October 2005 Archives

i missed my blogiversary this year...


mamamusings turned three years old on October 23rd. Thanks to Jim McGee (who shares the date, but not the year) for reminding me!

Has it really only been three years? How is that possible?

Starting a blog has been the most influential professional act I've ever taken. Because of my blog I'm here at Microsoft, enjoying a dream sabbatical. I'm giving keynotes at conferences like Internet Librarian. I've built a professional network that literally spans the globe. I've built a network of new friends, also spanning the globe. I've been able to leverage this online presence into so many real-world opportunities and connections that I'm embarrassed to list them all here.

Thank you so much to all of you who've read this blog, commented on it, linked to it, challenged me on it. You've helped to change my life, and my gratitude is boundless.

(And with that, I'm hereby declaring a brief moratorium on meta-blogging posts. When your "on blogging" category is the largest one in your archives, you're probably doing way too much navel-gazing.)

collin brooke on blogging practices


I'm posting this as much for myself as for anyone reading the blog. Lately I keep coming across things that really force me to stop and think, and then they slip away and out of my attention radius. When they're here in the blog, they're less "out of sight, out of mind."

Collin Brooke posted a nice piece tonight on "Blogging Practices, and I found his criticisms of academia to be right on target:

I'm constantly struck by how little we seem to understand or even talk about what it takes to publish, what publishing our work accomplishes (and in some cases, how little it can accomplish), what the real costs and rewards for our work are, etc. As I was preparing that talk a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the height of obviousness to me to describe humanities scholarship as Long Tail work, and yet, I see indications all around me that we don't want to think of our work in that way: our aversion to collaboration, our inability to aggregate, our obsession with celebrity, etc. Hell, I have to fight every day to keep those things at bay--I love to imagine being paid lots of money to keynote conferences, to have my work read and discussed far and wide, to be semi-famous. But that's a Head reward system that disguises the more modest (but potentially longer lasting) rewards at the Tail end of things.

So, I'm in a strange place as an academic. I was recently paid money ("lots" is a relative term, I suppose) to keynote a conference. Unlike many academics, I have little aversion to collaboration or aggregation. But I am a tenured associate professor with a lab of my own, and I often feel like a stranger in a strange land no matter where I am.

Early on in my blogging, I wrote about aspects of synchronicity and collaboration in blogging, as well as my frustration with the fact that I seemed unable to produce original thoughts--that my skill was in synthesis rather than creation.

As time has passed (and I've gotten tenure, and some modicum of readership--though that's been dropping lately with my relative paucity of posts), I've started to be able to forgive myself for my lack of traditional scholarly output, and to be able to value my role as more of a human aggregator.

I wish academia did a better job of valuing the kinds of skills I've got--sifting and sorting, connecting the dots and seeing the big picture, intuiting and forecasting. It's not that traditional research isn't valuable--it's just that it's not the only way to put education and knowledge to work. RIT is better than most schools in recognizing a diversity of scholarship approaches (basing its recent scholarship policy on Boyer's reasonably broad definitions. But they're the exception rather than the rule.

To the extent that I'm part of the "head," the best thing I think I can do with that visibility is connect up more people in the tail. I don't want to get stuck in an incestuous echo chamber of digerati blogs and conferences--which is perhaps why I took such pleasure in being at Internet Librarian, where I was learning every bit as much as I was teaching.

(Collin tagged his post with academy2.0, which made me smile.)

amazing essay on google by george dyson

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Presented without comment. (See the previous post...) But here's a lengthy excerpt from an essay that should be required reading for technologists:

My visit to Google? Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral -- not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air. "We are not scanning all those books to be read by people," explained one of my hosts after my talk. "We are scanning them to be read by an AI."

When I returned to highway 101, I found myself recollecting the words of Alan Turing, in his seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, a founding document in the quest for true AI. "In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children," Turing had advised. "Rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates."

Google is Turing's cathedral, awaiting its soul. We hope. In the words of an unusually perceptive friend: "When I was there, just before the IPO, I thought the coziness to be almost overwhelming. Happy Golden Retrievers running in slow motion through water sprinklers on the lawn. People waving and smiling, toys everywhere. I immediately suspected that unimaginable evil was happening somewhere in the dark corners. If the devil would come to earth, what place would be better to hide?"

Dyson closes with a powerful quote from science fiction writer Simon Ings (can't find what book this is from; if you know, please leave a comment):

"When our machines overtook us, too complex and efficient for us to control, they did it so fast and so smoothly and so usefully, only a fool or a prophet would have dared complain."

on being a corporate research blogger


I got an email this morning from a friend who was critical of my recent posts related to Microsoft and Google. The friend said that since starting my sabbatical I've seemed to be unfailingly critical of Google and positive about Microsoft in my posts, and that I needed to be more aware of my online voice. There was more, particularly on the issue of whether I was somehow damaging my objectivity as an academic by allowing myself to become so publicly supportive of a company.

Lovely way to start a weekend. But after I got over the hurt feelings, I started thinking about the larger issues underlying my new role as a corporate pawn. (Should my blog have a big caveat at the top that says "I've been pwnz0rzed!"?...) While I don't agree completely with this friend, I can't dismiss these criticisms out of hand, nor can I assume that view of me isn't shared by others.

I started out by combing through my blog to find and point out the times when I've criticized Microsoft's products and practices, and acknowledged the ability of companies like Google and Apple to delight consumers in a way that Microsoft consistently fails to do. (In fact, during my keynote speech at Internet Librarian I explicitly told the audience that I thought many--if not most--of Microsoft's products sucked--and did so while proudly sporting my 17" powerbook.) But that's not really the point, is it? It's perception that's at issue here, and perhaps I need to more be aware of that perception.

There are a lot of great researchers who work for research labs--Microsoft Research and Google Labs and Yahoo Research are full of them, as are the labs at HP and PARC and IBM. Very few of those researchers have blogs, though. Perhaps it's because it's so very hard to strike a balance between bias and objectivity when you're in this in-between world, and talking too much about your day to day life in the belly of the beast exposes more of that tension?

Where I may be erring on the side of transparency, it's been primarily an attempt to avoid erring on the side of opacity. Once you take a job working for a company--rather than doing grant-funded collaborative research--you change your relationship to that company. Perhaps I was wrong in thinking that I should be up front about my experiences and reactions to working here...but I'd like to think that there's more good than bad to be gained from my transparency.

My critic felt that my blog posts here undermined my validity as an "objective" academic, but I'm not sure that I agree. If I were presenting my blog as unbiased research, that would be one thing. But research has to stand on its own in terms of methodology and conclusions--and besides that, is there really such thing as an "unbiased" researcher? For me, knowing the biases of the researchers makes the research more credible rather than less, because I don't feel as though I need to look for hidden motives. Also, my identity as an academic has always been tied up far more in my teaching than in my research (a function of being a professor at a teaching-focused institution)--and I suspect that my students are far more influenced by the Powerbook I carry, my intense dislike for Microsoft products Powerpoint and Windows, and my use of GMail than they are by any blog posts describing how much I like the people I'm working with at Microsoft.

One of my goals for this sabbatical was to give people a sense of what it's like to be inside a corporation that's often thought of as "faceless," and that's what I've been trying to do. The alternative is to be more opaque, to only write about "big ideas," but that's never been the way I approached my personal blog.

In terms of my recent negativity about Google--there's definitely a mix of things going on there. My basic concern about Google's domination of the search market (particularly in the hearts and minds of kids) predates my employment with Microsoft, and is a concern shared by a number of people in the library profession (as I pointed out in my Internet Librarian notes). In many ways, Google is the new Microsoft--when you get to be the 10,000-pound-gorilla, people start to mistrust your motives. They're not a scrappy startup anymore, and they shouldn't continue to be thought of as such. (But even saying that is to acknowledge how negatively Microsoft is perceived, and for good reason--from its market practices to its often-awful products, MS has gotten its bad reputation the old-fashioned way--they've earned it.) Google's not making the same mistakes as Microsoft, but it's making plenty of its own. Their secrecy surrounding all of their work is to me antithetical to both academic and library approaches. And in the case of book digitization, I though Roy Tennant's criticisms were spot-on. Microsoft may have made--and be making still--a lot of bad, ham-handed, bad-for-the-consumer moves...but joining the OCA was not one of those, and I would have praised that even if I hadn't been an employee.

I don't really want to work someplace that I can't be passionate about. And I don't want to pretend that I'm not engaged in and excited about an environment if I'm not. As a researcher, to what extent should the "rules" (oh, geez, i really hate blogging rules) be different for me than they are for a non-research corporate blogger? At the end of the day, however, I do have to wonder if perhaps I've been sucked a little too far into the "us against them" mentality that's so common inside of corporations (universities, of course, suffer from none of that competitiveness [cough, cough]).

The problem for me right now is that I have only two perspectives on this--mine, and the friend who was brave enough to share a critical view with me. That's not enough to really triangulate with. So...where do you think the balance lies? (I'm going to work really hard to keep from being defensive in the comments, so if you post something and I don't respond, I assure you it doesn't mean I didn't read it; I just want to absorb right now rather than reacting.)

liz needs...

