Friday, September 18, 2009


I'll conclude with my choices for the best links OF ALL TIME that I've discovered while following this course, so they'll be easy to come back to in the future



Track This Now for Twitter


the British Library Online Gallery


NPR directory, organized by topic

Music: This has remained my favorite online music source, and I have to say it's one of my happiest online discoveries, ever. I still haven't really gotten excited about Pandora, but I'm putting it here to give it another few tries.

Additional sites I should probably explore more in the future:



Thursday, September 10, 2009

Week 10, Thing 22 : Social Networking, Supplement

From The Onion, tips for devoted parents on how to use social networking sites
(PG-13? Slightly NSFW?)

Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids

Week Ten, Thing 22 : Social Networking

My first experience with social networking sites was when I joined Livejournal, about three years ago. Livejournal is sometimes described as a combined blogging and social networking site. When I first joined, it was primarily to read other people's writing and conversations, mostly on the subject of music, but people I "met" at the site encouraged me to set up my own "journal." Although I had heard of blogs, I must not have had a very good understanding of the term at the time, because I recall that I had made several entries in my Livejournal journal before it dawned on me that I had a "blog," and had become a "blogger."

I later also joined MySpace, and then Facebook, but found both of these sites disappointing. I find most MySpace pages extremely unpleasant to look at, with badly clashing bright colors and headache-inducing flash animations galore (an impression just reconfirmed when I visited MySpace in preparation for this posting.) While Facebook is generally not as offensive visually, it seems to me that it's primarily a place to carry on existing, pre-established relationships, rather than to find new ones. I can see how it could be useful for people with a wide circle of friends and associates with whom they want to keep in touch, but it's not oriented towards exploring ideas or interests, or towards finding new connections, in my opinion. So, I was surprised to find out how well suited my first social networking platform (LiveJournal) is to my ideal, especially given that it's much less well-known than either MySpace or Facebook. I suppose it really is a sort of niche social networking and blogging site for people who are geekier than average, more passionate about exploring particular interests and ideas than about using the internet to facilitate existing social connections.

So, to link the personal history into the question of library use of social networking sites, it occurs to me that different sorts of corporate entities, much like different sorts of people, can have different goals, and that different goals may lend themselves to different tools. It won't do for libraries (or for-profit corporations) to simply jump into the most popular social networking sites, thinking that this will make them cool and popular. Instead, they need to understand various social networking sites well enough to decide which platform or platforms are a match that can help them achieve their goals.

One of the most exasperating online experiences is that of being marketed to in places that one frequents for the specific purpose of two-way communication. Self-promotion without any understanding of one's audience is spam. Entities other than individual humans (e.g., libraries, businesses, record companies, which I'll call "corporate entities" for the rest of this entry) do best in the social networking world when they provide useful information. Self-promotion is rarely useful from the "target's" perspective. The best way for a corporate entity to promote itself in a social network, in my opinion, is by providing carefully-considered information sparingly (as opposed to a constant barrage of "noise.") And, a social network is the ideal format for information sharing only under certain circumstances. I'm not sure exactly what circumstances these would be for a corporate entity. I do follow some corporate entities on Twitter, using their "tweets" as news feeds. If they tweet something especially interesting to me, I might re-tweet it, or even mention it on my blog. But, as anti-social a person as I am, I use social networks primarily to interact with other human beings. I suppose librarians can blog in an official capacity, but once a human being is tasked with the job of being an official voice, some of the quirky randomness that pervades recreational social networking must be reigned in. On the other hand, Reference services might find a place in some social networking settings.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Week 10, Thing 21 : Microblogging and Mashups

I first visited Twitterholic, which lists the top Twitter users, in order of popularity, calculated according to their number of followers. Twitterholic is truly useful in that it doesn't merely rank an online popularity contest, but also provides information that helps the user figure out whether a given popular person might be truly worth following. That is, it tells how many tweets a user has made. This is useful, because it is hardly worth one's time to follow a person who has two million followers if the person tweeted once or twice and then abandoned the site. Twitterholic also lists the number of users each top Twitterer follows. Some follow only a very small number, while some follow back each of the million people who follow them. I'm not favorably disposed towards celebrities who follow back hundreds of thousands of followers, since they can't possibly read that many people, and the only reason to follow back everyone, if one has thousands of followers, is a lame and transparent attempt at marketing. But, a celebrity with a million followers and a couple hundred of follow-backs, on the other hand, is often a person who has an interest in using Twitter to have actual conversations. I've seen some famous musicians and actors on Twitter have actual discussions with their "followers" on Twitter, and it can be an enlightening (or, sometimes, dismaying) glimpse of people one will probably never meet face to face.

