May 2009
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Month May 2009

providing uncopyable experiences

Danger Mouse is a musician perhaps most know for his The Grey Album which is a mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album. The album is often used as an example of the tension between remix culture and restrictive copyright law and the DMCA.

Danger Mouse appears to be exploring this tension again by selling fans a blank CD-R on which to burn a peer-to-peer downloaded copy of his new collaboration called Dark Night of Soul. According to the Guardian’s article Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse unveil new album – a blank CD-R!,” an undisclosed legal dispute with EMI prevents them from releasing it through traditional channels. This surely is evidence that the world of content, the web and distribution is in a Wild West phase where what’s right, wrong, and the law are all getting sorted out.

I like that Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse are adding value to their music. The official CD-Rs come as part of packages consisting of a poster, or a accompanying book of photographs by David Lynch. Music is copyable. Other things aren’t as easily.

Similarly, in support of his new album, former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker recently put on a five day event in a Parisian art gallery. He had jam sessions, played music for children and yoga classes, etc. His album? Copyable. The experience of that event? Not so much.

This is interesting to me, of course, because I think that libraries would benefit from concentrating as much or more on providing uncopyable experiences as on the logistics of shuffling around copyable content.

walking paper cross stitch

An amazing gift! The color scheme matches the site perfectly.

What I’ve Learned in the 21st Century by Steve Krug

Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is a favorite of mine. Taking the two hours to read it will give you a bunch of ideas about how to make your website better.

I was happy to see that Krug uploaded a presentation he recently gave to slideshare. The slides are entertaining and informational, I can only imagine how fun it was live.

What I’ve Learned in the 21st Century by Steve Krug

Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is a favorite of mine. Taking the two hours to read it will give you a bunch of ideas about how to make your website better.

I was happy to see that Krug uploaded a presentation he recently gave to slideshare. The slides are entertaining and informational, I can only imagine how fun it was live.

library signs are librarian metadata

I interlibrary loaned a book called “Life Style” by Canadian designer Bruce Mau after enjoying his book “Massive Change.” I knew that Mau was involved with some of the planning of the Seattle Public Library but didn’t expect to see a statement about library signage that would resonate so strongly.

It is not without heart-breaking irony that we acknowledge a near-total lack of legibility in our collective repository of typographic history – the typical library. In the beginning, there was one problem, books, and one solution, shelves. When you go into the library now, there are literally hundreds of signs and pieces of furniture provided to deal with each new format. Everything from magazines to DVDs has a cabinet, a users’ manual, an inventory, and an interface. The result is a massive communication problem. While librarians themselves should be commended for their improvisational tactics, overall the patrons confront a constant meddle, with one organizational layer of information Scotch-taped over another. The time has come to imagine a new way. Life Style p. 242 – Bruce Mau

It is pretty easy to come to the conclusion that Dewey Decimal System ® signs in our buildings are metadata (or at the very least, representations of metadata) but what about the operational, directional, and prohibitory signs?

They’re metadata about librarians. They provide information about librarians’ attitudes and priorities.

How are the signs in your library describing you?

new creating future libraries notebooks available

The first Creating Future Libraries notebook sold out in a week! WP03 – the second edition of CFL notebooks is now available. Those that preordered have theirs en route already.

They’re still only $3 each but this time the pages are grid. YES.

For more info, including a link to the amazing digital archive that inspired this design, and to order, visit WALKING PAPER GOODS.

deep participation in library catalogs

Last week An Event Apart, billed as “two days of peace, love, design, code, and content” took place in Seattle. I kept up with some of the stuff going on there and noticed this tweet. I saw it while Jared Spool was speaking and knew that he’s done work with Amazon so I figured the factoid came from him. I was able to verify this by finding an article: The Magic Behind Amazon’s 2.7 Billion Dollar Question. All of this is to just provide a bit more of a citation.

Jeffrey Zeldman on Twitter

These big numbers got me thinking about the viability of patron review and comments in library catalogs. Should we be discouraged? After all, how many library websites have 3 million visitors every day? I don’t actually care. It doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t be discouraged. I’m not even interested in the metrics. Why? Because library websites should just be as normal as possible. Full stop. Part of this normality is the possibility for interaction. People should have the opportunity to voice their opinion if they feel motivated.

What interests me more than these stats is how most of the discussion I’ve seen surrounding improving the OPAC has stopped with making them social and easy to use. I’ve advocated for these goals and will continue to do so. They’re important and they should be a priority, but in the scheme of things they’re low hanging fruit. Shouldn’t we be aiming to make some deeper, more significant connections? What I haven’t seen, and I just might not be looking in the right spots, is advocacy for going beyond creating OPACs that are imitation amazon.coms. We can do better. I’m not 100% sure what they’d look like, but they’d be more than just inventory systems for book mausoleums.

For one, they could include user generated content. I’m not necessarily talking about YouTube videos created by local people. I’m talking about capturing and making available information produced in library programs. There’s a ton of great stuff happening in our buildings. Not only could we do a better job telling those stories, we could do a better job making the content from those programs and meetings available and useful. Thinking about this end goal might even have an impact on how a library plans and conducts events.

Let’s not exclude stuff created by organizations and enthusiast groups around the community. I know that the Helsinki City Library is exploring this idea. There are probably some great curricular tie-ins too. Local university and high school students could produce reports relevant to the community. Into the OPAC they go. Useful chat transcripts could be findable in the OPAC too. Taking it a step further, why not make scapes created by librarians and others findable in the OPAC.

Again, a deep participation OPAC wouldn’t just keep track of where books are. It would also be a evolving database of things important to the community. Yes, this has everything to do with my thoughts about the unsustainability of libraries relying on content provision as their reasons for being.

I can’t think of a much better way to engage people than to say to them, “We want to know what’s important to you. We want to help you share your expertise.” By doing this librarians can fulfill their role as universal joints, connecting people to information, information to other information, and people to people.

two neat browsing interfaces

Here are two new to me display/organization techniques.

#1: let’s you chose facets by clicking pictures.

#2: I find fancy architecture firm websites to be some of the least usable websites around. This might not be an exception, but the websites from diller scofidio + renfro achieves a CoolIris type effect (by using Flash).

you can make your website better in five seconds

Here’s a way that you can see if your webpages are doing what you want them to do.

As the name suggests, the 5-Second Test involves showing users a single content page for a quick 5 seconds to gather their initial impressions. Five seconds may not seem like a lot of time, but users make important judgments in the first moments they visit a page. Read the article [5-Second Tests] for more details.

If you’re looking for a place to start, why not with your homepage? In just a few minutes you can see if the message you think you’re broadcasting to people is what they’re actually seeing. If not, schedule some time to make an adjustment (bigger font size? more contrast? less words?) and take another 10 minutes to retest. Better? hint: Yes.

This is even perhaps more applicable when you’re in the planning/building process. Do some 5 second tests with drawings or Photoshop mockups. Little fixes early on can save you from having to correct things that are nearly cemented in place.

You can do 5 second tests with almost anyone as your testers, but if there are absolutely no people around (or you just want to do something different) check out fivesecondtest. You can upload an image and have random people on the web give you their results. A great way to get a feel for how to conduct a test might be to make a designer happy and do a few tests.

For even more lightweight usability testing goodness, take a look at the NPYL Labs’ infomaki.