How You Look Is Part of the Story

Inspired by Joel Kelly’s first experiment with Videoblogging, I grabbed a flip and made my first attempt at video blogging.     In the aftermath, Joel noticed that people wanted to talk about his vacation beard more than what he was actually saying.

On the whole, the advantage to video is that you have appearance and sound to add to your blogging palette.   We shouldn’t be surprised that people comment on such things, even if it seems inane at times.

Dawn of the Dewey: What About A New Standard?

Tim Spalding of Library Thing has initiated an idea for an open source, crowd created replacement for the Dewey Decimal System called OSC.   On the whole, I am for starting anything.   I think entrepreneurialism like this is a good thing.   Competition of any kind cannot hurt the process of information organization — it makes everyone stronger, smarter and more productive.  There’s more discussion about it by Tim from this Wednesday’s Uncontrolled Vocabulary.

I do get a little up in arms when I hear pretentious snark about someone’s idea.    More of it was thought to appear on librarian.net, although it seems it may not have been snark after all?

Having skimmed over the forum, one of the concerns I have at the outset is that the ideas appear to be mimicing, rather than replacing the DDC.     I would like to see people using their minds more about this issue.   Mimicing is a definite no-no from an aesthetic point of view, and it makes me question what the point of such a replacement in the first place?   I say if you are going to do something new, make it new.   Make it noticeably 2008, rather than an updated 18-hundred-whatever.

The other issue I have is that thinking about book order in the abstract is quite different from action thinking.   Considering that this replacement will be largely about placing books on a relative shelf order, I think we should be developing that standard while actually shelving books.   So, here is my idea:

  • Go to your local public library’s catalogue and using any random selection process of your choice, place a hold on 20 or more books.
  • Put those books in a shelf order, that makes sense to you.
  • Try an alternative shelf-order.
  • One more alternative shelf-order.
  • Post those titles and shelf orders to the Library Thing forum on this issue
  • Explain how you came to these shelf orders, which one you liked the best and why.

Or you can do something else similar.   The broad point i want to make is that, if this thing is going to replace DDS, then it ought to be based on some sort of new foundations, hopefully considering not only what the user thinks, but how the user will eventually use the system.  The only way to get at how people use something is through action.

All in all, I love this idea and kudos to Tim Spalding for proposing it.    And by the way, he is looking for a leader for this project — someone who will facilitate the process without dominating it.   You got the guts?  Go for it!

Blog and Twitter Worlds Collide. . . then Converge?

 

It all started because I Blogged where I should have Twittered. . .   Greg wrote a post called “Stepping into Marketing” talking about Mitch Joel presentation.   And I wrote this:

I actually had Mitch in my Twitter list, but he didn’t follow me, so I took him off. I might put him back though.

Whether or not you think this is curt, whining or stupid, please hear me out.   If I may use a computer analogy, this comment is like a php script accessing a huge database of information.   The script is kind of pointless, unless you know what rich and wonderful data sits in the backend.

If you were Greg Schwartz, someone with whom I network fairly frequently on Twitter and elsewhere, you might understand that I was saying a whole lot of things with that one statement.   These include:

  • “Hey!  I randomly discovered Mitch Joel on Twitter while I was playing around with the Twitter search api and looking for Twitter peeps in Halifax (Mitch was actually visiting Halifax to do a presentation).”
  • I kind of used Twitter as a mini-RSS feed to see what Joel has to say about the world.
  • Twitter as an RSS feed isn’t really that fun.   For instance, do I really need to know what airport David Weinberger or Robert Scoble is having dinner at right now?
  • A better context to use Twitter would be if Mitch and I were having some kind of conversation.
  • Mitch Joel did not seem to be interested in this kind of connection with me (why would he?  he has thousands of followers already!), so I thought I might as well remove him to keep my ability to access Twitter friends under control.
  • “Follow me back” is as good a rule for keeping contacts organized as any.
  • I might reconsider my thoughts about Mitch’s Twitter stream as a mini RSS feed given Greg’s post.

