Thursday, 8 April 2010

Thing 23: overview and conclusions

This project has definitely been worthwhile. I feel as if I haven't been able to delve deeply enough into some of the tasks - often my posts languished as drafts, being updated as I got a chance to do more things. Even so, I only scratched the surface. Some topics were things I had some familiarity with already, of course: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr... But either there were aspects of these that I hadn't been aware of, or I was prompted to think about their applications in other contexts than the personal, which was interesting.

In some cases, I remained sceptical whether there was much point establishing an academic presence everywhere that is popular with potential users. But with some thought and research into reader-practices, the future is bright!

As far as personal use of Web 2.0 goes, I think my favourite things were:
iGoogle and Google-Reader: The idea of having iGoogle as a home-page with GoogleReader added to it grew on me, making sense as a way of centralising content from your favourite blogs, web-pages etc, so minimising the amount of trawling around you do checking for updates. And it's something which could be customised to pull-in content related to work activities.
Blogging: I already had a blog, but I was pleased to look into ways of enhancing it with gadgets and extra features - making it potentially more enjoyable for the notional audience.
Gadgets: really neat, fun and great for enhancing the dynamism of a blog or web-site

I was not too moved by: The jury's put on this, I guess. But to extent I've played with it so far, I didn't feel like I benefited from it, nor had confidence in the rather fluid nature of the Folksonomies. It did strike me, though, that groups could exploit it for particular projects.

It would be nice to see the library's web-pages become more informed by Web 2.0 functionality. It would make them more inviting and useful to the modern reader. A presentation at this year's staff conference (Isabel Holowaty's) made me see the great potential of a web-page augmented with, perhaps, 'ask a librarian' via instant messaging, widgets for direct access to e-resources, podcasts, RSS feeds and so on.

In general, Web 2.0 functionality has great potential. It needs to be selective, well thought out and tailored to particular needs, otherwise it just adds the horrible feeling of being deluged with content via the web, rather than informed and aided by it.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Thing 21: Blogger gadget

Gadgets, widgets - I love 'em. They're very neat. As a Samsung phone owner, I have several on my homescreen :) For the purposes of this task, I augmented my blogs - the one I have for this project, and my sketch blog: I added a list of favourite blogs to each.

I also added the Newsreel gadget, specifying news items relating to philosophy. Then I went crazy and added another gadget - this time a slideshow of photos/drawings from my Flickr album. I love this stuff!

I then went to the article linked to from the 23 Things blog. It comprises a list of Blogger widgets. The one I tried to add was a 'Share in Facebook' widget. However, I had the same problem I had with an earlier task. Instead of adding the gadget to my page, all clicking the 'add' box did was post a link to a page about the gadget to my Facebook wall, rather than adding the gadget to my page. I need to find out what's going wrong here.

Thing 22: on iGoogle

I added a My gadget to my iGoogle page. Since I haven't engaged very much with it since that task (I was a tad sceptical), it feels like a superfluous addition. But maybe its constant presence on a page I use more may make me learn more about it.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Thing 20: ThinkFree Office

This task was scuppered slightly, as when I tried to open a new document, a window opened telling me I needed to download Java. There was a link to a website and it all seemed a bit less straightforward than the '23 things' blog hinted. I can't download new software onto my work computer, as I'm not the administrator. It looked straightforward, and slightly more sophisticated than Google docs. My supervisor said it ran a but slowly which could be frustrating. I'd rather have more basic DTP tools if the trade-off was a faster application overall.

Thing 19: Google Documents

I thought Google docs (and the cloud) was a very neat concept and tool. The relatively limited options for changing the look of text etc is too much of a problem. In my case, all I need is to be able to highlight text in bold or with italics occasionally.

I played about with some text and shared the resulting doc with my supervisor. All very easy.

When I first logged in, Google alerted me to a new feature, enabling you to upload any file. Right now, I'm reading a book manuscript by a philosopher I know who lives in the States. He's send me Word docs of each chapter. My plan is to give feedback in the form of insertions into the manuscript. It occurs to me that a convenient way for us to share our thoughts would be for the docs to be in the cloud and view/editable by both of us. I could access the files when I don't have my laptop, or work on them on my work or personal computer without worrying about which computer has the latest version. Gold Star for Google. They might be a bit iffy with copyright, but I don't think they're evil.

