Archive for February, 2009

Preserving the Zeitgeist?

Posted in Cites & Insights on February 17th, 2009

Iris Jastram posted “Preserving the Zeitgeist” on Sunday, February 15, over at Pegasus librarian. I encountered it when I was working on “Thinking about blogging 1″ for Cites & Insights (the “1″ is because, after doing the first two of five sections, it’s already over 8,000 words, probably editable to 7,000–so I clearly need to continue the discussion later, something that’s happening a lot) and going to another Pegasus librarian post to pick up relevant excerpts.

It’s an interesting post, one that’s made me think about the situation. Here’s most of the post (leaving out the beginning, about other forms of internet data loss), although you really should read the whole thing (it’s short):

[W]hile actually losing content is the stuff of librarianish nightmares, it seems to me that there’s another aspect of internet life that we are continually losing without even realizing that we had it, and that’s the thread public conversation that holds all the individual streams of blog posts and news feeds together.

In other words, even though my blog and my friends’ blogs haven’t disappeared off the face of the internet, it would take a lot of work to recreate the moment in time in which any given post was written and see the broader environment of posts and discussions that make up any given posts’ context. Even this post is part of a conversational environment that includes the post I linked to above (and the posts to which it links), one other blog post that I can’t find any more, a couple of conversations on FriendFeed, the simple fact that an issue of Walt Crawford’s Cites & Insights came out recently, Greg Schwartz’s weekly requests for “newsworthy” content to talk about on Uncontrolled Vocabulary, and an IM conversation with Steve Lawson. That’s a lot of conversational context, each piece of which will be preserved in its own space (each blog’s archives, the Cites & Insights archives, the Uncontrolled Vocabulary audio, blog, and wiki archives, FriendFeed, and chat logs). But the moment that brought them all together, that asynchronous conversation, that zeitgeist, will probably melt into the cloud and render each piece of the conversation less rich for those coming back to them later. In fact, this post’s context is already melting since there’s one piece of if that I can no longer remember well enough to find.

There are a few vehicles that I know of that preserve these conversational contexts to varying degrees. Cites & Insights is one of them (and the one that I think defines the genre I’m imagining), Uncontrolled Vocabulary is another, This Week In LibraryBlogLand will be a third if it ever resurrects, and the now-defunct Carnival of the InfoSciences was often a fourth. Each of these gathers together the posts of others and strings them into some sort of narrative about contemporary issues in librarianship. But each also has its weakness as a Preserver of Zeitgeist. Cites & Insights preserves the issues that interested Walt, for example, and Uncontrolled Vocabulary preserves issues that Greg deems newsworthy. These foci are necessary and by no means a fault, but it leaves me wishing that more people had the time, energy, inclination, and ability to take on the task of this kind of preservation so that more pieces of the intenet conversation would get named, recorded, and preserved.

My immediate response was to note the coincidence (although I wrongly used “serendipity”) and to note one probable reason that two of the four examples Iris notes are moribund or defunct:

Weaving these things together is actual work, and unless you’re a little strange (like the proprietor of Cites & Insights), it may not be particularly rewarding work. The group of half a dozen library ezine/newsletter publishers that was briefly COWLZ is now down to…well, one.

Greg Schwartz, who does UV and used to spearhead the Carnival, added:

I do ask for newsworthiness, because that seems the most straightforward, but what I’m really seeking are topical conversation starters. Actual newsworthiness is only one piece of that, albeit an important one.

Walt highlights the reason that Cites & Insights works and the Carnival didn’t. C&I is the work of one truly impassioned (and perhaps strange, but likely not much stranger than me) individual.

A blog carnival is, by design, a community effort. Our community might not have been right for the kind of self-promotional instincts one has to have to submit to a blog carnival. Or perhaps I didn’t try hard enough.

We never had a problem finding someone willing to do the editorial legwork on a weekly basis. The idea was to distribute that time and energy commitment, so that we didn’t have to worry about people tiring of it. But it was the lack of wider community participation that killed it.

Uncontrolled Vocabulary survives because of a small group of people who make me feel like I’m not alone in my interest in the conversation. If it was just me, as it was with the original Open Stacks podcast, it would be an unsustainable model of loneliness for all but the strongest of wills (such as Walt’s).