Mitch noticed this comment and it inspired him to write about his Twitter network and how he tries to manage it.   I think it’s a great post.   He sparks a fairly strong discussion about how to manage your own personal network on Twitter, and clearly relates how being a “Twitter snob” is important for keeping his Twitter account organized.

I thought Mitch misunderstood my remark as being upset for being “snobbed.”   After a few direct messages and comments, it turns out that he was merely taking my remark as the point where he made his “Twitter snob” self-discovery, so I am the one who misunderstood.   The thread continues with other comments about how snobbery can be important and how people’s perception of that snobbery is less so. 

I’m still fairly loose about how I maintain my Twitter stream.  I like where its at right now with about 110 folks in and around the library world and Halifax.   I’d venture a guess that 10% are seldom-to-never posters.   Another 5-10 percent are still in the “I’m pretending Twitter is an RSS aggregator” category.   

I follow the rule of “follow me, follow you” as a way of ensuring there is a mutual connection.    If someone does not follow back, I usually have to decide that I am willing to accept this person’s stream as an RSS feed-only kind of thing.   

I think you could probably categorize users by the differential of follower-to-followed.   Those with fewer followers than followeds are likely spam bots or newbies who haven’t discovered Google Reader yet.    Those with few of both probably just want to connect with their friends.   Those with lots of both are like me — looking some kind of information exchange mixed in with a little bit of banter and fun.   Those with lots of followers versus followed are the Twitter snobs.   They have an online presence that has a “fandome” aspect to it and they want to keep their information manageable.   It all makes pretty good sense to me.   I wish it made sense to everybody.   I’ve heard plenty of say about the Twitter friend who got de-followed and took it personally.     Hard to say how people feel about things, but I think some perspective is necessary.   I think this behavior is silly when it happens at weddings and funerals — and this is a freakin’ Twitter account!

In the end, I find it pretty facinating how the differences between Twittering and blogging are beginning to show their beautiful faces.    The blog enables a writer to establish context around comments, and god help you if you miss something in your explanations (like I have).   Twitter’s 140 character requirement builds more banter-ish connections and I find that as I use it more, I assume alot from my readers.    Inside jokes abound on Twitter and god help any non-librarians who are reading along one of my LSW exchanges.   That was my mistake with the comment.

I also think Mitch makes a good point that maybe I should have sent a direct message if I wanted a mutual follow.   The only problem there is that there wasn’t even an anecdotal connect.   I merely wanted to follow his stream to see what he was about.   Then, when I saw he was not one of a bunch who were not following back (for whatever reason), I deleted, thinking — “I can just read his blog instead.”   

Mitch and I are now mutual followers.   In the future maybe Mitch or I will decide that it’s not worth it.  It’s all good.    Who knows how connections get made?    Like Robin Hood splitting the arrow at the archery competition, sometimes approaching things in a good, wrong way is more beautiful than by-the-book best-practises perfection.

So, the trick with Twitter is that you have to manage your networks somehow.    If it turns out that you have to de-follow me on that track, please do not hesitate to do so.    Just read my Passion Quilt Meme post.   I think everyone should provide themselves the courtesy of following a path that works, whether it includes me or not.    My follower list will survive without you, I promise.

 

Navigating Online Cultures

I’ve had a tongue-in-cheek post-in-waiting for a while now that would look at traits I notice in online cultures as a way of understanding whether or not a particular service is for you or your library.    It had been percolating, percolating, percolating. . . and then I read Greg Schwartz’s post on Managing His Own Social Network.   In it, he describes how he offers a quiz to people who request being his “friend” because he does not want people in his network that do not want to converse with him.   I appreciate this trait alot.   I met Greg at CIL and you can immediately tell that he does not take interpersonal contact lightly.   He is all the positive aspects of extroversion personified.    I don’t blame him for expecting dialogues from his online friends.   I approach things a little differently, because I am more than happy to have people lurk around in the social networking world (so long as there is no spam).   Like any or all things interpersonal, there’s alot of discretion that happens within and without social networks.   The only way to tell if something is going to work is to try it out.   Or is there. . . ?  

