25 November 2008

Our New Homepage

Bindela is right, of course.

Instead of negativity, we should all (myself most definitely included) be guided by Mom's advice: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

The new homepage is pretty. It is definitely a step forward for our system.

That is all. You may now return to your normal lives. :)

21 November 2008

Digital Intimacy and Ambient Awareness

Here's a great article by Clive Thompson on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and all them kewl Web 2.0 thingies.

Specifically, Mr. Thompson tries to answer the question that so many of us have: Why do people participate in these social networking sites & services? What do people get out of them?

Twitter, in particular, has been the subject of nearly relentless scorn since it went online. “Who really cares what I am doing, every hour of the day?” wondered Alex Beam, a Boston Globe columnist, in an essay about Twitter last month. “Even I don’t care.”

Mr. Thompson tells us that:

Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.

He describes a friend's experience with Twitter:

Ben Haley, a 39-year-old documentation specialist for a software firm who lives in Seattle, told me that when he first heard about Twitter last year from an early-adopter friend who used it, his first reaction was that it seemed silly. But a few of his friends decided to give it a try, and they urged him to sign up, too.

Each day, Haley logged on to his account, and his friends’ updates would appear as a long page of one- or two-line notes. He would check and recheck the account several times a day, or even several times an hour. The updates were indeed pretty banal. One friend would post about starting to feel sick; one posted random thoughts like “I really hate it when people clip their nails on the bus”; another Twittered whenever she made a sandwich — and she made a sandwich every day. Each so-called tweet was so brief as to be virtually meaningless.

But as the days went by, something changed. Haley discovered that he was beginning to sense the rhythms of his friends’ lives in a way he never had before. When one friend got sick with a virulent fever, he could tell by her Twitter updates when she was getting worse and the instant she finally turned the corner. He could see when friends were heading into hellish days at work or when they’d scored a big success. Even the daily catalog of sandwiches became oddly mesmerizing, a sort of metronomic click that he grew accustomed to seeing pop up in the middle of each day.

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating.

He goes on to quote another scientist:

“It’s an aggregate phenomenon,” Marc Davis, a chief scientist at Yahoo and former professor of information science at the University of California at Berkeley, told me. “No message is the single-most-important message. It’s sort of like when you’re sitting with someone and you look over and they smile at you. You’re sitting here reading the paper, and you’re doing your side-by-side thing, and you just sort of let people know you’re aware of them.” Yet it is also why it can be extremely hard to understand the phenomenon until you’ve experienced it. Merely looking at a stranger’s Twitter or Facebook feed isn’t interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.

I think that the regular Twitterers in our system would tend to agree with that.

There's a lot more in the article. It's really good, and I think it gives a great feeling for the appeal (as well as some of the drawbacks) of online social networking.

20 November 2008

Google Meeting Room Calendar

Here at BCY we have our Meeting Room Calendar on Google Calendar, and it is a thing of beauty.

Want to meet every second Tuesday of the month? Sure! Click, click, type, type, and it's done. Wait, let me zip through each month to check for conflicts. Oh, in April the second Tuesday is taken, how about if we move you to the third Tuesday for that month only? Right, click, click, that's taken care of.

What? You want a list of all your group's meetings for 2009? Sure, I'll just type the group name, hit search, and print out the list for you.

Change your contact person, phone number, anything? Easy...change it once and it's all done.

Okay, I'm at HDQ for a committee meeting, and someone wants to know if we can meet at BCY on Wednesday the 14th at 2 pm. Hold on, I'll just log onto Google Calendar and check. Okay, it's free, I'll book the meeting right now.

Or we're at Bill Bateman's Bistro and someone in the costumer's group asks if the library meeting room is available on the 20th at 7 pm. Whip out my phone, log onto Google Calendar, and I can tell them at once.

But here's the kicker (and you folks at HAR and AIR, pay attention): If you ask me nicely, I will add your account to the select list of people who are allowed to view our calendar. Imagine that a patron comes into your branch and wants to use the meeting room tomorrow night. You say, "Our meeting room is booked. But I checked BCY, and they seem to be available. Do you want me to call them?"

Is that customer service, or what?

How much would you pay for this tremendous service? Don't answer yet, because we also have the following:

- Automagically repeating entries for holidays, Children's Book Week and such, and even elections! We will never have to enter Thanksgiving or Election Day again.

- Access from home. Have an emergency closing? Want to notify the groups that are scheduled to use the meeting room? Log onto Google Calendar and there are all the names, phone numbers, and other contact information you could wish.

- Slices and even makes julienne potatoes at the click of a mouse *

NOW how much would you pay? Put away your wallets, because it's free.

* Potato-slicing options only available in Idaho.