NELA 2014: Consent of the Networked

Cross-posted on the NELA conference blog.

Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) Keynote: Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, Rebecca MacKinnon (Monday, 8:30am)

MacKinnon pointed to many excellent resources during her presentation (see links below), but I’ll try to summarize a few of her key points. MacKinnon observed that “technology doesn’t obey borders.” Google and Facebook are the two most popular sites in the world, not just in the U.S., and technology companies affect citizen relationships with their governments. While technology may be a liberating force (as envisioned in Apple’s 1984 Superbowl commercial), companies also can and do censor content, and governments around the world are abusing their access to data.

“There are a lot of questions that people need to know to ask and they don’t automatically know to ask.”

MacKinnon noted that our assumption is that of a trend toward democracy, but in fact, some democracies may be sliding back toward authoritarianism: “If we’re not careful, our freedom can be eroded.” We need a global movement for digital rights, the way we need a global movement to act on climate change. If change is going to happen, it must be through an alliance of civil society (citizens, activists), companies, and politicians and policymakers. Why should companies care about digital rights? “They are afraid of becoming the next Friendster.” The work of a generation, MacKinnon said, is this: legislation, accountability, transparency, and building technology that is compatible with human rights.

It sounds overwhelming, but “everybody can start where they are.” To increase your awareness, check out a few of these links:

 

 

Usability and Visibility

Last fall I wrote about Google’s redesign (which actually increased the number of clicks it took to get something done). Sure, it’s a “cleaner, simpler” look, but how did it get cleaner and simpler? To put it plainly: they hid stuff.

For those who are continually riding the breaking wave of technology, these little redesigns cause a few moments of confusion or annoyance at worst, but for those who are rather more at sea to begin with, they’re a tremendous stumbling block.

Today in the library, I helped an 80-year-old woman access her brand-new Gmail account. She signed on to one of the library computers with her library card – no problem there. Then she stared at the desktop for a while, so I explained that she could use one of three browsers – Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer – to access the Internet. “Don’t confuse me with choices, just tell me what to do. Which one do you like?” she asked.

I suggested Firefox, and she opened the browser. The home screen is set to the familiar Google logo and search bar, surrounded by white space. I pointed up to the corner and told her to click on Gmail:

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 7.44.07 PMThen came the sign-in screen, asking for email and password; at least the “sign in” button is obvious.

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 7.48.45 PMNext, we encountered a step that asked her if she wanted to confirm her account by getting a mobile alert. I explained that she could skip this step, but she clicked on it anyway, then got frustrated when her inbox didn’t appear.

Now, here’s something that anyone who has ever put up any kind of signage probably knows: People don’t read signs. They don’t read instructions. Good design takes this into account; as Don Norman (The Design of Everyday Things) says, “Design is really an act of communication.” Good design communicates with a minimum of words and instructions.

In this case, I canceled the prompt for her and we got to her inbox. I showed her that she had three e-mails – informational, “welcome” e-mails from Gmail itself – and upon seeing she had no mail, she wanted to sign out. “Do I just click the X?” she asked, moving the mouse up to the upper right hand corner of the program. I explained that clicking the red X would close the browser, but that she should sign out of Gmail first (even though the library computers wipe out any saved information between patrons).

But is there a nice big button that says “Sign out”? No, there is not. Instead, there’s this:

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 8.01.12 PMHow on earth would a new user know to click on that to sign out? She wouldn’t. And the thing about new users (very young ones excepted, usually) is that they don’t want to go around clicking on random things, because they’re afraid they will break something, or make a mistake they can’t correct or backtrack from.

I think the above scenario will be familiar to anyone who works in a public library, not to mention anyone who has tried to help a parent or a grandparent with a computer question. It’s easy to get frustrated with the user, but more often than not the blame really rests with the designer – and yet it’s not the designers who are made to feel stupid for “not getting it” or making mistakes.

And it isn’t just beginning users who run into these problems. Sometimes it seems as though designers are changing things around just for the sake of change, without making any real improvements. Examples spring to mind:

Think the latest “upgrade” to Google Maps. If there are checkboxes for all the things you already know are problems, why push the new version?

