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Date: Saturday, 28 Jun 2014 22:47

These are lightly edited notes from Sarah Houghton’s talk at ALA Annual 2014. Tweets from this presentation may be found at #alaac14.

Starts off with results of a survey: ‘Why are we talking about this now?’ Now that budgets are starting to recover from the Great Recession, libraries have the option to think about where to allocate restored funds. Do we spend on the things we did 10 years ago, or do we choose new priorities?

About half of libraries are losing money; half are gaining. Everyone feels that they don’t have enough and cannot keep up. No matter what kind of library responded, we all wanted the same things.

Libraries who thought they would get an increase were spending on staffing (27%), digital materials (26%), information technology (22%), facilities (17%). (137 respondents). Facilities were a smaller set, but the things that were wanted were often building safety and maintenance, not technology.

How is technology support managed? About 42% of respondents had libraries that ran their own IT. 28% by a parent organization, 24% some combination thereof, and 6% outsourced.

How much spending control does library staff have over the IT budget? 50% had none or “a wee bit”.

Your web services librarian doesn’t have to be a librarian. Get someone qualified, and have a librarian advisory group to advise.

Fewer people made collection decisions based on usage statistics for digital materials than for physical materials. Seems odd because it is so much easier to gather statistics on the digital materials.

If libraries had $1k, 42% chose non-tech things to spend it on. One said “actually pay the visiting clown.” If libraries had $100K, non-tech was still 42%, but answers were much more diverse. Hardware, digital content, software & staff, and other stuff are the big desiderata in technical areas.

If libraries could get one extra staff position of any kind, 42% said tech-oriented NON-librarian. 23% said tech librarian and non-tech librarian (each),

What concerns do people have? Staff capacity is biggest: 47%. Training (23%), outdated mindsets (14%), outdated technology (12%)

Libraries see using hosted services as a good way to get around IT’s rules (33%). Simply breaking the rules is also popular: 39%.

As technology integrates more and more into our jobs and lives, everyone has an opinion on how we should focus our technology spending. Few know what the hell they’re talking about.

How do you develop a budget? Establish priorities first. Determine needs for each. Draft a budget, revise with broad feedback. Make mid-year adjustments.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Conferences, alaac14"
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Date: Friday, 27 Jun 2014 22:57

These are the notes I took during today’s OCLC Symposium on “The Internet of Things” at ALA Annual 2014. For tweets from the presentation, please see the Tweets at #oclciot.

The presentation was by Daniel Obodovski, co-author of The Silent Intelligence: The Internet of Things.

How do humans and machines communicate and connect? This is the Internet of Things [IoT]. But what is that? It’s all kinds of things today: smart thermostats, medical sensors and alert systems, smart electric meters… And more. Package, and person tracking is enabled through scannable codes or RFID tags for low-value things, and GPS devices for high-value (people, pets, valuable items). What are the privacy concerns around this? How to ensure that data are used as intended, by whom intended?

The IoT allows us to connect to the broader analog world around us in a digital way, to integrate, interpolate, and benefit us all. Relates to a new digital nervous system connecting us with our environment?

How big will this be? There could be as many as 50 billion by 2020. We have a lot more “smart” technology in our homes already than we might think. Up to 7% of U.S. population already has some sort of wearable technology (exercise trackers, medical monitors, etc.). By the end of this year, it is forecast that 10% of U.S. population will have wearable, internet-connected device on their person. And today, 45% of fleet vehicles in the U.S. have some form of monitoring — for vehicle maintenance, for driver compliance, for vehicle location, etc.

This is, all together, what we call “The Silent Intelligence.” And it is, ironically, very verbose.

We think of the future as rocket cars and jetpacks. But the reality is, it’s already here, slowly emerging, out of these interconnected devices. The most exciting area is healthcare — with immediate feedback for how treatment is working, or if there is an emergent situation before the individual even knows something is wrong.

What we have seen in social media — where the user is the source of data that the social media company then sells — is already emerging in the Internet of Things. Your car’s data is being sold to third parties. (I wonder, if it’s so easy to get the vehicle’s diagnostic reporting codes out of the vehicle, why it costs so much at a dealer to read the code and translate it into a fixable problem.)

The Internet of Things is very complex. Requires that many individual device manufacturers talk to each other and interplay. Need standards not just for communication, but for data itself. All of these data will be collected, analyzed, resold — after being anonymized. A new range of services will emerge around this data collection and processing. This opens up a new world of services, but also opens up a huge range of data privacy and security concerns.

We are currently missing a clear set of rules about privacy of data — who can have access, and what do they do with it? We are generally very bad about understanding the terms of service when we click through to use some online service.

