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Minnesota, United States

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thing 13 - Online Productivity Tools

For the online start page, I chose iGoogle since I frequently use Google already for searching and email. Some of the options for material appealed to me such as the local weather, the National Geographic photo of the day, and the joke of the day. I enjoyed experimenting with iGoogle but I don't plan on making it my permanent home page. Right now I have my homepage set up to the Hennepin County Library's staff intranet, that's the page I access the most often. However, I will frequently visit my iGoogle page.

The online productivity tools I found to be most useful to me personally, include the iGoogle start page, Zamzar, and TinyURL. Zamzar is great for converting files from one format to another. Sometimes patrons will come into the library and are unable to open a file because the library's computers don't have the software needed to open it. With Zamzar, the file can be converted to a format that is compatible with the library computer's software allowing for file access. TinyURL is a great tool for shortening long URLs. Just enter the long URL, and a much shorter one is created that will take you to the same website.

I also experimented with the online calendars, to do lists such as Remember the Milk, and Backpack. To me these seem like too much work to log into the website and enter the information. I find a daily planner and paper and post-it notes to be efficient enough for me. One thing I do like about these types of tools though is the option to receive an email reminder when an important appointment is near.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thing 12 - Do You Digg?

For thing 12, I read about and experimented with various social media websites where users can vote for the best and most relevant news articles. I explored Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, and Mixx. All four of these sites allow you to select news articles to read by category and comment on them. Each of these sites prominently displays the most popular news items on its home page.

Each social media website has its own unique features. Digg also allows you to rate videos, images, and podcasts. You can see what your friends are "Digging", create your own Digg profile, and view the top articles by subject area. With Reddit, you can view the most controversial articles, add a Reddit bookmarklet to your toolbar and add Reddit buttons to your website. Newsvine's special features include the ability to select local news articles, subscribe to Newsvine RSS feeds, and set up your own column for writing articles that others can rate. Finally, Mixx allows one to rate photos and videos, read local news articles, add a Mixx bookmarklet to the toolbar, and join Mixx communities.

A related website, StumbleUpon, allows one to discover new websites based on personal interests. The concept sounded cool so I registered for an account. I was bummed to find that I had to download a StumbleUpon toolbar to use the site. I decided not to do this because my toolbar is cluttered enough already and I didn't want to add yet another thing that might slow down my computer.

Social media websites such as Digg can be applied to libraries. For example, articles that receive alot of Diggs (are very popular) may spawn more reference questions and requests related to the article. Libraries can link some of the most popular and relevant articles on their blogs. Librarians who specialize in a certain area can customize their account to read and rate articles related to their specialty.

Are websites such as Digg a productivity enhancer or a waste of time? I say it its both. On one hand, such websites filter out the lower quality and less relevant articles. On the other hand, anyone can vote on articles and the voting can be highly subjective. The general public might have a different opinion than an expert in the field would. Some potentially good articles may not make it to the main page; others may be popular because of their entertainment factor but may not be good sources for serious research. Overall though, I trust the opinion of the general public to choose what's worth keeping. I had fun reading some of the popular news articles and started to lose track of time. In this sense, sites such as Digg can be a time waster. For this reason, I prefer to get my news through RSS feeds.

When I have time to kill though, I do enjoy browsing through Digg articles. I set up a Digg account and had fun voting on articles and finding things of interest to me. For some weird reason I was unable to "Digg" articles in my MSN browser even though I was logged in. When I switched to Firefox, it worked fine.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thing 11 - Tagging and Del.icio.us

Of all of the web 2.0 tools I've learned about so far, del.icio.us has the most use for me personally. I have been using del.icio.us for about 8 months now and find it to be an excellent tool. Right now, I use it for mostly personal use- to access my bookmarks from any computer and tag my bookmarks to make my favorite websites easier to find. I also use it to find other websites on areas of interest to me and to see how others tagged the websites I favorited. Sometimes this gives me ideas to improve my own tags. Here is a link to my del.icio.us bookmarks.

Del.icio.us can also be used for research assistance. Someone doing Internet research on a topic could search certain tags to see what websites are out there. One caveat is that anyone can create a del.icio.us account and post websites, so the websites may not necessarily be the most credible ones and the tags may not always accurately reflect the content of the website.

Libraries can use social bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us to post library related news, useful weblinks on various subjects for patrons, and information about the local community (e.g. places to see, places to eat, etc.)