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 8.25.28 PM

Even Twitter, which is usually pretty good about these things (and which got stars across the board in the EFF’s most recent privacy report, “Who Has Your Back?: Protecting Your Data From Government Requests”), is not immune to the making-changes-for-no-reason trend:

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 8.18.00 PM

But perhaps the most notorious offender of all is iTunes:

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 8.21.11 PM

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 8.17.07 PM

To quote Don Norman (again), “Once a satisfactory product has been achieved, further change may be counterproductive, especially if the product is successful. You have to know when to stop.

To this end, I would suggest to all designers and front-end developers: please, run some user testing before you make changes, or as you’re creating a new design. Get just five people to do a few tasks. See where they get confused and frustrated, see where they make mistakes. Remember (Norman again), “Designers are not typical users. Designers often think of themselves as typical users…[but] the individual is in no position to discover all the relevant factors. There is no substitute for interaction with and study of actual users of a proposed design.

Edited to add: WordPress isn’t immune, either.

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 8.41.47 PM

Is it “easier”? Is it “improved”? How so? I’m OK with the way it is now, thanks…but soon I’m sure I won’t have a choice about switching over to the new, “easier,” “improved” way.

MLA Conference 2014, Day One (Wednesday), Part One

It’s that time again! This year, the Massachusetts Library Association conference is in Worcester, and once again the lovely and gracious Friends of the Library enabled some of our library staff (myself included) to attend. Here’s my round-up of the first three sessions I went to today, with more to come. Several conference-goers are also on Twitter (#masslib14).

Brand New You: How Libraries Use Branding to Establish Relevance and Engage Users

Anna Popp from the Massachusetts Library System presented on MLS’ experience developing their brand with Walter Briggs of Briggs Advertising. Popp convened a task force and established a clear decision-making protocol (essential, according to Briggs). Popp and Briggs explained that an organization’s brand is evolutionary, not visionary; it’s not the same as its vision or mission statement (‘it’s not what you aim to be, it’s what you are’).

MLS logoThe process involved brainstorming everything about the organization, then crossing out everything that wasn’t unique, with the goal of distilling it down to 3-5 words or phrases – the “brand mantra.” The brand mantra is an internal tool, and is not the same thing as a tagline (e.g., Nike’s brand mantra is “Authentic Athletic Performance,” not “Just Do It.”) MLS came up with “Uniting, Empowering, Library Enhancement.” The brand mantra is “the most important deliverable” from the branding process, more important even than the logo (at left). The logo’s job is not to show or tell what an organization does.

The tagline should be “evocative, inspiring, brief, lyrical” and have “integrity.” The (awesome) MLS tagline is “Stronger together,” which perfectly suits an organization dedicated to building a statewide community of libraries, empowering those libraries, and championing resource sharing.

Briggs finished the presentation by sharing some of his past work. I especially loved the Patten Free Library tagline, “More than you’ll ever know,” and the tangram-like logos (below) for the Curtis Memorial Library (both libraries are in Maine).

CurtisMemorialLibrary logoCurtisMemorialTeenCurtisMemorialKids

 

 

 

The takeaways from this session included: (1) Recognize what people bring to the table, (2) Establish role clarity – who will have an advisory role, who will have a decision-making role?, (3) Let people do their jobs, help when necessary, (4) Prepare to learn something about yourself, (5) Plan ahead, but be prepared for eventualities and opportunities. It may be hard to prove the ROI on a logo, but Popp mentioned the idea of “mindshare”: “in marketing, repetition wins.” Establish your relevance and constantly reaffirm it.

