Thing 24: Cloud Computing

I decided to round out my last two blog entries by moving on to the intermediate list provided by 23 Things for Archivists. This list has a number of exciting entries, working up to 46 items that librarians and archivists should know about Web 2.0. If nothing else, this list demonstrates the importance of technology in serving contemporary patron needs and making workflows more efficient. Of course, this intermediate list is also a nod to the tremendous time commitment that Web 2.0 tools can require–only two of the topics in the list actually have full entries. Finding the time to implement new technologies and resources can be tricky. Given that stark reminder about time and resources, it seemed only natural to pick up with cloud computing. At its most basic, cloud computing allows users to store and access data and software over the Internet, increasing convenience and decreasing the need for maintenance and technical programming knowledge.

Cloud Computing
The Common Craft video on cloud computing explains that users can access server space, software, and data storage programs that are housed in remote locations. Quite simply, it functions like electricity service in the sense that users often pay for what they use, without having to worry about how the service itself works on the back end. This can free up time and money that would ordinarily go into understanding and maintaining current hardware and software; the benefit as I see it is that users can then focus on creativity and design. It is also obvious that nearly everyone using a computer is working in the cloud these days, without even realizing it. Email access was the most common example of cloud computing used throughout the articles I read, and is one that I never even think about. However, I have several Yahoo email accounts and a Gmail account through USF, none of which I have ever bothered to route through a desktop email client like Outlook. Instead, I access these accounts via the Internet from any computer anywhere and I also receive and read the messages on my Blackberry. This is apparently the essence of The Cloud, in which connecting through a browser allows an uncluttered workflow and data storage–I can have 2 GB of emails in each account–offering access anywhere and saving space on my own hard drive.

Moving beyond the basics of email, I began, as the 23 activities suggested, to think about other ways I already use cloud computing. Social networks were an obvious activity, since all my posts are stored out there in the cloud on some unidentifiable servers. I don’t have to save copies of these items on my own machine because the posts, lists, etc. are archived and managed within those networks. Service such as Flickr and YouTube function the same way since I can store videos and images and access and share these anywhere. Not that I am about to erase all the original files on my computer, but certainly some people do use those services in that manner. Of course, it is worth noting that the possibility does exist for data loss, especially with the aforementioned free services. If Flickr closed down, many people would lose their image archives since transition isn’t always seamless, especially when you are looking at hundreds or thousands of files. Sounds unlikely? Consider the “sunsetting” plans Yahoo has for Delicious, which would eliminate the carefully-chosen web resource lists of individuals and institutions (some of which represent many hours of web curation).

Given this real possibility of data loss, organizations obviously need assurances that any cloud computing will not result in a catastrophic loss at some future date. The Library of Congress and the non-profit DuraSpace addressed this issue several years ago with the DuraCloud pilot program. According to the DuraSpace blog, “to ensure perpetual access, valuable digital materials must be stored in a durable manner. DuraCloud will provide both storage and access services, including content replication and monitoring services that span multiple cloud-storage providers.” In other words, it operates on a model similar to a LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe) network where multiple identical copies are stored across geographically diverse servers and cross-checked and repaired to insure that each is pristine; a failure of one server does not permanently erase all the data stored there. This is obviously a good solution for institutions looking to store their files, especially those that have significant value, in an archival manner.

Storage is different than access though, and many LOCKSS networks provide only dark storage (backup). DuraCloud also offers access to the materials, which is another important consideration. This prevents organizations from having to maintain an access copy of each document they want to share, which could amount to considerable expense in storage and management. Smaller institutions may not be able to afford the space, and this might limit digital file sharing. However, cloud computing that manages and stores the data as well as offering access makes digital file sharing of collections more affordable and possible (without needing as much internal IT support). The GreenTech section of the TechSoup group also notes that cloud computing in this manner saves on energy and e-waste since many individual organizations do not need to run duplicate hardware–each cloud server is utilized to a higher level of capacity, rather than many low-use servers running.

Collaboration
All of the technical benefits aside, cloud computing makes sharing and collaboration easier. Thinking back to the Flickr and YouTube examples above, working in the cloud enables users to share and in many cases edit the work and open a dialogue around it. Google Docs comes to mind as a major program that allows users to create (or upload existing) presentations, forms, spreadsheets, etc. so that they can be edited from any computer and by multiple users. This has obvious benefits from a workflow perspective. Instead of circulating a master copy and asking people to edit, save, and send it on, multiple users can access the document remotely. This can eliminate confusion over which copy is the “latest” version and make accessing the document easier.

