Monday, September 25, 2006

Why Don't Men Ask for Directions?

Why do men always control the television remote?

Why does a man has the ability to identify a sports car model a mile away but can not find the ketchup in the refrigerator?

I thought about these and other questions as I was contemplating Roy Tennant's August 15th, 2006 piece in Library Journal which focuses on the Gender Gap in digital library development.

I had to read the piece a couple time since I was unsure if the point of the article. Was is about environmental factors were preventing women from becoming involved in digital library projects? Or, was it was questioning why women were not out there leading the way at conferences, etc.?

I feel any perceived shortage of women in digital libraries has little to do with libraries, their culture, and work environments for female colleagues. Instead, it may have to do with our educational system and gender specific learning styles.

When I do an environmental scan I see many examples of women involved with library technology / digital libraries:

The interest that boys have with technology starts with the games and toys they play with. Today's video games are simply yesterday's erector sets or Lincoln Logs. By the time males reach the undergraduate level they are comfortable with technology environment and culture. Young girls have not had the same exposure to the technology and feel less confident at the same point in life.

Males tending to have an explorer-type mentality, finding interest in just playing around with the computer to find out the capabilities. Women tend to prefer working towards a goal or end.

This difference in approach could also help explain why don't men ask for directions.

Introductory computing courses typically assign programming projects that may lack purpose or meaning to female students. Considering that females may begin technology programs with less exposure than males, their learning strategies may be less effective for skills like programming. Courses which encourage learning through repetitive exercise and projects without a direct application may discourage females from continuing with the major.

In the end, the problem may be the lack of a technology learning model that fits with the needs of women. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, September 15, 2006

If "They" Build It, Will "They" Come?

In the "early days" of the web site development it was common to adopt the line whispered to Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams - "If you build it, he will come."

Within the past 12-18 months the attention has turned to social and participatory networks. A growing number of library customers are now using discovery tools and information seeking patterns that do not involve the library. In fact, the concepts of findability and getting in the flow have become very important.

The question being whispered now is "If they build it, will they come?" The question I am starting to ask is if web sites with content built by the user the answer for libraries? An emerging rule of thumb may suggest they are not.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, introduced in a 2004 presentation the 80/10 Rule. In Wikipedia 10% of all "logged in users" make 80% of all edits, 5% of all users make 66% of edits with half of all edits are made by just 2.5% of all users. This is also supported by Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo (once a grad student at MIT's famous MediaLab) who points out that inYahoo: in Yahoo Groups, the discussion lists, "1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content, whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress; 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups."

The emerging rule is that of a group of 100 people online only one will create content, 10 will interact with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will simply view it. This fomula seems to hold true with other attempts by libraries to create systems which customers can interact, such as MyLibrary.

After evaluting the MyLibrary service after three years at Virginia Commonwealth, James Ghaphery reported that 4% of the user accounts accounted for 60% of the use of the advanced features (similar to Wikipedia's 5% of users making 66% of the edits). Additionally, Ghaperty reported that 62% of the established accounts used the features two times or less. Similarly, only 4% of the total population at North Carolina State took advantage of the system.

While user centered sites are great in concept, the question is how many customers will actually take advantage of the features? Does the low percentage of customers actually using the advanced features in exsisting customer / user driven warrant the cost in time and resources to build it? By the time such a site is conceived, built and deployed will the paradigm have changed yet again?

This is where the wonderful world of web services and mash-ups may fit in. Instead of developing large scale local systems should we instead be looking at ways to leverage services like WorldCat at let organizations like OCLC do all the large scale stuff. Libraries could then focus on building light weight throw away applications which mash that data to create local services. The social software concept would be a feature but not the focus of such systems. I will be participating in a discussion with an OCLC representative on Sept 18th on ways to use WorldCat in this manner and will post anything interesting that emerges.


Ghaphery, James. "My Library at Virginia Commonwealth University" D-Lib Magazine
July/August 2002 8(7/8). Available at:

Gibbons, Susan. "Building Upon the MyLibrary Concept to Better Meet the Information Needs of College Students" D-Lib Magazine March 2003 9(3). Available at: Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Do Any Librarians Out There Cha-Cha?

Almost 10 years ago I flew to Santa Clara to attend the World Wide Web 6 Conference. I took with me the March 1997 issue of Scientific American with a series of very interesting Internet related articles.

One of the articles described a new search engine concept. What caught my attention was that the algorithm being used sounded a great deal like Science Citation Index Impact factors. The use of a common library concept for analyzing Internet search results caught my attention. What eventually grew from that concept was a large-scale hypertextual search engine.

The other day I came across a new experimental search tool called ChaCha.

Developed by Scott Jones and Brad Bostic, ChaCha provides two search options. The "Guide" option should be of interest to librarians. By searching with a Guide the query is sent to a "real person" who is "skilled at finding information on the internet and knowledgeable on the subject at hand." "Once connected to a Guide you can chat with him/her to clarify your question. Discussing your question will get more precise results than any other search engine can deliver."

Sounds like a librarian to me. Again, the use of a common library concept for analyzing Internet search results caught my attention.

However, upon further review, ChaCha "Guides" are not librarians or necessarily any level of information professional. The can be college students, retirees, stay-at-home moms. "Guides" are employed as independent consultants in a type of multilevel marketing scheme. In time, Guides recruit other Guides and receive a part of the recruited Guide's earnings. Think Amway.

Newly recruited Guides are matched with areas of personal interest and expertise and assigned a mentor. These "apprentices" do not initially interact with the public and to become "pros" they must pass tests for speed, quality and accuracy. "Pros" interact with the public and are paid $5 per search hour. Those which achieve "Master" level guides are eligible to earn 10% of those they have brought into the ChaCha Underground (the community of guides). Elite-level guides make $10 per search hour.

ChaCha is ad supported by display advertisers and sponsored links.

So, are any librarians out there a part of the ChaCha Underground? Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

GPL May Be Tested in Israeli Court

A GPL dispute appears to be headed towards the courts in Israel. The dispute is over a Java client for chess servers. The original author of the program Jin is challenging the use of their OSS software in the creation of IChessU, a for-profit entity.

From I can make out, Jin's creator Alexander Maryanovsky's problem with IChessU is that while IChessU has utilized Jin's code, they are not distributing Jin's entire source code. An A/V module in Jin is not being used by IChessU and therefore the source code is not included. Based on the available documentation, IChessU's Alexander Rabinovich appears to argue that they are distributing the IChessU derivative source code including the Jin code that was used.

It appears that Jin's creator feels that IChessU needs to distribute the entire Jin source code regardless of if all the code is used. From my non-legal interpretation, IChessU appears to be following the GPL license. I may not be understanding Jin's argument.

The GPL states that the derivative must be distributed with the entire source code of the derivative along with a copy of the license, which IChessU appears to be doing. The GPL also states "You may modify your copy or copies of the Program or any portion of it..."The GPL does not specify that the derivative has to distribute the entire source code of the original program.

The GPL is also clear that "any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License." A violation would occur if IChessU begins to charge for the code anything more than the cost of the physical distribution of the code. Sphere: Related Content