This technological revolution has an uncertain impact on the nature of jobs. We have gone through one technological revolution, in which technology replaced many manufacturing jobs, leading those workers to move into service jobs. What happens if many services can be automated; what is the next kind of job that current service workers can move into?

What will Internet of Things mean for libraries? What will interconnections enable? Combined with knowledge of other things than where physical items are located, and what rooms are being used, or aisles in the stacks, etc., you can customize and improve services. Without data, you can’t improve your services in the optimal way.

We should think about how we can understand the patterns, and the data that generate them. Connecting patrons to their needs, more effectively and efficiently, is the goal. Let needs drive the technology.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Conferences, alaac14, oclciot"
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Date: Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 16:45


Mashable published an interesting post and infographic about how the “feed” changed the way we consume information. The author notes: “The feed now dominates online content consumption, from the news we read on our mobile devices to the social networks we check constantly throughout the day…” (emphasis mine).

Just another indication that RSS has become plumbing, or infrastructure. It’s no longer the goal of itself, it’s the mechanism.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Syndication, feeds, plumbing"
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Date: Saturday, 09 Nov 2013 21:12

Notes from a  talk by Annette Bailey of Virginia Tech at the LITA National Forum, “Discovering Discovery.”

Virginia Tech has been a Summon customer since 2010. They have leveraged Summon to change cataloging practices locally. Still using original Summon (1.0) interface.

Library users are shifting behaviors. Increasing usage of online resources, physical spaces — but not physical resources. Discovery largely happens through Summon. How can VT know what its users are doing? COUNTER provides some information, but its delayed, and hard to process. Summon provides aggregate data on search terms and click data. How can we know what users are doing in real time? And share it with other members of the community, show visually what research is happening, live?

Discovery VisualizationThat is the heart of Discovering Discovery — what are users clicking on in Summon, in real time. Can’t tell if they use the item, but can tell that they accessed it.

This tool helps everyone — librarians, the public, students — to understand what is being done in the library. User does a search. There’s some custom JavaScript in the Summon interface that sends a record of the click to the visualization server, which stores it in a database. A visualization tool then makes a display on demand. It grabs the Summon record ID, unique for each item. They then use the Summon API to grab the metadata for that query — because Summon IDs are not persistent over the long term. All of that is stored in an SQLite database.

As a side note, they can tell how many unique items were clicked on over time — hard to do otherwise.

Current log analysis extracts and tabulates data at 1 minute, 5 minute, 1 day, 1 week intervals. Tabulates by discipline, content type, source of record, publication year. All comes from Summon, which means data are problematic. Does word frequencies for abstract, title, and abstract & title combined, and keywords & subject terms.

Use the d3.js library to do visualizations. It’s a powerful tool, but hard to work with. Follows jQuery in style. Also uses a variety of server-side technologies.

Summon 2.0 — not there yet. Unlike Summon 1.0, there is now an officially sanctioned way to include JavaScript (it’s a hack in 1.0). It now includes d3.js in Summon — they do not appear to be using it yet, but it’s there. Look out for visualizations at some point…. But they need to reverse engineer Summon 2.0 to achieve the same effect as in Summon 1.0.

Using this with other discovery services. You need to be able to record clicks, in real time. You need an API to get the machine data. If you use a different discovery service and want to try adapting this code, VT would like to work with you.

The visualization is the hard part; getting the data was the relatively easy part. Code needs to be consolidated, into a cloud solution, to make your version for your own use. (Like the Libx edition builder).

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Uncategorized, litaforum"
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Date: Saturday, 09 Nov 2013 15:30

This is the second keynote address at the LITA Forum in Louisville. The speaker is Nate Hill, assistant director of the Chattanooga Public Library. Follow him on Twitter at @natenatenate.

Nate Hill speaking at LITA Forum 2013The 4th Floor project is more a community organizing project than a technology project. When Nate started there a few years ago, the Chattanooga Library was seriously broken. Technology improvements are just one portion of the overall improvements being made. Chattanooga has gigabit networking throughout the city. So the city has a lot of potential and lots of recognized need for change and reinvention.

Unlike many brutalist all-concrete buildings, the CPL has large amounts of open space on each floor — it was designed with an open plan, so they aren’t as constrained by solid concrete walls. This gives them some flexibility.

Nate is going to focus on one aspect of this reinvention. We’ll start with the “why:” moving from Read to Read/Write. Everyone in the LITA audience at the moment can create something and make it available to everyone. Before that was possible, we needed libraries to store relatively rare copies of things. Library was about access. Now, it’s about providing tools to create things. Connectivity is a key underpinning to these tools.

