Saturday, October 27, 2007

Social Software -- or the power and fun of collecting, organizing, and sharing information


Two major problems with the Internet are:
  • too much information
  • too many tools to choose from
Given that, it's best to think of an information problem as an excuse to play around with social software.

The problem Barb and I face -- with this workshop -- is how to organize the information we want to share with people while minimizing the "presentation" talking and maximizing the "hands-on" aspect.

For now, I'm going to blog about the kinds of problems social software has solved for me -- and we'll wait to figure out the best kind of online launch pad for the workshop.

PROBLEM: How to get photographs online -- to share with others or simply to store for personal projects?

SOLUTION: Use an online photo sharing site, like Flickr (see How to Select a Photo Sharing Site for Newbies). Flickr has a tour available on its home page, which is one place to start.

Another way is to just start searching for photos on Flickr, e.g., photos tagged "Singapore" or photos including the word "Hmong".

Flickr also allows you to put photos in Sets and then to put Sets into Collections. For instance, I have a Collection called UWCSEA Primary Library, which contains 8 sets, e.g., Writers' Camp 2007: Telunas Beach and 07-08 UWCSEA Primary Library Displays. It's my way of recording what I do in the library. I have another collection called Other School Libraries where I keep sets of photos of libraries taken on professional peer visits.

NB: I can control who can see any photo by specifying its privacy level -- public, friend, or family.

By becoming "friends" with people and adding them to your Contact list, then you can automatically see when they upload new photos. For instance, Barb just became a grandmother and when I login to Flickr, I can see the latest photos she's uploaded of the baby -- because she's one of my Contacts.

There are also Groups you can join. I'm thinking of joining the 365 Library Days Project -- where you are supposed to take one photo a day of your library for a year and post them on Flickr. Search for groups that interest you. Take a look at all these Singapore groups on Flickr.

How could Flickr be used in the classroom? Read about Photo Sharing in Education in the Teaching Hacks Wiki (which has enough material there to keep you occupied for another Saturday or two).

People are doing all kinds of fun stuff with Flickr. I like this "Spell with Flickr" application -- which takes text as input and gives you back photos that spell out the text, e.g.,:

F L I C K r

Friday, October 26, 2007

Social spots in Google's many products....

Seen a list of all the Google products lately? It's impressive. (Check out the [French] map of these products and how they relate to one another, though -- mind -- it's as enormous as Google's influence.... I prefer the more impressionistic (and English) map of Googleland....)

Maybe Google is taking over the world, but I'm still a happy user.

My favorite tools are Gmail, Google Reader, iGoogle, and Google Notebook.

I love Gmail with its ability to tag e-mails with multiple labels -- effectively allowing them to "live" in multiple folders -- makes managing the inbox so easy. (I don't know if any of you subscribe to multiple listservs -- but Gmail makes it easy to set up filters and automatically tag/label posts as they come in -- have a read here about how I manage my listserv traffic using a second Gmail account, if you're interested...)

Even if you don't use Gmail, you can still get a Google account and access their other products.

GoogleReader is hard to show off -- as you would have to be logged into my Google account to see my (170+) feeds and my pile of reading. But they now allow you to identify items for sharing. This is the public webpage of my GoogleReader shared items. They also allow you to post clips of your most recent shared items on your blog (so you should see them on the upper left of my blog page).

iGoogle is Google's home page option for you. Again, you can't see mine unless you log in as me. But I can tell you it's got feeds from my various social software tools -- my LibraryThing catalog, my del.icio.us account, my GoogleDocs, my Gmail, my GoogleReader, etc., plus a "to-do" list that I maintain.

GoogleNotebook allows me to make notes and mark websites for later reading/action. I can share these notebooks, e.g., Barb and I shared one in planning for this workshop. While we have read/write privileges, GoogleNotebook also has an option to make a notebook public -- so you can see what we have in our notebook called Social Software Workshop.

Will Richardson over on Weblogg-ed recently asked the blogosphere:

Seriously. I want to know. What do you do when you read a couple of sentences in a post or article that really resonate? How do you capture and organize those snippets? What tools do you use? How often do you recall those sentences, access them? How do you search for them? Is your process working?

