September 4, 2009    |   Vol. 2, No. 30    |   ISSN: 1943-1457
Above the Fold
A weekly newsletter for the changing world of libraries, archives and museums

In this issue:

Applying Curiosity to Interaction Design: Tell Me Something I Don't Know  (External site)

Johnny Holland Magazine   •   August 24, 2009

Putting psychology to work for you. User experience design expert Stephen Anderson points out that an effective way to get visitors to interact with your Web site is to exploit the lure of the unknown: "Information can be presented in a manner that is straightforward or curious. If we opt for the latter, we are guaranteed not only attention, but likely higher engagement as well—curiosity demands we know more!" Many of our users are already natural information hounds, so stimulating their "zone of curiosity" can be an effective way to encourage deeper, more meaningful relationships.

This piece ties in well with an article that appeared in Slate recently (featured in last week's Above the Fold) about how people are hard-wired to seek. We are naturally curious people, but there are definitely techniques that can be used to "hook" people into seeking behaviors. Meanwhile, many of the systems and services in cultural heritage institutions tend to ignore these techniques in favor of straightforward but inevitably flat and boring presentations. We can do better, and this piece goes a long way in showing how. ( Tennant)

Mining the Web for Feelings, Not Facts  (External site)

The New York Times   •  August 23, 2009

Sentimental search? An emerging field called sentiment analysis mines the vast repositories of personal opinion — blogs and social media — for keywords that indicate "feeling" about a given subject. But these assessments are less than perfect — consider the meaning of the word "sinful" as applied chocolate cake, or "sick" as a thumbs-up from a teenager. That hasn't discouraged a crop of new startups peddling their analyses, however. Read on for more information on the evolving algorithms that are destined to become part of our search toolkit.

Admit it: you've got a Google Web Alert on the name of the report you've just published, the acronym for your favorite grant funded project, and let's not even mention the vanity alert for your own name. Sentiment analysis turns this type of searching into a science, and shortens the feedback loop between what you do and those who care about it. Now that blogs and social networking sites have turned opinions into a public good, analyzing the web-wide mood towards your respective library, archive or museum brand could become the next hot tool in your metrics quiver. Make some room, web-logs — there's company! ( Waibel)

Not So Fast  (External site)

The Wall Street Journal   •   August 21, 2009

Life in the slow lane. Author John Freeman decries the tyranny of e-mail and our increasing detachment from the physical world in favor on online stimulation. Is this the follow-on to the Slow Food movement?

This overlong essay reads like a histrionic rant, with a tedious enumeration of first principles (speed matters; physicality matters; context matters) in place of an argument. Freeman, the editor of a popular literary magazine, seems to reject the possibility of genuinely joyful, illuminating or creative interactions with technology. "How many of our most joyful memories have been created in front of a screen?" he asks. I'd guess there are gamers, scientists and yes, even literary geniuses, who could offer some compelling examples; but not enough to convince this author, who is more concerned with stemming the flow of email communication than examining — or exercising — the virtue of reticence. ( Malpas)

Can Librarians Be Put Directly onto the Semantic Web?  (External site)

go to hellman   •  August 4, 2009

Thinking semantically... Technologist and blogger Eric Hellman notes that for the Semantic Web to fulfill its promise, information professionals will need to reorient their approach to search: "In many respects, the most important question for the library world in examining semantic web technologies is whether librarians can successfully transform their expertise in working with metadata into expertise in working with ontologies or models of knowledge."

Eric Hellman's blog is a compelling resource for librarians who see the future on smart phones and laptops rather than shelves and book carts. Semantic Web technology remains an underperforming adolescent, and library metadata standards are long-in-the-tooth tired. Synthesizing a compelling, web-scale user environment from MARC, ontologies, and RDF is daunting. If it occurs, librarianship will owe a debt to the sort of dialectic found in this virtual exchange between Martha Yee and Eric. ( Weibel)

Flat World Schools Textbook Publishers with Free Web Editions  (External site)

Ars Technica   •  August 24, 2009

Betting on "free." Flat World Knowledge is leveraging the availability of Creative Commons-licensed college textbooks to make them available to students in multiple formats — on the Web for free, or for a small fee as a printed book, a DRM-free PDF or an audiobook. A recent trial shows that while some students are perfectly happy to access their assignments on the computer, a larger number will choose to pay a reasonable sum for an alternate format. Either way, it's more bad news for traditional textbook publishers.

This company is certainly taking a chance by reducing the average student's textbook costs from over $100 per class in the traditional all-print model to about $18. But the risk is based on a premise that has legs: giving the students precisely what they want. Flat World Knowledge is betting that freedom of choice for the student, coupled with the teachers' ability to customize textbooks for their own classes, will provide a steady revenue stream that mitigates the traditional model's huge underground market in used textbooks, from which the publishers see nary a dime. Will it work? This fall, 40,000 students at more than 400 colleges will help them find out." ( Massie)

The Kindle Can't Scare Me  (External site)

Forbes.com/CEO Network   •  August 24, 2009

Prose and cons. Independent illustrated book publisher Mark Batty points out that e-books still have a long way to go before they rival hard copy's artistic beauty.

Batty is a small independent publisher of illustrated books on visual culture topics, so the text-only, one-typeface-fits-all (Caecilia, whatever that is) Kindle isn't his delivery mechanism. He's trying to be an optimist, though: maybe its next-gen progeny will appreciate pictures, typography and page layout and become an opportunity instead of his death knell. So there's Batty. Now, go read Nicholson Baker's smart, entertaining riff on the Kindle in the August 3rd issue of the New Yorker. ( Dooley)

OCLC Programs and Research advances exploration, innovation and community building for libraries, archives, and museums.

Above the Fold is a Web-based newsletter published by OCLC Programs and Research. It has been developed to serve a broad international readership from libraries, archives and museums. News items are supplied weekly under contract by Suzanne Douglas, Ibis Communications Inc. Programs and Research items are supplied by staff in RLG Programs and OCLC Research. Please send comments and questions about this or other issues to rlg@oclc.org.
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