The End of the Beginning

by librarianincognita ~ August 23rd, 2011

I won’t lie. It is a great relief that the summer courses have ended. The compressed nature of such courses makes taking two courses less than ideal and not everyone has the luxury of taking a break or just taking one course. My leave from work ends in May next year and in order for me to finish in time, I had to take the maximum courses offered in summer. That is why I didn’t agree with the disclaimer that our instructor Dean put up in response to some of the gripes the students have about the course on two counts but firstly the disclaimer:

“This is a graduate-level course on social media. As such, it is very software-intensive and some students have found that the course content and structure (use of blogs, tweets and navigating Vista) and the sheer number of social tools that are examined during the term causes considerable information overload. If you are unfamiliar with social media or are planning to take other courses while taking LIBR559M, please speak to the instructor first to determine your suitability for the class.”

Firstly, as I have mentioned, not everyone has the luxury of taking one course.

Secondly, knowledge of social media tools is important for information professionals and therefore, I think this is an important class. However, some people may not be comfortable due to the lack of familiarity but that is precisely why they would be taking the course in the first place – to learn and discover. To have a disclaimer that discourages those who are unfamiliar with social media is not productive and undermines the learning value this course has to offer.

I am a frequent user of social media prior to this course, except Twitter, but I still found this course valuable to me. I was delighted to discover plenty of new tools that can be used. It has been a springboard for me to think about social media related plans that libraries can adopt, all in all, I would still take this class again, given a choice, if only for the tools that it had allowed me to discover.

If this class is offered again, these are the things that I imagine would make it better (but this is of course only my opinion)

1) A wiki of social media tools (not definitions) that students are expected to go out and discover and when they discover new ones, they can add to it. This also makes it clear the amount of tool exploration they are required to do and they can better plan their time.

2) Assignments shouldn’t be a treasure hunt: it should be clear to quell anxieties of missed work and again, it allows students to plan their time around the assignment due dates/ expectations more efficiently.

3) I understand that the blog and forum have their uses but it was never clear to me what topics go on the forum and what goes on the blog and given that both forum and blog postings are requirements, then there is a potential that one may become redundant. I acknowledge that the forums are better for discussions and the blog is better for open topics and reflections so maybe what can be done is to have a specific discussion question or two for the forum for students to post in related to the module topic and leave the blog for open reflections, discoveries that are not tied to the module. This will give students the flexibility to explore areas of interest even more, from marketing to tools like (in my case), digital storytelling. The fact is that there are so many social media tools available and different ones will appeal to different people, giving students the luxury to explore whatever they want and helping them to discover what they find works best for themselves at the end of the day.

To be absolutely fair, the course probably does some of this but if it did, it wasn’t clear to me. This course has a lot of value to information professionals and I would like to see it offered again to a warmer reception. It has been an interesting journey for me, sometimes frustrating, sometimes delightful but one thing for certain is that I did take away good knowledge from it.

An Immersive World for Libraries

by librarianincognita ~ August 23rd, 2011

I have never got far enough in Second Life to experience using a library within it but I imagine what would be most valuable would be the reference services and maybe digital resources but my question is this, if virtual library services can be delivered without the platform of an immersive world – from a webpage with links to digital resources to IM chats with librarians for reference questions – then what exactly makes the immersive world more attractive?

I like to think that the aspects that make it attractive, is how much it simulates a role playing game (RPG), where you can imagine that you are a physical being entering a library with something to discover. Done well, it can be a powerful and rewarding experience and this where I think Second Life falls short. The technical controls get in the way of the experience (at least for me and I am certainly not a stranger to RPGs, what more someone who has little experience with immersive worlds) that you never actually get round to enjoying the simulated experience. Additionally, without a “quest”, Second Life seems dull, other than discovering new places which becomes stale after a while.

This is where I think Quest Alantis that is used for educational purposes does way better. Information that is discovered within fulfills an objective and provides motivation for the user to explore the immersive world fully. This is not to say that immersive worlds, educational or otherwise, can only be used as a game setting. There is still potential for the library to use immersive worlds but there must be a real outcome for the user, otherwise, it would mostly be redundant. Here are some ways I can see it being used (and hopefully on a more intuitive platform than Second Life):

1) Staff training: virtual worlds can be used to train front-line library staff on customer service. Not unlike the border guards training example for Second Life.

2) Workshops for teens conducted by the library can be done over a virtual platform – how to find books, navigate the library, things that can be incorporated in a quest-like format to make the experience more engaging. These can be done without the stigma of being seen in the library (i.e. uncool)

3) Bookclubs, activity sessions with teens can also be done virtually for those who would prefer not to come to the library.

