Saturday, October 09, 2010

"Sharing buttons" are EVERYWHERE, and Technorati. (Things 13 & 14)

Sharing is good.

It seems like "share" buttons are everywhere now. As with many of the services I use daily on the ever-evolving Internet, it's hard for me to remember exactly when and how they became so ubiquitous. Only a few major sites had them at first. YouTube was one of the first places I used them, and the NY Times is another memorable early implementer.

Today, it's relatively easy for any blog or site author to add social bookmarking/sharing functionality. In fact, I just now enabled that option here, on my own blog. It took me all of 20 seconds to navigate to the "Design" area of Blogger and turn on the functionality. Kind of amazing. my blog posts are much more easily shareable. The central challenge of blog authoring still remains: to write something insightful or incendiary enough to be worth sharing. No Blogger checkbox for THAT particular issue.

motion gears -team force
Switching gears: Technorati

I hadn't spent any time at Technorati prior to this, and looking at it, I'm not likely to in the future. Why? Because, frankly, the 'most influential' and 'most popular' blogs and posts are the ones that are already pretty easy for me to find. They're already being re-blogged and posted all over the place.

As I alluded to in my previous post, the things I consider true "Internet gold" are the blogs and posts that are less visible/popular but more uniquely useful. Metafilter and Reddit are two sites that work well for churning up aureate nuggets of information.

Reddit logo
Reddit yet?

Of course, the 'most influential/popular' stuff shows up there too. Reddit's upvoting/downvoting system ensures that the big headlines from the usual suspects usually end up on the front page. But Reddit's organization (built of countless 'subreddits' of varying esotericism) allows me to drill down to my own interests-of-the-moment (current favorites include the Linguistics and Language, Astronomy, and Wordpress subreddits). Also, it's not just about the links - the comments/conversations are of equal value (most of the time - there's plenty of stupidness as well).

I has a MetaFilter shirt
I'm on Metafilter; Metafilter is on me...

Metafilter's kind of the same way. There's no voting system, but it's a well-moderated collective blog. You get plenty of that popular/newsy/viral stuff, but also tons of well-crafted or plain weird posts like this one (links to almost every song Joe Raposo ever did for Sesame Street and the Electric Company!) or this one (galleries and discussion of the banknote as an art form). The quality of accompanying conversation varies, but the good ones are GREAT.

Upshot: I don't mean to paint myself as a snob or connoisseur; the viral/popular Internet is that way for a good reason, and I like to keep up with it. But I'm still more impressed by great stuff individually curated from the kooky-weird unplumbed corners of Internet.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Delicious: mmmmm tasty!

Bobby Flay's German Chocolate Cake
(flickr photo via kimberlykv, recipe here)

You mean I can't just talk about cake for the whole entry? Darn...

Delicious (formerly known as
I really like Delicious a whole, whole lot. I use it like crazy for both personal and professional bookmarking - so much so that, except for a few sites that I use extremely frequently, I do all of my bookmarking with Delicious. What makes Delicious so much more useful to me?

1. I can add my bookmarks to Delicious from any computer. No matter whether I'm at home, at the ref. desk, or at my own desk, I can see all of my bookmarks. This is great, as I'm always running across cool craft projects to do with teens while surfing around for fun at home.

2. Tagging lets the organization of my bookmarks grow organically. With regular web bookmarks, I have to either decide on a folder scheme from the outset, or just make a huge long list and eventually try to organize it into folders. On Delicious, bookmarks with similar tags are automatically grouped together, and I can add as many tags as I need. It's a lot quicker.

3. The Delicious button/add-on for Explorer/Firefox is awesome. I can tag and bookmark pages without leaving the page and losing my place. Search these tools out if you're interested; they're easy to install and completely worth the trouble.

4. I can take advantage of other folks' work in mining the Internet. The Internet is a huge place. Wide swathes of it are just useless grit, and the best tiny flakes of 'gold' are often in weird unfindable nooks and crannies. For instance, I just searched for "teen programming" and found this great blog to which I immediately subscribed. A Google search for "teen programming" did not find it (at least it wasn't on the first 3 pages of results).