Thing 18: Wikipedia

I find Wikipedia very useful - a good first stop to finding out about some things. I'm not sure I would trust it to enlighten me about higher mathematics, but it is great for getting all the trivia about T.J. Hooker or something. Google searches for films and people, say, invariably have it as the first result, or in the first five. I am cautious, though, and aware that the content can't be taken as Gospel. At the very least, though, pages generally have links to more credible and authoritative pages, so it can be a great launch-pad to more serious research.

I have been interested to check pages about topics I myself have some knowledge of - like philosophy. I haven't always been impressed, but it's never occurred to me to presume to edit a page: I'm old school - leave it to the experts! I've also been amused by the discussion and disagreements - often conducted at a very petty level - by competing authors/critics. It doesn't always fill you with confidence in the authors. The Wiki-discussion pages on philosopher David Chalmers and on Consciousness are hilarious.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Thing 17: Wikis

Signed up to Webpaint, Web 2 Oxford Libraries, with my Facebook account.
I didn't find the page layout attractive - the ads are distracting (especially the one that pretends it's your inbox containing a new message, only it turns out it's a MacBook ad. The price for a free resource, I guess).

There was a page about Facebook where it was suggested that one can add a SOLO widget to a Facebook page. I thought it might be fun to add one to my personal page. However, when I found the application and followed the Wiki instructions to click the 'add it to my page' button, a window opened but without any obvious way of selecting my - or any - page to add the app to. So I don't know what I was doing wrong there. I also tried adding a 'droplet' - in this case a widget that shows updates to the wiki. Again, something went wrong: Clicking 'Get the droplet' gave me the opportunity, not to get it, but rather post about it on my wall. When I clicked this link there was a failure to go to the link for some reason.

I haven't yet found a substantial contribution worth making. Just to get an experience of editing a page, I did correct a typo! I have had some prior experience of Wetpaint, though. A philosophy group I had some connections with (it was run by the philosopher who taught me when I lived up North; I used to help tutor groups sometimes) set up a Wiki for their reading group. I signed up and make some contributions to their discussions. It looked like a very useful tool for greatly enhancing distance-learning.

My supervisor (also a 23 Thing-er) created a Wiki-space for our reserve (Bodley Lower Reserve) - screenshot above. I became a member and we created a discussion topic. Actual reserve-work prevented us pursuing things further, but I can see some potential there for facilitating discussion on how procedures might be improved, etc

Thing 15/16: Twitter

I already have a Twitter account. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. I don't tweet. I follow a handful of random people: a couple of journalists whose columns I like (you often find them trying out material in their tweetings), an artist, a film director, and Stephen Fry (obviously; though he has become a very infrequent tweeter after a period of disillusionment)! I was amazed by how quickly you can find yourself in strange and/or super-famous company you can find yourself in after a very few clicks through followers (and followers of followers) - very 'six degrees of separation'. And I found unexpected liaisons: like a relatively obscure American comic-book artist getting wished happy birthday by Lynda laPlante!

My contributions are limited to the occasional reply to someone (usually a compliment to an artist I follow) and the even more occasional retweet (usually something witty by one of the journos I follow).

I searched for tweets tagged "#ox23" and discovered little enthusiasm for Twitter among participants. For the purposes of the project, I tweeted an abbreviated version of the above.

I find myself a bit underwhelmed by the possibilities of Twitter for academic, work-related affairs. I often find this with 23 Things. I wonder if this because some of the tools we're being introduced to are more appropriate for other purposes, and that trying to co-opt them for work or academia is against their grain; or whether I'm not giving them enough of a chance or using my imagination enough to see how their use can extend beyond my own prior, often minimal needs (for e.g., look how something as seemingly superficial and benign as Twitter became politically significant recently); or whether my problem is that they all represent another barrage in an onslaught of information without the promise of presenting it more constructively. I guess an advantage of Twitter is that the information is bite-sized, with the option (via links) of accessing more information; good for updates and alerts maybe.

The issue always seems to be, which tool is best, where several seem to compete for or overlap functionality. For example, I see that one of the enhancements to Twitter is a site called Twitter-feed, which enables you to feed content from your blog to Facebook or Twitter. Since there are tools for directly following a blog, it seems superfluous to have a feed also going to Twitter. I guess if you want maximum coverage of your puny blog-thoughts, and have Twitter Followers who aren't iGooglers, or Facebook-friends who aren't Twitterers. I'm getting a picture where, if you think of yourself as a producer of content, you do it once - say in a blog - then have a set-up where that content is easily and automatically disseminated to all platforms, without you having to re-transmit manually to every platform. Makes sense, assuming you want to transmit the same content to all audiences: 'friends' 'followers' etc. But why does it make me feel exhausted and in need of an hour in a floatation tank.

Thing 14: LinkedIn

I confess I was sceptical about LinkedIn. It had a whiff of 'networking' which - at conferences when I was a grad student - I never had the stomach for. I know it's what 'getting on' requires and that it doesn't have to be as phoney as it feels to me to be, but I knew I was only going to be able to engage with this 'thing' in minimal way. I signed up and created a basic profile. I wanted to try to import my work contacts but I could find the right file on my computer to use on the 'Import Contacts' page. When I signed in a second time I was informed that I had turned up in searches 16 times since I last logged in. That disturbed me slightly. Unless I update this post, I think I'm going to move on.

Thing 13: Facebook

The Music Library already utilises Facebook and, though I have no need to use the library, I became a 'fan' in order to experience how such a page might work for a Facebook user. I received occasional updates in my news feed about opening times, holidays and other information. This could be useful but, if you have a lot of Facebook friends, then such newsfeed updates might get overlooked. I've visited other academic Facebook pages which have plug-ins giving direct links to academic e-resources; I thought that was pretty neat.

I can see how various commercial and academic enterprises would see the Facebook environment as offering a captive audience and an opportunity to make their presence felt where many people devote a good deal of their time. But commercial overtures feel intrusive and an academic presence feels slightly incongruous and superfluous. Personallly, because I see Facebook as a place for fairly frivollous social interaction with friends whom one cannot see physically and nothing else, there will be other more appropriate places where this kind of academic information might be better accessed or disseminated. I can see how others might see more potential in the site. RSS feeds from libraries or SMS alerts would be more fitting for me, if anything.

That said, perhaps a library of department 'fan page' might engender a sense of community among users and establish relationships that wouldn't necessarily occur otherwise.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Thing 11: Podcasts; Thing 12: YouTube

I did dabble in podcasts a while back: I downloaded software onto my laptop, called Juice I think, which ran in the background and pulled in whatever podcasts you'd subscribed to. I found that I rarely checked it and ended up with a huge backlog of Radio 4 stuff I was never going to get around to listening to. The advantage of adding a subscription to Google Reader is that I have it as a gadget on my iGoogle page, so perhaps I'll be more likely to listen to new podcasts if I'm alerted to their arrival regularly. I went for a couple of Radio podcasts: Radio 4's Saturday review and Film Programme. I also visited the Oxford podcast page and was very interested to see that the prestigious John Locke lectures are available as podcasts.

I already have a YouTube account and my favourites include: early tv performances by a variety of musicians; a great rendition of 'Mr Bojangles' by Sammy Davis Jr; amazing live duet between Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles performing Stevie's 'Living in the City'; Stevie doing the awesome 'Superstition' on Sesame Street; the Jacksons doing 'Dancing Machine' and 'Shake Your Body Down (to the Ground)' [Jimmy Saville used to give you extra points for getting the brackets right in song-titles...!]; Bill Hicks; funny Fry and Laurie skits; nerds talking about comics; episodes of The Actors' Studio.... and much much more!

A great discovery was finding lots of excellent philosophy content: I was really happy to see that someone had uploaded episodes of Bryan Magee's 80's television series, interviewing eminent contemporary philosophers, which was hugely inspiring to me at the time; the sort of simple 'talking-heads' tv that's unfashionable these days; there are also fascinating filmed discussions or lectures by the top philosophers in the field: Davidson, McDowell, Rorty, Searle... It's always interesting to see philosophers whose work you've read intensively talking more informally and discussing differences with each other. What I find most striking is how hard even 'the great and the good' find it to makes themselves understood to each other - a frustration I've always found characterises philosophical discussion and used to attribute to my mediocrity.

It goes without saying, you definitely need to sort the wheat from the chaff with YouTube. You can search, e.g., for philosophy topics and find lots of youthful amateurs rambling on in their dorm-room. However, occasionally you find someone with a great archive.

