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Monday, August 29, 2005

Folksonomies fascinate me

Folksonomies fascinate me, in no small part because they are a direct response to a failing of our profession which has irritated me since library school days – the failure to consider the user above all else. I’ve been trying to dig out an old letter I wrote to some journal when I argued this case, providing a suggested hierarchy to utilise for professional decisions (can’t remember the full thrust of it now but was along lines of user first, then the info, then the library, then the librarian, etc – sure I’ve posted this elsewhere, so apologies if repeating myself).
Anyhow, I do remember this thought originated from my “Cat(aloguing) & Class(ification)” lectures, where I despaired at the disproportionate effort we applied when balanced with the value the user received – we catalogued for ourselves, not for our users, and this broke my intuitive hierarchy. In my sweet innocence, I clearly saw our methods were fundamentally flawed and got very frustrated that many other students (and most librarians I’ve met since) didn’t see this. And then I gave up, and just accepted it (though still let myself have the odd grumble – just ask Terry Willan!)
I can frame this problem best in analysis terms. When embarking on a piece of analysis, a key step is determining the user classes/types that the software will serve. Wiegers definition of a user class is “A group of users for a system who have similar characteristics and requirements for the system”. If I was analysing the issuing of a book, several potential classes that spring to mind are “Library Assistants”, “Front Desk Manager”, “Librarian”, “Customer”, “System Administrator” and “Library Manager”. Already I’m thinking these may need to be merged (the first three may fall under this remit). Each class’s requirements will vary in terms of functional, non-functional and business, so I would prioritise user classes to understand where to focus my attentions. I may use personas to better help me understand their needs and direct development.
Who are the user classes for a classification scheme? At the highest level, I would say librarians and “ROTW”, being the “Rest Of The World”. The ROTW is very difficult to break into user classes (but techniques are available to do this) because of the vast scope for individuality – what one person calls “cinema”, the next calls “film” (as Clay Shirky puts it). There is no way a librarian could consider managing this in terms of classification - “I can’t satisfy everyone” so librarians take the easy path, and develop a system that meets their requirements. It’s up to ROTW to learn this, and accept that the librarian’s mental model doesn’t match its own.
Librarians were the gatekeepers to knowledge, so the ROTW marched to our tune because they had no choice. Now, however, with the information explosion, the ROTW is standing up and saying “look, this isn’t good enough – I want these terms, and he wants those terms, and she wants it to work like this and…”. Folksonomies are our users fighting back – each individual gets their own classification scheme for their own domain/world, and the ROTW gets a scheme by combining all these individual efforts. You don’t need to break out user classes, because they determine themselves when schemes are combined. You will find many of the terms you use match with those used by Mr X and Mrs Y. For your small section of the world, you will have a scheme that’s balanced to your needs.
As I said, folksonomies fascinate me. And as a librarian, I would say they meet my personal needs as an individual far better than anything librarians have provided for me. If librarians don’t start opening themselves up to this philosophy, don’t stop building walls to all this perceived chaos, we may find another finger slipping from the power we’ve gathered. And very soon, we’re going to drop…

Now thats what I call technology...

I’ve been lax with my I-pod recently (been indulging in the joys of Sky+), and had failed to update my I-tunes. As it’s the Bank Hols, thought I’d get it sorted and was pleased to see they have a new option for podcasts – and doubly pleased when I found IT Conversations on there. I subscribed to couple of feeds, and then became aware of a little tickling. I remember talking about podcasts on my blog a while back, and suddenly I had a part answer to the frustration I discussed.
Stick I-Tunes on my Sky+ box, and run a broadband connection into the back. I would have all my audio (podcasts and music mp3’s) as well as my TV programmes integrated into one box of pleasure. Hmmm, hold it, how would I rip mp3’s from my CD’s onto there? Might as well stick a CD drive in. But how to back those mp3’s up? RAID (maybe, but expensive). Might as well make it CD-write drive. No, better idea! A DVD-write drive. Then I’d be able to record my SKY+ programmes for “keepsies” easily (one of the few flaws of Sky+) and play DVD’s to. And with High Definition TV around the corner, I’ve got the perfect system. My entire mp3 music collection, DVD player, recorder, back-up device, CD Player, podcasting, high resolution, hi-fidelity box of technological dreams.
Now all I need is for Sony to integrate its PS3 into it, and I’m in gadget heaven!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Blogger for Microsoft Word

Bit of a relief this, considering my habit of poor spelling and a desire to guess how many words may need apostrophes, divide by two, and then liberally scatter - there's now a plug-in for Word, according to Mary Foley! I've just downloaded, and will be trying it on my next post...fingers crossed.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

MSN Filter

Just caught this post from Jo Foley about MSN Filter which "... appears to be a cross between a traditional Web log, where writers have full editorial control, and a wiki model, embracing user contributions." One interesting concept is the idea of paying core contributors who are area experts. This is probably one worth keeping an eye on!