Magazine article Computers in Libraries

In 2007, Community-Building Tools Rule: Whenever Technology Emphasizes Community Activity, Library Services Benefit, and That's the Common Thread in My High-Tech Picks

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

In 2007, Community-Building Tools Rule: Whenever Technology Emphasizes Community Activity, Library Services Benefit, and That's the Common Thread in My High-Tech Picks

Article excerpt

I've mentioned more than once to CIL editor Kathy Dempsey that writing about "hip hightech" is one of my faves as a columnist. I think the main reason I like to think about the newest and most promising tools every year is that the profession has become much better at forecasting the future now than it was during the 1990s. Sure, the "brains" and visionaries were there back then: Between Ray Kurzweil, Vinton Cerf, and Clifford Lynch, gravitas ruled. But the network era was new and unknown, capital markets were untested, and consumers were comparatively clueless. Not so now: We're running to keep up with our users, the markets roar (in all directions), and--love 'em or hate 'em--Larry, Sergey, and Co. (aka Google) have a few good ideas up their sleeves (at all times) on every conceivable topic.

But seriously, I have a problem here because 2007's hipness quotient is at an all-time high. The list of products is daunting, and many hold great promise for our needs. Notably, the points of intersection between tools and community have multiplied, and user awareness of the power of community has grown. Facebook's $2 billion man, Mark E. Zuckerberg, opened Facebook's source code and created a revolution. Apple sold us another dohickey for big bucks--and I have a posse of pals who bought their iPhones at $499 a pop; go figure. So I need to be selective this year in choosing my "best in show" hipster units for the profession. And speaking of "hip"--zounds!--The New York Times has rediscovered us (again) as edgy, linked-in sort of knowledge workers (see The New York Times, July 8, 2007: "A Hipper Crowd of 'Shushers' "). If The Times says we're hip, have we or have we not arrived in the digital Boho Zone?

So here are my well-considered choices of tools and digital movements to watch, just to make sure The New York Times keeps its high opinion of us groovy folks: the widget explosion (and meebo in particular), Facebook, mashups, and--believe it or not--storytelling.

The Widgets Grow Up

Widgets aren't new but they are seeing new life, and the roster of offerings is growing quickly. Widgets are "physically inspired" applets on the desktop. The dashboard of Apple's Macintosh OS X took widgets mainstream, and now a lot of Web pages have add-ons that look similar. Widgets provide small and tightly targeted services, such as stock quotes, time-keeping, and instant messaging. While full-scale software programs often fill similar niches as they become popular (think of weather reporting, for example), widgets have gained appeal because they're relatively simple to develop and a snap to install on a static Web page. Most widgets require just a few images, together with Java-Script and XML expertise.

The list of handy widgets for information services has gotten very long. For a full review, take a look at Yahoo! Widgets, a Web site that lists the most popular widgets (http://widgets.yahoo.com). News aggregators that pull in RSS feeds are at the top of the list, as is instant messaging.

Instant messaging is what I'd like to focus on, and meebo in particular. meebo is a very easy-to-use instant messaging widget. It's simple to add to your existing Web site, and once you've done that, you've gone instantly interactive.

Close to home here, Brian

Quigley, UC--Berkeley's mathematics and statistics librarian, has added meebo to the top level of his branch library Web site (see www.lib.berkeley.edu/math). The big news here is that meebo adds value to a static Web site without requiring a Web makeover. Social bookmarking had a similar effect last year by introducing fast, contextually relevant Web links with minimal labor. Instant messaging with meebo "pushes" your reference service where it's needed the most--side by side with other instantaneous services. But the true value point is the human being--you--moderating and interacting with your community.

Facebook's 'Smart Mob'

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg "opened" Facebook up for developers, he sparked a sudden explosion in code-writing for the "smart mob. …

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