Thing #15: Widgets

Widgets are all over the web (calendars, countdowns, weather, etc.), but I usually don’t think about them so I decided to take this opportunity to explore the concept in a little more depth. Web widgets, according to Wikipedia, are simply small applications that are embedded and executed within a web page. When used appropriately they can add important content and functionality to a web page and enhance user experiences by providing timely data. Significantly, a well-used widget can keep web content updated and avoid the image of an abandoned website which is a major deterrent for visitors. Also, according to the 23 Things for Archivists description, using widgets to combine all institutional content–such as Facebook and Twitter posts, Flickr uploads, and so forth–can be a good way to let users track all recent content from a single web space. This seems to be an excellent organizational use of these tools.

Meebo Widgets
I mentioned in my first 23 Things post that Meebo chat could be embedded into websites, which is an example of a highly functional widget. Adding a chat feature lets users contact you directly and increases interaction. This is obviously a great tool for instructors to use on course websites or for libraries to use on their main page. It connects users immediately to a live person, which may be a motivator for seeking help in the first place; this could be a good tool for information literacy instruction purposes since stand-alone sessions may leave unanswered questions and using face-to-face reference may be intimidating for some students. Of course, embedding chat in a website can trigger an abandoned website feeling in users if it is not staffed properly; it is only useful if someone connects regularly, perhaps leaving it open from 9-5 during the work week.

On a related note, I mentioned in a previous post that I had not seen the Meebo chat embedded in the 23 Things website opened at any point, day or night. To date this is still the case.

Social Networking Widgets
Widgets are common for sharing resources across websites, so much so that they have become embedded in the web landscape. Recent blog and Twitter updates are a fixture of many sites, and through this program I learned about several extremely useful tools. For starters, the 23 Things activities suggested adding a widget to an existing website, so I decided to add one of their featured tools. Since this blog is focused on Web 2.0 and information literacy it seemed like the perfect place to embed a widget from LibraryThing. I set up my widget to display books from my LibraryThing account (see My LibraryThing on the right), customizing it to fit the color scheme and design of my existing blog. The widget tool on LibraryThing prompts this personalization, with options to change collections, animations, font, spacing, etc. Entering this data generates code to copy and embed, which I did using the html/script gadget within Blogger. As you can see, I already had several Blogger-generated widgets along the side, however the LibraryThing addition is the first outside addition.

The other social networking widgets covered included Facebook tools for adding like and share buttons to web pages, which is useful for articles and professional blogs. It also covered adding your profile badge, or more usefully for institutions, a page badge that links to you Facebook content; an activity feed is also available to showcase recent posts. Similarly, the Twitter widgets will create a feed of your recent posts on your website of Facebook page. Flickr has a tool for sharing photo additions, as does Facebook. This, of course, covers only a few tools, but these websites are some of the main places that institutions regularly post content. Linking them is a smart idea for organizing that content.

It’s also worth noting that widgets can function on the computer desktop as well, and several of these web-based tools have desktop versions. For instance, Flickr has a desktop app that allows you to drag and drop photos without opening a web browser.

Applications for Information Literacy Instruction
As an instructor, I would use some of the available social networking widgets to share course-related content or information literacy tips on a class or IL website. This would give students a chance to benefit from Facebook or Twitter information literacy tips regardless of whether they decided to follow, friend, or like either me or the library. Assuming they found these posts useful, they might even decide to sign up for more regular status updates. Similarly, widgets posting content additions from delicious or CiteULike could offer students valuable links to reference resources. (The Widgetbox website contains these among many others.) The options include an “add this” widget so that others can mark your site in their own bookmarks; this could drive additional users to institutional IL pages.

Interactive experiences could also be facilitated using a number of different widgets. Incorporating only the particular applications I have already mentioned, it would be possible to encourage chat and sharing within an information literacy class environment. For instance, students could be assigned to keep a blog or create and maintain a personal website throughout the semester that included several widgets. They could be assigned to do any or all of the following, using widgets to share their activities with classmates:

  • Open a Twitter account and participate in “tweet” discussions assigned during class
  • Create an account with delicious and/or CiteUlike and bookmark useful resources, either on an assigned theme or a topic that they are researching individually
  • Use a LibraryThing account to catalog books, assigning them to specific categories–they can then share all or only certain categories using their widget

Students would then be required to review some or all of the class websites weekly and comment on the shared resources. This would allow students to learn about valuable resources from their peers in an interactive forum. This could potentially equip these students with dozens or even hundreds of useful information sources.

