DIY Facebook Applications

Ever since Facebook opened up their platform to outside applications I have noticed that a number of services have developed tools for us non-programmers to create Facebook applications.

The one I read the most about was Dapper. ReadWriteWeb has a good post and short video about the service.

So I thought I’d give Dapper a try (also, I didn’t have time to commute to Stanford). I decided to create an application using a basic RSS feed from Google News. I tried to think about what ongoing news story I would want updated stories about in my Facebook profile. Of course I thought about the upcoming Rambo movie. So using the Google News feed I followed the simple steps laid out in Dapper’s AppMaker. A few minutes later I had created and published my first Facebook Application. At this point two strangers have added this application so I consider that a success. However you can’t officially add your creations to Facebook’s application directory until you have at least 5 users.

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After I got this basic one out of the way I thought about how to create a library-themed one. Since I can’t create a technical wonder like the University of Alberta’s search application, I thought about a tool I would have appreciated during my periods of unemployment, a one-stop RSS feed that brought together the library technician job postings from various job boards.

The problem in creating such a tool is that few job boards provide an RSS feed. Again Dapper came to the rescue. All you have to do is enter in a URL and it can distill which content you want to track and create an RSS feed for.

Then I took the 6 different RSS feeds I had for library technician job postings and entered them into a new Yahoo Pipe. While creating a basic Pipe from multiple feeds is simple, the problem was that without filtering the results in some way, I was getting a final feed that included jobs for librarians, unrelated technical jobs and other off-topic postings.

The solution to this was to use the Filter tools provided. After much trial and error I ended up with the following Pipe:

libtechpipe.jpg

Considering the fact that I was pulling out content from very different types of web pages I am quite happy with the final result. In order to track and continually refine this tool I have created a new page on my blog which will detail my progress and provide links to the Canadian Library Technician Jobs Facebook application and a separate RSS feed.

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Piping Hot

Having some free time over Christmas, I have gotten around to playing around with some of the new mashup for dummies technologies being made available.

Besides Microsoft’s Popfly and Dapper, I have spent time trying to understand the basics of Yahoo’s Pipes. Some of the Pipes people are creating are quite complicated with geocoded maps and lots of localized information. In trying to figure out how to create something simple and at the same time wondering how tools like this can be used in the library environment I tried to think of ways to combine various RSS feeds. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Ontario Nursing News
When I think about the future evolution of the traditional library subject guide I feel a big part of it should be automated updated content. We have a lot of nursing students in our library and I imagine a feed they could view which had up to date relevant information to them would be useful.

So I went about creating a Pipe from 3 different feeds. I created a simple Google News RSS feed for a search for stories that mention Ontario Nurses. But I also wanted to extract the news sections from the Canadian Nurses Association and the Ontario Nurses Association which do not provide their stories in a RSS feed. Pipes mentions using the tool Feedity, which scrapes a basic web page and creates an RSS feed from it. You can see below what this Pipe looks like:

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The results list is not as perfect as I would like. For some reason when Feedity scrapes the ONA site for stories it includes the ads from the site in the results of the Pipe. But overall, it does what I intended it to do. And now I can use the output of this Pipe as an RSS feed.

Access Copyright News
With all the news about copyright law changes coming I wanted to create a Pipe that combined a variety of feeds that mention everyones’ favorite copyright collective Access Copyright. This pipe is fairly basic and combines a feed from an Ebsco search and ones from Google Blogs, Google News and Yahoo News.

accesscopyright.jpg

The Filter module was needed to make this Pipe useful because with the Ebsco, Google and Yahoo searches it was not easy to verify that the phrase “Access Copyright” was returned and not the word access and copyright separated by a paragraph or a period. Before I put the filter in I was getting a lot of unrelated stories which had the word access as the last word of the articles and the copyright notice at the bottom of the article. Now I have a useful feed that keeps me up to date when Access Copyright news is happening or when articles that discuss the collective are written.

Library Catalogue Alerts on NCAA/College Basketball
Finally, I wanted to try a library focused Pipe. Knowing that there are a growing number of libraries with modern OPACs that create RSS feeds for searches I created a Pipe on the topic of basketball with a filter for NCAA/College basketball. I used the catalogues from Ann Arbor District Library, Plymouth State University Library, and North Carolina State.

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I’m not sure how useful this particular Pipe is. It was more of an effort to see if it would work. I can imagine that if WorldCat had a way to create similar RSS feeds, the ability to filter results that Pipes has would allow you to create some interesting alerts about books on very specific topics being added to libraries across the continent.

Miscellaneous presentations

If you’ve got about some time to spare you may want to check out David Weinberger’s talk at Google and his talk at Yahoo! about his new book “Everything is Miscellaneous”.

In these videos he gives a humorous and concise review of this history of taxonomy and how the rise in digital information leads to a questioning of the adherence to the Aristotelian approach of rigid, arbitrary classification and embracing the idea of classifying everything as miscellaneous and doing the sorting based on the attributes that matter to you.

