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!

Overview of eBook Formats

Electronic Books are becoming more and more popular with the success of eReaders like Amazon’s Kindle and the emergence of tablet computers. Although many readers still prefer paper, eBooks take up less space, are often cheaper, and can provide reading enhancements like flexible font sizing and multimedia. One of the most daunting hurdles to readers that are new to eBooks is the wide array of eBook formats. Here are three that are worth paying attention to:

PDF

The .pdf format was developed by Adobe Systems as a way of preserving document layout across computing platforms. Short for Portable Document Format, .pdf files emulate the traditional structured layout of print books. As a result, it is an excellent format for publications that require tight control of layout, fonts, and images, such as legal or technical documents. The price of this level of precision is a limited ability to resize and reflow text. Originally a proprietary format, Adobe has made .pdf available as an open standard. PDF files are also easily viewable desktop computers using free software like the Adobe Reader.

AZW

The .azw format is the propriety format used by the Amazon Kindle eReader. All eBooks purchased from Amazon’s Kindle Store are delivered in this format, which includes a proprietary Digital Rights Management system that requires users to use a Kindle or Kindle software. Amazon has made its Kindle software available for desktops, smartphones, and tablets, allowing readers to read their books on any device. Unlike the .pdf format, .azw files are “reflowable” and allow readers to adjust the font size, background color, etc., of their eBooks. The Kindle and Kindle software will also read the legacy format on which .azw is based, called Mobipocket (.mobi). Many books at Project Gutenberg are available in this format.

ePub

The .epub format is an open standard developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum. ePub files are reflowable and allow readers to adjust the font size, background color, etc., of their eBooks. The IDPF hopes to finalize the ePub 3 standard by mid-2011, which will include support for embedded video and audio. ePub files are supported by several devices including the iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook, Borders Kobo, and the Sony eReader. The Google Books project and Project Gutenberg both offer books in .epub format.

A note on Digital Rights Management (DRM)

All three of the eBook formats discussed here can come with a variety of proprietary digital rights management encoding that may limit which files may be read on which devices.

EDUCAUSE goes mobile!

Thanks to Mary Popp and Courtney Greene for pointing out that current issues of both the EDUCAUSE Review and EDUCAUSE Quarterly focus on mobile technologies – including articles on mobile literacy, mobile teaching & learning, augmented reality, texting, and other good stuff.

There are a few articles not related to mobile here as well – I’d particularly like to draw your attention to a great article on why technology needs to be made accessible to visually-disabled students: “College is Hard Enough: Digital Technology Should Work for Everyone.”

Happy reading!

Cool infographic about QR codes

Mashable (one of my favorite sources for news and info on technology, especially social media) has posted an interesting infographic about the history and current state of QR codes. It includes information about the history of this technology, which mobile platform scans them the most, which companies are using them for promotional purposes, etc. And the infographic includes QR codes that you can scan to get additional information.

Find it at http://mashable.com/2011/03/04/qr-codes-infographic/ (or scan the QR code below to see it on your smartphone!).
qrcode

What do you think? Have you ever scanned a QR code? Have you noticed them popping up in advertisements and other places? We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment!

Accessibility Tip: Helping Dyslexic Users

Here’s a group of users we often forget about when we consider making our web pages accessible: dyslexic readers. Dyslexia is a fairly common disability, and we no doubt have quite a few folks in the IU community who live with it.

There are some easy guidelines we can follow when creating web pages that will make them easier for people with dyslexia – and for others, too – to read. Check out this very clear and helpful article from UXMovement: 6 Surprising Bad Practices That Hurt Dyslexic Users. And then read this response from someone who is actually dyslexic, outlining what actually works for them (which may not hold true for every person with dyslexia): A Dyslexic’s Thoughts on Webpages

Questions or comments about this or other web accessibility issues? We’d love to hear from you – leave a comment on this post, or get in touch with anyone from DUX!

Linked Data Resources and Webinars

Linked Data” describes the methods used to structure and interlink data so that they may become more useful. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, gave a TED Talk on linked data in 2009 during which he presents the case for Linked Data as an essential building block in the development of “Web 3.0”, or the Semantic Web. Although the Semantic Web was introduced conceptually nearly 10 years ago, it has only recently begun to gain visibility outside of web science research communities. Below I have listed a few upcoming webinars (some free, some for a fee) that will cover some introductory aspects of Linked Data principles as well as a recently released, free e-book that covers many of the basics of Semantic Web technologies in excellent detail and plain language.

Book: Linked Data: Evolving the Web into a Global Data Space

ASIST Webinars: http://www.asis.org/Conferences/webinars/2011/linked-data.html (March 9 and 15)

ALCTS Webinar: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alcts/confevents/upcoming/webinar/cat/031611.cfm (March 16)

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.

Bookmarking Services

Yahoo! caused quite a stir back in December when it announced that the company was planning on sunsetting its social bookmarking service, Delicious. Yahoo! has expressed its commitment to keeping Delicious active until it is sold, but many users have started looking for other options. Although the announcement serves as a reminder of the ephemerality of many online services, it has also created an opportunity for upstart companies to assert themselves on the market. Below is a listing of alternatives that might meet your needs. I use Pinboard myself. It’s quick, simple, charges a small fee, and is profitable. Which means it will be around forever, right?

Post a comment if I missed a bookmarking service that you find particularly useful!

Pinboard

Zootool

Google Bookmarks

Diigo

Instapaper (great for archiving articles)

Readability (also great for archiving)

Xmarks

Mister Wong

Accessibility Tip: Using the “alt” tag

Whether you are uploading your image via the Content Manager’s image upload widget or linking it in some other way, one of the necessary HTML attributes for any image is the alt tag. The text in your alt tag is used by screen readers, so that people who access the web using this assistive technology will be able to get the information that you are conveying in your image.

Userfocus has published an absolutely terrific post outlining five different ways to use alt text, and when you should use each kind. Read it here.

The Changing Mobile Landscape

The good people at Mobilefuture.org have published some interesting 2010 year end data on smartphones:

  • 5 Billion apps downloaded, up from 300 million in 2009
  • Twitter grew by 347 percent
  • 200 Million mobile Facebook users
  • 100 million YouTube videos are played on mobile devices DAILY

You can watch their 3 minute review on YouTube below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mCkbrYKQyI

As staggering as these figures seem, the trend toward smartphone ubiquity shows no signs of slowing. Horace Dediu of Asymco.com published an analysis of Gartner’s market data that showed the smartphone market is growing at a rate of 96%. Mr. Dediu predicts that 2011 is poised to be the year that half the U.S. population will be using smartphones.

In fact, smartphones and tablets are on the verge of overtaking PC computing as the primary way people access the internet. In December of 2010, Steve Lohr of the New York Times cited a recent IDC study, writing:

Mainstream adoption, according to IDC, is when a technology moves well beyond 15 percent or so of the market. In 2011, IDC predicts half of the 2.1 billion people who regularly use the Internet will do so using non-PC devices.

The rapid expansion of highly capable mobile computing devices presents several questions for providers of online services. Do we develop for the mobile web or do we develop stand-alone apps? How do we develop a content strategy for mobile devices? How do we port existing services to mobile platforms? Answers to these questions are enigmatic. One thing seems certain, that mobile computing will be to this decade what the PC was to the 1990’s and the internet to the 2000’s. Users now have access to (relatively) inexpensive handheld computers that are orders of magnitude more powerful than the machines that started the internet revolution.

How do you see mobile services impacting Libraries? Have you noticed students or faculty using smartphones or tablets more frequently? How do you use mobile devices in your own life? Post a comment and let us know your thoughts!