Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

December 5, 2007

I think the blogger’s block is gone – although I can’t really tell because I haven’t been blogging. But, the reasons that I haven’t been blogging are numerous: back issues that kept my horizontal for much of November, school work and my latest social networking site that has been keeping me very,very busy. I am now officially part of WebKinz World. My niece and nephews bought me a panda WebKinz for my birthday. They are WebKinz fiends – and felt compelled to share the experience with first their parents, then their grandmother and then me – Aunty Jen. Within minutes of meeting my new pet, I was at the computer with my nephew, Jimmy, going through the adoption process. He then gave me a cursory tour of the WebKinz website – paying particular attention to his favorite parts of WebKinz World.

All that I can say is that I am quite amazed by the whole thing. I’ve been aware of WebKinz for quite a while. I’ve bought several as presents. I’ve watched the kids the play games, helped them answer trivia questions, etc. However, I didn’t realize how intricate the whole process would be. WebKinz World is a fairly sophisticated social networking site – for children. Before you can adopt a new pet, you need to create a login. When I went to register, I was amazed to see that simple passwords are not allowed. People must use a number in their password. One the registration page, there is information about password security.

From there things get interesting. My nephew helped me add friends – himself, his sister Emily, my sister in law, brother and mother. “We can chat. We can send each other notes. And you can send me presents,” he told me. He then showed me the games. Sadly, he didn’t tell me about the fact that one has to regularly feed and exercise one’s pet. Don’t worry, though. Jimmy sent me a treadmill, and now I’m exercising and feeding Freddie regularly!

So far, I’ve added a bedroom, a bathroom and an outdoor space (to grow the corn that I received as a present from my niece Emily) to Freddie’s home which originally had only one room. I’ve furnished the bathroom and the bedroom with my Kinz cash. Of course, all cash must be earned. So far, I have done several jobs and answered lots of trivia questions. Jimmy keeps emailing me in order to check on my progress. He is worried that I am not taking care of Freddie. All in all, this is a fascinating world. And, it is where I have been spending ALL of my free time. This is one of the major reasons that I haven’t been blogging of late. Now that I’m comfortable with WebKinz, however, I think I can spend less time there. Well, unless my niece and nephew find out . . .

Community Spaces in Academia

May 30, 2007

Laura Cohen recently started a discussion about the place of academia in relation to online social spaces in a post entitled The Abdication of Community Spaces. In the post, Laura asks “Are any campuses hosting the kinds of spaces that can accommodate the immediacy of the need to create communities online?” She concludes that “institutions of higher education are abdicating their responsibility to host such communities.” Part of the inspiration for this post was the high number of communities that sprung up on Facebook after the April 16th shootings at Virginia Tech. One point that Laura makes is that by not hosting such communities itself, Virginia Tech has lost a vital piece of its social history in relation to the tragedy. Laura is also concerned that by abdicating their role in such spaces, academia will not be able to preserve important parts of its history. This is a great post with some excellent comments – all worth reading.

I commented a couple of times – pretty much agreeing that I think it is problematic that academia isn’t jumping into the social network arena and sharing my reasons why. I’m coming at this from the viewpoint of a student in a distance program who believes that one of the biggest problems with online education is the lack of engaging communities that foster both social and educational interactions. I and many of the students in my program that I have been in contact with over the past couple of months feel the lack of social space quite keenly. I have discussed my frustrations with this previously. These frustrations led me to try and create some type of social space for students in the MLS program – particularly distance students. The only sustainable options at this point are to use 3rd party products like Facebook, Google Groups or Yahoo Groups. Honestly, I’m not happy with these products. They haven’t really done what I thought they would – or what I thought we needed. Undoubtedly, Facebook is the best option and the best product to facilitate social interaction.  However, there have been several problems (mostly with email addresses and the way I created the group) have made the Facebook group less than ideal.

I have come to the conclusion that academia needs to be participating in this arena in order to successfully fulfill the social component that is an important part of students’ educational experiences. Colleges and universities spend an inordinate amount of time and money to give students a sense of communities on their campuses. They really need to follow this through to the online arena – especially for distance students. As online education continues to flourish, I believe that it will be this type of attention to web-based communities that will attract students to one college over another. I know that if I were to even consider another online program, I would be much more vigilant about the services offered to distance students – something that I honestly never even thought to consider when choosing my MLS program.

