Tweeting for Public Figures & Public Servants

January 13, 2009

I’ve been watching a celeb adopt Twitter as a way to chat with fans. LeVar Burton — known variously as Kunte Kinte (Roots), Geordi (Star Trek The Next Generation), and host of Reading Rainbow — began twittering just after Christmas and quickly built up a huge following. I popped in as follower #8000 a few days ago and he’s over 10,500 now. Not bad for only three weeks online!

"Speak Up" is the new "Shhh.."He seems to be enjoying it, too. It makes sense: It’s an easy, efficient way to share thoughts, appearances, interact, and show that he’s a real person. (Not that there was any doubt.) He may influence others. A recent tweet from him said that “a long conversation today with Brent Spiner [Star Trek's Data]… began with ‘Tell me about Twitter.’”

It’s great to see public figures trying out social web tools. Musicians (or their agents) have been involved for quite a while. Some athletes have taken spins, too. I’d love to see many more public figures AND public servants (including community leaders and librarians) jumping in. Staff should get involved. Several collaborating staff members, in fact, could share the tweeting duties on an “official” Twitter account. Come on, people! Share the news, the concerns, and the daily routine. Build relationships. Be there. Be available.


A Comic Catalog

October 1, 2008

Are kids and teens bored by your library catalog? Artists are transforming old classics into comic books and publishers roll out new graphic novels by the score. Why not add a similar visual punch to your public catalog?

comiccatalog4

During a mostly unrelated conversation* this morning, my mind wandered and I started imagining a library catalog that provided content as if it were a comic book. Why not? A person searching a catalog is engaged in a dialog. Why not illustrate that dialog in a fun way? The catalog would still do its search magic beneath the surface, but the interface — the Q & A — could be channeled through a random comic book scene.

Let’s say a teen opens the “Comic Catalog” to an illustrated scene featuring two characters. One character has a blank cartoon bubble overhead (or a bubble with prompting words like “Do you have …”). The teen types keywords into the bubble just as he would with a normal text box, but … he’s typing into a comic book! That’s the search box. Cool.

Then he presses ENTER and watches the other character respond with the catalog’s top entry. Other results can appear in a list below, or may be selected and scrolled up into the comic interface.

If you have several dozen images stashed in the catalog’s storage, comiccatalog the randomness of the comic scenes will keep it fresh. If a user wants to play a little, she can scroll through the scenes to find one she likes. Maybe the scenes could appear as upturned comic book pages that she can flip through.

Sure, this is a gimmick, but it’s visual, colorful, and fun. A whimsical interface option might spruce up the catalog. We’re a Polaris library, so I ran the idea by the good developers in Syracuse this afternoon. It’s a busy week for them — their annual user’s conference begins tomorrow — but they listened politely and passed it around their work group.

Sharon Ufer Lavell, our library’s collection services manager with whom I was talking when this idea arose, suggested customizing the user’s avatar or changing the background based on the call number of the top result. A kitchen background might appear, for example. Or a sport stadium. Or a zoo.

I pitched the idea to a school teacher, too. Would the kids gobbling up graphic novels use this? Her immediate answer: “I would use this!”

What do you think? Should we seek a Comic Catalog?

* Our original conversation: Is there an online database out there that provides full-content comic books? Well, is there?

NOTE ABOUT IMAGES: The examples shown here were produced quickly today using a few simple graphical cut-and-paste tools and using images from ComicStripGenerator.com.  Maybe a manga, anime, or classic comics-style illustrator could be hired to dash off a nice image collection for a Comic Catalog.


Musical Tag Clouds: A New Game?

July 15, 2008

Can you guess this song? Na? Yes, na. That’s a tag cloud of “Hey, Jude” by the Beatles. I was tinkering with tag clouds one evening last month and had the goofy urge to see what the song with more than one hundred nas at the end would look like as a tag cloud. I wasn’t disappointed. You simply can’t miss the na. Of course, hey and jude are pretty obvious, too.

That prompted me to think of a nerdy little game that teens (primarily) might enjoy. Suppose people created tag clouds of various popular songs and then challenged others to guess the tune from which they had sprung.

Can you guess this song?

Of course, some titles are so much a part of their songs — with the key words repeated (or in some cases, hammered) into our ears so frequently — that it’s hard to miss the cues among the tags. Take the classic rock song from the ’70s shown at right. That title is probably easy to pick out.

Can you guess this song? Or the (mostly) instrumental marching band anthem from the 1960s [left]. Its one word tag cloud is surely the simplest ever.

But we can make this game more challenging!

See if you can pick out these next two songs. You can click through to larger versions on my Flickr page if that would help. Can you guess this song?One song came from a major rock band and the other is a tune from an “American Idol” contender.

Does that give you a sense of the game? Here are two ideas I’d like to propose:

1. A game for library teens

If you have a teen group in your library, let them pick the songs (remembering, of course, that not all lyrics have PG ratings!), give them the tools*, and let them create their own tag clouds. Can you guess this song? If you want to add a scoring element, you might award 20 points for the correct song + 10 points for the singer + 10 bonus points for guessing both within 30 seconds.

