Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Are libraries losing mindshare on the internet? Maybe.

One of the very first library conferences I attended, a very distinguished speaker (not a librarian), stated that he detected a sense of doom and gloom among librarians (or something to that effect, sorry it was 2 years ago). Every librarian knows why, among various reasons, the internet and search engines are threatening to displace the role of libraries and librarians in the minds of the public, the rise of ebook readers threaten to cause the biggest disruption in the way libraries work since the invention of the printing press etc.  One of the major mistakes libraries made this decade is supposedly being slow to recognize the power of simplicity in internet search engines, and by the time libraries came up with their own shiny next-generation OPACs on the web, no-one was using the library websites, since Google was all they needed anyway.

But is this really so?

Using the very cool google insights, I ran a couple of searches to see if people were googling for libraries. Logically speaking if Google was all they needed, they wouldn't need to google to find the library website right?

This first search  , graphs the percentage of searches for libraries on google (keywords like itune, javascript etc were removed as they obviously have nothing to do with what we are looking for). As explained here , this graph doesn't show absolute volume of searches, but percentage of total searches where users googled for libraries. In addition this is normalized, so the period with the highest percentage of searches is set to 100 (in this case this is the beginning of 2004).

We can see a steady downward fall in percentages of google searches for "libraries". If I'm reading this correctly since 2004, percentages of google searches for libraries as of year end 2009 has fallen to 30% of 2004 levels! It's projected to fall to 20% by year end 2010.

Perhaps one reason is that people aren't searching for books online?

As the graph above shows, not really.

Our good friend/competitor Amazon, seems to be steadily gaining. The peaks are due to Christmas in case you are wondering. "Online book" appears to have fallen a bit (Trough of disillusion?) since 2004 but seem to have recovered to 2004 levels, thanks to the likes of Google books and the emergence of various ebook readers.

Let's look at institution types.

"University" as a search term has declined to about 50% of 2004 levels ,bad but nowhere as bad as "libraries".


Museum our cousins shows a similar pattern falling to 50% of 2004.

Of course, this is an overall analysis, on a per institution basis, things might be a lot better. For instance, my own library seems to have experienced a slow upward trend in particular a jump in Aug 2009 (start of term) , same for Singapore's national libraries. But you can probably figure out such data more reliably, simply by looking at your weblogs!

Okay, I know this is very crude "analysis",  and  there are a lot of reasons that explain this that have nothing to do with libraries losing mindshare on the internet, perhaps people already bookmark their library webpages so they don't need to google for it is one that comes to mind. Any ideas?

In fact, just before I pressed the "public post" button, I suddenly saw the error.  My first graph was a search for "libraries" not "library" . In normal google searches it doesn't matter, but for google insights it makes a big difference. For the latter it shows a decline to levels of 50% inline with searches for "University" and "Museum"

So in fact "library" as a search term is on par with University and Museums in terms of decline in levels since 2004. The question I can't figure out is , is this decline a cause for concern? Or is it normal, that as the absolute volume of searches increases, the percentage of searches belonging to any keyword search generally falls? 

What do you guys think? Is such analysis ever valuable? Or are you using far more advanced tools (e.g. sentiment analysis)?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Location based services and Libraries - Tweets & Foursquare

Sorry for the lack of updates, but I was busy playing with my brand new IPhone 3GS. As this is my very first smartphone you can understand how excited I was with it.

But of all the things you could do with a smartphone, perhaps the feature I was most interested in was in location based services and location based games.   Basically this involve services that take into account your current location (via GPS or some kind of triangulation of your position) to customize your experience. The simplest example would be a service that determined your location and showed you the closest ATM, Library etc.

Given that your smart phone is aware of its location, any user content created e.g, photos, tweets, emails can be geo-tagged as well with it's geographical co-ordinates and this allows an additional level of filtering.

There are many many ways I can think libraries could use this to enhance library services, but rather than go on some wild list of ideas, let me just talk about two simple ideas that are doable right now.

Currently many libraries do some sort of environment scanning of Tweets that mention their library, using either a Twitter client like Tweetdeck to achieve real-time scanning, or some other more passive method of scanning (e.g. RSS feeds of Twitter searches).

In my institution it's logical to scan for either NUS Library (or Libraries), or mentions of LINC (our name for our library catalogue), NUS books, NUS databases, NUS Librarian etc. The main problem here of course is the user might omit mention of NUS, and just tweet for instant "The library catalogue is down", or "I'm so frustrated I can't find the book I want in the library" .

Normally there is no way to tell if such Tweets come from your users since the name of the library is not mentioned. But an interesting idea is to scan for such tweets tagged with a geo-location of  say within a 1 km radius, tweets like that, that mention "library", would most certainly be referring to your library!

You can use the Twitter advanced search options to filter for such Tweets. In fact you can do a direct search using the NEAR and WITHIN operator to directly search for such Tweets.

Don't know what longitude and latitude your library is at? Just search for the place on google maps, then use this handy hack to find the co-ordinates . This of course works even if you don't have any geo-aware device.

