fancy search everywhere

Not quite on the heels of why I don’t like Ebsco’s new visual search, parts one and two, there are suddenly all kinds of different ways to search for news and information to try. I’ll admit, I don’t totally get any of these yet. I’ve barely played with them, which is part of the reason for that. I think that they’re not fully ready to be gotten yet, though as well.

What’s interesting to me is this common thread running through all of these attempts — the idea that people searching want to see how their results connect to each other. They want to see connections and context. I think this is true, and I think that it’s something we have a hard time doing when we research, especially keyword-research, online. I’m liking the trend, though I’m still a little unclear on the execution to date.

First, from Google Labs

Google Experimental Search. If you have a Google account, and you choose to “join” this experiment, you get some additional options for your results. (A note – all of these images are to screenshots. You have to be logged in and part of the experimental search to see what I’m seeing)

search results page

At the top, you can choose to look at these results in info view, timeline view or map view.

The “info view” seems to be about refining your results. You can choose to focus on a particular location, or a particular period in time. Here’s the WGA strike search, refined by “Vancouver.”

screenshot

I’m not sure exactly what the cool factor is with the timeline refining feature – it seems to pull out results about a particular time, not so much results that were from a particular time. So things like Wikipedia articles, which include lots and lots of dates tend to appear pretty high on those results, no matter which timeframe you try to limit to. I appreciate the concept behind these options, but really, I didn’t find nearly as much to play with as I did in the next two options, at least not yet.

Silobreaker

Next, we have Silobreaker. From the site:

More than a news aggregator, Silobreaker provides relevance by looking at the data it finds like a person does. It recognises people, companies, topics, places and keywords; understands how they relate to each other in the news flow, and puts them in context for the user.

As you can probably imagine, the idea that it’s looking at things just like a person would is a little bit suspect. And from what I can see, it does better recognizing fairly concrete things like people and places than more abstract concepts or (especially) keywords that can mean more than one thing.

The default search is called the 360 search and it brings back a big bunch of different ways of looking at results. At the top is the expected list of articles and other resources, with things like photographs and YouTube videos in the right-hand sidebar. Below the fold, you’ll find the additional options:

screenshot from below the fold

On the right, you can choose to look at a network view of your results, or a “hotspot” map. You can also choose to just do your initial search in any of these views.

Of these, I found the network view to be the most fun. It was really more fun for me to see the people and places that Silobreaker included in the network than it was for me to drill down to the articles and webpages associated with those people and places, but I can see where this would be valuable for certain searches. There’s also the “trends” view at the bottom, but I haven’t figured out why that’s cool yet. I don’t think I’ve been doing the right kinds of searches.

TextMap

Finally, TextMap. From the site:

s a search engine for entities: the important (and not so important)people, places, and things in the news. Our news analysis system automatically identifies and monitors these entities, and identifies meaningful relationships between them.

Time and place are some factors TextMap uses to contextualize results, but its main point of organization is the “entity.” Do a search, and your results come back listed by “entities” – which can be people, places, companies and more. From the main TextMap page, you can also browse by predefined entities. Click on an entity – and your results come back clustered around that entity.

(And at this point, the word “entity” has started to look really weird to me)

screenshot of different visualizations -

Like Silobuster, TextMap’s options include a network view and a heatmap view. There is also a “reference time” view and juxtapositions between your entity and others.

There’s some awkwardness and “not quite getting it” pieces to all of these options for me. Part of this, of course, is from the fact that I just haven’t played with them very much. Part of it is probably that the underlying metadata won’t really support the types of visualizations they’re trying to provide well enough – or that the sites they’re drawing data from are uneven in their metadata, so the existence of the metadata is skewing what you see in the results. Still, the idea that the user needs and wants to see the contextualization, and the relationships between the information sources they’re using, is exciting.

social information networking literacy

First off – the SAG awards are tonight, which might be our only awards show opportunity this season and Ryan Seacrest called in sick. It is like it is my birthday.

So this morning Barbara Fister pointed out a recent survey by the Annenberg School (the USC one) – a survey trying to examine “gaps in media usage between communicators and the general population within the United States.” They gathered data from three groups of people:

  • influencers (“the 10%-15% of the population who exercise influence and control the levers of change in society as defined by Roper)
  • communicators (communicators and marketing industry professionals who have responsibility for what their company communicates to external audiences… and at least 5 years of experience in that field)
  • the general public (the general public).

So the researchers wanted to find out a couple of things: where people turned for they information they used to make decisions, and whether there were differences in the perceived value of different information sources among these three groups of people. Fister points out that it doesn’t look like “libraries” were even presented as an option to people given the survey, which is worrying. But she goes on to examine what the survey does show about information seeking, evaluation, and the effectiveness of marketing strategies — all topics of deep interest to librarians.