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Via Weez, a silly meme. Type "yourname needs" into Google, and list the resulting suggestions. (I skipped other people's compilation of the same phrase, which turned up quite a bit in my results.)

  1. Liz needs catchy slogan
  2. liz needs to be laundered
  3. Liz needs help, but she doesn't want to involve the police.
  4. LIZ needs teeth
  5. Liz needs more coffee
  6. Liz needs to increase her food uptake to at least 2000 calories a day.
  7. Liz needs to get that one frame from out of her old animated gif avatar
  8. Liz needs real love to keep going
  9. Liz needs to take on some projects before Mike starts to nag
  10. Liz needs the rest of us

Here's the same thing run through MSN Search, again discarding the other meme posts:

  1. Liz needs some alone time.
  2. Liz needs compensation
  3. Liz needs to get a reality check
  4. SOMEONE named liz! needs a life
  5. Liz needs to devise a budget and stick to it
  6. Liz needs my help again
  7. all Liz needs is your full name and your date of birth
  8. LIZ needs to recruit members
  9. Liz needs to increase her food uptake to at least 2,000 calories a day
  10. Liz needs paying

Only one in common between the two! How 'bout Yahoo?

  1. Liz needs our prayers everyone!!!
  2. Liz needs to seek counseling for her aggressiveness
  4. Liz needs to calm down
  6. Liz needs to remember
  7. Liz needs to write a book on what a woman does to get such jewels
  8. Liz needs to increase the dividend
  9. Liz needs to be visible and she is
  10. Liz needs this birthday party

Fun. :)

This afternoon's talk is by Chelsea Hardaway and Brian Fugere, authors of Why Business People Speak Like Idiots : A Bullfighter's Guide. How could I resist a talk with that title?

This series of talks by authors, which included Neil Gaiman's earlier this month, is truly one of the things I love most about being at MSR--Tamara Pesik, a former libarian (actually, is there such thing? once a librarian, always a librarian, I think) does a great job of bringing in interesting authors for these talks.

Chelsea starts out by showing the Business Week cover story on Microsoft, and says they wanted to have a conversation with us as to how Microsoft can start to woo back some of the customers and media that they've alienated.

We're going to play a game, she says. Puts up a slide with images of the $10,000 pyramid. She's going to toss out words and see if we get the right answer. Focus on what Microsoft has and doesn't, but she ends with the fact that Microsoft, unlike some of its competitors, is missing personality. She seems to think that the perceived corporate personality is reflective of the people here, which hasn't been my experience.

Mentions Whole Foods humanity, Virgin Airlines humor and edginess. Hands the microphone over to Brian., who says we have to worry more about "this thing called personality" than we ever have before.

(His approach strikes me as somewhat condescending, and targeted at the wrong audience. Most of these people are "individual contributors," and are far from lacking in passion and personality.)

Why? He says there's something profound and significant happening right now that hasn't quite caught up to us yet, and cites Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind (I seem to be one of the few people here who's read the book). Pink does do a great job of talking about things like why Starbucks can charge so much for a cup of coffee, and why we buy designer toilet brushes.

Says Msft has functioned for too long on the left side of the brain -- analysis, data,, logic. We need to have more persuasion, narrative, empathy.

Shows Google's halloween logo as an example of how companies can use personality to build brand connection. Says he's a power searcher, he should care about algorithms. But he doesn't. To him, all search engines are basically the same product. He cares about the aesthetics. He wants a "Michael Graves" search engine. Does Microsoft "get that"? He's right about this--I mentioned in one of my Internet Librarian posts the speaker who said that Microsoft's products fail to delight, but that Google's almost always do.

Also shows Apple's inclusion of Rosa Parks on their home page this week. At the company worked (works?) at, Deloitte, it would have taken six weeks of committee meetings to get this on the main web site, but Apple did it in 24 hours. Very powerful stuff. Could Microsoft have done this?

Shows a "napkin drawing" that GMail sent out to announce their service (I hadn't seen this before). "It's so authentic!" he exclaims. ("Huh?!?" I respond to myself. That's not authenticity. That's a carefully crafted marketing message that has manipulated his responses exactly as they planned.)

Then shows Ballmer's infamous "developers, developers, developers" speech. He loves the passion. If they could change one thing about it, it would be to substitute the word designer for developer in that chant. This (Microsoft) is a company that reveres technology...perhaps it needs to make room for people who, in Apple's terms "think different." I'd agree with him on this point, too.

Talks about the "dinosaur" ad campaign. It's funny, yes. But it's insulting, too. Why can't we turn our $ into better advertising campaigns. If he were us, he'd fire our advertising agency. Someone in the audience talks about how that campaign was carefully tested, and Brian says "THAT'S THE PROBLEM!" He's been in marketing, he knows how testing can kill a product. Someone in the audience points out that on the individual level, we do have that passion and creativity, but that there's a "blanding" process.

Someone asks about Microsoft bloggers--is that good or not? He responds "yes and no." Reaching out to customers is good. But, he says: "I'm shocked that you guys tolerate Scoble. You pay this guy to criticize your company? Not in my company, man." (Um, is Deloitte really doing that great a job of building its brand?) I think he's way off base on this. Scoble has done an enormous amount to change the stodgy, defensive stereotype of this company. And while he does occasionally (and appropriately) criticize, he does a lot of singing the company's praises, too. Because he does the former, people are willing to listen to the latter.)

Shows Dennis Hwang, who does Google's artwork. Labels the image "Your new headache." Who are our Dennis Hwangs? How do we identify and celebrate them?

Next shows Infosys Consulting's web site, and compares it to ours, which he says is covered with SGPs--"stupid generic photos." (The classic is a black hand and a white hand shaking.) What do we do when we see these? Ignore them. And that's not what we want people to do.

Talks about the excellent iPod packaging, quotes the I.D. Magazine award praising it. This delightful, joyful user experience isn't about the features and functions--it's about the feeling that it creates, and the bond that's created, when I experience this company's products.

There's some interesting question and answers, but it's not clear to me what the goal here is. I was really hoping for more of a discussion of their book itself, and less of a this "we know what's wrong with you," somewhat condescending talk.

Puts up on the screen the text from Microsoft's announcement of the recent re-org. "Is this how you talk to your family?" they ask. They're right on target with that. Brian points out that it's unlikely the executives from whom that came actually wrote it.

He then, however, appears to makes the assumption that we all talk like this within the organization, that we're all corporatized drones. That's a flawed assumption--which I just challenged him on.

They skip past a bunch of slides that look genuinely interesting...I wish they'd done more of their standard approach than trying to make this "Microsoft specific." (Funny thing is that Kathy Sierra did some very similar things when she spoke to us in MSN, but I found it much less grating. I think it's because she focused not on "here's what's wrong with you," but instead on "here's the good stuff I see here and here's how to unleash it.")

internet librarian 05: parting thoughts

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This is the first conference I've attended in a long time that's made me want to blog non-stop. And it's not insignificant that it's a library-focused conference that inspired me.

When I took a job teaching information technology, instead of a job teaching in a library school, I assumed I was leaving my library roots behind. I wasn't able to justify travel to library conferences, and I felt my ties to the professions starting to dissolve. But over the past several years, with the rise in social computing as a theme in technology, I'm delighted to find the threads weaving back together. Suddenly, libarians are talking about the same things that technologists are talking about--managing information, collaborative filtering, metadata and classification schemes. And I'm in the wonderful position of having a legitimate foot in both camps.

At the speakers' reception last night, Michael Stephens told me he was preparing to do a survey of librarian bloggers, and asked me if I'd participate. It was lovely to be thought of as a librarian in the present tense.

And now, as I fly over Utah's extraordinarily beautiful Great Salt Lake (I've never seen it before, and am grateful for the clear skies that are allowing me this bird's-eye view...photos will be on Flickr soon), I'm thinking about how to keep these bonds a little tighter in the future. I really should touch base with some of the faculty I know at UW's I-School, and see about maybe giving an occasional guest lecture over there. And I'll be working hard on the folks at MSN, whose absence was notable this week. Google's not making the mistake of ignoring libraries in their quest to win the hearts and minds of searchers, and MSN shouldn't be making it either. If that's the only tangible legacy I leave behind, it will have been a year well spent.

internet librarian 05: search engine choices


Greg Notess and Gary Price, two genuine experts on search engines and our choices.

Greg and Gary both start out by saying "Google's not the only answer." It's the job of information professionals to know all of the options, not just the most popular one. Gary notes how hard it is for anybody but Google to get the word out about their products.

Current web search engines with unique databases
* AskJeeves
* Google
MSN (says librarians really should pay more attention to this!)

meta engines
* A9
* clusty/vivisimo
* dogpile (one of the few that hits all 4)


  • redlightgreen
  • topix
  • findory (heh...I just had dinner with the ceo of this.)

Greg says that he doesn't like to start his searches with Google. As a reference librarian, if he starts with something other than Google it boosts his credibility with patrons--he's not just doing the same thing that they do! :) Shows the example of a discussion list posting that was only available on Yahoo (not on Google or MSN). If you care about comprehensivenss, you have to be willing to use multiple sources.

