Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Republic.com 2.0

In risk of echoing the content of my first blog post, I wanted to comment on a book review I came across on Salon.com earlier today. By no means do I wish to make my blog a pulpit for criticizing Web2.0. I've already stated my case by admitting that I love a great number of aspects of the second wave of the Internet. However, a new book by Cass Sunstein entitled Republic.com 2.0 succeeds in making a cogent argument about one of the dark sides of the collaborative web.

Sunstein's new book is a discussion over how contemporary Internet trends are somewhat stifling to the democratic process. This is a bit of a contrarian viewpoint, considering that we typically think that the unfettered access to information embraces the core tenets of democracy by producing a better informed public. The Internet has long been lauded for creating specialized niches for like-minded individuals with similar interests, which is certainly not a bad thing, but in the age of partisan politics popping up on blogs, wikis, and other web resources, a great number of people prefer to remain within their comfort zone and subscribe solely to ideologies that mirror their own. According to the author, hyperlinking patterns on political blogs are unlikely to ever link opposing viewpoints. Instead of challenging personal ideologies, we prefer to simply reinforce them. Just as television had a profound influence in the 1960 presidential election, web-based information is most certainly influencing our civic decisions today. However, if we're basing our decisions solely on the discourse pumped out by political blog, we're doing ourselves a disservice rather than exercising our civic duties.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Audio Overload

I've been inundated in the spoken word! Let me explain. After my wife and I were joined in holy matrimony nearly two years ago, we decided to euthanize our cumbersome Sony Discmans, and take a step towards the digital age by purchasing ourselves a couple of Ipod Nanos. Such frivolous spending was justified, since we were literally bombarded with Target gift cards. Anyway, my initial sole reason for wanting an MP3 player was simply to make exercise less of a burden by enjoying a truly, skip-free stream of audio while toiling away on the treadmill or elliptical machine. What my Ipod has become however, is a steadfast, constant companion. It makes me grimace to regard an inanimate object with such affinity, but I don't think I've ever been quite so enamored with a single piece of technology before.

Since purchasing the portable device, I've aggregated a growing list of weekly podcasts and other audio material that I'm frankly having a hard time keeping up with. I started out listening to a podcast of comedic drivel called The Ricky Gervais Show and a weekly/biweekly British B-movie review show called Mondo Movie. Since then, I've added Filmspotting; Fresh Air with Terry Gross; Wait Wait Don't Tell Me; Skeptoid; This American Life; and last but not least, Radiolab. And recently a number of friends have bequeathed a number of relatively lengthy audio books to me that I'm eager to get to. Maybe my podcast addiction is spiraling a bit out of control. The other day, I noticed myself putting my headphones on to roll the trash bin out to the curb (about 25 feet from the front door), but I've got a lot to catch up with. Some friends of mine have said things like, "don't you enjoy a little quiet time here and there?" Yes, I really do, but I can honestly say that I feel somewhat more informed on certain subjects (particularly movies and current events) than I ever have in the past. I guess my point here, if there is a point, is that this now ubiquitous device has literally revolutionized the way I take in a good deal of my information. I guess I'll have to volunteer for dish duty more often to provide an excuse to keep the information flow coming!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Quite addictive

Gracious! This blog was almost not to be, due to my newfound, maniacal obsession with ESPGame! Okay, maybe "obsession" is a bit of an exaggeration, but nonetheless, I'll be returning to site before retiring this evening. Since a link for ESPGame was listed in this week's content, and described in Lambeck's article Trouble in Paradise, I'll refrain from going into too much detail about the little group classification exercise, but this seems to be a relatively novel approach to social indexing (as far as I'm aware, anyway). Unlike sites like Wikipedia or Flickr.com where conflicts often arise due to disagreements over an article's content or what tags are the most appropriate for a particular item or image, ESPGame maintains total anonymity between its players and leaves no means for the members of this "community" to exchange information. However, this probably doesn't mean that those taking part in this tagging project are immune to moments of contention. Personally, there were numerous times throughout the game where I was cursing my anonymous teammate on the other end for not coming up with an "obvious" descriptor, and I'm sure these feelings were reciprocated.

I wish the folks behind this game were a little less reticent about how the overall process works. For instance, what constitutes an official tag assigned to an object? Does this take place anytime two individuals simply agree on a term, or must the same terminology be agreed upon by a number of participating couples? Well, now it's time to see if I can redeem myself and shed this preposterous "novice" status.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Farewell to Dewey

While browsing through LIS News I've noticed a number of recent posts discussing the decisions of some smaller suburban library branches doing away with the Dewey Decimal Classification system for an organizational scheme aligned to corporate book sellers like Barnes and Noble and Borders. This organizational scheme used by B&N and others is called BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications), and if you've ever stepped inside the confines of a commercial bookstore you've noticed that items are broadly organized by general subject categories like "History" or "True Crime." Of course, the adoption of a cataloging scheme that physically aligns itself so closely to book stores has produced an ample amount of discourse about abandoning the DDC.

