A Few Things I’m Noticing While I Twitter

I cannot say that I am completely convinced Twitter has specific library applications, it does have very excellent librarian applications. I can attest to this, as a librarian who loves using Twitter. Like regular blogging, microblogging is most effective when there is an individual you appreciate behind the wysiwyg.

That does not mean people do not have interesting ideas about how it could be used. And certainly, some libraries are using it. Still, as I’ve said about the Facebook universe, I strongly feel that we need to come up with tidy, professional-looking ways of using the technology before we deem it important. I am not putting libraries using Twitter down — in fact, I think they are laying the foundations for the future of the service. I also believe that innovation comes from doing, rather than conjecturing. However, we need an empirical understanding of what Twitter is, how it can be most effectively applied to libraries, and, most importantly, we need to have an honest look at what real success is in this realm.

So here are the things I notice about the Twitterverse, as an experienced user and some thoughts about why these things matter to libraries.

  • I ignore most promotions of all kinds.

Description: I had a few “friends” that do little more than send me links of promotions. The only exception to this rule so far is LISNews, but there are two mitigating factors 1) Blake “friended” me first and 2) I still see the Twitter link as Blake letting me know what’s going on, not as a promotion for the LISNews blog. Even so, what I see in links from LISNews in my Twitter account, I more commonly read from Google Reader anyway.

What Libraries Should Think About: Promotion appears to be the main purpose for libraries using Twitter, but mere promotions of programs are not going to be that successful in the end. If you are going to promote via Twitter, there’s got to be some social goodness there. It has to be fun; it has to be unique; it has to bring more value to me than my tick is bringing to your quantitative success measure.

  • I’m mostly using it from a browser.

Description: Jeremiah Owyang confirmed this a little more empirically. I mostly view Twitter from a website. Sidebars and cellphones don’t cut it for me right yet.

What Libraries Should Think About: Dreaming about accessing the mobile market through twitter is probably a bit optimistic right now. You may get some, but not a whole lot.

  • It’s great as a more disposable yet friendlier version of del.icio.us.

Description: I use delicious alot for bookmarking. I find myself using Twitter to show neato stuff to friends. While delicious seems to have the win for helping me store information I may want to look at later, Twitter is where I go to say “hey guys, take a look at this!” In other words, if I’m not likely to want it later (ie. a “breaking news story”) Twitter’s where I’m going to go with it. I also find that links are just a bit more personalized when I get them through Twitter, probably because they are the sort of things you’d want other people to see.

What Libraries Should Think About: The personal aspect of Twitter is very important. If a library is sending links, it ought to be something the library thinks is special — there has to be a human aspect about it. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.

  • Food/Coffee is a common theme.

Description: Maybe it’s just librarians, but people are always going on about their lunch, coffee, supper, sleep. I wonder what a Twitter search for the word “yum” would bring out?

What Libraries Should Think About: Twitterers have real lives too. You can learn alot about a subject using Twitter Mashups though. For instance, I searched the word “library” in the twittermap application and a whole lot of tags showed up around Philadelphia. I wonder why?

  • It’s about my friends, really.

Description: More than anything, my twitter account is about people that interest me. I choose my “friends” carefully, and usually along a specific train of thought. Actually, I see most of my social sphere as involving different “moods” of my internet access. Facebook tends to be about local and highschool/college friends. Twitter is about librarians. This blog is about libraries on the whole.

What Libraries Ought to Think About: Is there a “mood” within social softwares in which libraries belong? Is the library going to improve or worsen that mood?

  • It’s great for social planning.

Description: When I went to CIL last year, I really wished I had twitter. All the cool cats knew where all the cool events were, and poor old me had no clue. Don’t get me wrong, I had lots and lots of fun anyway, but Twitter is great for keeping up with your acquaintances.

What Libraries Ought to Think About: Twitter is about up-to-date, quick-paced blogging. Twitter ought to happen a few times in a day, and in general, it is better to have a one-month hiatus and then 20 twits in one day than it is to pace yourself with a once-a-week post like you would with a normal blog.

Your Twitter persona happens in a series of post usually happening in one or two days. Your customers’ Twitter experience will change from day to day as some people login and out over time. In other words, it is not unlike a chatroom. A good strategy might be to schedule a day in the week or all-day event where the library will “Twitter” over the course of the day.

  • I always want up-to-date Twits.

Description: I do not look at old Twits really. In that sense, the information on Twitter is highly, highly disposable. If, for some reason I am not receiving my twits, I feel like a twit because I am usually responding to things that are out of relevance.