An Agenda for Information Activism: Internet Freedom and Press Freedom Today

Kevin Gallagher stepped up here in place of the original presenter, Josh Stearns, formerly of Free Press. Gallagher clearly knew his stuff, particularly the threat that government mass surveillance poses to journalists and society at large, and he did a good job on short notice. He wasn’t the most comfortable speaker, and his presentation jumped around a little bit; the audience wasn’t all familiar with some of the terms he used or the services he referenced. The presentation had no handouts or visual component (other than the trailer for the upcoming Aaron Schwartz documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy). However, privacy is something librarians care deeply about, and this program took a step toward convincing us all to do more research for ourselves, and think about what we can offer patrons, both in terms of tools and education. Here are a few points and links from the session (thanks also to Alison Macrina of Watertown Free Public Library):

  • When the government undermines and weakens Internet security standards for the purposes of surveillance and data-gathering, it makes us all less safe, not more.
  • There are library privacy laws in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Patron privacy and confidentiality is essential for the free pursuit of knowledge.
  • If the government can collect metadata on journalists’ communications, that exposes journalists’ sources, whose confidentiality should be protected.
  • Read the full text of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto by Aaron Schwartz on the Internet Archive.
  • “There is already a war” against whistleblowers, journalists, and activists (examples: Julian Assange, Jeremy Hammond, Edward Snowden, Barrett Brown, Jim Risen).
  • “We need a new Church Committee.”
  • Government agencies and private companies are collecting personal data and metadata. Be aware of what personal data private companies are collecting, and what permissions you are giving when you use services like facebook. See Terms of Service; Didn’t Read.
  • Use search engines that value privacy, like DuckDuckGo, or use plugins like Ghostery or services like Disconnect.me. Install Tails, an operating system that lets you use the Internet anonymously via TOR.
  • What can we (in libraries) do? Use more privacy and security tools (like https everywhere from the EFF). Use free and open software instead of proprietary software (“There’s a free and open alternative to everything”). Make sure patron privacy policies are up to date, and make sure we aren’t collecting any more patron information than necessary. If libraries are receiving federal funds that force compliance with CIPA, make sure you aren’t filtering any more than you have to – or, if possible, don’t accept the strings-attached funds. Host a “crypto party.” Support the USA Freedom Act, make FOIA requests. Remember the Library Bill of Rights.

How We Doin’?: Public Libraries Using LibSat to Gather Patron Feedback

The Los Angeles Public Library uses LibStat.

The Los Angeles Public Library uses LibStat.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) is providing LibSat from Counting Opinions to all Massachusetts libraries for a three-year term. All library directors have the login information, and can pass it on to any of their staff. From what we saw in this session, LibSat is a pretty incredible tool to gather continuous patron feedback about their library experience; data nerds in the room were audibly delighted.

This session began with the proverb “A guest sees more in an hour than the host sees in a year.” Patron feedback is valuable to libraries, offering reminders of how much people appreciate library services and staff as well as presenting opportunities for improvement; patrons who rate the library’s importance as high but their satisfaction with the library as low direct attention to areas for improvement.

LibSat offers patrons a choice of a short survey (3-5 minutes), a regular survey (5-7 minutes), and an in-depth survey (~15 minutes). Other than possible survey fatigue, there’s really no reason MA libraries shouldn’t be using this tool. The results could really come in handy when it’s time to prepare those annual reports…

Next up:

Working with and Managing Multigenerational Staff/People

Building Intergenerational Collaboration & Programs: Serving People of Different Ages

Last year’s (rather long) MLA posts:

4/24/13: Teaching Technology to Patrons and Staff & Afraid to Advocate? Get Over It! & Library Services and the Future of the Catalog: Lessons from Recent ILS Upgrades & Loaning E-Readers to the Public: Legal and Strategic Challenges

4/25/13: On Life Support, But Not Dead Yet!: Revitalizing Reference for the 21st Century & Authors, Authors, Authors!: Three Local Authors Strut Their Stuff & Analyze Your Collection & Print and Digital Publishing: How Are Publishers, Editors, and Authors Adapting.

Yearly wrap-up, 2013 edition

In the spirit of those sites that do a weekly wrap-up (like Dooce’s “Stuff I found while looking around” and The Bloggess’ “Sh*t I did when I wasn’t here”), here are a few odds and ends I found while going through my work e-mail inbox and my drafts folder.

How to Search: “How to Use Google Search More Effectively” is a fantastic infographic that will teach you at least one new trick, if not several. It was developed for college students, but most of the content applies to everyday Google-users. Google has its own Tips & Tricks section as well, which is probably updated to reflect changes and new features.

