Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Online Applications & Tools

Prior to this week's Learning 2.0 exercise I had already had some experience making documents using online applications and tools. I have used Google Docs to collaboratively work on class assignments both in my Information Technology class as well as many others classes. This is a great tool for people working together on some form of group project that find that they do not live in close proximity to one another. Case in point, I am using Google Docs to compose a term paper for another class this semester. The members of our group live on average approximately an hour and a half away from each other. For us to drive that far in order to meet consumes massive amounts of time and energy. I am happy to say that this is the old way and that the new way is much easier and will avoid you racking up the miles on your odometer. I can also predict that I will be using these same web applications (as well as some new ones) for many years to come. I suspect that there will be many more group projects to complete before my time here at Rutgers has concluded so I will be keeping these sites on my toolbar and in my list of favorites (as well on my Delicious account.)

As I said, I have dabbled around with Google Docs in the past but I had never heard of before this week. I thought that Google Docs provided a lot of opportunities for collaborative document creation but Zoho goes above and beyond offering a plethora of online tools including an online presentation tool, word processor, web application creator, web conferencing application, an online invoice manager, a spreadsheet tool, instant messaging, and many others. Using
I found a lot of web videos giving tutorials on how to use the various web applications found on There is clearly a need for this as there are so many web tools available on the site and while each is user-friendly it requires the same multitude of skills required to create using the offline versions of the same tools (i.e. PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Outlook, Access, OneNote, or Publisher.) I did find a video describing the general usefulness of the web applications found on Enjoy.

These online applications sound great! Free to use, saves space on your external memory devices, allows you to work collaboratively with people on all types of projects... but one major question remains. What happens to a user who suddenly finds him or herself unable to access the internet. Throughout my time as a Comcast customer I have found myself unable to access the internet quite regularly. When this happens I am at least able to work on my various projects offline. I can edit the animation timing on my PowerPoint Slide show, recalculate our household budget on Excel, and add a new chapter to my novel (if I were working on one) on Word. Now if all these files existed only on the web, then my inability to get online would also be an inability to do any of my projects. I understand that this is where saving your files in multiple places comes in handy, but I still felt that this could be a major chink in's armor as well as the armor of the other similar online tools and applications. The last thing I have to share is the CEO and a developer for talking about the launch of their Zoho Offline application Package. Apparently other users like the applications they offer but are not ready to compose and maintain their documents strictly online. This one is a little long but it does shed some more light on how Zoho and other online web tools plan to function and adapt their services to meet the needs of their clients. They discuss the benefit of open source programing and mention the platform, Google Gears. Google Gears is software offered by Google that enables more powerful web applications, by adding new features to your web browser. Google Gears is free and open source software.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Wiki

The creation of wiki's has lead to some dynamic changes in the way people can interact with information. Through the use of a wiki various people can work collaboratively on the content contained within a wiki enabled site. Being a web based application that doesn't require the use of markup language allows for creation and modification of web content in a way that the layperson never could previously have hoped. Having just gotten through the first of our readings on HTML, XHTML, and CSS I am beginning to better understand how this feature can make such a considerable difference for users, especially users that have little or no experience or knowledge in using this unique language. Wikis allow people to alter and modify web content with the same ease and fluidity that they alter and modify content on a word processor. This allows for huge groups of people to influence the content of these wiki pages.
Clearly the best known wiki to date is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia website which uses a wiki to allow users to constantly add, update, and amend content on the site. As I read more about this I was reminded of one of my favorite books, Douglass Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
In this story, an interplanetary traveler to earth introduces the guide to a human friend. The book is basically a wiki, the content for the book is collaboratively modified and amended by countless "field agents" strewn throughout the galaxy. There is a part in the book which mentions a previous (and for the sake of my argument, non-wiki) galactic encyclopedia and how the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a clear improvement.

"In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words "DON'T PANIC" inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover."

