Understanding early adoption

I am currently in a discussion about following early adopters sparked from Kathryn Greenhill’s article. Unfortunately, after getting in on the discussion (not before), I decided to get a better understanding of what Everett Rogers was doing with his Diffusion of Innovations. I then realized that I was bandying about the “early adoption” phrase without having a clear understanding about how diffusion studies are done and what they represent.

A diffusion study looks at the adoption of a technology over time. Let’s call a sample technology “Tickle me Elmo” or TME to give it a high-tech-sounding acronym. The first thing you do is perform a “macro diffusion” study (Fichman, 1992). A macro diffusion study simply counts the number of people who adopt a technology over a particular time period. Everett and others discussed how this diffusion occurs in an S-curve. That is, adoption is slow at first (represented by a more flat curve at the beginning of the time period), then it hits a point where it takes off (represented by a steep curve mid-way), and then it tapers (represented by the curve going flat again).

In diffusion studies, the top of the curve represents 100% adoption of the technology. What percentage-based studies do not tell us is how many people that 100% represents. 6 billion? A few million? The point here is that:

The S-Curve measures adopters only, not non-adopters.

That means that some people do not even make it to “laggard.” Also, it means that the maximum possible adoption will vary from technology to technology. I have TME (but was a very late adopter), but I never had Hush Puppies or a hula hoop. I had Firefox early on, but I don’t have a hi-fi stereo with subwoofers or a large-screen television. Given this information, libraries ought to consider the possible capacity of a market as well as the modes of adoption when they look at new innovations and technologies.

The next thing diffusion experts do is take these “macro diffusion” studies and chop them up into statistical categories. To quants-oriented people, this means 2 and 3 standard deviations from the mean. So, early adopters are actually the name for those who, statistically, adopt a technology early, within 2 standard deviations of the mean adoption rate. Innovators are 3 standard deviations from the mean. What Rogers did was talk to these folks and he discovered that there were certain traits like financial standing and education level that could describe (in general) what an “early adopter” was like. So that brings a second point:

Early adoption is a generalization based on statistical data, not specific personality traits.

Personality traits do not make the early adopter. They merely coincide with early adoption. Just because someone is dynamic, leader-like, interesting or whatnot does not mean they will be an early adopter in all scenarios. This means libraries cannot rely on particular individuals as “early adopters” who will in turn predict the success or failure of a new technology. An early adopter is just that — someone who, for whatever reason, adopts a technology early.

So, the phrase “I am an early-adopter” is a bit of a misnomer. People are early adopters of some things and late adopters of others. Using early adoption as a predictor for a broader adoption is extrapolation, which has its validity problems. You can predict (with some accuracy) into the short term, but not the longer term or very long term.
This is because these studies are all “after the fact” studies. They happened in history, but that doesn’t mean they will happen in the future.

Another important point is that these studies only apply to the markets that were studied themselves. We cannot infer from the early adopters of one innovation that all early adopters of all technologies have these same traits.

And what can you say about innovations or ideas that came from the past? Yoga got adopted as a health benefit millenniums ago, yet the S-curve happened again in the 70s and again in the 2000s. Pilates was developed out of the tradition of yoga as well — so is it an innovation or and example “slow growth” conservative style?

And what does this mean to librarians? Well, in developing technology, it means you want to get the advice of people who have tried it. The person who tried a technology may be anyone from the organization. There are techies out there that do not have an iPod. You need to ask the early iPod user whether the tech will catch on (and why), not the person in the organization who generally likes to try new stuff. I was an early MUD gamer and chatter, but it took me a long time to get to Flickr. That’s not because I’m afraid of technology, but because I’m not that interested in photography (a prerequisite for people getting interested in a site that organizes photographs).

Also, in this paradigm it makes sense that we should talk not only to early adopters but also the innovators. The only caveat is that the early adopters are going to be more compelling in their arguments for the technology. Then, (surprise!) libraries have to make decision for themselves about the “stickiness” of the technology.

