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?


An intranet chock full of web 2.0

November 7, 2007

Time for a little show and tell. 🙂

Pierce County Library has had a vibrant StaffWeb for nine years and it has become integral in system communications and information. But nine years of patching and upgrading took a toll. The website and its software platform started showing its age. Last year we were moving full steam ahead in our Social Web Literacy classes when we finally got the permission and budget for a complete overhaul. Talk about great timing!

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build web 2.0 tools into the new intranet.

Our project committee discussed how social networking tools could enhance efficiency and communication. Staff would also get daily practice using these tools in the course of their work. It was a win-win.

The new StaffWeb debuted a few weeks ago. Here’s some of the fun new features:

Tags and tag clouds
One of the first things you see on the new home page is a tag cloud. Every page of the StaffWeb can be tagged by staff using their own words. They can then follow up on their tags, use tags from the aggregated tag clouds, or run a tag search.

Success story: We have a travel expense reimbursement claim form that, despite past efforts, people have at least a dozen different names for. Now everyone can call it what they will and still find it.

Tabs for adding widgets

The tag cloud sits on a tab, but it’s only one of six customizable tabs waiting to be put to use. Staff can add widgets to the tabs on their home page.

Widgets
We currently have 32 widgets to choose from, including feeds from Flickr, iTunes, and email. If staff need a quick connection to the bookmarks they’ve stashed in their del.icio.us account, they can reach them using a widget on their home page. Common work tools like Google documents and Remember the Milk, and feeds from blog, weather, and traffic websites make this a well-rounded collection. We may add to the 32 flavors of widgets as everyone begins to use them and seek out more.

Blogs and RSS
Then there are the blogs. Each department and branch can have their own blog now. A few have already started. We envisioned the blogs as a “here’s the latest news” clipboard for people who work in those locations, but it might morph. Supervisors can add quick notes and routine updates for regular staff. Substitutes can tap in and read them from other work sites … or home.

Every blog has an RSS feed so a “need-to-know” staff member can subscribe to whichever he/she chooses.

Staff wiki
Dozens of staff are already adding content to the regular StaffWeb pages, but the system collaboration will increase yet again once we unveil a staff wiki later this month. We honestly don’t know where the wiki will lead us (that’s a wiki’s nature!), but we suspect reference staff will share tricks at pulling gems out of the catalog, circulation staff will elaborate on workflow practices, and IT will tell us how best to unjam the printers. But don’t count on it to be that well-defined! Who is to say that reference people can’t enlighten us on printer jams or circ staff don’t know the best way to limit action DVD searches by language? We’ll see how it works out. It could be messy, but worthwhile.

Other neat stuff and the future
Since many of the tools are customizable, we’ve created a personal log in. Once signed into the StaffWeb from work or home, staff can see their tags and widgets, comment on the blogs, and (when a new payroll installation is complete) call up their own HR information.

We’re just settling into this vast playground of web 2.0 tools. Once staff become old pros at their use, they’ll have no problem relating to patrons navigating the same tools on the social web.

We already have public blogs and a wiki, but don’t you think we’ll want to move more of these cool tools over to the public side, too?


Digital information doesn’t need a shelf

October 21, 2007

Last week I responded to a video that Michael Wesch and his cultural anthropology students recently posted on YouTube. I also mentioned another video without much comment because I hadn’t quite digested it yet. Now that I have, I’d argue that it is more significant than the first.

Without spoken words, Information R/evolution examines the remarkable transformation that our whole notion of information is undergoing within today’s digital technology. Information is the foundation of libraries. A library is a place to access and interpret information. Always was. The perception of a library as a warehouse of books is — like it or not — false. It’s just that information was once stored almost exclusively in books. That’s not true any more. Information is now delivered in many ways, with digital formats growing exponentially. Libraries are adapting by providing digital online resources and portable devices.

But as we move to more digital formats, libraries must also be aware of even more dramatic changes taking place in the way information is organized. Three-dimensional objects (i.e., books) get cataloged and placed on a shelf in a specific place. Pure digital information, however, is fluid and finds itself at home anywhere. There’s no single specific place for it. There’s no shelf. And there is a declining reliance on a single rigid authority to decide “where” its homes might be. Future categorization will be a flexible collaborative activity.

This strikes at our basic concept of information. Libraries are in the information business; we should be prepared for this shift. Clay Shirky (“Ontology is Overrated”) and David Weinberger (“Everything is Miscellaneous”) — both of whom are mentioned in the video — told us about this trend in recent years. The power of organizing information with tags on social websites has made the trend obvious.

Dr. Wesch’s fast-paced video is about giving up the shelf. That is an extremely difficult concept for those of us whose brains were wired pre-Internet. But the fact is, our brains are naturally wired this way. Mentally, we put our thoughts not in one place but in multiple places. We carry ideas in our heads not on a shelf but connected to other ideas … and experiences … and hunches. It’s the nature of information to be miscellaneous, connected in countless ways, and always subject to review.

Watch the video. Whether the idea excites or frightens you, digital information doesn’t need a shelf.