Be social with your national library

I just became a fan of the Library of Congress on Facebook. They seem to be using facebook in a prety normal way, highlighting events, adding a few photos. If you want to find other ways to be social with LoC, check out this post on Resource Shelf. I’ve always felt their YouTube channel was pretty nice.

class concerns with online spaces and content

danah boyd speaks at the Personal Democracy Forum about “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”

For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions. This is most salient in the States which is intentionally the focus of my talk here today.

I suggest you read it all, it’s not terribly long, but if you’re part of the tl;dr generation, the salient point for libraries is this

If you are trying to connect with the public, where you go online matters. If you choose to make Facebook your platform for civic activity, you are implicitly suggesting that a specific class of people is more worth your time and attention than others. Of course, splitting your attention can also be costly and doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be reaching everyone anyhow. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The key to developing a social media strategy is to understand who you’re reaching and who you’re not and make certain that your perspective is accounting for said choices. Understand your biases and work to counter them.

thinky paper about facebook and privacy and the law

My friend James Grimmelman, New York Law School professor, has published a paper about Facebook and Privacy which is my Labor Day reading. In it he asserts that while Facebook is partially culpable for having bad privacy policies and practices, a more nefarious side-effect of the Facebook universe is that the model encourages people to violate each other’s privacy. When you share information about yourself, you wind up sharing information about others who may have different approaches to personal privacy than you do. If you’re interested in understanding more about the Facebook mechanisms from someone who both uses and studies it, I suggest giving this article a read.

You think you’re my friend; I disagree. We may be able to work together in real life without needing to confront the basic fact that you like me but not vice versa. But if you Facebook-add me and say “We dated,” what am I supposed to do? Uncheck that box and check “I don’t even know this person?” Divergences are made manifest, sometimes to mutual chagrin.

Facebook’s reputation on privacy matters is terrible. When people use “Facebook” and “privacy” in the same sentence, the word in between is never “protects.” Facebook’s privacy missteps haven’t just drawn the attention of bloggers, journalists, scholars, watchdog groups, and regulators, they’ve also sparked mass outrage among Facebook users. An anti-Beacon group attracted over 70,000 members. and an anti-News Feed group over 700,000. Facebook’s pattern—launch a problematic feature, offer a ham-handed response to initial complaints, and ultimately make a partial retreat—hasn’t given it much privacy credibility. In short, consumers don’t, can’t, couldn’t, and shouldn’t rely on Facebook’s privacy policy to protect their personal information as they use it.

If you read all the way down to page 40 or so, you’ll get some analysis of legal attempts at social networking site use restrictions including DOPA which many librarians should be familiar with.

Why should libraries be socially networking?

For some reason, writing the talk about tech support in libraries has been making me think about libraries on social networks again. Maybe it’s the little push of friends I get on Facebook after I give a talk to a new group of people. Maybe it’s because I had to explain yet again that I think it’s worth powering through bad design and usability in order to have presence in a place where your users are or might be. Maybe it’s because social software seems like a free and easy way to give your library a human face on the larger Internet. Maybe it’s because after being at SXSW I just see social software as the default way to be on the web and so libraries that are moving forward with blogging and other web tools may as well expand into using social tools as well. This has nothing to do with 2.0 anything, although I guess you could see it that way.

So, to that end, I’m making a small list of ways that I think libraries and librarians can use thse tools to further the existing missions of their institutions. It’s nothing new, but I’ve been pondering it lately and I think specifics, and links to examples can he helpful. Feel free to add more in the comments.