In the end, I guess my message is that the way to understanding the applicability of new technologies is to learn learn learn as an organization. That means you want to hire learners and help them learn as much as possible.  It means you also need to give everyone an opportunity to play with new innovations, if they have something they want to try.

The other thing I’d like to add is that innovativeness will have its cycles with individuals. There are some bugs that I caught as a youngster (like MUDs), that I now do not have (I have too many “first life” responsibilities to even consider a “second life).” But on the whole, I find I am adopting things earlier now than I did when I was younger. That’s because I have the financial resources to try out new toys. I’m also willing to bet that second lifers will be forced to change their behaviors as things like careers, marriages, children, family illnesses, declining physical fitness and other things come around (as they almost always do).

As I write this myself, I am more than happy to say that I will be taking a break from playing with technology to play some floor hockey with teens with Salvation Army volunteers. Long live adoption of old fun as well as new tech!  And long live personal growth for everyone!

Public Internet Access is Morally Wrong?

I was doing some research on the use of the internet recently, and I’ve decided to write a paper on the ethics of providing public access computers to the public by public libraries.

Clearly, looking at the issue from a strictly professional standpoint, one could easily say that access to the Internet is a core responsibility of libraries. However, my perspective, as I have consistently said in this blog, is that we have to look at library issues from a non-library perspective as well. My intention is to begin with the premise that providing public internet access is morally wrong and to work backwards from there.

When you look at the empirical data, it is absolutely scary how convincing the “Internet is evil” becomes. Some interesting factoids:

  • Those who are extroverted and/or have strong social networks tend to benefit from internet use while those who are introverted and without social networks tend to feel the negative effects of internet use the most (Kraut et. al, 2002).
  • Despite “Global village” claims, unmoderated teen chat rooms are full of negative racial interactions (Tynes, 2004).
  • 11% of youth 10-13 and 23.4% of youth 14-17 encounter solicitations of sex on the internet, with “troubled youth” being particularly vulnerable (Mitchell, Finkelhor, & Wolak, 2001).
  • Hyper-commercialism has some particularly nasty effects on the personal development of children, and many internet sites are clearly using the internet to disguise commercial content from desired information (Greenfield, 2004).

I haven’t even started in on such topics as Internet addiction, the “Happy Slapping” phenomenon and the whole Jason Fortuny affair.

One argument that libraries can use is the “individual responsibility” argument — that is, that the library is not ultimately responsible for the effects of the internet, since the people who use it have free will. Of course, your average drug dealer could say the same thing.

Since I’m in the fact-finding stage of my paper, I do not want to make a conclusion yet. I already have my beliefs and biases, but I want to see if the data will change my mind first. So far, this has been a great learning experience!

Works Cited
Greenfield, P. (2004). Developmental considerations for determining appropriate Internet use guidelines for children and adolescents. Applied Developmental Psychology 25: 751-762.

Kraut, R. et. al (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of social issues 58: 49-74.

Mitchell, K. J., Finkelhor, D. & Wolak, J. (2001). Risk factors for and impact of online sexual solicitation of youth. Journal of the American Medical Association 285: 3011-3014.

Tynes, B., Reynolds, L., & Greenfield, P. (2004). Adolescence, race, and ethnicity on the Internet: A comparison of discourse in monitored vs unmonitored chat rooms. Applied Developmental Psychology 25: 667-684.

Web 2.0 and Judgement — are we losing Science in all this tech?

I was working with a family member and I had the opportunity to be a librarian next to him/her.

The good or bad thing about being a librarian to a family member is that all that professional stuff goes out the window. This person did not enjoy a great reference interview, nor did they get a non-judgemental view of their information need. They got “Ryan” who is close to them and who has rights to tell them straight what he thinks about their reading. It’s not being a good librarian, but it is being a good family member.

So, this family member bragged to me about a tome that the scientist in me just couldn’t let go without a swipe. I want to be fair here, but let’s just say that the resource purports to have a scientific basis, but a closer inspection gives you the idea that the source is questionable at best.