Point being that folks like Walt are few and far between and that, if our goal is to preserve zeitgeist, what we really need is a dedicated collaborative effort. People working on the problem in isolation just creates a deepening of the same problem of fragmented conversational context.

There’s more to the comments (and may be more after this!), an exchange between Iris and Greg. Iris isn’t sure isolated efforts deepen the problem but agrees that isolated efforts “won’t do a whole lot to fix the problem”–which may not be a problem. Greg notes that someone creating another synthesis-oriented project actually creates “yet another contextual fragment that is then seen as something to be synthesized by the next person trying to synthesize the conversational context. And so on and so on in an endlessly recursive process.”

Delighted, honored…but that’s not why I do it

I am, to be sure, honored to be called an exemplar–and Iris names an aspect of C&I that I hadn’t necessarily thought about, but that’s certainly been a growing part of what I do for the past few years.

Impassioned? Strong-willed? I’m honored (and feel a nap coming on just reading those descriptions). I would hate to suggest that C&I continues because of inertia, and maybe that’s not true (if it was, C&I would settle back to the original scheme of 12 issues, 12 pages each, almost entirely composed of brief citations and the occasional comment).

It is true, however, that zeitgeist preservation is decidedly not why I do Cites & Insights–and that I’d need to do it very differently if that was the case. There would be more of you and less of me in those sections that are post-heavy. Even one notorious issue that will go unnamed here has a lot of my own comments and responses mixed in with the thoughts of others. If I don’t feel that I can add significant value, over and above selective quotations, I recycle the lead sheets I’ve printed off and abandon the essay.

I think of Cites & Insights as a creative work that involves but is not limited to synthesis. I know it’s an evolving project, one whose future outlines I’ve learned not to project too firmly. Two elements are constant: My desire to add value–and my need to find the stuff interesting.

Energy, rewards, sustainability

“Folks like Walt are few and far between.” That’s true enough, and for good reason. If certain folks like Walt had a better sense of how to apply energy in terms of likely rewards and compensation, there might not be any “folks like Walt.”

Oh, certainly, C&I and other writing do bring in a modest amount of money (thanks, YBP!), and have helped me establish some odd kind of reputation within the field. On the other hand, “modest” is the key term in that phrase, and the hot speaking engagements I get asked to do may say something about the reputation–as may the honors and other recognition I’ve received. (I’ve received three significant writing awards in my career–the LITA/Library Hi Tech Award in 1995, the Blackwell Scholarship Award in 1997, and the Excellence in Writing Information Authorship Award for Best Article in ONLINE Magazine in 1998. Cites & Insights had nothing to do with any of them, since it began in December 2000. As for paid speaking engagements, those seem to have settled down to one per year.)

I just deleted a paragraph about one particular issue of C&I and the extent of indirect rewards for doing it–or even recognition that the damn thing existed, from the “thought leaders” on that particular topic–but it’s too whiny for my taste. I figured out a long time ago that being The Guru on One Topic would serve me a lot better than being a “habitually probing generalist” (full credit to Mark Lindner)–but I never acted on that knowledge.

C&I takes a fair amount of energy. That energy would yield more compensation and probably more rewards if applied elsewhere. The zeitgeist preservation aspects of C&I score higher on the required-energy scale than most others–and, generally, lower on the rewards scale. I’ll probably keep doing them because I think they’re interesting and worthwhile, but with a frequent low-level frustration.

What this all boils down to? Preserving the zeitgeist isn’t sustainable for individual effort, especially since there aren’t that many fools like me. And that’s a shame. Based on the level of interest displayed in sponsoring some of my ongoing research, I think I can safely say that there’s no apparent institutional support for this sort of thing, and that’s not particularly surprising.

For that matter, I’m not sure it’s even preservation. The website for C&I has changed twice, and it will almost certainly disappear a year or two after I give up on the project. Thanks to OCLC, it appears that issues will be archived–the OCLC library has been archiving issues, and they’re all viewable from Worldcat.org. For that, I’m grateful–but it’s a fairly unusual situation.

