We can cast all we like, but we may not catch any fish

28 February 2008

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not the Annoyed Librarian. But as Kathryn Greenhill suggests, every librarian gets annoyed sometimes, and some things annoy us more than others.

One of my chief irritants is the fad for podcasting.

I’ve never been able to get enthused about podcasts. For starters, podcasting is not a new technology. Like many of the ‘Web 2.0′ concepts, it’s simply an old idea repackaged and then aggressively marketed. Podcasts are just glorified audio files, and we’ve been listening to those for years.

And then there’s the term itself. It’s frankly woeful. It’s believed to have appeared first in a Guardian article in February 2004, suggested as an alternative to ‘audioblogging’ and formed by condensing the words ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’. Yet multimedia search directory ZENcast maintains that it’s actually short for ‘Personal On Demand broadcast’.

Whatever its etymology, ‘podcast’ is ghastly. Since it does away with spaces, it qualifies linguistically as a ‘runtogether‘, but it should never be considered a real word. And it’s not alone. ‘Podcast’ isn’t actually the worst Web 2.0 aberration of the English language — at the moment, I think it’s a tie between ‘vodcast’ and the truly horrible ‘vlogging’.

Libraries seem to be obsessed with podcasts, and I don’t know why. We’re meant to foster equitable access to content, but the use of the proprietary name ‘iPod’ suggests that we’re peddling an expensive Apple product to our users. What about generic mp3 players? Or even no players at all? Since when did libraries prostitute ourselves for a brand name? (Oh, hang on — Thomson, Elsevier, Springer, SirsiDynix — well, I guess I just blew that theory out of the water …)

(‘Katamari Damacy iPod’, from emsef’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

Phil Bradley discusses some of the challenges of using podcasts in the library setting in his book How to use Web 2.0 in your library. This is a great all-round book on the rise of emerging technologies in libraries. It’s enthusiastic but not gushy, and Bradley addresses the risk of its content dating quickly by providing an accompanying website. We have a copy of the book in our collection, but I’m afraid you can’t have it at the moment as it’s sitting on my desk.

Bradley argues that podcasts have become universally popular because of their convenience. Users can listen to them on a PC while they’re working, or download them to mp3 players to enjoy at their leisure. I worry that part of the reason libraries have been so quick on the uptake is that yet again, podcasting is considered a cheap option because it can be practised and maintained in-house. The only essential piece of equipment for recording is a microphone, which often comes as part of a PC’s initial package. Add to this one of the best audio manipulation software packages on the market (which just happens to be a free, open source download), and you have a very cheap tool for promoting the library if someone with the necessary technical knowledge is prepared to donate time to the task.

I’m wary of the notion of library budgets driving library services. It’s fine to want to employ our users’ tools to help them access the library, but if we want a half-decent information service we need to maintain a high standard of professionalism. We also need to be prepared to spend money. Many people from overseas find the Australian accent impenetrable; given that our international student numbers are already sizeable, and we’re hoping to lift them to about a third of the student body over the next few years, we need to ensure that we’re not developing services they’ll find utterly inaccessible. There’s a strong argument for hiring professional voiceover artists to read our scripts. After all, we run theatre studies courses here; I bet there are plenty of students who’d jump at the chance for some work experience before they graduate. And on that basis, it wouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg.

There is also the ongoing issue of accessibility. Audio recordings are offensively exclusionary to anyone with a hearing impairment, and they are also less than appealing to students with a limited grasp of the language. All students, regardless of their ability to interpret spoken English, will tell you that listening to a lecture online is not the easiest way to absorb information — it’s too easy to become distracted and disengaged. We need to be careful that the reasons we choose to utilise new technologies are the right ones; many libraries are guilty of desperately clutching at whatever faddish Web 2.0 tools come their way in the hope that users will find their services relevant and fun. We need to be careful that we’re still driving the technology, and that it’s not the other way around.

