Social Networking in Libraries

Those of you that follow me on Twitter will know that I recently delivered a presentation on how social networking can be used in libraries to promote the service.  I passionately believe that libraries need to look at new ways to communicate with members of the community who either think the library is irrelevant to them or those that only make limited use of the service.  There are a number of tools out there that we could and should use to connect us to the people that matter.  Unless new, innovative marketing techniques are utilised, the library service will struggle to appear relevant in a digital age.

Anyway, I have heard a lot about SlideShare in the past, so I thought I would take the opportunity to give it a try and share my presentation (I’ve embedded it below).  I also thought it would be worth experimenting with sharing on both Flickr and YouTube too to see how they would work as presentation sharing tools (obviously both are rather more clumsy than SlideShare which is, after all, a dedicated tool for sharing presentations).  Anyway, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Why should social networking be used by libraries?  Or should it be used at all?  Is it merely a distraction?  Would like to hear people’s reactions to this topic.

Pinboard – A Delicious Alternative?

As I have said on this blog before, I am a big fan of Delicious.  I personally find it a much more useful way of managing my favourites than just about any other tool I have tried.  When I read an article on TechCrunch suggesting that Delicious should be ditched in favour of  a new service called Pinboard, I was intrigued to know how much better it could be.  Consequently, me being an eager beaver, I signed up as a beta tester to get a sneaky peek.  Sadly, I was not chosen as one of the 100 beta testers, but I received an invitation nonetheless.  As yet, I have not had a major play with it, but I thought I would provide a little insight into what it has to offer.

Before I go any further, however, I must point out something about Pinboard that may well put you off at the start.  At present, the people behind are charging $2.84 to sign-up for the service.  Yes, there is a one-off charge to use the service.  Not the best start admittedly. And it is made slightly worse by a posting on their blog:

The site is now open to all comers, provided they pay a small signup fee that will grow in proportion to the total number of users. My hope is that this will keep the rate of growth manageable so the site stays fast and usable for everyone.

Around about now I am expecting most people to give up reading the remainder of this post, but I shall plough on regardless for those that are still interested (I say those…..).

If you have decided that you don’t mind paying a fee for the service and sign-up anyway, you will be pleased to know that you can import your bookmarks from Delicious via a very simple procedure.  Once that simple task is completed, you are presented with your bookmarks in a somewhat minimalist fashion (certainly compared to Delicious):

Pinboard Homepage

Pinboard Homepage

As you can see, it is very much a stripped down bookmarking tool (a Delicious Unplugged if you will).  On the left-hand side of the screen you have your list of bookmarks, complete with titles, descriptions, tags and dates.  On the right-hand side you have what seems to be a complete list of all your tags (I haven’t checked fully, but I noticed some tags that I know I have only applied once¹) which, as you would expect, link directly to a list of all the items with that tag.  I have some reservations about this which I will come onto later.

In terms of the tools that Pinboard puts in your hands to bookmark items, there are basically four different javascript links you can drag to your browser toolbar:

  • The popup bookmarklet opens a little form window when you want to bookmark a page. It’s the fastest way to add a bookmark.
  • The same page bookmarklet will load the save bookmark form in the same window as the page, with no popup.  It redirects back to the page afterwards.
  • The my pinboard bookmarklet will take you to your bookmarks.
  • read later will throw a URL on your “to read” list without badgering you for tags or descriptions.

When you click on the pop-up bookmarklet tab, you are presented with the following pop-up:

Pinboard pop-up window

Pinboard pop-up window

The same-page bookmarklet is much the same only, obviously, it replaces the page you were viewing before returning after it has been bookmarked:

Pinboard - same page

Pinboard - same page

I quite like the idea of the read later bookmarklet.  Instead of having to use a tag on Delicious, you can simply click on the bookmarklet and a small window will briefly appear to indicate that it has been successfully added (although it doesn’t actually tell you this).  Any items marked in this way are stored in a separate area so they cannot get confused with your other bookmarks – a handy little feature in my opinion.

Adding tags is also nice and simple. Much like Delicious, Pinboard predicts what tags you are going to add so that you can ensure that there is consistency in your tagging (without this consistency I would question the value of anyone using a tagging tool to manage bookmarks).

There is, however, one problem that I have noticed so far (aside the cost).  Unlike Delicious you cannot drill down your bookmarks by using tag combinations (at least as far as I can tell at the moment).  Personally I think this is a major oversight (although granted it still being tested).  I find it very useful to find things on Delicious using tag combinations.  For example, it is much easier to find the appropriate item when using a combination of the tags ‘digitaldivide’ and ‘ebooks’ than to search through the individual bookmarks for either tag.  Hunting around for that article on ebooks and the digital divide would be too time consuming on Pinboard as it presently stands.  Hopefully this will be addressed (I have actually posted to their Google Group regarding this very issue – let’s see if it is addressed).  [I have since had a response, see update below.]

