Tag Archives: Library 2.0

The Proud Legacy of the New Web

My weekly column for the Loose Wire Servce.

A few things I had to do this week brought me to the same conclusion: Companies that don’t get simplicity are struggling.

First off, I have been writing a paper on social media. What we used to call Web 2.0, basically. Now that everything we do is Web 2.0 it’s kind of silly to call it that. And nerdy. But next time you use Facebook, or Twitter, or any web service that uses a clean, simple interface—nothing ugly, no bullying error messages—then you can thank Web 2.0.

Every time you are pleasantly surprised when the service you use—for free—adds more cool features and doesn’t try to sting you for it, thank Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 made things simpler, more user-centric. Its principles were share, create, collaborate (against the old world’s hoard, consume, compete.)

If you want to read more on this, download the Cluetrain Manifesto, a book written by a cluster of visionaries. A great read and a sort of call to arms for the Web 2.0 generation.

We know this. Researching the paper reminded me of just how influential Web 2.0 has been. But everything else I’ve done this week has reminded me how few companies still don’t get it.

First off, I had to set up a mailing list. You know, sending out lots of emails to people. It’s fiddly if you want to do it right. Before, you’d download software and painstakingly fiddle with spreadsheets and stuff.

Now you can do it online. But not all online services are alike. I tried one, Constant Contact (which doesn’t, actually. sound that appealing a concept. Sounds like an STD or one those annoying kids who follow you around at school.)

ConstantContact was OK, I suppose. But it was fiddly. No way was this going to be fun. Then I tried something called MailChimp. The look and feel of the site was pure Web 2.0. Big buttons, nice colors, the sort of site that makes you want to get yourself a coffee and browse around.

Sure enough, the whole thing was not only a breeze, but a joy. Not perfect—they like their simian jokes, those guys at MailChimp–but so different it brought home how Web 2.0 isn’t a set of tools but a mindset. “How can we make this easier, and fun? And cheaper?”

That was the first experience. Then I had to set up an email account on Microsoft’s online corporate web service, called Outlook Web Access (known as OWA.) The acronym should have given that away. OWA, as “Oh er” or “whoa”. After five years of Gmail using this was like going back to typewriters. And not in a good way.

Clunky, ugly, lots of annoying “Are you sure you want to do this?” type messages.

It was hell. A real reminder of what email was before Google got hold of it. (And, sorry, Yahoo!, but you’re still stuck in the slow lane. I tried your web mail offering again but it wouldn’t let me send half the emails I wanted, instead accusing me of spamming. Sending six emails makes me a spammer? That makes you my ex web mail provider.)

It’s not that Gmail is wonderful. But it’s simple. And it adds features before you’ve had time to think them up yourself. It strives to get out of your way and let you get on with stuff. Very Web 2.0-ey.

Then I had to buy a video camera. It was then I realized that Web 2.0 wasn’t just about software.

I got one of those Flip video cameras three years ago. I loved it. Barely three buttons on the thing, and perfect. An antidote to complicated video cameras and smart phones that require a PhD to use. Web 2.0 on a stick.

So I went looking for a replacement. Flip has been so popular it’s a) been bought out, and b) has lots of competitors. Even Sony have one. Yes, the guys who brought you the Walkman now offer you something called the bloggie PM5, which is basically what the Sony design people think is a better Flip.

Only it’s not. It’s Sony’s view of the world, and it’s striking how anachronistic it looks.

At first blush it’s smart. The lens swivels so you can see yourself videoing yourself. Which is good. But that’s the only thing good about it.

It’s heavy. The buttons are too many in number and aren’t intuitive—I couldn’t even find the volume adjuster, and nor could the guy in the shop—and it has all the things that reminded me why I’d never buy anything from Sony again. A proprietary USB cable slot—so you can only use a Sony cable with it. Their own memory card, which means you can’t use your other memory cards like the increasingly popular SD one.

(Oh and it only records for 30 minutes at a time. Not that the manual tells you that.)

In other words, Sony talks about the bloggie-ness of their bloggie, where you can share all your stuff on Facebook and YouTube, but still doesn’t get the bigger picture: That the Flip was supposed to make all this stuff simple. Open, fun, collaborative, about the moment rather than the fiddling. And no more closed shop. No more trying to sucker you into buying more of their stuff.

I haven’t talked about Apple in all this because the jury’s out on them. They definitely make things easier to use, but they’re still proudly disdainful of everyone else—including, I suspect, their customers. Their products are a joy to use, but I think the Cluetrain passed their stop.

So Web 2.0 is a state of mind. It’s something we should demand of all our interactions with products, services, companies, officials. Simplicity. Put yourselves in the user’s shoes. Don’t put up road blocks. Make using your product, if not a joy, then at least not a pain.

Sony, Yahoo!, Microsoft, print that last paragraph out and make a banner out of it. I guarantee it’ll work wonders for you.

Web 2.0 or Social Media? It Depends on the Year

A client asked me the other day what the difference was between social media, new media, digital media and Web 2.0. I told him: time.

To see what I mean look at the following timeline from Google Trends:

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The blue line is searches of “social media” since 2004, orange is ”new media”, red “web 2.0” and green is “digital media”.

Of course digital media can also include things like games, Flash and things where media is defined not so much as a means of delivering information but of a platform of expression. I guess the same could be said of new media.