How to Take Care of Your Books: “Dos and Don’ts for Taking Care of Your Personal Books at Home” is a great article by Shelly Smith, the New York Public Library’s Head of Conservation Treatment. Smith recommends shelving your books upright, keeping them out of direct sunlight and extreme temperatures, and dusting. (Sigh. Yes, dusting.)

The ARPANET Dialogues: “In the period between 1975 and 1979, the Agency convened a rare series of conversations between an eccentric cast of characters representing a wide range of perspectives within the contemporary social, political and cultural milieu. The ARPANET Dialogues is a serial document which archives these conversations.” The “eccentric cast of characters” includes Ronald Reagan, Edward Said, Jane Fonda, Jim Henson, Ayn Rand, and Yoko Ono, among others. A gem of Internet history.

All About ARCs: Some librarians over at Stacked developed a survey about how librarians, bloggers, teachers, and booksellers use Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). There were 474 responses to the survey, and the authors summarized and analyzed the results beautifully. I read a lot of ARCs, both in print and through NetGalley or Edelweiss, and I was surprised to learn the extent of the changes between the ARC stage and the finished book; I had assumed changes were copy-level ones, not substantial content-level ones, but sometimes they are. (I also miss the dedication and acknowledgements.)

E-books vs. Print books: There were, at a conservative estimate, approximately a zillion articles and blog posts this year about e-books, but I especially liked this one from The Guardian, “Why ebooks are a different genre from print.” Stuart Kelly wrote, “There are two aspects to the ebook that seem to me profoundly to alter the relationship between the reader and the text. With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the ebook.” He continued, “The printed book…is astonishingly stable over time, place and reader….The book, seen this way, is a radically egalitarian proposition compared to the ebook. The book treats every reader the same way.”

On (used) bookselling: This has been languishing in my drafts folder for nearly two years now. A somewhat tongue-in-cheek but not overly snarky list, “25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore” includes such amusing lessons as “If someone comes in and asks for a recommendation and you ask for the name of a book that they liked and they can’t think of one, the person is not really a reader.  Recommend Nicholas Sparks.” Good for librarians as well as booksellers (though I’d hesitate to recommend Sparks).

The-Library-Book-154x250_largeOn Libraries: Along the same lines, I really enjoyed Lucy Mangan’s essay “The Rules” in The Library Book. Mangan’s “rules” are those she would enforce in her own personal library, and they include: (2) Silence is to be maintained at all times. For younger patrons, “silence” is an ancient tradition, dating from pre-digital times. It means “the absence of sound.” Sound includes talking. (3) I will provide tea and coffee at cost price, the descriptive terms for which will be limited to “black,” “white,” “no/one/two/three sugars” and “cup.” Anyone who asks for a latte, cappuccino or anything herbal anything will be taken outside and killed. Silently.

On Weeding: It’s a truth often unacknowledged that libraries possessed of many books must be in want of space to put them – or must decide to get rid of some. Julie Goldberg wrote an excellent essay on this topic, “I Can’t Believe You’re Throwing Out Books!” I also wrote a piece for the local paper, in which I explain the “culling” of our collection (not my choice of headline).

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Public Libraries”: In an essay for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Australian Hugh Rundle wrote about the lack of incentives for public librarians to do research to test whether public libraries are achieving their desired outcomes.

Public Journalism, Private Platforms: Dan Gillmor questions how much journalists know about security, and how much control they have over their content once it’s published online. (Article by Caroline O’Donovan at Nieman Journalism Lab)

Media Consumption Assignment

Catching up on those blogs that I read regularly but not every single day, I saw this post from Dan Gillmore at Mediactive: “My Media Habits: One Day.” Gillmore teaches a course in media literacy at Arizona State University, and this was his assignment for his students (and himself):

For one full day, keep track of your own media consumption.  I don’t care if it’s reading a newspaper (in print or online), TV or radio program (broadcast or online), Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Twitter or anything else. Take notes. Then, do a blog post on your own impressions of how you get information and entertainment. For example, what are your main sources of news? Why do you trust them (if you do), and which do you trust more than others? Do you go to news organizations’ home pages or do you mostly read articles via links from other places, such as Facebook? A key question: What do you think you might be missing? Do you care? In general, I want you to explore your own use of media as a consumer. (We’ll look at media creation later on in the course.)

