Thursday, December 29, 2011

Options for managing content across multiple devices - iPhone/iPad/Desktop

Compared to a couple of years ago where most people had to manage files/information on at most two devices - Home + Work PC, today we have multiple devices. Some of these include
  • Work PC
  • Home PC
  • Laptops
  • Tablet PCs
  • Smartphones
  • Ebook readers
With so many devices to handle, the rise of the cloud is a big boon as it allows us to access services/data no matter what device we are on.

For context, I use a iPhone and an iPad, but don't have any dedicated ebook reader.

Managing files/links/contacts/schedules/tasks/photos etc across multiple devices

This is a biggie and there are dozens if not hundreds of services trying to help you do this. The options are often mindboggling. Some of the ones often mentioned are

1) Google services (Google docs, Gmail,  Google calender etc)

2) Apple family (iCloud services) -

3) Browser syncing functions - Chrome. Firefox (built-in), Xmarks

4) Note taking + All in one services - Evernote , Microsoft's OneNoteSpringpad etc

5) Traditional social bookmarking services - DeliciousDiigo , Pinboard& newer more visual ones like Pinterest

6) Readitlater services - InstapaperReaditlater even the latest iOs device has a "Add to reading list" function.

7) File syncing services - DropboxBoxGoodreaderMinusMicrosoft Skydrive (new ios app)

8) All-in-one services - (bought out by delicious), GreplinPrimadesk

Some of the above mentioned apps on iPhone

Honestly, this is a huge topic, and right now we are still in the infancy stage of things, so services are coming in and then dropping like flies as consolidation occurs.

There are many types of content, one wants to manage, from contacts to emails to photos to documents to links, but in this post I am just going to concentrate mostly on links and a little on files.

Say you are working on your desktop say creating a slidedeck, then leave for a meeting and you want or expect the slides to be available on your iPad as quickly as possible. What are your options?

(The reverse has to occur as well, you are showing something on your iPad, say you sketch something , or take minutes and expect it to be available on your other devices, but let's ignore that for now.)

See a interesting link on Twitter and want to save the link for future reading? Someone send you a link to a file/webpage you want to save and read later? See a page on your desktop computer and want to quickly see how it looks on your mobile phone? What are your options?

Via email

The simplest option in most cases is just email yourself the link. Then access the link via email on your mobile phone. But this solution only works short term. Another solution provided by almost every web2.0 service out there is to email the link or document to a "secret email address" and it will be automatically stored there. The picture below shows that you can setup a special secret email address to send links and it will be saved in delicious. Almost every other service listed above has this as well (though usually you can't choose the email address).

It is usually a good idea to setup a email contact as the email address is usually very long and random so it's hard to remember and even harder to type in on a phone!

Syncing bookmarks

Alternatively one could use Browser syncing functions - Chrome. Firefox (built-in) or cross platform, Xmarks .

Apps like Firefox home are interesting because they not only allow you to quickly access Firefox bookmarks on mobile but you can easy access tabs that are currently open on different PCs. Below shows some of the tabs I have open on other synced firefox.

Some tabs open on my Firefox on my laptop and work pcs

Leaving this option aside, if one is syncing bookmarks, the main problem here is that do you want to mess up all your browser bookmarks with every link you used to intend to read a while ago? Normally I store only the most often used links on my bookmarks. 

In some cases you don't want a permanent bookmark but just want to quickly push a link to view from your desktop to your iPad. Solutions like Site to PhonePasteFire make it easy after a one-time setup.

Go to  PasteFire  webpage and type the text in 

Pastefire link pushed to iPhone 

Site-to-phone chrome addon that will instantly send the page you are on in chrome  (addons for firefox exist also) to your iphone the link

Site-to-phone PasteFire are good options if you want to just temporarily view/transfer links to your mobile phone, but what if you want to store them as well as access them and don't want to fill up your browser bookmarks. Social bookmarking services seem to be the key right?