I’m not sure that I have a conclusion here. I do know this: If I think too much about zeitgeist preservation, it will get in the way of doing a good job on C&I. So I’ll just say: If it happens, it happens–but barring some kind of institutional sponsorship, it just won’t (can’t) be a primary goal.

Conversational intensity: Claiming a term

Posted in Language, Liblogs on February 16th, 2009

Here goes nothing:

I believe that I coined the term “conversational intensity” as applied to blogs, when I first used it in “Perspective: Investigating the Biblioblogosphere“–which was published on August 10, 2005 as part of the September 2008 Cites & Insights. (That essay, by the way, appears to be the second-most-frequently-viewed essay in the history of C&I, with just under 20,000 full-issue downloads and single-article pageviews to date.)

No, I’m not claiming credit for the term itself. It’s been used in social sciences for decades, but it’s related to things like the loudness of conversations within a party and the like.

Conversational intensity, if you’re new to this game, is a relatively simple metric for a blog: Over a period of time (I typically use a three-month period), it is:

Number of comments divided by number of posts.

That’s it. The higher the number, the greater the conversational intensity.

U’r doin’ it wrong

The earliest use of the term related to blogs that I can find, other than my own, is from Mitch Ratcliffe’s Ratiuonal Rants blog at ZDNet, as the title of a February 5, 2006 post. That’s half a year later (although I’m not suggesting Ratcliffe picked it up from me–that would assume that Big-Deal Bloggers pay attention to anyone else other than other Big-Deal Bloggers, which seems unlikely)–and his usage is, in my humble opinion, wrong wrong wrong.

To wit, he’s using this term as a synonym for Conversational Index, a metric proposed by Stowe Boyd. The problem with this metric is that it’s inverted (and includes something that I regard as peripheral to conversation, namely the number of trackbacks, which are frequently just spam). CI is

Number of posts divided by number of (comments plus trackbacks)

That’s counterintuitive: Lower is better. How many metrics do you know (other than error metrics) where lower is better, higher is worse?

Otherwise, if you take out the trackbacks, it’s exactly the same metric, but inverted: A Conversational Index of 0.5 is the same as a conversational intensity of 2.0.

So what?

So not much of anything. I explicitly disclaim any intention of trademarking the term, claiming proprietary rights, or hounding anyone who uses it without giving me credit. Period. It’s just a bit of recent history.

Now, if someone was silly enough to write a Wikipedia entry on conversational intensity, I would expect credit (and the September 2005 C&I would be citable as a source). But why would anyone do that? (And no, please Gaia, don’t go the next step and try to create such an entry for the unnotable Walt Crawford.)

If anyone has an earlier citation of this term used in relationship to blogging, let me know.

The awesome power of Amazon discounts

Posted in C&I Books, Liblogs on February 14th, 2009

Wow.

Four days ago, as chronicled here, I learned that Amazon put The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008 on sale, with a healthy discount, bringing it down to $27.76 (still enough for free shipping).

At the time, zero copies of the book had sold on Amazon or CreateSpace in February; the sales rank reflected the single sale in January 2009.

Now, what a difference! Sales of the book on Amazon have zoomed up to…none. (And the sales rank has declined a little, not too surprisingly.)

Meanwhile, one copy did sell on Lulu, making the February total three for Lulu.

Predictably unpredictable: C&I in progress

Posted in Cites & Insights on February 13th, 2009

I am occasionally reminded (I use the passive because nobody does the reminding) that it’s folly to overplan even the short-term future for Cites & Insights–e.g., the probable contents of the next issue.

Or, for that matter, how much ground I’m likely to cover in a single essay.

Case in point

With the February issue published, shy an essay I’d planned to start but that clearly wouldn’t fit, I updated the tracking form I use (it’s a one-page Word table–all I need in this case) to identify the four essays I planned to prepare for the March issue.

And gathered the printout stubs that would feed into the first three of those essays.

And started on the first one–one where I’ve deliberately avoided focusing on a particular hot topic because I wanted to see how things played out first. (Oddly enough, it’s not the one postponed from February.)

