Archive for the ‘Technology and software’ Category

Last words on the iPad (for now, at least)

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

It’s out. I did my special issue on the pre-release hype before it came out–which was what I intended to do.

Post-release hype? Plenty of it, at almost deafening levels at, for example–possibly even worse than pre-release, which I frankly didn’t think was possible.

I’m not tagging post-release iPad-related articles (at least not if the iPad is the primary thrust). I don’t plan to–because I don’t plan to do a followup, at least not for quite a while.

Meantime, I do have a few reasonably safe predictions:

  • Most commentary–formal and informal–by people who actually buy iPads will be positive, at least for the first month. I’d guess 90% or more will be enthusiastic. (Most people who buy new things, particularly somewhat pricey new things, like the things they buy–even if they’re not from Apple. That’s only natural.)
  • Most people who offer mixed reviews, even if they’re primarily positive, will be called “Haters” in the comments on their posts or articles. (Here’s where the iPad is different than non-Apple products would be.) UPDATE: I’m turning out to be wrong on this, although it was pretty accurate pre-launch. That’s a good thing: You can be less than 100% pro-iPad without being a “Hater.” (Second update: Ah, but Nicholas Carr just used “Luddites” to refer to Cory Doctorow and anybody else raising qualms about the closed nature of the iPad. There are other words than “Hater.”)
  • The iPad will be hailed even more as “the X killer,” where X=any number of things, including desktops, notebooks, netbooks, ereaders, print publishing, creativity, openness, probably even iPod Touch and iPhones…
  • The iPad will kill none of these things. It doesn’t work that way.
  • Most early experiments in offering magazines on the iPad will fail dismally–for reasons not having much to do with the iPad itself. Sorry, but who in their right minds is really going to pay $4.99 an issue for Wired or Time on the iPad when they sell for, respectively, $12 or less per year and $20 or less per year for 12 or 52+ issues, respectively? (Yes, there will be some. No, there won’t be many.)

There’s some bizarre stuff going on–e.g., a pro-Apple analyst proclaiming that the iPad could be to tablet computing what the Mac is to personal computing in general, a fate I suspect Apple would just as soon avoid…and another one saying the iPad will be the death of Mac notebooks, another fate I suspect Apple would just as soon avoid.

Meantime, if you buy an iPad, enjoy (I’m sure you will). Just don’t get it very wet or drop it very often (having just watched the PC World stress test)–but, frankly, I don’t think that’s advice iPad owners really need to hear. “Oh, hey, here’s my shiny new $500 electronic device! I think I’ll rinse it off under running water and then drop it a few times.” Maybe not.

20 years: The “death of DVDs” in context

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Just a quick note, for various deathwatch fans who are quick to proclaim The Death Of Whatever–in this case, DVDs, ’cause everything’s going to be streaming any day now…

As noted in this Bloomberg story, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix–who probably knows more about DVD and streaming long-form video consumption than anybody else, and who would really love to see Netflix become entirely a streaming-video operation (as people have noted, it’s not called Mailboxflix)–believes Netflix will be shipping DVDs to subscribers until 2030.

2030. That’s 20 years from now. At that point, DVDs will have been around for more than 30 years and dominant for at least a quarter-century (which has, with remarkable consistency, been the timespan for any dominant audio/video medium to remain dominant or at least very important).

Note that “DVD” includes Blu-ray and, sigh, 3D Blu-ray. Will physical media disappear at some point? Who knows? Will they disappear in the next year or two or five? Not likely.

A metrics update

Friday, February 26th, 2010

For those who care about the issue of Google Analytics metrics vs. Urchin (5) metrics–which is either “quite a few people” (if you believe Urchin) or “pretty much nobody” (if you believe Google Analytics), here’s an update:

  • It was pointed out to me that GA won’t track if the user doesn’t have cookies enabled and Javascript enabled. Nothing I can do about that.
  • Seth Finkelstein thought it might have to do with HTML errors, and noted that the W3C Validator found a bunch of those on the Walt at Random home page.

So I thought I’d see how tough it was to correct those errors–and whether it made a difference. (I also thought I’d see whether the errors were mine or were in the templates & addons I used.)

There were a bunch of errors, but that includes cascading errors (where one apparent error is really the result of another error–boy, do I remember those from programming, especially in PL/I!). It turns out that about 80% of the “errors” were mine, mostly because I’m used to HTML parsing being fairly forgiving–namely:

  • Using all-caps operators where HTML requires all-lower-case.
  • Using <br> as a standalone, rather than <br />–but that was both in my own code and in a portion of the template.

I managed to fix them all, although in one case that made the right sidebar a bit less attractive (Validator just wouldn’t accept one particular nested-list). Took me 2, maybe 2.5 hours. Except for the added infelicity in the right margin, it made no difference to the average viewer, I believe, since the visible results were the same. But, presumably, it would make Google Analytic results a little more plausible. Maybe?

Depends on your definition of “a little.”

The changes have been in place since February 23. I’ve had a chance to look at two full days running on a clean, zero-errors home page vs. the same days on Urchin.