And Ryan the librarian went to demonstrate the sketchyness of the source to said family member. The first strategy, though, was to find a half-decent review. The first weed-through were sources from URLs that would suggest bias in favor of the book. Kind of like if I was searching for a review of a book on the nutritional benefits of apples and could only find reviews from URLs like “applelovers.com” or “musteatapples.org.” These resources were predictably positive and not rigorous at all.

The second weed-through was the Web 2.0 level: basically, Amazon-ish type reviews. And my librarian alarm bells went off yet again. The reviews were also predictably positive, probably because the tome is the sort that would be read only by the community that accepts it. So, this led me to a primary concern about Web 2.0-ish stuff in general.

Web 2.0 means an emphasis on how one expresses the things that a community of practice already accepts or believes to be true.

Clearly, Web 2.0 wasn’t helping my family member in evaluating a resource that he/she was prepared to take quite seriously. All I had left was an analysis of the book itself. So, I searched for a bibliography. Yes! There was one! The book listed some pretty serious resources that could be found in PubMed for instance. That’s pretty impressive.

The author had a PhD as well. So there was something else in the credibility factor that raised the level of acceptance. Sort of.

But there were none. . . zero. . . nada clear references tying the information in the book to the bibliography in the back. I mean, if you are going through the trouble of research, it might be nice to state your articles in context, don’t you think? Or even just of few of them. A PhD should know this fairly well, too. The bibliography articles were also the sort that required context: they were generally esoteric, and the average reader would not be able to map through the bibliography for a clear understanding of what was going on.

An even further route, of course, would be to hit the hardcore databases for citations to the book, but that’s expensive and time consuming and not a very happy thing for a late night visit to a family member’s house.

So, in the end, I had a fairly difficult time warning my family member that he/she could be about to take a bunch of tripe at face value, when maybe — just maybe — I should have been able to find an honest and measured review of the book from a reasonably reliable third-party source. Not happening via Google that’s for sure.

But the big picture from my perspective — and admittedly, this may not be that different from the Web 1.0 scenario — is that we have a huge information source that targets the sources that agree with them. As a general rule, I find that blogs, and other web 2.0 technologies do tend to support rather than challenge views from peers. I also find that those who do challenge others’ views receive a level of ostracism in the online culture.

Blogging appears like dialog, but isn’t exactly. In many ways it is like a rigorous form of bathroom graffiti. The rewards and punishments are there, but they are diffuse compared to real in-person conversations. And the collaborations that occur are not the same. You can correct, even contradict yourself in a conversation as you and your co-speakers attempt to synthesize or negotiate your views. The blog doesn’t have that synthesizing quality. The contradictions are formal, and need to be declared outright.

On the other side of the coin, blogging lacks the kind of personal introspection that the writer of a full-scale book or journal article produces. And the blogger trend is not as scientific either. There are few bloggers out there making clearly falsifiable declarations and testing them out in the real world. Instinct and intuition are the rule, not systematic analysis.

All in all, these are serious questions about the consequences of Web 2.0. The answer, of course, is critical thinking. As I used to tell my Music 1000 students “Don’t tell me what you know. Tell me what you learned.” That is the blogger’s challenge. If bloggers are to be effective, we must fight through all that knowledge in our heads to come up with something we did not know, or would like to learn more about.

There’s a role here for librarians to support this challenge, I am sure.

The Book that I Wish People Would Read

One of my very favorite blogs is Creating Passionate Users. Recently,
Kathy Sierra has started a meme for National Book Month asking people to list the book that they wish everyone would read. So here are my entries:


1. Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs.

A very very smart person who unfortunately passed away recently. She looks at the basic problems humans have in ways both peculiar and wonderful. Really, anything by Jane Jacobs is great, but Dark Age Ahead is a book with practical solutions to some of the most pressing human issues in this world we have.


Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar H. Schein.

I particularly like the chapter about the assumption differences between Management and Information Technology.


Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

I think sometimes people are so action oriented that they miss the potential consequences that come out of their actions. This is a very humourous, slightly sardonic, and touching look at an American’s view of Africa and the tragic consequences that sometimes come out of an “action orientation.”