AskJeeves give you a different kind of relevance view. Says they've come the farthest on "quick info" on a search. Shows a search on "Chicago" as an example. He and Gary then also show a search on "the Beatles," which gives you a variety of useful "expand your search" options. They note that AskJeeves have reduced the number of ads on their pages, which many people don't realize. (In contrast to other

MSN Search is up next. Acknowledges that not all Microsoft products are best of breed. BUT...MSN search is no longer powered by other people's indexes, and right now they're doing a better job than anyone else of keeping things fresh. They also mention that MSN Search gives you free access to Encarta content. You get two hours of access each time you do a search leading to Encarta (can limit to Encarta only, or let it be part of the overall results). They haven't promoted it, but it's a feature that librarians should be promoting--particularly as a comparison to wikipedia.

Shows MSN's search builder, which is great for showing people how to build complex searches--uses drop-down boxes and sliders for ranking. They don't show start.com; will have to ping them about that, because I suspect they may not be aware of it.

Next up is Yahoo; they recommend that people use search.yahoo.com rather than yahoo.com, to avoid clutter. Shows that you can edit the tabs (there's a tiny "edit" link up there...) to the kinds of vertical/specialized searches you want. (That's cool! I didn't know that!) If you're logged into Yahoo, the settings will follow you. In advanced search, they show off the creative commons option, as well as their "subscriptions" search, which is extremely interesting (Mary Ellen mentioned this on Monday, too). He shows the blog search stuff that's been added (that's another post that's brewing for me; I'm extremely unimpressed by their implementation of blog search). Then they show Mindset, as well--again, I don't love that shopping/research is the only axis. Shows the shift from "did you mean"

Complains about lack of transparency in how search engines (especially Google) works.

Damn. I need to go to the airport, and will miss the metasearch and vertical search discussion. Hopefully someone else will blog it...I'm outta here!

internet librarian 05: google debate

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Rich Wiggins squares off against Roy Tennant in a debate over "Google: Catalyst for Digitization or Library Destruction?"

Rich starts off, and is utterly charming. Some funny starting slides, hard to capture in print because of their visual impact.

Starts by talking about a similar debate they had 4 years ago. (The slides are dense with bullet points now, and I'm sitting where it's hard for me to see the screen, so I'm not going to try to transcribe them. Later I'll look for a pointer to the presentation online.)

How many bytes are in the LIbrary of Congress? This is a non-trivial question, with lots of technical aspects. You can't gloss those aspects (resolution, color, etc) because you'll end up wasting effort. Rich cites Brewster Kahle's estimate of 20 terabytes.

Rich says it's becoming so inexpensive to capture full-text and images that complete digitization is becoming realistic. Disk space is cheap, scanning technology has improved. He asked google what they're using, and they wouldn't answer. (Color me shocked...) I wonder whether Microsoft will be more forthcoming, considering their partnership with OCA. I hope so. [add musing on google's secrecy here]

Refers the comment last night by Stephen Abrams that we spend more money getting abook through ILL than we do to buy it. (That's a really interesting thing to think about.)

There are a bunch of straw man arguments here. He dismisses the preservation argument--we have better access, since you can still get the stuff online after a fire. (But what happens when the power goes out? That happens a lot more often...) Doesn't address the question of what happens when data is stored in proprietary formats--do we know what format Google will store this information in?

His bottom line, "Google Print has taught us to 'think big.'" (hmmm. does the period go before or between the single and double quotes there?)

Argues that this vision of digitization will have to be done by a forward-thinking company -- not by government. It has to be a company. (He claims that Google invented Ajax!!!!) Mocks Microsoft, saying they're playing catchup, and not very well. "Hmmm...Google's going to digitize millions of books? We'll digitize 150,000!"

Now it's Roy's turn. Starts out by saying that his bottom line is "more access is better." He thinks it's great that Google's digitizing stuff, that OCA is doing it, that libraries have been doing it for decades. There's a lot of room for everyone to be involved. Says he's going to try to be provocative, and starts out a halloween-themed slide that reads "Google: Devil? or Merely Evil?" (I didn't get a photo of this, but would love to get the slide from him.) Says he's going to talk about the scary monsters that he sees lurking in this project.

The first monster: the fair use problem. He's concerned about Google trying to shield themselves with fair use. Because this has pulled the issue into the courts, it has the potential to result in restriction of fair use rights for everyone, including libraries.

The second monster: Closed access to open material. For example, there are many copies of Call of the Wild that are freely avaialble. But when you go to Google Print, you won't know that--you'll see the reprinted, proprietary version from a publisher, without an indication that it's in the public domain and can be found from other sources. "And to add insult to injury, they give you links to buy the book, but no links to libraries." He's been assured this will change, but it hasn't happened yet, and there's no guarantee that it will.

The third monster: Blind, wholesale digitiazation. He's not so sure this is a good thing. Large collections in research libraries are choked with out-of-date crap, so that their collection numbers are high enough to keep them in their "tier." Also, because copyrighted information is more difficult to get to, people will rely on old, out of date information because it's free and easy to get to. Is this a good thing? (This is a great point that I haven't heard mentioned before.) OCA is more focused on selective digitization--for example, American literature.

The fourth monster: advertising. How long before we see ads for antidepressant medication next to Hamlet? Google's window of opportunity to do "good things" will be constricted by their responsiblity to stockholders.

The fifth monster: secrecy
The agreements between Google and libraries have been largely kept secret. Before the announcement, the Google libraries could not even talk to each other. Michigan revealed theirs (but not until a Freedom of Info Act request forced it, and months after the project was announced). Rumor has it that UM has the best agreement from the library perspective, and that other libraries are agreeing to much less onerous terms. This is a hot button for me. One of the things that I really like about Microsoft is the extent to which its researchers regularly collaborate, publish, and present outside of the company. If Google's intent is purely philanthropic, why does the commitment to "provide access to the world's information" stop at their front door?

The sixth monster: longevity.

  • What do google, Enron, and WorldCon all have in common? Answer: They are or were publicly traded companies motivated by profit. Two are now gone.
  • What does google have in common with libraries? Answer: They're both on planet earth. (much laughter)
  • How old is the harvard library? Answer: 400+ years. How old is Google: 7. So, which of these organizations do you want to trust with your intellectual heritage?

Now Adam Smith gets a chance to respond. Flashes a charming grin, and says "I'm not that dangerous, am I?" :) (This is what scares me most about Google. Their people and their products are indeed so seductively charming, it's easy to take their claims of purely philanthropic motivation seriously.)

He encourages feedback and criticism--says that's how they make their products better. They launch things quickly so they can get feedback quickly. They walk a difficult path in trying to make many parties happy. Their goal is to make information more accessible, not hidden in library stacks. Says he'll be here to answer questions.

He's asked about the scanning process--they've developed a proprietary non-destructive scanning process, but are not at liberty to disclose that. Someone asks about privacy, Adam refers them to Google's privacy policy. Someone else asks if it's true that one of the libraries requested that only manual page turning be part of the scanning, and he again invokes "no comment."

I ask about the disjoint between the stated policy of helping the world by making information accessible and the veil of secrecy surrounding everything they do, and he's unable to respond--says he's only been there two years, and isn't really familiar with the reasoning behind their policies on disclosure. I express surprise that he hasn't asked for clarification, since I would think he's asked this fairly often, and he says he's never been challenged on this in a public forum before. I'd love to think that's not true, but I suspect that the Google mystique, which they cultivate so very well, has a lot to do with that.

Lots of discussion, not all of which I capture mentally (let alone here on the screen).

my public apology to adam smith of google


So, I owe Adam Smith an apology. I was awfully snarky in my blog post last night, and somewhat unfair in my characterization. He was gracious enough to stop by to say hello this morning, after having read my post, and I apologized to him then. But if I'm going to ding him publicly on my site, I feel as though I should apologize publicly, as well.

First of all, as many people pointed out to me this morning, he's most definitely not over 40 (while I cannot authoritatively confirm his gender, I'm still fairly confident that he's male...).

Second, as someone representing his company, he's under significant constraints in terms of what he can say. When I went through employee orientation at Microsoft, I was warned many times about how quickly people would distort what I said or wrote simply because of my affiliation with the company. I was skeptical, but since then I've seen first-hand how that does indeed happen, and I can't fault Adam for being cautious in his responses, and sticking close to the party line.

Finally, I have to give him (and Google) huge props for being here, and engaging in the dialogue. He's weathered a lot of criticism gracefully, and that's not easy to do even when you don't have hundreds of people watching you.

joel spolsky and kathy sierra on microsoft and mediocrity

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(Geez, I'm spending too much time with Scoble these days. Can't remember the last time I posted this many posts in this short a time...)

Ouch. Spot-on criticisms of Microsoft from Joel Spolsky's excellent blog:

The fact that it's 2005 and I can't buy a relational database from Microsoft that has full text search integrated natively and completely, and that works just as well as "LIKE" clauses, is really kind of depressing.

A very senior Microsoft developer who moved to Google told me that Google works and thinks at a higher level of abstraction than Microsoft. "Google uses Bayesian filtering the way Microsoft uses the if statement," he said. That's true. Google also uses full-text-search-of-the-entire-Internet the way Microsoft uses little tables that list what error IDs correspond to which help text. Look at how Google does spell checking: it's not based on dictionaries; it's based on word usage statistics of the entire Internet, which is why Google knows how to correct my name, misspelled, and Microsoft Word doesn't.