TweetDeck (my favourite Twitter Desktop Client) in theory allows you to enter search queries exactly as you do for Twitter search, but while this works for the Boolean operators, the last I checked it doesn't work for the NEAR and WITHIN operators, at least not for the desktop versions. I haven't tried to see if other Twitter clients have the same drawback, but if you don't need real-time alerts, you can just run the Twitter search and put the RSS feed into your Feed reader.

My second wild idea involves the use of location based games to promote library services. While there have being services like BrightKite, Loopt but the current location-based service of choice is Foursquare.

It's possibly hyperbole but Mashable even calls Foursquare "next year's Twitter" , noting that the same early adopters using Twitter 3 years ago are now the same people who are gushing over Foursquare.

What is Foursquare? Essentially it's a location-based social network but with competition elements built in. You "check-in" at different locations,  unlock badges, post "to-do" and "tips" at different locations and you can see other Foursquare users who have checked-in at the same location recently.

If a location doesn't exist, you can create the location, which can be interesting as you can create locations like "Information Desk", "Rare book room", "Fiction section" etc, then leave "tips" or "to-do" lists there. A cute but probably useless idea is to set up a location for information desk and for each librarian to check in at the information desk, as they start their duty! 

It's a social network, so you can choose to have your check-ins Tweeted or sent to your friends on  Foursquare.

If you "check-in" a sufficient amount of times at a certain place, you become "Mayor" of the place (this resets every week and everyone starts on level terms again at the beginning of the week).  Besides bragging rights, some businesses have partnered with Foursquare to provide discounts and promotions to Mayors of their location. 

Foursquare  works with IPhone, Android and various smart phones. See Readwrtiteweb's description of the service here.

Okay here's the interesting question are people using Foursquare to check-in to libraries? The answer appears to be yes at least for the major libraries and people are leaving tips and to-do lists. Here's the New York Public Library - Main Branch FourSquare page. I believe the figures shown "484" and "293" are for a week as the statistics are reset every week. Not too shabby!

Here's the Library of Congress Foursquare page

But is there any library that rewards mayorship of a library location?

It seems like  the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) might be the first to do this.

Cecily Walker of VPL, blogged here that the idea was first suggested by a patron here.

The reward suggested here for Mayorship was pretty minor i.e the right to do a recommendation.

Throw up a sign/whiteboard somewhere in the branches that says, for example, “The Mayor of the Central Branch, Dave B., recommends The World According to Garp by John Irving”"

In a later blog post Cecily posted that Vancouver Public Library has just launched a Foursquare promotion".

Unfortunately the link appears to be broken, though you can still see a Google cache of the page, which basically announces a short term Foursquare competition to be mayor that was held between Dec 4- 11.

The winner gets the opportunity to review 3 books, CDs which will appear on the front page of VPL.ca.

Foursquare is the front runner in a very new industry and it's unclear if it will ultimately triumph,  as the 800 pound gorillas such as Google (with their Google Latitude service)  and the likes of Twitter and Facebook - the world's most popular network have not yet began to flex their muscle in this Arena, so perhaps rushing to embrace Foursquare could be premature. 

Does your library appear in Foursquare? What tips and "to-dos" have your patrons added? Do note that Foursquare is currently available only in a limited number of cities around the world.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Creating 3D worlds from webpages using ExitReality

This may ultimately prove to be yet another cool but useless idea (but what else is new from me?), but I've being playing with a service called ExitReality. It's 3D virtual world similar to SecondLife, but is browser based similar to Smallworlds or the now defunct Lively (backed by Google). In terms of functionality it's less well developed than say SecondLife, but you can do the normal things, chat, run around, and to some extent customize your avatar.

What makes it unique is that it automatically generates a 3D world from each webpage (I've seen 2d versions of this which allow users to see and contact each other if they are on the same page), creating a virtual 3d world or room for each page. Users with a browser plugin can visit these auto-generated worlds. If you "own" the page you can further customize the page.

But how does it auto-generate a 3D world from a webpage? See videos below. The first thing I tried was to generate one using our library home page, results are as below

As you can see it converts links and pictures into the 3d world.

Possible use cases?  A fun introduction of your library webpage? A treasure hunt?

Most people would probably try google search results but being a librarian, another thing I tried was library catalogue results. Below we see a search of our library catalogue - Encore with search terms "Stated preference"

Very nice "Tron like" effect.

I also tried it with our libraries Flickr page, as well as SlideShare pages

I also tried YouTube channels, it gave me an interesting movie theater like 3d room but I couldn't play the videos?

Certain pages seems to be specially customized to work with ExitReality, in particular look at Warner Bros  and social networks like Facebook , Bebo and MySpace, but I couldn't seem to sign in from the 3d world.

I've being trying to see how best to use this, auto-generating pages from "Recently added pages", Amazon pages etc.

One interesting idea I think is using a lifestream page. So you can walk through events of your life in 3D with a friend (here's a different kind of 3d lifestream).

I tried with FriendFeed but results weren't good. I also tried with various Lifestreaming services and wordpress templates but none looks particularly good.

I'm just playing around with this and it's unlikely to come to anything, though I suspect one would have to customize html so it would look good in ExitReality autogenerated pages. Or is there some other page that naturally translates well that I haven't thought of?

So far, those who commented weren't impressed at the uses I tried so far

Still it was cool enough to be mentioned on the SlideShare Blog

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