I also began to think about the ease of use that many cloud computing applications promise. Just recently I used Prezi software to create an online presentation. The program is Flash-based, and I have neither the money to purchase Flash nor the time to learn the program at the moment. Prezi, however, is built online and offers visual tools to edit the presentation while the software writes the Flash code in the background. The presentation can be edited and accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and shared publicly via the Prezi website. Much like Google docs, I can also allow multiple users to have editing privileges. There are a few performance issues since building online means that sometimes the website, and thus design efforts, are slow–cloud computing is by no means a flawless concept. However, the benefits and convenience far outweigh the drawbacks.

I recently wrote about Dipity online timeline creation, which is another software program that is run from the cloud. I have also recently used Omeka, which is an online digital library/exhibition creation program. I found that while I was working with the “user-friendly” Greenstone software I was lamenting the fact that it could not be built online. I would have had to set up a server on which to house the library; the computer interface was also glitchy and difficult to use. Omeka, on the other hand, ran from the cloud, allowing uploads right to a hosted space on the Omeka server, design from a web interface, and input of metadata. It was far easier to get a product up and running without IT support at an infrastructure and hardware level. I’m not suggesting that everything should be one-click, but clearly cloud computing does eliminate some of the need for understanding backend knowledge that can get in the way of simply running a program.

The list of cloud applications could go on, but one thing is clear–whether we think about it or not, cloud computing is increasingly a necessary part of digital workflows and will continue to dominate software and storage in the future.

Applications for Information Literacy
The possibilities for information literacy instruction range from providing easy access to online materials to incorporating creation tools into projects to creating collaborative class products. Cloud computing resources such as Google Docs and Prezi could facilitate work on group projects. Twitter discussions could be archived to a blog or webspace using a tool such as Dipity, which would allow users to compile a chronological list of their discussion on a topic; a class record of the discussion could be created using the same timeline tool by setting the search feature to pull Tweets, videos, etc. centered on a common topic. Simply having students tag their posts with a specific search term would allow a search feed to pull those responses and compile a course discussion review in dynamic timeline format. Omeka, which offers free webspace to individuals or institutions could be used to create class exhibitions, with each students contributing documents, images, and other resources. This could be organized around a central theme or broken into categories. Either way, the product would be a searchable display of the achievements of the students. This could also be a resource for instructors to create an exhibition to showcase student achievements (useful for funding and performance reviews.

I have discussed only free software use in this blog, but there are many many more paid access solutions that fall within cloud computing. Undoubtedly a small investment in additional resources would yield even more opportunities to enhance teaching and learning in the digital age.

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Thing #19: Online Timelines

Online timelines are an excellent resource for sharing chronological information and Thing #19 focuses on creation tools. I chose this topic since I am unfamiliar with creating an interactive timeline using web-based programs and was interested in learning about particular creation tools. The 23 Things description of online timelines that accompanies the learning tasks also indicates some unexpected uses for these tools, including creating a timeline for a class syllabus and collecting Internet postings in order of appearance based on search terms. These ideas offer a good extension of the traditional uses for exhibition materials and could likely supplement information literacy instruction.

Dipity
To start, I explored various articles related to Diptiy, which is an online timeline tool. I learned from the Spellbound blog that display options for timelines include left to right scrolling, flipbook, lists, and map styles. This variety is important from a design perspective since it allows creators to tailor the timeline to fit the purpose as well as the available web layout. Additionally, the timelines can be truly interactive since including links, as well as videos and imagery is a feature; in fact, videos will play directly from the timeline so there is no break in continuity.

A second blog by Mark Krynsky offered information on how dimity can be used to create a lifestream. This can be accomplished in two ways–either manually or through the Dipity import which can automatically pull information from Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube, Pandora, and other sources and arrange the information chronologically. Additionally, information that is geotagged can be placed on a map. This latter option creates a great tool for displaying collection information in a way that can help users understand context. In fact, this could be done both at an item and a collection level to help users get both global and more specialized views of an institution’s holdings.

