Libraries, the Singularity & You

The following is a post I recently wrote for our staff newsletter thingamajig. It isn’t supposed to be ultra-techy but just introduce some emerging technologies to people that aren’t regularly exposed to such things.

When I was growing up in the 1980’s I was a fan of a lot of the same things as any South Florida guy: the Miami Dolphins, baseball, “The A-Team,” and Terri Nunn from the music group Berlin. On the other hand, if I had an idol, someone I wanted to be when I grew up, it would have been “Case” from William Gibson’s 1984 classic Neuromancer.

I have been thinking about Neuromancer lately because I have been reflecting on how we’re suddenly living in this pseudo-amalgamation of Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and Accelerando. Most of us would agree that technology is growing exponentially. In other words, not only is technology accelerating but the acceleration is accelerating.

How often have you heard someone say, “I can’t keep up with it all?” Well, you know what? That’s okay. I can’t keep up with it either and I don’t think I’ve gone a day without being on the Internet since 1994. As I see it, the art is not to know everything, but to know the right things. As we speed toward technological singularity, the art of information is not always about how much you know, but rather how good are you at filtering out what you don’t need to know?

In some senses, we’re all a little bit more like Gibson’s Henry Dorsett Case navigating the virtual reality “cyberspace” of Neuromancer than we realize.

With that said, here are some trends I’ve come across over the past year accompanied with some thoughts of mine that are opinion and not meant to be taken as gospel:

  • The iPad – Yes, it is basically an oversized iPod Touch. For some reason it uses the antiquated 4X3 aspect ratio instead of widescreen. But, could you imagine being in college, storing all of your textbooks in it, searching all of those textbooks in seconds, recording audio of your professor’s lectures, linking up related internet articles, and even taking class notes in it? All in one place? It’s just one example of many possible revolutions this could precipitate. Not so fast, though: many other companies are developing tablet style computers that operate similarly to the iPad, so Apple doesn’t have nearly the same head start they had with the iPhone. In addition, the other companies will probably feature a more open operating system. Apple’s closed system of applications could come back to haunt them here.
  • Instapaper – How often have you seen an interesting article on the Internet but wanted to save it to read later? This free site allows you to click a bookmark to save any web page to read later, from any computer connected to the Internet. Wait, did I say computer? I should have also said the iPhone, Kindle, Nook, and other readers. Instapaper is so big it is already becoming a verb as in, “If you see me in line at the grocery store reading about the Prometheus tree, it’s because I instapapered it.”
  • Tumblr/Posterous – These are a little bit like Twitter, Facebook, and blogging all rolled into one. You can follow people like Twitter, but you can also post videos and pictures directly on your personal feed for your friends to see. You can also write full-fledged blog posts right in the stream as well.
  • qrcodeQR Codes – Credit goes to @librariantom for introducing me to this one. A QR code is a funny square barcode that many mobile phones can read. How is this useful? They operate like real-world hyperlinks. Imagine a library book tagged with a QR code. Scan it with your smartphone and you could immediately see other books by that author in our system, their availability, or their Goodreads.com page. What if I come up with my own QR code and post it at my office entrance? It could link to my current schedule or calendar so you know where I am if I’m not there.
  • Barcode Readers on Phones – This directly relates to QR codes, but it can go even deeper. With the county’s fitness program in full swing, did you know you can watch your weight with your phone? Scan the barcode on the food box or wrapper and Daily Burn’s “Food Scanner” can automatically add the calories up for you. Want to comparison shop? Scan an item in stores with the “RedLaser” app and your phone looks up the competitors’ pricing.
  • eBooks, Piracy, and DRM – Currently, anyone that can use Google can find easy ways to un-protect eBooks with DRM protection. This includes Kindle, Nook, and the Adobe Epub DRM that our Overdrive Digital Library uses. What does this mean? If someone wanted to, they could give their friends copies of eBooks they bought or even check out an eBook from our Digital Library, duplicate it and keep it forever. On the other hand, sales of eBooks have increased at some publishers that dropped all DRM protection. Apple’s iTunes store had this issue a while ago and guess what happened! They eventually dropped all DRM protection. The problem with DRM has always been this: it punishes those who get things legally and rewards those that get it illegally (if you download an eBook illegally, you’re getting it DRM-free). That’s not really a strategy that makes sense to me.
  • Dropbox – There are several of these kinds of backup/file synchronization apps, but none of them seem as fluid and seamless as Dropbox. Imagine having a “Dropbox” folder on every computer you use. The small Dropbox app keeps that folder synchronized across every computer you use. You get 2 gigs of storage completely free.
  • Google Buzz – This is a late update that has emerged just since I wrote the original version of this article. What is it? It’s one of those things that is easier to understand if you just use it. Imagine a central location that automatically aggregates much of your online activity. It is a bit like Twitter except it allows images, blogs, videos and other online sites to automatically publish information to your “Buzz” stream. In a sense it is actually most similar to Tumblr or Posterous, except it allows external sites to automatically publish to your stream more easily. There have been serious privacy issues with Buzz thus far but Google is already modifying how Buzz works based on these concerns.