Ulysses by James Joyce.

Yes, I _am_ an English major and this book is not for everyone (or so everyone thinks). The first reason I chose this as a book is because it is a very rewarding accomplishment to have read Ulysses. Rewarding because it is a beautiful book. Accomplishment because it is long and complicated. The second reason I chose this is selfish. I want more people in the world with whom I could discuss it (and maybe read chapters in depth yet again).

Connecting Users to Networks — Web 2.0 and Reference Services?

When I was in my first year of Public Administration School at Dalhousie University, I met Marguerite Cassin, who is, perhaps, the smartest and wisest person I know (next to my wife).

Through Marguerite, I learned about Dorothy Smith and Institutional Ethnography (IE). Basically, IE is a path of inquiry that begins with individual experience and tries to map out the “texts” that exist between individuals and the institutions that control/impact/direct their lives. Most of the time when I explain this approach to people, I get a blank stare. But I really, truly, positively believe that at least thinking in an “IE way” can help with practical problems, and I have tested this out at a reference desk when I was doing my internship.

When people are doing hard-core research — and by “hard core” I mean they are looking for multiple resources and an in-depth understanding of a subject from as many angles as possible — I recommend a “research plan.” This plan is very simple and consists of three things:

  1. A brainstorm of possible search terms, perhaps with the aid of a cognitive map.
  2. Resources to use as grounding points (eg. encyclopedias, key journal articles etc.).
  3. A list of possible databases.

Number 1 is important because, if you want to access more than one resource, you may need to use different terms to get at the same information.

Number 2 is useful because it uses a “pedigree” approach to research (ie. you can steal citations from the most important articles in your research).

Number 3’s usefulness is obvious. Unfortunately, I find that this is the only route that people take to finding information. It is helpful sometimes, but other times it simply wastes large amounts of people’s time, especially if #1 hasn’t already been done.

As I stated before, Web 2.0 seems to imply new approaches to online knowledge seeking. Instead of searching for subjects, social softwares make it possible to access information through the people who know seem to know it. Ironically, we have learned that the “find a knowledgable person” approach is the favored approach in real life as well. Web 2.0 only brings that experience through a computer.

So, what does Web 2.0 imply about my three-step “research plan?” Well, here are some ideas.

Step 1: brainstorm possible search terms, perhaps with the aid of a cognitive map

The typical cognitive map used in this situation, is the infamous “thesaurus map” where individual topic words are extracted from a thesis, problem or research statement and broader, narrower and related terms are used to provide a broader (subject-oriented) context for the subject. For instance, a person with the topic “The impact of the cold war on international trade in Canada” might take the phrases “cold war” “international trade” and “canada” and brainstorm other words to go with them. For instance “cold war” might produce other words like U.S., U.S.S.R., communism, capitalism, international relations, Cuba Missile crisis and so on.

Through my association with Marguerite, I learned the Institutional Map approach. The thinking with the institutional map is a little bit different. Instead of words, you begin with an event and brainstorm the players involved in that event. So, you begin with (for example) the Cuban Missile Crisis and identify players related to that subject (Castro, Kennedy, US Department of Defense, Kruschev, etc.). Between these “players” are documents that connect them, for example, correspondences, official government documents, pamplets, policies and laws, minutes of meetings and so on.

With a more local area of information need, the “event” could be their own localized problem. For example, “I need to apply for Canadian citizenship.” Then you can make the institutions involved in that scenario, for instance, a department of Customs and Immigration, local citizenship groups, advocacy groups, and community leaders. Once you have these names, then you can use Google or Technorati to see who’s talking about them. Then the network approach begins. The person can connect, via RSS, the sorts of information that is important to them.

Step 2: Find Resources to use as grounding points (eg. encyclopedias, key journal articles etc.).

Ok. So you have the key resource for econometric analysis via the Granger Test. Why not Google the author and see if he/she has a blog, or better yet, Instant Messaging? Maybe this person has a Wikipedia account and adds/edits frequently. If he or she does, then you can begin the networking process from that resource. As librarians, shouldn’t we be offering this as a search strategy as well as the citation stealing? As Web 2.0 matures, it seems that the wealth of information will grow and grow through this strategy.