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Thing #12: Creative Commons

Oh the beloved Creative Commons, buzzword of the century in library circles, it is up there with cloud computing and Web 2.0 as the most talked about trends for the 21st century. Of course, this hype is for good reason. Creative Commons licensing is one of the best tools for academics to share information. I also see this license all the time attributed to fonts, programs, and web templates. Given this importance, I decided to delve into the topic and learn what I could about how it really functions.

Creative Commons
I began with the suggested Educause article on seven things to learn about the topic. The beauty of this article is that it provided a simple explanation, seven key points, and a real-world scenario of how CC licensing can be put into place in an educational setting. The basis of the concept is that copyright is either fully enforced or expired, with very little room for anything else. Creative Commons allows people to tailor restrictions so that works are more accessible while still protected. It is really an ingenious idea and one that can definitely loosen the stranglehold some publishers have over information. Materials can be licensed in a number of ways, ranging from free to be used, displayed, and altered as long as the creator is acknowledged, to free only for use in educational settings. This, of course, takes away the uncertainty of fair use and the burden of acquiring permission for every single use. Obviously, this is a good way to boost academic exchange. Creative Commons licensing also helps ensure the the functionality of the web can be fully realized, since linking to content and displaying images alongside text is a necessity at this point.

An article in Library Trends by Cushla Kapitzke notes that traditional copyright law is not well-suited to digital environments where sharing and building on earlier works are the norm; the questions of authorship and ownership can get extremely fuzzy. In such settings we see traditional publishers clinging to stringent usage restrictions, while those restrictions may be inhibiting the flow of ideas. Creative Commons actually gives control back to the information producer, who may well benefit from having their ideas exchanged, programs built upon, or images shared.

As the Creative Commons (non-profit licensing organization) states:

“Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture, and driving a new era of development, growth, and productivity.”

There is really no better way to describe the possibilities for innovation that exist when copyright is tempered by reasonable expectations.

Flickr Commons
Another resource provided on the 23 Things website related to the Flickr Commons program that was undertaken by Flickr and the Library of Congress. The idea is that images are placed on the website and opened up for users to tag and share related information about the images. Cultural organizations are encouraged to participate in the spirit of sharing and promoting access to essential resources that have cultural, historical, and research value. The images are then improved by users that offer information that can help describe, clarify, or otherwise make the images more accessible. The project is one I had heard of before, but I was unaware of both the depth and popularity of the program. The content generated by users has enriched the imagery available in ways that individual catalogers could never have accomplished. The concept is based on trusting people (with a little oversight in the verification of facts) and letting the masses share their surprising expertise.

From a a library, archive, and museum standpoint, Creative Commons licensing represents a needed tool to facilitate information exchange; it is also one that needs to be actively supported in order to help balance the traditional copyright rules that stifle discourse. Flickr Commons is also a tool that can be beneficial for a number of reasons. Noting the tags that users apply to objects can be instructive for institutions that may be out of touch with the ways that users are searching for information. Tagging is assigned using a different set of logic than controlled vocabulary, and it is worth becoming aware of this thinking and using common terms as adjunct descriptors. Also, perusing the collections and information listings of other institutions can shed light on an institution’s own holdings. For example, an institution could find that images depicting a particular building (subsequently identified by a user) might correspond to photographs in their own collection that had gone unlabeled. This information could be verified and then added to these images. Periodic searches could reveal all kinds of useful data that would align with the collections, without ever having to upload them to Flickr. This seems to me to be a formidable tool.