Of course, there are applicable uses for podcasting in academic libraries. Visitors to the National Gallery of Victoria can hire audio guides to help them make the most of the Gallery’s collection. Why don’t we do the same? As Tony suggested at a forum on international student needs, a walk-around audio orientation is a wonderful tool for students who can’t or don’t want to attend conventional library tours at the start of semester. We keep being told that our ‘net generation’ users have a short attention span and are fond of discovering new things for themselves – well, this is a much more interactive way for them to familiarise themselves with our resources. There are plenty of students who choose to spend their first few weeks on campus socialising, rather than learning about our services. That’s fine, and actually extremely valuable. But we should ensure that we’re ready and waiting for them later in the semester when they need the library, and that we meet them with whatever resource they find helpful and accessible – not just a gimmick.

Blogger’s note:
If you really must listen to a podcast, you may be interested in this interview with Geraldine Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Australian writer, and author of Year of wonders, March and People of the Book. I’ve always found Year of Wonders remarkably similar to a (much older) British children’s book, A parcel of patterns, but then they’re based on the same historical event so I suppose that explains it. After all, there’s no such thing as plagiarism in fiction — only homage.

I found the interview by running an exclusive audio search on the EveryZing search engine. EveryZing has a built-in multimedia player, so users can search for a podcast, click on the result that interests them and listen to the audio directly through the EveryZing website. From the player, users are also given a number of other options, such as downloading the audio, subscribing to the podcast series, copying custom HTML code to a website, or rating the podcast on digg, del.icio.us and other popular website sharing services.


Library 2.0, or why I’m not running off to join the cult just yet

26 February 2008

I’ve been particularly interested in reading everyone’s posts on Library 2.0. Like any radical movement, Library 2.0 has its sceptics and its fanatics. There is a very lively Ning community, a large bibliography on the subject by librarians who can’t get enough of it, and there’s absolutely no chance you’ll attend a library conference this year without having to sit through at least one cringeworthy session on Library 2.0 and the mission to make libraries cool.

Yet the question remains: how radical is Library 2.0 really?

Let’s start with definitions. A quick review of the literature suggests that the boundaries are very broad, and very poorly defined.

Back in December 2005, Sarah Houghton-Jan had this cheerful opinion:

‘Library 2.0 simply means making your library’s space (virtual and physical) more interactive, collaborative, and driven by community needs …  The basic drive is to get people back into the library by making the library relevant to what they want and need in their daily lives … to make the library a destination and not an afterthought.’

But by January 2006, she was starting to sound a bit jaded:

‘Perhaps Library 2.0 is just one of many perpetual regularly scheduled library-world wake up calls to re-focus on the users and what they want.’

The same year, Meredith Farkas declared herself a 2.0 sceptic:

‘Library 2.0 and Web 2.0 don’t exist. Web 2.0 is hype. Library 2.0 is just a bunch of very good ideas that have been squished into a box with a trendy label slapped on it.’

This remark put her at loggerheads with the fanatics, or ‘twopointopians‘, as the Annoyed Librarian pointedly describes them. There is a tendency for discussions on Library 2.0 to become very heated; whether or not ‘twopointopians’ are the ‘earnest, humorless librarians’ the Annoyed Librarian suggests, they nevertheless condemn anyone who doesn’t agree with their perspective as out of touch, afraid of change, and worse still — professionally negligent.

I don’t consider this a valid description of Meredith Farkas, who has (quite literally) written the book on social software in libraries. She is hardly averse to change, or to the role that technology might play in the libraries of the future. She recognises that many libraries have fallen behind:

‘There are plenty of libraries that never do surveys and that never ask their patrons what they think or if they’re happy. Some people have been teaching the same things in their information literacy classes for years, in spite of the fact that students aren’t using the same tools to do their research anymore.’