There are a few things that I’ve been watching lately. There are things closer to that bleeding edge, but that’ll be for a later date.

Incidentally, I should mention I originally planned this article to be more conceptual, and about the possible responsibilities of a library in a world where technology is accelerating with such speed, but I realized quickly that our staff newsletter wasn’t really the medium. At some point I may revisit that conceptual analysis of the singularity and libraries.

Drupal & Twitter Update

Hi guys! Thanks for the comments and interest on the first Twitter article. I’m planning to write more at some point, but I’m balancing my creative writing and creating the new Drupal site for pbclibrary.org as well. So I may be an example of a bad tweeter on the @pbclibrary account for a while.

I think the next article will probably be about some of the tools you can use to get more out of Twitter. Many people already use them, but it might be a good starting point for some. I’ve also been brainstorming some ideas about possible future uses of Twitter, maybe even some bleeding edge theoretical stuff. (Hint: I don’t know if Twitter will exist in its current form in 10 years. I *do* think we’re on a collision course for data interaction like what Charles Stross fictionalizes in Accelerando. Keep in mind, I stress *in its current form*. Something will certainly exist that will be some sort of evolution of RSS/Twitter/Facebook/Friendfeed/etc. where everything continues to meld together into one stream. With the addition of social aspects, Google Reader is certainly walking down that path.)

I also may write more about the Drupal development. There is a lot of info on Drupal online (for anyone interested), and even a lot of library specific stuff. But a sort of “case study” may help some, especially since we’re doing this as a one-person job (me!) and it is a conversion of a massive behemoth of a site with somewhere around a thousand static HTML pages.

In the meantime, enjoy some music that keeps me going when working on regular expression queries for four hours in a row.

http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

How Your Library May Not Be Using Twitter But Should

I’ve been doing some workshops recently on social networking (especially Twitter) for our library system and thought I would collect some of this information here because I usually can’t cover everything I would like and it may also be useful information for other libraries.

Background

Plenty has been said about the banality of many Twitter messages. Enough of you probably realize there’s more going on than meets the eye if you are willing to dig. Hash tags, twitter search, and a true global chat (uh, yes, it is basically, in essence, a “chat”) open up entirely new ways to reach out and touch people.

Libraries have always been about books, but what is it about books that you’re there for? Essentially information and/or entertainment. The library does this while functioning as something of a community center. Twitter enables the library to reach people on all those levels and do so much easier, cheaper and more regularly than ever before.

What Do We Tweet?

When we decided to start a Twitter feed in mid 2008 we started experimenting with different techniques. We’re still experimenting and probably always will be but we’ve found some things that we like, and our customers seem to as well.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but just a jumping-off point for any libraries trying to get some ideas. If you feel pretty comfortable with Twitter and don’t need to experience my scintillating writing (ha ha), I would suggest jumping down to “Tweet 5″ at the bottom since this is the biggest way I think most libraries are probably not taking advantage of Twitter.

Tweet Style 1, or “The Average Library Tweet”

t1

There is nothing groundbreaking here but it still makes sense to promote events. Don’t overpromote because people will get tired of multiple tweets about the same thing, but put the information out there.

Tweet Style 1b, or “Uhm, Ya Know You Can Be a Little Creative Though, Right?”

t3

Sometimes it’s good to have a little fun with your tweets. Chances are, more people clicked on the link to this tweet by saying “Shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yippity boom sha boom” than if I said “Grease Sing-A-Long Cinema.”

Tweet Style 2, or “Promote Some Materials”

t2

People were talking a lot about the Iranian election. When people are talking a lot about something they often like to learn more about it. Who better to turn to than a library for learning more about something? We’re killing three birds with one tweet here (apologies for the pun). (1) We are staying relevant in a quickly changing world where news is immediate and constant. (2) We’re promoting a book that has been relatively overlooked in our system. (3) We’re promoting a current DVD and many people still don’t realize how good our DVD section is. All in 140 characters.