As it stands at the moment, I’d stick with Delicious but Pinboard is certainly worth trying out if you prefer your bookmarking to be minimalist (and if you are happy to pay a fee).  In the meantime, I will certainly try my best to keep you up-to-date with Pinboard as a service and, should I ditch Delicious in its favour, I will be sure to let you know!

Links

Pinboard homepage
Google Group
Pinboard on Twitter
Pinboard blog (and RSS feed)

¹ Obviously I don’t have enough tags – I’ve just discovered that Pinboard only displays your top 200 tags, not all of them.

Update

I have now had a response from Pinboard’s Google GroupIt reads:

This is not implemented yet, but it’s a feature a lot of people are asking for.    I am thinking of folding tag algebra in to search – you could have queries like “t:beans -t:rice +t:tomato” and have the search results filtered appropriately.

I’ll update the site blog as I get closer to rolling this out.

I’ll report further once this feature has been rolled out.

Web 2.0 Technologies and Public Libraries

For a long time now, I have been a champion of public libraries using various web 2.0 tools in order to improve the quality of the service as well as to expand their reach.  Many web 2.0 technologies have the advantage of being utilised by a large number of people who would otherwise not engage in their local library service.  This is especially true for the group of people that reside somewhere between late childhood and pre-parenthood (although there are a great many parents who do not see the advantage of their local library).  However, utilising such technologies is fraught with problems.  Not least the issue of popularity.

Over the course of the past couple of years, a number of social networking sites have risen and fallen, supplanted by better, more attractive alternatives.  Take MySpace for example.  Although I personally have never had an account (I always found it a a bit of a mess), it was once the darling of the social networking world.  So much so, that Rupert Murdoch (previously unimpressed by the internet) was moved to buy it up in an attempt to gain influence in the expanding market.  Since those heady days, it has been supplanted by Facebook and Twitter as the networking medium of choice.  Now it barely gets a look-in from people who were once part of their core user base.

The fickle nature of social networking sites sprang to mind after reading a piece in TechCrunch on the social bookmarking tool Delicious.  According to Michael Arrington, Delicious is languishing as a result of poor development and declining traffic.  I have to say, as a regular user of Delicious, I was rather surprised by this.  I have been recommending it as a bookmarking tool for sometime now.  I find it simple to use, infinitely superior to storing links on your browser and easier to use than  many other similar services.  Not only do I now discover that, according to one writer anyway, Delicious is in terminal decline, but it is also being supplanted by a new and upcoming rival: Pinboard.  I have no idea how good this service is at the moment (it is in invitation beta mode at the moment – I have submitted my email address for beta testing), but it could provide an interesting alternative.

Perturbed as I am by the [predicted] demise of one of my favourite tools, it also begs the question: When should public libraries hop onboard the web 2.0 bus?  Imagine spending months of your time training staff on using Delicious as an information tool, only to suddenly find it has dropped off the radar and has become defunct.  Imagine spending months creating a Facebook page for your library, only to find that Facebook is no longer the cool thing with the very people you were trying to reach.  At what point should we take the plunge (if at all)? Should we just bite the bullet and get connecting?  Or should we sit and wait until we see how things pan out?  I am not sure if I know the answer.  In times of financial constraints, it seems hard to justify spending money on updating a variety of different web 2.0 technologies when any number of them could become defunct at any moment.  But on the other hand, what about the immediate benefits.  Like I said, it’s a tough call.  I would be interested to hear what others have to say on this.

Twitter Gets You Noticed

I only joined Twitter back in December, but I have been very impressed with the impact it has had in terms of my blog.  My blog posts are automatically sent to Twitter via TwitterFeed so that followers know when I have written a new post.  Since joining Twitter and setting up this feed, views on this blog have steadily increased way beyond the kind of figures I used to get pre-Twitter, as the following demonstrates:

Total views (the red mark indicates when I joined Twitter)

Total views (the red mark indicates when I joined Twitter)

It just goes to show, if you want to get your blog noticed, get on Twitter and start feeding your blog through your account – it’ll get you noticed!

Diigo and Delicious

After seeing a lot of stuff about Diigo floating around in the ether, I thought I should sign up and give it a try (as I do with these web 2.0 tools!).  So far I have been reasonably happy with it, although it does seem to lack some functionality that I rather like on Delicious (I have still kept my Delicious account running whilst I play with Diigo).  For example, Diigo doesn’t suggest tags like Delicious does (at least as far as I can fathom).  When I tag a page on Delicious, not only does it offer recommended tags (both from other users applied tags and my own), it will also predict what tag I am adding as I type it.  This makes my life much easier as it keeps my tags neatly organised.  With Delicious I can start typing in a tag and see instantly if this is a tag I would normally use (Delicious informs you how many times that tag has been used).  Without this functionality, I find myself staring blankly at the screen trying to work out what tags I would normally apply to an item.

Despite this minor flaw, Diigo definitely has one advantage over Delicious: the ability to highlight text on a web page.  Many a time I have bookmarked a site due to a small passage on the page.  The beauty of Diigo is that you can highlight the relevant passage for future relevance instead of having to scour the entire page at a later date, desperately trying to remember why you bookmarked the page in the first place.  This is certainly a massive advantage over Delicious and one that has made Diigo a resource worthy of further investigation.