What Libraries Ought to Think About: Old news is no news. If you are not Twitting often, you should probably not twit at all.

  • I most frequently read twits with an @username attached to them.

Description: Twitter lets people comment on what people say, usually by placing an “at” sign in front of the user name. This draws the attention of a twitter friend. I love this stuff the most, and I often track the old twits by clicking on the @username.

What Libraries Ought to Think About: Twitter is banter — you just have to accept that reality. Humans like banter — it’s ingrained. If you do not want your library to be part of the banter on the web, perhaps Twitter is not for your library. Then again, the *real* question you have to ask is whether your customers want the library to be part of this banter. That’s a hard call, and that’s why I want to see some empirical data on the issue.

Conclusion:

All in all, Twitter is another tool to play around with to see if it works for what your library is doing in the community. From what I’ve seen so far, the Library Twitterverse has been occurring in about the same way that most Library Facebook applications have been occurring. First, interested library techies start “friending,” then come a few library customers. After that, it will either fizzle out or take off. In the end, “how” you use these technologies will matter more than “what” technologies you use.

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Facegoat? Criminal Investigations in Canada and Social Networking

The Internet and the court of law have long been at odds in Canada — for a lot of things, but in particular for publication bans coming from court cases. A most recent example has been demonstrated through this article in the cbc, that I noticed via Library Boy and has since been discussed by my blogging compatriots David Fiander, Connie Crosby and others on the Uncontrolled Vocabulary(#25) podcast (Go about 13/16ths of the way to the end of the podcast).

Those who lived in Toronto (as I have) during the early 90s would remember the story of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka and the subsequent trial that included a publication ban that was variously violated on the internet, in particular by US publications that perhaps felt the ban was a violation of their 1st amendment rights.

The important thing to remember is that publication bans are only temporary and exist primarily to ensure that offenders get a fair trial. Juries in Canada are not sequestered as they are in the states and they can be unduly influenced by media reports and other publications, particularly ones that are biased as the ones on facebook appeared to be.

The question that comes to my mind and seems to appear in the mind of my colleagues is whether Facebook marks a particular shift from the way publications violated these bans 10 years ago. Is Facebook responsible for new ways of violations, or is it just a scapegoat for law enforcers who appear unable to keep up with the changing ways that people express themselves on the internet.

My reaction is still that of questioning. I cannot say I have a decision here, although I certainly have my biases toward social networking and against what I perceive as a chronically over-reactive response from law enforcers. That said, I do have some bullet points about what I think the key differences may be:

  • Young people see technology as a way of life. They seem to relate posting photographs on facebook as hardly different from typical schoolground gossip.
  • Graphic media appears to make a difference. Not only can someone make a hasty accusation using someone’s name, they can also post their picture, or a movie of them, making the identification even more stark.
  • Victims and perpetrators alike may already have a prominent online presence: that makes finding photographs and videos even easier than in the past.
  • The audience is just that much larger.
  • In Canada, Facebook gets alot of attention — perhaps for good reason. [Aside: Notice how my hometown has a per capita search rate that is larger (by a good amount) than the rest of the world. Put Facebook alongside “fiddle” and “lobsters” as key search terms in Halifax.]
  • Youth violence in general is a key political issue in Canada, and approaches to this issue are key dividing points. In a minority government winning the “battle of difference” is very important as the Harper government looks for a majority and the opposition parties look to topple.
  • Facebook has been accused of other improprieties in Canada, including productivity loss, resulting in a ban for Ontario staff, not being able to deal with alleged defamers, and, of course, the recent privacy problems with their advertising platform.
  • Unlike the internet, enforcers will have to sign-up for Facebook accounts to find indiscretions. Surfing the net to find child pornographers is one thing, but creating a persona to do go after seemingly minor crimes is another. Think about it, you get one of those “is this really a friend?” friend requests and a few months later, you are on the line for a minor indiscretion your made that just happened to be posted by a clueless acquaintance. There is definitely something to be said about the police having to walk on eggshells in a Facebook environment.

In the end, there is alot of educating that needs to be done about behaviors online. Cyberbullying, copyright infringement and now, obstruction of justice, are all things that people may do with realizing the consequences until they unwittingly end up in court themselves. Public librarians especially, you have a responsibility to act on this one.

5 (Actually, 6) Three Letter Acronyms for Librarians

TLA

What it stands for: Three-Letter-Acronym

What it should stand for: Lazy Coder’s Obfustication Device

How to recognize it: Three letters; used in place of actual words without explanation.