ReaditLater vs traditional bookmarking services

Besides the obvious functions like a app to quickly access on mobile/ipad and the ability to store links or resources by emailing to a secret email address, from what I can see you there seem to be three additional functions you might want

1) to keep track of documents/links that you intend to read "soon"

2)  to find some link you remember been tweeted, or seen on facebook or someone sent you a while ago via email or otherwise stumbled upon.

3) To create notes, or "clip" some section of a website for later reading, add scanned document/receipts etc..

In theory (1) can be handled by a traditional bookmarking service, but there seems to be a market for handling the two differently with the rise of "read it later" services. (3) I don't quite do, but many people swear by  Evernote and similar services, or are experimenting with curation type services like,  and storify, those the later three are for public display and sharing then for private consumption.

For (1), I have gone between the use of  Instapaper and Readitlater . I have eventually settled on Instapaper because it is better supported than Readitlater on other apps, though the free app of instapaper on iOS5 stores only 10 articles.

Instapaper app on iPhone

The main thing about   Instapaper  and its rivals is that it stores links you feed it, in a offline cache that you can read even without internet access. As a bonus it strips off access unnecessary graphics so all you see is the text and can concentrate on reading.

This article stored on Instapaper

From there, you can feed it to a classic social bookmarking service like  Delicious or Diigo  for longer term storage.

Are such services a necessity? I am not sure but I sure but use it anyway to avoid mixing it up with other links I store on classic bookmarking services which I consult only when I need to find some half remembered link.

The father of all Social bookmarking tools,  Delicious  still exists though Yahoo has recently sold it off after years of neglect. The changes the new owners have made have been even more unpopular and a lot of people I know have migrated their content to  Diigo , Pinboard  (particularly since it was free for librarians for a certain period in early 2011).

Of course since the rise of social bookmarking, mobile started to rise, so by now many of the traditional social bookmarking services like Diigo have apps that you can use or your iPhone or failing that a mobile site. You can search through all the links you saved in Diigo and then download the pages the links are to for offline reading (similar to Instapaper).

Searching via diigo iphone app

As I write now in Dec 2011, there is intense interest in tools like  Pinterest , which have a more visual style (the new delicious is revamping to be similar)

Autofeeding links

But let's go back to (2)

2)  to find some link you remember been tweeted, or seen on facebook or someone sent you a while ago via email or otherwise stumbled upon.

Most of us encounter new links via other services like facebook or Twitter, bookmarklets, "Secret email addresses", add-ons allow us to selectively send such links to social bookmarking services. But what about those of us who want *everything* ie every link you encountered on such services saved?

You can accomplish on a limited scale for pushing links shared on Twitter with delicious or diigo using which allows links you fav, tweet or retweet to be automatically stored on various social bookmarking services, but really such services should be built-in and secondly it only solves the problem of links seen on twitterbut not via say Facebook.

But I think modern social bookmarking tools that autofeed links from various sources will need 1 more additional feature to make sense of the chaos. I feel...

(A) Autofeed links from other sources including Twitter/Facebook/Blogger/Tumbler/Quora/Instapaper as well as other social bookmarking tools such as delicious etc.

comes naturally with

(B) Save a cached copy of the links you feed it, this aids in finding the link you need.

Pinboard (annual payment required) and   are two such services. The idea here is to store every link you have ever come across regardless of the source and allow you to search across it. This help solves the "I vaguely recall this link I saw on the net, but can't find it problem" 

Pinboard   in particular comes closest to this, saving links automatically from

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Blogger
  • Tumbler
  • Posterous
  • WordPress
  • Quora
  • Instapaper
  • Googlereader
  • Delicious
  • Any rss feed

Some sources you can auto-add links from in

Add the traditional way of sharing via bookmarklet and sending to a secret email address,   and similar services gives you a way to build up a database of practically every link you have or will come across in your journeys across the net. 

Tweet a link? It is automatically stored. Share a link on Facebook? Ditto? Post a blog post in blogger? Every link in there is stored.

Once you start adding practically every link you come across on the net, searching to find the link you saw a while ago can become difficult due to the mass, hence services like and Pinboard actually cache a copy of the link with search matching it, so it increases the chance of finding what you bookmarked rather than just rely on matching the link description or tweet.

Unfortunately   has just been acquired by Delicious though this raises the hope that Delicious will start to include similar features. 

Somewhat similar to   but even more ambitious is  Greplin .  Greplin  is even more comprehensive then  since it does not restrict itself to handling just links. It does everything from status updates to document files ,contacts and yes links.

Some sources you can add greplin to

Greplin iPhone app

Greplin search on iPhone shows mails, events, messages & Links (not shown)

It's pretty much the ultimate personal search engine, pulling from almost every digital nook and cranny and storing it in one place, this including pulling from services like  Evernote  which were envisioned as all-in-one places.

It doesn't quite cache webpages behind links so it doesn't fully substitute  in that area. The other thing I noticed is it doesn't quite do photo sharing services like Picasa or flickr yet.

Somewhat similar is  Primadesk , though this focuses on combining cloud services. Have dropbox, boxit, sugarsync, flickr, picasa, googledocs, gmail etc and want to combine them together? Use Primadesk! Another competitor in this area is Backupify

Some accounts you can add to Primadesk

Search primadesk

In many ways these services, in particular reminds me of 2009ish lifestreaming aggregator services like friendfeed, Plaxo that attempted to pull everything into one place though in the case of Friendfeed it was designed more for consumption by others while is designed more for personal use.

Currently I have a fairly complicated system

1) Links I tweet via Flipboard/Zite/ or anything via Twitter in fact are automatically pushed to Pinboard.

2) Occasionally there are links I want to save to read for later but don't tweet , perhaps on desktop, so I use instapaper on it. This is pushed to Pinboard as well.

3) I have setup contacts to send emails to Pinboard etc, bookmarklets for various services so for services that don't officially support what I use, I can open them in Safari on iPhone/iPad then use the bookmarklet or email myself the link. On desktop, I have setup similar bookmarklets as well as browser extensions (e.g Instachrome) if they exist both to quickly send links to services I use, and to quickly view stuff I added on Instapaper/Pinboard etc.

4), Greplin and Primadesk , aggregate everything together. 

If I am just searching for links, I usually search via Pinboard or better yet (I don't pay the annual fee for Pinboard caching). Greplin is pretty good as well , there is a free excellent iOS app for Greplin that one can use if one wants to go beyond links and find emails as well.


As usual I wrote this long geeky post more for myself to hear myself think.

I am still trying to figure things out, with all the bewildering options available and I don't use Evernote class options! Nor have I touched on cloud based services handing docs and files like Dropbox, Goodreader etc, syncing contacts/apps/emails/photos or iPad specific Apps like Fileboard, SlideShark (for showcasing powerpoints with animation). 

What do you guys use?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Top 12 library blog posts I am proudest of

My blog has existed for almost 3 years, and I have blogged over 130 blog posts, some of them I look back and laugh at how naive I was (subject of a future post), others I was proven completely wrong by subsequent events and yet a few that seem to have stood the test of time and makes me proud to have blogged them.

These are my top 12 favorites.

1. What are mobile friendly library sites offering? A survey. (April 2010)

Popularity does not always correlate with usefulness or significance, I have a few posts relating to social media that were retweeted upwards of a 100 times but in my opinion probably don't deserve the attention, but this one is both useful and popular. It was at the time (there are now a few surveys in academic journals) one of the first fairly comprehensive survey of mobile library sites features at a time libraries were wondering how to do mobile sites and is one of my most tweeted and by far most cited blog post (e.g OCLC Abstracts, ALA OITP report, NFAIS etc). In fact it was even mentioned by my nominator on my Mover & Shaker citation!

Does it deserve all the recognition? At the risk of sounding too boastful, I think yes. It was not a comprehensive survey in terms of listings of numbers but I am proud of the way I organized each section and the 3 styles and compared like to like... I followed it up later with one on mobile native apps and more recently mobile databases.

2.  Twelve User points of need - where to place your services online (Oct 2010)

This is one blog post I still refer to sometimes. In many ways it's nothing special, I am hardly the first librarian to come across the concept of point of need, but in this post I systematically list possible points online and it seemed to be useful to other librarians. Whether it is a link to a faq or a chat point, it is a useful list of points you can consider placing your services.