4) If a library is being built or upgraded, the community can be invited to add their vision of the ideal library on a virtual platform (would require some knowledge of online creation tools) or they can be invited to visit the virtual version of the library before the physical library is ready. This creates anticipation for the real thing.

5) An “after hours” library – should a library ever see a need to extend its service hours. A virtual one is always an option because only one virtual branch needs to be open as opposed to many branches.

At this point, I am still skeptical but should the whole virtual experience become seamless one day, providing services in immersive worlds or exploiting its affordances is something that needs to be seriously considered by libraries.

Having fun with Aggregation

by librarianincognita ~ August 15th, 2011

Today I spent some time making Symbaloo my homepage. It’s really nice to have everything in one place and my bookmarks visually presented to me. When they are in the bookmark folder, I am more likely to forget about them. This seems so much better. Another benefit that aggregation has for me is the desire to find more content to curate and place on my desktop (because there are now all these empty squares begging to be filled) or rather, when your information is properly managed and filtered, your appetite for it increases.

Now that I have all these nice squares filled up, I wonder if it makes a difference to my reading and browsing habits. Does increasing their visibility to myself make me more inclined to read them or will I just leave them as they are. Do I reach a point where I am happy with what I see such that I stop looking for more interesting sites? The latter concerns me more. When you search for something on the web, you may stumble across things serendipitously but when everything is nicely curated, you may just end up living in a bubble. Nonetheless, I am liking Symbaloo very much so far.

The other tool that I spent some time playing around with today is Linoit. Someone recommended it to me after discovering that I was messing around on Wallwisher. Linoit allows you to do what you can do on Wallwisher and more. Here are reasons why I think it’s better:

1) Much more visually attractive (different colour post-it notes) with the option of adding photos and videos.

2) It can be public or private and if it’s public, you can choose whether you want anyone to be able to add to it.

3) While it’s not as straightforward as double-click and type, it’s still fairly easy to use with a floating tool bar.

4) In the everyone can edit mode, the board can be used for discussions and feedback. In the public and locked mode, it can be used for presenting an idea to a group of people. In the private mode, it can be used a task list or a personal aggregator.

5) It’s compatible with the ipad and automatically synced.

6) All the various boards you have are lined up at the bottom so you can switch between your boards easily.

7) You can set due dates for the stickies which will then appear as a task list (great for tracking assignment due dates)

Unfortunately, free means sharing the space with advertisements. Here is a sample Linoit page I did for sharing. To see the full page, click HERE.

It’s quite a fun tool to use, if only for recording your tasks. I highly recommend it.

Digital Storytelling presented visually on a glog

by librarianincognita ~ August 14th, 2011

Someone once used the word tenacious to describe me and I think he was spot on. When I am obsessing about something, I am like a dog that won’t let go of its bone. Since I’ve been thinking about digital storytelling and maybe even dreaming about it, it naturally follows that my glog would be on digital storytelling. I initially wanted to do an actual video – I still do –  I just need to get all the official assignments out of the way.

I really do like creating things. If I wasn’t so busy the previous week, I imagine I would trying all sorts of things and tools. Glogster was a disappointment. I expected it to be a lot more user friendly. Options were limited and while there are a number of possible graphics and designs one could use, a lot of it looked a little tacky. The interface was clunky and there was no undo button. The interactive poster is a wonderful idea but until they streamline it, it’s not going to be something I will go back to using again too soon.

Anyway, here is my poster which I am very proud of.

Civil Society & the Aggregation of Information

by librarianincognita ~ August 12th, 2011

I thought for this week’s post on aggregation, I would think about how it affects civil society. The first thing I was actually thinking about is the type of civil society – from NGOs to community interest groups, the kind of impact aggregation would have on them would vary. The second thing was whether they would use it internally to collect and share information or whether they would use 2.0 tools to make increase their virtual presence.

On a very basic level, aggregation can benefit a group the same way it can benefit an individual, having a centralised place to collect and share information is great for exchanging ideas and tapping on each other’s knowledge. I thought Michelle’s recommendation Scoop.It. is great for interest-based organisations. The downside, however, is the assumption that everyone would be need to be technologically savvy enough to curate information or at least follow the person who does. Additionally, many charitable organisations do a lot of work on the ground and rely more on physical networks for information. In theory it seems like a great idea but it takes time to curate and many may simply not invest in that time.