What it does: Makes computer geeks feel a little bit more sophisticated than they really are.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Don’t be afraid of it; Google it or Wikipedia it and use this glossary to see if you can make some sense out of it.

Similar to: Technical Jargon, Library Jargon, General B.S.

My mission in blogging life so far has been to make the very technical or confusing just a little bit more easy to understand for librarians who tend to teeter on the edge of coding expertise and wishing the whole technical aspect of web design would just go away.

One of the very things that appears to stand in the way of understandability in technology concepts is the TLA, described above. So, I decided to provide a brief glossary of 10 three-letter-acronyms to see if I can make it a little simpler.

Here goes:

XML

What it stands for: eXtensible Markup Language

What it should stand for: Esperanto for Computer software.

How to recognize it: Diamond brackets and forward slashes.

What it does:

  • It describes data, including the data that may, in the end, describe data.
  • It acts as a standard so different computer languages can talk to each other.
  • It is a format for other standards, such as RSS and TEI
  • It can also be used as a text-based database, or in tandem with Database systems such as MySQL or PostGREgreSQL.
  • Various related standards is also used in templating (XSLT), web services (SOAP) and even Browsers (XUL).
  • And it is the source of many other TLAs if you hadn’t already noticed.

What a librarian needs to know about it: It’s a standard; it’s cataloguing (or at least source description); it’s widely used by coders of all types; it makes stuff more “open” and available to others.

It’s similar to: JSON, HTML, SGML, MARC

API

What it stands for: Application Programming Interface

What it should stand for: “Mi Casa, Su Casa” Software;

What it does:

  • Provides the language and instructions so coders can bring the features of an online service into their own website.
  • It lets people do Mashups with your service.
  • It frees your data.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Information wants to be free, so you should be asking for one of these any time you buy a product — especially if that product houses data that belongs to you. Oh yeah, and your programmer folks will need to learn a few of these if they want to apply something like Google Maps, Facebook Apps et. al to your services.

It’s similar to: XUL, Widget, Mashup

CSS

What it stands for: Cascading Style Sheets

What it should stand for: “Hey I Just Completely Changed My Website in the Blink of an Eye!” language

What it does:

  • Provides style and colour instructions for the html on your website.
  • You can say things like “Anything within a ‘paragraph’ tag in my html ought to be yellow and Arial font”
  • It saves you the pain and suffering of re-writing lots of html just to make a simple stylistic change.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Besides saving you time it can also save the load time on your website because it prevents you from having to use tables to style your pages. Although that theory is under dispute.

It’s similar to: XSLT-FO, Skinning, Templates

PHP

What it stands for: Personal Home Page, PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor

What it should stand for: “Hey Server, Starting Thinking for the User” Programming Languages

What it does:

  • Tells the server to do stuff, based on user-input, time-of-day, or any other parameters.
  • It displays the stuff in a database or xml file in nice, clean html.
  • It makes your websites a little bit more difficult to troubleshoot, burping when something happens unexpectedly.

What a librarian needs to know about it: A PHP (or other language)-driven website is automatically more complex than one that is straight-forward html. On the other hand, it is more dynamic and make wonderful things happen for your customers.
It’s similar to: ASP, JSP, Ruby

GPL

What it stands for: General Public License

What it should stand for: Take My Code, Please!

What it does:

  • Gives permission to coders to re-use and/or the code of software possessing the license, so long as their product uses the same license.
  • Drives open source software and ensures that affordable software continues to exist.

What a librarian needs to know about it: Like Creative Commons and a variety of other licenses, GPL is an opportunity for users and developers alike to create, explore and play with new technologies.

It’s similar to: Creative Commons, BSD

There it is! Anyone else have a TLA that gets overused in library land without explanation?


In With the New; In With the New.

Ten more ideas about how I can make my life better, in libraries and elsewhere:

  •  Plan an unconference — somewhere, somehow.

The field needs more unconferences, and I’d like to host/organize one for local librarians this year — probably in the summer sometime.

  •  More controlled and productive computer time.

No, this has nothing to do with social software.   I just found that the end of last year turned my computer into a television/gaming system.    I have nothing against gaming or entertainment, it’s just that my kids are growing up, and I definitely want to spend more time focussed on friends, family and physical fun.

  • Two good books a month.

I want to start tracing my reading just like Jessamyn does.   It’s been a good start though.   I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Men at Arms, which is a great book and the first of the Sword of Honor trilogy.

