mamamusings: October 25, 2005

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Google Base

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.”

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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!

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more like this: conferences | on blogging

internet librarian 05: my keynote

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!)
  • 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,, 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… :)
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internet librarian 05: fabulous flickr meme

Librarians with giant calculators.

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more like this: conferences | humor

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.]

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glory days

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 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.

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more like this: conferences | friends | librarianship

joel spolsky on splogs

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.
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joel spolsky and kathy sierra on microsoft and mediocrity

(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.

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Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna