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Archive for August, 2007

No. 13 (del.icio.us)

I love controlled vocabulary. I love stringent selection criteria. I love the bibliographic description of experts.

And I love del.icio.us, too — though it stands against all those things.

As I’ve said before: for all our talk of individuality, people (when treated as an aggregate) follow similar and predictable patterns of behavior. (“You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.”) And their glorious predictability makes tagging one of the most profoundly useful tools the social Web has created.

Obviously, tagging by the masses is not such a fine tool for deep, scholarly research. But for most people’s day-to-day informational needs, it is fantastic: there is an excellent chance that your appraisal of what something is about (that is, what it is about to you) matches up with other people’s idea of what it is about. And there’s also an excellent chance that you’ll use the same words to describe it. This makes searching for not-too-deep, good-enough information — frankly, what most of us need for most of our activities — easy, easy, easy. Plus, it supports limited Boolean logic, so you can search it like a real liberrian!

Some of my favorite tags are “howto” and “tutorial” (or “tutorials”).

If you’re curious, my contributions to del.icio.us — fewer than a hundred in the past two years — can be found at http://del.icio.us/adasiak. I hope I cleared out the porn!

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No. 12 (Rollyo)

I’ve got a customized search tool at: http://www.rollyo.com/fnpfa/fairbanks_government/. It’s designed — though not carefully — to search the levels of government, up to the state level, that a citizen of Fairbanks belongs to and might need to get information from.

If I really wanted to put some work into this, I’d find more domains to add to this. But I think I get the point: “Wow! Customized search engines!” A library might create various topical search engines for its patrons and make them available for quick information.

Rollyo, I notice, does not search Alaska’s Digital Archives, which is a real disappointment to somebody who’d like to create an Alaska-history search engine.

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No. 11 (LibraryThing)

You may now see my heretical/boring reading selections at: http://www.librarything.com/profile/adasiak. There are only the five required items in my “catalog” right now, but pretty soon I’ll have to cough up the $25 for a lifetime of unlimited cataloging. This tool is just too delicious.

The most fun thing about LibraryThing — which Tim Spalding presumably picked up from Jeff Bezos — is the ability to see what other people who own a particular book, are themselves reading. (Of course, this is inaccurate. All we know is that they have added something to their “collection”: associated a username with a title with a number of tags. That doesn’t actually tell you they’ve read things on their lists.)

For all our pretensions to uniqueness, when we’re considered against the aggregate mass of humanity, we really tend to be predictable. That’s the genius of LibraryThing (or Amazon): your tastes are bound to overlap largely with somebody else’s, and you’re bound to find something (maybe a lot of somethings) that fits your taste yet expands on your repertoire.

The really spiffy thing they’ve done is LibraryThing for Libraries, which allows libraries to keep standard bibliographic control (all bow down!) while benefiting from the “wisdom of the crowd”. For a given record, the OPAC will display the conventional bib record. Then, below that, it displays recommendations from LT’s “recommendations machine” — not all the top recommendations, but only those in the library’s collection. After that, it lists common tags associated with the book, in “tag cloud” format. The user who clicks one of these tags will retrieve a list of other books commonly given that tag — but, again, only those in the library’s collection. Thus, the user gets the benefit of nation-wide (even world-wide) opinion while being offered a bibliography of only those items physically present (which is often patrons want anyway).

The Danbury Library in Danbury, Connecticut, is the first library to implement this. It looks slick!

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