Have some good links that you think will be useful for other NOPL staff? Please let me know. I will give you the login credentials for the NOPL Delicious account and you can make us privy to your Internet 'gold'!

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I don't have as much stuff to say about Things 10 & 11, except that I do wish I'd been wise to LinkedIn when I was deep in the throes of my first job search out of grad school. It's a lot quicker/easier prospect than building my own personal website with all of the relevant information (something I tried and gave up on). Networking in general is something that I struggle with, and LinkedIn definitely seems like an easy-ish way to manage it.

Tu-whit, tu-whoo, TWITTER

I have a Twitter account and have for awhile, but I rarely use it - I think it's because I still haven't quite embraced the mobile device lifestyle. Also, my life is just not that interesting - if I were doing something interesting and time-sensitive, I probably would use it more.

Truthfully, most of the stuff on Twitter is less than interesting to me. Plenty of banality. But taken en masse, those messages start to get pretty fascinating. Of course I'm glued there whenever there's something momentous happening (watching the protests in Iran unfold recently - heartbreaking). It can be used as a real-time search engine - when Facebook went down for several hours recently, it was sort of hilarious to search through tweet bemoaning this fact.

But all that data can be used for other things too. For instance, here's a very cool research project on the collective mood of the US throughout a 24-hour cycle as determined by Twitter posts.

Also, there ARE a few feeds that are genuinely creative/interesting.

Some funny/generally awesome Twitter accounts I've found

lowflyingrocks - Automatically generated Twitter stream detailing all objects that pass w/in .2 AU of Earth. Just kind of cool for the astronomy nerd in me. When that big Armageddon asteroid shows up, I'll be ready!

HalfPintIngalls - yep, it's "Laura Ingalls" tweeting away. Pretty snarky and hilarious.

feministhulk - HULK SMASH PATRIARCHY! Smart, thoughtful, AND funny. So great!

cookbook - recipes in 140 characters or less. Tricky to read at first, but tasty and simple to remember once you decipher them.

So many more of these. Dig around. Whatever your interest, there's probably someone tweeting about it.

Finally, a bit about libraries and Twitter

Twitter is an easy application to use/update, and in my opinion, it's worth it for libraries to at least TRY having a Twitter account to see what happens. But it's also important to realize that 1) not every cool tool will pan out the way you expect and 2) that's OK! It's not so much about finding the magic bullet as it is about trying things and seeing what sticks.

Leigh Anne Vrabel, a librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, writes here about her library's experiment with Twitter, and why it's been abandoned for the time being. Very thoughtful, worth a read.

Social Networks: lots more than just a book of faces

(oh, the memories...)

I feel like I've been using social networks forever. Not really true, obviously (they've only been around for 10-12 years). But I did have an account on, one of the first social networking sites, back in college. I have been using them long enough that just talking about the time-suck that is Facebook will not cut it. Instead, I'd like to talk about a few the more obscure social networks I use, and what's neat about them.

43Things is a niche site in some ways, organized primarily around the question: What do you want to do with your life? It's sort of a barebones blogging platform centered on personal goals both large and small. Each goal you add to your list is a link; by clicking on this link, you can see a list of all the people who share that goal and read about their progress on it. You can write as many updates as you want on your own goals, cross them off your list, or revisit them at a future time. People can easily adopt other people's goals, comment on other people's entries, and give out a limited numbers of "cheers" daily to encourage fellow users.

It's turned out to be a very personable, mostly very positive sort of site, and I find that it can lend itself to quite meaningful relationships. A few of these have even turned into IRL friendships for me. Even if you don't use it to build relationships, reading about someone else's methods and progress toward a mutual goal can be invaluable. It can be as serious or as frivolous as you decide. is really about the music, first and foremost, and there are a lot of places on the Internet where you can stream music for free. The social networking features of are what make it my music streaming application of choice. As I listen to music on my own computer and rate music that is broadcast via the free music stream (quite customizable), the site automatically builds a profile and library of my musical taste. As it 'gets to know me better', it matches me up with other users whose tastes are similar to mine.