As of about an hour ago, I’m done with the first draft of the article, which combines the comments of quite a few others on a particular developing situation with my own comments (and rejoinders to some of the other comments). Fairly typical of Perspectives, apart from the occasional “On…” that’s almost entirely original essay. (In this case, about one-third of the material is my comments and paraphrases, about two-thirds quoted.)

There’s only one little problem–or maybe it’s one big problem.

That’s the first of four planned essays. It’s also just over 25,000 words–after a lot of trimming along the way, and one full editing pass.

So?

So this:

  • The January issue is just over 25,000 words–and 30 pages.
  • The February issue is just under 23,000 words–and 30 pages.

In other words, what we have here is an issue-length essay. Which isn’t really what I had in mind.

On the other hand…

In three or four earlier cases, I wound up with an issue that was entirely on one topic or nearly so, even though I’d originally intended otherwise and was a little reluctant to put out such a focused issue. (There are also cases where I planned a single-focus issue all along.)

In general, those single-focus issues have been reasonably well read, and the “other essays” just got delayed a month. (It’s a mixed bag, actually. Three single-essay issues are among the most widely-read essays and issues ever. Three others are middling.)

So…

I’ll start on the next essay (or write a column, or do some non-computer stuff), let this sit for a week or so, go over it again, and decide.

Chances are, this essay will be the March issue, and I’ll have a head start on a more varied April issue. And I’ll be reminded that C&I’s flow of topics (and issue sizes) is predictably unpredictable. Which is probably a good thing.


What’s the topic? A few of you on FriendFeed may have a clue. Otherwise, let’s just say that it’s one that cuts across several of my ongoing foci and probably affects pretty much every public and academic library in the U.S.

Kicking the gift horse in the teeth, and other stories

Posted in Books and publishing, Cites & Insights, Liblogs on February 9th, 2009

Another omnibus post, as I luxuriate in a one-day break between finishing Cites & Insights 9:3 and starting work on essays toward Cites & Insights 9:4…(out whenever it’s ready–I tentatively plan four substantial essays, but one or two of those could grow into Issue-Eating Essays, and they’ll all take time to do right):

Kicking the gift horse…

Without readers, Cites & Insights wouldn’t exist: I’d lose my partial sponsorship and certainly lose interest.

I love my readers, by and large. When I got lots of feedback, I ran most of it. (These days, I rarely get much email feedback, so rarely run it.) When I get good suggestions, I pay attention. Thus some tweaks to the format. Thus the HTML separates for most articles. Thus the expanded posts when issues come out, describing each article (or at least offering a little more than the name).

When I get complaints and bad suggestions, I try to be civil, although in at least one case I’ve basically told a (former?) reader not to let the door hit him on the way out.

Then there’s something like this.

  • When I publish a new issue, I do a blog post in three places: Here, C&I Alerts, and my LISNews “blog.” It’s exactly the same post, although it renders differently in each space–I create the post here, then copy the HTML and paste it in the other spaces. (The same post also goes to a small mailing list–three lists, two of them active, and a few individuals.)
  • So on February 8–Sunday–I put up the post on LISNews.
  • In my blog space there. Nobody chose to publish it as a main-page news item, so you had to go to my blog to read it–just as you have to go to C&I to download issues or view articles. Simple rules: a. It doesn’t cost anything. b. It doesn’t litter your inbox–you have to go get it.
  • And got this comment, from one of LISNews’ many “anonymous” commenters:

“What does these articles do for the Sister who puts on a badge and gun, so to speak, and goes to work in the morning at an actual library?”

I’m sorry, but honest to Gaia, what do you do with something like this? I passed right over the “What does” (some of us might say “What do” when referring to more than one article, but hey…) and stared at the rest of it. We have a “Sister” who refers to library work as putting on “a badge and gun” and who seems to feel that it’s my duty to inform her of precisely how my articles relate directly to her day.

This wasn’t a polite “I’m not sure whether I’d find C&I applicable to my work; could you help?”–in which case I’d probably say something like:

I’m not sure, since I don’t know your library or your needs . It’s fair to say that at least 90% to 95% of English-speaking librarians don’t find C&I relevant to their work, and maybe shouldn’t. (One issue seems to be an exception, but even there, 70%-80% of librarians probably haven’t seen it.)