Lots of people answered him -- and I couldn't resist adding my two cents:

Like so many others posting here, I’m a huge fan of Google Notebook, available wherever there’s internet access, from any machine. Definitely download the Firefox extension, so with one right-click, you can pop in a snippet and a link.

When I go through my Google Reader inbox, I make entries in my various Google Notebooks of things I want to follow up on or want to make notes on (though, yes, I also use del.icio.us to log websites, as well as diigo).

I maintain a number of notebooks and it’s easy to move notes from one to the other. For example, one is for “Books of interest” — definitely useful before heading to the library or bookstore. Another notebook holds my “Notes on books read”. Yet another is “Articles to think about”.

As a teacher-librarian, I work with a variety of classes on different units of inquiry — and I create a new Google notebook for each one. It lets me build up ideas, links, etc. to sort through later.

In a couple of weeks a friend and I are doing a short workshop on Social Software for fellow teachers and we’re using a “shared” Google notebook to log and comment on sites, ideas, quotes, etc.

My “General” notebook is useful for logging things like airplane ticket reservations (so I don’t have to wait for the confirmation e-mail to arrive in my in-box — I just clip the relevant information and feel safe to leave the ticketing webpage).

I use iGoogle as my personal homepage so my Google notebooks are readily available (along with my Gmail, my Google Reader, etc.) Yes, I’m a Google fan…


GoogleDocs is another way to collect and share information. You can upload text documents, spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations -- and invite other people to become collaborators. Barb and I also use it frequently to give each other access to documents -- rather than attaching Word documents to e-mails.

Nov. 19: Just discovered that those clever folks at The Common Craft Show have produced one of their super-simple explanatory videos for GoogleDocs: GoogleDocs in Plain English
The folks at Google are constantly coming up with new ideas (during that 20% of their free-thinking time).

Google Custom Search Engines (though note, they're not the only ones out there) are a powerful tool, especially for teachers/librarians who want to enforce some quality control on students' searching. You get to specify exactly which sites and/or pages will be searched. I've already created several for my primary school students, e.g., Ms. Day's General Search Engine for Kids and an Aztec Search Engine. Both only search sites that I am confident have information at the level of primary school students.

Another more recent addition to the field is DeliGoo, a del.icio.us search engine. It's a Firefox extension that allows you to search just the websites tagged in a del.icio.us account, e.g.,

What is "Social Graph-Based Search"? -- and will it overtake Google?

Robert Scoble, a well-known Internet guru, makes some strong arguments that Google is going to be left behind in terms of search (over the next few years) because its core strength is about search engine optimization techniques (i.e., how people can tweak their webpage to come out higher in the rankings because of knowing how the search algorithm works).

Instead Scoble believes social graph-based searching -- or tapping into people-based networks for information -- will reign supreme in the search world, and he discusses three in particular: Mahalo, Facebook, and TechMeme.

Watch these three video tutorials of Robert Scoble talking about "Social Graph-Based Search":

He talks about a fabric of trust -- makes me think of librarians as a reliable fabric in society, providing trusted information ....

Scoble asks, what if everyone has their own Mahalo? Our own network of "people-based systems"....

You'll probably have heard of Facebook (if not, see its Wikipedia entry -- and consider the fact that it has almost 50 million active users and Microsoft just paid $240m for a 1.6% stake in the company). TechMeme is more for technology addicts, while Mahalo, subtitled "Human-Powered Search", is designed for the general public.

I think Mahalo has a lot of potential. Their "guides" (as they call the people who put their pages together) are basically creating what librarians call "pathfinders" -- a summary of the best links on a particular topic. See, for example, Mahalo's School Subjects list. Students should find some of those pages quite useful, e.g., the page on Hamlet has everything you might need.... same goes for the page on Ian McEwan..... I know the book club I belong to would find the the Authors and Writers pages useful...

Mahalo also has some good intro "how-to" pages on technology, e.g.,
I read a recent article/interview with Jason Calacanis, the founder of Mahalo.