There may have been a little increase in pageviews and visits logged by Google Analytics–but not much of one. Here’s what I see for comparisons on the 22, 23 and 24:

  • Sessions: February 22: Google Analytics 58, Urchin 1,492.
    February 23: Google Analytics 79, Urchin 1,439
    February 24: Google Analytics 81, Urchin 1,398.
  • Pageviews: February 22: Google Analytics 77, Urchin 4,455
    February 23: Google Analytics 115, Urchin 3,213
    February 24: Google Analytics 132, Urchin 3,093.

And, mysteriously, the second-highest post in a full page reports on Google Analytics is a post from the very first year of the blog (on mondegreens), with 34 views…where that post is not even in the top 50 on Urchin.


I do note that none of the GA reported pages is a /feed/index page, where quite a few of the higher ones in Urchin are (these presumably being RSS views of pages?). That could account for some of it–since the GA code is, as recommended, right before </body> in the page, it’s part of the footer, which doesn’t get fed to RSS. Since I regard readers-via-RSS as fully equivalent to readers-“in person,” I’m not thrilled about losing those counts.

But if I filter the Urchin pages report to eliminate everything with “feed” anywhere in it, that eliminates less than one-third of the views, still leaving them way more than 10x as high as GA shows.

I’m not sure what else might be going on. I flat-out don’t believe that 90% of Walt at Random viewers have either cookies or Javascript disabled. (But I could be wrong.)


For me, for now, for my own sites, the solution is simple: I’ll take the Google Analytics tracking code out of the template and rely on Urchin for my statistics, since it’s actually (presumably) looking at logs. The GA code is extra overhead for the internet; why waste it?

For my work? They’re looking into it. (There, I think the “plausible to reported” multiple is nowhere near as high…)

Google Analytics v. Urchin 5: A Metrics Quandary

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Ever since I’ve used LISHost for various purposes–this blog throughout its history (except for a few months last year), Cites & Insights since mid-June 2006, my personal site since its inception–I’ve used Urchin to track site usage (unless Blake added Urchin more recently). Currently, my sites use Urchin 5. (Apparently, some LISHost sites on another server use Urchin 6, and none of this necessarily applies to them.)

I like Urchin. It defaults to a weekly view with a nice range of options, and you can expand it to a much broader timeline (although it runs into trouble if the timeline is too long or the logs to be analyzed too large: I’m not sure which). I’ve done reports on an entire year. For the reports I mostly care about–for C&I, file download figures (for PDF) and pageview figures (for HTML)–exporting reports works well. Robots (spiders) are separated out into a separate subsection. The number seem consistent–that is, there’s nothing in any of the numbers to suggest faulty logic, and at least some download/pageview numbers are consistent with what I’d expect from other sources.

Recently, I decided to try Google Analytics as an alternative (without disabling Urchin, to be sure). Urchin’s now owned by Google, and I believe Urchin 6 distinctly reflects that–and the ownership does mean that Urchin help is mostly not working very well. Unlike Urchin 5, Google Analytics doesn’t analyze server logs: You have to put tracking code on every page you want it to track, and it relies on calls to Google’s own servers. I only wanted to try it for Walt at Random, and since very page uses the “footer” code, it was easy enough to put the GA code segment into that portion of the site’s HTML–just before the “</body”> tag, as suggested by GA. (This clearly wouldn’t work well for Cites & Insights, where the numbers I’m most interested in are PDF downloads.)

I wanted to try GA partly because that’s currently the tracking method for use of the new Drupal Library Learning Network. (The old one used MediaWiki, which has strong usage-reporting built right into the system.)

The code went active on February 15, in the morning, and has now been active for a little more than a week.

And I don’t believe the results.

Some Quick Comparisons

Here’s what I find, comparing GA’s report covering February 15 through February 22 with Urchin’s for the same period–but noting that Urchin’s daily run was apparently yesterday morning, covering a small fraction of yesterday’s use and presumably making GA’s numbers higher by default:

  • Sessions: GA reports 491 “visits.” Urchin reports 11,287 “sessions.” (No, there are no typos there: GA is reporting 4.3% of the number of sessions reported by Urchin–just over 1/25th.)
  • Pageviews: GA reports 633 pageviews. Urchin reports 29,306. The difference here is even larger: GA is reporting 2.2% as many pageviews as Urchin.
  • Visitors: GA reports 406 visitors (which means almost nobody came back–82.69% new visits). Urchin reports 2,005 IP addresses, which I take to be the same thing as visitors. A much smaller difference here, since Urchin seems to find people returning. Still, GA’s reporting only 20% as many different IP addresses as Urchin.
  • Popular pages: GA says that only two current posts were visited 20 times or more–the “Social Networks/Social Media Snapshot” with 31 visits and “Open Access and Libraries: Be My Guest” with 29. (Things drop rapidly after that, with, for example, “Catching Up (sort of, a little bit)” getting 11 views.) By comparison, Urchin shows 206 pageviews for the Open Access post, 162 for Social Networks and 110 for “Catching Up”–and an LLN repost with 151 views in the middle.