Michael Stephens’ popular library blog Tame the Web sits squarely at the other end of the spectrum — in the pro-Library 2.0 camp. Stephens looks at how several pro-Library 2.0 writers define the concept, and compares their assumptions with Wikipedia’s definition of Library 2.0. From the snapshot of the Wikipedia entry Stephens provides, we could just as easily be reading about Web 2.0, since the definitions are almost identical:

  • Beta is forever
  • A disruptive idea
  • Harness the long tail

What Meredith Farkas and other sceptics recognise, but the Library 2.0 champions don’t see, is that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Library 2.0 is just that — the fuzzy term. An increasing number of library bloggers are beginning to repudiate the title ‘Library 2.0’ because they feel it has been hijacked, or ‘co-opted‘, by overzealous librarians and vendors:

‘the term Library 2.0 has been co-opted by a growing group of libraries, librarians, and particularly vendors to push an agenda of “change” that deflects attention from some very real issues and concerns without really changing anything … We’re blindly casting about for a panacea and it’s making us look like fools.’ (blyberg.net)

I would argue that the tag ‘2.0’ has always been meaningless rhetoric, no matter to which subject it is applied. Tim Berners-Lee, the originator of the Web, loathes the term Web 2.0, describing it as ‘a piece of jargon‘ so meaningless that ‘nobody even knows what it means‘. He argues that if Web 2.0 means user-generated content like blogs and wikis, then it still means ‘people to people‘, which is ‘what the Web was supposed to be all along‘.

People are sick of 2.0. Wikipedia earmarked the article on Library 2.0 for deletion in late 2006, claiming it was a neologism without substance. The entry was only saved by aggressive lobbying on the part of heavyweights like Jessamyn West, David Lee King, Karen G. Schneider, Bill Drew, Walt Crawford and the term’s originator, Michael Casey.

When we’re discussing a push towards involving users in decisions about the future of their own libraries, applying version numbers to successive waves of theory is patently ridiculous. It places an uneven focus on technology, which already sits on a pedestal in the eyes of twopointopians. Novelties such as gaming and social networking software can’t solve the crisis in the relationship between library and user. While we can’t hope to provide better services to our users without better technology, it is only the means to the end, and not the end itself.

Amanda at Data Obsessed believes that:

‘the important part of it [Library 2.0] is not the shiny technologies but the intention behind their implementation … those intentions are classic ones — perhaps those provided by Ranganathan.’

If you’re a librarian, it’s likely you’ve heard of Ranganathan, the early 20th century Indian librarian who wrote the seminal text Five laws of library science.

His laws are simple:

  1. Books are for use (so every library user should be able to access them)
  2. Every reader his or her book (every library should cater to a wide range of books for a wide range of users)
  3. Every book its reader (even the most unusual book in the collection will find a reader)
  4. Save the time of the reader (make searching for a book as quick and painless a process as possible)
  5. The library is a growing organism (if the library doesn’t grow and change, it will fail to meet its users’ needs)

Can we apply these rules to our libraries? Indeed, does Library 2.0 apply these rules to our libraries?

Back in 2004, Alireza Noruzi (correctly) wondered if Ranganathan’s laws could be related to the Web:

  1. Web resources are for use
  2. Every user his or her web resource
  3. Every web resource its user
  4. Save the time of the user
  5. The Web is a growing organism

Yes, technology can help us to achieve all five of Ranganathan’s goals. We can house larger quantities of digital material than we ever could with print, which allows us to cater to more users — those who can’t come into the library in person, those with a disability and those who speak languages other than English. We can use RSS feeds and social bookmarking sites to provide desirable content to our users, allowing them to pick and choose what suits them. If they desire it, we can even visit them in the online spaces they choose to inhabit. Best of all, we can use blogs to open up a two-way dialogue with our users, and to build communities of practice with others in the profession.

But there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. What else do we need, aside from technology, to make this happen? Is Library 2.0 really a new release, or just a bug fix? What, if any, are the new features packaged in Library 2.0? And indeed, is the term ‘Library 2.0′ the only problem? If we just find a new name to describe the movement, will we be able to get on with combating the growing crisis in libraries?

Perhaps not. Meredith Farkas, who among other professions is a trained therapist, maintains that catch-all terms are misleading. Lumping everything that’s wrong with libraries under the heading Library 1.0 disguises the roots of the problem, and therefore prevents us from finding a cure. ‘Why do people like to squish things into these neat little boxes as if the world was meant to be that way?‘ she rues. ‘Web 2.0. Library 2.0. I don’t like labels and I don’t like boxes.’