His plan was devilishly clever: He would create a human-powered search engine that builds out prefab responses to the most popular search terms. He would shoot for the top 30%, or about 15,000 terms, to effectively skim the cream from the entire search business. Mahalo would deliver results for searches like "Paris Hilton," "iPod," and "Bill Gates," but not for your local high-school football team or childhood sweetheart. And because those results would be prepared by humans, sifted and sorted and condensed for maximum relevance, users would no longer be faced with 10 million hits, as they are with Google, but with a few dozen. Mahalo would be a search engine for people who don't like to search.

Evidently Mahalo has about 60 employees so far.

Most of Calacanis's employees are young out-of-work novelists, screenwriters, musicians, artists, and actors--info addicts happy to earn $35,000 a year plus health benefits by searching the Web rather than shelving books at Barnes & Noble or slinging chai lattes at Starbucks. Calacanis has promised them 15% of the company when and if it goes public, with the investors getting a third and Calacanis keeping the rest.

(Why doesn't he try to hire librarians, who are trained in searching and evaluating information??)

Anyway, if you like Mahalo, you might also look at Squidoo -- which is openly social (like Wikipedia, meaning anyone can create pages). Here's how they describe themselves:

Squidoo is a website hosting hundreds of thousands of lenses. Each lens is one person's look at something online. Your take on football or business or the best thai food in town. Lenses are free.


Adult as Inquirer, or, where did those cannonballs come from?

Don't miss the three-part blog report in the New York Times by Errol Morris which documents his investigation into two photos taken during the Crimean War of "The Valley of the Shadow of Death".

“You mean to tell me that you went all the way to the Crimea because of one sentence written by Susan Sontag?” My friend Ron Rosenbaum seemed incredulous. I told him, “No, it was actually two sentences.”

So begins the tale of how Morris, a documentary filmmaker, is intrigued by a statement by Sontag and subsequently seeks to prove which of two photographs was taken first -- theorizing along the way how and why the photographer might have changed what the camera shot. Though it may sound boring, it's not.

It's also exactly the kind of dogged inquiry that we want our students to experience....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Slow Blog -- comes to life

It's been months since I posted, so I guess I need to come up with an excuse. The frenetic summer of an expat teacher/parent ? (too much time traveling and socializing)... Returning to Singapore and immediately having to find a new place to live in a hot property market ? (downsizing is painful) ... Instead I'll suggest the tactic of slow blogging (cf: slow food and slow schools).

I certainly digest material slowly. There's that fear of being forever a lurker. Still learning, but not quick to interact. I'm reminded of an article (that I can't provide a link to at the moment) I had to read once about Aborigine children in Australia and how they prefer long periods of observing in the classroom before engaging. For them public mistakes are worse than delay or inactivity. Though the teacher might perceive them as dreaming or not on task, they instead act upon a greater requirement to survey what is going on. Slow but solid absorption.

However, the time to start writing is now. I've signed up to do a workshop at TeachIT with my good friend (and fellow teacher-librarian) Barb Philip. Just a 75 minute workshop -- but for our general international school peers (argh!) here in Singapore on a Saturday in November.
Social Software -- in school and life

See how two teacher-librarians have experimented with free (and almost free) internet software to help them collect, organize, and share information online -- and play with these Web 2.0 tools yourself. Guaranteed to get you thinking how you might use them in your classroom as well as for professional networking and personal projects. The sampler will include wikis, social bookmarking, online catalogs, blogs, RSS readers, photo and document sharing, and customized search engines.
It got a bit truncated in the official line-up, but that was our original description.

It's a deja-vu experience for me, as that's what I did 18 months ago with Beth Gourley. We signed up to do a workshop for fellow teacher-librarians at EARCOS 2006. You never learn anything until you volunteer to present it. Beth and I threw our combined learning into a wiki, which is still out there -- LibraryTails -- and surprisingly not that out-of-date. Barb and I agree we definitely need to pool our content online beforehand. This workshop will be better than the last one in that it's hands-on. So we just need a launchpad so people can start playing. Barb's going to set up a MySpace for us, while I'm going to use this blog to focus on some of our experiences and ideas.

Poem I read recently -- by Eve Merriam:

A Lazy Thought

There go the grown ups
To the office,
To the store.
Subway rush,
Traffic crush;
Hurry, scurry,
Worry, flurry.

No wonder
Grown ups
Don't grow up
Any more.
It takes a lot
Of slow
To grow.

Apture