As a challenge, I also explored other social bookmarking sites, Furl and Pagekeeper. Furl has similar features to del.icio.us With both sites, you can search by tags, find out how many people tagged a particular website (Furl calls this number of members), add comments to tagged websites, join groups, and read their blog. Unlike del.icio.us, Furl allows you to choose from three different views: titles only, summaries, and tabular. Titles only view only shows the name of the website and its URL. Summary view shows the website name, URL, date posted, number of members, number of discussion entries (comments), and tags. The tabular view shows everything the summary view shows (except for discussion) in a table format. Apparently, Furl has yet to catch on with the general public, since the number of people favoriting a website and the number of groups is much less than del.icio.us

Pagekeeper allows one to search for websites by username, grade, or subject. I looked at a sample pagekeeper page and the links are all sorted by topic. The organization was hierarchical- there were no tags listed by each website. But for a student finding information on a specific topic, this type of organization probably works better. Unlike del.icio.us and Furl, the number of people bookmarking a website was not indicated.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thing 10 - Wikis

One thing I learned about wikis is that they are an alternative to meeting in person for soliciting input from everyone in a group. Prior to this, I didn't think of wikis as being useful in this sense. With our busy schedules, it can be difficult to schedule a time for everyone in the group to meet.

I was surprised to find that wikis have been around since the mid 1990s. At that time, most people weren't even on the Internet! I didn't even hear about wikis until 2003, the year I discovered Wikipedia.

I think Wikipedia is excellent as a starting point for research. For someone who just wants a basic overview or something written in "layman's terms", Wikipedia works well. Since anyone can post and edit articles on Wikipedia, the information on there may not always be accurate. Many Wikipedia articles do cite reputable sources and provide links to them. If I was a teacher assigning a research project, I would require that my students cite reference sources besides Wikipedia. I would tell them that Wikipedia is fine as a starting source for gathering information and strongly encourage them to explore the cited references from Wikipedia articles.

Libraries can use wikis to post pathfinders/subject guides, where librarians can easy add and update links. It would be nice if my library system did this. Some libraries allow patrons to add links too. I'm wary of allowing patrons to add links because they may not have the training to critically evaluate online sources.

Wikis can also be used in libraries for posting book reviews, information about conferences (e.g. ALA), and for updating policies/procedures. The Blogging Libraries wiki collects links to library blogs. I think this is an excellent example of how a wiki can be used.

I didn't do the challenge of setting up my own wiki as I don't see the need right now. For fun, I also edited the 23 Things on a Stick wiki, which was easy to do.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Thing 9 - Online Collaboration Tools

I experimented with both Zoho Writer and Google Docs by editing the Declaration of Independence document. I also created Zoho and Google Docs accounts.

Both tools seemed easy to use and similar to MS Word. Even the buttons on the toolbar looked just like those in Word. The layout was slightly different in both. There were many more buttons on the toolbar in Zoho Writer. In Google Docs, some of these buttons were replaced with drop-down menus (very similar in layout to MS Word). I liked having all the buttons at my disposal in Zoho Writer and not having to rely on the drop down menus as much.

Overall, Zoho Writer had more tools than Google Docs. For example, Zoho had things like an anchor button (don't know what this would be used for), buttons for inserting emoticons, an opportunity to add tags, and an equation editor. For creating a basic document, either tool seems appropriate to use. Security can be an issue with both of these tools. As long no one can access your username and password, your documents are secure. However, if some hacker gets a hold of your log in information, then all hell breaks loose.

I think the Founding Fathers would be impressed with the functionality of these tools. However, I don't think they would be too happy with our heavy editing of the original Declaration of Independence. They would probably think we were too critical and nitpicky. :-)

As a challenge, I created a spreadsheet using Zoho Sheet. I am looking for an additional bookcase (being the bookwormishnerd I am) and wanted to create a spreadsheet comparing different ones I'm considering. Here it is.

Online collaboration tools such as Zoho's products and Google Docs can easily be used in a library setting. For example, documents describing library policies can easily be shared and edited by library staff. Zoho Sheet could be used for creating and sharing spreadsheets comparing different libraries within a library system and creating a list of books to purchase or weed out. Zoho Show can be used for sharing slideshows of presentations. Finally, Zoho meeting can be used for web conferences. The advantage of this is participants don't have to download or install any new software.