At Least One Of These Must Be Wrong

So which is it? Does this blog have a very small readership with very active commenting, which would have to be the case for the GA numbers to be right, or is GA massively undercounting for various reasons?

While it wouldn’t much bother me if the first was true, it does seem a little out of proportion to the 830+ Feedreader subscriptions for this blog as of today–and, frankly, with the number of downloads for the Open Access and Libraries PDF. (28 during that same period.)

I’ve already been told (a) that Google Analytics won’t work if a user doesn’t have Javascript enabled or doesn’t allow cookies, (b) that GA is apparently intolerant of less-than-perfect HTML. It’s also quite possible that (c) I somehow mangled the code cut-and-paste–but in that case you’d expect no stats at all, or at least not the kind of stats I’m seeing. (161 pages visited during the 8 days–but visited very rarely.)

For the blog, I really don’t care. I’ll probably remove the GA tracking code after a while, and I’ll certainly rely on Urchin for numbers. For Cites & Insights, where there’s a reason to care, I can’t really use GA in any case–I’m not going to add tracking code to all the HTML articles, so all I’d be tracking is visits to the site, not readership for the publication.

For Library Leadership Network…well, there I care.

A Social Network/Social Media Snapshot

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

How much (and how) is each of us involved with social networks and social media?

You can get glib answers from a number of sources–answers that I always find a little suspicious in their specificity and broadness. But those answers are only for some large group as a whole–and, increasingly, I think it’s clear that “large group” is both a virtue and a problem for social networks.

Yes, I think Metcalfe’s Law is fundamentally wrong–and always have. For social networks in particular, there’s strong evidence that there’s a crossover point at which more linkages cease to add value and start to dissipate value and relevance. That’s a much more complicated issue, one that others are looking at, and certainly way too complicated for an ‘umble post.

There is one thing I’m reasonably certain of: If there’s a crossover point, it varies by network and by person. How could it be otherwise? What I might consider a maddening flood of chatter might, for you, be a pleasantly active set of conversations. What I might consider a reasonable flow of activity might seem to you like nobody’s quite bothered to turn out the lights (but the tumbleweeds are rolling across the stage).

Avoiding the Big Picture

So any generalized statements I might make would be even more suspect than usual. Heck, I don’t even think everyone else should be like me–I certainly don’t believe other people are like me.

And yet… I’ve found it interesting and, in some cases, worthwhile to see how others handle their virtual lives and how that correlates to what I understand of their personas. So maybe one or two of you will find this breakdown useful.

Incidentally, I’m talking about both social media and social networks. Here’s the distinction as I see it:

  • A social medium is a publishing medium that encourages direct feedback and interaction–but that typically involves some significant multiple of readers to those providing feedback. I’d put blogs and wikis in this category. (Realistically, lists also belong here. I think Google Reader and Bloglines also do, but aggregators are tricky…)
  • A social network is a conversational medium–one that is fundamentally about interaction, not about messages as such. I’d put Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn and others in this category. Ditto Buzz, if Buzz becomes anything other than a botched experiment in opt-out implementation.
  • Yes, you can use a social network as a social medium (I’d say that’s the case for any Twitterer with more than 10 times as many followers as follows, or any FriendFeed participant who just feeds in stuff from other sources and never participates in threads.) You can use social media as social networks, sort of, but with considerably more difficulty. (Some wikis might be crude social networks, but not most.)

And that’s way too much overhead for a simple exercise (that could yet turn into a piece of a C&I essay, a ways down the road…) (Oh, and speaking of Cites & Insights: It’s neither. It’s an online publication, impure and complex–impure because in its PDF form it’s really a print publication distributed via the web, which is what I’ve said since its founding.)

So here’s where I think I am, today–noting that I’m a fairly extreme introvert, but that I also write a lot.

Where I Am Right Now (I Think)

Here’s where I believe I am with regard to social media and social networks as of today–including what I believe to be the typical time I spend on each, and how I feel about it.

