Friday, September 25, 2009

Demographics of social networking

You might find this article interesting:

If you’re in the U.S. and are using a social network like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn, chances are you’re more affluent and more urban than the average American according to Nielsen Claritas, which provides in-depth segmentation analysis of consumer behavior.

The article goes on to compare some of the different social networking sites. The article is short on actual data (they want you to pay for that), but it does add to the conversation around inclusion as our media consumption shifts.

Is Congressional data defective by design?

I thought this item over at was interesting. The essence of the argument is this:

The current Congressional process for publishing data is, to borrow a phrase from the Free Software Foundation, Defective By Design. As we see in many proprietary, top-down systems affecting the public interest, it’s insistently closed-off. Congress’ processes for distributing legislative info is fundamentally broken — it could and should relatively easily be fixed, starting now. Whether or not you support the Baucus markup or the House version of the health care reform bill, we hope you agree that the public has a right to read this important iteration & political volley in the process.

In general, the contents of PDFs are not searchable by external search engines (like Google). Because the item in question isn't a Bill, it doesn't make its way into LC's Thomas (except as a PDF).

Is this a limit on accessibility? Is this consistent with goverment information policy?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Google search history as an interest poll

As many of you know, I follow the network neutrality discussions at an above average attention level. So it was natural for me to come across this article posted over at the Technology Liberation Front (TLF). The substance of the argument aside, what I found interesting was the use of search results as a tool to gauge public interest/sentiment. It is clearly not a random-selection type poll, but it is certainly broadly based. I wonder how well this kind of measure would compare to a more rigorous, carefully designed and implemented survey. Clearly you can't ask the same types of questions, but if search and level of interest are highly correlated, then for some kinds of questions this approach might lead to a good first approximation.

University Libraries and Their Future

From today's Inside Higher Education . . . .

Libraries of the Future
September 24, 2009
NEW YORK CITY — The university library of the future will be sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas.
That's what Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning and programs at the University of California System, told a room full of university librarians Wednesday at Baruch College of City University of New York, where the higher education technology group Ithaka held a meeting to discuss "sustainable scholarship."
“We're already starting to see a move on the part of university libraries... to outsource virtually all the services it has developed and maintained over the years,” Greenstein said. Now, with universities everywhere still ailing from last year's economic meltdown, administrators are more likely than ever to explore the dramatic restructuring of library operations.
Within the decade, he said, groups of universities will have shared print and digital repositories where they store books they no longer care to manage. “There are national discussions about how and to what extent we can begin to collaborate institutionally to share the cost of storing and managing books,” he said. “That trend should keeping continuing as capital funding is scarce, as space constraints are severe, especially on urban campuses — and, frankly, as funding needs to flow into other aspects of the academic program.”
Under such a system, individual university libraries would no longer have to curate their own archives in order to ensure the long-term viability of old texts, Greenstein said. “What is the proportion of a library budget that is just consumed by the care and cleaning of books?” he said. “It's not a small number.”
Greenstein said he expects universities to outsource other library duties as well. Cataloging can be contracted out to providers such as Google, he said, and research data services are increasingly springing up directly out of academic departments (Greenstein used as examples the Cultural VR Lab at the University of California at Los Angeles and the Environmental Information Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara). As individual libraries' archives and services shrink, he said, so will their staffs.
So too would their operating costs. In economic times such as these, Greenstein said, “reallocation practices are now not just good business practice, they are fundamental and essential if we are to preserve the integrity of the core academic mission.”
Some university librarians in attendance reacted coolly to Greenstein's presentation. “I don't think we need your office to reallocate funds in order to achieve the types of information services leadership and change which you described,” said James Neal, university librarian at Columbia University. “I think that if seed funding and empowerment were enabled within the libraries at most of our colleges and universities, we would find great capacity to build ... the types of changes that you outlined.”
“I think that's not a very accurate depiction of what I see happening at research libraries,” said Deborah Jacobs, deputy director of global libraries at Duke University. “I see the exact opposite happening, that libraries are taking on new roles — [such as] working with faculty in introducing technology into teaching... there's a lot more intersection with libraries and faculty than he would lead you to believe.”
Jacobs added that universities have already equipped libraries to provide the whole buffet of services at the level of individual campuses. It does not make sense, she said, to abandon that infrastructure and rely on outsiders.
Shawn Martin, a scholarly communication librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, said Greenstein's points largely rang true, but he doubted university libraries would transform on the 7-to-10-year time scale he suggested. “We already have a legacy of stuff that we have to do,” Martin said, “so just shifting funds quickly is a very difficult problem.”
— Steve Kolowich

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Twittering Congressional members

The Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently released this report
which studied Congressional use of the social media service Twitter (here, by the way, is Politico's discussion of this report). There are several interesting items in this report; for example, this graphic classifies what they tweeted about during the study period:

Several questions arise from this, including:

  • Is this the wave of the future for constituent communications?
  • What is the impact of this on traditional scholarly research on politicians and the political process?
  • Are "tweets" covered by current information policy in terms of record-keeping?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorting Things Out

