I never thought I’d really have to update those screenshots

Raise your hand if you thought that del.icio.us was never ever really going to change?

Yeah, me too.

my bookmarks at the new delicious

my bookmarks at the new delicious

No more weird URL — it’s at http://delicious.com

So far, so good?  I’m going to miss the little star that says I have a new fan.  And some other things I haven’t discovered yet.  But after four minutes with it I can say nothing has bugged me excessively.

fun with words! pretty, pretty tagclouds for all

peer review 2.0, the proceedings paper in tagcloud

This is the paper Kate and I submitted along with our LOTW presentation, rendered into this gorgeous tagcloud by Wordle, a new tagcloud generator I saw today on Information Aesthetics.  I love tagclouds anyway – but this one lets you play with layout, fonts and colors in a way I’ve never seen before.  You can upload or copy and paste any text, or hook it into a del.icio.us account as a new way to see those tags.  So much fun.

good interface + bad metadata =

well, not really bad metadata.  More like the wrong metadata.

Dipity lets you build interactive timelines. You can pull in all kinds of information sources — video, text, images — and display them in a nice, linear timeline. The interface is easy to navigate. Each item in the timeline can be viewed within the timeline, and each item has a handy “next event” button to make navigation easier.

Sample Dipity timeline about the Beatles

Anyway, I have some ideas for how to use this interface and if I ever get time to try them, I’ll post about it more.  But that’s the thing – putting this stuff together does take time.  If you choose the browse timelines option on the dipity site – there are a LOT of timelines with no events, with 2 events, with 4 events.  I’d imagine a fair number of them will never be finished.

So the other day I noticed this – Time Tube – a mashup that puts the Dipity timeline interface together with YouTube.  Same cool interface, but you just have to keyword search a topic and your timeline will be populated with YouTube videos a few minutes later.  It’s created a fair amount of buzz over the last couple of days, most of it positive because it’s fun to use and some of the timelines are pretty interesting.

But – the timelines are based on the date the video was uploaded.  If all you want is a nice browsing interface this is okay – as another way to display the results of a YouTube keyword search.  But as a way of visualizing information, if what you want is to add some kind of meaning or context to the videos, it’s only useful for a very narrow set of topics.

Compare this “Beatles” timeline to the one above -

TimeTube for \"The Beatles\" - 1 year span

It doesn’t look too bad, but there’s no real meaning there.  Not even a spike when Across the Universe was released.

TimeTube lets you pick a longer timespan – here’s fifty years.  This really shows the limitations.

TimeTube for \"The Beatles\" - 50 year span

Everything clustered in the middle because YouTube didn’t exist until a short time ago.  The fact that they let you open out your range to 20, 50, 100 years suggests that the upload date might not always be the way these things are generated?  Or maybe it’s just a holdover from the original Dipity interface.  The timelines created are dynamic and there’s no way to save them.  There’s no account to create so you can’t find timeline buddies either.

Where this is useful now is for topics, like “olympic torch protests” where people upload their videos right away after an event happens.  Or to track the zeitgeist when something emerges out of nowhere to become the next big thing.  Or as a fun browsable interface for a YouTube keyword search.

maybe fun isn’t quite enough

So back in this post, I explained why one reason that I don’t like EBSCO’s new visual search is that they didn’t preserve the fun factor of the old interface.  And I stand by that.  So I was intrigued when I saw this in my feeds yesterday.

This is Spectra, part of msnbc’s Newsware suite of tools, applications, games and widgets.  From the site:

Spectra merges the news spectrum and the color spectrum into an expansive news viewing experience. With comprehensive live news coverage, striking design, complete customization, dynamic browsing, human body interaction and many other unique features, Spectra brings A Fuller Spectrum of News to life in our most immersive extension yet.

A wee bit hyperbolic?  Yes, maybe.  But it looked swirly and fun, so I thought I’d check it out.  I showed it to a class of students this morning (advanced rhetoric and composition) and I definitely got some interest in the fun swirly interface.  What do I mean by “swirly?”

Well, you choose from a variety of news channels – by subject (sports, science, etc.) or by format (videos, blogs, etc.) and items from those channels fly up into this swirly looking thing – kind of a tornado of news:

msnbc Specta swirl screengrab

After you watch it swirl around for a while, you can start looking at the articles.  They display like this:

article view on msnbc\'s spectra

You can save articles you like to a newsreader as you pick them out of the swirl.  You can also search your swirl, and then all of the articles that don’t have your search term will drop out, which looks kind of cool, and which is kind of useful.  And you can re-order the items in your swirl so that they’re grouped by subject, or displayed in date-time order.

What’s not as useful – you can’t click on an item as it swirls by and skip to that item.  I don’t know, this seems like a deal-breaker for me.  I kept wanting to do it even after I knew that I couldn’t and intuitively, I think I can’t be the only person who might want to do that.

