Three Briefs About Your Web Presence

I had three brief things come to mind, neither of which really need a whole post to describe.   I’ve been thinking what works for a web presence in a Microblog world, and what real competitive advantages & disadvantages websites have over other media.

Are You Ready for Your Blog?

One of the things that is overstated about web-based promotion is ROI — the idea that you put little work into a website and return pretty good results nonetheless.   With blogs, this idea has become even more apparent since with typical WYSIWYG editors, you literally just have to type into a box to make a web post happen.

The institutional side of things, it’s not so easy.  This came up at the last 4th Thursday event, in fact.  When you open a blog for yourself, there is little to no brand associated.   You can pretty much use any template and away you go.  Institutions need to manage brands, reputation, target markets and quality assurance.   If you want your business or institution to be successful, it cannot look like every other blog.   As an individual, people can perceive you poorly and you can still have a successful blog.   Not so with an institution — if your library looks like a jerk, no one will show up to your branches.   Even though web presence has little to do with product/service development, people will associate poor writing on a website with the quality of a product or service.  Libraries cannot afford to have their services downgraded because of poor web content.  In short, you need to add a whole lot of editing, design and marketing time to the denominator of your ROI.

If you are institution, you need content before you establish your web presence.   A blog that has been doing nothing for a month will look bad.   Take a look at what happened to Google when they left their Google Librarian blog to sit for a while.   This does not work the same for individual blogs.   Go away for a month as an individual and people will just think you are on vacation or something.   Those same users will have higher expectations for your library, however.   If you want to start a blog, you need to commit 52 pieces of 800 words or better per year.   Then you need to manage spam, comments etc.   In short, add the costs of content creation and management to the denominator of your ROI equation as well.

In the end, the ROI is still going to look good — just not as good as most people assume.   If you do not put some time and money into the denominator of the ROI equation, the numerator will be zero — or worse, it will do damage to your library/company.

Thinking About Metrics — Total Time Viewing?

Television ads or well-placed bulletin boards are sure to find a good number of eyeballs, but how much time do you really have to get your message across to them?   More importantly, does your website offer a better alternative to these options?

Two popular ways to measure the effectiveness of a website are total visits, and time duration of visits.   Is it possible with typical statistics packages to estimate how much total time users access a website per month?   Yes.   Does it matter?  I am not sure.

For example, my statistics package (AWStats) will tell you the percentages & number of visits in each of the following time-duration categories:

  • 0-30s
  • 30s-2mn
  • 2mn-5mn
  • 5mn-15mn
  • 15mn-30mn
  • 30mn-1h
  • 1h+

A calculation of total time visited per month would be the mean of each category times the total visits that lasted each amount of time.   So, if you had 1000 visits in the 2mn – 5mn category, you might put (210 seconds * 1000 = 210 000 seconds or 3500 minutes or a little less than 60 hours total).   You would do that for every category, except for the 1hour + category.   Although you would definitely lose some numbers, I would remove the 1h+ completely from the list.   These durations almost always mean that someone left their browser running on this page, so the number aren’t really valid.

Then I would have pull two numbers from your stats.   The first is the total number of minutes per month that someone pulled from the sight.   The second is the total number of minutes in 30s-2mn, 2-5mn, & 5-15mn categories.   These are the categories that show the most engagement with a website (anything less could be a mistaken visit; anything more could mean the person was lost).

In the end, you can have an argument for your promotions people that you can expose your users to promotional content longer than other media.   This should shape how your make promotions on your website.

How Do People Come to Your Site?

Another misconception that many people have about a website is that a service merely has to “win the battle of priorities” and find its way to the front page of a website to get traffic.   The reality is something different.   Having a whole bunch of stuff on a front page merely gets people lost on the site.   You may get slightly more traffic to your page, but they might not be happy that they got there.   Further, you may, in turn reduce the traffic of all other pages in the mean time.   You really need to think about how people use your site before you “plop” something on a front page.

Some things people will immediately associate with your library.   These are the things that you should put on your front page.   Other things will be value-added services.   You have a logical pathway to these pages, but they should not take up the prime real estate.   THEN, you find excellent ways to ensure that these pages show up in Google and other search results.   Why?   Because if potential users do not immediately associate the service with your library, they are more likely to use Google instead.   Take advantage of common Search Engine Optimization techniques that can help you in this regard.

