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : Any good programming book will have a chapter on OOP.

  • Client-side scripting (AJAX)

In a nutshell: Client-side scripting means Javascript. Javascript is code that makes things happen by giving instructions to a user’s (or “client’s”) browser (like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox). The major advantage to javascript is that it doesn’t require page reloading.

Why it matters: AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML) is the major driver behind alot of Web 2.0 services. The key to AJAX is that it loads up XML data from some server, then it uses that data while the user interacts with the page. Jazzed-up RSS feeds is one result of AJAX. Another common AJAX service is a “suggestion” service for searches. Meebo uses AJAX to provide online Internet Messaging via the web. Though often criticized for being too slow, AJAX can also be used for online gaming.

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : I like this article by PC Magazine.

  • Relational Database

In a nutshell: Have you ever used a spreadsheet and wished you could take the cells of a particular column and break it into further columns? A relational database makes that sort of thing possible — except it does it through a series of tables that are interconnected (related) which are later accessed through something called a query (a search).

Why it matters: I think most library school students are learning about relational databases in their MLIS classes, but it is important enough that it deserves mention. When David Weinberger speaks about everything being miscellaneous, he is really affirming the value of the relational database. Because the relational database uses relationships instead of a tree-style taxonomy, it reduces needless repetition of data and opens the door to unforseen connections between different sets of data. The many-to-many relationship, in particular, really makes the prospect of mashing up huge masses of data from projects like Wikipedia in “god” databases like Freebase a possibility (while relational databases have been around for a long time, they have become fast and big enough now to handle huge amounts of data quickly).

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? Hopefully library school taught you about relational databases. If not, you might want to play with a GUI(graphical)-style database product like Access. (For geeks: Yes, I know MySQL pwns Access, but I’m talking about using it to learn what a relational database is).

  • Server-side scripting (PHP, Perl, Java, Ruby etc.)

In a nutshell: Server side scripts give instructions to the computer (the server) that hosts a webpage, instead of using a browser on the user’s desktop. Server side scripts are usually faster than client side ones, and most AJAX programming requires at least some server-side scripts.

Why it matters: It matters mostly for the same reasons that AJAX matters. Server side scripts make the major of the web happen. What has happened is that scripts like PHP are becoming more easy for the neophyte programmer to understand (PHP uses natural language alot) and are therefore creating an environment where alot more people are coding. Another thing that many people do not realize is that when you “view source” on a webpage, most frequently it is not a “page” of html that you are seeing, but code that is “outputted” by a server-side script like PHP.

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : Pick up a book on Java or PHP. Or go for the W3 Schools tutorials.

  • Http Protocol

In a nutshell: These are the rules for transferring information on the internet.

Why it matters: I’m not sure how much this does really matter. I guess I just think librarians should have a little more in-depth knowledge about how computers talk to each other.

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : The James Marshall Tutorial is a classic.

  • Open Source Software (OSS)

In a nutshell: Software that is released without protections that prevent users from viewing the “source code” of the product, and with licenses that encourage users (within certain boundaries) to distribute the product freely and change the product to their own needs.

Why it matters: If websites were all hosting using expensive proprietary software, you would never see the kind of boom in internet services that you see now. All of the client-side products I have mentioned are open source. But it’s not just that the products are free — it’s that communities have built themselves around the development of these open source products. And many open source products have built themselves into Web 2.0 services. Take WordPress, for instance. See, when you have huge communities working together, they need advanced services that promote collaboration. Look at the documentation for any open source product (how about Drupal?) and you are almost certain to find a wiki hanging around somewhere.

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : The Open Source Initiative is a good resource.

  • The Document Object Model (DOM)

In a nutshell: Basically the DOM is the rules for retrieving data from XML or html documents. AJAX uses the html object model to make its magic happen, and other scripts use the DOM to extract information from RSS feeds.

Why it matters: XML is kind of like the universal solvent for data. If two services do not play well together, you always have XML to fall back on. Even so, XML is about taxonomies which is at the core of the library profession. We should be aware of how our taxonomies are turned into web interfaces, if only in a superficial way.

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : I think the W3 schools covers the DOM fairly well. There is a separate tutorial on the html DOM (same principles, just a tad different approach).

  • Encryption and Digital Rights Management (DRM)

In a nutshell: Encryption is nothing new. You have information; you have a code to represent that information; you have a key or solution that will turn one into the other. Maybe you need to look at encryption tools like MD5, or SSL but in the end it’s all still like the Little Orphan Annie Ovaltine-Advertising decoder ring from A Christmas Story. DRM uses encryption to prevent users from breaking copyright on their products (software, DVDs, CDs, e-books etc.).
Why it matters: Copyright and DRM is the real battlefield of the Web 2.0 movement. Many Web 2.0 folks are outspoken about such products, saying that they put needless restrictions on paying customers. Others steadfastly argue that DRM is necessary to keep people from stealing their intellectual property. You oughta know about this stuff, because where the chips fall will say alot about the future of the Web and the business of business in general.