Farkas argues that by continuing to squabble over the scope of Library 2.0, we are ‘focusing on the wrong things.’ She thinks we should ‘be more concrete‘ in the way we describe change to libraries, librarians and users. She maintains that the concept of Library 2.0 ‘seems a lot more pie-in-the-sky than teaching a group of librarians what a blog is, why it’s a good thing for libraries, and how they can start one.’

Of course, Farkas is right — not just that we should do away with the label of Library 2.0, but that we are wasting time thinking about it. The only reason we exist — the only reason we have ever existed — is to fulfil the information needs of our users. These needs might be explicit or implied, immediate or long-term, and the users we serve may be known to us or anonymous, but ultimately they are the only motivation for our existence. And if we’re not concentrating on serving them, whatever excuse we give, we’re failing.
A selection of perspectives on Library 2.0:

Build your house, then call me home(page)

21 February 2008

Our lives are increasingly mobile. For example, I wrote this post (and many of the previous ones) on the train. It’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds; I don’t have a laptop, a PDA or a web-enabled phone. I’m not even typing bestsellers with my thumbs like the famous Japanese cell phone authors.

No, I’ve gone truly retrograde. I’m writing my posts in pen on paper.

And I love it.

But what about those of us who want to use technology in more than one place? People without laptops, or people who travel?

This time last week I was in New Zealand, having a fantastic holiday and generally steering clear of the Web for the sake of rest, eyestrain, and my unfortunate tendency to read work email while I’m on vacation. But one thing I could have done from an airport kiosk or internet cafe was upload my holiday snaps to Flickr, Picasa, Facebook or any number of image-sharing websites. Why? Because all of these services are web-based, so they can follow (or haunt) me everywhere.

As I’m a really long way behind in the 23 Things schedule, some of my colleagues are beginning to post their final comments on the program. A particularly interesting point made by several bloggers was that many staff use more than one PC, sometimes even on multiple campuses. Naturally this makes the idea of a permanent desktop very appealing.

The 23 Things tasks reflect the trend towards ‘going mobile’. We’ve looked at Google Docs, for example, which offers a free hosting and editing service for office documents, and Flickr, a centralised space for storing images. But how can we take our desktops with us?

Firstly, we need to extract as much data as possible from internal network drives and make it available online. In the case of Swinburne Library staff, confidential information can be added to the staff wiki, since this is protected by password. The added advantage here is that a wiki is a collaborative tool; you might find your colleagues respond to your work with helpful comments and additions. Swinburne staff should also never underestimate the power of their email inboxes. Email is hardly the best content management service, especially given its relatively poor search abilities. However, since our email client can be accessed remotely, at least it’s always available.

Of course, this doesn’t solve everything. Swinburne 23 Things Task 16 encourages us to try iGoogle, a customised Web start page that can be accessed anywhere users have an internet connection.

iGoogle is certainly very visually versatile. Users can choose from a directory of over 150 themes, or even design their own using XML. I chose the ready-made City Scape theme, which changes gradually during the day to reflect the sun’s position in the sky. iGoogle, like many of the other Google products, makes use of ‘gadgets’ (called ‘widgets’ in Blogger) to add external content to pages. Like Facebook’s applications, many of these are created by weekend developers. As suggested when I activated the software, I added the Wikipedia, Gmail, Google Reader and ToDo gadgets.

Although it’s easy to search Wikipedia in Firefox (I just type ‘wp’ then the search query in the address bar), the ability to search Wikipedia from a portable desktop is useful when chasing PCs or using Internet Explorer. The option to preview my latest emails and feeds through iGoogle is also very handy. I don’t use my Gmail account very often (mainly just for Blogger comment alerts and Facebook ‘bacn‘) so I often forget to check for new emails. And with the number of unread feeds in my Google Reader rapidly approaching 1500 (again), it can be daunting even to take a peek at my aggregator. Much better just to be presented with a few new feeds each time I refresh my homepage.