Step 3: list of possible databases.

There’s not much to add in this regard, except that we know now that databases offer RSS feeds for their searches. Also, there are a wide range of blogs and wikis that do nothing but pathfind to new an interesting journal articles. Perhaps libraries ought to highlight particular resources like this, or maybe even offer them as part of their services.

Web 2.0 impacts the way users access information; it should therefore impact the way libraries do reference work. I am sure there are a variety of search strategies besides the ones I suggested that could greatly improve the customer experience with doing research.

I also focussed on the “hard core” research experience, which is only a small part of the game. I bet there are other strategies out there to take on the task of bringing Web 2.0 power to our customers. One I can think of off the bat is a downloadable import of key blogs for basic reference. I know that snopes would definitely be on my list.

Networking Online — How to Develop Your Own Knowledge Community

During the Web 2.0 presentation, one of the big questions that came up was:

 Ok.  I understand that the web is changing constantly, and that the way people are accessing information is changing along with it.   I get that, instead of using subject headings, people are using online friends as access points to their information.

But how do I get access to the people who truly know about the things I need to know?  If I am not part of this game, how can I become part of it?  Where do I start?

I felt this was an extremely interesting question, because it is the barrier right now between the early adopters and the rest of the world.   The rest of the world sees Web 2.0 as something for a class of geeks — all of who know each other and share their information.  Web 2.0 people share with Web 2.0 people and learn really quickly, while those outside those circles get nowhere.

In a way, this is not different from the job market, or other areas of inquiry like amateur theatre, clubs and organizations and so on.   The answer, in brief, is “networking” — not computer networking as in cables, modems, routers and protocols, but simple people networking.  Somehow, to be a part of Web 2.0, you have to establish and develop your own network of people with common interests — or at least that’s the perception.

Well, I want to qualify this belief a little.   Even if a person is not a part of the Wikipedia “network” so to speak, does not mean they don’t benefit from Wikipedia.   The Wikipedia network will speak about policies, blocked pages, edit wars, NPOV and the like, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read about these and other things in the encyclopedia.

At the same time, there is this feeling as if you are “left out” of part of the world because you don’t know the basic acronyms, truncations, product names and the like.

So here are some tips and stories on how to build your own Web 2.0 network, based on my experience.

  • Find One Trustworthy Source as Your Starting Point

When I first thought about a tech stream, I knew that technologies were changing in very interesting ways.   For instance, I saw how Newgrounds used ratings and reviews to determine what would and would not “survive” on their flash portal.   However, I also knew that this was just the beginning, and I couldn’t just Google at random to learn more.  I needed a starting point.

In my case, the starting point was Meredith Farkas’ Information Wants to Be Free.   I found her by doing a search for what I later found were called RSS feeds in Yahoo.

  •  Steal from this Person’s Blogroll

A Blogroll is, just simply, a list of links to blogs that a blogger reads.   So, Meredith’s blogroll is the list of blogs that she reads.   She leaves it open for people to preview.   So I stole, and stole, and stole.From Meredith’s site, I found a wide range of other great librarians.   Jenny Levine, the Shifted Librarian was one of my second stops, and I think it was Jenny who forwarded me to other folks like Stephen Abrams, Michael Stephens, the ALA TechSource blog, and a whole lot of other blogs.   If you are reading this now, and have stolen the feeds from these blogs, I say you have plenty  to build your own library innovation in technology network.

  •  Find Trusted Organizations and See What They Say

I found out about one of my favorite blogs, BoingBoing by looking at who won the Webby Awards in the blog category.   I bet going to other organizations’ sites would find other relevant blogs.   For instance, through my local newspaper’s site, I learned that the Government of Nova Scotia had an RSS feed page for their press releases.