I decided I would do the assignment also. I chose a weekday that I was off work (November 8), and here’s what it looked like:

~9:30-10:30am: Checked e-mail, Twitter, Feedly (webcomics including xkcd, food blog Smitten Kitchen, etiquette blog Emily Post, friend’s blog post that included a link to a piece in Ploughshares Literary Magazine, which I saved to read later). Finished reading an interview (Neil Gaiman interviewing Lou Reed) that a friend had sent me a few days ago. I have a separate e-mail folder (Unroll.me) for newsletters, etc., and I get daily e-mails of headlines from The New York Times and Boston Globe there. I added photos to a blog post for work (about six-word memoirs) and published it (I suppose that’s creation, not consumption). Glanced at Facebook notifications, didn’t click any links or spend more than a minute on the news feed page. Also from Unroll.me folder: Goodreads with updates on what friends have read or added, Publishers Lunch newsletter. Did not check weather (I usually use weather.com), and was surprised by some hail later in the day.

substitutions

~12:30pm: Read a few pages of This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.

~4:30pm: Used Amazon to look up the title of a book someone recommended to me over coffee; requested the book through my library catalog. Used Scrivener to figure out a typeface, then replied to a thread on Twitter; followed a link from Twitter and read an article from The Atlantic. Used Feedly to read the three most recent posts on Copyfight, skim the last few days of posts from Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing, and read the most recent three posts on Dooce.

~9:00-10:30: Read more of the Ann Patchett book; watched two episodes of 30 Rock (final season) from Netflix.

I’ll answer Gillmore’s questions one by one, starting with…

What are your main sources of news? nytlogo379x64

The New York Times and the Boston Globe, but primarily the NYT. Also, fairly often: the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian (UK), Slate, BoingBoing, Wired, TechCrunch, and NPR. If it is a local news event, I’ll check the Patch.

Why do you trust them (if you do), and which do you trust more than others?

Many of the publications I read online have a long history in print. I trust that the journalists used sound and ethical methods, the articles have been edited for copy and content, and the facts have been checked (though some error is inevitable, especially with the pressure of the 24-hour news cycle). Reputation is part of it, but consistent quality is also important.

Do you go to news organizations’ home pages or do you mostly read articles via links from other places, such as Facebook?

For the Times and the Globe, I get daily e-mails of the headlines. The Globe tends to be sports-heavy, but the Times includes the first three headlines of each section of the paper, so that gives a broader overview (on November 8, I noticed headlines about trans fats, health care, food stamps, and the Twitter IPO). I will occasionally click links from Facebook, but I’m not on there very much. I’m more likely to click a link from Twitter, where I follow a few friends but mostly literary sources (booksellers, librarians, publishers, authors, book bloggers) and related people/organizations (ALA-OIF, EFF, etc.).

What do you think you might be missing? Do you care? 

I realize that most if not all of my usual sources have a liberal slant (anywhere from moderate to pronounced), so I’m not getting articles from a conservative point of view (though I am seeing the liberal reaction to conservative views and actions). I tend to read multiple articles on the same topics over time; there are topics I will pass over entirely, and certain issues I follow closely.

Also, nearly all of my media consumption is through the written word, whether online or in print (we get The New Yorker and Rolling Stone at home); I rarely see TV news, and only occasionally do I hear radio news (except for NPR’s weekly news quiz show, “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” which isn’t exactly news itself). Though I wish I had time to read more in-depth, long-form journalism from international sources, I feel like I get a good enough overview from my daily sources and frequent nonfiction books.

LibraryThing vs Goodreads, redux

Back in April I wrote about transitioning from Goodreads to LibraryThing after Amazon bought Goodreads. The transition was a bit halting, but I have now more or less stopped updating my Goodreads account (though I still contribute to my library’s account for readers’ advisory purposes) and shifted all my activity over to LibraryThing.