Reading comments on YouTube falls into the category of 'life's too short' most of the time. Contributors are almost invariably given to banality, horrendous abuse or eye-rolling panegyric. (I am myself a shameless kiss-ass on the blogs of artists I admire. You get the feeling that critique is a breach of etiquette: the familiar bidding that, 'if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing', seems to apply even more strongly in the case of blog-commenting)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Thing 9/10: Social bookmarking and tagging

This project is getting me involved with a lot of Yahoo stuff; and me a Google man (kinda)! Actually that's not fair: there have been Google-related projects too. I logged on with my Yahoo sign-in, created a Delicious account and added a Bookmarklet and a 'MyDelicious' tool on the toolbar of my laptop. That made it very easy to go to a few sites I like and bookmark them on Delicious; I also tagged them with the 'ox23' tag and sent a bookmark to the 23Things blogger.

Next, as part of Thing 10, I found a potentially interesting Oxford Delicious user by searching the directory: The Oxford Philosophy Library (I'm a philosophy graduate: in a past life I studied at that library... though not as much as I studied in G&Ds on Little Clarendon); added that to my network. Then I added their RSS feed to Google Reader (flooding it with Philosophy Library bookmarks).

After doing a search on Delicious for the tag "folksonomies," I scanned a couple of papers on the topic (which I tagged with "ox23"). Some interesting issues were raised, especially for librarians with some stake or interest in classification. The contention over the value of the 'folk' classification afforded by tagging struck me as exemplifying a broader debate over the value of web-based content, such as blogs and Wikipedia, relative to traditional publishing - at least insofar as the former eschew in principle, or are at least in practice (too varying degrees) not governed by, bodies of expert authorities. The ad hoc, free-form nature of 'folksonomic' tags seemed, naturally enough, to have pros and cons, the cons being that the categorizations that emerge on a folksonomic model have an inherent inconsistency and arbitrariness, generated as they are by highly personal needs, or multifarious and untutored criteria.

It strikes me the advantages of Delicious are most apparent in the context of shared projects, involving participants who can benefit from a flexible and customisable shared 'space', but establish their own criteria to ensure the appropriate consistency and rigour of their bespoke tags; or as part of a single individual's projects. As far as relying on the the tagging idiosyncrasies of an indeterminate, anonymous and inscrutable user-base, I felt less confident (though perhaps trying Delicious out for longer might persuade me otherwise). However, some reason for optimism about this new model did come from one article, which postulated that feedback loops through 'metadata' facilitated, in effect, a tacit negotiation over the meaning of tags, as users are able to assess the usefulness of their own candidate tagging choices by seeing what items from other users surface with that same tag - giving them the opportunity to modify theirs. Still, whether this kind of evolution would yield overall benefits, or completely obviate the disadvantages of tagging anarchy is unclear.

In other news, I have been playing with Google Chrome - my search engine of choice just recently - looking for additions that would enhance the browser on my lap-top. There is plenty to choose from: A translate button; a dictionary add-on which makes definitions of words pop-up when you double-click them; a scroll feature which gives you the option of scrolling straight to the phrases you searched for; an RSS subscribe button; lastly a 'share' button which enables you to directly share web-pages with a variety of platforms (Facebook, Twitter) in one click (this last one - or two: 'AddToAny' and ' Shareaholic' - I have hesitated with because they are not 'official' and I wanted to find reviews and endorsements of them). The share feature appealed to me since it was a direct one-click way of sharing on with a variety of platforms.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Thing 7 and 8: Flickr and Picnik

I already have a Flickr account, though it is not something I work with and update regularly. Last year, after following a link to an artist's Flickr albums, I tried it out and uploaded photos of some of my life-drawings. But, right now, Facebook is my platform of choice, since that is what most of the people I have and want contact with use (I haven't yet acquired an urge to 'connect' with total strangers far and wide). As well as updating my status with droll banalities (and proffering 'incisive' mini movie and book reviews and web-links), I have various albums on my profile page, of drawings and trips here and there. My albums (or 'sets') on Flickr just sit there taking up cyberspace.

However, in the interests of the project, and of exploring more of what Flickr has to offer, I uploaded some more pictures - photos of last Christmas and a recent trip to the Royal Academy. I joined the '23 Things' Flickr group and, once accepted, shared a selection of pics (screenshot below). I then pulled photos from Flickr and Facebook into PicNik. There, I played around with cropping and found the 'contrast' and 'sharpness' features helpful in making the drawings I took pictures of stand out more from their background. I put one of the modified pictures below: the figure study (and I think I added it to the Flickr 23Things group too).