If Microsoft doesn't shed this habit of "thinking in if statements" they're only going to fall further behind.

I can't argue with a lot of that. However, I will say that there's far more of that high-level and creative thinking at Microsoft than most people realize. The problem is something that Kathy Sierra describes beautifully in her recent post on "The Concept Carification effect" (and yes, that's spelled properly in this context). She quotes Steve Jobs from a recent Time article on Apple:

"Here's what you see at a lot of companies; you know how you see a show car and it's really cool, and then four years later you see the production car, and it sucks? And you go, What happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! They grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory! "What happened was, the designers came up with this really great idea. Then they take it to the engineers, and the engineers go, 'Nah, we can't do that. That's impossible,' And so it gets a lot worse. Then they take it to the manufacturing people, and they go, 'We can't build that!' And it gets a lot worse."

And with that, I'm off to bed. Really.

joel spolsky on splogs

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Joel Spolsky has a great post on problems with AdSense, click fraud, and splogs. Especially splogs. I love this passage:

First, they create a lot of fake blogs. There are slimy companies that make easy to use software to do this for you. They scrape bits and pieces of legitimate blogs and repost them, as if they were just another link blog. It is very hard to tell the difference between a fake blog and a real blog until you read it for a while and realize there's no human brain behind it, like one of those Jack Format radio stations that fired all their DJs, or maybe FEMA.

glory days

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I'm in my hotel room, getting ready for bed while my iPod mini plays songs on shuffle. Right now, Bruce Springsteen is singing "Glory Days," a song I love but haven't listened to in ages. And it got me thinking not about high school, but about library school.

It's odd being at a library conference without the bulk of my library posse...a group of tech-savvy librarians that coalesced in LITA in the late 1980s when many of us were students or recent alums of the University of Michigan School of Information and Library Studies (at least two name changes ago; it's now the School of Information).

For years and years we've gathered at ALA conferences--for dinner, drinking, and occasional debauchery. During those years we've married and divorced (not each other, thankfully), changed jobs and career paths and addresses. We've gotten older, too. We don't drink quite as much as we used to, or go out quite as late.

The part that's the hardest for me to come to terms with cognitively. We're not the young turks at the conferences anymore...we're a bona fide old guard. We're library directors, business owners, and pundits. We're the ones giving the keynote speeches. I can remember vividly the night that two of us ended up accidentally crashing the LITA president's reception in New Orleans, and feeling so completely out of place. Fast forward to today, when at least two of our crowd have been LITA presidents themselves (including my companion that night), and the bulk of us have been on the board at least once.

Here at Internet Librarian, I see the next posse hanging in the halls. They're talking about blogs and flickr and del.icio.us. They're laughing out loud at the stodginess around them (as well they should), and carving out their own space. And I find that I'm not at all jealous. I love seeing them blaze their own paths, create their own disruptive force. I don't want to go back to who and where I was fifteen years ago. But I am oh so glad for the friendships that were forged during those conference romps, and the memories that remain. I can only hope that this new group of go-getters will have as many joys and successes in the profession that we've had.

So here's to you, my glory day friends. You know who you are.

internet librarian: the googlebrary


Tonight's panel is moderated by Stephen Abrams, with a number of library pundits and Adam Smith from Google Print. Before the presentation even begins, a young man circulates around the room handing out a glossy sheet with the Google logo at the top entitled "The Facts About Google Print." Gotta love their ability to spin things. It's not an "FAQ," it's not "information"--it's Facts.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few days talking with librarians who are openly enthusiastic about Google's digitization project--not because they love Google, but because they desperately want this information in searchable form. This evening at the speaker's reception, someone said to me "the only question is when this will happen." I looked at him in surprise, and responded that I thought that an equally important question was "who."

So, the panel's about to start...and the first thing I notice is that I seem to have been transported into a web 2.0 panel: all white men, all the time. The only difference is that all of these men are over 40. <sigh> I don't mean to denigrate any of the panel members--they're all smart, accomplished guys. Rich Wiggins from MSU, Steve Arnold from Arnold Info Systems, Roy Tennant from Cal Dig Lib, Mark Sandler of Univ Mich, and Adam Smith from Google Print.

Oh...wait! Barbara Quint, editor of Searcher Magazine, is here, virtually (via speaker phone). A truly invisible woman in this case.

Stephen Abrams is a great moderator--energetic, funny, engaging. Notes that Google's under fire from publishers and authors, and now the threat of congressional hearings. "I'm sorry, I'm from Canada. We think your congressional hearings are great entertainment."

Starts with Adam. "I'm Adam, I'm from Google, and I'm here to give you the TRUTH about Google, and dispel the misinformation that's out there about Google." (Heh..."I'm from the government Google and I'm here to help you.")

"We're doing this out of necessity, not desire." (They're hitting this line hard in a lot of contexts these days; I rather liked Nicholas Carr's comment on this approach last week.)

Shows the three "user experiences" they intend: the publisher program, public domain books, and copyrighted books. The last is the one that's most contentious. Smith says: "This is allowed under fair use." Huh. Judge and jury, case closed? If it were that clear cut, would there be this much controversy surrounding it? While they may well be right, to present opinion as fact is troubling.

Abrams takes over again, and says that we're going to move fifteen years into the future. We've built the megalibrary, and we're looking back: what did we do right? Or...what did we do wrong? How did we get here?

Rich Wiggins starts out. He appears to have fallen under the Google spell... "Looking back, the leading search engine company, worth billions, has digitized the world's culture." A truly utopian vision. (I like Rich, and he'll probably read this, so I'll apologize in advance--Rich, I'm criticizing the ideas and tone, not the person. :)

Roy Tennant totally takes the other end: Google is bankrupt due to mismanagement, and the rest of the world has figured out how to do digitization well. (Adam, he says, has cleverly cashed out in 2009.) The MARC format is dead, libraries have discovered that systems don't integrate well, and have come to grips with how to change them. I like this Utopian vision a lot better than the last one! (He and Rich are debating tomorrow morning; I'll definitely have to attend that keynote!)

Mark Sandler: In 2020, Internet Librarian has become the Librarian conference; ALA in turn has become the American Print Library Assn. (Much laughter...) Google may or may not be there--he doesn't know what the life span of a 7-year-old multi-billion dollar company is. But in Billings MT and Berea KY there are now libraries with 50 million, 100 million volumes available to their readers (from the speakerphone, Barbara's voice cries "Yes! Yes!").

Barbara looks back from 2020 to 2006, when Google launched "Google Press" (I can't make sense of what she's saying--the voice cuts in and out...) Five years later, it is renamed the "Google Full Court Press." (wish I could hear all of this)

Steve talks about his book, "The Google Legacy." Says he's the only person in the room whom Sergey Brin has said is stupid. (Anybody have the cite to that? I couldn't find it in a quick search...) He says he's not interested in Google Print or Google Scholar, he's more interested in GoogleBase, which allows Google to become world's largest publisher of scientific information. Abrams asks him to explain GoogleBase, and he responds: "I'm not explaining Google Base. It's not my job. Sergey thinks I'm stupid, and we have someone here from Google that Sergey thinks is smart. Let him explain it." Heh.

He makes a critical point here, though. Microsoft's products don't delight. Google's products do delight. (Quick round of Microsoft bashing ensues, during which I'm glad I'm not on stage. :)

Adam gets to have his futuring moment. Says 2006 was a turning point year, where "we all worked together to do the right thing." We freed ourselves from the worries of digitization and formats. In 2020 everyone is an author, everyone is a publisher, everyone is an archivist, everyone is involved in the creative process. (He should read danah's post from nearly two years ago... "Consumption and production are fundamentally different and there are different forms of pressure when engaging with either. There is no way that one can possibly say that the threshold for consumption is equivalent to the threshold for production.")

(Roy suggests a round of Kumbaya at this point. I nearly fall off my chair. You go, Roy!)

Stephen asks "what will happen to the librarians in 2020?"

Mark says that some of them will be gone. Why would we need "local providers" when they have the WalMart of libraries? (He says this with a straight face...at least Roy seems to raise his eyebrows.) Local libraries are going to have to change their mission. It has to be about access, about pampering users and adding real value to their lives. They're going to be like "cosmetic counters". WTF?!? Apparently he's serious here--he keeps going on this tack, as I become increasingly astonished.

Barbara weighs in over her spotty audio feed. (I have to ask...why are they using a telephone line run through the sound system rather than a high-quality IP solution with a direct audio line out of the computer? Skype gives far better quality than what we're hearing.) She says readers are more tightly connected to their readers, authors are building books out of Google's content. Book prices are dropping, open access keeps increasing. Librarians are helping to discriminate between good, bad, lousy and lousier materials. "when everything is digital, you're paying people to help you not read bad stuff." Librarians become censors. (Why the choice of that extraordinarily loaded word rather than the less judgmental and polarizing term "filters"?)

Roy says he wants to jump into this "digital lovefest." Digital won't make print go away--it never will. Putting digital materials online increases book circulation. Libraries have never been just about "stuff." They're about service. That doesn't change when collections are digital. (Yay!)