Back to the statistics revealed by Twitterholic, it's an interesting measure of the rising popularity of Twitter itself that just a few months ago, Oprah Winfrey and Ashton Kushner were having a friendly competition to see which one of them would be the first to get a million followers, while right now there are 118 Twitter users with over a million followers.

After spending some time at Twitterholic, I went to The Twitter Fan Wiki and clicked on a number of the links. Some were no longer working, and some seemed to be little more than keyword search engines (not very useful, given that Twitter has its own keyword search function.) Here briefly are links to the mashups I liked from that list (although there may also be some good ones I haven't listed, since I didn't check every single link):

Geochirp : "allows you to find real time Tweeples within 1 to 50 miles of any location in the world. You can search for specific phrases & see who is tweeting about these keywords, within any neighborhood of interest to you. Also has a language translation tool to convert foreign tweets to the language you understand. (quote from the Twitter Fan Wiki.)" Does just that! Instantly took me to my current location, and showed me tweets from nearby people. It instantly demonstrated accuracy by showing a tweet that referred to someone who I know to be nearby.

Track This Now for Twitter : Enter a search term, see markers on a map of the world, showing the countries where the word is most used on Twitter. Click on a marker to see tweets from a county, using the term entered. Very interesting. I input the politically-loaded term "socialized medicine" (a term which American conservatives use to disparage plans that would extend medical insurance to those suffering under our current, supposedly "free market" system.) As expected, the United States appears to be the top country in the use of this term in Tweets. Other countries with many tweets employing the term more often use it ironically, disparaging conservatives' attempts to portray progressive policies as "socialist."

Favrd : shows popular tweets, as calculated by number of users who "favorite" each tweet.

Food From Twitter : Food-related tweets with food pictures, via Twitter's photo ap, yfrog. You can select breakfast, lunch, or dinner photos to view.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Week Ten, Thing 20 : Explore Twitter

I first joined Twitter many months ago (I've forgotten whether it was late 2008 or early 2009.) At first, it looked pointless, but I got an idea of how I might enjoy it, and started an account from which I tweeted only song lyrics. I started following people I knew from elsewhere on the internet, and, if they tweeted something I could reply to appropriately using existing song lyrics, I'd reply that way.

Over time, it got more and more frustrating, wanting to say things I couldn't use lyrics for, so eventually I got a second, "normal" Twitter account. I followed many of the same people I followed on my first account, as well as new people I found while talking to my "followers." I do find that terminology a little weird. I don't mind it as a verb, e.g. "I'm going to follow you on Twitter," but, describing someone as a "follower" of another person on Twitter bothers me a bit. Referring to "my followers" makes me afraid of sounding like a cult leader, or, at the very least, someone who thinks a little too highly of herself.

On the other hand, I've gotten used to the "friend" terminology that is used on many social networking and blogging sites. Some people find this novel use of the word "friend" disconcerting, or indicative of a contemporary inability to distinguish casual contact from emotional intimacy. However, I don't feel the term to be personally harmful. Some of my online friends really do deserve the term, while for others it's mostly a label that indicates only an extremely week tie within a specific social network. I don't think the word is polluted by the usage, as some commentators have suggested. I know that people I've only "talked" with online once or twice, but who have agreed to read my blog, and me to read theirs, do not thereby become "friends" in most meaningful ways.

I do believe that the multiplication of "weak ties" that the New York Times article mentions can be a very positive development. I even enjoy the unidirectional weak ties that the NYT article disparages as 'parasocial' (middle of page five.) I'd guess that about a third of the people I follow are non-mutual (I follow them, but they don't follow me) and also have extremely large followings. That is, they are celebrities, or at least extremely popular people within smaller cultural groups. I follow them not because I expect them to talk to me, or even to acknowledge my specific existence, but because I'm interested in what they are doing and saying. I find the things they say or the things they link to interesting. That's largely the same reason I follow non-celebrity people--because I like what they have to say.