I was amazed to see it was in the top 10 blog posts on the hugely popular iLibrarian blog!

3. Why libraries should proactively scan Twitter & the web for feedback - some examples (June 2010)

While I blogged about techniques to scan twitter before this, this was the first post, I actually shared the results and experiences (with kind permission from my superiors at my place of work). I have a lot more data now, see more recent presentation, but I can say very little to improve on what I wrote here. It was and still is I feel a powerful piece for advocating that libraries should use social media to connect with users.

4.  Eight Articles about the future of libraries that made me think (May 2010)

I have generally refrained from blogging about weighty issues like future of libraries up to recently, going so far to even blog my unofficial thoughts on a short-lived posterous blog. This blog post which summaries eight provocative blog posts on future of libraries was written more for myself as a reminder to think of the big issues and not get too caught up in the details and the short view.

More recently it inspired   Is librarianship in crisis and should we be talking about it? and
5 inspirational words of wisdom to librarians

5. Funniest library related movies made using Xtranormal (October 2010)

Library School: Hurts So Good

I can't remember what inspired me to do this, but I do remember spending hours searching Youtube with keywords Xtranormal and Youtube. I still find the 7 list of movies created using Xtranormal amusing, including a 8th one on FRBR & cataloguing that came out later.

6. Twelve good library videos that spoofs movies or tv (Aug 2010)

This is the predecessor of #5.  I knew about Librarians Go Gaga: 9 Of The Funniest Library Videos even then but I really loved the two KU Libraries spoof of  Lord of the Rings and Matrix which inspired me to go hunt down a list of other movies! To this day, I don't think any library video has topped those two.

7. Opensearch vs custom toolbar vs smart keyword vs bookmarklet (I) (April 2009)

 In many ways , this is the blog spot that started it all. I had other older blog posts on the older blog, but I remember really getting in the groove with this one. In fact, this blog post was bursting to get out of me, and I knocked out the next few in the series over the weekend. In the early days of blogging, I had dozens of such blog posts flowing , a lot were crazy ideas describing ideas that probably weren't practical or were mentioned simply because it sounds cool (back then I had a poorer sense of what users would adopt), as a result most of my purely tech based posts suffer with the test of time, hence you don't find that many in the list here.

This one actually stands up quite well, talking about how libraries can extend usage of services even if they don't visit the library site. It even caught the attention of a "Googler" who called me a "Library scientist"  :)

This was updated more recently for discovery tools in
6 ways to use Web Scale Discovery tools without visiting library sites

8. Official Library Twitter accounts- what factors are correlated with number of followers? (May 2009)

Back in 2009, libraries were then starting to go onto Twitter. I hadn't yet started ours, but I was starting research and I began a series of posts studying Libraries on Twitter. The "research" and "Analysis" here is laughable, but I think it does show that at that point in time there were and perhaps still are quite a few unanswered questions on library twitter policy, e.g. To follow or not to follow, expected response time etc.

 Earlier this year, I began thinking about discovery tools. I noticed quite a few articles and examples of libraries that questioned this trend and did "bento" or segmented style presentations and put them all in one post. The jury is still out on this, but I think this has potential to be really interesting.

10. Five library related tasks I hope Siri can do  (Oct 2011)

Steve Job had just passed away and I had just blogged one attempt to parody Steve Jobs keynote speech , and imaging what he would say if he reinvented the library catalogue. The next blog post was me imagining what Siri could do for libraries.

Back then,I was then thinking of getting a iPhone 4S or switching to Android. This blog post I believe was one of the reasons that led me to the former. Like many I wasn't too impressed with iPhone 4S but after this post, it was too hard to resist getting it just to try Siri! It's still too early to tell, but I suspect within 1-2 years some of the things I postulated here will be possible so you can do many library related tasks via voice input.

11. Subject guides on web 2.0 startup pages - 12 widgets (April 2009)

This was one of my first blog posts to achieve any level of popularity by being retweeted a few times. This was before I was using libguides but the widgets mentioned could be used on anything from netvibes to Libguides itself.