Aggregation tools can impact an organisation positively, especially if someone has the required expertise and skills as well as a vision of how they are going to use such tools to reach out to the online public. A nature advocacy group can collect all their videos and articles so that people can easily find and follow them, a charitable organisation can share photos and information about their work and present them as a collective whole to get funding. With the world wide web, many groups can get international support where it would have once been impossible to do so. A petition against a controversial policy, international pressure, all of these have given much of civil society the bargaining power they need against governments or more visibility for a cause.

The flip side is this, bigger organisations often get more visible at the expense of smaller ones who do not have the resources or time to manage their online pressence. Let’s say I see a campaign for women’s rights online handled by an international NGO with all the resources to make themselves visible online and I find myself interested in the cause because they put up information, photos and of course a convenient link for donations. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know there must be other similar organisations, maybe smaller and less media savvy but also doing good work. However, information about the work those smaller organisations do are either limited or not visible to me. I also do not know how I can help. As a result, I will end up supporting what I know. While it is true that these NGOs may be getting new supporters through the social web and these may be people who may otherwise never be involved in a cause, it is also true that they may overshadow others.

Information is both power and money and while these two things can be used to do good, it may also result in complacency. On the whole I think being able to manage a wide range of information online with tools for aggregation is a good thing but for every organisation we see online compiling their resources, there are many more out there who don’t and maybe as information professionals, a service we can provide for the community in our free time is to help some of these organizations, who are clearly doing good work, manage their information.

From Stories to Digital Storytelling

by librarianincognita ~ August 10th, 2011

Our lives are made out stories, stories of our ancestors, anecdotes of family and friends, the stories outside us that influence who we are; stories are present everywhere, from a book we read, a video we watch, the games with narratives and our own experiences that we share. When we tell stories, we are essentially creating and creation through stories is the bedrock of history as we know it.

However, this post is not about children’s storytelling, which is the way many would associate it with, but rather digital storytelling. I have been interested in digital storytelling for the past 3 years and it really stemmed from a literal understanding of what digital storytelling is, that is using “technology” to tell a story. I had converted some favourite children’s stories into a powerpoint which allowed me to “click” as I go along and gave the children larger visuals which were projected on a screen so they did not have to crowd around my tiny book. This worked really well for a group of children suffering from cerebral palsy because they needed the interactivity to sustain their attention. It got me thinking about how digital storytelling could work in traditional storytimes for children and how they too could partake in the creation of these stories. However, I had not had the time, until now, to do more research on it and I think this would be the best thing I got from this social media class – the chance to think about social media and storytelling.

It’s a little late for this but if I could rename my blog again and choose a focus for it, it would be “Telling Stories Through Social Media”.

I digress.

I picked up this article titled “Digital Storytelling in Practice” by Kelly Czarnecki (available online from the UBC library) and she explains in her introduction that storytelling has always utilised the latest technology, from cave paintings to oral tradition to the written form and then to film. In some ways, the intention to tell a story is the same but the difference is that the tools bring with them new and different dimensions. The video below is a nice little history on storytelling and illustrates how storytelling has evolved through the ages.

I struggle to find an adequate definition for digital storytelling – the one from Wikipedia defines digital storytelling as “the use of digital tools to allow ordinary people tell their own real-life stories”. To me, that is limiting because I think that digital storytelling can involve all kinds of stories, be it fables or folktales or even historical events. Longer films can also be digital stories as long as the presence of the storyteller is never lost. At its heart, digital storytelling is still storytelling and involves some kind of emotional investment on the part of the storyteller that he/she uses to draw the listener in. Real-life stories are just a more compelling form of digital storytelling because it enables an ordinary person to create something to share with the world. Sometimes visuals explanations are better than written ones. There are a few videos on the Center for Digital Storytelling site which I think shows the amazing power of digital stories. They define digital storytelling as “a short, first person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds” and that is perhaps a more inclusive definition than the one from Wikipedia. Do take some time to enjoy the videos.

The reason why I picked digital storytelling as the topic for creation is due to the fact that it expresses fully what creation in the social media context is. From an idea, a story, personal or otherwise, it is weaved together with the aid of visual resources and sound to become something that can be shared beyond time and space. Imagine how stories from oral traditions can be preserved through this or how grandparents can tell their own stories for the grandchildren to listen/watch when they are older. Granted that some technical skills are needed but with collaboration, someone with the skills and someone with the story could get together to create something.

There has been a number of digital storytelling projects done and many have been facilitated by libraries and this has been slowly catching on. Libraries are extremely important as facilitators for digital storytelling because they provide the knowledge (technical know-how) and environment that will allow people to share their stories. In that sense, libraries enable creation. I will write more about libraries and digital storytelling in a separate post because it deserves a whole post of its own.

