Monday, June 23, 2008

Seth Godin at SLA in Seattle

Seth Godin is a best-selling author, entrepreneur and agent of change. He is the author of Permission Marketing, a New York Times best seller that revolutionizes the way corporations approach consumers. Fortune Magazine named it one of their Best Business Books, and Promo magazine called Godin "The Prime Minister of Permission Marketing" and "ultimate entrepreneur for the information age" by Business Week Magazine.

Best known as being an author of books such as Unleashing the Ideavirus, the Purple Cow, and Permission Marketing, Godin’s blog is not only one of the most popular blogs in the world, Godin also helped create a a popular website Squidoo, which is
a network of user-generated lenses --single pages that highlight one person's point of view, recommendations, or expertise . According to Godin, the way marketing works now is not by interrupting large numbers of people; rather, it is through soliciting a small segment of rabid fans who can eagerly spread the word about one's idea. The challenge is how to engage each person to go and bring five friends. What tools do we give them so that they can reach out to colleagues? A website like Zappos is so successful not because it sells shoes, but because it connects consumers to products, and then encourages consumers to spread the word to their friends and colleagues -- and hence, more consumers.

In this new era of permission marketing, spamming no longer works. Services such as PayPal which connect users to products or Sonos, which engage users as customers through recreating data into knowledge, and producing a conversation using the web as its platform are the new models of success. "Be remarkable," Godin argues, and "tell a story to your sneezers" so that they could spread the word and "get permission" from consumers for their attention to the product. Godin concludes with a controversial assertion. "Books are souvenirs," he said, to a hushed audience. Most people find everyday facts and information from digital documents. "When was the last time you got your information from a book?" Although Godin might have made a gross generationalization, his assertion of the divergence between the digital and the physical is a reality. In the Web 2.0 world, our enemy is obscurity, not piracy.

Together, Abram and Godin's sessions at SLA 2008 in Seattle were both rewarding experiences. They ultimately propose that information professionals need to shift their mentality from one of passivity to one of actively promoting themselves, of engaging information services in new ways, and of accepting change with an open mind.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Stephen Abrams at SLA in Seattle

Day #2 of SLA was full of fascinating discussions. Stephen Abram's session, "Reality 2.0 - Transforming ourselves and our Associations" offered the most thought provoking ideas - definitely the highlight of my experience at this conference.

For those who don't already know, Stephen Abram is President 2008 of SLA and was past-President of the Canadian Library Association. He is Vice President Innovation for SirsiDynix and Chief Strategist for the SirsiDynix Institute.

Here's a flavour of what I thought were key points that really gave me food for thought:

(1) What's wrong with Google and Wikipedia? - It's okay for librarians to refer to Google or Wikipedia. Britannica has 4% error; Wikipedia has 4% error, plus tens of thousands of more entries. It's not wrong to start with Wikipedia & Google, but it is wrong when we stop there.

(2) Don't dread change - This is perhaps the whiniest generation this century. The generation that dealt with two world wars and a depression did fine learning new tools like refrigerators, televisions, radios, and typewriters. And they survived. Why can't we? Is it so hard to learn to use a wiki?

(3) Focus! - We need to focus on the social rather than the technology. Wikis, blogs, and podcasts will come and go. But connecting with users won't. We must not use technology just for the sake of catching up. There has to be a reason to use them.

(4) Don't Be Anonymous - Do we give our taxes to a nameless accountant? Our teeth to a nameless dentist? Heart surgeon who has no title? If these professions don't, then why are information professionals hiding behind their screens. Go online! Use social networking as your tools to reach out to users!

(5) Millennials - This is perhaps the 1st generation in human history that its younger generation teaches its previous generation. However, though there is much to learn from youths about technology, there is also much need to mentor and train for this profession to prosper and flourish.

(6) Change is to come! - Expect the world to be even more connected than it already has. With HDTV, that means more cables are freed up for telecommunications. Google's endgame is to provide wireless accesss through electricity. There're already laser keyboards where you can type on any surface. The world is changing. So must information professionals.

(7) Build paths, not barriers - When there are pathlines created by pedestrians, libraries commonly erect fences to prevent walking. Why not create a path where one exists already so that the library becomes more accessible? Librarians must go to the user, not the other way around. If patrons are using Facebook, then librarians need to use that as a channel for communication.

Stephen's power presentation is here for your viewing pleasure as well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

SLA Day #1

Just when one thought that bibliographic control has changed, it might change some more. On Day 1 of SLA in Seattle, I went to a fascinating session given by Jose-Marie Griffiths, called On the Record: Report of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control offered a fascinating multifaceted glimpse into the current situation of bibliographic control and cataloguing. What is intriguing about this working group is the fact that it comprises both the library world and the private sector. Led by a tri-membership of Google, the American Library Association, and the Library of Congress, the working group created a recommendation document which proposed five general recommendations: 1) increasing efficiency; 2) enhancing access; 3) positioning technology; 4) positioning the community for the future; and 5) strengthening the profession.

What is controversial about the proposal is the suspension of the Resource and Description Access (RDA). Not only does the working group believe that the RDA is too confusing and difficult to implement, it also requires much more testing. The report also proposes for a more continue education in bibliographic control for professionals and students alike. By designing an LIS curriculum and building an evidence base for LIS research can the profession be strengthened for the future.

Although the session had a fairly spare audience, I found this session to be highly engaging and perhaps even ominous for the future of librarianship. Because the Library of Congress accepted the report with support (although unofficially), this could mean a schism in progress of RDA, which is viewed as the successor of the AACR2. Also, the fact that this working group included the non-library world (i.e. Google and Microsoft), the future of bibliographic control won't be limited to librarians. Rather, it will involve input from the private sector, including publishers, search firms, and the corporate world. Is this a good thing? Time will tell. For better or for worse.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

B2B in a World of Controlled Vocabularies and Taxonomies

The e-readiness rankings have been released. And it reveals that the US and Hong Kong are the leaders in this category for e-readiness. How do you measure it? According to the Economic Intelligence Unit, connectivity is a measure of e-readiness. Digital channels in a country which are plentiful, fast, and reliable enough for its people and its organizations to make the most of the Internet is the basic infrastructure and measure for this to happen. But if individuals and businesses do not find the available channels useful in completing transactions, then the number of PC's or mobile phones in a country is a worthless measure.

Hence, the EIU designed its findings by looking at the opportunities that a country provides them to businesses and consumers to complete transactions. Market analysts Forrester estimate that online retail sales in the US grew by 15% in 2006; US $44 billion was spent online in the third quarter and the firm estimates that 2006 online sales in the Christmas holiday season alone reached US 427 billion. Another research firm, IDC, estimates that business-to-business (B2B) transaction volume in the US will reach US $650 billion by 2008, which amounts to two-thirds of the world's US $1 trillion B2B market by that time.

Even though there is concern that the great weight of the US in online activity takes away from the rest of the world, the fact that its online adoption also benefits other countries; China is one beneficiary of the growth of B2B volumes in the US, so much so that there has been the creation of some sizeable and sophisticated B2B transaction service providers, including one of the world's largest online B2B marketplaces, Alibaba.

Over 15 million business and consumer customers in China user Alibaba's online platform. While most do not pay to use basic services, more than 100,000 businesses do. In fact, Yahoo! had bought 40% stake in Alibaba for US $1 billion in 2005). The chinese firm is evolving into a comprehensive supplier of online business development resources for Chinese customers, many of whom would not be doing business online at all if not for Alibaba.

What does this mean for information professionals? A great deal. Look at the financial implications of B2B in the current telecommunications infrastructure. We're essentially running the online and digital economy on the bricks and mortars of outdated networks. We're in a good position to take advantage of the this upcoming economy.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Talis on Web 2,0, Semantic Web, and Web 3.0

I was honoured to have been interviewed by Richard Wallis of Talis. I was also quite humbled by the whole experience, as I learned just how far I've come in my understanding of the SemWeb and how much more I have to go. We had a good chat about Web 2.0, Semantic Web, and Web 3.0. Have a listen to the podcast. Any comments are welcomed. For those who want a synopsis of what we had discussed, here is my distilled version:

1. Why librarians? - Librarians have an important role to play in the SemWeb. Information organization are traits and skills that librarians have which are relevant to the SemWeb architecture. Cataloguing, classification, indexing, metadata, taxonomies & ontologies -- these are the building blocks of LIS.

2. What will the SemWeb look like? - Think HDTV. I believe the SemWeb will be a seamless transition, one that will be lead by innovators - companies and individuals that will pave the way with the infrastructure for it to happen, yet at the same time will not alienate those who don't want to encode their applications and pages with SemWeb standards. But like HDTV, those who fall behind will realize that they'll need they'll eventually need to convert...

3. Is this important right now? - Not immediately. The SemWeb might have minimal effect on the day-to-day work of librarians, but the same could be said for computer programmers and software engineers. Right now, we are all waiting for that killer application that will drive home the potentials of the SemWeb. So until that transpires, there is much speculation and skepticism.

4. What do librarians need to do? -
Learn XML, join the blogosphere's discussion of the SemWeb, discuss with colleagues, pay attention to RDA, continue questioning the limitations of Web 2.0. Just because we don't see it yet, doesn't mean it should stop us from joining the discourse. Think string theory.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Easterlin Paradox of Information Overload

According to Wikipedia, the Easterlin Paradox is a key concept in happiness economics. Theorized by economist Richard Easterlin in the 1974 paper "Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence," it proposes that, contrary to expectation, economic growth doesn't lead to greater happiness. It quickly caught fire, as Easterlin became famous beyond famous, and the paradox quickly became a social science classic, cited in academic journals and the popular media. As the New York times says, the Easterlin Paradox tapped into a near-spiritual human instinct to believe that money can’t buy happiness. Although there have been attempts to debunk the Easterlin Paradox, I believe the concept applies quite well to Web 2.0 and the information overload it has presented to the current state of the Web.

As one information expert has put it, Web 2.0 is about searching, Web 3.0 will be about finding. Well said. That is exactly the problem about Web 2.0. There are a plethora of excellent free and very useful tools out there - blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, mashups - but at what point does it become too much? Recently, I noticed that my Google Reader has gotten out of hand. I just can't keep up anymore. I skim and I skim and I skim. I'm pulling in a lot of information, but am I really processing it? Am I really happy with the over abundance of rich content of Web 2.0? Not really. Are you?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Semantic Web and Librarians At Talis

I've always believed that librarians should and will play a part in the rise of the Semantic Web and Web 3.0. I've gone into the theory and conceptual components, but really haven't discussed too much about the practical elements of how librarians will realize this. Meet Talis. Besides its contribution to the blogosphere, Talis has recently dipped into publishing with its inaugural issue of Nodalities: The Magazine of the Semantic Web. It's a wonderful read - take a look.

How did Talis come about? It's been in the works for quite a while now, and it's worth noting how it came to be. In 1969 a number of libraries founded a small co-operative project, based in Birmingham to provide services that would help the libraries become more efficient. The project was known as the Birmingham Libraries Cooperative Mechanisation Project, or BLCMP. At this time the concept of automation was so new that the term mechanisation was often used in its place.

BLCMP built a co-operative catalogue of bibliographic data at the start of its work, a database that now contains many millions of records. BLCMP moved into using microfiche and later IBM mainframes with dedicated terminals at libraries in the mid-seventies and was one of the first library automation vendors to provide a GUI on top of Microsoft Windows to provide a better interface for end-users. The Integrated Library System was first called Talis. Talis became the name of the company during re-structuring and the ILS became known as Alto. In 1995 Talis was the first library systems vendor to produce a web enabled public access catalogue. Much of Talis' work now focusses on the transition of information to the web, specifically the Semantic Web and Talis have lead much of the debate about how Web 2.0 attitudes affect traditional libraries.

How does this include librarians? This ambitious Birmingham-based software company began life in the 1970s as a university spin-off. For many years it was a co-operative owned by its customers (a network of libraries), but in 1996 it was restructured as a commercial entity. It has a well-established pedigree of supplying large-scale information management systems to the public in the UK and academic libraries: in fact, more than 60% of UK public libraries now use the company's software, which benefits some 9m library users. In 2002, the company embarked on Talis 2.0, a change programme to take advantage of "the next wave of technology" (Web 2.0 and the semantic web). In the year ending March 2004, turnover was £7.5m with profits of £226,000. Who says librarians can't make a buck, right?