In later inspired a blog post on using dashboard for library service points.

12. Libraries and Google Calender (April 2010)

Back in 2009-2010, I was unwittingly doing my own Library 2.0, 23 things program by exploring free/cheap web 2.0 tools and considering library implications, for example I was studying users checkin of 4square library sites, playing with search widgets, studying RSS use for distributing library news, RSS for aggregating academic research, creating information dashboard for information desk duties, even experimenting with Bayesian filtering of rss feeds.

There were the "mobile experiments" after Dec 2009, from using cardstar to use a phone as a library card , checking library catalogue using mobile phone as barcoder scanner, posts on my workflow using iphone here and here

But I was proud to notice that my blog post exploring google calenders and Libraries was in fact a recommended post for a UK Library 23 things programme. Almost similar is Crowdsourcing and libraries which is recommended reading for a few library courses.


So these are blog posts that I am proudest of. For long time readers, which of the blog posts I have written since 2009 were among your favourites? Which ones influenced you, entertained you, or otherwise impacted you the most? We bloggers write mostly for ourselves, but knowing that our blog posts have some effect on the real world is very encouraging as well.


Top 15 viewed blogposts via googleanalytics (excluded those 12 selected)

Extracting metadata from pdfs - comparing EndNote,Mendeley,Zotero & WizFolioEndNote, Mendeley, Zotero, WizFolio - comparing import functions
Zooming into presentations - Zoomit, Prezi & pptPlex
4 Successful social media campaigns for and by libraries
Adding ezproxy to the url - 5 different methods
Customizable library portal pages
How to check your library catalogue by using your IPhone as a free barcode scanner - ZBar & RedLaser

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Unfinished blog posts (II) - which ones would you like to see?

Roughly a year ago in Unfinished blog posts - which ones would you like to see? , I solicited feedback on which of my unfinished drafts that you would like to see. Since then I pretty much finished all of them off.

Here I am back again looking into my drafts and picking ones that have potential to be converted to a full blog post. As I mentioned last year, I have plenty of ideas but I am pretty poor on judging what interests people so would be good to ask.

Title : Library slogans and rallying calls 
Status : Idea stage
Description : "Google can bring back a hundred thousand answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one", "Cuts to libraries during a recession are like cuts to hospitals during a plague. Just plain silly!", "If we don't need librarians because we have the internet, then we don't need accountants because we have calculators." - These and others slogans and catch phrases have been making the rounds on the net. Who came up with these clever phrases, and how widespread are they? Have they managed to break out of the echo chamber? 

Title : My information consumption habits or how having a iPad changed the way I work
Status : Half written?
Description :  In Dec 2010, I wrote about my general information consumption habits and how owning a smartphone since Dec 2009 changed it  . In that post, I shared the tools I generally used and displayed charts showing how distribution of tweets changed pre-smartphone and post smartphone. This is an update talking about what has changed since I acquired a iPad 2 in April 2011. Essentially, I have shifted to consuming most of my content in particular, Twitter feeds, Facebook via Flipboard and Zite enhances it further with a discovery aspect. iPad makes consuming of content even easier, has this affected my consumption of content such as videos in terms of quantity and frequency? 

Title : Are our academic staff on science 2.0 social networking sites?
Status : Idea
Description :   I have been curious about the takeup rate of academic staff of science 2.0 networks (e.g ResearcherGate, Citeulike). However, it has proven to be difficult for such services to take off and  services have folded including 2Collab by Elsevier. Still additional network services like Google citations, Mendeley, ResearcherID and Microsoft Academic Search have appeared that focus on creating unique Researcher IDs but have social networking potential. How many users of my institution are on them now? Are they academic staff? Grad students? How active are they?

Title : Library vendors, databases and journals on Facebook & Twitter
Status : Idea
Description :  Just as libraries have been reaching out to users using social media, it's fascinating to note that library vendors have been doing the same. Some have been targetting mostly librarians others have been handling all users whether librarians or not. On Twitter, some employ proactive scanning techniques to find tweets to respond to similar to what some libraries do. Interestingly enough I find for some databases, one of the best ways to know instantly if some journal or database (e.g JSTOR) is down globally is to check the appropriate Facebook and Twitter accounts and see if there are complaints! :) . I have also been inspired by this blog post about correlations between twitter followers and facebook likes and Impact factor. Other metrics that can be looked at includes Klout, which library vendor is the most influential ?