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to the "My Neighbourhood" station - it plays tracks from the libraries of people who share my taste but have much much better musical collections than I do. :) As a result, I like almost everything I hear on the station, but most of it is 100% new to me. I should probably take a break from it for awhile, as the mp3 portion of my entertainment budget has increased substantially since I started using it. There's just too much good music out there.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thing #3: Communication, Part Deux

Summer reading is more or less wrapped up for the year, so it's time to get back to writing blog entries here. I've been thinking a lot about the 23 Things, but finding the time to write down my thoughts is a whole other HUGE THING.

Enough excuses, here's my thoughts on IM and Skype.

Personal Instant Messaging Timeline

College - a DOS-ish peer-to-peer system on the local network. Limited utility, but great for distraction/gossip while working long hours on literature papers.

Grad School - AIM (meh), Yahoo Messenger (meh), Meebo (website widget good, chat meh), Skype IM (not bad), and Google Talk (ditto). The last three worked surprisingly well for project collaboration. Note taking wasn't necessary - both Meebo and Skype chat logs can be saved and accessed later. On one project, we used Google Chat and Docs for international collaboration on a paper; more efficient than many in-person projects!

Lately - Google Chat, and rarely, Facebook chat. Both ultra-simple, but I want convenience rather than features. I use them because they are there, and because I don't need to cultivate a separate list of contacts. Useful for quick chats with friends/family I 'bump into' while using either Google Mail or Facebook.

So true, but... (via xkcd)

What I like about IM in general - I'm not a phone person. At ALL. I actually had a mild phobia of making/taking phone calls up until college or thereabouts. Something about a voice with no visual clues makes me uncomfortable. Also, the natural pauses that occur in conversation seem extra-awkward on the phone.

If I can't talk to someone in person, I'd rather write to them. But sometimes email just isn't quick enough.

Also, like it or not, multitasking is the new norm. Ever try multitasking during a phone conversation? It doesn't work very well. Multitasking is much easier during an IM conversation, because you have a visual record of where you are in the exchange. Furthermore, most veteran IM'ers accept frequent pauses as a standard part of the interaction - for some reason, it feels less annoying than being put on hold.

Combine that with the potential privacy of anonymous chat, and IM seems to me like a perfect match for a busy reference environment.

Skype/Video chat, or "On screen, Mr. Worf!"

I think Skype and similar video chat services like Google Talk are, in a word, amazing. I am a life-long science fiction fan, and "videophones" are standard in almost every speculative universe. They are part of my futuristic daydreams, along with hoverboards, flying cars, and moving sidewalks. Look, there's the viewscreen now!

Oooh, shiny! (flickr photo via torley)

You don't see moving sidewalks anywhere outside of airports, and I'm still waiting impatiently for my hoverboard and flying car. But if you have an internet connection and a few pieces of inexpensive equipment, the "videophone" is a reality.

I don't have a webcam myself yet (waiting for my desktop computer to bite the dust so I can get a laptop w/ a built in), but I have used both Skype and Google Talk to chat with family members. I have a huge extended family - each of my parents has 4 siblings, plus spouses and a boatload of cousins - and while we are close and keep in touch with each other, it's hard to get all of us together in person. When Grandma can't make the trip from Phoenix to be with us at Christmas, she can still see her great-grandkids open the presents she sent.

Turns out I'm living in the future I've moved my sights a bit farther up the line. NOW I can't wait 'til I can strap my videophone on my wrist à la Dick Tracy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mahut and Isner and the endless tennis match.


Check out this gallery of photos (with hilarious captions; the reporter covering this was losing his mind) from yesterday's 7+ hours of play. Courtesy of the The Guardian.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

RSS Feeds 2: The Remixinator

RSS feeds are great for reading. But it's also possible to use them to do interesting things! Think of the information in RSS feeds as a simple raw material - like all purpose flour.