Rich says the cloudy part of the crystal ball is about how we'll be accessing this information. Display technology will change a lot about how we access things. If we have "e-paper" widely available by 2020, it changes this discussion.

Steve says everyone in this room needs to wake up the associations and get them more engaged in the role of the library as an institution. Unless that happens, we'll have a repeat of what happened in Salinas, where the library was shut down. This is a job for everyone here to carry back to the associations and be militant about it, so we don't become marginalized. Also, the library is an institution about learning and information, not limited to a type of material. It is a manifestation of how to organize and access information, whether it works with digital or print artifacts. Having said that, he thinks there will be a "pushing down" of librarianship into some institutions (like schools), and a pushing up into businesses--but the pain will be in the middle. That's where the impact of Google will be.

Abrams breaks in, and says Adam is an "immigrant" into the world of libraries. What does Adam think?

Adam responds by saying that just because everything is digital doesn't mean everything is good. (Um, yeah. This isn't news to anyone in this room.) Editorial control will still be relevant and important. How do we communicate what's good, when everyone's "good" is a little different. Hopefully the "truly good" will rise to the top.

Stephen points out that Google has two new patents for determining the "quality" of information. Asks Adam what the impact of that will be on libraries. Smith doesn't seem to really answer the question directly.

Audience questioner takes the room to task about the fact that we're taking this very lightly; also points out that many of the panel members have a vested interest in Google's success in this space. Barbara responds (again nearly unintelligible, but seems to be focused on serials).

Librarian from a small library says that his life isn't long enough to read what they already have, let alone adding so much more. How do we evaluate all that information? (I'd like to see more discussion of collaborative filtering here...) Mark responds that as a collection dev officer, they try to buy "all but the very worst books." Says in research libraries they've always operated on the "long tail" model--you can't anticipate what researchers might want, so you collect broadly to try to cover all the bases. Maintaining that physical collection is tremendously difficult, and makes it harder and harder to move forward.

An audience member asks about preservation...Adams quite appropriately points to the work being done by academic researchers in this area.

A couple of questions about digital rights management. One commenter says Michigan's agreement with google is quite impressive in this regard. (I'm starting to feel a little bad for him; the audience wants him to answer all of their questions about what they think is wrong with Google, and of course that's not fair for him.

I ask about the fear of a single source--Steve responds that there will be at least three companies that will do this, that the market will force this to happen. Google will be one, obviously. Yahoo is looking at this as well. MSFT will probably be in that space. There will not be a single source, no matter how hard anyone tries. That will be emergent--the market will accomplish that. (Barbara says we have three: open content alliance with Yahoo and whoever else joins, and Amazon, and Google.) Steve disagrees--he believes there will be three, and the only one we know for sure at this point is Google. Barbara responds that right now we do have three--digitization is coming from three players, not one. Roy points out that Yahoo is only one of many players in OCA.

And then, as if on cue...

Big Announcement The Open Content Alliance tonight had an official inaugural event in San Francisco--and at the reception it was announced that Microsoft is joining the alliance, and is funding the digitization of 150K books over the next year. Microsoft's contribution will be known as MSN Book Search.

Smith's response: Google absolutely welcomes Microsoft's participation in OCA, because it's all about making the world a better place.

Some discussion about what will happen to the physical artifacts? Who will take responsibility for ensuring that the books themselves continue to exist? Will they be lost in the digital shuffle?

Roy: Librarians still have a lot to learn about Google. And Google still has a lot to learn about libraries. (he gets some applause on this)

[Oy. I'm tired. There are other things being said, but I'm no longer able to listen and process and type. Sorry.]

internet librarian 05: fabulous flickr meme

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internet librarian 05: my keynote

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I promised the audience this morning that I'd blog my own keynote, though there doesn't seem to be much point to it given the great coverage from so many other conference bloggers: Librarian in Black, Library Techtonics, The Shifted Librarian, dave's blog, See Also, Travelin' Librarian, walking paper, and the official conference blog. (I got these from Technorati and the conference blog list; if you blogged the talk and I missed your post, leave a comment...)

Overall, I think the talk went well, though I didn't have the "high" I sometimes get when everything just clicks. Maybe it's just hard to connect with such a big room. Or maybe I actually overprepared--I spent a lot of time last night trying to organize my thoughts, but it felt like I was trying to do too much--I didn't feel as though I was delivering a clear take-away message. If I were grading, I'd give it a "B," I think.

But for those of you who've come to the site because I promised links and details from the talk, here are the notes I was talking from, annotated with links as appropriate:

how much things have changed since the 2003 conference, as evidenced by things I overheard on Monday morning:
  • "yeah, they're talking about social software and blogs and all that stuff." -- in a classic "that's so 5 minutes ago" voice
  • "I flickr'ed a photo of you and Stephen Abrams."
  • "it's blah blah flickr blah blah tags blah blah don't be afraid..." (literally)

Yesterday Technorati indexed its 20 millionth blog - an elementary school in France

It's hard to speak on the second day (but at least it's not the third)

  • Lee Rainie took the Long Tail and CPA pieces - and stole my "no powerpoint" thunder
  • Jenny Levine and Jessamyn West took the tagging
  • Mary Ellen Bates & Gary Price took the social bookmarking

So what's left for me?

  • Long Tail details -- it's all about social/viral: this is where librarians shine
  • Why do most search tools still suck? (Kathy Sierra's concept car image and happy users graph)
  • Power of social search -- people are better filters than algorithms (myweb vs Google for "clay" or "tags"; can't link to the myweb because you have to be logged in as me for it to work)
  • Trusted information sources are not the same as "buddies." What if you could syndicate your library bookmarks? What if you could provide proactive (rather than reactive) search filters? (the LaGrange Park Library has started using del.icio.us!)
  • dark side of social tagging: What happens to the long tail? if there's not a critical mass of taggers, are the tags really helpful? Or do they end up making the long tail even more invisible? Is "majority rules" the best way to describe content? (ESP game example)
  • is continuous partial attention bad for us, or just bad for us? attention is a form of capital--we're going to have to start earning it, not demanding it.
  • lifehacking is better than prozac: geek GTD cults, 43 Folders, Lifehacker.com, NYT magazine article, 10/16/05 "Meet the Life Hackers" (behind the paywall now, so I won't link to it)
  • and for the person who slipped me the note at the end of the presentation, here's the link to Mary Czerwinski's Microsoft Research study on how big screens make you more productive... :)

internet librarian 05: karen schneider on blogging ethics


I've know Karen Schneider for more years than I'm willing to admit in public, and I've never been disappointed in one of her presentations...

She shows off the newly-revamped Librarians' Internet Index, which looks great. "Websites you can trust."

After attending the Berkman symposium on web credibility, she started thinking a lot about blogging ethics. Why do ethics matter?

On a "micro" level, your blog represents you and everything you're connected with, including librarianship. Great quote: "For most readers, you are the last stop between the reader and the truth." From a utilitarian standpoint, being ethical is a strategic approach. Information has a long half-life. Being ethical is a form of self-preservation..."the blogosphere can be cruel. the biblioblogosphere can be crueler."

On a "macro" level, "The harder we work to make the world a moral place, the better it is for everyone." She points out that librarianship is a profession defined by its concern for others--witness librarians' willingness to go to jail rather than provide information about patrons.

She flashes some "rules of blogging," but they're gone before I can look up from my screen. :)

Five things not to say about your blog

  1. It's only a blog
  2. So-and-so does it
  3. Everyone understood what I meant
  4. They can always look up
  5. Nobody trusts the web anyway

Key Rules

Be transparent

Talks about the importance of transparency, quotes wikipedia ("An activity is transparent if all information about it is open and freely available.") and David Weinberger ("For most blogs, we want to know what the writer's starting point is."

Lack of transparency can be dangerous... Talks about Jeff Gannon, a "one-man-astoturf" White House correspondent. Turned out to be, among other things, a male hustler. ($1200 a weekend?! wow...) Being transparent is pre-emptive--you take the wind out of the sails of people wanting to dish dirt on you. (Shows a photo of the real Robert Fisk, namesake of the verb "fisking.")

Cite it (and check your facts!)

Talks about Gorman's infamous "revenge of the blog people" article. (Aside: the best swag I'm bringing home from this conference is my "One of the Blog People" button.) She notes that he complained about blogs, but never cited the ones he talked about. Link to and name your sources and documentation. Avoid anonymous sources. Always check a secondary source (well, I'd argue that this is true only if you're asserting that it's factually true).

"There is nothing more pathetic than a librarian who gets the facts wrong." (She says that's worse than a NYT reporter that does the same, and I agree.)

Lots of good tips for how to ensure accuracy, which I'm not going to repeat here.

Be Fair

WHO has defined fairness as "The attitude of being just to all."

Some good tips: Let a source know when s/he is "on the record." Don't present opinions as fact. If you claim be objective, you really have to present opposing sides of an issue. Let your readers comment (within reason). [I don't know if I agree with the last one...but that debate's been held in enough places that I see no reason to rehash it here.]