Information Literacy Applications
One of the most essential IL standards involves evaluating information sources and properly using and attributing information. This is a skill that can be confused by opaque copyright laws. Teaching students the meaning of CC licensing can help with this issue by encouraging them to locate and utilize information that has been appropriately authorized. I believe this to be especially true for fields such as science, art and design, and computer science. People frequently get inspiration from the work of others and build their own creations off the efforts of others. This building process is what allows progress to happen, commentary to occur, and ideas to transform society. In seeking out works that are freely available for use and/or alteration, students can be confident that they are legally benefiting from and contributing to the scholarly exchange of ideas.

Thing #11: Geotagging

I chose Thing #11 thinking that I had no real knowledge of geotagging since I haven’t forayed into social check-ins such as Foursquare yet. I was, however, surprised to find while reading the first Wikipedia article on geosocial networking that geo tagging has many other uses and forms. For instance, pulling up a list of restaurants on your smart phone that are in proximity to your physical location and then accessing user-generated reviews, ratings, and pictures is one use, while social shopping in which a user provides data such as links or images of items they have purchased is another; the latter is especially interesting when users of social shopping websites have to physically visit stores to capture sensor data in order to gain points for discounts. In fact, it is plausible to think that such applications could work for libraries or museums as well by encouraging visitors to add favorite items to a social app. This would both promote the institution to the user’s network and increase visitorship–the payoff could be earning enough points for a free admission, complementary coffee in the cafe, or a discount at the museum store.

Geotagging
Geotagging is simply the process of attaching location information to objects such as videos, photographs, websites, or text messages, which can then be searched and located according to that geographic information. With photography applications the metadata can be attached at the time the image is captured if the device has a GPS system installed, or it can be added later. Images can also be attached to a map in a program such as Flickr, which assigns the information based on the map location you select. Searching for images (or blogs, articles, etc.) using geotags can provide users with information about sites, objects, and events that may be in proximity to their location or a location they are planning to visit, which could be an effective research tool.

Twittering time away
Users can set their Twitter accounts to automatically add location information to any Tweets. Truthfully, this feature seemed a little creepy at first, but I think with the increasing popularity of check-in programs people are just getting more accustomed to the idea of sharing their location. The benefit of enabling this feature, according to an article by Mashable.com, is that Twitter can tailor the trending topics to your position, which could in some ways actually be useful. For example, news and event information that could pertain to you based on geographical proximity would appear, as opposed to more generalized trends such as celebrity gossip. Of course, there is an advertising angle as well since obviously targeted marketing is a big deal to businesses. However, it seems possible for non-profit institutions to get in on the location based service targeting as well. Tweets and ads based on library events, new exhibitions, resources, and so forth could be directed via local trending feeds. Since reaching users is always a tricky part of social networking, this could deliver timely information to people that are in the area but not necessarily followers of the institution. Yes, it’s advertising, however I think it functions more like the kind of announcements people see on PBS or hear on the radio rather than the more malicious spam-type event ads that we have all come to loathe.

Flickr and Geotags
According to TechCrunch, the Flickr geotagging feature allows users to, among other uses, create a customized map showing photos assigned to their place of origin. The simple act of tagging the photos with location data (which can be accomplished by dragging an image onto a map) makes them searchable by location; the images can be tagged from country to street level. This is a popular feature, as a visit to the Flickr homepage reveals that 4.5 million items have been geotagged this month alone. Of course, identifying information for photographs is important, so it is not surprising that geotagging is popular. It’s also useful to be able search for a city and see interesting images from the area. For instance, I searched Gainesville, Florida and saw some views of Payne’s Prairie that I haven’t noticed before–and for that matter, that we have a Sonic Drive-In here. This is admittedly data that is more socially functional than academic, however it could help people to get a grasp on an area that they plan to visit or discover interesting things about where they reside.

Libraries and museums can also use geotagging on Flickr for more rigorous intentions. The Library of Congress uploaded thousands of images a few years ago with the hopes that people would tag the items with all kinds of information, including locations. This was wildly successful and proved to be a formidable research tool for the librarians. Libraries can also create resources by, for instance, tagging numerous resources they have uploaded so that they display on a map. I could imagine viewing historical stereoscope cards of Florida or African beaded aprons on a map that associated the image with a particular place. Such additional visual and textual data adds layers of meaning for researchers and helps users to understand the proximity of objects to one another.