One of the things I’ve decided is very important is to understand a bit of the culture of an online space.  I thought, “If we can look at a few features, measure them on specific scales, and then align them with our own personalities — then maybe we can have a tool to see if the service works for the organization.”    Well, as a tester, I have 12 things that could be assessed on a social site to give a flavor of what does or does not work for individuals or organizations.   For added fun, I gave them goofy names.

Here they are:

Friendsliness  

  • Friendliness would refer to the extent that a service expects you to collect friends as badges on a profile.   MySpace and Facebook would score high on this as they practically force you to expand your network into outerspace.   Twitter, surprisingly, would not rate as high — you can follow, but it really is more on your own terms.  The “friend” aspect of Del.icio.us and Flickr really focuses more on whether an individual likes the content than it does on whether there is a social connection between two or more individuals. 

Ratingsliness

  • How much does ratings matter to a social site?    For sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Amazon, it’s just about everything.   Del.icio.us, by comparison, is much less Ratings friendly.   Delicious doesn’t care if people think something is cool — they merely want to know how many people bookmarked it.

Folksonomics

  • How important are tags in the service?  LibraryThing and Delicious score high.   Facebook scores low.

Hiveability

  • Hiveability would describe the extent to which a readership needs engagement, discussion and even outright flamewars to remain successful.   I would pit Wikipedia and the Blogosphere high on this scale.

“You Ness”

  • “you” ness would refer to the extent our narcissistic desire to show people our whims factors into the web service.   YouTube is the obvious example, but Flickr applies as well.

Collabability

  • Different from hiveability in that it merely opens doors to encourage more than one user to act on a project at the same time, Google Documents, PbWiki would score higher on this than, say, Wikipedia because they provide easy answers to specific collaboration problems.   One would not want to say “let’s go on Wikipedia to work on a project!”

Anonymanimousness

  • Does it matter to the web service that you use your real name for your identity?   This is an interesting one.   For example, Twitter does not force you to use your real name, but I think it matters alot whether or not you do.   Facebook requires it.   Del.icio.us actually makes it pretty hard to make your identity known.

Dumbanomics

  • This is not intended to be an insult at all.   How friendly and/or forgiving is the service to newbies?   Is there an expectation of lurkership, or can people just go ahead and be dumbasses in spite of themselves?    The easy-to-use Google and Yahoo! products are definitely high scorers for being accessible to just about anyone.   Metafilter would score lower — not because they are unfriendly to newbies, but because they work hard to ensure that the content appearing on the site is relatively asshat-free.

Graphicality

  • Some services depend on graphics more than others.    This should be fairly easy, but Flash/Gaming sites like Newgrounds and Kongregate would score high.   Text-based social sites like Twitter and delicious would score lower.

Contribattitude

  • How much does the site depend on the contributions of users?   Blogger and WordPress are high on this, of course.   Let’s put BoingBoing.net on this one as a second tier, because user comments often add a lot to what they have to say.   Miniclip, the gaming site, doesn’t score high, because if all the reviews on the site were gone, you’d still have the games to play.

Carrotomics

  • Does the site provide something of values in return for your participation?   The classic examples are Second Life and World of Warcraft.  The more you play, the more points, money, levels or whatever you score adding to your prestige.   Your average blog gets attention through usage stats, but that’s not the same — those stats exist anyway, not a “carrot” provided by the service.

Noseyamourousness

  • To what extent does the service enable the nosey online user to peek into the lives of others.   I won’t link them, but porn sites would be an obvious qualifier.   YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and MySpace all appeal to the nosier side of human behavior as well.