We’re even making it easy with a direct catalog link where a patron can place a hold on materials.

On top of all that I didn’t even personally come up with the idea for this tweet. It came from a collection development librarian (submitted via Twitter from the incomparable @Gamecouch) who thought it might be an interesting thing to link.

It doesn’t have to be traditional news events either. The day after the Academy Awards we might post links to winners, and the day after the National Book Awards we will link to those. Tweet a Lance Armstrong book during the Tour de France. Tweet a link to a book that is being made into a movie. Chances are if something is in the news or people are talking about it, they wouldn’t mind knowing that the library has something to offer in relation, and a direct catalog link is a bonus. (Now if the common library OPACs would get more mobile-phone friendly, then we’d really be getting somewhere.)

Tweet Style 3, or “Promote Things As They Happen”

t4

We talked about promoting events, and that’s a no-brainer, but if you have access to an iPhone or something similar Twitpic some stuff as it happens! Authors enjoy coming to libraries but they like the promotion too! If authors see your library will go the extra mile, and see they are not only being promoted to your own customers but across the entire Internet, they appreciate it. They come back. They tell their peers and their publishers. The authors *deserve* you to go the extra mile.

At this event we also featured Brad Meltzer. I took a Twitpic of him as well. Using an iPhone and Twitpic you can take a picture and post a tweet linking that picture just using a phone.

Before the event was over we had direct Twitter messages from at least three other well-known authors basically saying, “Hey, why didn’t you guys get me to do this? Keep me in mind for the next one!”

Tweet Style 4, or “It Doesn’t Have to Require a Library Visit”

t5

Sometimes I’m surprised when it seems like libraries only talk about events or other things that require a visit to the library. Remember, what we do is generally information and entertainment. That doesn’t mean it has to be in person. In fact, libraries will probably increasingly be fulfilling these needs in a setting that is entirely online. I love finding quirky and odd links like this that might bring a smile to someone’s day, and they might even check out a Philip Roth book while they’re thinking about it.

We will even occasionally post a link to an interesting or artsy video like this one. Question: how many people have said it’s inappropriate to link to a video like that (on YouTube, the horror!)? Answer: zero. It’s not book-related, not really informational, but it’s artsy, creative and probably will make people smile while brightening their day a little bit. Oh, and they also might think, “Gosh, maybe I should stop by the library on the way home today and check out a book or a DVD.” When we post tweets like that we’re solidifying our image as a hip, entertaining, vibrant, and fun place. It isn’t just about selling your materials and services, but creating your image as well!

I make heavy use of categorized RSS feeds. I follow some obvious ones and some that are like dynamic searches, including Twitter search. More on that below.

Tweet Style 5, or “Interact!”

I admit I can’t constantly interact on Twitter, but I try to make it work as efficiently as possible. There is a secret weapon in the world of Twitter and people are still finding new ways to use it: Twitter Search.

t6

For those that haven’t used it, Twitter Search allows you to do very detailed and specific searches. It allows me to search within a certain location’s radius for a word like, uhm, perhaps “library?” Then you can even subscribe to an RSS feed for that particular search!

So get this: if someone within 25 miles uses the word “library” in a tweet, it is in my RSS feed! It’s not as much as you might think, anywhere from 15-30 a day usually. Some may be talking about their “iTunes library” or one of the city libraries (our county system is separate), but it is very easy to skip past the irrelevant results.

While it may seem a bit “Big Brother”-ish, Twitter is a public platform and anyone wanting to protect their updates can do so. People don’t even have to be following the library or even know we have a Twitter account. I see someone mention the library and if it is something I can help with, <zing> I arrive and interact. Sometimes I can help and sometimes I can’t. Often the person in question didn’t even know we had a Twitter account but will follow us. They also know they can reach us if need be.

This is one of the most useful ways libraries can use Twitter but don’t.

Take the concept a bit further. You’re running a yoga program and not getting exceptional turnout. You think: “Oh well, might as well post something about it on Twitter and see if that helps.”

But wait! Is there something else you can do? How about a Twitter search with a 25 mile radius of the library branch for the word “yoga.” Remember something important here: many of the people that already follow your library tweets are probably library regulars and know about what is going on. But how about those people that would never think to come to a library for yoga? There’s probably a lot of them. Reaching out in this way with a perfectly targeted local search is invaluable. Send them an @ tweet with some details. Twitter is such that it can easily be ignored if they aren’t interested. You reach some people based on a specific interest, they become new patrons, and they may even have friends of similar interest that come along as well.