CPL uses their 4th floor space as a “beta space” — the library can experiment, and the public can experiment. 14,000 square feet of space was used as an attic. They solved the problem collaboratively — invited people to meet in that space. Started brainstorming what might be useful to do. This started about 18 months ago (around January 2012).

Had a public auction, got rid of all the stuff. Net profit: $1500.

So, now what? A vast amount of empty space, with no added staff resources to do new things. Answer? Strategic partnerships with other organizations. First was with the Chattanooga chapter of AIGA. AIGA got a home for their meetings, brought in presentations, and started the seeds of current programming.

The next major milestone was the first DPLA “appfest” — 100 people came to CPL from around the country. Realized that people didn’t necessarily want to work at desks in these informal arrangements, so started to create less rigid workspaces.

Next was a local collaboration space, co.lab. Got 450 people to attend a series of pitches — entrepreneurial ideas. Again, community was amazed to see what the library could do.

The library is losing ownership of the space; it’s becoming a community platform.

“We make all of this stuff up all the way.” CPL has an amazing tolerance for experimentation and trial-and-error.

They moved their IT staff to the 4th floor, creating a coworking space.

Using Chattanooga’s gigabit network, they have done performances where dancers in two locations perform with projected images, passing the image back and forth between two locations in the city.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Conferences, litaforum"
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Date: Friday, 08 Nov 2013 19:40

I’m attending LITA National Forum 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ll be posting some conference notes sporadically. The opening keynote session is a talk by Travis Good, contributing editor of Make Magazine. His blog is http://make.goodpursuits.com/. He talked about “Making Maker Libraries.”

Travis Good

Once a “nerd” was not a particularly flattering thing to be called. Now, that has changed. Nerds are the smart guys you go to in order to solve a problem. Nerds have arrived. Library IT groups have solved, in a nerdy way, many kinds of problems: online catalog, computer workstations, wired Internet access, wireless internet access, ebooks… It is not just making things work, though; it is making things work comfortably in a library context.

Through making wifi available, we redefined why people go to a library.

Changes in technological landscape are a threat — and an opportunity. We will talk about just one of these changes: the maker movement. It’s a broad movement with lots of definitions. Humans have been making things since we developed opposable thumbs and tools.

What was “making”? It was done by craftsmen, focused on trades, with years of training and practice, with rudimentary tools. Took lots of practice to do well because the tools were “dumb.” Now, tools are “smart”, and more people can make things. Moore’s law has affected tools. Technology brought smarts to making; computers can manage processes. Costs drop, power rises, steadily. Tools are smarter, more powerful, and more capable. The Internet has simultaneously opened up collaboration across distributed communities. Open source software came along. And now… open source is not just software. It is hardware, too.

New, smarter, tools are already here. CNC Mill (Computer Numerically Controlled) Mill. It’s a subtractive tool — it mills away something, until what is left is the product you want. Designs can be shared, tailored, and made. 3D printing is the opposite, in a sense — it extrudes material to make something. An additive tool.

Laser cutters — these are two dimensional, and cuts a flat surface with a laser. Can cut wood, leather, acrylic, metal, and similar materials. Can create very intricate designs.

For all of these products, there are libraries of models that you can download, modify, and make yourself. Powerful tools and shared designs can make anyone a maker of things.

At the same time, we are getting cheap, flexible electronic micro controllers, sensors, and actuators. Sensors make measurements of things; actuators create a response of some kind.

Simple embedded electronics made a turn signal for a bike rider — left arrow, right arrow LEDs on the back, and a switch in each sleeve for the biker to turn them on and off. Another example — a switch in a chair that turns the TV on when you sit on it; turns the TV off when you stand up. Third example — an Arduino on a Venetian blind that opens or closes the blinds when the room is too cool or too warm.

Barriers to creating things have been reduced. Long apprenticeships to become competent are no longer required. And it’s now easier to become good at lots of things. So more people can make, more making can take place, and more people can be collaborating.

The question that arises: where is this making happening? You need spaces in which people can learn, create, share, and collaborate. Threshold to entry is low, but you still need to cross it. This is a clarion call to libraries. Libraries are already the places that offer lifelong learning. And are looking for new ways to deliver on their traditional missions.

Libraries are experimenting with maker spaces in different ways. Experimenting with different tools and technologies, seeing what local patrons will want to use. Can vary from branch to branch.

Maker spaces are catching on in libraries. It is seen, broadly, as an opportunity to be valuable to the community (in public & academic libraries). There is lots of experimentation on what kinds of services and tools to offer — it is something of the Wild West.