Since I like the way iGoogle works, I may consider using it more regularly in the future, and I’ll definitely explore the gadget directory in more detail. However, for those who like the concept of a web-based desktop but aren’t inspired by Google’s offering, there are plenty of alternatives. Like all Web 2.0 products, their continued existence is subject to the fickleness of the web-using public — the safety of Google and any of its services lies in monstrous size and wealth. I am always hesitant to save my data to little-known Web 2.0 services without a backup, since they are frequently here today and gone tomorrow.

With that dire warning out of the way, here are some rival start pages I investigated:

PageOnce is designed for users with a number of web email and social networking accounts. It feeds all new email or friend update data into one start page, negating the need to remember a multitude of passwords. However, I think it’s important to bear privacy and security in mind; iGoogle only recycles data through the Gmail and Google Reader gadgets that is already available from my Google account. How much new information would I have to provide PageOnce for the same functionality?

Pageflakes is one of iGoogle’s most successful competitors. It has the ability to accomodate a wider audience than a personalised webpage like iGoogle. As an example, Dublin City Public Libraries use a customised Pageflakes page as the default homepage on all public access PCs. Unfortunately the page is very cluttered and ugly, and I worry about such heavy reliance on Web 2.0 tools. As Andrew Finegan notes, public libraries deserve to be ‘free but not cheap’.

As you can see from the comparison links below, many people favour Netvibes. Like Pageflakes, it was able to pinpoint my location (albeit Canberra, but close enough) and provide me with a demo page containing geographically-relevant modules like Herald Sun news and local weather. However like Pageflakes, the layout is messy and overcrowded; iGoogle’s sparse layout, in keeping with other Google products, definitely counts in its favour.

Despite iGoogle’s rapid rise in popularity in 2007, MyYahoo! is still the most popular start page by miles, but while it has the benefit of using the same login details as Flickr, it suffers from a strong UK bias. Let’s just say I wouldn’t use it.

Symbaloo is different from the other start pages I viewed because it uses a customisable array of symbols to represent frequently-used websites and services. Unlike iGoogle, which federates a number of services into a single space, Symbaloo acts as a launching pad for the Web. I think it’s one to watch, but it’s still in beta outside the United States.

Smplr has generated some interest in the online press, mostly because it’s unusual and much prettier than most of the start pages on the market. However, it requires users to learn a whole new language of codes to navigate the Web — something users are perfectly capable of doing without Simplr. Such a complicated process for a service that is meant to make users’ lives easier seems truly oxymoronic.

Further information:

Compare startpages:

    Feeding time, or why I won’t bother you for weeks

    18 January 2008

    I wanted to start this post with a quote of unknown origin:

    Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach that person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks’ (QuoteWorld).

    For librarians, researchers, business people, students, teachers and gamers alike, the Web is a gift from God. (Well, OK, Tim Berners-Lee—and he’s a very humble man who would despise my comparison!) Australians first saw the Web in 1994; I remember huddling around a computer in the school library watching in awe for half an hour as we loaded a single page. It was magnificent.

    We’ve come a long way since then. But the truth is, as much as we love the Web, it’s just another time guzzler. At a personal level, I have enough trouble keeping up with friends and family; at a professional level, the constraints of time are even worse. I’m so far behind in my library journal reading I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up now. And since so much of the literature on our profession, from Lorcan Dempsey to Jessamyn West, is presented in new media, it’s even more critical than ever that I keep up with my blog subscriptions.

    A feed reader (aka ‘aggregator’) makes this task a lot easier. In fact, I’ve been using Google Reader for nearly a year now, and I honestly don’t know what I did without it. At last count, I had 110 library-related blog subscriptions, 13 technology blogs and 23 leisure blogs. As soon as everyone signed up for 23 Things, I added their blogs to my subscription base, so now I have … well, over 200.

    So, what’s a feed reader?
    For that matter, what are feeds?

    Right back in the early stages of the 23 Things program here at Swinburne, the blogger known as Trees from the Wood asked a very sensible question: What’s the use of blogs? My response was that, in isolation, they probably aren’t very useful at all. Who has time to keep returning to a webpage just to see if it has been updated?