  • Get your library a Flickr account. These accounts are now nearly free through a collaboration between Flickr and TechSoup. TechSoup has an article about how nonprofits can use Flickr. My advice: free image hosting and easy image uploading for staff. Consider uploading some historical photos that you can share with the people in you community. Check out what the Library of Congress has been doing and how much tagging and commenting is happening on their photos. It’s like a Letters to the Editor section for you archival photos. I use this photo quite a lot on my photoshop class, teaching people how to edit pictures.
  • Anyone can get an account on Facebook. Facebook now has the ability for businesses and organizations to create “pages” (as opposed to profiles) where you can put information about your organization. You can see a few library pages here: NASA Glenn Technical Library, Iowa City Public Library, The National Library of Scotland. You can click here to create your own organization page. For people who are already on Facebook, which includes a huge percentage of high school and college age people, they can become “fan” of your organization which means they will get your updates. If you already have a blog, you can set your Facebook page to automatically read and republish your RSS feed inside Facebook. I do this with my personal blog so people who are my friends on Facebook can read my blog updates. The same way Google really let us get information out of the web, people are searching their networks on Facebook sometimes before Google.
  • If you’re a librarian, think about getting on Twitter. You can read this post for background information about Twitter or this Library Journal article for more information about messaging services generally. This is not so much, as I see it, to communicate with patrons but to do two things. 1. create a short pithy easy to update RSS feed of news or information or links that you can repurpose to put on your blog, website, Facebook profile or elsewhere. 2. communicate with librarians who are on twitter in droves. When I was creating my talk I asked a question, literally hurled it out there into the aether, and got back seven or either useful responses within about an hour. That’s ready reference.
  • Added later: think about a 23 Things type project. Vermont is doing this. It’s an easy way to give staff a casual fun exposture to a lot of social tools and let them see for themselves what they’re good for. Offer continuing ed credits or other fun incentives. The set-up costs and investments are nearly nothing and the ongoing investment is mostly time. One of the things I hear all the time is that staff are interested in new technologies generally but lack the time to explore and so get technostressed because they feel that they’re jumping in to some very public online activities without feeling competent in what they’re doing or what they’re there for. a 23 Things project can help that immensely.

The reason I think it’s important to show good examples and best paractices is because we’re still dealing with libraries like Mishawaka Library which thinks that blocking social software sites in their library because they can’t manage unruly teens is some sort of solution to a problem. I’m not saying there aren’t problems surrounding public computer and internet use in libraries generally, maybe there are even sometimes problems with teens, but really responding to the problem by blocking wide swaths of the Internet is not really going to help anyone understand the problem better. It just makes libraries look hostile and librarians look reactive. I’m sure there’s a larger post here about dealing with teens + comptuers + internet + understaffing + the fear factor of unknown online socializing, but I feel that it’s all of our responsbility as online community members of various stripes, to provide positive examples of social software online. This is mine.

(not so) SWIFT – a look at a new conference tool

Before I even came home from SXSW, the library folks on Twitter were talking about SWIFT. Since I’m not going to Computers in Libraries (I was previously engaged, I’ll be sad to miss it) I missed out on all the initial reports, but did notice that I can sign up for SWIFT via Facebook so I did. It’s in beta, so all or some of the things I am talking about may have been fixed by now. Here are my initial impressions.

In short SWIFT is supposed to be a 2.0 conference manager tool, nominally “social.” I signed up via Facebook and was a little chagrined to realize that my Facebook profile photo was imported into SWIFT without any specific assent on my part. The Edit link doesn’t work in the MySwift section of the site, so I guess I’m stuck with it. SWIFT also seems to know who my “friends” are which I’m assuming is information Facebook gave them. I have since blocked the application from Facebook — and let’s be clear, the application has no utility that I can discern on Facebook, it just mines Facebook data to deliver to its own site — and still my friend relationships are all over SWIFT. Not surprising, but still. I set up another non-Facebook-linked account and can’t edit that profile either.

I’m currently viewing “podcasts” (screencasts? vodcasts?) about how to use the tool. I went to the About page to see if I could figure out exactly what SWIFT is for, and the first paragraph is all marketingspeak

While conferences and trade shows remain highly lucrative and successful businesses, it is increasingly expensive and inefficient to capture and retain attendees. Today’s marketing investments do not take advantage of new social networks and peer influence in buying decisions. Exhibitors also face diminishing returns on their investments as they compete for buyer attention on the show floor.