There are some basic things that are needed to foster the growth and development of maker spaces:

  1. A source of best practices. Why does every library need to invent this service on their own?
  2. A database of maker helpers. People who would come to your library and talk about specific topics. Tap into maker spaces, meet up groups, etc. But there is no vetting — lots of interested people, but needs to be a way to make sure the volunteers are good teachers, reliable, etc.
  3. New sources of funding. There is lots of competition for scarce resources (e.g., IMLS). Corporations are interested in funding maker spaces — they see it as future employees and future innovations. Skills of successful makers are the skills of successful innovators and inventors.
  4. Kits that fit into a library. A maker space in a box, and maker supplies that are reusable and affordable. For example, Arduino prototyping kits that can be reset and tested for basic functionality by completely non-technical library staff.
  5. Finding good projects. This is already in the works. Make it @ Your Library (http://makeitatyourlibrary.org/). 100,000 crowdsourced projects have been uploaded and categorized.

We can build tools for our library community at large.

The power of making grows when the various maker communities collaborate and communicate — libraries, incubators, schools, government. It’s a network.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Conferences, litaforum"
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Date: Friday, 25 Oct 2013 19:46

The Internet Archive announced today a new service — creating a permalink for a web page that leads to copy of the page at the Internet Archive. So, for example, I just created a permanent snapshot of this blog’s homepage as of 25 October 2013 at 19:35.43, preserved forever and fully citable: http://web.archive.org/web/20131025193543/http://www.rss4lib.com/

This blog probably doesn’t deserve that sort of immortality. But what about more significant things? Rather than citing a web page with a note “accessed on 25 October 2103″, let the Internet Archive grab a snapshot of it and link to that. It would be lovely if this service could be extended into licensed content so that citations to academic (and all-too-often behind a pay wall based on one’s affiliation with the library’s parent institution) content could be equally persistent.

Scholarly content, as a rule, is provided through a non-persistent URL, if we ignore DOIs and Handles. Those valuable tools, of course, are only good as long as the owner of the content maintains their persistence. The owner of the content is responsible for updating destination links. That may not be the  highest priority in a bankruptcy or other sudden and unexpected cessation of operations.

This new service makes possible better back-references to the historical record.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Discovery"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Oct 2013 13:23

Apple.com NotificationsOne of the features of Apple’s soon-to-be-released Mavericks operating system is Safari “push notifications.” Similar to what you might be familiar with on an iOS device, these are updates that you can subscribe to from participating websites that will send an alert to Safari when content is updated. Apple’s site says that notifications will be updated even when you are not actively using your computer — meaning that the information you are being sent will always be available to you.

This sounds a wee bit like RSS, doesn’t it? Participating websites can send you updates as they happen, and Safari will track what you have seen. I am assuming that updates will be synchronized across your various devices so that if you read an article on one device, it will be marked as seen on your others (this will probably require an iCloud account).

This is a feature only available to people using Mavericks and Safari 7 (it is not clear if this will be available to earlier versions of the Mac OS or Safari). You also must have an account on Apple’s developer website to access the instructions for setting this up for your website.

It will be interesting to see if Apple manages to replace RSS in its ecosystem with this custom setup, at least for publishers or tech-savvy website managers who can adopt the technology.

A tip of the hat to MacRumors.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "RSS Tools"
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Date: Thursday, 26 Sep 2013 20:29

I’ve been reading with interest the items that have been written in the past few weeks about library discovery by Lorcan Dempsey, Dale Askey, Aaron Tay, and Carl Grant, among others. Library discovery, of course, is the capability to search effectively across a wide range of online materials available through a given library (whether owned, licensed, leased, open source, locally digitized, or what have you) through a single search box. There are vendor products and homegrown solutions, and hybrids of the two.

Is discovery dead already? Is it still the hot new thing, the Holy Grail of disintermediated patron interaction?

No, and no.

Askey makes great points about the serious challenge we libraries in digitizing our materials for access (not to mention preservation). I’ll call this the “last shelf” challenge. Just as incredible high-speed internet is within the reach of just about every urban home, it’s the “last mile” that’s the kicker. Getting fiber to the door of every abode is and expensive, slow, process. Getting the “last shelf” digitized is similarly expensive and slow. We’ve done the easy stuff — non-unique, commodity items — already. Digitizing the “last shelf” should rightly be a significant goal for all libraries holding unique materials.

A discovery tool is only as good as its content for the intended use by the individual patron. Yes, libraries should be proud of, should enable access to, and should promote the living daylights out of the items that are uniquely theirs. These “lost” items can provide researchers at all levels with paths to innovation and discovery (in the traditional sense of the word).