Did I mention something briefly about being a “community center?” You’ve just used an online community center (Twitter) to bring people to your real-life community center, and it was all a non-invasive experience and focused directly on their interest. Facebook is useful, but even it can’t do this. In their system, you have to trust that the target audience “becomes your fan” and then you can reach them.

Where Do You Find the Time?

I admit it is tough to find the time to do all of this. At some point I’m sure we could have a full-time person just doing Twitter and other social networks. I just do what I can when I’m not knee deep in Drupal for the new site or some other required routine.

Learn to become friends with RSS. Have some other people that you can RT occasionally (RT is short for “re-tweet”, i.e. repost). Don’t feel like you have to do a ton. It is certainly fun to get tweets more often about the random or unique things (@scott_douglas is a great example) that happen in a library setting, but we just can’t do that in our specific circumstances yet. Don’t go several days without saying anything either, though.

Conclusiony Stuff

This certainly isn’t meant to be some exhaustive list or dictionary of library tweets. I just thought I’d throw together some ideas and hit some high points. At some point I will probably do “Part 2: Revenge of the Tweets” even if solely to have a better outline for future workshops. There is a lot more that can be covered.

I get questions like:

  • Who do you follow back?
  • How do you gain followers?
  • What kinds of online tools make Twitter easier/more useful?
  • How do you convince a hesitant administration that Twitter is a viable and/or important way to dedicate time?
  • Where do you see Twitter (or some similar tool) in 5 years? 10 years? etc.

I certainly don’t have the perfect answer to all of these, but I can offer what I’ve found to be the case for us. If there is a demand and others may find it useful, I will certainly write more, perhaps in the form of a screenplay, epic poem, or a series of haikus.

Until next time.

Classic MP3 Mix

Adam Singer and I were recently chatting about a mix I did a while back – we generally agreed that it was probably the best mix I ever released on the net and still sounds good today.

I thought I’d make it available again. I will see if I can dig up a tracklisting for it. It is two hours long and moves from a dreamy and atmospheric beginning to some techy stuff, through the world of house, gets a bit frantic towards the end before settling into a nice smooth final 20 minutes.

Grab it here!

Update: I found the tracklisting ..

- voodoo warriors of love – imagine (em:t)
- gabriel ananda – 2.1 (trapez 017)
- estornel/tutera – one day (sub static)
- sten – anti-establishment 1 untitled (italic)
- eloi brunelle – moch5 (thinner)
- baby ford – after shock (sender)
- jeff samuel – fcote/knob remixes b2 (trapez)
- misc – the magic number (sender)
- 2 dollar egg – tow@.com (i220)
- dj manny groove – back 2 face u (bambossa)
- monolake – static (monolake)
- adjd – believe (poker flat)
- the flaws feat mc chick-a-boo – freek [ewan pearson remix] (bitches brew)
- gabriel ananda – espresso (karmarouge)
- joris voorn – take off (sound architecture)
- hakan lidbo – televinken (poker flat)
- robag wruhme – jena makks (milner modern)
- hakan lidbo – give me your disease (poker flat)
- misc – flow control (sender)
- adam kroll & riley reinhold – static people (traum schallplatten)
- jeff bennett – markings (sensei)
- selffish – why (thinner)
- agoria – stereolove [paul kalkbrenner remix] (different)
- baier and box – duck dub [taho remix] (thinner)
- ada – …and more (areal)
- plaid – zeal (warp)
- boy robot – when broken consider it sold (city centre offices)

Libraries and the Web

Drupal
Image via Wikipedia

A lot of you guys may know I’ve been with the Palm Beach County Library System for a while now working on some new technologies for the system. I may occasionally use this blog to discuss some things I’ve learned that may help others, or may light a new path that some might not have envisioned.

Briefly, the standard disclaimer, my opinions don’t necessarily reflect the PBC Library System.

Currently I’m working on a total site redesign using the Drupal CMS which is growing exponentially and is gonna be giant, or at least more giant than it already is. The first library tech post will be relating to Twitter though because it is a bit of a misunderstood technology that enables some techniques that aren’t apparent right from the start.

Blip.fm

Image representing Blip.fm as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I’ve been using this blip.fm service lately.  It’s a little like a cross between twitter and internet radio but it becomes increasingly addictive as you make more friends and everything starts integrating.  Highly suggested! Become one of my listeners here. (Which is the same thing as “following” in Twitterspeak or “friending” in other social services.)

I actually play some rare stuff that I no longer even own, but that exist someplace in the internet ether.

Oh, and follow me on twitter here.