Thursday, July 26, 2007

Instant Instant Messaging

Remember learning about IM'ing at the tech fair? Here's a summary of how to get started.

There are two types of IM programs: 1 involves downloading software onto your computer and the other involves IM'ing through a website (with no significant software put onto your computer). The easiest and safest approach is the website variety.

There are a number of IM websites you could choose to create an account/sign up with. Some of the most famous/biggest are Yahoo, AOL, and MSN. These are also places that support free email accounts that some of you may have already taken advantage of.

There is one drawback to creating an account on one of these websites: If your friends have an account with a different IM provider, you may not be able to IM them. One solution is to have multiple IM accounts, one with each of the major sites; but then you have to sign onto each one separately and it gets complicated.

A better solution involves using a web service such as With meebo, you create a sort of umbrella account with meebo, then tell them about which other IM providers you're signed up with and what your screen name and password is for each one. Then to IM anybody in any of these IM systems, you sign onto your meebo account, and meebo takes care of signing you into MSN, Yahoo, and/or AOL Instant Messaging. Then you can see your buddies in any of these services on the one meebo screen.

To summarize, here's how you do it:

1. Sign up with one or more IM services (from,, and/or, which all have links to sign up with their IM network).
2. Sign up with meebo and tell meebo how it can sign into the other services you've already created accounts with.
3. When it's all set up, sign into meebo when you're online.
4. Add "buddies" (people you want to communicate with), see which ones are online, and contact them. [See below for how to add buddies.]

Tips and How-To's

Tip 1: If you are going to sign up with more than one IM provider, try to use the same screen name every time--including with your Meebo account. This will avoid confusion.

To sign up with IM providers:


The picture to the right appears on the home page of See where there's a smiley face next to the word "messenger"? Click on that to create an IM account with yahoo.

When you get to the IM area of yahoo, click on "get started" then "sign up". Don't forget your name and password! Write them down somewhere.


Here's the equivalent image at This section appears on aol's home page. Click on the little man running to the right, labeled "AIM". Then click on "get free screen name", then follow the steps to create the screen name. Again, write down any username and password info!


And here's's version on their home page near the top. Click on "messenger" then "join now". Then just follow the instructions and save your password info.

And finally, there's Meebo, which ties it all together.'s home page looks like this:

Notice that to the right, there's the meebo sign-in (and a button for creating a meebo identity). To the left are sign-in windows for AIM (that's AOL's IM service), yahoo IM, MSN IM, and Google Talk IM. Once you've created your Meebo account and signed onto it, you'll see where you can click on "accounts" to add your MSN, Yahoo, AIM, and/or Google Talk accounts to your meebo account, which means that when you log into meebo, you'll automatically be signed onto all of the accounts you've added in meebo.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Social Networking As Info Source

I've been hearing a lot of debate about whether information developed through social networking sites (the latest is's experiment in amateur-generated new that is edited for grammar only and vetted for factual correctness--it's called Assignment Zero)is valid and beneficial to society. The debate goes something like this: Proponent: "You can't trust the official media anyway, and they can't be everywhere, or be expert in everything. This is democracy at work, giving the average citizen throughout the world a voice he never had before. The public benefits from all the additional information uncontrolled by bottom lines and a slanted press." Detractor: "This is just another example of the dumbing down of news. Any bozo can slap something up on the web and declare it as valid. If you care about accuracy and truth then you know that this trend is a horrifying development in the history of news. It's like saying that truth and accuracy are less important than self-expression."

Well, we're arguing about this the wrong way. You have to step back and look at the web in its totality. The web is simply a new way of holding a mirror up to human society. It is, in fact, human society. It is not an information source, per se, or entertainment per se, or evil or good per se. It is just us. Think about this: some people believe that going to the local bar after work or standing around the jobsite or talking to Uncle Joe or listening to talk radio is the way to find out what's really going on in the world. These people don't trust officialdom, they don't trust experts or the so-called elite. A college education detracts from intelligence and common sense for these people. They may be wrong or right. Then there are those who look things up in the Encyclopedia or buy a book and read an expert's opinion or scan the New York Times. These people are skeptical of the wisdom of the common man. Maybe they're wrong and maybe they're right--It's all just a part of the human species' way of doing things. That's the web. People who are wary of drug companies and intellectuals will prefer information generated by the man on the street. People who want their facts from proven authorities using the "scientific method" will find those sources on the web--American Academy of Science, Grolier's, the Mayo Clinic, etc. It's just people. Both sides of the debate about social networking as a source of news and information are no more or less correct than they were before the Internet was invented. There's room on the 'net for both, for all types, including extremists, loonies, atheists, fundamentalists, libertarians, communists, and all the other -ists and -isms generated by the fecund human mind.