  • 12 Beers (or other favored beverage) for 12 Librarians

Librarians deserve a beer.   12 librarians will get a beer from me.

  • More blogging, but with more citations and reading to go with it.

One of the most satisfying posts from my point of view was my review of Margaret Somerville’s The Ethical Imagination.    I disagree with many points that the book makes, I truly felt that Somerville gets a bad rap around town undeservedly for her views on same-sex marriage.   Further, I am glad Somerville is out there with the guts to say the unpopular thing that she believes needs to be said.   True ethics may just about the opposite of being popular, in my view.

Anyway, even though my online survey (there’s going to be a results post soon!) has suggested that book reviews are not really a priority for my audience, you’ll just have to accept my indulgences here, ‘k?

  •  More fiction/poetry writing, published or not.

I used to love writing fiction and poetry.   I even won the Clare Murray Fooshee poetry prize (first place) once.    I’d like to get back to some of that.   It was a great hobby and it brings back my memories of the rec.arts.poems usenet group (which, like many usenet groups, is a mere shadow of its former glorious self).

  • Pare down the social with social.

Libraries weed books that have lost their relevance over time.   I think I need to think about the relevance of my “friends” and look at doing some serious weeding as well.   Of course, I mean “friends” as in “Facebook friends,” which, in the end, can be likened to a reference source more than it can to a “real” friend.

If you can be of use to me, information-wise, I’ll read your blog.   If I can be of use to you, read mine.   If we have some mutual co-sharing thing going on, you will make my Twitter list.   And, honestly, I’m just about finished with Facebook.

  •  Less money waste.

It’s crazy how the local coffee shop will just eat away at my wallet.   And for what?   It’s not like there is a ton of nutrition there — and it’s not like I couldn’t just drink water.   That’s all money that could go to my kids’ RESPs or some of my favorite charities.

  • No gifts please, and clutter-free-me!

Another one that is just wasteful.    Please, no gifts.   None — except maybe a book I don’t have, or a donation to a charity in my name.

I do not want anything that will end up in a landfill within a year.   I do not want to pay to store stuff that I never use.  Whenever Big Brothers, Big Sisters asks me if we have any used clothing, furniture or appliances to give them, I will say “yes.”

  •  Increase my code-fu.

It’s coming along, and I want to learn more.   At this stage, however, it’s about doing — developing skills versus learning syntax.

That’s 10 and that’s enough.   I look forward to re-visiting this list next year to see how well I did/didn’t do.

What’s on your self-improvement list?

Out With the Old, In With the New. . .

Last year, I created a post of Ideas for the New Year as a way to mark my progress over the year.   Overall, I don’t think I did too bad in completing them.  Here are the ideas, and how well I’ve done in completing them.

  •  New Website for the library.   

Check.  It happened, go look.

  • Contribute to or Create an Open Source product.

Sort of. I did learn a lot more coding this year over last and some of that code could be applied to an open source product.   For instance, I was playing a bit with PHPList, and learned how to create a component for Joomla.    Our website does use a custom component for the Programs section, which may be shared for other libraries in the future. 

  •  Have visible abs.

It did happen, and then I lost them.   My biceps certainly bulged a bit, but the spare tire is still a worthwhile nemesis for me.   Add that to the next list!

  • Learning 2.0 for work.

Check.   We’re half-way through a 6 month program.

  • Reduce my consumption of meat.

Perhaps, but not sufficiently enough if I’m going to be honest with myself.

  • Public something scientific in a journal.

Nope, but I did get approved to present at two big conferences and I had a couple of blog posts added to trade journals as well.

  • Go to a good tech-related conference

Yup!   Computers in Libraries last year was great.   Steven Cohen calls it his favorite.

  •  Be a once-a-month Second Lifer.

You know?  You make these promises to yourself that, in retrospect make no sense.   This is one.   I am glad I did not become a once-a-month Second Lifer.   Although I did try it probably about 12 times last year.

  • Go to One or More of the Following Places: Cuba, Quebec City, London UK, Killarney IR, Savannah GA, Chicago IL or San Francisco CA.

New baby nixed this one.    That said, my 4 year old took up an interest in flags, one of which was Virginia — which I did go to for CIL, and my mother moved to Montreal, passing Quebec City, and came back to visit for the Holidays so I’m accepting this as resolved.

  • Go Out with a Friend once Every Two Months min

Total failure.   I blame LSW and Uncontrolled Vocabulary.