The URLs From My Portland Talk

Following Edward Tufte’s advice, I’ve been wanting to offer a presentation without slides for a long time now; I finally got my chance in Portland. The downside is that now I don’t have anything to offer as a takeaway memory aid for my talk. My speaking notes are too abstract to offer for public consumption, but below are the URLs from them along with a tiny bit of context.


Increasing use of the web is changing our expectations of information services and places greater demands of self-service on them. If “Web 2.0” has any meaning, it’s this notion that internet services are no longer the stuff of science fiction, but a part of our every day reality.

One interesting reflection of this increasing usage and comfort with the web is the development of social software like MySpace, Facebook, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, Flickr, and also LibraryThing.

It takes a moment, sometimes, to realize what’s changed in the ten years since the first Mosaic browser opened the web to a mass audience. Kevin Kelly tried to explain that when he noted: “The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous.”

Okay, now what?

We need to understand how people now search for and interact with information. Part of that means making peace with search engines and making sense of “findability.” Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability addresses this question in terms directly relevant to libraries. To that I add the notion of The Google Economy and a set of rules for participation (and findability) in it:

  • Linking must be possible
  • Linking must be desirable
  • Linking must be measurable

I argue that libraries are rich with the stuff people would like to link to, but the architecture of our systems often fails us on the other aspects.

I’ve been exploring this with my WPopac project, and I’ve seen some interesting results in the four months that it’s been live and available to the public. One example is that a web search for “joe monninger” returns the WPopac page as the top hit. Elsewhere, WPopac content is appearing in blogs (examples: Fuzzyfruit and Angie) and as a result some of the books in WPopac are now highly ranked in web search engines (example: A Baby Sister For Frances is now the only non-commercial result in the first page of Google results).

A rather more controversial look into how the Google Economy works can be found in Google’s explanation of their search results. Interestingly, the same factors within the Google Economy that created the controversy also made possible a solution: the top search result for “Jew” is now the Wikipedia page.

How can we track our participation in the Google Economy?

Alexa might be best described as the Nielsen ratings for the web. Tracking the daily changes in reach and rank (and looking at all the variations of the graph) can be rather addictive. Alexaholic serves that fix by offering more varied views of the same data.

It should be said, however, that the results in Alexa are the slowest to reflect changes or improvement in a service’s role in the Google Economy. A more immediate pulse of things can be taken at Technorati or within Google.

Last word

As we consider ways to improve our online services — as we look to build the online library of the near future — these words echo in my mind:

Nobody cares about you or your site. Really. What visitors care about is getting their problems solved. Most people visit a web site to solve one or more of the following three problems.

  • They want/need information
  • They want/need to make a purchase / donation.
  • They want/need to be entertained.

Too many organizations believe that a web site is about opening a new marketing channel or getting donations or to promote a brand. No. It’s about solving your customers’ problems. Have I said that phrase enough?

In short, our libraries’ web sites are the online embodiment of our libraries. Our patrons don’t want to know how to use our library, they want to find in our online services the value that libraries offer in their in-person services. They want online services that deliver answers.