Where I think the value of discovery could be, for academic libraries in particular, is in customizing the results of discovery for the user’s need. Why not offer a “personalized” slice of the discovery pie, perhaps as a facet, that filters results based on the user’s presumed context? So a patron, logged in to the system, might get results focused on those appropriate to each of the enrolled classes (by level or department, for example). Or to remove one’s own native discipline from the results and focus on results from an entirely different one. That could be a powerful tool to enhance research at the interdisciplinary boundaries of two subject areas.

The power of discovery, in my way of thinking, is not just in harnessing the local and the global — which is something in and of itself — but in providing tailored, focused access to that breadth. It’s not just the Mississippi as it dumps into the Gulf of Mexico; it’s just the right tributaries out of thousands that feed into the torrent.

So I don’t think discovery is doomed, or misguided. But I do believe that the path forward is in more focused, context-aware, services.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Discovery, discovery, personalization"
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Date: Friday, 20 Sep 2013 18:01

I’ve been thinking recently about how yesteryear’s promises of technologies to come have missed the mark. In the classic science fiction novels I devoured as a child in the late 1970s and early 1980s, humanity a generation or two thence (that is — us, now, today, in the early 21st century) would have some practical means of interstellar travel available to it, be living on space stations around Earth and in colonies on the nearby planets, have encountered and made peace with (or subdued) alien races around every turn.

The actual reality of 2013 is quite different. We have one space station in orbit, with a steady but small population of three. Colonies on other bodies are still a generation or two away (I admit to being skeptical of NASA’s timeline for lunar and Martian outposts). Commercial ballistic flights, to get a taste of near-Earth orbit, are a year or two away. Interstellar travel remains, tantalizingly, several miracles removed from today’s understanding of the universe and the laws that govern it. And alien species, friendly or otherwise, are still out there, waiting (I like to think).

Yet… As I think about the stories that grabbed hold of my childhood imagination and haven’t really let go, it is largely the main thrust of the stories that we’ve failed to achieve. The small things are all here. Instant communication with just about any other person on earth who could communicate with you? Check. Immediate and unfettered access to a global encyclopedia of much of the world’s knowledge? Check. Interact verbally with your computer and get a plausible, often useful, response in return? Check. Sit comfortably on one’s couch typing a short essay that is instantaneously saved to some quasi-permanent storage system, in what we now quaintly call “the cloud”? Create a “photocopy” of a physical object, not just a tax form? Check and check.

Pervasive knowledge by the powerful about the goings on of everyone else? Alarmingly, and increasingly so, check. (The future is not all that it was cracked up to be, as noted sci-fi author David Brin let us know in his non-fiction work, The Transparent Society.)

We are living in the margins of the science-fiction universe I dreamed of. Not the grand, gee-whiz Buck Rogers world posited in the 1930s-1950s that I read of in the 1970s. But we live and breathe the minor plot devices and deus ex machina resolutions to tricky problems faced by the hero. It turns out that the small stuff of the stories, the little throwaway details — those describe the reality we live in. We seem to have made tangible the backdrop to the fantasy, leaving the big picture to be invented. Where I was caught up in the overarching plot, I should have been paying attention to the background. The science fiction writers of the past got the big things wrong, but I’m pleasantly surprised at how much of the small stuff has already come to pass.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Uncategorized, Musings"
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Date: Wednesday, 18 Sep 2013 16:29
Screen shot from http://developer.feedly.com/

Screen shot from http://developer.feedly.com/

Feedly, the web service that inherited a large number of Google Readers users when Google pulled the plug on it, is now offering an API for developers who want to use the Feedly Cloud. You can use the API to access the more than 30 million feeds harvested and indexed by Feedly. The API allows the application to authenticate as a particular Feedly user, or to access everything.

Developers can sign up for the Feedly Cloud Developer Program and gain access to the developer sandbox. Signing up gives you a client id and client secret you can use to authenticate to Feedly. Completed applications can be pointed at the full Feedly data store.

 

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "RSS Tools, Syndication"
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Date: Thursday, 14 Mar 2013 12:24

Oh nos! Google announced on March 13, 2013, that Google Reader would be shut down on July 1, 2013. When Bloglines shut down (and then was resurrected in a slightly different form in 2010), Google Reader was the last truly functional web-based feed reader left. I use it daily, as I’m sure others do. Not enough of us, it seems, for Google.