Admit Mistakes
(tuned out for a few minutes here...sorry...mostly about how to acknowledge )

Shows Justinland site, "brother of bridezilla" posts. Why? The unreliable narrator can be interesting and fun. April fool's is an exception.

All in all a very good, very clear, very useful presentation for library bloggers. Brava!

Google Base

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Google Base

Originally uploaded by dirson.


The comment to this image on Flickr is right on target...

"Google: all your base are belong to us."

powerbook video adapter needed!

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If any powerbook-toting Internet Librarian attendees are reading this, I desperately need a powerbook DVI-to-VGA video adapter for my keynote tomorrow morning. I left both of mine at home :(

Worst case scenario, I'll borrow a laptop from someone else and load up my images from a USB drive, but it would be nice if I could use my Mac.

So, if you're here in Monterey and have one of these that you could lend me for 45 minutes tomorrow morning, email me at myblogname at gmail dot com, or comment here, or just stop by the podium before my talk tomorrow morning....

internet librarian 05: expert panel on searching

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This is a two-part session, so it will go for nearly two hours. We'll see how long I last. But I feel some sense of obligation to go to the search-related sessions so that I can go back and ask MSR or MSN to reimburse me for the extra day here that the conference organizers didn't cover (I get two nights in the hotel as a speaker, but if I'd only stayed for that I would have missed a lot of the most interesting search presentations on either Monday or Wednesday).

Genie Tyburski starts out by talking about "setting limits" on time, sources, email, etc...makes me wonder if this is going to be somewhat like a "lifehacking for librarians" session. (If not, that would be a great session for a future IL panel, I think. Jane, you reading this? What do you think? :) She says email is unreliable, unproductive, and distracting. (Well, you could say the same thing about people, couldn't you?) She talks about disposable addresses for logging into websites (I prefer the BugMeNot approach, when possible). Yes, this is sounding a lot like a lifehacker kind of talk. Not sure I'm going to get a lot out of it, since I'm already a faithful reader of 43 Folders and Lifehacker, and a recent convert to the GTD approach. She pushes RSS, but I see this as a false dichotomy. It's not an alternative to email, unless most of your email comes from distribution lists. RSS is great for one-to-many, but lousy for one-to-one or many-to-many.

She talks about a tool called "WebSite-Watcher," which she runs as a desktop application to monitor websites for changes. (Ah, shades of the infamous Winer-Watcher...) I'd prefer to lean on publishers to provide RSS rather than using this approach (I assume this is basically screen-scraping to generate the equivalent of RSS updates). Also mentions one called TrackEngine--she describes it as a similar approach, but a quick look at their site makes me wonder. They describe themselves as an "active bookmark manager"--will have to spend a little time with it to see what it involves.

Next up is Gary Price, from ResourceShelf.com and SearchEngineWatch.com. Can't read the stuff on his screen, but it's online. He reminds us of how few people have actually hear of RSS--the Yahoo survey said 12%. Points out how important explaining and describing this to end users is. He talks about a couple of bookmarking/clipping sites: Furl, eClips, filangy (huh...haven't heard of this last one. worth exploring). He also demos Website-Watcher, and recommends it highly. My first impression is that it's so ugly--but clearly it has devoted users.

Whoa--he gives the first mention of MSN I've heard, and a plug for start.com. Nice to hear someone talk about a site other than Yahoo.

Shows indeed.com, a metasearch engine for job sites--not just compilation sites, but also job postings on corporate sites--here's a search for Microsoft jobs in Redmond. Points out that monitoring job openings can give you insight into what companies are up to.

Recommends Whois Source for good domain name searching/monitoring. Provides some nice tools; will have to start using this one.

Shows a couple of useful special-purpose research and news sites:
* Diplomacy Monitor for government documents from all over the world
* Paper Chase for legal documents
* iHealth beat for health technology
* SmartBrief: targeted newsfeeds on industry topics (subscription required, but it's free)
* Topix.net: he calls this his service of the year for 2005, the best news service he knows of--better than Yahoo or Google
* NewsNow.co.uk: awful search, but great sources and topic organization

He's reeling off more stuff, but I'm burning out here. :/ Think I'm going to skip out on the last section, which is Steven Cohen's riff on RSS, followed by Q&A. I need the mental break more than I need more links...

internet librarian 05: social software and public libraries

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I'm here not so much to find out things I didn't know so much as I am to find out what a skilled, savvy librarian thinks her not-quite-so-savvy colleagues need to know. (This session is pretty crowded...a good sign.)

Jessamyn West cracks me up. Funny, smart presentation on "Flickr, tagging, and the F-word." I walk in a few minutes late (oops), and she's talking about Flickr. Focuses on the metadata available on Flickr, particularly in the form of tags. She shows photos of hers tagged with "library" as an example. Goes on to show other neat tag tricks--from clustering to tag clouds to affinity groups.

She shifts into a tagging v classification riff, in an attempt to calm ruffled library feathers. Does a brief discussion of "folksonomy" (she calls it "the F-word"). Says the most interesting thing about it in contrast to traditional classification is that it's flat. Downsides? Synonym problems (library? libraries? il05? il2005?) Who should the burden be on--the tagger or the searcher?

Talks about "desire lines," that the paths that people put down are a clue to where the "official" paths should go. She has a number of links to related reading; will see if I can find those and add them here.

(I love that when she's done tagging, she's available on IM. This is definitely a tech-savvy panel.)

Next up is Jenny Levine, the famous "Shifted Librarian," who talks about del.icio.us. She does a basic overview of how it works, then goes to how libraries are using it. the LaGrangeParkLibrary reference librarians use it as a shared "ready reference" site. Great examples of tagging problems (dvdstobuy and dvdstopurchase...beyond the overlap, there's the time-senstivity of those tags). Thomas Ford Memorial Library web site has a live links feed from del.

Then shows CiteULike, the academic/bibliographic version. (Doesn't show the sweet integration with existing sites like ACM.)

Then it's a rapid-fire run through other tagging sites--last.fm, 43 Things, Yahoo! MyWeb, Yummy! (a PDF posting service--I hadn't seen this one), a few others.

Suggests the D-Lib article on social bookmarking (by the folks at Nature magazine) for more reading, along with articles by Clay Shirky and Thomas Vander Wal.

There's a question about what happens when people assign inflammatory tags. Jenny's sanguine--"this will work itself out."

Jenny shows the Technology Review August issue on social computing tools, recommends it as an indication that this is a "watershed" point.

(Am going to hit "post" and then come back later to clean it up and add links.)

internet librarian 05: 30 search tips in 40 minutes


Mary Ellen Bates' annual search tips talk. This was a great talk two years ago, and I've been looking forward to this year's version. I just hope I can keep up!