I think a large part of my attraction to Twitter is as simple as that. Anyone, anywhere in the world, if they are on Twitter, and their 140-character messages interest me, becomes a small part of my daily life. If I were prone to delusions, I suppose this might be a bad thing. Indeed, I have witnessed obsessive people harrassing celebrities on Twitter, and, I must admit that I've also been entertained by watching unstable celebrities lash out at perceived insults from fans and other celebrities. As the Times article indicates, Twitter and other similar online phenomena in some ways bring the world back to an earlier time when everyone knew what everyone else was doing. The fact remains, however, that I retain the privilege of keeping some things to myself.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Week Nine, Thing 19 : Explore eBooks and Audiobooks

I love the internet, but tend to be skeptical of ebooks. For me, books and magazines are a different animal from websites. When I read fiction for pleasure, I don't want to have to worry about expensive devices. I read mystery novels in bed. If I fall asleep, and the book falls on the floor, and the cat walks on it, there is no loss whatsoever. Heck, the cat can throw up on a paperback, and I'm still only out $9.99.

If the eBook existed, but the book did not, the book would be an extraordinarily vital invention. I would buy these new "book" objects by the dozen, thrilled by the freedom they provided.

That's not to say that I can't see any point at all to ebooks. I can see how a person or organization with limited storage space, or a professional who needed to read a large amount of material while traveling, over a prolonged period of time, could have previously-unmet needs fulfilled by ebooks. For most purposes, however, I believe that the ancient "technology" of the paper-and-ink book is superior to the eBook, or at least superior to any ebook/ebook reader currently in existence.

I think the drawbacks of ebooks tend to be insufficiently considered by those who are especially enthusiastic about them. One important problem, as I alluded to in my first paragraph, is that an ebook reader is expensive. Only extremely rare books come anywhere close to the cost of an ebook reader. I'm not referring to the total cost of buying a large number of physical books, versus a small number of ebook readers, because at some point, if individual titles are cheaper as ebooks than as books, the costs shift in favor of ebooks. I'm talking about the fact that things get lost, or broken, or stolen. It's true that, if one is talking about reading an ebook on a regular computer screen, there's no additional risk to reading an ebook versus using the computer for any other purpose, but then the ebook's portability, in practical terms, for the individual user, is greatly diminished.

Another problem, from a library's standpoint, with ebooks versus hardcopy books, is that ownership becomes precarious. Once one buys a book, one owns that copy, legally, forever. Copyright law of course restricts the reproduction and distribution of the contents, but the thing itself, which happens to include personal access to the contents, is the buyer's, forever. With an ebook, licensing rules can complicate the situation greatly. Moreover, where ebook readers are concerned, it appears that contents are not readily transferable between different brands of hardware. If you buy a Kindle Reader, and your friend wants to share a book from their Sony reader, it can't be done, unless they loan you their reader. You're much better off buying a regular book and passing it around.

Despite my belief that ebooks are not at all ready to replace books as we have known them through the centuries, I was dazzled by the British Library Online Gallery. I did have to download Shockwave first, but the results were worth it. Why do I find this resource so rewarding when my general attitude towards ebooks is so unenthusiastic? I think it's because the British Library here is showing me images of gorgeous books, and their complete contents, which I would not otherwise be able to experience at all. Technology in this case brings me beauty I couldn't access if that technology did not exist. The optional audio also adds to the experience. By contrast, based on what I have heard about ebooks whose print counterparts are readily accessible in "traditional" book format, the traditional item remains superior.

Week Nine, Thing 18 : Podcast Searchtools

I found the NPR Podcast Directory to be the most useful. Using the directory, organized by topic I found some music podcasts which I added to "My Yahoo." I then added two podcasts from the "Books" category, NPR Books and Nancy Pearl Book Reviews to my Bloglines account.

The advantages of the NPR directory compared to the other two, and, were NPR's straightforward organization, lack of distracting and annoying advertisements on the main page, and the general orientation of content towards a relatively educated audience.