Seek, and keep on seeking …

In his latest Alertbox column, usability guru Jakob Nielsen tells a sad tale of search behavior:

Incompetent Research Skills Curb Users’ Problem Solving

I only wish that the results he reports seemed less obvious, but it felt distressingly familiar – the topic of a thousand conference presentations, committee agendas, casual conversations with colleagues, and internal dialogues across libraryland.

Some highlights, or low points, depending on how you want to look it:

  • By and large, people aren’t very good at searching, and they don’t course-correct well;
  • They will type into any box they can find;
  • A lot of the stuff that’s out there to be found is junk;
  • While technology is making this a little better, none of this is improving fast enough.

So what do we do about it? Nielsen suggests “more education” and better interfaces, and who am I to disagree with that! (Although the fact that he doesn’t once mention the existence of an entire profession of trained searchers and information specialists in reference to the dilemma he presents is slightly deflating. I see yet another call for more and better library PR.)

Of course there’s other, more library-focused research. If you haven’t been reading the very interesting reports published by the Project Information Literacy researchers: yes, they are long, but yes, they are worth it. To quickly sum up: Project Information Literacy, based out of the University of Washington’s iSchool, has been studying how students (early adults, so primarily undergraduates) do research, using a variety of methodologies at a wide array of institutions nationwide. While their results show that students do turn first to course readings for assignment-based research, they have done some work on how students look for non-academic information that echoes Nielsen’s findings: when left to themselves, students aren’t sure how to process what they find.

In the interests of being a bit more specific about actions we might take, I’ll share some ideas of mine … next week! Same bat time, same bat channel: see you there!

Savvy business for “dumb” phones?

The Social Network (also known as “The Facebook movie”) batted a little under .500 Sunday night at the Academy Awards, ultimately racking up three wins – for editing, best original score, and best adapted screenplay – from its eight total nominations, including a potential Best Actor nod to Jesse Eisenberg for his role as CEO Mark Zuckerberg (I find Justin Timberlake a bit more compelling myself).

Oscar, Schm-Oscar, Zuckerberg himself might say: 600 million users strong, Facebook rolls on, a juggernaut seemingly immune to the frequent kerfuffles raised by users over privacy of user data, interface changes, and how to finally, once and for all, suppress all those Farmville notifications from so-and-so.

With that many users, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty to say about Facebook. Some might be most interested to consider the possible ramifications of the company’s move last month to raise millions of dollars, from Goldman Sachs and an unnamed Russian investor, in what appears to be the prep for going public. Others might find the story of a Spanish nun expelled from her convent for – that’s right – “spending too much time on Facebook” compelling.

Unsurprisingly, I was most attracted to this story: no longer content to provide apps just for smartphones,  Facebook is moving into the “feature phone” market.  What’s a “feature phone”? Flip phones, candy-bar phones, or others … slightly lower-end than often pricey smartphones, feature phones can run some applications, but aren’t built around an operating system like Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, or Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. While the pundits are lining up to say that 2011 will stand as the tipping point for smartphone adoption in the United States (see our own Bret’s post on the topic, plus the Horizon Report 2011 [PDF]), there are still millions and millions of feature phones in use in this country, and millions more around the world.

Now all those folks can download the Facebook feature phone app, and get 90 days of free data. Maybe not long enough to get them tossed out of a convent, but probably plenty of time to get hooked for Facebook Mobile to become part of their day-to-day. Will other corporations and providers move into the feature phone market? As tablet sales take off, will consumers opt to spend there and save on phones? At least one person has recently noted his interest in pairing his tablet with a feature phone (through which he could create a Wi-Fi hotspot). What happens when two disruptive technologies collide? I don’t know, but if I figure it out, I’ll be sure to post it in my Facebook status.

Wrap-up: Google Analytics webinar series

We certainly enjoyed the recent webinar series on Google Analytics, Library Analytics: Inspiring Positive Action through Web User Data (an ALA TechSource webinar/workshop), and we hope that you did too. If you missed the sessions the first time around, we do have access to the archives, so give us a yell if you’d like to see them.

We also wanted to collect some information here, for easy access. Enjoy!

Session 1: The Basics of Turning Numbers into Action
Continuing the Conversation: ALA Techsource blog post with slides, additional resource links and content

Session 2: How Libraries Analyze and Act
Continuing the Conversation
: ALA Techsource blog post with slides, additional resource links and content

The presenters provided the following list of recommended readings:
Wikipedia Entry: Web Analytics
“About Us” Page, Web Analytics Association
Measuring Website Usage with Google Analytics, Part I
Measuring Website Usage (from http://coi.gov.uk/guidance.php?page=229)
Library Analytics (Part 1)

Arendt, Julie and Wagner, Cassie. 2010. “Beyond Description: Converting Web Site Usage Statistics into Concrete Site Improvement Ideas“, Journal of Web Librarianship, 4: 1, 37 — 54
Black, Elizabeth L.2009. “Web Analytics: A Picture of the Academic Library Web Site User“, Journal of Web Librarianship, 3: 1, 3 — 14
DANIEL WAISBERG and AVINASH KAUSHIK. 2009. “Web Analytics 2.0: Empowering Customer CentricitySEMJ.org Volume 2 Issue 1.

You may also be interested in this recent interview with the presenters, “Paul Signorelli and Char Booth Discuss the Role of Web Analytics in the Library.”