As usual, during term in my reading room, there's too much that needs doing or chasing up to spend a lot of time exploring these sites (or I'm too frazzled to want to). But I spent long enough on Flickr to learn that the site offers more than I had hitherto realised, by way of organising pictures: tagging them, putting them into sets and 'batch-editing'. I confess I didn't find the layout of the site enormously intuitive, or at any rate feel entirely at home with it (and, for some reason, when I tagged pictures with a word, a space, then a number - say, 'Thing 8' - it separated 'Thing' and '8' into two distinct tags; do tags have to be all one word, or do numbers within a tag have a specific role?). This would probably improve given more time, but I'm not sure I see the motivation for me to spend it right now: though I have a Yahoo email account, I have, as I mentioned, committed to Facebook as my means of sharing content (though ironically the email address attached to Facebook is my Yahoo one - so that my main inbox isn't clogged with notifications I get by other means) . With so many sites offering a suite of social networking and content sharing facilities, it makes sense to commit to the one that offers the right and most well-rounded combination of services, which suits your needs and which most of the people you care about use (assuming these sites aren't themselves intended as a source of new contacts - they are for some people but not me), so that it's a proper enhancement of your social life and not some futile narcissistic exercise in maximising your presence online. Flicker perhaps offers a wider array of organising possibilities, but the more basic, simpler facility within Facebook suffices - the amount of the organising parameters on Flickr struck me as overkill and surplus to requirements - and the photos there are more likely to be seen by the few people who might possibly care to see them.

Spending time on Flickr tagging and batch-editing and whatnot would be like going on your own to a really trendy nightclub and busting lots of spectacular moves on the dancefloor, while all your mates are together in the local pub wondering where you are...

The Picnik site seemed like a very useful tool, especially if, like me, your only camera is the one on your mobile phone, as it offers the enhancement of poorly lit or fuzzy shots and the cropping of poorly framed ones.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Thing 4: Registering my blog

I registered my blog with the 23 Things programme and soon found my unimaginative name in the blog list. Though as part of Things 5/6 I subscribed to my boss' blog, I haven't had ttime to do much reading or commenting on others' posts, though I have browsed a couple.

Hopefully I'll get time to check others' thoughts out and make a comment here and there, and update this post or post about it later.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Thing 5 and 6: RSS Feeds

Super busy at work this week so not a lot of time for this.

'Thing 4' was registering my blog which didn't seem worth a post. So here I am with Thing 5: RSS feeds. First thing I learnt was what RSS stands for (unless the 23 Things Blogger was joking). It was indeed 'really simple'. When I logged into Google-Reader for the first time, I found two blogs already there, under 'blogs I'm following'. These were for (art) blogs for which I had, some months ago, selected the GoogleFriendConnect function. 'Following' and 'Subscribing' seem to be essentially the same thing.

I subscribed to the 23 Things blog as suggested. For Thing 6, I also added some more subscriptions: My boss Jacquie Dean's '23 Things' blog, a British Library blog by the Harold Pinter archivist and another sketch blog, Urban Sketchers.

When I explored the settings I discovered, naturally enough, that you can add GoogleReader to your iGoogle page, so I did that. I was also intrigued by the 'share' function, which enables you to share interesting posts via a number of social networking platforms: Twitter, Facebook, etc. I already have 'share on facebook' tool on my personal computer's toolbar, though I just as often cut and paste url's onto my facebook 'wall'.

I can see the potential and usefulness of these technologies for filtering and sharing content, but confess none of it is woven enough into my lifestyle, nor have I a similarly motivated enough community, for them to seem like intuitive and useful enhancements - yet. My practices with online content and sharing are a little more sporadic and ad hoc at present.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Things 1 and 2: My iGoogle page

Setting up an iGoogle page was pretty straightforward. I already have a googlemail account so was halfway there. Removing the US based gadgets, adding my own and arranging them was very easy. I added some news, bbc weather and some culture. The browser window froze every time I tried to choose a new 'theme', but most of them were pretty ugly anyway, so I was happy to keep the classic layout.

My first blog-post, my third 'thing'

So far I'm on familiar ground with iGoogle and blogging (I have a sketch blog up and running already). However, I hope and expect the project will take me into more challenging territory as it progresses.