How can you learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : Cory Doctorow is a good source. Though he obviously sits to one side of the issue, Cory always points out the cases where the bad guys (to him) are making their arguments.

  • Platforms

In a nutshell: All computer software requires a platform to make the things you do on the key board and mouse make sense to a computer. Windows is a platform. So is Linux.

Why it matters: In the end, the platform you use will dictate in the end how the software will perform. That said, there are three more reasons why I added this to the list. 1) One of the tenets of Web 2.0 is that of the “Web as platform.” Basically, this means that what can be done on Windows can be done on the web. If you look at Google Documents, you will get an idea of what this means. 2) I always think its good to remind people that Windows is just one of many possible platforms that people can use to make software work. 3) Platforms are changing. The battle of platforms continues onto handheld devices, and both the iPhone and the upcoming “Surface Computer” appear to be offering widely different platforms for the future.

How you can learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : Try linux out. Or a Mac.

  • Stylesheets (CSS & XSLT)

In a nutshell: Let’s say someone offers to do dishes for you, but after every plate he cleans, he asks you where it goes. Annoying, right? You want all plates to go in the same spot, right? A cascading stylesheet (CSS) is a way for a programmer to say “ok. All headers are going to be green, 12 point Times New Roman font.” An XSLT stylesheet is a way for a programmer to say “ok. all data with “this” tag is going to appear at the top of the page. Either way, you are looking at the rules for style being separated from the rules for content.

Why it matters: Stylesheets are behind any service that lets you change the “skin” of the webpage you view. It is also behind all the fancy templates that WordPress and other services offer. If you are a Horizon user, you may want to know that the current Horizon Information Portal uses XSLT stylesheets to display the available data.

How you can learn more (besides Wikipedia)? : Back to the W3 Schools.

That’s it. Just a challenge for you to brush up on your technology if you so desire. I don’t think it’s mandatory to learn this stuff, but taking a bit of time to familiarize yourself with these concepts does help make some extra sense about where the web, and a whole whack of other IT services are going in the future.

UPDATE: Nicolas Morin has a nice response to the list. He suggests adding Unix, SQL, Apache (and web servers) and the notion of API to the list. He is also curious about the order I put them in. Responses below:

The order: no real priorities there. The list was intended as a grab bag of things to look through.

I’m inclined to think Unix and Apache are the sort of things you can leave to systems people. If you are installing products on your lonesome, maybe you want to learn more about these.

SQL falls under “relational database” — it’d be nice if librarians knew more SQL, but I think it’s too much like programming. Suffice it to say that you need to give instructions to a computer to tell it how to search, store & organize your data. This is called a “query.” SQL is the language to do that. For most people I know, SQL is intimidating. I don’t want the list to be intimidating — learn what a relational database is first, then if you get enthusiastic, go for SQL.

API goes along with “Object oriented programming” although, I agree it’s a pretty big miss there. Using my analogy above, once you’ve created your cats, you can give people the list of things the cat will do. That list is the API. Once you share an API, people can do all kinds of wonderful things with your cat. Maybe even mash it up with a dog. Then you can see the fur fly! :)

He suggests replacing DOM with XML. Probably a good suggestion, although I find most tutorials on XML talk about syntax more than they explain why you would use it. DOM explains a bit more about the structure of an XML document and how you might extract data from it. It’s pretty much 6 of one, 1/2 a dozen of the other.

He also suggests taking out encryption and platforms. For one, Unix is a platform, so that’s why I put it in. I wanted to avoid the typical geeky acronyms and products names out as much as possible. Also, as I said before, I think platforms are going to change in the near future. This is a heads up.

Encryption is there mostly because DRM is such a big issue these days. Also, if we are helping clients evaluate good websites, we ought to know a little more about how secure sites work. There are other, more mind-blowing things that are interesting about encryption as well. Some of it is covered in a couple of great books I’m reading: The Man Who Knew Too Much (biography of Alan Turing, the man who invented the computer) and Decoding the Universe (about information theory).

I’m #22!

4 Sep

I was absolutely astonished to discover that I am #22 on the Online Education Database‘s list of the top 25 bloggers. All grains of salt are required about the numbers. A bunch of blogs were not included in the study that could easily kick my pagerank backside. To name four: Information Wants to be Free (Meredith Farkas), LibraryBytes (Helene Blowers), Library Stuff (Steven Cohen) and Caveat Lector (Dorothea Salo).

The things that gave me a lead, I think, were 1) I have a relatively high page rank. I do not know why this is the case. and 2) Somehow I got a point in the Alexa ranking, which many blogs did not have.

Like all things rank-based, once you get down below #20, only the tiniest little advantage over the other blogs can bring you to the top of the heap. In fact, I think you can pick any of the blogs from the list and get a good read.

That said, if you think I’m going to take any of this data into perspective and shut up about the ranking, you are totally and emphatically wrong. :):)

I’m #22!

I’m #22!

I’m #22!


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