You can go further than this.   When I launched our website, one of the first complaints we had was that staff counted on the website to find simple things like the halifax weather, basic mapping, provincial catalogues etc.   My first reaction was “just Google it.”   But then I thought about how staff were using the site.   The website was part of their daily routine — they load up their operating system and then search the main links, most of which were already established on the website.

How are non-staff using the site?   I’d love to know.    Ideally, it would be great if key customers would have a library “visit” scheduled every Thursday morning, for instance.   In fact, I would be surprised if a few people had this exact routine.   Getting good data on this sort of thing could really help your respond to customer need on a website.   I’d like to see more of this kind of research in fact to go along with usability tests and statistics taking.

In the end, I think we still need more people thinking about web presence in all institutions.   The more librarians understand the technical benefits and limitations of the web, the more effective our services will be.

A Late-Comer but More on Surveys

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).

I’m #22!

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!

Comments or Splogging?

For some reason, I have been receiving comments that have made it difficult for me to moderate.      That’s why I have found it necessary to create a “comment moderation policy.”   Feedback is appreciated.   It’s pretty standard fare, but necessary I think.   I would hate for someone to get scammed because of a link coming from my blog.   At the same time, I can’t spend years of my time trying to guess whether something is legit or not.

So, I outlined as best as I could, a policy that should help me determine what is or is not an appropriate comment for this blog.   If you feel that your comment was legit and I decided to block it, well you have three options.   1)  Change the page link so that it meets my comment requirements and comment again.  2) Demonstrate to me how your blog meets my policy requirements.  or 3)  Prove to me that I am Draconian with my blogging policy, in which case I may consider a change in policy.

Otherwise, expect your comment to be placed in my spam filter.    And, that could mean that Akismet accepts similar comments as spam as well.   Sorry, but this blog is for 1) me and 2) librarians interested in reading what I write.    Being able to promote a service, book or cause is a bonus that I am willing to tolerate within certain guidelines that are hardly unreasonable given the environment these days.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. . .


Thanks to all of you who tried the survey, so far.    I realized that I forgot “students” in the demographic information — apologies for that!    If you want to take the survey later, I will have a link to the survey on the right-hand column of the blog, in relative perpetuity (under contact the Other Librarian).


Since I’m going through a bit of writers block on this blog, I thought I’d just ask you what you think I should cover on _The Other Librarian_.

You can always comment here on the blog, but I thought a little 5 question survey should do the trick.

It’s anonymous (unless you decide to put your name in a comment section) and it’s fast. Go ahead and let me know what’s what!

My Spin on the Five Blogs Meme. . .

Well, I don’t keep much of a collection of RSS feeds. Basically I use live bookmarks so I can pick and choose the headlines I like. I may go to Google Reader sometime to be more ritualistic and purposive about blog reading, but, well, I don’t want to right now.

That leaves me in a quandry though, because I’m coming in late to this meme and the blogs in my feed have pretty much been linked 5-10 times each already.

I’ve also heard a bit out there about all this five blogs stuff being a little tete-a-clique.

So, while I promise to link to all the favorites throughout my blogging life, I’ve decided to make a list of Five Blogs I’m Going to Add to My Aggregator Because of the Five Blogs Theme.

  1. Jennimi – I really like the template and Jennifer E. Graham has a great writing style. Her two most recent posts were decidedly readable and relevant to boot.
  2. Off the Mark – Meredith mentioned me in the same breath with Mark Lindner, Walt and Karen Schneider. I think I’m ok with that.
  3. LibraryBytes – Yeah, *that* Helene Blowers. Adding her feed is a “no brainer” if it ever was one. This is just an oversight to be honest. I read the blog, I just haven’t ever added it to my live bookmarks.
  4. Libraryola – I have a great interest in the cross-connects between Library and Information Studies and Public Administration. Chris Zammarelli says he’s interested in e-Government, that’s a match!
  5. Open Access News – A great find from Dorothea Salo thankyouverymuch.

And if you are not on this list, it’s probably because 1) you are already in my aggregator 2) I just forgot to add you 3) I haven’t come around to your blog yet OR 4) Somewhere, somehow your content and my eyes haven’t found the right chemistry. Don’t worry, keep blogging. All [Harlequin] romances begin with tension to start anyway. I might come around some time or another.

Creating The “Right” Network — Using Diversity to be “Slow”

I do not link to Kathy Sierra’s blog enough. She writes amazing and helpful advice about design, coding and well, just making your users happy.

