Enabling Our Public Selves in a World of Maximal Copyright Control

With the web aflame this week with talk about legislation that aims to the major media companies exert greater control over the content they helped create (or that they inherited, acquired, stole, depending on the case), I was inspired again by a vision from Lewis Hyde about the need for us to reframe the narrative from simply being one about people who create and own intellectual property to one where we think about ways that we can be and should be public selves and that we can also be individuals with intellectual property rights. The discussion today is too much framed around notions of individual property and not enough around the cultural commons that we historically have had in America. Over the years, that commons has been walled off in various ways (enclosed, much as land was enclosed in England beginning in the 1500s and mostly completed in the 1800s).

I was first introduced to Hyde’s ideas last year when I read his amazing book, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership. If you want to get an introduction to his thinking, this 14 January 2011 story on the radio show On the Media about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech delves deep into creativity, copyright, and the commons.

Here’s a pull quote from Hyde in the On the Media piece where he is talking about public selves:

I’m interested in collective being. I’m interested in making it easier for people to be public and social selves, as Martin Luther King certainly was. The risk is that if we turn everything into private property, it becomes harder and harder for us to have these common or collective selves, which is something we need. In anthropology, there’s an interesting resurrection of an old word, which is the word “dividual.” So we live in a nation that values individuality; we live in a nation of individuals. But a dividual person is somebody who’s imagined to contain within himself or herself the community that he or she lives in. So it would be nice if we began to have a better sense of how to own and circulate art and ideas, such that we could be present in our dividuality, as well as our individuality. 

Sharing My Google Reader Finds via Tumblr

If you would like to see what blog posts I found interesting in my Google Reader account (which features 839 feeds), there’s now a new place to find them: an old Tumblr blog that I haven’t done much with over the years: Stephen Francoeur’s Commonplace Book.

If you’re subscribed to me on FriendFeed, you’ll see that my Tumblr site is now connected and will automatically feed in new posts. Unfortunately, the posts on FriendFeed only offer the post title; the pull quote doesn’t appear as the first comment under that post anymore (the beauty of my old sharing system of Google Reader–>FriendFeed was that my “note” would also get published on FriendFeed this way). If you want to see my posts and my annotations you’ll need to subscribe to the RSS feed in a feed reader or clickthrough to the Tumblr post.

For the moment, the Shared Items on Google Reader link blog that I had been building up for years in the old Google Reader interface is still accessible, albeit frozen in time.

For anyone still reading, I’ll mention here the least interesting part of this post. After trying out Delicious, Pinboard, and Evernote as possible candidates for a replacement for the Shared Items on Google Reader link blog I was no longer able to use, I decided to use Tumblr because it’s a “share to” option in both Google Reader and Feedly that gives me an RSS feed that I can do lots of other things with. I’m next going to look into sending every Tumblr entry to my Delicious and Evernote accounts (probably via the IFTTT service, which lets you do these kinds of connections easily).

Usability Testing Our New Website

This past week, I’ve been working with with two colleagues from campus IT to run a first round of usability tests on library site redesign. Over the course of three days, we watched ten different undergraduate students perform tasks we had designed in advance (see our testing protocol if you’d like more details on what we did). We used CamStudio to record the screens and to capture audio from a USB mic and relied on one of us from the team to serve as an observer who would take notes during each test using this form.

I’m in the middle of re-reading the observer notes and watching the videos of the screen recordings as I try to write up a report summing what needs to be tweaked in the new site and what seems to be working. In the process of doing the tests this week, I learned a few things that will help us for the next round of usability tests on the redesign:

  • Make sure the testing situation is completely ready for the next test subject before they come in to the room. We asked students to run searches in a catalog search box on the home page. We realized after a while that we should have been clearing the browser cache after each subject was done; we noticed that the previous test subject’s search query was visible in the drop down list below the search box once the next test subject starting typing the same query.
  • Use more stable screen recording software. Although CamStudio offers two great features–it’s free and it works fairly well–it isn’t the most stable software. I think we’re going to want to look into getting Camtasia Studio or Contribute, which I am pretty sure my college has a site license for.

Tonight, I stumbled on a great post by Matthew Reidsma about how he does usability testing at the libraries at Grand Valley State University. He had a great idea of doing monthly tests with just three test subjects. Even more interesting was his way to having colleagues from the library watch the test in a room separate from the one where the test subject is (the test subject’s computer and the computer in the room where the librarians are watching are connected via screensharing software). This sounds like a great way for the staff doing usability testing to get buy in from colleagues about the changes being made. It also seems like it offers great evidence about how our students actually use our sites, thereby curtailing arguments over design issues where everyone is making suggestions based on theoretical ideas about user behavior.

One final note about usability and libraries. There is a new mailing list getting started that will focus on user experience and libraries. Subscribe? Check.