In some ways, the same holds true for wikis. Because wikis are modified and contributed to by members of the general population and not necessarily by experts in that particular field, the content on these sites may have "many omissions and contain much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate." There are systems set up to assist with that problem which can include standards for submissions as well as ways to access previous, earlier versions of the site. One thing is certain, it is far easier to share your knowledge and wisdom on a wiki than it is to have your thoughts published in a traditional encyclopedia. It is also cheaper to access a wiki than to purchase an encyclopedia set. As far as the words "DON'T PANIC" go, I'd like to see that added to the cover of Elizabeth Castro's HTML, XHTML, & CSS, 6th Edition.

I have also seen some interesting library applications for wikis. On the BookLoversWiki I found a variety of wiki applications in use. The first thing I noticed was the book reviews. Through the use of a wiki, readers can search through an index of review topics, contribute their review of a book, or make additions and amendments to previously posted reviews. In order to join the conversation I needed to establish an account through PBwiki. I also tinkered around on the Library Success Best Practice Wiki and was interested in the number of library topics available to read and contribute to. Some topics that caught my eye were "Selling Your Library," "Materials Selection and Collection Maintenance," and "Services to Specific Groups." The last one being of special significance to me because user groups are practically the main focus of my Human Information Behavior class. I also looked at a library wiki that was intended to become a staff manual. One problem expressed was that when these staff manuals come out in printed form they are often already outdated. In this case a wiki is an ideal way to post information that is subject to frequent change.

After that I went onto PBwiki and attempted to add my Learning 2.0 Blog onto their list of "favorite blogs." I follow the instructions and found myself on a page that said to click "EDIT" and add content to the bottom. When I clicked on that link I was shown this message: Failed to enter edit mode: $("wikiedit") is null. I did not run into the same trouble when I posted some of the books I have most enjoyed throughout the years on PBwiki's "Favorite Books" wiki. I used the edit option and was able to make my addition to the wiki. Clearly there are many applications for wiki use by libraries and other information providers not to mention applications outside of the realm of library science.

Lastly, here is a video about some of the benefits of using a wiki.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tagging, Folksonomies & Technorati

I have discovered delicious. Searching through tagged bookmarks and following links to other links and then so on and so forth. I can see how this system allows for people the social networking component that has become such a popular addition as a web application. This site specifically lets you share and index information that is important to you in some way as well as explore what others have submitted in similar or dissimilar fields. I have found this to be an excellent way to browse the web for information that interests me in a more sane manner than I am accustom to. I managed to tag a number of sites that I thought might be of interest to my fellow classmates in SCILS550, Information Technologies for Libraries and Information Analysis. I have been able to see what they have been tagging in connection with our work on the Learning 2.0 Project as well as in connection with the class itself.

The blogosphere can be a big, scary place. It's like the Pacific Ocean; if you are floating around in the middle of it you'd think it was endless. What's worse, if you are looking for the "right" blog, it's like looking for a specific cup of water in the Pacific Ocean. 51 million blogs currently in operation is an astounding number. How is it possible for my little blog to be found among the other 50,999,999 or so blogs? A practical answer seems to be Technorati. Once you claim your blog as your own you are able to network with other bloggers, search blogs of particular interest or blogs similar or dissimilar to your own. To increase the the number of subscribers to your blog you can have your blog site featured alongside other blogs of similar topic or interest.

I recently removed a blog I had posted earlier. I posted it as a miscellaneous submission because I had found a video that I thought was so amazing I had to put it up on the blog. I removed the blog because it definitely exemplifies some of the concepts of Library 2.0. This is a video from a library in Denmark where they have employed a very user friendly and user centered approach in their children's library. You will also see some amazing applications for Radio Frequency ID Tags.

What we see here is a library that recognizes the needs and inclinations of their patrons. Visitors are encourage to explore information in a variety of ways which employ cutting-edge technology, modifications made to accommodate different learning styles, and wildly creative, user-centered ways to search their database of materials. In this case the patrons are children but the same thing, in principal, can be done elsewhere (and is being done in many places.) The more accessible and interactive our libraries become, the more the libraries will remain an established place to seek out and obtain various types of important information as well as a place to stimulate the mind where all types of learners are recognized and valued.