What's my point? It's this: none of this debate on social networking news is really about social networking sites, the Web, new technology, or anything else like that. It's just the latest iteration of the endless debate about the nature of the human sphere.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Freedom of Music

We librarians care an awful lot about freedom of speech, even though we don't all agree 100% on the details. Yesterday was an important day for that priceless liberty. What happened yesterday? Many of the world's free/pay Internet radio sites staged a walkout, shutting off access to their music for a day. What led them to take this extraordinary action? Well, sit down and I'll tell you.

Internet radio is a marvelous phenomenon that perhaps we don't appreciate enough. Thousands of online sites play every possible type of music for you to listen to for free on your computer, to download and pay for, and to use in a variety of other ways. Many of these sites function like radio stations, in that they broadcast what they broadcast and you enjoy hearing album rock, Nigerian music, singer/songwriter music, classical, jazz, blues, reggae, zydeco--anything and everything that you can't find on normal broadcast radio. Unlike with satellite radio, there are often no strings attached. Some stations let you hone in on specific types of music, and others go even farther, letting you design your own radio station so to speak based on your specific preferences of music types and specific recording artists. These stations typically pay their expenses from revenues from some combination of ads and sales of music that you may choose to purchase and download (or not). Some simply do it out of charitable feeling and a need to be heard. Thankfully for all of us, the royalties paid to the artists and owners of copyrights by these stations have been reasonably low, a fact which is the very basis for their existence.

Now, a federal agency/ governing body has decided to drastically increase the royalties that Internet radio stations must pay for each play, and change the payment system to favor big music publishing and recording companies over individual artists (who are often willing to accept lower royalties than mega organizations). In fact, the increased royalties are retroactive to the beginning of 2007, even though they are only just going into effect.

What does this mean? It means that the only Internet radio sites that will be able to continue to operate are those with big corporate backing and those that sell music rather than "broadcast" it for free or for a low price. Free Internet radio is going to become a thing of the past as the corporate guys take over. That is, unless something happens in Congress to change things.

I suggest that readers do two things.

First, visit a few of these Internet radio sites. Just Google Internet radio and find something you like. Also, look at the sites that allow you to customize your experience and even suggest artists you may not know about who are similar to ones you do know. Examples of this variety of site are Pandora and Musicmesh. Then once you see what you've been missing, visit the not-very-objective-but-still-informative website of Save Internet Radio.

Then consider contacting your representatives and give them a piece of your mind.

On Beyond Wikis

Now that I've completed the famous 23 things, I thought I'd continue on to some other web-based tidbits. Toward the bottom of my blog you'll see (I hope) a map displaying the locations of all the HCPL branches. I did this at a website called Community Walk, where you can create maps for online groups with specific interests. It could be locations of good restaurants, hiking trails, local producers of meat and vegetables, the homes of people in a book discussion group, etc. And you can add details, directions, and whatever so that they pop up when you point at a location.

More famous and much more global is the ever-expanding GoogleEarth, which has been in the news lately. You have to first download the software, but then you can fly to any place on the globe right down to street level in many cases, and click on a myriad of details placed there by other people: photos, descriptions, maps, statistics, whatever. There are many sites placed by the World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic, various voluntary organizations (including actual photos of burned out and abandoned villages in war-torn Darfur in Africa). People have developed overlays showing skateboarding locations, bookstores, places they went to on their honeymoon, and on and on. Also on the map (you can turn various layers on and off so that they don't all show at the same time) are restaurants, hotels, pharmacies, banks, and other commercial venues. I saw one area that showed the locations of all the public schools within a county. Since GoogleMaps encourages third parties to add content, the possibilities are endless. And the navigating tool is awesome. You start at the global level, type in a place, and fly around the curvature of the Earth, and down, down, down right to person height. I read that there's even a map of Mars under development or available (I forget which). Check this stuff out, and maybe even use it for your personal or business needs.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What Do Our Customers Really Know?

There's something that's been nagging at the back of my mind lately. No, it's not my mother-in-law, so stop snickering. It's a basic question about one of the things I thought I was accomplishing by participating in Library 2.0. Specifically, there was an implication that our customers are already aware of and using all of these tools and techniques, and it was our responsibility to catch up, as it were, in order to be better library employees.

So here I am, all boned up on wikis, widgets, gizmoz, and the like. Now, where do I stand in relation to our customers? The answer is, I may actually now know a lot more about the subtleties of web and widget manipulation than those I serve--and therein lies the surprise.