But what’s telling for me is how social media has overtaken web 2.0 as the favored way to capture all the various elements of the revolution that began back in 1999. I noticed I started using it more than Web 2.0 in late 2008, which seems to be about the time that other people did—to the point that in late 2009 it overtook Web 2.0, at least according to the Google chart above.

Indeed, at that point it also overtook new media and digital media in popularity (or at least in what people were searching for.)

This is natural, and reflects the fact that Web 2.0 really describes the engine, the machinery, the working parts of the revolution we’ve witnessed in the past 10 years. This is not just the code, but the principles that underpin the code.

Now we all use it, we don’t need to call it anything. Instead we describe the world that it’s created: social media  where everything is by default set to sharing the process of creating, commenting, editing and working.

Social media for most of us now are things like Twitter (2 billion tweets) and Facebook (500 million users). They may not look much like social media as we recall it back in the day, but they are: Facebook provides all the tools one needs to create, comment on and share content online, while Twitter is the natural conclusion of all that thinking back in the early 2000s: Simple tools, evolved as much by the users as the creators, built on the implicit principle that it’s better to share stuff than hoard it.

We might have called it Web 2.0 back in the day, but now it’s mainstream, and it’s social media.

Books. The New Google Juice?

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Increasingly I find that if I enter a search on Google for something that I need explaining to me, the first result is a book. Of course, the book is in Google’s Book Search, but chances are the search is in a page that has been scanned and is available without having to buy the book. What I’m not clear about are the implications of this.

(The above example is from me finding myself watching a UK quiz show from 2001 on the BBC’s Entertainment Channel, which I noticed is free this month on our local cable network. As a long-term expat I find these programs compelling viewing, because they offer a window on a culture I’ve lost access to huge chunks of. So when they ask about something old, I’m good, but if it’s a reference to EastEnders since 1987, I’m stumped. Hence the search for what ‘bank’ means on The Weakest Link.)

So back to the implications. Well, Google may be gaming the system. But it looks like a legit result to me:

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I don’t really understand how this works—I always thought links to a page affected its prominence in the rankings, but I’m not complaining. I found what I was looking for. But what does this mean for books? For publishing? Do authors and publishers try to SEO their books? Or will it eat into sales? Is it worth book-ising a website so that it scores higher on Google? Is it worth putting ads into books so when they appear in the scanned form on Google Book Search, readers see the ads? Just some thoughts.

Getting Communal With Books

It’s always hard to explain to people why sharing stuff online is so powerful. For one thing it’s getting easier, with del.icio.us etc. But the real power is in being able to harness the wisdom of others in finding stuff. Simply put, it’s the online equivalent of asking among your most knowledgeable acquaintances for helping in finding things — from a good barber to a good book, a good CD to a good funeral home. Anyone who has read The Tipping Point will know the importance of mavens (or was it connectors?) so it’s not rocket science that this is an amazing use of the Internet’s leverage. Why some people remain hostile to it baffles me.

Anyway, here’s another great communal sharing thing, written up well by Jim Regan: Do your own LibraryThing | csmonitor.com:

Book clubs and English classes notwithstanding, reading tends to be a predominantly solitary pastime, and truth be told, not many of us have ever considered listing the contents of our ‘personal libraries’ for either our own or anybody else’s entertainment. But the Internet keeps finding new ways of changing our habits, and LibraryThing appears poised to turn the cataloging of books into a form of communal recreation.

Definitely worth a read.

Google and The Future Of Libraries

Will all libraries eventually be digital?

Seems a pretty obvious question (answer: yes) but the process is surprisingly slow. I do research online and use databases like Questia but there’s still a hell of a lot that hasn’t been made available. And a lot of what is scanned has not been scanned well, unless the original material contained a lot of misspelled names.

Anyway, here’s a glimpse of what may be happening soon. From the excellent OnlineJournalism.com Newsletter — the daily news Weblog of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review — is a link to a report from CyberJournalist.net, which in turn “keyed in on an anonymous tip buried deep inside a Sunday New York Times feature” on Google and Microsoft: “Apparently Google plans to digitize every post-1923 [[correction: should be pre-1923; makes more sense. Thanks Jim]] text within the Stanford University Library, creating an enormous copyright-free resource available solely to Google users. The ambitious operation is codenamed Project
Ocean, according to The Times’ unnamed source.”

Wow. That’s about 18 libraries, ranging from the Art and Architecture Library to the Linear Accelerator Center Library (although that link doesn’t work, which doesn’t augur particularly well…)

This on top of Google Print blurb search and Amazon’s Inside the book search (both are shameless links to postings on this very site.)

Google Blurb Search

Here’s another whacky trick that Google have quietly introduced, adding to the impression they are fast cementing their role as one-stop portal: Book searching. According to SearchEngineWatch (via the excellent TechDirt), Google Print is an experimental service that “indexes excerpts of popular books, blending the content from these works into regular Google search results”.

These excerpts are usually the blurb, for now. True to its apparent intention to make itself indispensable before it starts collecting cash, Google says book sellers pay nothing for links from these search results, and it is not benefiting if you make a purchase from one of these retailers. It’s likely that Google will eventually do what Amazon does already, namely offer full text searches of books, although these kind of searches will have to be crippled in some way to prevent users from downloading whole books online.

Can’t remember where I read this, but of course all this has wonderful side-effects for those of looking for something in a book we already own: So long as Amazon (or later, Google) have the book scanned, it would be quicker to do a keyword search there than to check the index, or leaf through the chapter list. Voila.