Hang the tag clouds on the wall after they’re solved. The song was already musical art. Now the words are visual art!

2. A collection for all of us

I’ve created more than a dozen musical tag clouds already. You can find them in the Musical Tag Clouds set on my Flickr page. If you (or your patrons) create* more, post them to Flickr and tag them “MusicalTagClouds”. There’s also a Flickr group with the same name. Toss in a hint if you think it’s warranted. Over time, our global collection could grow incredibly large and varied. The images would be available for a solo challenge or a classroom game at the drop of a hat. How fun it will be to randomly choose among them and try to guess the songs.

—–

* There are many tag cloud generators on the Internet. I used Wordle for all of mine because of the colorful and playful clouds it produced. If you find something better, go for it. Just have fun! Or, as the Beach Boys might say:
Can you guess this song?


Slick Libraryman Video

April 12, 2008

Check out the slick promotional video Michael Porter (aka Libraryman) created with Animoto. In his blog today, he advocates that we do the same to get value from a Chumby and promote our libraries. Absolutely! And how cool would it be if we can manage something even half as good as this. Bravo, Michael!


Learn More: RSS feeds and feed readers

February 24, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

If checking a website for information is akin to picking up a morning paper at a newsstand, then using an RSS feed is like subscribing to the newspaper. It give you the latest info and saves you the trip.

That’s the metaphor. In real terms, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a snippet of XML code that retrieves a website’s latest content. Paired with a feed reader (or aggregator), that content is delivered to single place: a web page of your own design. You choose the sources of information (i.e., blogs or frequently-updated websites that you hope to keep up with), and RSS will “feed” all that new info to your page.

MEANING FOR LIBRARIES

As a user: If you routinely check a dozen or more sources, a feed reader will make you more efficient. It could save you A LOT of time. Most (if not all) library-world blogs provide feeds. Blogging software, in fact, usually includes it as a basic tool. Many websites and virtually all news sites offer feeds, too.

As a provider: A library could (dare I say “should”?) include RSS feeds on many of its web pages, all of its blogs, and even within its catalog. When a page changes or a new blog is posted, subscribers will immediately see it on their feed readers. To maximize effectiveness, libraries should advertise the possibilities (or explain the feed concept) when opportunities arise. Don’t be content with providing an RSS icon; be proactive by explaining that RSS icon.

As a conduit: A library’s website could include RSS feeds from other sources. Do you know of a reliable RSS source of local traffic information? Does your town have a website with a community events feed? Maybe you could pipe that content (or content even more imaginative) into your page. When the information is updated on the original website, the RSS will feed it to the library’s page where your patrons can see it.

LEARN MORE BY PARTICIPATING

Some browsers (including Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox) have built-in feed readers which simplify the process but limit your feeds to one machine. Skip to the “get a few feeds” section below if you want that option. Follow the whole process if you prefer a web-based feed reader.

Start with a feed reader or aggregator.

  • Open a free account at GoogleReader, Bloglines, Technorati, or other feed reader or blog reader service.
  • Each site works a bit differently but I’m hoping you’ll be able to navigate the set-up process once you’re in. Look for links offering to help you add RSS, XML, subscriptions, or feeds. (This set-up is usually the most difficult step in the process. Fortunately, you will only need to do this once. Seek an experienced friend if you get stuck.)
  • This will be the beginning of the web page you’ll use to collect all those subscriptions.

Now, get a few feeds.

  • Open another browser window. (This is not required, but it will make returning to your aggregator much easier in a moment.)
  • Go to a blog or webpage to which you’d like to subscribe.
  • Scan the page for a (usually orange) button or link denoting RSS, XML, or FEED. It might also be an orange ‘emitting’ logo like the one shown a few paragraphs above. (LibraryStream has an RSS box on its sidebar with an “Entries RSS” link, but the RSS/XML box right here works, too.)
  • Click that button or link.
  • Depending on the site and your browser, the page that opens might resemble computer code gibberish. That’s XML and you need not understand any of it. What you want is the web page address for all that XML. Right-click your browser’s address window, and click COPY.

Return to your aggregator.

  • Right-click into the aggregator’s RSS text box and click PASTE.
  • Once that address is entered, you should see the latest content (or a clickable title for the latest content) in your feed reader.

What you do next is your call: find more feeds to add to your aggregator,rearrange your aggregator’s display,adjust the feed settings (to display full content, titles only, number of posts to display, etc.),or close for the day. You can return to your feed reader at any time and see all the new stuff that your favorite blogs and websites have fed to you while you were away. And of course you can add other feeds whenever the need or mood strikes.

Make your feed reader work for you. Have all the stuff you like delivered. And why not? It’s your web now.