The Social Everything

by librarianincognita ~ July 30th, 2011

(Note: If you don’t have a sense of humour, please don’t read this post and do your readings instead – it will probably be better time spent)

I’m on a roll, third blog post for the week… I’m not on the ball, I’m just inspired to be irreverent, which happens when you take two online classes and ask yourself why you are spending so much time indoors when there is so much sun OUTdoors. On days like these, I also reflect only the disjunct between school and what happens in the working world. So much of school work is hypothetical which is good for thinking about things but there is always this thin line where you know you have crossed when you start obsessing over how many blog posts you have made for the week, how many tweets you have tweeted and of course how many wiki edits you have made.

Thankfully, my ability to be irreverent shows that I am not there yet.

Let’s talk about “the social everything” – a term Anita and I coined today over a delicious dim sum meal (great moments of epiphany happens over food) where we were engaging in social food bonding. Social is big business, the social web, social media and if we go towards the internet of things, you might even have social household appliances! Many companies are realising the power of social media and are leveraging on it to reach out to more people either through direct advertising on social media platforms or creating a social media presence for themselves to engage people beyond the transactional. Social is the new business buzz word.

However, social is nothing new, it has just been given a new face. In China, businessmen secure deals over dinner and drinks, mutual partnerships have their roots in good business relationships, good customer service is about building good relationships with your clients; building relationships is intricately linked to building good social networks and not necessarily online. One of the dangers of social media is the assumption that if you are on it, you are building relationships. That is only partially true. Social media cannot replace real world interactions – the irony is that the convenience of it sometimes devalues the effort. It’s as simple as wishing a friend Happy Birthday over Facebook as opposed to sending a physical birthday card. Social media can be a start, a gateway but if you want meaningful relationships, you have to put in more effort than typing words over the internet.

Likewise physical classes as opposed to online classes. While there are benefits to online classes, they cannot replace physical classes in the area of relationship building. At the end of the day, content will only take you so far and if you have all the content in your head without the social skills to make it relevant to the people around you, you will only achieve limited success. It is better to have less content and more social skills than more content and less social skills (unless you want to become an academic). Getting the best grades, rushing to be first, proving yourself academically is only going to get you a piece of paper at the end of the day. Everything else after is social.

When Government Agencies Meet Social Media

by librarianincognita ~ July 29th, 2011

A part of me thinks government agencies (especially those with higher state functions like defense and finance) and social media is somewhat of an oxymoron. On the other hand, libraries, media, cultural departments and anything to do with the arts and information are perfect matches for social media. However, regardless of the function of the agency, I believe that social media can benefit government agencies.

The first reason would be transparency. Maybe not quite a Facebook account but a blog by the agency explaining policy decisions can go a long way in reaching out to the public as well as getting their buy-in, especially if it is an unpopular policy change. But policy changes do not happen all the time so the blog can be used to, for example, give tips on tax filing, “inside information” on how to get the most out of a call and generic information pertaining to the agency that is useful for people to know. If there is value in the information provided, there will be readers.

The second reason would engagement with the public. With feedback channels that are properly serviced by employees in place – like the comment sections in blogs – agencies appear less bureaucratic and reflect the core principle of the civil service which is to serve the public.

However, if government agencies are going to do this, it cannot be token – there must be a genuine desire to engage the public. The danger of course is that comments from members of the public can easily overwhelm the staff maintaining the blog but done well, it can a long way in getting the people’s support. There is no unreasonable person, there is only an ignorant one.

I remember our former health minister had a blog which he used to explain some policy decisions. It was an unpopular policy but the unpopularity was a result of people not understanding it fully. The blog reached out to those who were social media literate. In turn, they explained what they read to others who did not follow the health minister’s blog. Useful entries were shared on other social media platforms like Facebook so people did not actually have to follow everything that he wrote because the important ones do filter to the community. Eventually, when the policy was approved, there was considerably less resistance than there was at the beginning. But of course, the blog wasn’t all of it. It was a conscious and continuous effort of the health ministry to reach out to the people.

Social media can of course be used internally within agencies for information sharing and to meet organisational communication needs. However, at this point, it seems that it is mostly internal blogs from where I come from, which are primarily for communication. Due to the sensitivity of government information, free social media platforms are not really used and unless these platforms can be commissioned securely, I don’t see it happening as yet.

Learning to Collaborate over Wikis

by librarianincognita ~ July 28th, 2011

(Almost) everyone who is an active user of the internet knows Wikipedia but when I ask non-librarian/ non-geek friends, few know about free wikis like Wikispaces that they can use for collaborative work. I only discovered it because the library board decided to send all librarians for a new media crash course to bring everyone, regardless of age, up to date with the various tools out there that was supposed to aid with our work.