    In the early days of blogging, there wasn’t a solution to this problem. But now we have RSS.

    RSS is (yet another) acronym with a disputed meaning. It originally stood for ‘RDF site summary’, which makes technical sense, but most people now maintain in a Web 2.0 context that it stands for ‘really simple syndication’. There are a few others who consider the middle S stands for ‘sexy’. I don’t want to make judgements on what kind of people they might be.

    Whatever it’s called, RSS has the potential to make our lives easier, and that defines it as a great web technology. Without getting too technical, here’s a quick rundown on how blogs are converted to the text that appears in your feed reader.

    Blogs, like most simple webpages, are encoded in hypertext markup language, better known as HTML. HTML developed as a way to present text in a web browser that would define both its appearance and its structure. Every early webpage was written like this:

    <a href=”http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/”><img alt=”toothpaste for dinner” src=”http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/010808/your-genome.gif&#8221; width=”650″ height=”427″ border=0></a>
    <a href=”http://www.toothpastefordinner.com”>toothpastefordinner.com</a&gt;

    HTML is very logical; the basic concept is that what you start, you have to finish, in this case using opening and closing tags. Most blogging software doesn’t require you to know how to markup your text; you just type your content and the software automatically converts it to a colourful HTML page. The problem with HTML is that it’s ambitious, but not powerful enough to achieve everything we need from the Web. Extensible markup language (XML) is one of the general-purpose languages we can use to make HTML work better for us. XML is less concerned with presentation than HTML; it’s a perfect language for libraries, since it’s more concerned with content than with style.

    RSS uses XML to pick the eyes out of HTML.

    The news headlines that appear on sites like Yahoo use RSS to strip away the formatting in their HTML, and just present the core content. It does the same to blog posts, providing a snippet of the full post to help you make up your mind whether you’d like to continue reading. In short, if blogs were scholarly literature, we would call RSS an abstracting service.

    To make the most of RSS, you need a feed reader. For sheer ease and the ability to integrate with other services, I recommend Google Reader, since it’s Web-based and you can log on anywhere to read your feeds. However, many people prefer desktop feed readers, in which case I’ve seen RSS Bandit come highly recommended.

    Whenever you see this sign on a blog to which you’d like to subscribe, click it:

    (‘Really, REALLY BIG RSS feed button’, from photopia/HiMY SYeD’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons License)

    You’ll be asked where you’d like to feed the content, so choose your feeder and then you’ll be cooking with gas. My only advice is not to subscribe to Digg, as recommended in Task 10, because it’s rubbish. I did, and I regretted it. Two days in, my aggregator was filled with over 200 stupid videos, the content of which was hardly age-appropriate and frequently NSFW, which hardly suits the purpose of this program. If you want something a bit silly but also geared to technology, try BoingBoing.

    Engaging with Social Media in Museums

    18 October 2007

    I apologise for being a bit slack with my posts lately. I’ll try to make up for it with this report from an event I attended at Swinburne yesterday with Dana.

    The Engaging with Social Media in Museums seminar was run by the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, which investigates subjects as diverse as social policy, media, youth, gender, housing, citizenship, immigration and public administration.

    The Presenter
    Dr Angelina Russo
    Queensland University of Technology and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Creative Industries and Innovation

    Dr Russo and her colleague Jerry Watkins will both be jointly appointed to the Swinburne Faculty of Design and the Institute for Social Research in early 2008, where they will begin work on a new ARC Linkage Project designed to:

    1. Investigate innovative connections to social media networks by museums, through digital content, multimedia design and communication strategies
    2. Advance creative engagement between museums and learners, information searchers and content creators
    3. Lead debate within museums through reference to design, audience evaluation and cultural communication

    The Project
    New Literacy, New Audiences and runs in partnership with Museum Victoria, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, the Australian Museum and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum at the Smithsonian in the United States. The project looks into how social media can be used to facilitate cultural participation. Its main goal is to see user-generated content presented alongside more authoritative content in a way that suggests ordinary people have something worthwhile to contribute to their own cultural heritage. The project’s researchers want to challenge the notion that the plethora of user-generated content available on the web devalues the authoritative content produced by established educational and cultural institutions. For more information on this argument, you might like to have a look at Andrew Keen’s controversial text The cult of the amateur: how today’s internet is killing our culture.