Title : Things to do with a webcam for your library
Status : Idea
Description :  Just a listing of some wild ideas one could do with a webcam.

Title : Gamification & Libraries
Status : Idea
Description :  Okay, a hot new buzz word people are looking at is "Gamification". I haven't really read many of the books or articles on it, though I gather basically the idea is to use techniques used by games to encourage people to do tasks they otherwise find boring. I have been collecting a list of such ideas done by libraries, and LemonTree by University Hudderfield tops the list!

Title : All my misses
Status : Idea
Description :  I have almost 130 blog posts in the last 3 years. In that period, I have enthusiastically advocated new services as having potential to be the next big thing. How good or bad have my guesses been? Are there any tendencies or biases in what excites me that tend to lead me to go wrong? For sure, it seems I have or had a bias to assuming Google launched services have a good chance of making it, but today we know better, as Phil Bradley notes, in 2011 alone Google killed over 50 services and functions! So perhaps this explains my caution towards jumping into Google+ for the library despite the promise it shows...

So dear readers, are any of the proposed posts above even mildly interesting to you? Or are none of them interesting? To be candid, I have been finding it harder and harder to come up with new posts I have been satisfied with. Blogging quality posts consistently is difficult and I really take my hat off to those who have been blogging for years. Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

An improved proxy bookmarklet?

I wrote about different ways to add the ezproxy stem to url almost 2 years ago but the bookmarklet method has always being the most popular method used by libraries to allow members access to articles via the library's subscription even when off campus.

MLibrary's proxy server bookmarklet is perhaps representative of such a bookmarklet, and of course it works fine on both iPhone and iPads (as well as presumably other smartphones and tablets).

I've always wondered how popular such bookmarklets are, I've received raves reviews when I demonstrated it in classes, usually accompanied by "I wish I knew about this earlier".  But all this is anecdotal of course.

Somewhat better  evidence is that the FAQ on how to install the proxy bookmarklet is currently the 9th most popular FAQ with over a 1,000 views, which surprised me.

But of course it would be better if you could get more direct evidence, to know the actual number of times the proxy bookmarklet is clicked. Also where they are clicking it from etc. I'm not sure if looking at the ezproxy logs could allow you to tell this?

Also, one thing about typical implementations of the proxy bookmarklet is that the javascript is totally local on the bookmark. So if you ever need to change something the user has to reinstall the bookmarklet. So for example a while back we changed the ezproxy stem to remove https ....

The solution of course is to link the bookmarklet to a external js file on your server, such that whenever you need to modify the bookmarklet, you change whatever is on your server and the bookmarklet will use the script there.

The other advantage is that you can now track how many times the js file is being used. I tried it and it works fine.

Can one do better? How about embedding Google Analytics into the js file. Many libraries have embedded Google Analytics into their Websites, LibGuides, LibAnswers, Library catalogues etc, so might be a good idea to embed it into the bookmarklets as well for tracking.

I have being thinking of this for a while, but I never had the time or skill to play with it, until I saw the following bookmarklet by Barbara Arnett and Valerie Forrestal at the
Stevens Institute of Technology which sends a search to the library's Summon/Ebsco Discovery Service based on the title of  a page you are on (designed mostly for use on wikipedia pages but works with most pages).

Bookmarklets that send search strings are not unheard of, but what caught my notice was that it embedded Google Analytics into it.

I asked Valerie if it's possible to adapt it to work with proxy bookmarklet and Barbara responded in the comments with code .

I haven't really gotten it to work, but thought might be interesting to people who want to try it. Does it work for you?

This is such a simple idea, the fact that few have modified their proxy bookmarklet that way makes me wonder. Are there any drawbacks? There shouldn't be much speed issues, as it's such a small file. Privacy issues? No more or less than the data coming from ezproxy logs, GA on other sites...

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