Social Media

  • Walt at Random: My primary social-media outlet. I’ve been here just under five years (really? sometimes it seems less; sometimes much more). My long-term goal has been “roughly two posts a week,” but that was before the automatic post-a-week from my day job. This appears to be post #1,226, so I’m actually averaging just under five posts a week. I’ve had 3,144 comments so far (plus more than 34,500 spam attempts!), which is just about 2.5 comments per post: Terrible for a Name Blogger, not terrible for a liblog. Of course, if I turned off Spam Karma 2 (and extended the time limit for comments, or turned that off as well, and maybe even accepted linkbacks), I’d have more than two dozen comments per post, but the comment facility would also be useless since it would be almost all crap. Let’s see: the blog has a Google Page Rank of five, which is neither strong nor weak. Checking Technorati, I see an Authority of 495 (wow: that’s a lot higher than I expected–but I no longer have much sense of what Technorati Authority actually means); Popurious says I have an Alexa rank of around 2.26 million and some 30,000 Yahoo BackLinks. Of course, it also says I have zero Bloglines subscribers, where Bloglines shows either 104 or 479 (two different feeds). Feedburner (which I’ve learned never to check on the weekend, as numbers seem to dive, then return) shows 827 subscribers, which is astonishing from my perspective. As to measured traffic–well, it depends on who you believe. I added Google Analytics code to track pages (because that’s what’s used for the new Drupal Library Leadership Network, and I’m a little surprised by the low numbers)–and, after a couple of days, I seem to be showing maybe 100 visits and 130 pageviews per day. But Urchin, which actually analyzes server logs (I believe), shows an average of 1,700 visits and just under 5,000 pageviews a day for the past week. So is the site rarely visited at all, or does it have fairly robust numbers? Obviously, I’d like to believe Urchin…and I really do wonder what’s going on with GA. (Maybe I added the code incorrectly?) All in all, I’d call it moderately successful (decent posting frequency, decent level of conversation, more than adequate readership), but then it’s really secondary to C&I, my primary publishing outlet. How much time to I spend on it? This post will take more than an hour to write (it actually took almost exactly two hours); I’d guess I average 15-30 minutes a day on the whole.
  • C&I Updates is my oldest blog, but has only one purpose, described in its name. (It’s not actually oldest by much: The oldest post appears to be from August 12, 2004.) 99 posts to date, just a little more than one post per month. No comments. 295 Bloglines subscribers, so I’m guessing maybe 400+ overall? No GPR. I probably spend two minutes per month on this one, since I create the issue announcements in Walt at Random, then copy-and-paste the HTML into C&I Updates. For its very specific purpose, it works just fine…but it’s sure not very social.
  • Oh, there’s a “blog” in LISNews too, but that’s almost entirely a mirror of C&I Updates. And LLN Highlights is my “work blog,” just as–until today, when I finished moving the last article to the Drupal LLN–the MediaWiki LLN was my “work wiki.”
  • What else? I’ve contributed (rarely) to Library Success Wiki. I’ve contributed (even more rarely!) to Wikipedia. I’m on some unknown but small number of lists–PubLib, Web4Lib, LITA-L, JESSE, and probably a couple of others. Other than issue announcements on the first two, I’m mostly a lurker on these.
  • As for aggregators, I’m still using Bloglines and now find that I have even less desire to turn over more of my virtual life to Google tools. As of today, I see 510 feeds in all, of which roughly 470 are library-related. I probably spend 30 to 45 minutes a day going through the aggregator and reading posts as needed, also tagging some in delicious. (My use of delicious doesn’t qualify as social use.) Part of that time is work time. So I read a lot of blogs and comment whenever I think it’s appropriate–I’d guess maybe 2-4 comments a week?

I think that’s it for social media. By and large, I’m OK with the time involved, and I know I get a lot out of the blogs I read. I’d like to think this blog contributes something; I’m certain C&I does.

Social Networks

Here, things get more confusing. Here’s what I believe to be the case–but, just as I’m a permanent ghost in Second Life (you can’t actually delete your account) and probably have a ghost account in Orkut and Ning, I may be a ghost in several other venues…and some people would consider my presence in one other network essentially ghostly.

I’ve almost always used my full name (as one word) for all social networks, and I’ll probably keep it that way.

  • Twitter: I’m not there now. I was once upon a time, but it didn’t work, for me, for then. I might be back: Anyone who says “Walt Crawford thinks Twitter is useless” has a reading comprehension problem.
  • LinkedIn: I’m there–sort of. Says here I have 140 connections and one recommendation. I’ve treated it as a passive involvement–if people ask me to join their network and I have some vague idea of who they are, I’ll usually accept. LinkedIn didn’t work at all for me when I was looking for a new job, but I wasn’t using it properly (I guess). Best guess: I spend five minutes a week on LinkedIn matters, and that may be too high.
  • FaceBook: Sure, I’m there. “Isn’t everybody?” is still grossly off the mark, but the behemoth of social networks is about as universal as they get. I probably check FaceBook twice a day, but I rarely have anything to say–my current status is from February 5. “Checking FaceBook” is tricky, because I’ve also been reasonably passive here–that is, if anyone asks me to friend them and I’m vaguely aware of who they are (or they’re a library person), I’ll probably confirm the request. That means I have 215 “friends”–and that’s just nonsense. Since I don’t spend more than about 10 minutes on FaceBook at a time, I just glance at the first page of Home, then check two “Friends” lists (you know, the actual friends among your friends): one family list (currently eight people) and one “libclose” list (currently 19 people). Those lists, I actually check. Oh, I’m apparently also one of 7,842 members of ALA Members and 10.747 members of Library 2.0 Interest Group: I never check those at all. I never, ever, ever respond to games, suggestions, applications…that “let us bug all your contacts” message always stops me cold. I’m pretty sure my FaceBook network is too big for me to handle, possibly because it’s symmetrical.
  • FriendFeed: I spend way too much time here–probably 15 minutes in the morning, but probably over an hour in total during the day–but I also find this one valuable and workable. Let’s see: I currently subscribe to 101 folks, and 157 people subscribe to me. I’m in three groups: LSW (427 people), Librariology (?) (268 people) and LITA & Bigwig (121 people). I’ve made 2,599 comments; I feed in titles of blog posts but nothing else (as far as I know); I offer direct comments once in a while (usually to deafening silence), but mostly take part in existing conversations. I like FriendFeed a lot, but I can’t have it “unpaused” and I can’t have it running if I’m trying to write, to think clearly, to read…but that’s true of any online medium. (Yes, I always run FriendFeed paused: it’s easy to hit Home if I want to refresh it. The “running” version just makes me crazy.) So “I spend way too much time here” has to be balanced against “I find this one valuable and workable”–which I do. It would take a lot to get me to leave FF; it’s a source of valuable pointers, even more valuable ideas, some inspiration and some virtual friendships.
  • Meebo: I probably still have an account in the LSW room, but haven’t actually been there in a long time. When it’s active, it’s just too real-time for my asynchronous/introverted nature… (Another way of saying: I realized I was spending as much as an hour at a time there, and that I was getting less done elsewhere. Maybe making the wrong choices, I had to let Meebo go.)
  • ALA Connect: I joined early on (I think). It seems like a great idea. In practice, I might touch base here once or twice a month. I’m not sure what the problem is, and I’m willing to believe I’m using it wrong.