I was delighted to discover wikis!

My husband and I used it to plan our wedding. I used it to plan outings with large groups of friends where everyone, instead of sending 101 emails, just had to update whether they were attending on the page and state what they were going to contribute if we were having picnics. In short, it was great for collaborating where planning an event was concerned.

Then I got to research projects – that was not as straightforward as planning and where Wikipedia succeeds collaboratively, wikis with small groups do not always do as well. Wikipedia has the privilege of a large pool of people editing it simultaneously and independently. When the Sendai earthquake and tsunami happened, it only took 12 hours for the Wikipedia entry to be created and two days later, there were more than 500 updates with almost 150 references. Now that’s remarkable. If the Wisdom of Crowds theory is correct, then Wikipedia does really well precisely because it has a large pool of contributors. It’s a good bet that none of the contributors knew each other and everyone added what they believed was the best available content for the page.

In small group wiki collaborations. There isn’t the benefit of anonymity and often the fear of offending someone by “correcting” that person’s entry gets in the way. Occasionally, discussion about what to include in the wiki happens outside the medium and often through email. Each person usually tries justifies the changes they make so that no one would be offended. While the intent is the same — everyone wanting to contribute what they believe is best — the process is different, diplomacy changes the wiki experience. Contributing to a wiki requires one to relinquish control – each contributor needs to understand that whatever they put out there is going to be changed whether they like it or not. Trust is also required – each contributing member needs to believe that everyone is going to make changes that will only improve the wiki. Without these two things, collaborating on a wiki project will not be as efficient as it can potentially be.

If I had to come up with a wiki collaboration manifesto, it would be this:

1. In the spirit of collaboration, I will not seek to control the outcome of the wiki project but work towards improving it step by step through editing.

2. I will respect the work of those who contribute to the wiki and trust that every change made is made to improve the wiki.

3. I will understand that different people contribute differently, some more, some less and every contribution is valid with equal value.

4. I will not impose my value judgement on the work that others do even if it is different from the way I would have done them and instead, build on their changes to make the wiki better.

5. I will respect the work of people I use and cite them appropriately to acknowledge their part in my creation of content.

and lastly,

6. All content created on the wiki is done with the desire to share information freely.


When Social Media becomes a Crutch

by librarianincognita ~ July 24th, 2011

I have never actively participated in Second Life – I tried it for a course but never got the hang of it (partly because it was not intuitive to me) and it felt like too much of an effort to create another world to live in for yourself. Living in any “world” requires work. You need to spend time to build relationships, you need to understand the rules that govern a place and adapt. I couldn’t understand why anyone would be addicted to Second Life at that time and reading stories of people who found the kind of “acceptance” they could not find in the real word or used it to escape made me wary of such “models” of reality.

Second Life is no longer as popular as it once was but I thought it was a useful place to start thinking about things, simply because it makes such a close attempt to model itself after the physical world; with land that you can buy with real currency and actual businesses having a presence there. The thing that bugged me the most was the claim that it was inclusive and allowed misfits in real life to forge an identity for themselves and to be who they really are. This article here is written by someone who says that “in SL we can not only find the opportunity to fit in but can do so openly and without fear of being treated as outcasts, or of separating ourselves and becoming remote from the world around us“. In some ways, this is a good thing but part of me wonders if it takes them further away from reality because now that they have a place, there is no need for them to work on their social skills in real life. These skills are important – they are the skills that get you a job, allow you to work with your colleagues, interact with people – and to develop them in the virtual world at the expense of the physical world does seem to me to be unhealthy.

Linking this to online identities: Dividing between the personal and professional and presenting two different facades is a matter of choice and I do not have any issues with that but what I think is not healthy is when the online identity becomes a crutch, something people lean on to present the self they would like to imagine themselves as. If this becomes a stepping stone towards them being the person they want to be, that’s good but if it becomes an excuse to avoid the physical world, then it isn’t.

Now that Second Life has fallen out of fashion, I wonder about all these people who found refuge there. What has happened to them.? Do they move themselves to another social media platform? Do they find themselves thrown back into real life and disliking the world they live in even more? I do not see Facebook to be all consuming the way Second Life is – it does not try to create for you a “second life” but I have known people who were really unpleasant in real life but amazingly friendly and thoughtful in the virtual world. How not to be when there are birthday reminders? Being thoughtful has suddenly become a lot easier.

Additional Note: This post is a little late – just slightly past the deadline for it but as they say, better late than never.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet