Monday, 30 April 2007

Email or not to email

Steven Cohen over at Library Stuff linked to an article on email use and younger web users, which had some really interesting things to say about teenagers and 20 somethings preferring IM and SMS to emailing.

I'm a 20 something that falls outside of the age bracket usually referred to in articles like this, but it is something I've noticed. Most of my friends barely use email, and would much prefer to SMS me. My younger siblings are barely off of MSN and the only time I receive an email from them is when they want to forward something on. I'm much more likely to receive a comment on a blog or a tweet on twitter than I am to get an actual email. And the email I do get these days is mostly from mailing lists, or confirmation emails.

In work terms, I do receive a lot of email, although it is mostly short and to the point, information that is necessary for me to carry out a task, or that I need to keep a record of. And I've noticed a tendency in people to ignore things that don't immediately require their attention. One example of this - I sent an email asking about a missing looseleaf in November and I didn't recieve a read reciept for it until February, and I never got a response.

There is some element of 'information overload' to this. People receive so much email on a daily basis that they can't keep up. Some people then tend to ignore it, and others, move to other services, for example moving mailing list subscriptions to an rss reader rather than email. Or as the article shows, move to more immediate communication tools like SMS, IM and more web 2.0 type sites like Facebook and Twitter.

As a way of getting around this, my work, and I've heard of a few others doing this, will occaisionally dedicate days as 'no email days', so that we have to call someone, or go and speak to them, unless the email is absolutely necessary. And amazingly, there is a difference in the response that you receive. Problems are solved much more quickly, conversations are had with people that you wouldn't normally speak to, and it's generally more pleasant overall. I hate the phone with a passion, but I still end up enjoying the 'no email days'.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Welcome to the machine

And in more slightly creepy news, Google officially launched their Web History tool earlier this week. And whilst there is a certain cool factor in being able to see your web history no matter which computer you are on, I don't know if I'm really entirely comfortable with it. Particularly when I can access my search history all the way back to 2005. I don't recall signing up for that. (maybe I did? I'm not entirely sure how it works, and I am a terminal early adopter of things - so many accounts which I've signed up for and forgotten - that maybe I did say they could store all my search history without me knowing). And it certainly isn't everything, cause I've definitely done more than the 600 or so searches it says I have in the last two years.

However, in light of the Google move on DoubleClick, and the subsequent complaint from US privacy groups, it might not be so unreasonable to worry about why Google might want to be tracking our search data. Thankfully, it's easy to turn off, if you don't want Google knowing too much about your buying habits, or you late night furtive searches, but it is something to bear in mind...

Vista and the myth of content protection

So, I find this - A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection - (found via BoingBoing) more than a little worrying. I don't have Vista, nor do I at any point plan to get Vista, but had I been considering it? This would have changed my mind.

More than just a rant about the powers that be, this is a blow-by-blow analysis of the ways in which Window's new platform is attempting to cripple your system. Microsoft doesn't want you to be able to use your product, that you bought with your money. They don't want you to be able to have ownership of your own content. Microsoft want to be able to own and control every aspect of the system you use.

It's a lengthy article, but one that I think is well worth reading. Peter Gutmann undertakes a examination of all the ways in which the extensive 'content protection' in place in Windows Vista hinders the user and the product they have bought. As he states in the executive summary:

"Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability,technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost. These issues affect not only users of Vista but the entire PC industry, since the effectsof the protection measures extend to cover all hardware and software that will ever come into contact with Vista, even if it's not used directly with Vista (for example hardware in a Macintosh computer or on a Linux server)."

Or, as he puts it more succinctly - the Vista Content Protection Specification may well constitute the longest suicide note in history.

(The Microsoft response to this is here, by the way, but is so filled with spin and double-talk as to be nearly meaningless)

As Jim Allchin, recently Co-President, Platforms and Services Division of Microsoft, who retired the day Vista shipped, was quoted as saying, "LH [Longhorn — now known as Vista] is a pig and I don’t see any solution to this problem."