But her recent post, “The Dumbness of Crowds” definitely has me thinking these days about gathering networks and growing yourself. In it, Sierra laments that people have mistranslated James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (a book that my wife has promised me for, of all things, Valentine’s Day) and basically has taken the flavor out of individuals.

She then goes through a brilliant litany of differences between what she calls “Collective intelligence” and “The Dumbness of Crowds.” Here’s an example:

“Collective Intelligence” is about getting input and ideas from many different people and perspectives.

“Dumbness of Crowds” is blindly averaging the input of many different people, and expecting a breakthrough.
(It’s not always the averaging that’s the problem it’s the
blindly part)

Now I’ve written recently on “Me-too-ism” in the Web 2.0 world”, basically arguing that we want people who will be committed to a cause to the extent that they want to shut out dissenting voices. The important thing about that discussion is that you do not necessarily want them to succeed in shutting out those voices. In that article I made a solid claim for the philosopher — the person who will make solid calls on the group behavior and moderate the field.

In other places there have been challenges to defences of “Group Think” as well. The implication is that a diligently critical mind can be the solution to “really bad” groupthink (meaning desiring unity to a violent or propagandic extent) .

My position is that cultures develop and “Group think” is not something that someone can overcome so easily.

Assumptions and “Group think” happen out of necessity — they are a survival mechanism in humans to coordinate behaviors. Humans, even the most solitary ones, are a social animal. We depend on others for our survival. It has gotten to the extent that a disaster tens of thousands of miles away will have serious impacts on my own domestic choices. War in Iraq causes gas prices to go up and I walk to work more.

But I have to agree that we do not want a society that assumes something to be true simply because the majority believe it. Stephen Colbert satirically coined “truthiness” and “wikiality” to poke fun at the very notion that something must be right if some kind of consensus can be built about it. I just don’t think that critical thinking is the solution to the problem. I think that acceptence of diversity (which, I admit, does require some critical thinking — but it requires an open heart more) is the solution.

Acceptence of diversity is hard because it requires that you accept and face those things that make you uncomfortable. When someone sees the world differently from you, the reaction will be fear, irritation, boredom, and anxiety. That’s why I admire people like Norah Vincent. Her book Self-made Man describes her experience of portraying a man and going to the places where she was least comfortable (raunchy strip-bars, bowling alleys etc.) so to understand them better.

That’s what I think bloggers should do to prevent a “bad” Group Think society. The people who make us most upset or uncomfortable might be the best ones to keep us in check in our beliefs. These are the people you want commenting on your blogs (assuming they apply reasonable standards of decency — no threats, needless ad hominems and trolls etc.).

Having groups of people following the same thoughts and assumptions is not a problem. Having everyone with the same thoughts and assumptions (other than broad-based ethical values like “respect for life”) would be bad. That’s why I propose the following for anyone building a knowledge network for themselves.

  1. Read the blogs of those with whom you disagree. Lots of library non-users think librarians are nothing but overpaid book-shelvers. Aren’t these people a better window to our souls than the biggest library advocates?
  2. Welcome dissenters in your own blog. If they contradict everything you say, so what? There’s nothing they can do to stop you from writing your own posts and comments. If they get out of hand, just ignore them and let them have the last word. The last word is not always the best word.
  3. Assume a Charitable Reading of a bad comment, or even better — assume your dissenter is right! Even if you end up being right in the end, your dissenter has done you the favor of identifying gaps in your argument that you may be able to fill.
  4. Befriend the weirdo. There’s a line in The Tipping Point that the most interesting and important people to talk to in a crowd are the people who appear out of place. If you are ever at a meeting of suits and a goth appears, it’s the goth that you want to talk to. It’s the goth that will be able to uncover your own proclivities toward groupthink and sameness. I’m not sure where you find the weirdo in the blog world, but this might be a start.
  5. Deal with illegalities accordingly, but don’t hold a grudge. A grudge is groupthink in action. Worse, a grudge probably also means that you are thinking about your opponent alot more than your opponent thinks about you.

If Web 2.0 emphasizes community, then the blogger needs to think hard about what community means to him or her. In my view community is not a straight-forward “majority wins” kind of world, although the majority probably should win most times. Community to me means arguments and grievances, negotiation and disputes combined with a fair deal of comraderie and friendship. Heck, even throw some love and relationships in there too. The ideal world is one where you get all sorts of views from all sorts of places.

I can only hope that this blog may someday gather this sort of “community” one day.