Dipity is as much an aggregator of social networking content as an academic resource, making it yet another organizational tool available for managing social resources. I found several suggestions for compiling a channel to do just that on Jack Humphrey’s blog; his personal Dipity channel pulls resources from YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, and an RSS feed. The real power is in tailoring what is pulled to avoid seeing every possible tweet and instead organize content around a theme. Everything is then displayed in an orderly and aesthetic manner, with contents available right from the Diptiy channel.

It is worth noting here that for academic timeline creation, Simile is a popular widget that can be embedded into a webpage and contents entered manually. However, it lacks some of the features that Dipity offers, including most of the social functions.

One of the upsides of using Dipity seems to be that the timelines can be both embedded into a website and hosted on the Dipity page. The former is important for including resources within an institutional page or exhibition website, but the latter allows for serendipitous discovery of your contents. The Dipity homepage features a spotlight of user-generated timelines as well as a search feature. There is also an option for purchasing a pro plan (starting at $4.95), which allows you to use custom backgrounds, which is important for institutions trying to create a cohesive look. For a good example embedded into a website and branded for the organization, see the Minnesota History Timeline at the Minnesota Historical Society website.

Trying it out
I decided to test out Dipity by creating a simple timeline, titled My Life. Of the numerous options available for populating the space, I chose to allow the program to pull links from my Delicious page and also to compile entries based on a search term, technology, set to pull only videos from YouTube. These parameters are rather narrow, but I could easily have included blogs, Tweets, my YouTube channel, search results from websites other than YouTube, music linked from my Pandora account, etc. I could also easily have added manual entries and uploaded content, which would be the most useful function for a library or institution.

Classic Timeline:

Displayed in a Map Format:

Applications for Information Literacy Instruction
Obviously from an organizational standpoint, using timelines is an excellent way to add context to objects or collections in a visually appealing manner. For information literacy courses there are a number of possible uses. As a teaching tool creating and embedding a timeline into a webpage or course software would generate an interactive resource on a given topic–particularly with a tool such as Dipity, which plays and displays content right within the timeline space. For instance, it would be possible to record video tutorials and place them alongside tweets, blog posts, articles, and uploaded documents or images; this could cover a range of information, including things like an ever-expanding resource on information literacy topics, or a chronology of technology use related to the Internet. Creating a timeline of topics to accompany the class syllabus would create a visual aid that might help students better understand the trajectory of the class.

Students could create online timeline projects showcasing resources on a given topic. They could also use a Dipity channel in place of the widgets discussed in the previous post. In that instance they could link social network accounts to the timeline and generate a compilation of their communications for the course held over Twitter, blog posts, etc. They could leave this as a stand-alone channel or embed it into a website. Either way, their communications would be compiled chronologically as a resource for both the instructor to grade and other students to read through and comment.

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.

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.

Thing #6: Social Networking

Social Networking Basics
Thing #6 would be an easy selection to skip over at first glance since it would be rare at this point to find someone completely unfamiliar with the concept of social networking using Facebook or Myspace–certainly I already have accounts with both. However, upon skimming the 23 Things materials I saw several networks mentioned that I am not familiar with, as well as a description of how Myspace is using a mashup to translate Facebook “likes” into real-time content in a personalized video/audio stream. As I mentioned in my introductory post, there is always something new to learn when you examine a topic through fresh eyes so I decided to see what new social networking knowledge I could build.

Facebook
Facebook is a good place to begin simply because it is the largest network available and thus offers the best chance to connect with the highest number of users or potential users. Forming Facebook event pages can be a good tool to engage users, but it can also be tricky to use this tool effectively. The Educause article presented through the 23 Things website was not particularly useful on this front since it covered Facebook back when it was relegated to students only and functioned much differently than it does today. The CommonCraft video on social networking in general is instructive in detailing the potential that social networks carry. The idea that finding the right people can open doors–to employment, events, new user groups–can be accurate; such social networks carry intense potential. The process of getting there is tricky though, since setting up a page and waiting for exciting interaction definitely does not work.

The GigaOM blog post details ways that Facebook can be used as a professional tool through the addition of apps that tailor content to work networks. This is a good way to view social networking. From a professional standpoint, adding content that engages users through group pages or through timely status updates can be effective. Of course, finding the right mixture of trivia, discussion questions, and announcements can be tricky. Organizations such as the Smithsonian, Museum of Modern Art, and Read/Write Web are among those that seem to have found the best balance to encourage interaction. The Interactive Archivist article provides additional uses of social networks and these align with the best ways to use social networking as a tool. Namely, social networks can encourage collaboration and information seeking and discovery.

