Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

what i learned on my summer non-vacation

In our presentation for libr559m, which our group did on (my) Thursday, Dean asked us what we’d learned that we hadn’t known before in creating our project. At the time I mentioned the technical stuff about working with Drupal. Afterwards I was asking myself how much of this course was just me performing. I mean, I grew familiar with a bunch of tools over the course of the past 6 weeks, but I had some pretty firm social media habits coming into the course, so it’s not like I’ve now discovered Google Reader and nothing will be the same again. (Glogging isn’t really for me.)

I think the biggest thing I learned (apart from generally being impressed by my study buddy’s insight and principles, but that’s not really the domain of the class) was how relatively painless it can be to work with people across so many timezones. I didn’t feel disconnected from the class even though we didn’t share a hemisphere. That in itself is an experience that’s useful.

Another question Dean asked at the end of our presentation was whether I ever feel information overload. I assume this is because I’ve been pretty visible in my quasi-prolific use of these tools (though if you check the Storified summations of the class you’ll see a lot of other people posting more than me on Twitter). I think that’s where my performing this class kind of comes in. Normally I’m more of a lurker. I use these tools but for my own benefit, to suck things into my own head. I was trying to take the opportunity of doing a class in social media to work on being a more active producer in this sphere. If you take your classes as a means of developing yourself professionally, well, if I’m going to be paid to be on Twitter someday my employers would want to see some results, not just that I’m full of neat tales from BoingBoing. I think I’ve got a better handle on being a visible social media producer now. For what it’s worth, my Klout score jumped quite a bit since the course began.

I think I’m negotiating a good balance between being a social media user (which I was) and an evangelist (which I won’t ever be). Finding some middle space there seems like a good result, and a good use of three of my precious credit hours for the degree.

immersed in abstraction

I’ve tried before and I’ll probably try again, but I can’t get immersed in Second Life. It’s the lack of story there. You make yourself look how you want (or find you’re unable to) and then you stand around listening to music or whatever. A few years ago on my second attempt to get into it I signed up to go to a reading of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Snow Crash is a novel about the kind of immersive second world SL is trying to be, but it all feels so clunky, so much more about just being in SL than about what’s going on.

I guess it comes down to my gripes about content in the social mediasphere. I find myself agreeing with the lack of Big Ideas in social media (though one of my classmates noted that some of the thinkers quoted in that article are also on Twitter).

Scott McCloud in his talking about comics has a bit about how characters are drawn and how that affects us as readers. A very detailed drawing gives us information about that specific person, whereas a more abstract drawing lets the reader put more of herself into it, to fill in more of the gaps. Immersive environments like Second Life are mixing those up. The more detailed your avatar can be the more the gaps between what’s happening to it and to you become visible.

I remember back in the ’90s my first time playing a MUSH. It was based on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I went in expecting to have slots to fill in and skills to work on so I could become whatever kind of character it was possible for me to be in that world. The fact that I could be a Thief-Taker, just by saying I was and acting like I was, was so astounding to me I was immediately intimidated by the freedom. I still feel that way now when I’m staring at a blank page to fill with text. Anything at all can go there. You don’t have to fit into CPU cycles when you’re dealing with text. Your immersion is based on skills with language that humans have been working on for thousands of years.

That’s why I can get immersed in the flow of information on Twitter. It’s text. I’m a text person. Doing photos and screencasts using avatars and all of that doesn’t excite me. I don’t feel I’m part of a world I’m not helping to create in my mind. I love the old text-based computer games, even though the limits were very apparent. You had to learn the rules so you knew that “Take Boat” wasn’t the kind of language it wanted. Working within limitations becomes immersive once you’ve really taken it up.

Now this isn’t to say I don’t get immersed in videogames. Once it gets out of the way and I’m taking part in telling a story, I’m there. I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas not for the random gratuitous violence (yes, you’d go off on a five-star wanted rampage every once in a while but that wasn’t the point), but because it was a classic gangster story. That’s what I want out of any environment, really. Hell, I love the stories embedded in the numbers in baseball boxscores. That’s what I need for immersion, characters instead of customizable avatars.

This is, of course, good to know. Because if I’m like me, there might be more. And that’s why if I’m bringing a library into a space it’s to tell a story, and to help our users tell a story and imagine one. Not just about the library but about the community it’s a part of (be that physical or digital).

filled with flots and jets i am today

One of the things I love about an aggregated informational world is the idea that if you’ve got enough information flowing past you things will wash up on shore. In the Wesch video there’s a bit about how a person finds significance based on our relationships/contrast with other people. That flow of what you and other people care about is important for significance I guess. You see how people who make stuff you care about care about certain things and you learn what you feel about things.

Journalism is about working yourself up into a lather over something you previously felt nothing about. It is diametrically opposed to what you do as a novelist, which is to very slowly discover what you feel about things. – Kazuo Ishiguro

I feel like aggregating information aids in both of these acts. You need that flow to see what other people are getting into a lather about and sometimes you can get into that lather too. There’s something to be said for having a pile of information you’re barely reading until you see people talking about the same thing so many times and it just bubbles up seemingly everywhere. I love that, especially when news is breaking.

And then there are the people who do the librarian/journalist type aggregation themsleves like @acarvin the NPR journalist who’s become the go to retweeter for the revolutions in the Middle East. He’s being the human in the middle putting an eye on things (and sometimes he, like others, gets fooled).

I can see how these software bits and the fancy learning environments are good for bringing information together but man oh man do I ever like the idea of the infopro (ie the person not the tool) as aggregator supreme. In a much more modest way I’ve been trying to play that kind of role in this class, going through the twitterstream and putting the conversations into a more followable format on Storify. This is not the most efficient means of aggregation, I realize. That Wesch video is talking about automatically pulling in everything tagged anthropology on Flickr, but I’m sure a lot of those pictures are absolute shit. If we’re filters we’re filters sifting for treasure. And it’s not easy.

The other day Jessamyn West posted a commencement address I really enjoyed, which included this:

Some of what I do is go places that “my people” don’t go to, represent us, and then come back and tell my folks what I found there, whether it’s being a techie at a librarian conference, a librarian at the tech conference or a rural librarian at the big city meeting. The world needs people who stay and people who roam, cross-pollinate, bumblebee style.

Sometimes I was surprised that I’d be one of very few people in my communities speaking out cogently and clearly for my ideas, against filtering, against digital rights management, for copyright reform and open access, that sort of thing.

Dorothy Day who founded the Catholic Worker movement sometimes called this isolation of idealism the “long loneliness” and said it could only be solved by the love that comes with community. I feel that by sharing your ideas and ideals with others, you’re not as lonely.

I don’t know, this idea of streams of information merging with each other and being separated out is important and kind of beautiful. I don’t know about the wisdom of crowds but I do love cross-pollination and that’s something that works if you’re aggregating across different ideas.

social media is only a means of supporting creativity

Following up on my last post, I’m not so sure that “web 2.0 itself implies creativity.” I mean, I get the Clay Shirky idea that making something is better than watching Gilligan’s island so making LOLcats is fine, but I think remix culture allows for a lot of laziness.

Some of the most interesting Web 2.0 projects I’ve seen are about rewarding creators who can work outside the traditional model. Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell (she’s locking herself in a room to create for a week) raised thousands of dollars on Kickstarter (over five times her original goal so now they’re going to make more stuff with the extra money). She’s helped raise the question of whether Kickstarter is more important/useful than Arts Council grants for artists.

So yes, social media is helping fuel that kind of creativity, but it’s important to note that people are giving her this money because of her talent. The connections are about funding and supporting creativity, not inspiring it.

I love Neil Gaiman as much as the next person, and his presence on Twitter is huge. But, I don’t love him because of that social media scene. I love the work he does. Making meaning from the banal is a nice idea about social media’s relationship to creativity, but the fact is that most of the banal is still pretty banal, even when it’s aggregated.

I guess I’m saying that “fostering connections, building networks, creating new knowledge” isn’t creative in and of itself. It has to be supportive of some actual talent.

librarian != marketer

There’s an idea in the social media-verse that “conversation is the content.” That kind of quote makes me angry. In the article linked to (which isn’t specifically about libraries but for other businesses engaging in social media) Christopher Rollyson is talking about marketing and how content doesn’t mean anything when you’re talking about marketing. For him, social media being social is about not outsourcing your social media to marketers because “people can smell manufactured content a mile away,” which is a different thing. I think too many people involved specifically with Social Media! ignore the idea that collaboration about nothing is empty, and having good content is bedrock essential.

Now, Rollyson has a good point, clouded by a stupid italicized quote, especially in the library world. Manufactured content is dumb and nobody wants to waste their time with it. But equally bad is the idea that a library can just be there being social with nothing to talk about. Chatting about nothing, trading jokes like a real person does on Twitter might be engaging but isn’t useful for a library or organization.

I think you’ve got to have cool stuff to talk about before you start a conversation. That’s how you get Rollyson’s “human spark of knowledge and caring.” Maybe that’s just my aversion to small-talk, but if you want someone engaging in conversation on behalf of your institution that person needs something to talk about. Just talking doesn’t mean shit. If you want an audience to return you’ve got to be doing good work (or at the very least spotting good work others are doing and pointing it out) to be talking about.

We’ll be getting into this more in our course when we’re talking about Creation, I’m sure, but the Rollyson article ticks me off because the blueprint for success in social media needs Vision, Strategy, Test and Services (though the services bullet point is so filled with marketing buzzwords I can’t even read it). Nowhere there does he talk about making something worthwhile to be talking about.

That is my biggest problem with social media. Just because “the medium is the message” doesn’t mean that’s a laudable state or that you can ignore your content. It seems that people get so starry-eyed about it they forget that there needs to be good work going on to be promoting.

Chatting and collaborating just to garner retweets, favourites +1s, or buzz in whatever new digital form is empty bullshit that I for one don’t want to be participating in. I’m in a substance business, not advertising, and though we can use social media to promote our items of substance the medium can’t be our goal.

quashing participation

Information professionals should be using social media if they care about the rest of the world. I mean, I’m a fan of cataloguing in a cave, but engaging with your community is important. Even if you’re the most locally focused librarian ever in a community where none of your users give a shit about Twitter it’s important to be using it to pull in information and to show off the knowledge being created in your community.

One thing we learned in our Community-Led libraries course with Beth Davies and Annette de Faveri was the importance of not coming into a space with an agenda. Not showing up and saying “Here are some awesome things the library can do for you!” but hanging out and asking what is happening with them, letting the community lead the library. That takes a long time. I think participating online requires a bit more push than that, because if you’re just hanging out as a library, not talking on Twitter, you’re invisible (in a way you aren’t when you’re sitting in a halfway house with a box of donuts).

I also think the idea of a limit to our participation in social media is stupid. I mean, sure, posting pictures of patrons on Facebook without their permission is a bit sketchy. But stopping information professionals from being part of the world just because of who their employers are is bullshit.

A story from work: A library in Northern Australia was making use of some of Koha’s features to integrate a blog onto the front page of the OPAC. The library staff were creating this information to participate in the wider world and were really proud of it. And then their Communications Department found out and shut it down. Not because of something bad that happened but because of stupid bureaucratic power disputes that said librarians aren’t authorized to create publications. That story makes me incredibly angry. To have participation curtailed by the communications department who wanted more control over messaging is kind of terrible.

Part of my visceral reaction to that story has to do with my personal history working at a public library that had a regressive attitude towards people talking about things online. I was disciplined for blogging about work on my personal time. The disciplinary hearing involved the director of our library telling me I was not fit to be a librarian and shouldn’t go to library school because of my disrespectful attitude. This experience led to my disclaimer/explanation page you can see linked to on my library blog’s of Opinions & Assholes page, and you can read some of my other ruminations about privacy and the like when that former library actually created a social media policy because of me. That link includes a response to a danah boyd article.

rss for libraries

I don’t really understand why libraries wouldn’t use RSS. Maybe if your library doesn’t do anything you want to keep people updated on?

A really basic use for RSS (and Twitter) is to have a constant stream of interesting things past your eyes. For a library, spotting the things in those streams that might be useful for passing on to their users is great. It shows they aren’t siloed off in their own little world of books, and acknowledges that the world of the internet is part of the library. Even something as simple as subscribing to feeds from your user groups’ websites to know about the events they’re having is a big deal. That’s how you become part of the community. You can’t rely on people coming into the library to tell you things. You have to be proactive and give the users a way to shape their own experiences with your institution.

An example of things librarians can do to make their catalogues more accessible with RSS is to make it easy to set up RSS feeds of OPAC searches or tags or lists. If as a user I come to the site looking for books with strong female protagonists and I find that the users have tagged a pile of great books with “badass heroines”, if I can subscribe to that tag cloud those books show up in my feedreader that’d be sweet.

RSS can push the library out into people’s consciousness without requiring them to come all the way to the site to see what’s new. People are lazy and if they can get the information they want given to them in the way they want it, that’s great.

the possibilities of is a link-organizing/social bookmarking tool that connects up to your social networks and attempts to parse out all the links. The idea is that bookmarking takes up mental effort so instead of you having to categorize/tag links and then go back and find them to blog about them or whatever, just grabs all the links you put through the rest of your socially-mediated life and makes them nice and searchable.

So as far as affordances go, what does suggest or invite users to do with it?

  • Searching. The search bar is up on the top of the screen, white in a bar of black (unlike Twitter’s gray in a bar of black).
  • Filtering. It gives you ways to filter content by the source of the link as well as by content type. You can apply tags yourself, or allow it to grab the hashtags off Twitter (it doesn’t pull the tags from straight RSS, which is annoying)
  • Comment-less approval. There is the Facebook Like button, the Google +1 button and a Tweet button. Of those three only Twitter allows actual commentary. This makes it easy to express approval without having to think about adding any value through actual language.
  • Sharing is the biggest affordance here. It gives you the option of following people to see what they’re linking to and suggests people (with big ol’ avatar pictures on the right hand side of the screen. Also, under each link in a person’s collection there are buttons for Sharing links via Facebook and Twitter, as well as generating a QR code for the link.

The QR code is kind of the killer feature for me. With a single click you’ve got a simple way to transfer a bookmark from your computer screen to the smartphone of someone right next to you. That person doesn’t have to type in a address on their tiny touchscreen device if they’re in proximity to your computer screen. This encourages an over-the-shoulder, actually in the same place kind of sharing, not just through the digital realm.

The things it doesn’t suggest:

  • Creating your own content. While there is space in each bookmark for notes this is more relevant for annotation than writing blocks of text. There is no word count or even basic html formatting for creation. The implication is that you will use solely to pass things along.

I feel like this is going to be an issue with many of the newer forms of social media. While blogging and wikis are all about content, it seems things are getting terser and terser, leaving less room for people to think about and contribute.

I don’t know how I feel about, but the nice thing about it is how it gets out of your way and just sucks things in from the other feeds. It affords you the luxury of not having your cognitive load added to while it does its thing. That’s worth something I guess. Enough that I’m not shutting down my account.

the use of social media for inforgs

One of the biggest uses for blogging or tweeting is to show that there is a person there as part of the institution to interact with. When a user is faced with solely a catalogue they’re dealing with a collection of items, be they journal articles databases exhibits or books (which I hear do still exist). When you include some sort of dynamic content that’s been made by a person, you’re reminding the user that there are people behind these services.

Example: The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney (Australia – it’s where I’m on my co-op so you’re going to get antipodean examples) is using Koha as their ILS. Integrating their library blog onto the main page of the OPAC makes the catalogue a destination for users. And then when the librarian is blogging about something in their collection (and they’ve got some cool stuff) and deep-links to it, that’s giving the user examples of how people can interact with the catalogue.

Having a personality that reminds people The Library isn’t some building but a collection of librarians is important, and not only when budgets are being threatened. Users are more likely to engage with you if they know there’s someone to engage with.

social media glossary: #hashtags

Hashtags (#hashtags) are a way to label, collocate and provide meta-commentary for online communication.
a hashtag out of its normal environment
Closely related to the idea of tagging in general they were originally conceived of in 2007 by Chris Messina. Hashtags have primarily spread through Twitter where with the 140 character limit, space for organization is at a premium. Using the # symbol smashed into the tags without spaces makes hashtags uniquely searchable.

Since Twitter integrated their function to make them clickable they’ve become an excellent way to bring together tweets from many different users about a subject. By 2011 many conferences (including ALA’s events) have quasi-official backchannels set up through hashtags, like #ala11. Through the use of this ungrammatical tagging (with its roots in irc channels) a person doesn’t have to follow everyone at a conference to get an idea of what’s going on. A saved search for a hashtag covers much more ground, and can be easily abandoned when the event is over.

Hashtags are also good for more ad-hoc tweetable events like #libchat, as well as a means to participate in memetic trends (such as Charlie Sheen’s #winning earlier in 2011). Being a relative of leetspeak the use of hashtags can also be an important internet in-group signifier.

More readings on hashtags.

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