I think that’s it…and even looking at that short list (explained in an absurd 2,000 words), I’m getting tired. (If I’ve left things out, maybe someone will remind me…)

For me, that’s just about as much virtual interaction as I can deal with. But that’s me. It’s partly my lack of multitasking competence (I really can’t write well or read deeply with social stuff going on). It’s partly that I really sort of like being truly offline most of the time.

Note again that I’m not offering advice. This is just my own snapshot–partly because others might find it amusing, partly so I can check back in a few months or years and see what’s changed.

Technology signposts

Friday, November 27th, 2009

A few quick items worth noting, not necessarily all connected:

  • Last month, Toshiba introduced its first Blu-ray Disc player…and some months ago stopped pretending that its upscaling DVD player was “almost as good as” BD. This is a signpost comparable to Sony’s first VHS recorder…
  • On Black Friday, you can buy a Blu-ray player for less than $80 (from Target or another chain that shall go unmentioned)–or a name-brand Blu-ray player for less than $100 (LG, from Amazon). And Blu-ray movies are showing up for $10 or less…
  • Also on Black Friday, you can get flash drives for $2 a gigabyte (in 16gb and 32gb sizes, sometimes in 8gb sizes)…
  • But, just to keep making life difficult, you can also buy hard disks for less than seven cents a gigabyte: $60 for a 1Terabyte USB-powered external drive (Western Digital, but admittedly 5,400RPM, again at Target) or $90-$100 for 1.5TB internal drives, $130 for 2TB internal drives (also name brand, 7200RPM).

What you can’t do, as usual: Buy a seven cent/1GB or $7/100GB hard drive (except as some kind of fluke old-hardware closeout) or a $2/1GB flash drive.

Admission: This is a postdated post. We host our family on Friday this year–16 in all–so I’m highly unlikely to be on the computer “today” as this appears.

How do you define “big”?

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Full disclosure: There are several library-related topics that I simply don’t write about, for one reason or another–inherent conflicts of interest, various agreements, total ignorance…

One of those is integrated library systems, so I have no direct comments to make about a set of conversations currently taking place within various blogs, FriendFeed and probably other venues.

I do have one side comment, though.

One of the parties in these conversations says there are three “big open source applications”–Firefox, Apache and Linux. (The discussion that follows leads me to believe that there’s an implication that these are the big open source applications.) That statement makes me wonder how “big” is defined–setting aside the question of whether Apache or Linux are “applications.”

I’m posting this on my blog, which uses WordPress software, which is open source software. WordPress software runs millions of blogs. Is that big?

My part-time job is as Editorial Director of the Library Leadership Network, which is in the midst of a platform change.

  • The old platform is MediaWiki, which is open source software. MediaWiki is also the platform for an obscure little wiki some of you may have heard of: Wikipedia.
  • The new platform is Drupal, which is open source software. My sense is that Drupal is used for one heck of a lot of content management systems (albeit probably few with the size or traffic of Wikipedia, which of course runs on scalable proprietary open source software).

I’m as much an open source independent as I am an open access independent. I’m quite happy with Vista (and will move to Windows 7 soon) and, although I’ve tried OpenOffice, I much prefer Word2007 and Office2007 in general. But I believe a few million people use OpenOffice, which is open source software.

So I guess it depends on your definition of “big.”

(I’m guessing there are some other open source programs used by millions of people, which for me is a pretty good definition of “big”; I only included ones I’m personally familiar with.)