When I think about the customers I know (and at Norrisville one can know almost all of them to some degree), I realize that the vast majority--even those in the 13-25 age range--don't know how to do almost any of the things we've picked up in the course of our 23-thing journey. What do they know? They can get to YouTube and browse the videos (but not upload one or link them to a blog). Quite a number have MySpace accounts, but they rarely use them and they definitely don't do any fancy customizing by and large. None have blogs that I know of. None are denizens of Technorati,, or bloglist--in fact very few of them actually have any interest in news, the latest technology, etc. A few have special interests such as Anime and fan art and know how to find it on the web--but again, it's only to browse it and look at it, not to add to it or do anything fancy with it. A number have uploaded photos, usually to sites such as the Kodak one and rarely to Flickr (with exceptions). Some know how to use memory sticks. Those with MP3 players are not paying to download music, but are almost exclusively ripping their own CDs. Many have email through Yahoo or MSN or AOL. Many of the kids know how to get to Massively Multi-Player online games--though I don't see anybody on Second Life.

I already knew how to do all those things before. The question is, where are all those people getting into all those neat, cool, hot things we've been learning about? I guess there are a couple of theories about that.

One theory is that the people using computers in the library are, by and large, people who don't have computers at home, or who only have dial-up at home. Such folks, with no opportunity to customize their web experience on library PCs, are only doing and learning the simple stuff. Ironically, as we learned they could be doing plenty even on library computers, since all of the cool stuff is web-based, but they don't seem to be doing this. Having said all that, the customers in Bel Air or Abingdon or elsewhere may be more inquisitive and tech-ish than the ones in Norrisville, but I wonder... So where are all those people? Probably at home with their own computers, possibly in college (and therefore using the college library), possibly not even library customers or else customers who only come in for DVDs and a few other things.

Another theory is that, worldwide there are millions of people doing wonders on the Internet, but many are in other countries, concentrated in places like southern California and NY City, are computer geeks (meant kindly, not as a dig) working as computer professionals, etc.--with only 1 percent or so of the general population getting into any of this. In other words, it may seem like a lot of people, but such folks are only a tiny percent of the total population, and an even tinier percent in Harford County. So, 1 percent of the world's population is 60 million geek-heads, 60,000 in Maryland, and about 2,500 in Harford County.

I'm not saying that Library 2.0 is not a worthwhile experience. Dang, it's been a wonderful, mind-expanding journey--one that has enhanced my ability to do all sorts of valuable things. Yet my notion that I needed to catch up with my customers may have been somewhat misguided on the whole.

Then I ask myself what do we really need to know to help our customers on the computer? The answer:

-Whether memory sticks work on the public PCs and the PCs in the workroom, the limitations, the techniques.
-How to establish an email account
-Whether and how customers can download photos, music, and other things on the public computers, including the limitations and tricks to get it to work
-Whether and how customers can burn CDs on our computers, and on which ones can they do it, and what are the limitations
-How to fill out an online job application
-Where to find tax and legal help
-How to do an effective Google search
-How to get what customers need on our subscription databases

And on and on. The vast majority of our customers are not in fact very computer literate, and they need basic operational help. Those who are adding animated avatars to blogs (and who have blogs to begin with); those who are interconnected with their college buddies through IM, MySpace, etc.; those who are uploading videos of themselves imitating Eric Clapton onto YouTube--these folks don't really need us.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Ego Is Amazing, Ain't It?

In a previous post I talked about web 2.o award winner Lulu (to re-read, click here). Lulu is a self-publishing site, and it shows just how far the web has taken this ever-popular business. In about 2 or 3 hours, I had a published book. Well, I did have to write it first. Lulu has a publishing wizard that guides you through:

-Correctly formatting your manuscript for the chosen book format (e.g., 6" X 9" softcover novel)
-Uploading your manuscript and viewing it.
-Selecting a theme for cover art (or uploading your own file, which is very, very complicated)
-Uploading photos or other graphics files to stick on the front and back covers
-Adding text to the front/back/spine of the book (title, author, blurb)
-Translating the file into PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format
-Pricing your book (no upfront cost to author, but 20% of cover price goes to Lulu)
-Writing advertising copy describing the book, to appear on the Lulu site
-The ability to categorize your book and add tags, so that it is searchable in the Lulu database
-For $100, Lulu will assign a bona fide ISBN number and "market" the book to Amazon, Booklist, and places like that so that you can get a little exposure. I'm sure Lulu makes a lot of its profit here. In addition, you have to purchase at least one review copy at the cover price (and you get back the amount of royalty you've built into the price).

I'm now waiting for my review copy to be shipped to me, after which I'll open it up for sale to the general public.

It's way cool, lower than the cost of a dinner for four at McDonalds, and a great way to kill time if you've got a spare manuscript laying around--or if you're serious about trying to sell your book when you can't get an agent or publisher interested.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007