That’s my 12 for now.   Even as I write this, I could go on with more examples.   For instance, how tolerant is a service of profanity?   What are the privacy settings and TOS like?  Add your own, please!  

I also think some of my suggestions could be grouped together to make a more tidy unit of measure.   Let me know if you have any ideas.

I think it would be a good thing to look through this list and see what would match library culture the best.   What do you think?

Whistleblowing, Ethics, and Internet Use

UPDATE: Since I’m venturing into potentially controversial territory, I thought it would be a good time to remind my readers that this is my commentary on a situation that occurred in a library in California and not necessarily the opinions of my employer. I will say that I believe we are well-prepared for emergency situations, and their official approach in my view is rational, fair and on the whole, quite solid. Equally, staff are just as responsible in their actions.


A few days ago, there was a news articles I saw via LISNews about a librarian being fired because she called the police on a child porn-watcher against orders from her supervisor. Comments abound in outrage, of course. My first impression on the issue was a “how could they do that?” as well.

But it goes to show that tricky issues require forethought. Here is my final assessment of the issue. Obviously, I do not have the entire facts on this case, so I can only take the media’s report at face value. Nor am I a lawyer, so this is just a layperson’s opinion.

Ought the library have had clear polices on what to do in the case a child pornographer appears? Yes.

Ought a successful library leader have empowered his/her staff to make that phone call? Yes.

Is the library in its rights to fire the librarian who made the phone call? Also yes.

Is it likely that the librarian made an unfortunate ethical mistake? Yes.

To get why I think the way I do, you are going to have to separate the issues of effective management and professional ethics. In an ideal world, we would have bosses who always make the right decisions; who act through common sense; who establish policies and procedures ahead of time to prepare us for the hard situations; and who empower employees to make good decisions when the policies do not cover the situation. But the reality is that this is not always the case. In fact, it is rare. Most of the time we will be working in imperfect organizations. Sometimes the organizations are even outright wrong in their approaches to situations.

But working in an imperfect organization does not make it less important to think through our own decisions. In my view, this employee should have asked herself the following questions before acting:

  • Is there clear evidence of imminent public danger?

Not likely. Watching child porn is a heinous crime and the creation of the porn is absolutely harmful to children. However, it does not put the public in imminent danger. Yes, we do not want these guys on our streets. No, we should not react to the child porn watcher as we do the rapist, robber, or murderer.

  • Is he/she ultimately accountable for the actions of the organization?

No. When the grey areas hit, it is going to be the director who takes the hit for any bad decision of any employee. The director, therefore, has a right to a say in what should happen in this situation.

  • Was she/he absolutely sure that action (such as calling the police) was not going to happen after some review?

It’s hard to assess this without the facts, but I am adding the question because it is important. Just because the manager did not call the police now doesn’t mean that he/she would not make a report to a higher-up who in turn may decide that, yes, the police should be called.

  • Was he/she sure of all the facts in the case?

I’m willing to assume yes, because it does turn out that he/she was right. But my question about imminent danger could be changed significantly if the porn the accused was watching was a live show.

  • Did she have time on her side?

This is the kicker. The librarian had plenty of time to make a report to the police with lots of lovely evidence to show when they came.

In my view, the librarian should have:

  1. Made it clear to her boss that her view is that the police should be called.
  2. Record the incident with as much detail as possible. Recording the identity of the person would even be appropriate so long as the report was not going to be shared.
  3. Make sure that the details of the case make it to the CEO or Director of the library. Give the supervisor a chance to do it first. Then, pass up the report.
  4. Still no action? This is where you consider the whistle-blow. President of the board may work. Or the police. This is not going to be a career-advancing decision.

In the end, I understand that the firing of the employee is being reviewed. I also see this as a good thing. I’m not sure that firing the employee is quite the right disciplinary action, despite that I believe he/she made a mistake. Good management would come up with something more appropriate — although what would depend on a bunch of mitigating factors of which I have no knowledge.

And, in the end, you cannot always assume good management.