Are You My Friend?

May 29, 2007

Sarah Houghton-Jan from LibrarianInBlack started a discussion recently with her thoughtful Sarah’s social network presences, and the dilution of thereof post. Houghton-Jan writes about how time consuming these spaces are and about the guilt that they may cause. My favorite part of this post is the following:

It begs the question—what’s the point?  Is it a status thing to have lots of friends?  Or particular friends?  Am I more important because Stephen Abram is my friend on these networks?  Am I the only one feeling the weight and noticing the dilution of our social networks?  Something tells me I’m not the only one.

Meredith Farkas continues this discussion at Information Wants To Be Free with a post titled, Couldn’t have said it better . . ..  Farkas asks

I’m curious about how other people deal with this. Do you add everyone who adds you regardless of whether or not you know them? Do you add people you don’t know? If someone doesn’t add you, does it hurt your feelings? Do you think the term “friend” in these social networks has meaning if you add people you don’t know at all?

There are some great comments on this post – all worth reading with people offering some varying viewpoints.

The whole friend thing is very strange. Friending people is obviously a large part of many social networks. Due to my rather introverted nature, I’m not one to send friend requests – in fact, I think that I have only invited 3 or 4 people to be my friend. On the other hand, I have had a good number of requests for friendship by others. So far, I have accepted every request – not feeling as if I had any valid reason for saying no. However, I will admit that I have wondered on several occasions who some of these people were – and why they were asking me to be their friend. On some networks – like Ning – the concept of friendship doesn’t appear to add any significant value to the whole experience.

So, what is friendship for? What does it actually mean? When is it appropriate to send a friend request? Should you give someone a reason when you ask them to be your friend? What does it mean to be friends with someone? What are people’s expectations for the relationship? Am I more important than you if I have more friends than you do? More importantly, do I have to do anything to nurture the relationship if I say yes to your friend request?

Obviously, the use of the term “friend” is part of the problem. In one of the comments on Meredith Farkas’ post, Phil Bradley writes that he has “done a mental global delete with ‘friend’ and replaced with ‘potential contact’.” This makes a great deal of sense to me. I generally don’t use any social networks to keep in touch with my real friends – all of my online presences are related to my professional interests or my school experience. I think that I may well follow Bradley’s lead on this one. Viewing friends as potential contacts helps me to understand why others may have asked me to be their friends – and makes guilt less of a problem overall.

On the whole, I’m at the point where I find social networks very tiring. They are high maintenance and incredibly time consuming. I’m not saying that this negates their value. I’m just saying that I have already become apathetic to many of the social networks that I have joined. In some cases, there is so much going on that if I do not log in several times a day, I feel like I’ve missed so much. I don’t think -ok, I know that I have the time to keep up with them. RSS feeds help – and this is how I read stay current with what is going on with many sites. However, using RSS feeds somewhat defeats the purpose of many networking sites.

So really, I have no idea if you are my friend or if I am yours. I have no idea of what it all really means, but I will continue to accept all friend requests. I’m not sure how big of a part I will ever play in social networking sites. I suppose that I will get more comfortable with them over time. I need to be better at networking all around, so I suppose I’ll just have to put more effort into it.

My Thoughts On Online Communities

March 6, 2007

I’ve always had rather neutral feelings about social software and networking sites. I think part of this is because I’m a fairly quiet and introverted person who tends to stay in the background. Honestly, many people that I went to high school with wouldn’t remember me if asked. I have a talent for fading into the background if I so choose (or sometimes even if I don’t). I often just go with the flow – and allow life to happen around me. These are obviously generalizations – and there are certainly many exceptions. I can push myself when I feel it is necessary. One of the reasons that I started graduate school was that I felt a bit stagnant at work. I thought that I needed something to get me thinking about improving services, improving technology and making better decisions. It was the right decision – and regardless of the issues with the distance program at SCSU – school has helped to make me more engaged in the practice of librarianship.

Once I started the process of applying to school, I got involved in the blogging community that exists in the library world. This has been a wonderful experience, and I find myself and my ideas challenged constantly by other bloggers commentaries and opinions. It has been an excellent companion to my formal education. But to be candid, I didn’t actually join choose to join this community. I mean I wasn’t even aware that this community existed prior to starting this blog. My participation kind of just developed – which is fairly typical to the way that I get involved in most things. I was still a bit suspect of other types of online communities – and resisted joining any.