Me-too-isms, Social Movements and Libraries

One of my favorite Monty Python skits is the one where German and Greek philosophers are pitted against each other in a soccer match. They all line up for the competition, yet when the whistle blows, instead of kicking the ball they engage in a “philosopher pose” making for a hilarious, yet definitively inactive sports match.

What I take from this satire is that values that may appear wholesome and good in one piece of space and time, looks absolutely ridiculous in another.

In my view, this is the subtext underlying the discussion at Information Wants to Be Free , Tinfoil + Raccoon and other places.

To quote a few things being said, here is Meredith:

It’s great to see people criticizing things and coming up with new ideas (and there were some terrific posts on the woeful state of the OPAC). But then the groupthink takes over and people just echo the same ideas over and over again, without adding anything new or productive. What’s the point of that? I don’t need to read the same exact thing on 50 blogs.

And Rochelle says this:

In response to the lively, honest discussion happening at Information Wants to Be Free about “groupthink” and me-tooism, I’m going to offer an amendment to my politeness post. In my post, I wrote

There are a lot of people blogging about library issues, and I’ve tried to resist the pull of me-tooism.

Here’s my amended statement: There are a lot of people blogging about library issues, and I’ve tried to resist the pull of uncritical me-tooism.

In this discussion, I have defended Groupthink and “me-tooism.” I may even find myself defending “uncritical me-tooism,” not because I am a me-tooist or uncritical, but because I think uncritical me-tooism achieves great things when it has the right checks and balances coming from critical thinkers like [ahem] myself, Meredith and Rochelle.

Let’s go back to philosopher soccer match. The reason why philosophers suck at soccer is because they are critical. To the philosopher, kicking a goal has no purpose, and certainly preferring to kick a goal in two apparently equal soccer nets makes no sense.

To the soccer player, scoring a goal helps to achieve a commitment she made to the people on her team. Somewhere along the lines, the soccer player understood that she is playing soccer to score goals and keep the opposing team from scoring goals of their own. After a good deal of critical thought [or maybe not], this person has decided this is what he/she wants. It is meaningful to her to win soccer games and, better yet, to be the best soccer player she can be. And being critical about why she is scoring a goal is not the way to be a good soccer player.

Because soccer is a team sport, this commitment to goal scoring is a sort of [even uncritical] groupthink. When I think about the “OPACs Suck” and Library 2.0 memes, that is the way I see them. Sure, Nazi Germany had groupthink, but so did the Human Rights Movement under MLK and so did Indian anti-colonial movements under Ghandi.

So, while I am a critical thinker, I think having Group-thinkers is a good thing. The “OPACs suck” drumming will bring us better OPACs faster than a “while there are some things about the opac that are still passable, I think we ought to tweak . . .” introspective post. And I desperately want the “OPACs suck” crowd to win this battle, even if they go too far and bring us some things that are broken with it. That’s because I believe this is the right thing to do.

Oh — it is also wrong to suggest that philosophers have no business on the soccer field. Philosophers make good referees. Referees recommend the rules of engagement, pass judgement on deadlock situations, and let the players know when they’ve gone too far. And do referees get attacked for their critical behavior from the Groupthinkers? You bet. Everyone at the soccer game hates the referee. But they also know that the game is apt to suck if there are no rules enforced.

That means referees have to be brave, forthright, diplomatic in some cases and decisive. Sometimes they have to ignore the soccer players that disagree with their calls, in the understanding that once the emotions have blown over, there is still a soccer game going on and harping on a bad call is not going to score goals for the team. And just because a player yells at you doesn’t mean you have to stop making good calls.

And for the people who feel threatened by all this, well — I guess I see you as an arm-chair referee. You can always criticize where it’s safe to do so, but you’re not going to change much unless you get behind a player, team or referee.

So that’s why I defend “Groupthink” despite all the negative connotations placed on it by the Wikipedia article. The “OPAC sucks” groupthink may not be very precise to critical thinkers like me — nor is it very compelling reading — but it may just get better OPACs for my users. And if it does that, then I am in the stands singing “go go go!”

The Critical Pastafarian: My Article in IMSA’s Information Fluency Project

IMSA, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, has published an article of mine that I called
The Critical Pastafarian: Evaluation by Authority in a Web 2.0 World (You may asked to create an account to access the article). Broadly, I try to tackle the issue of understanding authorship when you look at social software.

Check it out and please let me know what you think!

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 “” or “” 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.