The August 15 issue of Wired has an article about using “ambient information” to generate peer pressure on individuals to achieve a social good. In particular, Thompson suggests that if we make a game out of conserving energy — by publicizing our individual energy use through our web sites — that we could create a competition around reducing our energy usage.
Here’s an even wilder idea: How about making our energy use visible to everyone? Imagine if your daily consumption were part of your Facebook page â and broadcast to your friends by RSS feed. That would trigger what Ambient Devices CEO David Rose calls the sentinel effect: You’d work harder to conserve so you don’t look like a jackass in front of your peers.
Are there ways, I wonder, in which libraries can use a similar approach to foster library usage? Maybe build a small tool that lets library users show the money they saved by not buying the book they just read from an online bookstore? Or perhaps brag about how much time they saved by consulting a reference librarian? As more people put more information about themselves and their activities into social networking and other sites, perhaps libraries should make it easier for their patrons to publicize our institutions’ benefits.
I read in this week’s FreePint Newsletter about a grant-funded project called “ticTOCs. This a tool to bring journal tables of contents (the TOCs) from multiple publishers to patrons through an interface as simple as ticking off a series of boxes. From ticTOCs in a Nutshell:
In March 2005 there were 1,139 journal TOC RSS feeds available from 13 publishers, and by October 2006 this had risen to 7,042 feeds from 38 publishers. In addition, there are third party feeds from services such as Zetoc and Ingenta. Today, therefore, there are metadata syndication possibilities for TOCs. The way it works just now suits some people, however it requires some understanding of the concepts, and can be confusing. There are various publisher websites and feeds and aggregator feeds, various desktop readers and web-based readers, and various confusing icons.
While this project is still in development, it shows promise for standardizing the interface and content available from publishers (some of whom, we know, provide titles and links while others add abstracts, tagging, or other information to their table of contents feeds). ticTOCs will be a layer on top of RSS making it simpler for information-seekers to get the tables of contents they want, in a consistent and reliable format.
Some colleagues here at the University of Michigan Libraries did a quick Facebook survey in which they asked (through Facebook’s polling tool) 200 people in the University of Michigan Facebook network this question: “What is your preferred method for getting research help from a librarian?”
A tiny fraction (1%) of respondents expressed interest in contacting a librarian through Facebook. A larger, but still small, minority (19%) said they did not want to contact a librarian at all. In-person contact was the largest vote-getter with 59%.
For more discussion and survey results broken down by age and gender, see Facebook Users Prefer In-Person Librarian Interactions over at User’s Lib.
The French information service XiTi released results of a study exploring the effect RSS feeds have on site readership. They summarize their findings in Web 2.0 : impact des flux RSS sur les visites des sites Web (also available in an English version, Web 2.0:
Impact of RSS feeds on the visits of Websites). The study reviewed 53 websites audited by XiTi’s web analytics software from May 1-31, 2007. The list of sites is not provided.
They report that the impact of RSS feeds on site readership is mixed. Among the sites they reviewed, 1.8% of site visitors came to the site from an RSS feed. Users who came via RSS feeds accounted for fewer multi-page visits than those who came in from other sources (43% of site visitors who came from an RSS feed viewed two or more pages, while 51% of visitors from other sources visited two or more pages). The study also found that visitors who start with RSS feeds view slightly fewer pages overall (7.1 vs. 8.5 for those arriving from other sources), spend slightly less time on each page (50 seconds vs. 52 seconds), and somewhat less time on the site overall (5 minutes 53 seconds vs. 7 minutes 19 seconds).
The study suggests that RSS readers are more focused — they know what they are looking for and access those pages directly, from a feed — and visit more routinely than other users. They have perhaps already reviewed the site’s existing content and only want or need the new materials. The study does not draw any conclusions, but suggests that these figures bear watching as RSS becomes more prevalent.
The time spent on a page and the number of pages visits has significance primarily for commercial sites (especially those that sell advertising and who want to maximize both the number and duration of site visits). Libraries have a different focus, of course — we are, generally, more interested in getting the user to the single (or few) best resources to meet their specific needs — and not to have them spend time poking around the site. The sites included in XiTi’s survey are not named, but are presumably commercial in nature. A similar study for RSS feeds in academic/public libraries would be interesting.
Facebook Librarian is an extremely useful application to bring Facebook users (for many of us academic librarians, that translates to the overwhelming majority of our user population) and librarians together. Facebook, as we all know, is a social networking site. Its audience is largely college and post-college people, although there are both younger and older members. Heck, I’m one of those older Facebook users having graduated from school several years before the Web was born.
Facebook Librarian is an application that any Facebook member can add to their profile. Once added, it provides links to a range of resources, including WorldCat, Google Scholar, Internet Archive, Amazon, and so on. But that’s not the really interesting thing — this is: there’s an “Ask a Librarian” link in the application that will either link to a librarian at the user’s school (if one has signed up through Facebook Librarian) or elsewhere (another school’s librarian who volunteered to take questions from all comers). Plus, if a library creates a very simple HTML page and provides the URL of that page to Facebook Librarian, that “widget” is displayed within the application.
This works because college-aged Facebook members are generally associated with an educational institution and Facebook makes that association available to application developers. So if anyone at the University of Michigan with a Facebook account goes to the Facebook Librarian application, they will be able to “Ask a Librarian” (me, in this case) or search our library catalog, journals collection, database collection, or web site from within Facebook. Any library can both register to be a contact for a particular school and/or provide a library widget.
This is a very useful and truly wonderful example of putting the library where the users are.
Kudos to Brad Czerniak, who developed this application, a student at the Library and Information Science program at Wayne State University. You can read more about Facebook Librarian on his blog: Hawidu. Or, to try it yourself, go to http://apps.facebook.com/fblibrarian and click “Add to my profile.”