Two things jumped out at me in this study — first, the conclusion (on slide 17) that “the general population appear to be more skeptical of all factors than influencers and communicators.” This is something I’ve noticed on an anecdotal level for a while – that the students I teach increasingly distrust all sources, online sources, mass news, broadcast news, scholarly sources, alike. I think there’s something really significant in this for us in how we approach the question of evaluating sources with these students – I’ll probably revisit this topic soon.

(“factors” here means things like – do you consider factors like the type of media story, the media outlet, the journalist or reporter, etc.)

What I really want to talk about is the second thing – the significance of word of mouth marketing when it comes to connecting people with information sources. This one struck me today because it brought a couple of things together in my head.

The Chronicle reminded me about the Librarian in Black’s recent post about the University of Michigan study that suggested only 17% of teens think they might talk to librarians on social networking sites. LiB says, “it’s possible we were wrong to believe that a social networking tool would attract all of its users to our services.”

I liked that statement, yes, because it was validating for me — I’m someone who’s not great at going out and seeking contacts, even on social networking sites – and I’ve always been skeptical that they were a logical gateway to librarians for many students. But I really liked it because it left the door open for the idea that there might be lots of other reasons why librarians should use social networking sites. As a data geek, that’s the exciting thing about research for me – yeah, maybe one hypothesis gets blown, but that opens the way to new ones, right?

So anyway, that was in my head when I read ACRLog this morning, and it got me thinking abut marketing, word of mouth, social networking and information literacy. Here’s what I mean…

The Annenberg study finds that advice from family and friends is the number-one source of information for people when they make decisions. I don’t think many of us would find that statistic surprising. Thinking about this from a marketing perspective, though, this points to the significance of word of mouth. And as the Annenberg folks say “personal media is the ideal platform to trigger WOM.”

Now yeah, there’s definitely something hinky about the idea of phony word of mouth, or overly manipulative marketing campaigns – and that’s not where I’m going with this. I’m also not really pointing to the idea of Facebook or MySpace as a place for “OMG the stuff I get at the library is great” messages.

What I’m thinking is that there are lots of ways, on the web right now, that people can point their friends and family to the information sources they think are useful, authoritative, or otherwise worthwhile. Whether it’s sharing items using Google Reader, del.icio.us networks, or StumbleUpon, I think a lot of us have found really useful communities that have formed around this very thing – we use them to get advice and pointers to good information sources. Personally, I rely on my del.icio.us network beyond all reason.

Now, here’s the thing – I really don’t think many of my students are using these personal media tools — the ones that seem to most clearly fit in with the idea of using one’s friends and family to find good information sources. When I talk to students about the read/write web, which isn’t all that often, I don’t find that many of them have ever heard of tools like del.icio.us or StumbleUpon or Digg. Is this true? Have others found this? I tried to find statistics on this kind of usage among teens, or undergrads, and was unsuccessful. Does anyone have any research on this?

Don’t get me wrong, I know they know how to tag, because YouTube uses tagging. And I know they’ve forgotten more than I will ever know about connecting socially online. But do they use the tools that are about organizing, using and evaluating information — where the social aspect is specifically designed to help people navigate our crazy information landscape? I don’t think they do.

And the report Barbara links to really makes me think — shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t pointing our students to the tools and networks they can use, while they’re in school and after they leave, to find the good stuff on the web be an essential part of information literacy instruction? Not only to point our students to the tools they’ll need when they get out of school (which is important) but as a way to help them while they’re in college as well?

I spoke on a panel with Ann Lally from the University of Washington last spring – she was talking about the work the UW libraries have done to embed links to their special collections in Wikipedia. One of the things I remember the most from her presentation is the statistics she presented about how people were getting to the UW collections. StumbleUpon was on of the main things people were using to find the UW collections — I found that fascinating.

Basically, I think the resources our students can access because of our collections, our licenses, and our subscriptions are deeply useful – when I present article databases as a way to access “premium content” – I’m pretty convincing. I think our students would point each other towards these resources if they had a way to do so. And I think that pointing each other towards the “good stuff” will be an essential skill for them when they leave the university. So figuring out a way to get them at the tools that will help them do that – in college and after they leave – should be part of our information literacy instruction. Now I just need to figure out how to make that happen.

When Firefox extend-ers give you just what you always wanted

it’s totally awesome.

Anyone who’s heard me speak in the last couple of years knows that I am addicted to del.icio.us as an off-site storage space for my bookmarks, and as a knowledge community.  And I’m also recently become a regular Google Reader user (making the shift from Sage to a web-based feed reader) because of how it turns sharing and emailing links into a 1-click process for me.   And lots of stuff goes straight from my reader into my del.icio.us.

But there’s all that limbo stuff — I might want to save it forever, but I’ll probably want to read it once and discard it.  I’ve been handling that stuff using my browser’s bookmark feature, but that’s clunky because removing stuff from there is kind of clunky.

Enter the Read It Later extension.  Install it, right click on any page (or use the browser buttons) and it gets saved to a reading list for later.  If I like it, I can del.icio.us it from there.  If I’m done, I just right click again and it’s gone.  Awesome.