Followup: Still insufficiently paranoid

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

A few days ago, on this increasingly infrequently-updated blog, I posted a little musing about FaceBook’s acquisition of FriendFeed (FF).
Since then, I’ve seen one or two other FF users offer similar comments on FF itself–and a whole bunch of milling around looking for alternatives after the apparently inevitable and soon-to-come shutdown of FF. Christina even wrote a response of sorts. (Hmm. Her response never showed up as a trackback on my post–is there some special rule for inter-SB trackbacks? No problem, really: The previous incarnation of this blog didn’t allow trackbacks at all.)

Expanding on my peculiar calmness

Lots of people, most of them presumably more web-savvy and, as researchers, possibly more intelligent than I am, are dead-on convinced that FB will kill off FF at the first opportunity. I’ve tried to follow the reasoning. Here’s the logic, as far as I can figure it out:
Given that: Google buys lots of services and always shuts them down.

Well, that’s certainly true. That’s why Blogger disappeared in 2004, Picasa disappeared in 2005 and, most important, YouTube was shut down in early 2007.
What’s that you say? You thought Blogger, Picasa and YouTube were still available? And, for that matter, that Postini is still operating? Or that any number of other acquisitions have been renamed or merged into other Google services in a reasonably respectful manner?
You must be mistaken. Or, just maybe, the rule for Google isn’t universally true…

And given that: What’s true for Google is true for every acquiring company.

Use Flicker lately? Of course not; Yahoo! bought it–and must have shut it down, right?

Therefore, FaceBook will shut down FriendFeed.

Based on the absolute truth of the two premises, this conclusion must be sound.

Never mind that one of FF’s founders has said it’s not likely to happen. Never mind that FB might do better on a revenue basis by adding ads to FF and leaving it as a separate service than by attempting a clumsy merger or simply shutting FF down.

Missing the point

Indeed, maybe I am missing the point. I think of FriendFeed as a tool–a good tool, for the most part, but a tool.
But I’m a “library person”–and as others have noted, library people are all over new social media like ants over honey. I’m far less social than most of the library people on FF, I believe; otherwise, I’d be back with one bunch of them on Meebo, another bunch of them on Ning, another bunch of them in (sigh) Second Life, and more…and, to be sure, big overlaps among all those bunches.

There are a lot of library folks on FaceBook as well. My brother, who’s an active FaceBook user, remarked on my 185 “friends”–far more than his count. The difference, I told him, is that I’ll generally accept any “friend” invite from a library person, and that probably accounts for three-quarters of that count. He has a lot fewer people, mostly family and actual friends, possibly a sounder approach to actually using FaceBook rather than dabbling in it as I do.

FriendFeed is, in a number of ways, a fine tool. In some other ways, it’s aggravating, but that’s true of every social medium of which I’m aware. (Yes, I use Stylish to control some of the aggravation and broadly-applied hiding to control most of the rest.) Of course, social media aren’t ideally suited to relative asocial/shy people like me anyway.
But for a fair number of people, apparently, FriendFeed is more than a tool. And if FriendFeed (or the rooms set up within FriendFeed) has become something significantly more powerful than a tool, you get a lot more upset when you think it might go away. (Or, given the number of people with no apparent insider knowledge I’m aware of who have said this flat-out, “when it absolutely is going away.”)
I can’t tell those people Don’t Panic. I certainly can’t, and wouldn’t, suggest that they’re wasting time by looking for alternatives.
I can suggest this: If you’re looking for an alternative, look for the business model.
Having a business model doesn’t assure that you won’t be purchased or otherwise go out of business.
Not having a business model substantially increase the chances that you will go out of business, one way or another.
In other words: If you love the fact that FriendFeed doesn’t have ads and doesn’t charge fees…well, think about who or what was paying the bills. (And if you come up with one pundit’s approach to digital repositories, “just plop a server down and connect it to the internet, there’s no real expense,” you deserve the results you’ll get.)


As already noted, I’m a shy guy (the first letter of my Myers-Briggs never varies from “I”), and not terribly social.
My hierarchy of writing/communicating preferences is also a little odd, actually nearly unique within the library field. Setting aside the writing I do as a part-time job, here’s the hierarchy:

  1. Cites & Insights, my odd not-so-little ejournal, now in its ninth year (120th more-or-less monthly issue, 2.225 million words, 2,788 pages).
  2. The bimonthly columns I write for EContent and ONLINE print magazines.
  3. Blog posts–here and, once in a while, on what’s left of Walt, Even Randomer
  4. Notes and comments on FriendFeed, and occasional status updates on FaceBook.

If FF was closer to the top of that hierarchy, would I be more concerned? Possibly.
If I was part of a close-knit community that only communicates on FriendFeed, would I be more concerned? Possibly.
So, just to be clear, I’m not telling you (my readers, apparently still only 5% of what they used to be on the other platform) not to be concerned or take action. I’m just expanding on why I’m still calm. As always, YMMV.