The beauty of the DDC is that the decimal # assigned to a work can tell you where it can be found on a physical shelf and the subject of the work (if you know what the numbers mean). Personally, I have found that locating items in libraries that are classified under DDC or Library of Congress classification is easier than finding an item within a bookstore. Then again, I have worked in a physical library for a number of years and have become quite comfortable with this system. However, for the casual library patron, a system that tags a book by its general subject category may be easier to navigate and provide a more user-friendly system for locating items of interest. It has also been mentioned that BISAC organization may be a better system for subject browsing in a system's OPAC than Dewey as well.

I don't believe the DDC system should be eradicated by any means, but individual libraries should have the freedom to tailor a practice to meet the demands of their patrons. If circulation is higher with the BISAC system in place than with Dewey, as it was with a suburban Phoenix branch library, then why wouldn't the library choose to permanently break from "tradition"?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Observations on Hot Text

After reading the chapter excerpts from Lisa and Jonathan Price's book Hot Text, one "moral" was resoundingly clear: the construction of textual information on the web differs considerably than the creation of traditional print text. Though this statement sounds obvious, the Price readings made me consider my own differences in approaching online textual material vs. traditional print material and how these differences in approach will influence my website design decisions.

In the chapter, What Will the Web Do to My Text?, the authors bring to light a number of key differences between textual mediums that affect our overall relationships to textual information. Hot text differs from traditional print in a number of ways. Due to less resolution, hot text is generally less pleasing to the human eye than print text, so users tend to have less patience when reading online information than when reading print. I can personally attest to this fact; though I typically try to conserve paper when possible, the thought of reading a lengthy academic article online isn't an option for me. Also, when we navigate through the contents of a web page, we don't necessarily follow the text or links in a linear manner as we often do with books and other types of print material. As the authors note, the audience on the Web is made up of "users," not readers. Therefore, anyone authoring Web-based text must strive to arrange the information in a manner that can be easily navigated or the "user" will probably lose patience and look elsewhere for the information he or she seeks.

To combat this somewhat impersonal relationship users have to hot text, Web authorship must rely on gaining attention to his or her material. Personally, if I am perusing a site and cannot quickly validate that the site holds the type of information I am looking for, I will often impatiently look for another resource. For those posting online text, interface plays an important role by providing signals to the reader about what type of information can be found on the page. For instance, when looking at a website I will typically scroll down the page to view the menus, headings, and boldface links to help determine whether or not my information need may be sated. Therefore, when designing my own website I will need to determine what information a visitor to my site is expecting to see and have the necessary links to this content clearly represented.

Similarly, adhering to a particular genre can also help communicate what your site is trying to accomplish. Writing in a familiar pattern tells the user what type of information can be found on a particular site and the general purpose the author has in providing this information. When constructing my own site, I need to determine what it is exactly that I want to communicate to my audience and adhere to a textual persona that will communicate this message effectively.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Wikipedia, too liberal?

As this week's class readings and discussions have been centered around Wikipedia and questioning authority, I was reminded of an NPR All Things Considered segment I listened to a number of months ago. Since Wikipedia's inception, the accuracy of its content has been a concern of educators, librarians, and anyone who relies on the collaboratively assembled information found within its pages. Until listening to the aforementioned NPR segment however, I had yet to hear the view that much of the information found on Wikipedia has a liberal slant. The radio piece was about a relatively new alternative online encyclopedia called Conservapedia. Can a massive collaborative pool of information authored by miscellaneous volunteers have a deliberate slant one way or the other? Of course, depending on who authors an individual piece, an article may present one side more than another, but Wikipedia as a whole? When it comes down to it, I would argue that any piece of information, though sometimes subtle, reflects the beliefs and ideologies of the individual author. Do I personally think that Wikipedia has a political agenda? Not that I've directly observed. From an information studies perspective it is interesting to read the sometimes highly disparate views between articles listed in Wikipedia and Conservapedia, and if you haven't done so already, it is definitely worth your time!

Friday, August 31, 2007

An Alternative Perspective

This initial post will be my first contribution to the wonderful world of blogging. Up until the present, I have (though, not deliberately) refrained from creating a virtual soapbox to make any occupational or personal convictions known. Prior to the beginning of this course, other Web 2.0 technologies like wikis and RSS feeds have also been somewhat overlooked (except for my chronic addiction to Wikipedia, of course). I'm grateful that the projects I will be working on in LIS 5433 throughout the semester will require me to better educate myself on these thriving interactive web technologies. I certainly cannot say that my life is void of these 2.0 trends, though. I habitually (sometimes, much to my chagrin) log into social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, enjoy wasting away my valuable leisure time looking up miscellaneous clips on YouTube, and spend an ample amount of time on Library Thing at work and at home. When it comes down to it, I'm quite enamored with a great deal of the content the second generation of the web has spawned.

While browsing through a news magazine earlier this week, I noticed a review of a recent book release predicated on the condemnation of Web 2.0. According to the review, author Andrew Keen's book entitled The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet I Killing Our Culture, makes a somewhat scathing assessment of today's interactive and "tasteless" web environment. This book sparked my interest because it is authored not by your run-of-the-mill technophobe, but by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has made his living working with these evolving Internet technologies. I'm not saying one thing or another about the content of this book (I haven't read it), but a dissenting opinion of Web 2.0 may be edifying, or at least entertaining. Maybe another blog entry later in the semester can be used to discuss my personal thoughts on the book once I've actually read it.