  1. Mine the Creative Commons for images, audio, web site tools (commoncontent.org is a hierarchical catalog; creativecommons.org/find/ is the CC search tool; Yahoo CC search is more comprehensive [search.yahoo.com/cc])
  2. Use MyYahoo's MyWeb 2.0 feature to search "my and my friends' sites" [Argh! Another one of my topics for tomorrow!] She focuses on the "search my sites" rather than the "search my community," though, so she leaves me a nice window.
  3. See also AskJeeve's myjeeves.ask.com, which allows you to click "save" on the search results page for the items you want. Allows you to create an "annotated webliography" (great term!)
  4. Google's Personalized Search; searches pages you've visited before. You can turn search history on and off at www.google.com/psearch. (Calls this and the previous two "the rise of the truly customized electronic ready-reference shelf.)
  5. Start searching podcasts -- podcast.net includes tags; blinkx.com searches a voice-recognition transcript; podscope.com; podcasts.yahoo.com. (Podcasts are more important now that "professional" content producers have regular podcasts--news, analysis, etc. Some content is only in audio form.)
  6. Furl It (I suspect she selects this rather than del.icio.us because it archives the full text of the page--which is a really nice aspect.) Mentions this is great for training, because it can sidestep firewalls. While she was talking, I found this nice piece on the copyright issues on Furl.
  7. See how others search web--browse answers.google.com, and see search strategies at the end of the answers. You can learn from their approaches.
  8. Consider Wikipedia (hits standard talking points; not a bad overview considering the time crunch; the fact that it's even being included in this talk is evidence of how much this conference has changed in 2 years)
  9. Use "squishy Boolean"; it's a relevance ranking. Dialog's TARGET command (target hybrid green clean car? ? automobile?); LexisNexis' SmartIndexing relevance threshold ( subject(cybercrime 9*%) ). She has an article in the March/April 2005 Online magazine on this.
  10. Use blogs to search hidden web content. A site may not be spidered by a search engine, but someone may well find and blog it. Use BlogDigger, BlogLines, Blogdex.net, blogsearch.google.com to find things indirectly--you're leveraging the blog experts's ability to find obscure content. (No time to dig up URLs...)
  11. Try a new search engine once a month. Groowe.com helps--it's a toolbar that that lets you pick from a wide range of search engines. Also NeedleSearch, for Firefox, and "Super Search" Konfabulator widget.
  12. Yahoo's Mindset feature (I don't care for this because it assumes everything fits on a research/shopping slider, but I do see the value in being able to reduce ecommerce sites in search results)
  13. Watch for video-search capabilities. video.search.yahoo.com, video.google.com, blinkxtv.com, etc
  14. Use search engine "hybrids" - Scirus.com (science related web sites and fee-based services), Yahoo's search subscriptions (get bibliographic info on subscription-protected material), ZoomInfo.com, RedLightGreen.com (search library catalogs around the world).
  15. Use BlogPulse's Trend Search to track blog buzz over time, and see the relative poularity of terms in blogs.
  16. Search for words likely to be mentioned on a web site (looking for information infertility drugs, she searched for the names of three different drugs from different manufacturers--this helped eliminate company web sites)
  17. What works best for the professional online services doesn't work well with web searching. Complex searches don't work on the web. Order of search terms matters in a web search. Forget precision and go for what will likely float to the top.
  18. Compare search engines. Dogpile study found 85% of results of the first page of search results to be UNIQUE [snurl.com/gyLg]. See missingpieces.dogpile.com (shows which pieces are unique to each service) and [eeek! missed it the next one, but it does side by side google and yahoo...which I though was a violation of Google's ToS]
  19. Check out Exalead.com. new-ish search engine with great advanced search features. Supports proximity search, phonetic, and "approximate spelling"
  20. Collect examples of site spoofingk for those "a-ha" moments in educating your clients. mypyramid.gov vs mypyramid.org; wto.org vs gatt.org (which one is the anti-WTO site?); dhmo.
  21. Watch for new applications of Google Map images. For example, housingmaps.com (she attributes this to Craigslist, not realizing that it's a mashup between the two sites, not a craigslist feature); traffic (traffic.poly9.com)
  22. Check out newer data visualization tools. Grokker.com has a demo showing data viz for Yahoo searching. This is a big change for librarians, who are used to text results.
  23. Other visualizations -- shows the treemap version of Google News. www.marumushi.com/apps/newsmap
  24. Use incominglinks.com to find specialized portals and directories. Intended for web managers to find places to get linked, but it's valuable as a list of specialized sources.
  25. Y!Q from Yahoo yq.search.yahoo.com. Contextual searching--lets you highlight text on the page to refine your search. Can search from any web page. Requires IE toolbar or plug-in for best performance.
  26. Yahoo's Site Explorer: siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com. Lets you search pages within a domain or subdomain. Can also generate a list of all outgoing links from a web page.
  27. Consider Amazon's SIP's and CAPS; great way to brainstorm search terms from a book on a topic. Also their new Text Stats for a book ("Fog Index, average syllables per word, words per dollar and per ounce)
  28. Use phrase search to find specialized directories of information. Google and Yahoo syntax: intitle:"directory of" {subject word}
  29. Try Konfabulator widgets (yet another Yahoo property...). Includes a number of search widgets, but she talks about a wider range)
  30. Her favorite way to kill time when customer "service" puts me on hold: 20Q.net, or buy a self-contained version from amazon.com. This kind of machine-learning will start to inform search tools.

internet librarian 05 keynote: lee rainie

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I was up bright and early this morning so that I could walk on the wharf before breakfast and still make it to the keynote this morning. One of the reasons I particularly like speaking at Internet Librarian is that it consistently attracts interesting presenters (thanks in no small part to the efforts of Jane Dysart, the program chair). Lee Rainie, from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, is the headliner today.

(An aside: I hate conference room chairs. They're exactly the wrong height for me, so I end up with my laptop sliding off my lap. I need to get one of those nifty portable desk things that I've see Joi using.)

There's an "official" conference blog this year, as well as a wiki.

Ah, finally they've gotten through the preliminaries and mutual congratulations and moved on to introducing Lee.

No powerpoint! w00t! (The audience applauds when he says this, including the woman sitting next to me...who's working on her own powerpoint presentation for a later talk. She seems not to recognize the irony.) He also refers to a conference where there was a projected IRC channel during his talk. Does a nice job of summing up the pluses and minuses of that. (He says to try googling "Lee Rainie and Yoda," but when I got online and tried it I had no luck...) He thanks us for not putting him through that hazing here.

He asks how many people are live blogging his talk (~6), and how many plan to blog aspects (another handful)--good indicator of changes in the profession.

He reads from a text about what happens when new technologies enter mainstream culture, the role of information gatekeepers is significantly affected. Turns out that he's reading from the history of the printing press--but it could just as easily be applied to the internet.

What's happened over the past year, from his project's point of view? What's coming?

  • More than 2/3 of internet users now have broadband access of some kind--and broadband users are very different from dial-up users. They do different things, for different amount of times, and with more impact on their lives.
  • 1/3 of American adults do not consider themselves internet users, and 1/5 have never used the internet
  • The dial-up users of today are not as interested today as their predecessors in wanting access to lots of bits (those who wanted that access have it now; the rest don't feel "left behind" for the most part)

Obvious place of decline is chat rooms. Blogs, IM, and threaded discussion forums appear to have taken up that slack.

Teenagers and the internet:

Kids ages 12-17 are more connected than others, more intense users. They love and use IM, they love and use their cell phones (only 45% have cell phones--but if they have them, they love them). If you combine their IM and cell phone use, teenagers are redefining what it means to be present (great quote). His daughter was featured in a news story entitled "the conversation never ends". 8 out of 10 teenagers play online gains (54% gain in 2 years). Also a 38% increase in getting news online; 71% growth in buying things online (up to 43% of teens). They increasingly use the Internet for health information--particularly for "sensitive subjects."

Strikingly, teens are creating content. He says they're about to release a new report on this topic. (Yay!) New surveys show that 19% of teenagers have created blogs (3x the adult rate); an even higher % have created and worked on their own web sites.

Teenagers are frenetic multitaskers. Hardly any of them do a single thing at a time. They've been referred to as Generation "M" (for media). When you add up the time they spend using their various forms media, it's about 8.5 hours a day--but they do it in 6.5 hours of real time.

Question: How do teens respond to advertising? Answer is that they see it as just one more input--they're skeptical, but not as put off as adults. (That resonates with what I've seen in my kids.)

Question: Is there less depth of contact because of "all this stimulation". (Geez, what a value-laden question.) I jump in here (because I can't keep my mouth shut, natch) about last week's MSR piece from NYT Magazine (which I refuse to link to because they've put it behind their stupid "Times Select" paywall), and the fact that we can't necessarily extrapolate from our own experiences (and limitations) to those of our kids.

Politics and Internet

(Missed some of this...)

Tried to test for the extent to which people isolated themselves from opposing views online. They found that the internet contributed to a wider range of political views. Wired Americans, and especially broadband users, were more likely to have encountered opposing views. The Internet appears to be more of a door opener than an echo chamber.

Stephen Abrams asks about the extent to which consumers are aware of how search option optimization has affected their information consumption? Rainie says no, most internet users are quite unsophisticated, even to the extent of not differentiating between paid and non-paid search results. Notes that there's still a huge education role here.

Internet and "Major Moments"

They redid a survey about how people used the internet at "milestone moments' in their lives--buying a house, having a child, facing an illness, etc. He cites a bunch of numbers, but I can't keep up. (I assume this will be in an upcoming Pew Report, anyhow.)

Question: Is there backlash to the "always on, always connected" trend? Rainie says there's anecdotal evidence that's changing--from email-free Fridays to computer- and connectivity-free vacations.

What are the key trends he sees?

There are public toilets in France now that have IP addresses; there are golf balls with RFID tags. Says the RFID-ification of American is well underway. Mobile access is untethering us--you can start cooking dinner by sending commands from your phone, for example.

Their numbers on content creation are nearly 3 years old; they're about to do a new one.

Emphasizes the social dimension of search--says he sees that as incredibly important.

What should librarians be paying attention to?

  • Chris Anderson's "Long Tail" concept; does a good job of a quick broad brush explanation of the idea, cites Anderson's blog. (Damm! I was going to talk about this tomorrow. This is why I don't prepare presentations in advance; I always end up having to change things at the last minute...) How do people discover "Long Tail" stuff? Word of mouth and reputation systems. Rainie says (and I agree) that figuring out the social network aspects of this will be fascinating and important.
  • Rheingold's Smart Mobs: How do people self-organize using technology?
  • Linda Stone's discussion of "continuous partial attention"

Can libraries help us find the balance between being connected and being contemplative? (best line of the talk...)

He thinks that librarians are best suited to helping us create "information habitats" that strike this balance.

Wow. Great presentation! Rainie's wonderful, and sets an awfully high bar for me tomorrow!

portola plaza's awful internet access


So, I'm staying at the Portola Plaza in Monterey, which is the hotel that the conference organizers are putting me up in. With any luck, however, I won't be staying here again.

For $9.95/day (payable in advance for the whole stay, presumably so I won't get so annoyed with them that I change my mind about paying for access midstay), I get a 36-inch ethernet cable tethered to the desk. (Forgot to bring a wifi access point with me, alas, so I can't extend my reach.

No wifi in the public areas or the rooms, the clerk told me. But out of habit, I checked for open networks when I got into my room. Found three--"Lower Lobby Front," "Lower Lobby Middle,' and "Lower Lobby Rear." So, of course, I tried getting online with one. Here's what I got:


$1/minute??? $300/day???? With the caveat that of course that includes absolutely no technical support or guarantees of reliablity?


