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?


Dead People’s Books

February 10, 2008

Meant to write about this a month ago

Last September, jbd1 (his screen name) embarked on an intriguing project to enter all of Thomas Jefferson’s books* into a LibraryThing profile. Jefferson would become, in essence, on online persona on the popular social networking site. We could browse his catalog and compare** it to our own as easily as that of any other LibraryThing friend. It’s as if we were running our fingers across the spines of books at Monticello [right].

I friended Jefferson and joined in on the cataloging project with jbd1 and about fifteen other people during that first week. My sections were astronomy and natural philosophy (personal interests of mine). I started with enthusiasm but got bogged down after entering about three dozen titles. These were pre-1815 volumes, after all, and required time-consuming searches for precise editions in academic library catalogs; no small task. The small group of collaborators finished the entire project a month ago. Check it out. It’s a wonderful resource.

Jefferson’s collection isn’t the only historical library of interest, however. Members of LibraryThing’s I See Dead People[‘s Books] group have completed or started working on the catalogs of about twenty other famous people ranging from Samuel Johnson and James Joyce to Marie Antoinette and Susan B. Anthony to Mozart and Tupac Shakur. I applaud this imaginative collaborative effort. It places a scholarly resource within a user-friendly environment and brings dead people’s books back into view. Oh yeah: It’s also just a cool concept.

* Specifically all the books Jefferson sold to the Library of Congress in 1815.
** I share 27 titles with Jefferson, it turns out. Newer editions, of course.


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.


Learn More: Delicious

November 26, 2007

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

If you’re like most Internet users, you have favorite web sites. You probably tuck a few away in your favorites or bookmarks folder so you can retrieve them with a couple of mouse clicks. But favorites and bookmarks belong to the browser you’re using. Change browsers or change machines and you lose your access. Suppose you find something good for reference while surfing the net at home. What if you’re at work when you discover a great site you’d like to have at home? I’ve known librarians who emailed themselves or saved URLs to a disk which they carried around. That’s old technology!

Social bookmarking solves the browser problem and adds a beneficial collaborative tool to the mix. If you’re a Delicious user, you can bookmark sites to a web account (which makes them retrievable from anywhere) and you can browse the bookmarks saved by others (letting you benefit from their discoveries).

Meaning for libraries

The most obvious library application for Delicious is at the reference desk. Each librarian has his/her favorite online sources and either marks them in the local browser or relies on Google to find them. But suppose each librarian added URLs to a personal Delicious account and then networked with other librarians for a truly collaborative collection of bookmarks. Not only would the librarian make his/her own list available on whichever machine is in use, but everyone in the network could benefit from websites on the consumer specialist’s list or the genealogist’s list or the music librarian’s list.

But don’t stop at the reference desk. Other library staff use and share websites, too; introduce them to social bookmarking. And don’t forget the patrons. If you have a list of sites to share, enter them into a separate library account and refer to it on your library website or in conversations: “Oh, and don’t forget our Delicious site. It has many more great recipe links.”

Learn more by participating

This should be an easy project this week. Set aside 15 minutes on the first day to get started. You could do just Steps 1 & 2, or quickly run through all the steps in that time. No matter what you do on Day One, however, return to your Delicious page at least three other days this week. Get it into your routine. Add more favorites, add more tags, and browse. You won’t regret it.

  1. Open an account. Just go to Delicious and sign up. Use whatever name or alias you’d like.
  2. Save a few of your favorite websites. After clicking “post”, all you will need is the URL (which you can copy and paste), the website name, and a few tags. There’s a description box for optional notes and comments, too.
    * Need help getting started? Why not add a few social web sites we’ve already talked about in this series? Flickr and YouTube, for instance.
    * Tags are like keywords. Let’s take Flickr as an example. Good tags might include: photography photos images sharing socialsites socialweb web2.0. Use words that might come to mind the next time you want to retrieve the site. Delicious will offer tag suggestions based on other users’ tags, but use whatever YOU want. [By the way: we’ll delve further into tags in an upcoming lesson.]
  3. Give your tags a test drive. As you enter your websites, you’ll see your list of tags grow on the right side of the screen. You’re bound to see on tag listed for two or more sites after a while. Click that tag and watch Delicious quickly retrieve just the relevant sites.
  4. Visit other people’s website lists. Delicious tells you how may other users already bookmarked your site. Click that number to see the list of users. Click their names to see their lists.
    * If you and another user share one site in common, he/she might know about other sites you’d enjoy. Browse the list and click “save this” for any sites you’d care to copy into your stash of sites.
    * You could subscribe to someone’s RSS feed, too. [RSS? We’ll cover that concept in a later post.]
  5. Network with others at your library. If anyone else in your workplace already has a Delicious account, add them to your network. You might even encourage everyone in your workplace to sign up, add websites, and create a collaborative network of bookmarks. You will all benefit from each other’s finds.

Would a demo help? There’s a fun 3 1/2 minute video (Social Bookmarking in Plain English) that the folks at the Common Craft Show created.

Ha! Bookmark THAT site, too. Or THIS site. Why not? It’s your web now.


Collaborating on term papers

October 15, 2007

There’s a relatively new social networking tool aimed at helping students write term papers by finding and collaborating with other students researching the same subjects. Carmun has tools for searching college library catalogs, creating bibliographies in standard formats, and making social connections on or beyond a student’s particular campus.

At the moment, Carmun has fewer than 11,000 registered users and not much activity in the subject areas I browsed. I also can’t vouch for the site’s educational value. But it’s new and the collaborative concept is intriguing. The geeky intro video (suggesting that Carmun was the result of a one night fling between Facebook and Wikipedia) should attract some students, too.