It seems I need to find another decent client for my RSS feeds. I may be in the minority, but I find a feed reader the best way to keep up.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "RSS Tools"
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Date: Thursday, 31 Jan 2013 16:34

A new RSS service, Qrius (pronounced, I assume, “curious”), is aiming to bring RSS to the vast majority of Internet users who don’t read it. While the Qrius site is devoid of details, an article in AppleInsider today describes it like this:

The goal is to make subscribing to RSS feeds a painless process for a first-time user. With Qrius, users will simply click the icon featured on any of their favorite news sites, then sign in to the service using an existing Facebook, Twitter or Google+ login.

In its first iteration, Qrius will automatically send subscribed content to Taptu — a news reading platform also owned by Mediafed that offers content aggregation.

The idea is to add yet another “chicklet” icon to your web page (next to your Tweet this, Facebook this, etc., badges) that would send your RSS feed to the Taptu application. Qrius apparently plans future integration with Google Reader, but isn’t aiming for that user set yet — after all, people who use Google Reader are already the same folks who understand what RSS is for in the first place.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "RSS Tools, Syndication"
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Date: Monday, 01 Oct 2012 13:48

In another sign that RSS is continuing to lose its consumer focus, Google announced on Friday that it is eliminating the “AdSense for Feeds” business (see More Spring Cleaning on the Google blog). AdSense for Feeds allowed blog publishers to put ads directly into their RSS Feeds, item-by-item. As long as you channeled your RSS feed through FeedBurner, you could have Google apply advertisements to your feeds as they were displayed in the end-user’s browser.

While RSS feeds clearly have much utility, Google’s action is another clear signal that consumers are not reading RSS feeds directly in aggregators or their browsers the way they once did.  Google is moving fairly quickly to eliminate AdSense for Feeds. According to the announcement, they will “start to retire it” on October 2, and close it on December 3. This does not effect FeedBurner URLs directly, just the ability to have Google place advertisements in them. Presumably, Google will continue to place advertisements in Google Reader when it displays feeds, but you won’t get a cut of the action.

If you’re an AdSense for Feeds user, you can read more about what this means at https://support.google.com/adsense/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2777193.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "RSS Tools, Syndication"
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Date: Tuesday, 14 Aug 2012 15:29

Is RSS being forced out by technology companies that want more control over all aspects of the user interaction? That’s the contention of an article recently published in the Sydney Morning Herald (see “Apple Joins the War on RSS,” by Adam Turner, 1 August 2012, via the RSS Specifications blog). Turner points out how RSS is no longer a part of either Apple Mail or Apple Safari in the latest version of its operating system, Mountain Lion. He goes on to show how major Internet sites like Facebook and Twitter have been removing the in-built RSS feeds from their pages, making it harder to subscribe to information streams without subscribing to the service itself. Google Plus, Turner notes, never had RSS to start with.

When RSS started, it was a tool for individuals to use to track web sites and people they are interested in. In the early 2000s, sites tried to get you, the reader, to subscribe to their RSS feeds as a way to retain readership. By the late 2000s and first view years of the teens, RSS was less a selling point, but a fundamental part of any web site. It had evolved into an open, universal data exchange standard for web sites. Applications could easily sniff it out (through the headers, read only by applications but not seen by human users who didn’t view a page’s source, of web pages). Perhaps this change from shiny fixture on the kitchen counter to plumbing behind the wall was not a sign of its fundamental importance, as I posited previously.

As Turner points out, the HTML code to indicate the presence of an RSS feed is increasingly rarely even seen in a web page’s header. For example, look at the source of the RSS4Lib Twitter profile page or the RSS4Lib Facebook Page. No relative link in the document header to let an application know that there’s an RSS feed present.

While I regret the change in philosophy that has led popular social networking sites from making it harder for the content on the site to be used in other venues, I suppose I understand it. I imagine the Twitters and Facebooks of the world are thinking something along the lines of this: “If we can prevent that scourge of openness, RSS, from liberating individual user’s content, we can sell more ads or control more interactions.” In a commercial sense, that’s plausible, even if not wholly reflecting reality.

At the same time, if Apple no longer indicates that RSS feeds exist in pages that you visit in Safari (and if other browsers follow suit), that’s will drive a fundamental change in the way individuals discovery and access Internet content. Sure, discovery will happen, but it will happen through your social networks, mediated by major services. And it will happen in short-form: a few characters in a tweet, or a snippet on Facebook. It won’t happen in long-form, in a context that you (the consumer) manage. If information wants to be free, as the saying goes, it needs a path to follow. RSS seemed like it was that path. What’s next?

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "Syndication, closed, format, open, RSS, ..."
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Date: Wednesday, 06 Jun 2012 13:15

After sticking with Movable Type for far too long, I took the plunge and migrated RSS4Lib to WordPress last night. I think most of the wonkiness is resolved now… But if you can’t find something, please let me know through the comments.