And what implication does this have for libraries? Well, quite a few things, really. If older versions of Windows are no longer supported, it may result in organisation being forced into costly upgrades, or be denied support. If manufacturers are forced to be Vista compliant, the price of both software and hardware will rise, in order to meet increased development costs. Crippling DRM may drastically slow down, if not halt, digitisation projects. We could be looking at library management systems that won't migrate, costly software rewrites, or, worse, having to start systems again from scratch.

What it does mean, is that libraries need to be looking elsewhere than in proprietary systems. We will need to look into moving away from Windows towards Linux or even (gasp!) Macs to run our libraries. Moving towards Open Source library management systems. Making the most of web applications that don't need to be tied to an OS. Investigating alternate resources, rather than settling for the same old thing, time and time again. Be the ones that champion new initiatives in your organisation. Explore the alternatives, do the research, and come back with a business case to sell. Because if we can't do the research into the available alternatives, who can?

Friday, 13 April 2007

Blogging at work

I was reading Real Lawyers Have Blogs on blogging policies for companies. As he says, most companies now do have (or should have) internet and email use policies, and it's not a terribly far leap from there to a blogging policy. I do wonder, though, about how this would be implemented.

I'm of two minds at the moment about internet and email policies - though there is a 'best practice' notional idea of what should be allowed and what shouldn't, what actually is and isn't allowed is a completely different thing. Across the law firms that I have worked at, and through talking to friends at other firms, I have encountered a wide range of policies, from seemingly complete freedom to install programs, chat, email, browse and generally do what you like, to middling policies that restrict 'inappropriate' sites and don't allow installation of programs or chat protocols, but do allow pretty much anything else, to the highly draconian, no personal emails at all through work channels, no webmail access, and severely restricted internet access.

Email and internet use at work is a tricky thing. You don't want your employees wasting their time when they could be being productive, but on the other hand, it is by now unreasonable to assume that all internet use is friviolous. I feel more productive, and certainly more relaxed at work, when I have the freedom to check my RSS feeds, and my ebay auctions, my webmail and my bank account. Indeed, I feel that internet use is so closely woven into many peoples lives now, that it is more productive to allow them some freedom of internet use. It seems, to an extent, to come down to how much trust an employer has in its employees, and how an emplyees time is perceived - whether your workplace feels that it owns all of your working hours, or whether you are trusted to be able to monitor your own productivity and workflows.

However, mostly, issues between employee and employer don't crop up until it becomes a major issue - massive loss of productivity through internet use, malicious emails or attachments that break the server, and blogs that harm the reputation of the company. These are, obviously, not the ideal, and should be dealt with appropriately.

I do worry that there may be more cases such as the one that Real Lawyers cites, from Hegarty Solicitors where and employee caught updating a blog at work "was disciplined and told that if they continued to write the blog at work they may be later dismissed." (and no, I'm not going to mention how much of this post was written whilst at work – can't be getting myself in trouble now).

Blogging, like all other internet activities, is by no means inherently bad. Indeed, not even all work-related blogging is harmful. Employees can blog, even from work, without harming their productivity, endangering the IT infrastructure of their workplace, or slandering their work. And I very much hope that when employers come to write policies that include the use of blogs, that they realise this. It will be a very sad day indeed if a workplace decides to ban Blogger (or Wordpress, or Facebook, or Myspace, or Livejournal, or whatever), because they perceive all blogging to be harmful.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Writers block = linkspam

Interesting links that I ran across today:

ISSNs for blogs: This is an interesting idea, and I'd be keen to see it get off the ground, at least for establised and widely read blogs. Blogs with very large readerships could very well benefit from being recorded in this way, and if nothing else it's a good way to continue the move towards blogs being seen as a reliable content provider.

The top ten firefox extensions to avoid: I can't say I really agree with this (indeed, I use all but three of their ten extensions, and love them to little squishy pieces). But it's good to see people questioning these things. Nothing will make me think that either Adblock or PDF Download are anything but a wonderful tool, and Greasemonkey scripts make my browsing ever so much easier, but I do agree that FasterFox's prefetching is an unnecessary drain on resources, and that NoScript and Greasemonkey can be dangerous and complicated for the inexperienced user. It's easy to go a bit hogwild with extensions (there are so many interesting and useful things!), so it's nice to hear an alternative viewpoint. (both from What I learned today

Google cheat sheet: I expect quite a few people have already seen this, or already know a lot of the info on here, but this site provides a simple and clear rundown of all of Google's services (and gosh but there are a lot of them), including a lot of more obscure tips, including the query structure for finding mp3s (-inurl:htm -inurl:html intitle:"index of" mp3 "Artist Name" ), and the structure for finding non-porntastic sex info (safesearch: sex education) .

Feedity: For creating rss-feeds from sites that don't have them (and yes, I am looking at you, UK governmental websites), and

RSS fwd: For forwarding on RSS feeds to email, for those people that haven't quite caught on yet.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Blogging Code of Conduct

Hopefully this wouldn't affect too many of you, but it's something we should be aware of. Tim O'Reilly has created a draft 'Blogger's Code of Conduct'.

According to the BBC

The code was drawn up by web pioneer Tim O'Reilly following published threats and perceived harassment to US developer Kathy Sierra on blogs.

I first heard of what was happening to Kathy on Apophenia, and then I followed through a few links to have a better understanding of what was going on. And I can definitely understand where the concern is coming from. It's not something that I've experienced myself, but I can appreciate how nerve wracking and upsetting it can be.

Which brings me to Tim's code of conduct. The code has 6 points, all which relate to being civil and polite, and basically thinking before you speak. Pretty much common sense. But how do you codify common sense? And how can you enforce it? And is it really needed?

Unfortunately, as my bus trips often prove, there's no way of forcing others to be polite, considerate or even civil. And in an online environment, it's just as hard. Deleting someone's comment can result in calls of 'censorship', private emails can be posted in public forums, and the whole thing can get messy. Where in the 'real world', comments are verbal and only heard by those in the immediate vicinity, online the words are written and are there for anyone to see. Even deleting posts or comments doesn't mean that the words are gone. People will print screen the page to have a record of something said, so that later they can prove their point. We'd all like to think that others would act civilliy, but there's just no way to make it happen.

Another point in the code relates to anonymity:
5. We do not allow anonymous comments.

We require commenters to supply a valid email address before theycan post, though we allow commenters to identify themselves with analias, rather than their real name.

This point has garnered the most response in the comments to Tim's original post, and a number of valid counter arguments are mentioned. Anonymity has it's place. I, here on Enquiring Minds, quite like my anonymity, and plan to keep it. It's quite easy to make a valid email address using any one of the numerous free webmail services available. And honestly, anonymity is an important aspect of the web. It's helped shape so much of what it is, and taking that away, even from a small aspect of it, would be a shame.

I do realise that the code would be opt in, but as a blog reader, I would have to 'opt in' on blogs that I read that subscribe to the code. And as such, it's not really so 'opt in'. And I cringe at the idea of the web being 'policed' in some way, even a small way. Personally, I don't think that civility can be enforced, not without severe repurcussions. It would just make situations worse, as the adage goes, "making a mountain out of a molehill".

And besides, he's made really tacky badges. That's not going to make me want to get involved. :)

Monday, 9 April 2007

Wiki sites?

As part of my assessment this semester, I'm making a wiki. Basically, the wiki will be used to demonstrate what I'll be talking about, which is Web 2.0 and libraries. So I've been spending
some time today looking at wiki sites.  

So far I've looked at two, PBWiki and WikiSpaces.  PBWiki was slightly frustrating in that it
doesn't appear to have a way of creating a navigation structure.  There is the sidebar section, which from what I can tell, you can edit to have as a navigation tree, but there is nothing that indicates that.  Also, the help doesn't have anything on navigation, and the sidebar page in the FAQ is empty!

WikiSpaces I like a bit more, however it does have ads that take up a quite a bit of space on
the side. I've used WikiSpaces before, so I know how it works, but I would preferably like something with not as many ads.

I do have wiki software on my personal hosting, but I'm going to try to stick with freely 
available web based applications for this.  My next target will be MediaWiki.