Also not as useful, under the option “Change View,” Spectra will apparently tap into your webcam and see what color you are, or what color you’re wearing, or what color your walls are or something and then feed you news that goes with those colors.  Seriously.  It took me like an hour to figure out that part was supposed to be doing because I just kept saying, “no, that can’t be what they mean by that.”

And finally not as useful is the fact that the only news is msnbc news.  While not surprising, this is disappointing and probably makes this a tool I won’t come back to again.

The Newsware package includes games (some integrate with Facebook) that I didn’t play.  It also includes widgets, screensavers, feeds and more.  All in all, I think there is a lot of good work going on here – but I don’t really think they’re there yet.

Back to Spectra, the headline reader, and fun.  It’s a little fun to watch, and when I demonstrated it the students were interested.  But I don’t think it’s interactive enough or that it gives the user enough control to really be fun to use.  And fun to use is what’s really important, at least to me.  I’m excited about the potential of dynamic information visualization because I think it fits into the whole idea of research as part of a learning process, based on exploration and discovery.  Just watching doesn’t get you to that point.

After the demonstration, when students had the option to use any of the tools I’d demonstrated, I did notice that none of them picked Spectra.  I may not have been as clear on what kind of tool it was or how they might use it as I could have been.  But I also think that it might be a situation of what’s fun to watch in a demonstration isn’t fun in the hands-on if all it really lets you do is watch.

More news meta…

…still thinking about last week’s conversation about the corporate media and what that means for information literacy instruction and the broader idea of library users as informed citizens. A couple of things have come across my screen that seem to fit into this conversation.

First, continuing the theme of cool and awesome visualizations is Muckety, with the tagline “exploring the paths of power and influence.” The site is a simple blog like presentation of news stories, focusing on the connections between people, corporate entities, topics and more. But the stories are accompanied by these interactive maps that let you explore those connections on your own. I like how easy and responsive it is – do a search, choose a result and generate a map around that result. The visualizations seem to be based on an in-house database, so it’s not as easy as it could be to follow the sources and explore the relationships further.

The first thing I thought of was using this tool to look at some of the corporate relationships I talked about last week – someone’s already done it. And that’s great because the resulting map is a bit chaotic and crazy and probably took forever to put together -

Big 8 + Sony Muckety Map

And in a nice bit of synchonicity – today’s top story on Muckety is the other thing I was going to talk about here. Jason Mittell and Barbara Fister both talked about this yesterday and got me thinking about the connections between all of these conversations. Barbara got a comment when she cross-posted the story on ACRLog that suggested the commenter saw the story as an attack on the Bush administration and nothing more.

I think the commenter was primed to see things that way and wouldn’t have been open to any other interpretation, but I also think Mittell’s JustTV post raises another important issue that has particular significance for us when we’re trying to think about the question of how to teach information literacy – the kind of information literacy that supports informed citizenry and lifelong learning:

The biggest gap in Barstow’s article is an explanation for why the media allows its “experts” to hold forth unchecked, whether due to conflicts of interest, ethical lapses, or demonstrated ineptitude for actually displaying expertise. The end of the article tries to address this, but the networks stonewall Barstow in a range of ways, from ABC saying it’s the responsibility of analysts to report their own conflicts of interest, to Fox’s outright refusal to participate in the article. Of course looking too closely at these issues would force the Times to justify why it publishes its own discredited “expert,” William Kristol, despite nearly every claim he’s made for the last 7 years having been proven wrong.

So yay for the Times for pulling back the curtain – but to some extent this little glimpse just shows how much more pushing at the curtain still needs to be done.

cool stuff that’s fun to look at!

For reasons I won’t go into, I recently spent way too much time on the internet looking for magazine scans. (Anyone going to Online NW might soon be able to piece together why). Looking for those I ran across some other things I thought were awesome, even if I’m not always clear on what to do with them.

The Book Scans database

  • I’m linking to the main page – the database page is on the left. I probably lost an hour going through these. The site design is a little old-school, and navigating can be kind of clunky. The site is also intended for the collector community, so it might be perfectly organized for their needs and only clunky for non-collectors. Oddly there’s no notes anywhere about what one can do with these images, or actually anything at all intellectual property-related.

Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens Page

  • Again, more a browsing space than a searching one, and initially I was like “why would I want to browse this.” Thirty minutes later I still wasn’t sure but I couldn’t stop. These are screengrabs of the title shots from a whole lot of movies. I almost didn’t include this one when I couldn’t find All About Eve, but this one from The Awful Truth was entirely charming so I left it in –

Title shot from The Awful Truth

Vintage Vanguard

  • A big collection of scans of old Vanguard record albums. Both front and back material, which is awesome. I love these because you can see how old they are.

And I also found magazine scans galore — these were my two favorite sites:

MagazineArt.org

The Conde Nast Store

And finally this – cute mid-century French stuff. I’m not sure how to categorize this, but how could I not include it?

Lefor-Openo

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.