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The (excessive) title of this post is a cunning reinterpretation of Max Beerbohm‘s quote “History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another” which leads us nicely into the subject of the day: Twitter and Archives; specifically the National Co-operative Archives in Manchester where at, this time last year, I had the pleasure of volunteering for a couple of months.

Now before you hurl a torrent abuse across cyberspace in my direction I know archives and libraries are different things but they essentially perform similar functions in that they store collections of information. Also I’ve recently been doing some work at said Co-operative Archives, which is the real reason I’m blogging about them!

The National Co-operative Archive holds books, periodicals, manuscripts, photographs and videos detailing the development of the worldwide Co-operative movement. They have recently started using Twitter so I was keen to get their view on its use and potential.

At the moment they tend to use Twitter to advertise events, new collections and jobs although they have been experimenting with more innovative Tweets such as ‘on this day’ and historical facts relating to the Co-operative Movement. Interestingly, when speaking to the people who update the Twitter feed, they aren’t entirely sure how to use Twitter. They are aware of the massive potential of it but not sure whether they should bombard their followers with random junk or Tweet more selectively. There is also the issue as to whether it should be an individual at the archives Tweeting to give it a personal touch or the organisation itself which would demand a more professonal approach. It’s a shame there isn’t a book called ‘How to Tweet for Archives’.

Perhaps some other archives can help them out. Manchester Archives Twitter page is a varied affair with Tweets about events, research projects, and even asking followers questions to help with research. Their most prolific and interesting Tweets come from their picture archives via Flickr with Manchester images from the 19th Century onwards.

The CBC Digital Archives holds historical material from the Canadian Broadcasting Company. It too is varied on its Twitter page with Tweets about important dates, and predominantly concerning the output of the archive itself. This is the advantage of having a digital archive: you are able to directly link materials to your followers through Twitter and is perhaps the most fundamental reason why the National Cooperative Archives aren’t totally convinced by Twitter.

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The latest in the war of words and apps between Google and the Rebel Alliance (FB, Myspace and Twitter as they’re commonly known) has seen the latter release an browser add-on powered by the ‘don’t be evil‘ code which shows how much Google+ alters results. The app is available from a site called Focus on the user.I'm with stupid

This in response to Google’s use of its new social arm, Google+, to increasingly personalise results based people’s Google product use. It improves search results by doing the following according to Google’s blog:

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

The Rebel Alliance say, and prove with their new bookmark app, that this disproportionately favours Google+ results thus skewing the user’s choice in a way that is a far cry from Google’s PageRank principles which show above all else that which is popular first. Instead users are getting that which is Google first.

This is the latest in a divergence in Google’s principles which I also commented on in a former post in which Google has gone from a site which wanted to keep users there for as little time as possible to a site that wants to keep users full stop. Whether it’s evil or not I’m not sure but I think it’s very stupid to mess with something that has worked so very, very well up to now.

This series of posts, as you may have guessed from the cunning title, is about the use of Twitter in libraries. I’m not going to focus on any particular sector rather I’m going to blog about the best examples of Twitter use in libraries from across the world, why it’s important and what they tweet about. This first entry however is a gentle introduction to Twitter for those among you who have been living on Mars, or Norwich (kidding) for the past 5 years.

Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ site. So where as here I’m effectively ‘macro’ blogging on Twitter there is a character limit of 147 characters so you have to be short and to the point in your Tweets (which is the name for a micro-blog entry). People can Tweet about anything however random (and there are some very random things on Twitter) and their Tweets are seen by whoever follows them. The more people who follow you the more coverage your Tweet will have and vise versa if you follow more you’ll see more Tweets on your homepage.

Aside from being popular there are several tools you can use to make your Tweets more widely known. Firstly you can re-Tweet other people’s Tweets which will appear on the pages of people who follow and likewise other people can re-Tweet your Tweets. Secondly you can use ‘hashtags’ to make your Tweets appear in trends and searches. So if you were Tweeting against closures to public libraries you could put #savelibraries in your Tweet. This hashtag recently trended worldwide in the course of one day.

Trends are fairly self explanatory – Twitter will note when a certain number of Tweets have included the same hashtag which then appears in the ‘trending’ column on the homepage. The trending facility has been described by Twitter creator Biz Stone as “a discovery engine for what’s happening now”. Finally you can also reply to people’s Tweets which will then show up on their page and allow others to see it.

Twitter is also a social networking site, like Facebook. A social network “is a website which allows users to communicate directly with each other on topics of mutual interest”. However one of the main differences in Twitter compared to Facebook is in its usage. Whereas Facebook is generally used by people to find friends that they know in ‘real’ life Twitter is more about following people you don’t know. In fact I would say Twitter is about opinion whereas Facebook is about people. This distinction has been noted in books like ‘The Little Book of Twitter: Get Tweetwise!’ (Collins 2009) which covers what could be described as Twitter etiquette.

So there you go – a crash course in Twitter. The next entry will actually get round to looking at our subject: Twitter use in libraries. Tune in next time.

Picture source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/17/twitter-support-libraries-worldwide

English: Google China

Image via Wikipedia

In his rather good book about the mighty Google Ken Auleta said that one of Google’s strengths was that it was a platform to the rest of the web and that it wanted users to spend as little time on the Google search page as possible. He was comparing it to portal sites like Yahoo! and AOL which rapidly fell out of favour at the turn of the century while Google grew from strength to strength. When Google first appeared in 1998 the difference between it and other search engine sites was stark. The minimal feel of Google was liberating and allowed users to be in control of the information they viewed rather than suggesting it like Yahoo! or the like.

Step forward nearly 15 years (I know it’s been that long) and things have changed. Although Google is still unequivocally the king of search in most developed countries (with China and Russia notable exceptions) it has had to change its strategy to deal with a new kind of enemy – the social network, and particularly Facebook. Recent research has shown American’s spend five times as much web time on Facebook than any Google site. This is why when you compare Google today to how it was even a few years back it has become far more concerned with how long you spend on its site. Nowadays through search personalisation, Google+, Gmail, Blogger and so on Google wants to keep you right where they can see you.

What does this mean for the future? Well with Google+ going live this week there’s no going back, Google is now slowly becoming a portal and in doing so is a long long way from its roots.

Ever seen Minority Report? You know it has that mad little fella who used to be a bit of a sex symbol and is now a scientarianist or something. It’s an okay film but not as good as the book and it has a little something to do with the subject of this post which isa rather funky visual search engine called Search-cube.

Powered by Google Search-Cube takes your search query and presents your search engine result pages as thumbnails grouped together in a three dimensional cube. And it isn’t just full pages. As the image below shows it groups together images, videos and pages.

Search-cube results page

It is essentially a visual re-imagining of cluster search engines like Carrot2 and the now defunct wonder wheel which was an option for displaying search results in Google. Unlike those and other clustering search engines though this has the added visual factor enabling you to preview your results holistically before you click through. This negates the need for scrolling with the user only having to move the cube around. The preview thumbnails are a bit rough round the edges at the moment but this is likely to improve.

And so back to the start of this post and Minority Report where the characters used gloves to navigate the internet through literally grabbing images and pages and looking at them. Search-cube feels like a small step in that direction…oh yes and it’s powered by Google (nothing slips past them does it!).

Over and out.

Finger and pulsating circles

(c) AngelIT 2008

What with the fall of society being blamed on technology by certain corners of society (certain, not very sharp corners if you’ll forgive the pun) it seems only a matter of time before we’re all reduced to a pre-internet state using pens and papers and…oh god it’s too much to imagine. What did people do before the internet?!

Anyway ramblings aside as you can tell from my tone I’m a tad dismissive about the idea that technology was to blame for the horrifying scenes last week across England. Riots aren’t new Twitter is is my concise rebutal to that argument. What the likes of Twitter and other realtime sites does facilitate is the most up-to-date reporting of events across the world that we’ve ever been able to manage as hairless apes.

A relatively new player in the search engine game has appeared as a result: real time search engines. With the phenomenal surge of information being created by the likes of social networks traditional search engines cannot keep up with the pace lagged as they are by their indexed lists of webpages.

My favourite real-time search engine is Twazzup which I discovered from Phil Bradley’s excellent blog a few weeks ago. During the riots I found this a more useful source of information than mainstream search engines or even news sites as it groups together Tweets, news stories, so-called influencers (sites which are generating a lot of content on your search subject) and top links.

Twazzup is just one of many real time search engines to have emerged over the past year and it’s something to keep an eye on with Larry Page admitting it’s a gap in the market which Google hasn’t yet thrown piles of cash at according to this article from  Venturebeat (which also lists a few others you might want to try).

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