Of course, I recently joined Facebook in order to try and create some type of community for distance students at SCSU. Last week, several people joined the network after it got some publicity from SCSU’s distance education librarian, Rebecca Hedreen. This week even more people have joined this group after a discussion on the ILS listserv for MLS students erupted about the quality of online classes at SCSU. I debated with myself for quite a while about participating, but decided that this a very necessary discussion – and a perfect opportunity to mention the group. I tempered my email – hoping to be realistic about the problems that people were documenting and to also be positive about the good parts of the programs. I hope I was successful. Ultimately, I am incredibly amazed by the level of participation. It is obvious that I wasn’t alone in my belief that distance students need some type of community to help them bond and to support their educational experience. Whether or not it will become something substantial is yet to be seen – however, this is a good start. And, it feels good to have done something rather than just complain.

Beyond this, I also joined Bill Drew’s Library 2.0 social network on Ning today. Much like with everything else, I went back and forth – and back and forth. Do I really want to join something else? Am I not already having trouble keeping track of all of my online identities? Despite the fact that the answer to each question is yes, I was incredibly intrigued by the response to the network. I was also pretty interested in Ning itself. Anyway, it is a pretty amazing community – and a pretty amazing group. Gen-Xers, Millennials, the youth of today (whatever you call these groups) have absolutely nothing on librarians when it comes to social networking.

On a more personal and somewhat funny note, I now have more online friends than real ones. I hadn’t had my account on the Library 2.0 Ning site for more than 5 minutes before I had my first request from someone who wanted to be my friend. I now have 8 friends in total. How cool am I? (If you don’t get the irony, I feel the need to tell you that I’m really not in any way shape or form). When one is new to this type of social networking, the “friend” concept is so strange – a wee bit surreal even. However, I’m really getting into this whole thing. Everytime I get an email that someone wants to be my friend, I immediately log into Ning to accept – I can’t possibly afford to be choosy.

The bottom line is that these things are incredibly cool, and I think they have the potential to be powerful tools. I’m totally convinced about their potential worth. Playing with these sites, developing a level of comfort with them and creating online networks are vitally important. After only a short time, I sense that I could become addicted. Sadly, I have so many other things that I need to spend my time on. But, I will persevere and continue to push myself a little bit more.

A Group Emerges – Kind Of

March 1, 2007

Thanks to some publicity by SCSU’s Rebecca Hedreen, there are now 11 members of the distance education group that I created on Facebook. Wow – what a start! There still isn’t too much there, but people have added some comments – and even a discussion. I’m pretty excited by this response. It is really amazing to try something out – and to have people join in.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time playing around in Facebook – trying to learn how it works, what it contains and what one can do with it. I admit it can get pretty addictive. Of course, I can’t spend too much time messing around with it or my school work will suffer. Overall, so far, so good. Cool!

A Look At Tagging

February 20, 2007

Ever wonder about tagging and how people use it? Well, take a look at Tim Spalding’s recent analysis – When tags work and when they don’t: Amazon and LibraryThing. Spalding writes: “Both LibraryThing and Amazon allow users to tag books. But with a tiny fraction of Amazon’s traffic, LibraryThing appears to have accumulated *ten times* as many book tags as Amazon—13 million tags on LibraryThing to about 1.3 million on Amazon.” This is interesting stuff. I can’t say that I am surprised by the results. I use Amazon constantly – to buy stuff, to check citations, to search inside the book, to read reviews, to check upcoming release dates for new titles, etc. I love Amazon. I make wish lists. I read other people’s lists. I do not, however, tag anything.

Now, I also use LibraryThing. I currently have about 1750 books in my catalog, and I have added tags to the majority of them. As one of the commenters (Jason Lefkowitz) on Spalding’s post puts it – “People WILL tag things if the tags are useful to THEM.” Tagging items in Amazon wouldn’t really do anything for me. If I’m interested in a title, I put it on some type of list. However, in my LibraryThing catalog, the tags have meaning to me. Tags, in other words, add value to my information. I don’t have any need to try and add value to Amazon’s information. In my catalog, I have about 526o tags (roughly 3.09 tags per book). I own mostly fiction books. The information that is important to me is character names – this is one way that I like to search through my books. I also put the time period of the work in a tag. Thus, I can sort my collection by the time period during which the story takes place. This may not make sense to others, but it is how I want to be able to search and sort my books.