Author: "Ken Varnum" Tags: "About the Blog"
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Date: Tuesday, 05 Jun 2012 13:01
Cover of book

One of the reasons I’ve been so absent on RSS4Lib over the past eighteen months or so is a larger project I was working on: a book, Drupal in Libraries, Volume 14 of the Tech Set ® series edited by Ellyssa Kroski.

The book is written as a primer for technically proficient librarians who want to learn more about Drupal and manage a web site using it, but who are not themselves coders. The only time you’ll need to be typing commands directly into a terminal emulator (and even that is optional) is to install and decompress the Drupal software. The rest of the book is focused on what you can do with Drupal from the administrative interface. The book has 10 chapters, as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Types of Solutions Available (how and where you can get Drupal, seek development and/or technical support)
  3. Planning (this chapter is available as a free sample)
  4. Social Mechanics (working with your organization to build a successful project)
  5. Implementation (this is the bulk of the text and walks you through the basics of adding and configuring modules, creating content types, and working with various features such as views and panels)
  6. Marketing (how to sell Drupal to your staff and to your IT organization, and how to sell the site to your patrons once it’s launched)
  7. Best Practices (tips and tricks for building a secure and stable Drupal site)
  8. Metrics (measuring the success of your new site)
  9. Developing Trends (up-and-coming tools and modules to be aware of)
  10. Recommended Reading (an annotated bibliography of books, articles, and learning resources

The book also has a companion web site, with additional information and discussion forums. If you have questions about the book, or Drupal in a library setting, stop on by.

You can purchase the book through Amazon.com, from Neal-Schuman, or through your favorite bookseller.

Author: "ken" Tags: "Library Management Systems, ALA Editions..."
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Pinterest   New window
Date: Tuesday, 20 Mar 2012 19:39

Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/)is the latest social media tool to emerge from the fringes to the spotlight. It's something of a social media bulletin board for interesting images. Once you set up an account (invitation only, but you can request an invitation -- mine came within hours), you are given a bookmarklet tied to your account so that can start pinning images you find on the web.

When you're on a page that has an image you want to "pin," you click the bookmarklet. Pinterest shows you thumbnails of all the images on that particular page. You select the thumbnail image you want and the board you want to add it to (you can create as many boards as you like).

Uses of Pinterest for Libraries

Pinterest has some interesting uses for libraries:

  • Some libraries are putting up cover images of new books, best sellers, or interesting books from the collection. The Darien Public Library, unsurprisingly, was an early adopter. The library's Pinterest page has lists of books on various themes ("Best Books for Babies & Toddlers," "Newberry Medal Winners," and a board for their "One Book, One Community" reading program -- images related to the books selected for adults and children.
  • Promoting images from special collections. The Bluffton University's archives have a Pinterest board with selected images from their special collections and archives, including images of beanies (the hats, not the stuffed toys) and time capsule covers. The Staley Library (Millikin University) has a set of images related to the university's history.
  • Put up photos of your library's staff along with brief bios or areas of specialization. I haven't been able to find a library doing this, but surely there is. Anyone?
  • Create boards related to popular books. The Westerville, Ohio, library has boards for The Hunger Games and Memoirs of a Geisha.

Copyright Questions

One of the interesting challenges faced by Pinterest is that of copyright. Pinterest works by copying a thumbnail image of whatever it is that you pin. When you pin an image, the original is linked from the thumbnail. While probably not, strictly speaking, allowed by copyright law, I suspect Pinterest is operating under the theory that if Google can cache a thumbnail of an image (or even of an entire web page) for its search tools, then they can do the same.

Complications arise, though, when one Pinterest use copies an image from another. You can "repin" another user's image to one of your own boards. At that point, you've created another copy of the image on your board that links to the "original" -- that is, the thumbnail on someone else's board -- and not to the original artist's. There's been quite a kerfuffle about this of late.

There's a very nice summary of the issues around "pinning" things at the University of Minnesota's Copyright Librarian blog (and a follow-up post) that I encourage you to read. It summarizes the issues far better than I can.

Pinterest via RSS

Pinterest doesn't document its RSS feeds well, but I stumbled across some instructions for how they can be made.