Buzzword: Web-based word processing

February 17, 2008

I’m jazzed about Buzzword, a new web-based word processor created by Virtual Ubiquity and now under Adobe management. It’s easy to learn and easy to use. After a simple sign-up process* I was up and running.

The screen is attractive and the tools are largely intuitive. In fact, the toolbars appear better organized than those I’ve seen in many PC-based word processor programs. So far I’ve found every tool I’ve needed or gone looking for: margins, tables, spell-check, text/background colors, images, headers/footers, etc. It even has an always-visible word count and a page-numbered scroll bar.

A comment feature allows meta info and the collaboration possibilities** seem at least as good as Google Docs. I’ll have to experiment more to be sure. I can save my documents as an online Buzzword file, plain text, rich text format, or Word document, and then access my files from anywhere. (Don’t you just love the convenience of online storage?!)

Downsides? Despite Adobe’s involvement with Buzzword, there’s no PDF format yet. And there’s an occasional delay in the typing-response time, but it’s not bad for an on-line application. Not bad at all. It’s just a teensy bit jittery. That might change depending on your machine and browser; I’ve only tried it on two of each so far and noticed a difference.

If you try Buzzword, please let me know what you think.


* Name, email, and password; it couldn’t be much simpler.
** Why email copies to several people when you can share a single document online?


Learn More: Wikis

December 17, 2007

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

If you gather a committee, write a draft document, and solicit feedback, you might receive scores of revisions in email and on paper. Compiling all those changes back into a single coherent document could be a long and tedious task. On the other hand, you could create a wiki. That would enable everyone to work on the same collaborative document and compile changes on the fly. A wiki is basically a read/write website open to anyone with permissions.

Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick”. Ward Cunningham, who developed the wiki concept in the mid-1990s, named his WikiWikiWeb program after the “wiki wiki” shuttle bus he encountered at the Honolulu Airport. It seemed the perfect name for a web platform intended to give users quick access to editing tools.

The largest and most famous wiki, of course, is Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia, where thousands of contributors have complied a global encyclopedia with more than 2 million English language articles (and even more than that number in other languages). Most other encyclopedias publish articles written and vetted by experts; Wikipedia entries are created and edited by anyone volunteering the time and effort. Accounts aren’t even required! Readers add information, correct typographical and grammatical errors, and contribute to a worldwide public-review process that is much faster than traditional peer-reviewed documents.

Meaning for libraries

Here are three ideas for libraries to consider.

  • Accuracy. Information in a wiki is mostly accurate, but who knows? How’s that for a ringing endorsement? Wikipedia, the largest of all wikis, has been studied* and found to be reasonably accurate. It might not be peer-reviewed by recognized authorities, but it is read and continually re-edited by thousands of people. There is vandalism, to be sure, but most people don’t make changes unless they are confident of their facts and they are more likely to contribute good information than bad.
    My opinion: A site like Wikipedia is a reasonable place to begin a search. You can pick up a few facts and grasp an understanding of a subject. However, it probably isn’t the best place to end a search. Don’t prohibit its use as a resource, but encourage people to supplement it with other sources.
  • Collaboration. Libraries increasingly use wikis within the profession.
    • Wikis created by the international library community provide ample room for collaboration toward common goals.
    • Library conferences have begun providing wikis. Planners, speakers, and attendees compile information and experiences without the need or delay of editors.
    • Intranet-based wikis may be helpful within an organization. University libraries have been active in this regard. I recently began a manual-writing project on an internal wiki open to supervisors at my public library. Such wikis can foster the participation of many people without the usual drag of long committee meetings.
  • Patrons. Wikis can be created for library patrons. Bookclubs and teen programs might help construct and/or benefit from them. A “Community Places” section seems custom-made for residents who know their area better than anyone. A wiki can give them a venue for sharing their knowledge with others.

Learn more by participating

Nothing demonstrates the concept of a wiki better than just diving in. Here are a few explorations I’d encourage you to try this week.

  • Go to Wikipedia and search a few topics that are near & dear to you. Topics might include a town or a hobby you know well.
  • Read over each article. Look at the organization and note the writing style. This article was probably not written by a single person. Several people likely compiled it over months or years.
  • Click the “History” tab to see past activity on the page.
  • Click the “Edit this page” tab to open the page’s editing functions.
  • Browse the source code to familiarize yourself with the text and format code of this particular wiki. Wikipedia was built on MediaWiki software. Other wiki platforms may use a different mark-up language.
  • If you honestly have something to contribute, edit or add to the page and save it. That’s how wikis evolve: one reader/writer at a time.

  • Bonus: If you or your library are interested in creating your own wiki, there are many software types available. Shop around for the best fit. Some services charge, others are free; some are open to public view, others are private; some host pages for you, others allow software downloads to your server. Here are three examples: MediaWiki, PBWiki , WetPaint.

Collaboration. Participation. It’s all part of the social web.


* most famously by Nature magazine, Dec. 15, 2005.


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