Flour itself can be used for a few things. You can use it to clean up oily spills, as dry shampoo(?!), or to put out a grease fire. But flour plus other ingredients becomes many things, from play-doh and paste to complex sculptures:

(Flickr photo courtesy of zakwitnij)

Here are a few neat-o things you can do with a cup or two of all purpose RSS feed and a few other ingredients/appliances.

1. Put it in a pretty container.

Roy Tanck's Flickr Widget requires Flash Player 9 or better.

Get this widget at

This widget takes the photos in my Flickr account and displays them in a post or a sidebar. All I did was enter my own Flickr RSS feed and a few other pieces of information, and voila! It will automatically update with new photos whenever I upload them to Flickr. You can click on the floating mini-photos to see the real deal on Flickr. Cool!

2. Put it on a map.
The map below was made using an RSS feed about earthquakes (from the U.S. Geological Survey), Google Maps, and an online application called rssmapper. Rssmapper is still in beta (that's techie-speak for "has a lot of kinks to be worked out"). I tried setting up a map of UFO sightings, but it didn't work. :(

Still, this is pretty spiffy, isn't it? As new earthquake reports are published in the feed, they show up on my map. I swear, I made this map MINUTES BEFORE the earthquake up in Ontario-Quebec today - cue the Twilight Zone theme...Anyway, here it is:

3. Blend, then pick and choose what you want.
Let's say you want only news about dogs from both the New York Times and the Boston Globe. There are many tools that can help you subscribe to just the news you want from just the sources you want.

One of the most powerful of these tools is called Pipes; it's designed and maintained by Yahoo. Pipes is so powerful, it's kind of intimidating at first. There are a lot of tutorials out there to get you started, though, and you can't break anything, so why not play a bit?

I made a Pipe that does the following:
1. combines book-related RSS feeds from Salon Books, Bloomsbury, The NY Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the San Francisco Chronicle
2. selects only items that contain "children", "kids", "children's", and "kid's"
3. spits out an RSS feed of those selected items

Of course, I could just subscribe to all of these feeds and then scroll, scroll, scroll to find the reviews of children's books - but that would take a long, long time. This is much faster.

It's not 100% perfect, as there are a few irrelevant (to me) items that contain those words, but it works pretty well - I'd rather get a few irrelevant items than miss the important ones. I think it could be even better if I spend more time tweaking the filter to get it just right...maybe later.

So, as you can see, RSS feeds can be about much more than reading. You can remix and re-purpose them to make the Web do new things!

Mighty nifty, ain't it?
(Flicker photo courtesy of Bohman)

Friday, June 11, 2010

RSS Feeds I: The Reading

I'm excited to write a bit about RSS feeds. I have so much to say about them that I'm going to split this up into two posts. RSS Feeds 2: The Remixinator, will be forthcoming shortly.

Webcomics + RSS Reader =

I first started using an RSS reader 4 or 5 years ago, when I found webcomics. I've always loved comic strips, and am a religious reader of the funny pages. Traditional comic strips are easy to follow - they publish on a consistent schedule, sometimes for decades.

Webcomics aren't like that. Most of them are self-published, many are just for fun, and even artists who earn income from their comics frequently post on an irregular schedule. Here's a panel from one of my favorite webcomics, Natalie Dee, making light of that fact.

To keep up with with my new favorite webcomics, I had to visit each authors' individual website to check for updates. The longer my list grew, the harder it was to keep track of my favorite comics.

With an RSS reader, my comics automatically show up in one place whenever a new strip is published. Now, I can easily read my webcomics each morning over a bowl of cereal. I just have to be careful not to spill the milk on the keyboard!

Surely There are Better Things You Could Be Doing with This...

There sure are! I also use Google Reader to keep track of blogs for work. There are a million library blogs out there, most of which publish RSS feeds. I also use GR to follow craft blogs (for story hour and teen craft ideas), book review sites, and of course, all of my fellow 23 Things participants.

And that's only the beginning. Tune in next time for RSS Feeds 2: The Remixinator, and I'll share a little bit about how RSS feeds can be used in website development and publishing.