Oh, and if you are outraged that I’m not outraged, here’s something to soothe your soul:

I’m old. I’m nearly 64–less than a month to go. I’m part of the Silent Generation–you know, the ones who brought you the Free Speech Movement and other non-protests (yes, I was at UC Berkeley throughout those times). I’m obviously too much of an old fart, luddite and general nincompoop to understand any of this shiny stuff.

There. Better now?

Five years on

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Long-suffering readers will be aware that one of few things still left on my old blog, now retitled Walt, Even Randomer, is the series of brief reviews of old movies, done each time I go through a disc from one of the Mill Creek Entertainment packs (typically 50 movies on 12 discs).

Mill Creek Entertainment does a remarkable job of mining the public domain and other areas where they can license movies or TV for very small sums–including TV movies–to create large sets of VHS-quality movies, typically four or five to a DVD, sold in genre packs at extremely low prices.

I’d been using the movies to “stay on the treadmill” for the past five+ years–going through more than 300 movies in that time, including some true classics and a few total turkeys. Of late, I’ve been alternating discs from two sets and watching two movies in a typical week, so it takes about a year to go through a 50-pack.

End of background. Start of foreground.

So last week, I finished an unusual 20-pack (early Alfred Hitchcock), alternating with a comedy 50-pack (I’m on disc 9)…and, instead of starting another 50-pack, I started something a little different: the 250-movie Mystery Collection.
Two hundred and fifty movies on 60 DVDs…
And suddenly thought, “If I watch movies at the typical rate, I’ll finish this box in about five years.”
Which then suggested musing a little about five years on–particularly where media are concerned.
If you believe some pundits, physical media will all be gone in five years–we’ll rely on that great digital jukebox in the sky for everything, when and as we need it. I don’t buy that for a minute. For a variety of reasons, I firmly believe that many of us will be buying physical media five years from now, enough to make for healthy industries.
On a medium-by-medium basis? I’m deliberately not a futurist, but here’s my best guess:

  • Music: Even though CDs have already reached the 25-year mark (over the history of recorded music, a given medium has typically been dominant for about 25 years), they still represent the majority of music sales (about 2/3), despite widespread assumptions that CDs are already dead. There are two reasons for that: First, every DVD player is also a CD player; second, no replacement physical medium has succeeded (and those that have been attempted were, by and large, CD-equivalents). I’d bet that there will still be a multibillion-dollar (per year) CD industry five years from now, although it will probably be considerably smaller than today’s industry. But I’ll also bet that vinyl will still be with us five years from now, even though I’m not among the “digitization destroys music” brigade. (Not even close: The day we purchased our first CDs was a bit after the day we purchased our last LPs.)
  • Films & video: I’m nearly 100% certain that there will still be a large (that is, multibillion$) commercial market for DVDs five years from now–and almost certainly a decade from now. Unlike music, the infrastructure for a truly workable universal video jukebox isn’t in place–and, as with music, there are millions of us who actually prefer a physical object. I’m about 90% certain that Blu-ray Disc will also be a multibillion$ market five years from now. Will Blu-ray become dominant over DVD? Short of a forced conversion, I think it’s unlikely–not because there’s anything wrong with Blu-ray but because most people either don’t notice the difference or don’t care about the difference. (By all accounts, a very large percentage of people who own HDTVs never actually watch high-definition TV. Those people aren’t going to pay $1 more for a Blu-ray version, much less $5 more.) I think Blu-ray will do just fine, but for some people, anything short of market domination is a failure, in which case I think Blu-ray will fail.
  • Print magazines: Not going anywhere. Of course some are failing. Some always fail, and recessions aren’t great times to start magazines. It’s a tough time to start Yet Another Business Magazine (sorry, Portfolio); it’s a tough time to start Yet Another Any Sort of Magazine. I’ll still be subscribing to print magazines five years from now and ten years from now, and probably still paying absurdly low prices for some of them.
  • Print books: Do I even need to discuss this one? Unless you believe that an 0.2% dip in sales in the midst of the worst recession in decades means Books Are Doomed, there’s really no sensible discussion here. I hope ebooks, done right, take a few $billion of the book market where ebooks do it better–but I don’t happen to believe that ebooks are likely to “do it better” for most long-form narrative fiction and nonfiction in my lifetime, much less the next decade. (I plan to be around three more decades, with luck, and my family history suggests that’s on the short side.)
  • Print newspapers: I believe that hundreds of small and medium-sized print newspapers will still be around five and ten years from now; they’ve generally been doing better than the huge metro dailies. I hope that the better metro dailies will still be around–but I’m a little less sanguine. (Will we renew the San Francisco Chronicle next year at more than $400 a year? Hard to say…but I’d sure miss it, even though most content is available at SFGate.)

So, there it is: My personal take on what I think’s likely as regards physical media. I know some hotshot futurists say Everything’s Going Digital Real Soon Now. I also know the history of new and old media–and the wonders of DRM aren’t really helping. (Yes, Amazon probably did what it had to–but it also waved a Big Red Flag about the mutability of that big celestial jukebox. The book you “purchased” yesterday may or may not be the book you’re reading today…)
I could be wrong about any of these. I could be wrong about all of them–but I’d be very surprised. Heck, I’m hoping I’ll find interesting new Mill Creek 50-packs or 100-packs to buy in 2014. (The 250-packs appear to have been short-lived phenomena: you can still buy them from Amazon and elsewhere, but they don’t show up on Mill Creek’s website. That may be sensible…)
So, is this enough of an information science hook? The Future of Physical Media, from one reasonably informed perspective…

We and me

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

I’ve probably mentioned before that ALA can sometimes be inspiring (or inspiriting, if that’s a word), perhaps not as a result of any given program or social event but through the cumulative effects of seeing a few hundred (or few thousand) people I know, and many thousand active librarians, face-to-face. (Inspiring: It can and does inspire me to keep “doing this stuff.” Inspiriting: It can restore my spirits when they’ve been down.)
It can also be revealing, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Chicago was inspiring and inspiriting, to be sure. I wasn’t actually dispirited before ALA Annual, but found it easier to concentrate on decisions related to the new house than to focus on library-related issues outside of work. That’s still a major focus, but I’m back to paying attention elsewhere…
The revealing part is the theme of the first part of this two-part mini-essay.

We: False universalism or simple elitism?

I’ve ranted before this, here and there, about “we”–with or without the implicit “all”–being used for claims that I don’t consider even remotely universal or opinions that I don’t believe there’s any real consensus about.
“We (all) are (or soon will be) connected to the internet all the time.” “We (all) are growing to prefer reading online rather than in print.” “We (all) use iPhones.”
None of those are literal quotes, although the first one’s very close. I could find hundreds of others (thousands?) with a little literature searching, but this isn’t really aimed at any one person, so I won’t.
I’d thought of these phony or overstated we-isms as false universals, a problem in and of themselves. (Want true universals? We breathe air. We eat food. We need safe drinking water. We will die. I think those about cover it–and if you believe Breatharians, if there are any of those left, even the third is questionable. Then again, if you believe Breatharians, what are you doing at ScienceBlogs?)
I was wrong, at least for some people who are fond of We-isms.
I recognized that during a session at ALA–details unimportant–in which one panelist was spouting We-isms with considerable relish, even after another panelist pointed out that one supposed universalism wasn’t even true for a majority of those present at the session. Nonetheless, We do this and We use that and…
The breakthrough recognition: It’s not false universalism. It’s elitism. “We” really means “the people who matter.”
Doesn’t make it any more right. Does make it a lot more understandable. Without that recognition, I’d have to believe that some We-ists are hard of hearing, hard of understanding or a bit daft: Surely they’re aware that their universal assertions are nowhere near being universal?
But once you substitute “the people who matter” for “we,” it’s all clear. Maybe all the people who matter really are connected 24/7. Maybe all the people who matter do use iPhones.
The trouble with all this, for public librarians at least, is that good libraries serve the whole public–and specifically serve those who “don’t matter,” who aren’t part of the elite, the in crowd, the overprivileged.
Anyway, this should be a useful reminder, for me at least, for the future: When I encounter an absurd We-ism, I won’t assume the speaker’s more ignorant than they would appear to be–I’ll assume they’re elitist.

…and me

The other part of this not-as-brief-as-I’d intended (but, you know, longer essays are The New Black for blogs, right?) has to do with me. Not “me” as short for “the out crowd” or “me” as short for “people like me,” but me–one person.
To wit: If you’re a FriendFeed user who pays particular attention to who is or isn’t subscribing to you, and if you find that I’ve dropped off your subscription list…
It isn’t you. It’s me.
That’s happened once this week. It may happen again. In the particular case, it was somebody I find interesting some of the time–but somebody who Likes, and comments on, a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff that I don’t have time for, but that’s just interesting enough that I spend time checking it out. (I’m not sure why, but skipping over stuff seems to take more time in FriendFeed than it does in Bloglines–or, again, maybe that’s just me.)
Yes, I use Hides, lots of them, but in this case that wasn’t quite enough. There’s another case that’s right on the cusp; I may quietly unsubscribe.
Let me be clear: You’re not doing anything wrong. I don’t believe you should even think about changing the way you use FriendFeed. Because, you know,
It’s not you. It’s me.
That’s not a breakup line. It’s the truth. You could expand that to “I’m too ignorant to set up FriendFeed in such a way that it’s compatible with your use of it–and that’s my problem, not yours.”
Another way to put it: I’m not much for either creating lifestreams or following them. Maybe I shouldn’t be using FriendFeed at all, but I find that it’s useful as a semi-professional conversational medium. When too much lifestream material makes it cumbersome to follow the conversations, I make changes…purely because of the way I use FriendFeed, which may not be how it should be used. (If I’m Breaking The Rules, so be it.)
I don’t know: Maybe FF doesn’t notify people when someone unsubscribes, in which case this isn’t an issue at all. On my part, I’d rather not know, to be honest…and I only scan my subscriber list maybe every three months to see who I should be subscribing to. Which, then, may lead to my resubscribing to someone who I later unsubscribe from…