David Evans, “Redefining Faculty Roles,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 2009, available at, is an interesting, brief lament about the life of the academic. Evans starts off by charting the increasing responsibilities for faculty over the past two decades, and then notes, “The problem is that the traditional triad of faculty obligations—teaching, scholarship, and service—have not altered at all (or, perhaps more accurately, have also become more intense) during the same time.” He concludes: “Calls for accountability and critiques of faculty life as a refuge for slackers are partly responsible for these trends, and anyone inside the academy knows that these discussions are often wildly misinformed. It's certainly clear, however, that faculty life has changed, and academics need to figure out how to be more positive participants in the conversation about how to ensure that faculty work is configured to support excellence in teaching and research.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Internet statistics

If you like facts and figures (however useless), you might like the Google Internet Stats pages. On this page, Google has assembled data from a variety of sources about many aspects of the Internet. Perhaps because it is, many of the items are oriented toward the UK. For example:

  • Nearly three in five (57%) of youth consumers logged on to YouTube to watch a music video in the last 12 months, compared to 56% who watched a music TV channel.
  • 97% of UK female Internet users research products online and 92% of UK female Internet users buy products online.
  • Over 30% of respondents in a recent eMarket study for Japan, UK, Spain and US, agreed that the mobile phone is an extension of their PCs/Laptops. 4% felt it was a computer, while 22% felt their mobile device was both a phone and a computer.

Writing the Dissertation

A new book has appeared on dissertation writing – Peg Boyle Single, Demystifying Dissertation Writing: A Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text (Stylus, 2009). I have not read it, but here is the product description:
Research shows that five strategies correlate with the successful completion of a dissertation:
· Establishing a consistent writing routine
· Working with a support group
· Consulting your advisor
· Understanding your committee’s expectations
· Setting a realistic and timely schedule

Building on these insights, this book is for anyone who needs help in preparing for, organizing, planning, scheduling, and writing the longest sustained writing project they have encountered, particularly if he or she is not receiving sufficient guidance about the process, but also for anyone looking to boost his or her writing productivity.

The author uncovers much tacit knowledge, provides advice on working with dissertation advisors and committee members, presents proven techniques for the prewriting and writing stages of the dissertation, sets out a system for keeping on schedule, and advocates enlisting peer support.

As Peg Boyle Single states, “my goal is quite simple and straightforward: for you to experience greater efficiency and enjoyment while writing. If you experience anxiety, blocking, impatience, perfectionism or procrastination when you write, then this system is for you. I want you to be able to complete your writing so that you can move on with the rest of your life.”

Few scholars, let alone graduate students, have been taught habits of writing fluency and productivity. The writing skills imparted by this book will not only help the reader through the dissertation writing process, but will serve her or him in whatever career she or he embarks on, given the paramount importance of written communication, especially in the academy.

This book presents a system of straightforward and proven techniques that are used by productive writers, and applies them to the dissertation process. In particular, it promotes the concept of writing networks – whether writing partners or groups – to ensure that writing does not become an isolated and tortured process, while not hiding the need for persistence and sustained effort.

This book is intended for graduate students and their advisers in the social sciences, the humanities, and professional fields. It can further serve as a textbook for either informal writing groups led by students or for formal writing seminars offered by departments or graduate colleges. The techniques described will help new faculty advice their students more effectively and even achieve greater fluency in their own writing.

Viral Culture

Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s and one of the architects of the flash mobs phenomenon, has written an interesting account of viral culture – a culture based on four attributes: “incredible rapidity”; “shamelessness” – attention; “duration” -- “it is a success generally assumed to be ephemeral even by those caught in it.” “sophistication” – interactive, media mind (p. 8). Here is a snippet related to one of my own interests, blogging as a form of virtual archive: “Bloggers, mashup artists, YouTube videographers, political ‘hacktivists’ – these people aren’t sitting in their bedrooms spinning out moony personal diaries, hoping that someone will come long and recognize them. Aware they’re always being watched, they act accordingly, tailoring their posts to draw traffic, stirring up controversy, watching their stats to see what works and what doesn’t. They develop a meta-understanding of the conversation they’re in and how that conversation works, and they try to figure out where it’s going so they can get there first.” (p. 11). His book is And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (New York: Viking, 2009).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The principle of "good enough" and telecom networks

This article at the PFF website caught my attention. In the article, Adam Thierer, in reflecting on the recent Gmail outage, applies the ideas of this article from Wired to telecom. The telecom network has been engineered (at high cost) to 99.999% (i.e., "five nines") reliability; the question is whether this quality level is anywhere close to what is demanded by the market.

In some sense, we have a test case in that we are willing to consume different feature sets in telecom at different prices. Wireline telephony is the most reliable with the highest voice quality at price $x, mobile telephony is less reliable and has lower voice quality (with mobility) and is offered at price $y and VoIP has probably less reliability and lower quality than either at a lower price ($z). As a note, I don't think it is fair to say that $z=0 because we do pay for internet access and the computer that runs the VoIP software.

So is there only a marginal demand for quality, which might partially explain why wireline access lines are on the decline? Or is it strictly due to the substitution of mobile for wireline access?