For now, I will reserve my judgement until I have had more time to play around with it.  It certainly seems a useful tool, but to me it lacks Delicious’ simplicity (which may be a strength for many).  Maybe in time I will ditch Delicious in favour of Diigo.  At the moment I’m not so sure.

A Basic Guide to Twitter

I have noticed a number of people signing up for Twitter or asking me about it in recent days and weeks and, undeterred by the amount of blog posts already written on the subject, I thought I would wade in with a few tips on how to use it (there’s a glossary of terms at the end).

1.  Once you have signed up for an account and decided on a username, ensure you add a photo to your profile.  I tend to be very wary of Tweeters who do not have a picture.  Generally speaking, it tends to be spammers that don’t add one and consequently, if you don’t have a picture, many people won’t even consider following you.  So,  in short, if you want to make the most of what Twitter has to offer, add a photo pronto!

2.  Perhaps the most important tip of all.  Once you have chosen a username, make sure you fill in the ‘one line bio’ box in the settings screen.  I cannot emphasise enough just how important this is.  This is what will essentially attract fellow Tweeters to follow you.  Not only fellow Tweeters, but fellow Tweeters that you will actually be interested in following.  For example, I am interested in connecting with librarians, so I indicated in my bio some information that will attract other Tweeters to follow me: “ILS student, wannabe librarian, ebook owner and Web 2.0 addict.” By inputting such information, fellow users will instantly be able to see if you will tweet the sort of things that they are interested in.  Complete this section appropriately, and you will soon attract other users.  Furthermore, by completing this section properly, you will really start to see the benefits of being on Twitter.

3. Once you have sorted out your profile, it’s time to find some other Tweeters.  One of the best ways of finding people to follow is by using Twitter Advanced Search.  By completing the search form, you can easily find other users who ‘tweet’ about things that you are interested in or who live in your area.

4.  Keep your tweets public if you want to gain followers.  If you make them private, no-one will follow you making it less likely to discover anyone that may be of interest.

5.  To send someone a public reply, use ‘@’.  For example, using @ijclark (my username) will ensure that I get a message and that anyone else who follows you will also be able to see that message on your profile page. Furthermore, those that follow both of us will potentially be able to see any @replies (this can be turned off in the settings menu).

6.  To send a private message, use direct message (use ‘D’ followed by a space and then the username of the person the message is directed at).  This ensures that only the sender and the recipient will be able to see the message.

7.  To manage your tweets more effectively, sign up for TweetDeck. This is a desktop application that allows the user to split tweets into columns making them easier to follow as well as making it easier to send @replies, messages and ‘retweets’.

8.  If you have accounts with other social networking sites, eg Delicious, LastFM etc, sign up for Twitterfeed to enable recent activity to be posted to your profile.  For example, if you ‘love’ a song on LastFM, you can set Twitterfeed to post this activity straight to your profile.  Likewise, add a link to your Delicious page and that too can be directed to your Twitter profile via Twitterfeed.  This also applies if you have a blog.  Add the RSS feed to Twitterfeed and a link to your blog post will be added to your Twitter profile.

9.  Link Twitter to Facebook.  By adding the Twitter application on Facebook your Twitter updates will also be posted on your Facebook status…handily killing two birds with one stone.

10. Set up your Twitter account to enable mobile updates.  This makes it far more instantaneous than solely updating when you are at a computer…a massive benefit when using Twitter as the immediacy of tweets are a crucial component in making it such a useful tool.

11. Want to share a website you have found? TinyURL, bit.ly and other shortening tools are essential for shortening web addresses and enabling them to fit within your 140 character limit.

That should be enough to get you started.  It is quite common to sign up for Twitter and think ‘Eh?’, before giving up and wondering what all the fuss was about.  It’s only after you have been using it properly that you begin to see why Twitter is such an excellent tool for connecting to other people.  Since joining I have found it very beneficial, especially in terms of my job as I have been able to pick up various hints and tips I wouldn’t have been aware of previous to signing up. As long as you use Twitter properly, you too will find it a wonderful tool for communicating with others.  It’s not just about telling people about what you are having for lunch…..it is much more than that.

Glossary

Twitter: A social networking site that enables users to connect with others using short messages of 140 characters.

Tweets: The messages that are posted on Twitter.

Tweeter: Someone who writes ‘tweets’ (short messages) on Twitter.

bio: Gives other Tweeters an idea of what you are likely to ‘tweet’ about. Absolutely essential to fill this in.

@[username]: Sends public message to that user.

D [username]: Sends private message to that user.

Retweet: Resending a tweet that someone else has written.

TweetDeck: Organises ‘tweets’ into groups making it easier to manage.

Twitterfeed: A tool that sends RSS updates to your Twitter profile (including blog posts and activity from other social networking websites).

TinyURL: A tool that shortens web addresses.