As of today, I’ve ported over copies of all my blog posts from Beating the Bounds on the hosted service on Posterous to my personal domain at stephenfrancoeur.com where I use WordPress. The new address will be:
I’m going to leave the Posterous site up for a while (maybe forever), but all posts after this one will exclusively be found at the new address. The URL for the RSS feed is still the same, so you shouldn’t need to change anything in your feed reader (all 40 of you).
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).
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.
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 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).
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.
I’m slowly trying to learn all the possible ways that you can download ebooks from ebrary. As I’ve been documenting steps for various devices, I’ve been building a mind map so that I’ll have an interactive way to present options (this may be more useful to library staff in public services positions than library users). The attached PDF is a work in progress. I’m putting it up here just so I can think out loud. When it is closer to done, I’ll try publishing it as a flash file, which is a nice “save as” option that the MindManager offers when you’re working on mind maps.
I’m trying out Bottlenose, a new service in beta that billing itself as a “social media dashboard” promises to help you filter your incoming and outgoing social networking streams. So far, the service only lets you feed in Twitter and Facebook. I’m hoping that they soon add Google Reader, Google+, and FriendFeed.
As you can see from this screenshot, the service automatically analyzes content and tries to assign meaningful tags to categorize them; in this screenshot, I clicked on the Q&A tag and was shown all my tweets where I asked a question.
I can imagine this might be a useful way to sift through conversations I’ve had in various places. Bottlenose also offers a graphical way to view the cluster of topical tags, hashtags, and people in your outgoing streams or in the streams of others. This video demos this feature, called, Sonar, better than I can describe it here:
If you’d like an invite, leave a comment here on this post. I’ve got 10 to give away.
Does your library offer a link to Google Scholar on its website? Wouldn’t it be great if your users didn’t have to be told how to set up “Scholar Preferences” in Google Scholar in a way that connects them to your library’s link resolver? I just learned a nice trick that will allow your library to create a link to Google Scholar that will set preferences so that your link resolver is selected in the preferences for Google Scholar.
A comment on a post at Bibliographic Wilderness taught me how to find the unique identifier number that Google Scholar assigns to each institution that participates in Google Scholar’s “library links” program. Here’s my version of those instructions:
If you haven’t already searched for your instituition’s link resolver in the “Library Links” portion of the page and then selected it, do so.
View the page source for this preferences page.
You’ll see a mess of code. Use the find on page feature to search for your institution’s name among all that code. In front of your institution’s name should be a long number (my library’s number was 19-digits long). Copy that number to your clipboard.
The one thing that I still can’t solve, though, is how help those users from my college who are off campus and who go to Google Scholar by direct navigation instead of via my carefully constructed link. I don’t know how we can effectively communicate to those users that they need to set their Google Scholar preferences; a few users might hear or see our instructions, but a much larger number are unlikely to ever be aware that they can set up “library links” for their search results.
I’ve been getting a kick out of using the new iftt service that lets you do clever things like have all your tweets automatically get saved to your Evernote account or make a copy of all your photos you attach to Foursquare checkins and save them in Evernote (or Dropbox). The oddly names site is actually an abbreviation of sorts for “If This Then That.” Once you create an account, you can authorize various services you use (Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Pinboard, Instagram, to name a few) to be accessed by ifft. First, you think of some task you’d like to accomplish, let save a copy of any photo in Facebook where you have been tagged. Then you define the trigger by picking what service has got something or doing something that you’d like to do something with. Then you define the action that tells ifft what other service will be doing that something. It sounds more complicated than it really is (the site explains it better on its “wtf” page than I do). If you browse the list of most popular “recipes” (tasks that have been created by users so far), you can get an idea of all the cool things you can do with ifft. So far all of my tasks send stuff to Evernote, as that is becoming my tool of choice for bookmarking sites and keeping notes.
This fall, I’m teaching a three-credit course again for a roomful of first-year students: Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities (the course website and syllabus are online). Inspired by the college’s efforts in the past year to help reduce the amount of printing done by students and faculty, I decided this summer that when I started teaching my class I would try to avoid having students turn in homework assignments on paper. Instead of using paper, we’ll be using Google Docs for in-class activities and homework assignments.
On the first day of classes, I had each student who didn’t already have a Google account set one up. Then, I had them create a test document and share it with me (in Google Docs, you can share a document with someone who also has a Google account). This past week, the students turned in their first assignment (a worksheet I had created in Google Docs that they copied into their own accounts, filled out, and shared wtih me). Once the students had shared the documents with me, I was able to “mark up” the papers using the commenting function in Google Docs. Then I told the students that the homework was graded and they could find their grade and my comments on the marked up version of their documents. So far, this has been working OK.
Getting the students to learn how to use Google Docs is going to have a number of benefits:
less wasted paper
I can copy and paste text into my comments on their homework when necessary instead of having to laboriously write by hand some of the same things in each students’ homework
they can turn in text documents, spreadsheets, drawings, and slide presentations in Google Docs
they will learn to use a tool for document creation that will come in handy for the many group projects they’ll wind up doing in other classes (this is a biggie, given that our college is a commuter college that makes it hard for students to meet face to face as often as they might if our school were a residential one)
It’s easy to find the Einsteins, the Darwins, the Freuds. Dig a little deeper, and you find the people, themselves giants, who stood on their shoulders. But what if you want to find the person or team who knows the MOST about a very specific type of protein, about building Firefox Plugins, or about adjusting the wheel bearings on a certain kind of vintage motorcycle? This seems to happen to me all the time when I am digging into something for work or play. If you get deep enough, looking for documents doesn’t sate your appetite, and you start to look for the masters of the domain — to see what they’re up to; to get into their heads, to ask them questions, or to hire them.