Though both Goodreads and LT are social reading sites, they are different in a number of ways. For example, let’s look at the messages on their home pages, before sign-in. Here’s Goodreads:

goodreads_home_logo

And here’s LibraryThing:

LT_home_logo

Goodreads (“Meet your next favorite book”) is encouraging readers to find new books to read, through lists (“shelves”), ads, and other users’ reviews. LibraryThing, on the other hand (“A home for your books…A community of book lovers”) emphasizes its cataloging quality and its user community.

There are a variety of uses for social reading sites (and by no means are Goodreads and LibraryThing the only choices), but my primary uses are (in descending order of importance):

  1. Keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read.

  2. Write and store reviews and notes on the books I’ve read.

  3. See what my friends are reading and read their reviews.

I also appreciate the chance to get the occasional early review copy (I’ve gotten one or two from Goodreads over the past six years, and at least four from LT over the past year), and the serendipity of connecting with authors (more than once, authors on Goodreads have contacted me after I’ve written a review of their book: one ended up attending a book club meeting, and another gave a presentation at the library).

So, how do the two sites compare? Let’s go point by point.

Keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read. I’m certainly able to do this on both sites. Goodreads has “read,” “currently reading,” and “to-read” shelves, whereas LibraryThing has “to-read” and “currently reading” collections (everything else is, by default, “read”). I like Goodreads’ “date added” sorting option, but I like that LibraryThing offers different display styles.

LY_styleoptions

Write and store reviews and notes on the books I’ve read. One of LT’s aforementioned display styles includes reviews – so you can see all your reviews at a glance, rather than having to click into each book’s record. You can also click directly into the review to make any edits. There is no way to skim all your reviews in Goodreads.

See what my friends are reading and read their reviews. Goodreads has a clear advantage here, because most of the people I know who are on a social reading site are on Goodreads. I’m not that interested in reading strangers’ reviews, but I do like seeing what my friends are reading. Fortunately, I still get e-mails from Goodreads with updates that include friends’ reviews.

goodreads_greenbuttonIn terms of function, then, the sites aren’t all that different. Though I’m committed to LT now, I still don’t find it as intuitive or user-friendly as Goodreads (though, like most LT users, I’m not a fan of Goodreads’ dreaded green button).

LibraryThing organization

Even after a few months of using LibraryThing, I still don’t navigate it effortlessly. The font is absolutely tiny, which leads to a cluttered appearance. Searching within your library takes a second or two longer than I’d like to return results (yes, I’m impatient). The organization also takes some getting used to – the Home tab shows your most recent books, but if you click into a book’s record from there, it just shows metadata and other users’ reviews, not your review or when you started or finished the book; that information is under the Your Books tab (this is where you can choose your own display style).

There’s a separate tab to Add Books, and when you search, there’s usually only one edition of the book, whereas Goodreads lists all of them (hardcover, paperback, mass market, audiobook, various publishers, etc). However, if you put in the ISBN of the specific edition you’re looking for, it will show up.

The other tabs – Groups, Talk, Local, More, and the mysteriously named Zeitgeist (“more information than you require,” indeed, though it’s probably useful/interesting for some) – I don’t use often, though I probably should look at the Local tab more often to see what’s going on. It’s customizable too, so you can choose your favorite bookstores, libraries, or other literary venues to see what authors might be in town. The More tab includes the link to Early Reviewer books.

Stats are accessed from the Home tab; I don’t look at stats that often, just a few times a year, but LT presents them pretty creatively. For instance, my library (which, to be fair, includes books on my “to-read” shelf as well as those I’ve read and am currently reading), if stacked book upon book, would be slightly taller than the Great Pyramid, slightly shorter than the Washington Monument. The value of its weight in gold would be $22,173,471. Goodreads data, on the other hand, is a bit more straightforward – number of books read in a calendar year, number of pages read, etc. I wish LT had these types of numbers as well.

Overall, I’m not thrilled with LibraryThing, but I’m going to stick with it because it isn’t owned by Amazon, which means my personal data isn’t being harvested (at least not so rapaciously and overtly). Perhaps some of the things that irk me about it will change, and more of my friends will join over time. Till then, it does what I need it to do.