The best I can do is put the articles out there and describe them for you. You’ll have to determine whether you find them useful, informative, broadening or entertaining. If not–well, there’s lots of other library literature out there that may suit your needs better.

But this comment came off as a frontal attack–as though the Sister was affronted by my even publishing something unless it was directly applicable to her “gun & badge” work.

To me, this is a prime (and not particularly rare) example of not only looking a gift horse in the mouth but trying to kick its teeth in.

After my silent two-word response, which I won’t repeat here, I offered this:

Maybe it’s not your ejournal

“What does these articles do for the Sister who puts on a badge and gun, so to speak, and goes to work in the morning at an actual library?”

If you view library work as “putting on a badge and gun,” and if you’re only looking for something that will directly affect your day at work, then maybe you should be reading something else. I’ll happily refund your subscription price for C&I, although it’s hard to send $0 checks to anonymous people.

I could cite examples in this issue (and most others) that certainly speak to [some] librarians in [many] libraries for their workday, professional and personal lives, but that’s not my job. If people don’t find it worth reading, it won’t get read–and then it won’t get written.

I’m not sure what being a capital-S Sister has to do with it…

That may be mildly impolite, but under the circumstances it was the best I could do. I do wonder sometimes, though… Is this entitlement or just rudeness? Was I out of line to take exception? (Should I simply ignore any comment that’s not signed?)

Is anybody reading this stuff?

I haven’t seen as much feedback lately, or as many links from elsewhere, but there are so many options out there…

I finally put together an ongoing spreadsheet on apparent readership, and may offer some detailed notes down the line (here or in C&I). For now, with numbers only through 12/31/08, and noting that I have no figures at all for the 2+ years when I hosted C&I on my freebie AT&T (dial-up) website, it’s fair to say that I’m encouraged.

  • For full issues, the average number of downloads is 3,695, with a median of 3,217; 13 (of the 122 issues and indexes) have more than 6,000 downloads, 43 more than 4,000, 69 more than 3,000…and only 6 less than 700, my “this isn’t working” point–but all of those are too new for the numbers to mean anything, since readership clearly builds over time.
  • For essays, where I count PDF downloads of the full issue plus HTML views of the specific essay (ignoring PDF “views,” since I assume those duplicate downloads), and where the essays only go back to volume 4, the average is 5,098, median 4,996; seven have more than 10,000 total “reads,” 58 more than 7,000; 106 more than 6,000; 153 more than 5,000; and 240 (of 307 total) more than 3,000–with most of the others too new for meaningful numbers. I consider anything over 3,000 to be strong readership, so I’m happy with that.

Liblog Landscape success (or not)

How am I doing on the road to deciding whether it makes sense to continue surveying the liblog landscape? Well, as of the end of January, there were 42 sales of the book–and two sales of C&I annuals. So that’s just over 7% probability that I’d keep going with it.

As of now–admittedly, only nine days later–there are 42 44! sales of the book and two sales of C&I annuals. At this rate, I can confidently predict that by the end of June I’ll have at least 42 50+? sales of the book. And will listen to the message. (If I could get $1–or even $0.50–for each download/pageview of Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0″ I’d have the motivation to do more of this stuff. Ah well, if wishes were horses, we’d all be up to our ears in…)

(If you’re wondering: the two library blog books have sold 78 and 44 copies, public and academic respectively. If I do anything at all there, it would be wildly different–probably focusing on success stories and finding out what makes them successes–and may be pointless in any case. No real nibbles on research sponsorship, which is no big surprise.

