Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Librarian 3.0

I was recently asked in a job interview how Web 3.0 would work for a law firm. It's made me think on the fly: how would the Web of the future work in such a scenario? We're barely even half-way into Web 2.0...I had to think back to an article that Michael V. Copeland of Business 2.0 Magazine had written entitled, What's next for the Internet to envision a glimpse of the "future."
The semantic Web in the Berners-Lee vision acts more like a series of connected databases, where all information resides in a structured form. Within that structure is a layer of description that adds meaning that the computer can understand.

Since we're on the topic of visions and dreams, here would be my answer: Imagine the lawyer, Mr. X, flipping open his laptop (which by then would be priced similarly to a cell phone), and typing in "2 o'clock meeting with Angela at Starbucks." All of a sudden, his online calendar would pop open and a series of clients names would appear, and the correct "Angela Smith" would be sent an email with details of the meeting agenda sent to the printer. Starbucks would receive an electronic notification with the usual order of Venti Chai Latte (two cups) and a newspaper -- the Globe and Mail (his favourite) to boot. Because Mr. X's car is in the shop because of a recent accident and a replacement car isn't ready yet, a taxi has been order automatically for Mr. X and will be ready for him upon arrival for 1:30 at the entrance. The ride is estimated for 15 minutes to his destination, but his preference has always been for early arrival.

Finally, it's the library's turn now. Mr. X. sends an email to the librarian, (after all, she is the one responsible for the library's more intricate databases), simply with the message "Wang V. Granville LLP" (both pseudonyms of course), and immediately, the librarian works her magic and types in the necessary key terms. All of the acts, statutes, regulations, as well as updated case files relating to the case are electronically retrieved and stored onto a file which is automatically sent to the lawyer's dossier. (The librarian's job is behind the scene - she is the one who carefully collates the materials and gives them tags which the semantic databases will translate into its own readable language).

The lawyer walks out of the firm nonchalantly and begins his afternoon with everything he needs, but taking only one-tenth of the time and effort he would need back in the days of Web 2.0. That, in my hypothetical world based on user history and preferences and interlocking databases, is how the future of Web 3.0 might look like.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Paradox of Choice

As information professionals, we face a plethora of choice each and everyday of our working lives, from what brand of coffee to buy in the morning to the database we want to conduct for a search. So many choices, so little time to choose. Barry Schwartz, Professor of Social Theory and Social Action, reveals in The Paradox of Choice strategies that can refine our decision-making processes to more effective results. His book is worth a read. Here are some major points:

(1) Choose When to Choose -
If choice makes you feel worse about what you've chosen, you really haven't gained anything from the opportunity to choose. By restricting our options, we will be able to choose less and feel better.

(2) Be a Chooser, Not a Picker - Choosers make the time to modify their goals; pickers do not. Good decisions take time and attention, and the only way we can find the needed time and attention is by choosing our spots.

(3) Satisfice More and Maximize Less - Maximizers suffer most in a culture that provides too many choices. Learn to accept "good enough" since it will simplify decision making and increase satisfaction. Results are subjective sometimes; yet, satisficers will almost always feel better about their decisions.

(4) Think About the Opportunity of Opportunity Costs - The more we think about opportunity costs, the less satisfaction we'll derive from whatever we choose.

(5) Make Your Decisions Nonreversible - The very option of being allowed to change our minds seems to increase the chances that we will change our minds. When we can change our minds about decisions, we are less satisfied with them.

(6) Practice and "Attitude of Gratitude" - Our evaluation of our choices is profoundly affected by what we compare them with, including comparisons with alternatives that exist only in our imaginations. The experience can be either disappointing or delightful. We can improve our subjective experience by consciously striving to be grateful more often for what is good about a choice and to be disappointed less by what is bad about it.

(7) Regret Less - The sting of regret (actual or potential) colours many decisions, and influences us to avoid making decision at all sometimes. Although it is often appropriate and instructive, when it becomes so pronounced that it poisons or even prevents decisions, we should make an effort to minimize it.

(8) Anticipate Adaptation - Learning to be satisfied as pleasures turn into mere comforts will reduce disappointment with adaption when it occurs.

(9) Control Expectations - The easiest route to increasing satisfaction with the results of decisions it to remove excessively high expectations about them.

(10) Curtail Social Comparison - We evaluate the quality of our experiences by comparing ourselves to others, so by comparing ourselves to others less, we will be satisfied more.

(11) Learn to Love Constraints - As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice. Choice within constraints, freedom within limits, is what enables us marvelous possibilities.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Long Tail, Searching, and Libraries

The Long Tail is the essence of Web 2.0. Understanding how the Long Tail works not only helps in examining how social software such as blogs and wikis impact users and libraries, but ultimately in evaluating how future products (i.e. not invented yet) can be used more creatively and maximized to its full potential. Chris Anderson's concept of the Long Tail analyzes how the media and entertainment industries can succeed not by pushing only mass market hits that are popular among many but by also mining the collective of interest among a few in less-popular books, songs, movies and more.

In other words, although thousands may want to buy a hit song, if you add up all those who want to buy lesser-known titles, they might generate as much or more revenue than the hits themselves. Working in a library or information centre, it is important to tap into both the "head" of interest and the "long tail" that follows behind. Here are the major concepts if applied to libraries:

Rule #1 - Move Inventory Way In . . . or Way Out - Take out physical products and replace them with "virtual inventory."

Rule # 2 - Let Customers Do the Work - Have user-submitted reviews, which are often well-informed, articulate, and most important, trusted by other users.

Rule #3 - One distribution Method Doesn't Fit All - Some want to go to stores, some want to shop online. Some want to research online, others buy in stores. Some want them now, some can wait. Let the customer choose.

Rule #4 - One Product Doesn't Fit All - Allow for different formats of the same thing. A CD album can be "microchunked" into music videos, remixes, all in a number of formats and sampling rates. One size fits one; many sizes fit many.

Rule #5 - One Price Doesn't Fit All - Although this doesn't apply to most libraries, it's important to keep in mind that different people are willing to pay different prices for any number of reasons, from how much money they have to how much time they have. Whatever the library charges should reflect room for flexibility.

Rule #6 - Share Information - More information is better only if it's presented in a way that helps order choice, not confuse it further. Thus, information about buying patterns, when transformed into recommendations can be a powerful marketing tool.

Rule #7 - Think "and" not "or" - In markets with infinite capacity (virtual ones), the right strategy is almost always to offer it all.

Rule #8 - Trust the Market To Do Your Job - Online markets are nothing if not highly efficient measures of wisdom of crowds. Collaborative filters, popularity rankings, and ratings are all tools that reach this goal: don't predict; measure and respond.

Rule #9 - Understand the Power of Free - A powerful feature of digital markets is that they put free within reach; since costs are zero, their prices can be, too. Services such as Sktype and Gmail attract users with a free service and convince some of them to update to a subscription-based premium that adds higher quality features. Libraries need to use digital economics to their advantage: perhaps use free as a starting point for profits?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Web 2.0-ness

Tim O'Reilly offers an intriguing hierarchy of Web 2.0-ness. In this hierarchy, the highest level is to embrace the network, to understand what creates network effects, and then to harness them in everything you do. It's not just about social software; it's much, much more conceptual. It looks something like this:

Level 3 - The application can only exist on the net and draws its eesentaial power from the network and the connections it makes possible between people or applications.
Level 2 - The application could exist offline, but it is uniquely advantaged by being online.
Level 1 - The application can and does exist successfully offline.
Level 0 - The application has primarily taken hold online, but it would work just as well offline.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Happy Long Weekend

It's BC Day here in British Columbia, Canada. Have restful, happy, and sunny long weekend everyone. Here's a fireside chat between Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Wales to keep us in good company.