Applications fro Information Literacy

Geotagging has a few significant possibilities for information literacy purposes. First, it can allow users to receive location-specific news; this could be especially useful to students in business or journalism fields who may need to keep abreast of localized news topics. Using the geosearch in Flickr could also provide valuable research information for students in a variety of fields. For instance, searching for art or artifact imagery within a specific area of Australia might reveal photographs of works useful for a presentation; it could also help in narrowing a topic by revealing a particular type of artifact that is found in certain areas. Even more significantly, it might be possible to find contextual photographs that have been tagged by geographic location. This, of course, would simply be another manner of search strategy, but is one that could at times be quite useful.

Thing #7: Professional Networking

Professional Networking
Professional networking is an essential aspect of job hunting, but it is also important for keeping up with people, companies, and trends in a field. Social networking in general can help with these endeavors, but there is a reason this “thing” was separated from “thing 6” in the 23 Things for Archivists list. First, the approach to creating a professional network is a little different than creating a social network; the etiquette and structure on sites such as LinkedIn is different. This, of course, fits the overall purpose. You won’t read about people having lunch with their kids, or other such niceties that take up space and can become distracting in a social circle. While Facebook can be used as a professional tool, it isn’t really designed for that. Professional networks emphasize work and contacts related to school and business, and the contacts really are derived from people you know or share a connection with.

LinkedIn
Despite reading about what a great tool LinkedIn is on all sorts of tech blogs, I have never created an account. Discovering that using professional networks was on the list of 23 Things gave me an opportunity to learn more about the service and to sign up for an account. To start, I reviewed the learning materials, including an overview of LinkedIn profile creation, a LinkedIn for Dummies article, and Guy Kawasaki blog post. From these materials I gleaned that using LinkedIn requires some finesse, including showing some personality in order to stand out, but not so much so that you appear unprofessional. This is good advice; I also got a sense of the protocol for acquiring contacts. Basically, professional networking emphasizes quality over quantity. Instead of acquiring 400 friends, it’s better to have around 20-50 contacts that can truly be helpful in job searching or recommendations of other professional contact. In fact, job hunting is a major focus on LinkedIn, and the reasons for completing a full profile and making it searchable are clear–it gives people exposure as professional candidates and offers a site that employers can search to get background information.

Some of the more interesting suggestions in the articles and videos had to do with using LinkedIn as a research tool. Among the specific examples were researching companies, many of which have profiles, as well as people associated with organizations. Searching interviewers’ names was one novel suggestion, as was searching for past employees. The latter was aimed at digging deeper into the culture and politics of an organization–basically, getting beyond the glossy stuff that a search of the company website will yield. This approach to researching a potential employer is not for everyone, but it is certainly a powerful tool for those that choose it. In dealing with students, it would be good to share this as a tool for building a professional network and exploring industries and companies.

Moving on from job searching, a professional network can be used to stay abreast of trends in a field. LinkedIn has a search feature that tracks groups by name or keyword. The groups are organized around common interests and/or professional associations. I did a quick search for library and located the ACRL and ALA groups, which provide an instant connection with others that share similar interests. Discussion forums in such targeted venues tend to be richer than those in more generalized environments. Following such groups can be a great way to get timely information; making intelligent contributions could boost your reputation among colleagues. In short, all the features offer a way to connect and stay connected with people you work with, meet at conferences, or have been introduced to via a mutual acquaintance. It is a pretty sleek way to keep up with these individuals.

Information Literacy Applications
Professional networks can provide an important source of information, but that information seems to be largely career-focused on LinkedIn. Question and answer forums and groups revolve around industry topics, so this could be a good source for filling information needs in these areas. I would not use LinkedIn for broader classroom applications in the same way as I would incorporate Twitter or Facebook; for instance, creating a LinkedIn group for a class might be too cumbersome as students may or may not have genuine reasons to be linked on such a website. However, it could be a good exercise to assign students to create a profile and then join relevant groups. For an extended IL class, students could be asked to identify three groups to join and then keep a log of interactions and information they acquired over the length of the class. This would be an excellent spotlight on a tool useful for staying current, which is essential in many fields.