Unhermiting

The situation as of now, for anyone who cares:

  • I’m using Facebook passively (more passively as time goes on), with a surprising number of “friends” and fairly tight privacy rules. Expect even fewer status updates. I do occasionally comment. So far, the number of long-lost acquaintances with whom I’ve become reacquainted: Zero. But it’s early, and checking once a day is minimal overhead.
  • FriendFeed–with right around 80 subscriptions and subscribed-to–is promising. I’m trying to make sure I don’t spend too much time there, and so far that’s working, and I am finding useful conversations and actually getting help at times. So far, so good. (And, thanks to Steve Lawson’s tip, FF’s become much more readable.) Informal, asynchronous, sometimes serendipitous: A workable situation, at least at the current level. (If I’m subscribed to you and don’t seem to be responding to things: Among other things, I hide tweets unless someone else has Liked or Commented–that was already too much noise for the signal.)
  • LSW Meebo…well, it always was an odd one for me, since it’s synchronous and I’m not a good multitasker. More recently, when I drop in (usually at times that used to have 8-12 people), not much is going on. After ignoring it almost all last week, I checked in today at 12:51: Nobody else there, and there’d never been more than 2-3 people there. I’ve removed the bookmark from my “unhermiting” area–and, as I note, it never really was the right tool for me.
  • Twitter: Given that it only took me 2-3 days to realize I needed to hide tweets in FriendFeed, it’s fair to assume that I’m not reactivating my Twitter account. Just not my thing.

That should do it for a miscellaneous post. Now to arrange items on one of the four topics, and see how the narrative evolves as I start working on it (tomorrow?). There’s an issue about a possible workshop (related to libraries and PoD book creation) that I might want to prepare, but I need to think about that some more before articulating it further.


The title of this post is a loose tribute to Gene Wolfe’s brilliant story collection, The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. If you haven’t read it, do so; it’s been out for 28 years, but it’s still available. Wolfe is one of several immediate responses to any jackass who suggests that science fiction writers are all crappy writers. The collection features “The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories,” “The Death of Dr. Island,” and “The Doctor of Death Island”–and a lot more. Hmm. Maybe time to go to the library and borrow it again.

Slight tweak in blog template

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 8th, 2009

A couple hours I posted the announcement for C&I 9.3 (below), there was a comment on it on FriendFeed from Polly Potter, noting my suggestion that people not use white text on a dark background in their blogs. She noted that light gray text on a light background can also be difficult to read.

Which is true enough (and is one of my complaints about FriendFeed, actually: comments appear as light gray text), but I wondered if it was more pointed…

OK; after looking at it, I’ve changed the template so that block-quoted text (and some other odd varieties that don’t happen very often), instead of being color #777, a fairly light gray, are now color #222, a very dark gray (on my display, it’s indistinguishable from black).

Better or worse? Less elegant, I think, but more readable–a choice I’m willing to make.


Update: I played with it a little more. It’s now #333, which is distinguishably lighter than black on a good display, but still very high contrast. Now if FriendFeed would use something closer to black for comment text…

Cites & Insights 9:3 now available

Posted in Cites & Insights on February 8th, 2009

Cites & Insights 9:3, February 2009, is now available for downloading.

The 30-page issue is PDF, as usual. Three of the essays are available as HTML separates (using the links below). The first, which is also the longest, is available as a PDF separate–the inclusion of embedded Excel graphs within the document made HTML creation more cumbersome than I was willing to deal with.

This issue features the article versions of my two presentations for the OLA (Ontario Library Association) SuperConference, held just over a week ago in Toronto, Ontario. The first article is a longer version of my session “Shiny Toys or Useful Tools?”; the second article includes “My own take” as the first set of Tech Trends, and that was my initial commentary during the “Top Tech Trends” session.

Issue contents:

Making it Work: Shiny Toys or Useful Tools? (pages 1-9)

Blogs and wikis aren’t shiny new toys for libraries and librarians any more. They’ve moved from toys to tools. This article includes the only defensible definitions of blogs and wikis that I know of, some comments about planning library blogs, and sections on the state of liblogs and library blogs in December 2008. Included–for the first time in C&I–graphs, eight of them. (As noted, the link is to a 9-page PDF.)

Perspective: Tech Trends, Trends and Forecasts (pages 9-18)

It’s that time of year again–time for lots of trendy commentaries. For a change, I begin with my own set: The trends I see “as vital for thinking about libraries, technology and life.”That’s followed by tech trends and commentaries from nine different sources, six of them library-specific; two sets of general trends, one of them just full of trendy neologisms; and three sets of forecasts (short-term predictions), one of them coupled with a scorecard for 2008.