Not super helpful. Do you know what this tool does yet? People seem to be indicating that the usefulness of the “platform” as the Computers in Libraries team calls it will become more apparent once there is actual content on the site. Others point out that the whole point of 2.0 technologies is more openness, not hiding content behind passwords and locking it up in your own silos. A few more comments in this direction are over at the CiL wiki.

There’s a beta testers’ group over at Google Groups which is closed to new users without admin approval. When I joined a support/testers group for the Twitter client Spaz, I just signed up. This is a choice someone made, the approval requirement. I’m getting a chunk of this information from the as-yet-unpublished FAQ which I received over email. It has photos of some of our favorite library celebs, at least one two of whom had no idea their photo was being published in SWIFT documentation. The FAQ also references the location of CIL2007 “media assets” which are in this directory, go look (note: now fixed). As near as I can tell, that’s all the recorded talks from last year’s CiL, just hanging out there on the open web. Mine’s D102 if you want to hear about Firefox.

I’m also a little confused by what I see as an essential conflict between the Terms of Service and the Privacy Policy. Both of them are your standard “we own the stuff you put online here” boilerplate, but the ToS specifically says “You further understand and agree that the Services may include certain communications from Company (such as administrative messages and certain newsletters), and that these communications are considered part of the Service and you may not be able to opt out of receiving them.” while the Privacy Policy says “Users who do not wish to receive email notifications or email newsletters may opt out at any time by following the links contained within the emails to Unsubscribe.” I’m not super surprised that “opt out” is a confusing topic for people new to the social software game, but I’d love to know what the skinny on this is.

Questions about the SWIFT privacy policy are referred to the Otter Group website without the benefit of a hyperlink to get you there. You may remember the Otter Group as the people who brought you ALA Bootcamp. Read their announcement about SWIFT which they call “a podcast directory for conference organizers.” A few buzzphrases about SWIFT make me pretty leery about the assertion that this creates any value at all for conference attendees.

  • Otter: “Publishers can also use Swift to dynamically insert advertising messages from conference sponsors or other advertisers.
  • Otter: “Users can also register with Swift (providing lead generation to organizers) in order to add their own content”
  • SWIFT about: “As users join your community and add content to your pages, your natural search results improve.”

SWIFT apparently makes use of social software sites’ APIs but doesn’t really have one of its own as near as I can tell. It has RSS feeds for “subsets of information inside Swift.” but I’m not sure what that means specifically and I don’t see them yet. Maybe someone going to CiL can explain? I also notice that they have a blog but that the blog itself is at a different URL from the rest of the site. Nitpicky detail perhaps, but there is a certain trust that people give to companies that “eat their own dog food” so to speak and I’m not feeling it here. The blog itself runs on WordPress. Being logged in to the imswift website does not actually log you in to comment on the blog. Too bad, I was going to tell tham that their link is broken in this post. Also, since I now know they’re using WP, how about nice URLs with words not numbers? Better for SEO, at the very least.

I was googling for some more information about what the Otter Group is doing with SWIFT and found this blog. Its URL seems to imply that it’s an Otter Group product, but while it’s in a SWIFT template, none of the links are live. You may notice that instead of the “252 people are attending 2 conferences in 2 states” line in the header, you see “32,834 people are attending 97 conferences in 23 states this month” It also says I’m logged in as Kathleen (I’m not really). Oh my. I assume this is an alpha site design which previously served some purpose. It probably needs to go away or needs a big disclaimer.

Upshot: At first glance, I’m not impressed. However, as with most social tools, utility really is the proving ground for these applications. A quick scan of the user interface and the policies leaves me scratching my head. While I’m happy that they’re integrating popular tools like Twitter,, Flickr and the like, my question remains: why do we need an aggregator for these tools, tools that we’re already using and already aggregating? I like the idea of librarians and information worker people having their own social tools, but we’ve seen them doing great things with the tools that already exist, tools that are well-designed and serve purposes. Tools that solve problems. I’m not convinced that this is anything other than a marketing tool shined up to look like a social tool to end users. I hope I’m proven wrong.