What does all this mean for tagging in library catalogs? Will it be a useful concept for people? I’m not sure. I can see some applications where people might tag information about books that they used in their research – but only if they saw some value to themselves. One other area where tags have really taken off is in the PennTags project. PennTags is a really wonderful example of students using tags in some inventive ways. Here students create their own spaces, add items to it and tag their data. The key (again) is that people are tagging their own data. Information in a library catalog (the way it currently exists in most cases) does not belong to the patron. In Ann Arbor District Library’s catalog (or SOPAC), people have been adding tags. It is pretty interesting to go through the tags and see what people are adding. It is difficult to tell how popular the feature is. From a cursory glance, it doesn’t appear that too many titles have been tagged. Ultimately, I doubt that patrons will find tagging overly useful in a library catalog unless it fills some need.

In the mean time, Tim Spalding’s look at tagging is worth a read or two. He has some great ideas for making tagging work in ecommerce sites. I hadn’t given much thought to the impact of “opinon tagging.” Food for thought!

Hiding Out From Online Friends

January 31, 2007

I have been reading (with great interest) the blog posts from the Five Weeks to a Social Library online course currently taking place. One of the participants, Alisia Wygant wrote a very interesting post this week called Work Social Life. In the post, she discusses the problem of having created an identity in Facebook while in college that may not really be the type of presence one would want in a professional capacity. Do those friends from college really belong in one’s professional network? Alisia cancelled her Facebook account, but ponders what would happen if she hadn’t: “. . . would I be forced to live an online double identity–ducking into virtual telephone booths and putting on my uniform?” This image of having to hide behind virtual walls when one has one virtual hat on in order to remain hidden from inappropriate friends in rather comical. Steve Lawson from See Also points out that “With blogs, it is easy enough to have more than one, and keep the siliness on LiveJournal or Vox or whatever, but a site like Facebook seems like it might be more problematic to maintain multiple personalities.” I have to agree.

I find it extremely difficult to maintain all of my online identities, accounts, spaces, etc. I have at least 6 email addresses. Although I don’t use them all, I do actively use 4 – and trying to remember which one I use for which purpose is maddening. I hate creating new accounts or logins – and have very mixed feelings about having signed up for Facebook. Keeping track of online relationships and/or friends must be even more difficult – especially if one has to compartmentalize. I’m not really the type to post material online that I would need to “hide” from people, but then again, I’m fairly new to all of this online identity stuff. I won’t really post anything that I am not comfortable with everyone I know seeing. However, I can see how this could get complicated and even messy for some.

Toward a Brave New World

January 31, 2007

Rebecca Hedreen, the Distance Education Librarian, at the Buley Library at Southern Connecticut State University left a comment on my Some Thoughts on Online Education at the Halfway Point post. In the comment, Rebecca was responding to my points that SCSU doesn’t really have any online communities for its distance students (along with making some other very salient points). At the end of her comment, she expressed some interest in working with me if I wanted to try to create some type of online group. We discussed the issue a bit more via email, and Rebecca made some suggestions for creating an online community using Facebook, Yahoo Groups or groups within the student portal system at SCSU – MySCSU. Rebecca and I had briefly discussed this same subject back in early September 2005 when I had emailed her about some of my concerns. I will say that I thought quite a bit about this back in early fall – but work, school and life took all of my energies.

Ultimately, this seems like a good time to try to put something together. I’m not entirely sure how successful it will be. Part of me really thinks that online communities created on commercial sites could be very useful, but I really believe that the school needs some sort of official place for distance students. I definintely see a need for a place that distance student can ask questions, find out about the school and get official information that is pertinent to distance education. But, one has to start somewhere. So, I created a Facebook account last night. Rebecca mentioned that she knew many students already had accounts so this might be a good place to create an environment. I don’t have much there other than my SCSU email address and some vague mention that my graduation date is 2012 (which I think is when I have to be done – I’m hoping to be done by the end of 2008). My plan at this point is to just play around with different sites to see what they offer. Fortunately, I invited Rebecca to be my friend, and she accepted (I find this to be such an odd concept). It seems that one can’t really test out some of these social software sites unless they participate in them. This can be difficult for those like me who may be inherently unsocial. Of course, I have 9 million other things to do, but feel compelled to make an effort to effect some type of positive change. Here’s hoping!!