    Social Media and Scholarly Research
    The question was raised:
    are cultural institutions losing ground to Web 2.0?
    * The top 5 educational and reference sites in the US are not scholarly resources (Wikipedia, Answers.com, Dictionary.com, Yahoo! Answers)
    * Google Scholar is Number 6
    * Google Book Search is Number 7
    * No educational institutions appear until Number 9

    Web 2.0 Tools have Strategic Purposes
    Through the 23 Things Project, we’re learning how to use Web 2.0 tools. Some of these have proved useful, and some (like Digg) relatively worthless. Some tools are appropriate for the library context, while others may be more useful for sharing personal anecdotes with family and friends. Most importantly, we’ve seen that we need to remain aware of when is appropriate to use them, and not try to replace perfectly effective channels of communication with Web 2.0 tools just for their novelty value.

    Dr Russo and her team believe the following Web 2.0 tools might best fit each purpose:

    Conversation Blogs, podcasts, vodcasts
    Customisation Tags, bookmarks
    Content Sharing Online audio, video, photo sharing
    Co-creation Bespoke tools

    We’ve seen through the 23 Things Project that blogging and commenting on others’ blogs can be a great way to spark discussion, as it allows readers to communicate both with the blog author and with other readers. The ARC Project is looking at this process with a view to how we can align scholarly content (blog posts from subject authorities) with user-generated content (comments left by users).

    Dr Russo used this entry from the Sydney Observatory Blog as an example of how this might be beneficial in an educational context. In the post, a circulating email hoax about the planet Mars brushing too close to Earth is debunked by a leading Sydney Observatory astronomer. The 137 comments from users show how they responded favourably to the trustworthy information, and to each other. The same blog provides an example of how user-generated content might be presented alongside content created by a subject authority without emphasising the barrier between the two. Some of these photos of a lunar eclipse were taken by professional astronomers, while others were contributed by amateur star gazers who took photos on their handheld digital cameras and mobile phones. As all images appear together in the blog post, neither style is presented as more ‘valuable’ than the other.

    Dr Russo used the Powerhouse Museum’s OPAC 2.0 Collection as an example of how user customisation might help develop a collection. According to Dr Russo, approximately 3% of a museum’s collection is on permanent display, leaving 97% rarely or never accessible to the public. To bridge this gap, the Powerhouse Museum has digitised their collection records and provided online access to most of their collection. The Museum published the OPAC 2.0 Collection without consulting curators, allowing them to assess the records after they were uploaded. A similar project at the Smithsonian where the curators were consulted first has failed to get off the ground. This example from the Powerhouse’s collection shows how users can add keywords to an object to help create a folksonomy. These user-generated subject keywords are designed to operate in conjunction with the more traditional museum collection taxonomy (see the numbered record list). Only 4% of users initially tagged items, but 50% of later hits came from these tags. This introduces the idea of a passive audience (the 96% who chose not to add tags) versus the active cultural participants who contributed to the database and helped other users find the content later.

    Content Sharing
    Museum Victoria ran the Biggest Family Album in Australia Project in 2004 to collect historical photos of everyday people doing everyday things. This was a unique opportunity for members of the community to contribute a piece of their own identity to the cultural record. Some of these photos were later digitised and made available online (here’s a charming example).

    The example used was the Victoria and Albert Museum’s family history collection, which allows users to create a space for storing photos and ephemera related to their families. Arguably, a similar example is the Facebook Developers platform, which allows backyard programmers to create Facebook applications to share with their friends and the wider Facebook community.

    More Information
    If you’d like more information on this project, the blog is designed to keep project partners in touch with the community and each other, and to facilitate discussion. You can also read more about the grant or have a look at the plans for a workshop and conference in late February 2008.