  • Meet the People whose Blogs you Read in other formats

This is just a motivational factor, but when you see a person face-to-face, you get a more personal feeling behind reading their blog.   I met Jenny Levine, Michael Stephens and Stephen Abrams at the OLA Superconference in Toronto, which means I can imagine their voices and quoibles (like Michael Stephens’ penchant for saying “hot”) while I read the blog.

I also took an online course from David Lee King, which helped me get be more motivated to follow what he says about websites and the like.   It also made me cheer that much louder when I saw this.

  • Get Into Internet Messaging (IM)

I thought I was going to bug people by IM-ing them.   Well, so far I have IM’d Michael Stephen, Jenny Levine, David Lee King and Meredith Farkas and they were all great to chat with.   They really helped me get my mind around a few problems I encountered here and there and they didn’t appear bugged at all.  Honestly!

Besides these folks, you could always go to the Library Success Wiki’s Librarians Who IM page to see the IDs of people who are willing to chat with you.

  • Try Blogging Yourself

I use WordPress (obviously) and I get to see how many people visit my blog, what they search to find it and so on.   More importantly, I see who links to me and refers to what I say.   This means I can see people who at least have an interest in what I say (even if they disagree with me).    That way, I can see what they have to say, comment on their posts and so on.   So blogging does give you access to other who blog, which can help you build your network as well.

These are some suggestions to gain an online network for professional development purposes.   Another concern came from how to help people on the reference/reader’s advisory desk with these in mind.   If the way to search the web is to find contacts and people, how can you find a trustworthy blogger for such topics as “Sundial making” or “Advanced Knitting.”

I think I’ll approach that topic later on in another post.

Striving for ”’Library 2.0′ Presentation 2.0″

Thanks to wonderful, wonderful Community Access Program, MPOW was able to secure a number of laptop labs, which — and I kid you not — looks very close to this example of “Library Cart 2.0,” except it is lockable and can host as many as 15 laptops for instructional sessions. The Spring Garden Road Library is using this lab alot to help people (mostly seniors) get the basics of technology and support literacy and ESL programming. The other advantage of this lab is that it can travel for outreach purposes or presentations. All we need is an internet connection (preferably a wireless one).

Well, as said before, Kelli Wooshue and I conducted a program that we called Experience the Web — Computers and Communities at the NSLA conference. The feedback we received was all positive, although I would like to see what the evalutations said. There were a few technical glitches. Authenticating the wireless for 10 laptops was a little challenging and I didn’t know that the code we were to use expired after 24 hours. And, of course, 24 hours was up in the middle of our presentation.

Kelli did an amazing and brief presentation on web 2.0 and library 2.0. The important thing in this session is that we did not want to advocate. We simply wanted to have people try the technologies out and make their own decisions about whether the tech bug was for them. My sense was that most believed it was — at least to some degree. At the end I emphasized my belief in self-paced learning. I don’t think people have to know everything all the time, but they should become aware of those tools that are a) useful to them and b) useful to their customers.

Fortunately, Kelli and I had great volunteers in Emmanuel, Vaiva, Ron and Lara and things ran smoothly despite the little burps and churps that occurred.

To make things a bit more comfortable for people, we tried to add as much color and pizazz to the setup as possible. We used different color bristol boards to identify the different technologies and lollipops moved people from technology 1 to technology 2. We added other things like glitter glue and popsicle sticks, but that idea didn’t catch on very well. The idea of coloring on paper and being around a laptop didn’t seem to go together. I wonder why? It could be that I didn’t encourage it enough. Or it was enough struggle to get familiar with the interfaces that playing with the other stuff was more a distraction than a support. I think I’d try offer toys again though and encourage that creative process more — especially if we were given more time to conduct the workshop.

A participant asked me if I would be willing to do this same presentation to a school or school board. I am excited about this, because I think there is opportunity here to do outreach in this regard. In my view, advocating Web 2.0 on the web, or even to librarians is only half the story. Librarians ought to be demonstrating this new way of using technology to learn, engage, inform, cite, design and collaborate is something that everyone should know something about and I am not sure that this is happening in the grand scheme of things.