Interesting points from the Google video include:

  • A funny critique of Melvil Dewey (20:00).
  • The tension between the main stream media, encyclopedias, etc. which make a constant effort to appear authoritative and completely subjective while new sources like Wikipedia allow the community to post notices within articles which suggest that they may have bias, use weasel words, etc. (44:30)
  • A review of faceted classification which uses the Endeca catalogue at NCSU as an example. (31:40)

In addition to the rough treatment given Mr. Dewey there are inevitably comments made about every-ones favorite beacons of information organisation, librarians. In the Yahoo! video the interviewer is Bradley Horowitz, their head of technology development. Being the hip, techno guy he is, he takes some sly digs at library types (11:40) referring to them as, “the last bastions of the old guard” and “neatniks”. Weinberger responds to this by saying that he does not see such a clear delineation between these two camps when it comes to how to go about approaching, sorting and classifying information in this new digital age.

Another one of Weinberger’s key points (Yahoo! 16:20) is the idea that with so much information coming in to us it has now become easier to collect everything than to take the time and labor to review/judge/rigidly classify the information that comes in (his example being all the pictures you may take on a digital camera) and figuring out what to delete. Along with this is the idea that you can never know when you or someone else may need the information you think you should delete.

I am struggling a bit with this since I signed up for a Gmail account. I kept looking for where you create the folders so I can nicely sort my emails in to nice defined piles. Now I have to get used to this idea of Labeling Mail and letting all the emails sit together in the All Mail box.

These videos also brought to mind the issue we often have with our library web site. I know we could provide much more details about various aspects of the library but we arbitrarily decide at what point a piece of information would have such a limited audience that we decide that the work needed to create it, keep it current etc. is not a good use of our limited time.

This push and pull between the power held by the traditional information brokers and the rising chorus of the user wanting a bigger say is going to continue to be interesting to be a part of.

OLA – O – Ramma: Thursday February 1

Super Conference ID

I have survived my first OLA Super Conference as an official participant. I got to go as a student but we were only allowed to visit the exhibition hall and collect free pens.

I feel it was a very well run event and the sessions I attended provided a fair bit of useful information.

Session 304
This session was on finding solutions to noise and conduct problems in academic libraries. A couple key points were made. The speakers from McMaster and Guelph both pointed out that their schools have thousands of more students now than there were when the libraries were built. This had led to student frustration that there is not enough space/facilities for them to do their work. And as you would expect, the more cramped people are, the more conduct and behaviour issues are going to crop up.

Going hand-in-hand with this spike in enrollment has been the growing reliance on electronic resources for nearly every aspect of student life. This has led to greater demand for computer access in libraries and speaking in our case, there are not enough computers (or enough space to put them) to meet student demand. Now students wanting a computer to do school work will monitor other students’ computer use for any recreational computer use. We will ask these students to log-off if they are not doing school work but it is not always easy to define what constituents school work. Speaking for myself, when I am at a computer I am multi-tasking (doing work, visiting humorous sites, checking email, etc.) When I go over to a student and ask them to log-off if they are not going to do school work, they can simply re-open a Word file and pretend to be working.

The speakers key message was to get student groups envolved in discussing issues like this and provide very clear signage and ensure all staff understand the policies and enforce them consistently.

Session 400
Joan Frye Williams gave a very wide ranging talk on finding ways to improve the library user’s experience.

One point she made was that directional questions are failures. While a certain percentage of users will always ask these questions, I agree with her view that high-quality signage and layout can decrease the volume of these types of questions.

She also discussed the need for consistent and user-friendly nomenclature throughout the library. While it is necessary for us to know how to differentiate serials, magazines, journals etc. For the user, we should err on the side of using language they use every day. Hand-in-hand with simplified signage I think it is vital that this conversational terminology be used on our web sites as well.

She also mentioned that you need to keep an eye on what your school’s Wikipedia entry says about your library. I’m not sure if it is a good or bad thing, but we go unmentioned.

Session 500
This was a talk from Yahoo!’s Tomi Poutanen. He talked about the company’s so-called social search efforts. He gave a general overview of their efforts with Flikr, del.icio.us, Yahoo! answers etc. I thought I heard some people heckling him with a “Google Rules, Yahoo! Drools” chant, but I’m not sure.

Session 609
Uwe Stueckman from Lowe’s Canada discussed the concept of creating personalized communication streams. While I think most libraries are a long way from having professional customer relations management databases that can individualize the patron experience. He talked about the need to segment your audience. I have thought about how we could improve the user experience of our on-line students if they could access a personalized version of the library web page which was written and structured in a way that presented them with the type of information they need.

OCULA Annual Meeting
This was my first opportunity to experience an OCULA meeting and I must say it felt more like a comedy roast than a dry proceeding.

Report on my Friday at Super Conference to come.