Color me very unimpressed.

testing flock

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I'm up far too late, trying to get ready to leave for Monterey tomorrow, where I'll be attending and speaking at Internet Librarian 2005.

While my clothes spin in the dryer, I'm playing with Flock, the new socially-enabled browser. It accesses my del.icio.us bookmarks, and lets me post to my blog. I'm sure it does additional nifty stuff, but discovering the rest of its features will have to wait until after I've packed, flown, and settled into my hotel.

It's a three-day trip, with lots of wonderful presentations, so I expect that I'll be blogging regularly while I'm there--as I did two years ago when I attended the 2003 IL conference. One of my most-linked-to-posts ever was my live blogging of Mary Ellen Bates' "30 Search Tips in 40 Minutes" session from that conference, and I'm looking forward to attending her session again this year!

accidental reset


I was trying to get Bloglines to synch with NetNewsWire today, and somehow my Bloglines subscriptions all got marked as read--taking me from ~2000 unread items to zero. (And the sync didn't work, either--only a fraction of my subscriptions actually seem to have properly updated in NNW. Feh.)

On the plus side, it was remarkably freeing to have all that unread stuff disappear. It's not like I was ever really going to catch up.

And it helped to compensate for the misery of having spent 2+ hours going through email on my non-MS accounts, which I've neglected shamefully since starting my sabbatical. (If you want a fast response from me, you should use the MSFT address. If you don't have it, you should call me. If you don't have a phone number for me...well, that's how I'm staying sane these days. Sorry.)

It's amazing how much more angst and petty politics there is in the academic environment. It's probably because as a temporary employee I'm spared many of the slings and arrows of MSFT politics. But that's not all of it. Some of it is really that academics--who often spend their entire professional lifetimes working with the same small group of people--really do have an uncanny ability to drive each other crazy. It reminds me a great deal of the way my kids interact with each other. At the moment, I'm very very glad that I'm here and not there.

why you shouldn't be reading this


Paul Ford has written a remarkable essay on...well, on everything from interruptions and attention to web2.0 and blogging to philosophy and mortality.

Read it.

Or don't. That would be good, too.

search c[h]amps: striking a balance


I'm in the midst of another Search Champ meeting at Microsoft, and this one has taken a very different form from the first two. They listened to our feedback from the earlier meetings, in which we complained about (a) the fact that we were too diverse a group covering too many topics in too short a time, and (b) the highly structured, powerpoint driven, classroom style format.

This time we've got a small (nine people) group of blog-focused "champs," and a very unstructured day in a couch-filled room with a few key discussion topics. Seem like a winning formula.


It turns out that if you put a bunch of opinionated geeks in a room, they spend a lot of time talking over each other. And there's definitely a gender divide in this behavior. (Also a newcomer versus returnee divide--the people who haven't attended a search champ event before appear significantly less willing to shout to be heard.)

There's clearly a balance that needs to be struck, and it's one that I'm well familiar with from classroom settings. One-to-many, top-down, bullet-point-driven meetings are stultifying; free-for-all discussions end up marginalizing those unwilling to jump into the fray, and a lot of valuable things don't get said. (Plus I've got a killer headache from people who seem to share my 11-year-old's sense of what the appropriate decibel level for a small room is.)

All in all, I prefer the freewheeling to the overly structured, in large part because I'm one of those people willing to jump in, speak loudly, and demand attention when I feel I've got something important to say. But neither extreme is ideal, and my hope is that MSN will keep learning from these meetings, and find a happier medium for future meetings.

happy 9th birthday, alex!


3boysdec96.jpgToday is Alex's 9th birthday. We started the day with his big-ticket gift--a Lego Mindstorms Robotic Inventions 2.0 set--and will end it with a dinner at the Space Needle (his requested venue).

I realized today that in some ways, Alex inspired my first blog, long before "weblog" made its debut in the dictionary. Take a look at this pregnancy updates page...stories about my pregnancy, each individually dated and presented in reverse chronological order. Sure looks like a blog to me. :)

There are other nice things on that long-forgotten site, as well. A photo of Lane holding Alex in my hospital room the day after he was born, the detailed birth story (warning: contains gory and painful details), and even my far-too-optimistic and ultimately useless birth plan.

It's such a cliché to say "they grow up so fast." But that's because it's so very true. He's not a chubby-cheeked baby anymore--he's a sleek pre-teen with a sharp wit and an impish smile. But he's still my baby.

Happy birthday, baby!

neil gaiman at microsoft


One of the many perks of working at Microsoft is the top-name speakers they bring in. This week it's author Neil Gaiman--whose work, I'm embarassed to admit, I've never read. I've purchased a paperback copy of Stardust for him to sign, and I think I'll give it to my son as a birthday present this weekend (I'm pretty sure he won't be reading the blog before then, so it's safe to say so). We can read it together, something we haven't been doing enough lately.

Gaiman is doing a public talk and signing at a Seattle bookstore tonight, but it's lovely having a smaller, more intimate version (there are about 125 people attending) here in my building.

Starts by saying it's appropriate that he's talking here, since he rencently spoke at Google--their motto, he says, is "do no evil," while ours seems to be "we don't really have a problem with that." (laughter in the room)

Says his new book, Anansi Boys, is funny and happy, in contrast to its predecessor, American Gods. Describes the new book a bit, and then does a brief reading from the book. (Great delivery. He's fun to listen to.) It's a screwball romantic comedy ghost thriller epic novel (with probably a few more genres thrown in).

He says here in the 21st century, there really aren't meaningful genres anymore. They're basically ways to avoid a part of the bookstore you're not interested in. This book will go either in SciFi or Literature--he doesn't care, since it went straight in on the bestseller list at #1.

How did that happen? What does that say about the wired/wireless world we're living in?

Advertising in the publishing world doesn't come anywhere near advertising in the brand product world. He feels he "solved" this problem for himself back in 2001.

He was an early adopter--CompuServe, GEnie, the WELL. Then when he finished American Gods, he discovered blogging. He told his editor he wanted to write about what happens between when you type "the end" and when the book hits the bestseller list. Nobody ever hears that story--what happens with getting rights to song lyrics, for example?

He had a great time writing the stories on the blog--and when the book came out, he had 20K readers of his blog! So he carried on. It was like the online community sites he'd used before in many ways.

Currently the blog has 1.2 million individual visitors (he doesn't say in what time period--is that monthly? weekly?). That meant there were many people looking forward to the release of Anansi Boys, who went out and bought it as soon as it was released. ("And suddenly, Dan Brown was ground beneath my heel," he says, to widespread laughter.)

But, he points out, it was a side effect of the blog, not the purpose of it. (This is really important...)

The downside of the blog is the impact on signing tours--instead of 150 people, he gets 750--and a very sore signing hand. As a result, alas, the paradigm of the book tour breaks. This is a quandary that he's trying to resolve.

Backs up and speaks to those who are here because someone else told them to be here, and provides some background about what he's written. He started with a (graphic novel?) called Sandman, going all the way through the movie he just wrote called Mirrormask, modeled somewhat on Labyrinth. Made it for less than $4 million.

Just started filming a new (and much higher budget) Beowulf movie in a "Polar Express" animation style; if PE was 1.0, this film will be 3.0. Made for adults--plenty of blood and killing and mead. ("Lots of mead.") This is the biggest, best dragon battle ever made, he promises.

Goes to Q&A.

Someone asks if Miracle Man will ever be finished--and he says, yes, that could happen. (Apparently this is an old comic character he worked on years ago.) He says that it's simply too long a story, complicated by a trip to bankruptcy court, which must be resolved before more can be done.

The next question is about his writing in Babylon 5, and since I don't know any of the names being thrown about I can't really capture the sense of the q or the a.

Talks about the difference between graphic and textual novels. Graphic novels allow the writer more control over pace and perception of appearance. Text allows you to be more nuanced, make the readers work harder (if they're willing to play). Contrasts both to movies and their ability to twist what happens in real life.

(As he's been answering questions, I've been looking through the back of the book I bought, and it looks like I might want to acquire Coraline for my son, as well...)

Discusses computers vs paper for writing. He loves writing first drafts on paper, as well as the discontinuity of separate first and second drafts (he likes the distinct quality of separate paper drafts, but eventually moves the mss to the computer). Movie scripts, however, he does completely on the computer.

[After he finished, I bought a hardcover copy of Coraline as the birthday present, so that each child will have a signed book... They both look like great stories, and I'm looking forward to quality reading-aloud time with the boys this weeked.]

media immersion

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(I wrote this a couple of days ago, but have had trouble getting ecto to talk to my server... :( )

Things I've done since returning from New York (besides work):

  • Took my 8-year-old to see Corpse Bride on Friday (my 11yo saw it Saturday), and Serenity on Saturday (he and I are both big Firefly fans)
  • Watched seven episodes from the first season of Lost (am working my way through the series via Netflix as quickly as possible)
  • Beat We Love Katamari (there's are still more cousins to be collected, and comets to be won, but I've successfully completed every task at least once)

That's a lot of hours looking at non-computer screens.

I used to tell people who asked where I found the time for blogging that it was time reclaimed from watching TV. Given the lack of blogging during this big and small screen media frenzy of mine, it looks as though I was right...

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