Myspace
Although Myspace has undergone a number of changes in recent years, it has still seen a rapid decline in its user base. However, as a social network they have done some unique things to keep afloat. According to the Wikipedia article supplied by the 23 Things website, they have created a “Mashup with Facebook” that allows users to connect with their Facebook and Twitter accounts; really this is just integration with the existing Facebook Connect service. Although Myspace has become more of an entertainment hub, they have managed to incorporate ways to combine information from other sources. For instance, using the Facebook connect option, users can generate personalized content streams based around items they already like.

Gather
I had heard of Gather.com but never looked into it before embarking on this web 2.0 exploration. Reading an interview with the CEO revealed that it is a social network site that attempts to create organized communities around common interests. The idea is that users can write articles and share other content without the brevity that Facebook and other networks seem to demand. Instead, the focus is on developing meaningful conversations that have depth and substance. At least theoretically, this is what the service provides. I found this concept to be exciting and initially thought that for an information literacy class this network could be used to create a community for sharing resources and ideas. This could be a community spread across classes, creating a valuable tool for connecting students in academic communication. The downside, however, is that when the Gather CEO began to talk about profit generation it became clear that advertising was a big distraction on the website. It’s not that I have a problem with profitability, but the “engagement campaigns” they run sound sneaky to me and focus too much on unbridled consumerism. They hold reviews and samplings that are designed to get the reviewers talking about “brands people love.” This is of course all sponsored conversation, held under the guise of unbiased sharing.

Additionally, after actually visiting Gather I found that it seems to be a little light on the depth it promises. For example, the top stories on the home page were genuinely poor writing samples by community members. They were written in the style of news stories, however, and it is possible that many community members are substituting these posts for actual news consumption. This does not further knowledge, nor does it really build a community. I have seen much better exchanges arise on Facebook, Twitter, and professional blog sites that direct users to read up on a story and throw in their thoughts along with the initial poster. Opinion articles are useful, but they need to be presented as what they are…pretending to be a journalist reporting facts is just sad. Needless to say, I was disappointed with the site. Perhaps the promised depth of conversation and information does exist, but the site and structure simply didn’t compel me to look any harder to find it.

Big Tent
The idea of this social network piqued my interest, but I was somewhat surprised to find that the suggested Wikipedia article had been deleted. The reason was cited as a failure to find sufficient references in reliable sources–in other words, Big Tent is just not important enough to warrant an article. This got me thinking that if it hasn’t gotten enough media attention to this point, it may not last; social networks are, after all, dependent on a solid user base. Even so, I decided to check it out. Big Tent is actually different than the other networks in that has a decidedly local feel. It is set up so that clubs can manage memberships and post announcements, arrange volunteer schedules, chat, and so forth. The featured groups include a lot of charter schools and parenting groups. Searching on different keywords also revealed community garden clubs, local fitness groups, and so forth. This site would probably be useful for hosting a book club online presence, or other similar library outreach programs. There are broader groups as well, which I discovered because of a feature banner on the home page that listed 51,000 members in a group called “no excuses workout group.” When I actually searched for this group, however, I found a lot of mother’s network local fitness groups; the search feature leaves a lot to be desired. Despite the problems with navigation, this could be a good source for local groups. I suspect that they do not attract many members that are simply searching for groups in the area, however, because of the poor retrieval. It seems like this is more of a way for groups to easily set up a web presence and get existing club members to join the site.

Applications for Information Literacy Instruction
Use of social networks in an information literacy context can be either a great tool or an example of trying too hard to be trendy. It depends on the group and the manner in which participation is encouraged. Groups can be set up in Facebook to facilitate information exchange and this could be somewhat successful. Resources such as Quora could be used to link classmates within a community where questions can be posed and answered, which can be a valuable learning resource. To me, however, the most potential lies in using social networks as a tool to locate additional resources. Rather than viewing the networked community as the ultimate information source, viewing it as a discovery tool might be more useful. Following quality sources (institutional and individual) increases the number of links populating inboxes and news feeds on social networks. It would be worth showing students how to track people that consistently post valuable resources, such as links to news articles or blogs. These links in turn can lead to deeper levels of information sources. Information literacy is in part about seeking timely and credible information and utilizing a social network to deliver a constant stream of (often) relevant content is a great tool. The investment in tailoring the network and sorting the posts is well worth the time savings and connectivity that will occur.