Interesting & Peculiar Products (pages 18-23)

One long commentary on “budget” high-end audio systems and “the rule of 10,” plus comments on seven products (or groups of products) and seven editors’ choices and group reviews.

Trends & Quick Takes (pages 23-29)

Four longer commentaries and six quicker takes.

My Back Pages (pages 29-30)

Four brief commentaries.

#2? Really?

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 5th, 2009

Here’s a mystery, although I’m sure Dave could explain it: At the moment, this little blog is #2 in the Hot or Not hit parade...just below In the Library with the Lead Pipe and above ALA TechSource Blog.

And my other blog, PLN Highlights, is #26.

Which, since PLN Highlights posts are repeated here, suggests a correlation…

I’m surprised someone hasn’t recorded their blog’s ranking each day over, say, a month, and published the resulting graph. (No, I’m not about to do that; I only check this once a week or so, purely for amusement purposes, mostly to see which odd set of blogs is in the top 5 or 10. Today, Dion Hinchcliffe, UK Web Focus, Sintoblog, Library & Information Update blog, Coffee|Code, The Gaming Zone, Ramblings of a Remote Worker fill out the top ten–which means six of the “hottest” ten library blogs are ones I’ve never really read or heard of. That probably says more about me than about them. Yes, Dan, Coffee|Code is the one other than the top three that I do read regularly.)

Tomorrow? I might be back down to #300 or so. But I probably won’t know…

The lesson here, obviously, given the #26 ranking: Use the PALINET Leadership Network. It will make you hot. Or at least better informed.

Tech trends, belatedly

Posted in Libraries, Technology and software on February 4th, 2009

I wrote these some time ago, in preparation for the OLA SuperConference and as part of a Trends & Quick Takes Special for the February Cites & Insights (not out yet–maybe in a week or less?). I didn’t post them here because I wrote them for C&I; I did, however, include them in a Technology Trends article for the PALINET Leadership Network.

I’m posting them here for two reasons:

  1. First, because it may be a while before C&I comes out (various disruptions, not to worry)
  2. Second, because Steve Lawson posted a really terrific “Top Tech Trend” item that has some overlap with mine–and after I noted that on FriendFeed (a comment that was intended to be along the lines of “great minds rest in the same gutter,” or whatever the saying is), he added a link to the post that suggests that he’d seen me offering similar ideas. And, you know, the more I think about it, the more I think that’s probably not true–that Steve monitored the same trends I did, had the same sense about them, and came up with his commentary wholly independently. (OK, maybe we chatted about it on LSW Meebo, back when I was showing up there once in a while. Maybe not.)

I think Steve’s post, regarding the “social software deathwatch,” is relevant and interesting in ways that my little set of trends may not be. But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I have to say. Think of it as a preview of one small portion of one essay in the February 2009 C&I.

My own take

In the Midwinter 2009 issue, I quoted from my 2004 mini-essay on the “top technology trend,” quoting Cory Doctorow and Boing Boing. Repeating part of the beginning of Doctorow’s entry: “The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy…” I believe that’s still true-and maybe the economic reality that emerged last year and will be with us for some time to come demonstrates that better than everything. Technology helped get us into this mess; I don’t see any way that technology will get us out of it.

Beyond that, I see these trends as vital for thinking about libraries, technology and life:

  • Limits: They exist. Your financial resources are limited; you can’t keep borrowing against tomorrow indefinitely. Deny them as we might, limits–natural resources, time, attention–don’t simply disappear. Denying limits and hiding them under various odd assumptions can lead to disasters of various sorts.
  • Business models: They matter. When you’re considering how various services for your own work and your library’s work will work, think about business models. To what extent are you relying on free services that don’t appear to have any source of revenue? What happens to your service if those services disappear? Do you have any rational basis to believe that they’ll continue to exist, grow and be developed without clear revenue sources? Your library has a business model, typically that of a community service: People pay in advance in order to fund a common good.
  • Trusting the cloud: Set aside the jargon–the cloud’s just software and services on someone else’s servers. “Trusting the cloud” has three key aspects, one particularly important where library functions are concerned: Trusting that the services will remain (see “business models”); trusting that your data will be safe; and trusting that confidentiality will be preserved. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t use the cloud; I am arguing that you should think several times before relying entirely on the cloud.
  • Valuing existing users and services: Yes, you need to see how you can serve emerging needs of your community (your community)–but times of limits make your existing services more valuable than ever. Don’t ignore your existing users in order to court a minority of people living the digital lifestyle; find some balance. And if you find that some portion of the digerati really do have all the money to satisfy their instant-everything demands and have no intention of using your services–well, in fact, you can’t please everybody, and there’s a limit to how hard you should try.
  • Real communities: What technologies and balances serve your users in your community? The answer’s considerably different for a town in which 99% of residents are wealthy and have high-speed broadband and smart phones (if such a town exists) than it is for a city where many people aren’t online at all (except at the library), many more have only dialup at home, and $100 a month for a smart phone data service is an outrageous expense. Where’s your community–and how does your library serve your users effectively?
  • Taking back the language: That’s a group heading for a number of language-related issues. It means understanding that “Essentially free” means somebody somewhere is paying a lot of money. It means thinking to yourself “what you mean we?” when someone pronounces something that “we” or “we all” do or think. (The full phrase, from a brilliant song by Oscar Brown, Jr. regarding the Lone Ranger and Tonto, is slightly politically incorrect–although, you know, a majority of those using unfounded “we”isms are indeed white men.) It means flagging “inevitable” as a typically nonsensical substitute for argument. It means honoring skepticism while trying to avoid cynicism.

So there you have it. And do read Lawson’s commentary; it’s excellent. (Now to close this and add portions of his commentary to my Trends article–and, tomorrow or the next day, larger portions to the PLN article.)

A seriously meaningful post for a change

Posted in Movies and TV on February 3rd, 2009

Last night, Chuck was back on with a new episode. Which I only learned because the local paper had a sidenote about it (it wasn’t flagged “new” in TV Guide, and we don’t watch a whole lot of NBC shows).

In 3D.

So, where do you get glasses? The NBC Chuck site sayeth not…just that the whole episode is in 3D (but you can watch it later, on the NBC site, in either 3D or 2D).

Other sites led me to believe that most grocery stores should have them. So, off to one that should. They said they’d had a stack, but they were all gone…oh, wait, one sheet of four pairs. (You can’t get one pair or two pairs, just four at a time.) Apparently, the Big Deal was a superbowl ad in 3D, not a half-hour TV show.

Up to this point:

  • NBC does spectacular job of not saying where these glasses would be available–I mean, not on the website itself? Hello?
  • Actual distribution mechanism doesn’t work all that well.
  • Focus of distribution is a Monsters Vs. Aliens ad, not a 30-minute show.

So we tried the glasses. I wear eyeglasses all the time. My wife usually doesn’t (not when watching TV, for example). We have a first-rate, 11-year-old, CRT-based TV (a 32″ Sony XBR). We were getting a pretty decent signal.

My wife tried the glasses for about a minute, then stopped…dealing, instead, with the slightly strange color and focus issues of a 3D picture viewed in 2D. Why?

  • The glasses darkened the picture so much that she could barely see at all out of one eye and mostly saw blurs out of the other.
  • The glasses were so uncomfortable that she didn’t want to deal with them.
  • Because of the first issue, she never really saw 3D effects.

I tried them a little longer, but eventually gave up as well.

  • Yes, I saw the 3D, and it was in fact far more natural than most previous efforts.
  • But the picture was too dark to enjoy, and I didn’t think 3D really added anything to the show.
  • The glasses were not, shall we say, great when used in front of regular glasses, and hopeless behind regular glasses. If I don’t wear my regular glasses, I’d see nothing but blur…

After the show, I realized who would find the picture more acceptable: Owners of LCD TVs with “torch mode” settings (what you usually see in the showroom), bright enough to cause headaches under normal conditions. Torch mode might balance the darkness of the 3D lenses to yield a plausible picture. (And if you got a headache, you wouldn’t know whether it was torch mode- or 3D-induced.)

All things considered, I look forward to seeing Chuck in 2D next week…

What? You really expected a meaningful post with a title like that? Sorry.


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