  1. To get an RSS feed for all of a particular user's boards, add "feed.rss" to the end of the user's Pinterest page. So, for example, for RSS feed for the Darien Public Libraries Pinterest account is http://pinterest.com/darienlibrary/feed.rss.
  2. To get an RSS feed for a specific board, remove the end "/" from the board's URL and then add ".rss". So the Darien Library's Best Books for Babies and Toddlers board has the feed http://pinterest.com/darienlibrary/best-books-for-babies-toddlers.rss.
Happy syndicating! (And don't ask about the potential for copyright issues when we you re-publish an RSS feed of a Pinterest board that itself has copyrighted but unlicensed images on it.)
Author: "rss4lib@gmail.com (Ken Varnum)" Tags: "RSS Tools, RSS Tools, Syndication, copyr..."
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Pinterest   New window
Date: Tuesday, 20 Mar 2012 18:39

Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/)is the latest social media tool to emerge from the fringes to the spotlight. It’s something of a social media bulletin board for interesting images. Once you set up an account (invitation only, but you can request an invitation — mine came within hours), you are given a bookmarklet tied to your account so that can start pinning images you find on the web.

When you’re on a page that has an image you want to “pin,” you click the bookmarklet. Pinterest shows you thumbnails of all the images on that particular page. You select the thumbnail image you want and the board you want to add it to (you can create as many boards as you like).

Uses of Pinterest for Libraries

Pinterest has some interesting uses for libraries:

Copyright Questions

One of the interesting challenges faced by Pinterest is that of copyright. Pinterest works by copying a thumbnail image of whatever it is that you pin. When you pin an image, the original is linked from the thumbnail. While probably not, strictly speaking, allowed by copyright law, I suspect Pinterest is operating under the theory that if Google can cache a thumbnail of an image (or even of an entire web page) for its search tools, then they can do the same.

Complications arise, though, when one Pinterest use copies an image from another. You can "repin" another user’s image to one of your own boards. At that point, you’ve created another copy of the image on your board that links to the "original" — that is, the thumbnail on someone else’s board — and not to the original artist’s. There’s been quite a kerfuffle about this of late.

There’s a very nice summary of the issues around "pinning" things at the University of Minnesota’s Copyright Librarian blog (and a follow-up post) that I encourage you to read. It summarizes the issues far better than I can.

Pinterest via RSS

Pinterest doesn’t document its RSS feeds well, but I stumbled across some instructions for how they can be made.

  1. To get an RSS feed for all of a particular user’s boards, add “feed.rss” to the end of the user’s Pinterest page. So, for example, for RSS feed for the Darien Public Libraries Pinterest account is http://pinterest.com/darienlibrary/feed.rss.
  2. To get an RSS feed for a specific board, remove the end “/” from the board’s URL and then add “.rss”. So the Darien Library’s Best Books for Babies and Toddlers board has the feed http://pinterest.com/darienlibrary/best-books-for-babies-toddlers.rss.

Happy syndicating! (And don’t ask about the potential for copyright issues when we you re-publish an RSS feed of a Pinterest board that itself has copyrighted but unlicensed images on it.)

Author: "ken" Tags: "RSS Tools, Syndication"
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Date: Monday, 12 Mar 2012 18:08

An interesting proposal was made at SXSW this week to standardize the way we bloggers, and other content aggregators and curators, make reference to those from whom we get interesting tidbits that spark a thought (a 'hat tip') or are the source of our post (a 'via'). The glyphs are called Curator's Codes. They are Unicode characters meant to be a standard (if not a real one, a standard of practice) for giving where credit is due:

Symbol Purpose HTML Code

[Unicode 1525]
Via <span style="font-family:sans-serif;text-decoration:none;">&#x1525;</span>

[Unicode 21ac]
Hat Tip <span style="font-family:sans-serif;text-decoration:none;">&#x21ac;</span>

The symbol itself is the link to the source. Curator's Codes could be rendered in line, much like a brief citation, or used as freestanding blocks. Or, really, in any way that's sensible to the author. As in, for example, the hat tip for this post:  David Carr, "A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators".

What's the point? To quote the folks at  Curators Code:

While we have systems in place for literary citation, image attribution, and scientific reference, we don't yet have a system that codifies the attribution of discovery in curation as a currency of the information economy, a system that treats discovery as the creative labor that it is.

As we madly link from thing to thing, and others, in turn, pick up our post and run with it, quoting here, paraphrasing there, it's all too easy for something one author says to be lost in the expounded thoughts of another. Making a simple, standard, way for authors to cite others is a good thing. And to quickly indicate the kind of citation -- are you quoting or paraphrasing, or giving credit to someone else who sparked a thought? Standardization may be a good answer. It could even lead to better machine parsing of interconnections between blog posts, tweets, Facebook, etc. -- if adopted.

Update 13 March 2012: There's an interesting contrarian view at The Brooks Review.

Author: "rss4lib@gmail.com (Ken Varnum)" Tags: "Public Blogs, Public Blogs, Syndication"
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