Category Archives: Philosophies

Distribution of News by the Reader

I finished reading a fascinating article by the NY Times which discussed how readers (specifically of the NY Times) continue to distribute the contents of news articles to friends, family, and colleagues.  According to this particular article, Researchers from U of Pennsylvania studied the habits of readers as they emailed NY Times articles to other people.  The purpose of the research was to help create a sociological theories of why people choose to share information. And the methods used in the study included examining a list of 7,500 of the most frequently emailed NY Times articles.  Researchers analyzed the results in 15 minute segments,

checking it every 15 minutes for more than six months, analyzing the content of thousands of articles and controlling for factors like the placement in the paper or on the Web home page.

The results indicate that readers tend to distribute info that has a positive nature (opposed to a negative nature or theme), and were longer articles (more content) with intellectually challenging topics.  More interesting, at least to me, was the fact that science articles tended to have stronger circulation.  In fact, the researchers found that,

20 percent of articles that appeared on the Times home page made the list, but the rate rose to 30 percent for science articles, including ones with headlines like “The Promise and Power of RNA.”

I’m one of the guilty parties that the researchers were studying and slanted science stories.  As a Science Librarian, I like to keep tabs on current info, both popular (newspapers & popular magazines) and scholarly literature (trade & scholar journals).  If I see something that relates to the research of a faculty or student member at my institution, I forward it along to the individual or to the department.  I frequently discuss the differences between popular and scholar literature, and try to use current examples in my library instruction sessions.  I also use RSS feeds to provide current content to the online library subject guides; sometimes these topics provide inspiration for a cutting edge research topic.

Philosophically, this article also offers an unusual glimpse into the inner workings of a news corporation: how the researched worked (teaming up with external researchers), the type of data it looked at (specifically emailed articles, something that could be easily measured and reveal what type of readers view the content of the newspaper, and to perhaps refocus or reinforce certain areas of publication), the possible impact of how titles of articles play into readership/further distribution (positive/negative titled articles), length of articles, geographic readership and times of the day articles are viewed, how placement of an article within the newspaper factors into readership, types/themes (e.g. popular themes or scientific themes), etc.

The question is always what will this corporation do with the data?  How will they use it to change their current business model, and to draw in more readership and make more money?

I also think that popular literature (non-peer-reviewed), such as the NY Times is playing an important role in scholarly communication.  Keep in mind that this type of literature uses less technical language and easier to understand by the average reader. Also worth noting is our society’s tenancy to shorten content, to boil things down to the basic highlights because we are so busy; we’re screening a huge amount of material on a daily basis and filtering information that is relevant to us as individuals.

My theory is that when we come across information that is relevant and applicable, we slow down and take the time to investigate further–at least we skim the information more closely.  We also filter information that might be relevant to people we know, and this is where this particular study comes into play.  We forward along the info and allow the receiving reader the option of filtering the same information or reading for further details. Unfortunately, I don’t have anecdotal evidence for this theory other than my observation of other people and myself; I help a lot of faculty and students and feel that I have a good vibe on the situation.  However, if you are looking for a research topic, this might be one to consider.


Professional Development Day at Willamette University

Arty Trost was this year’s keynote speaker for the Professional Development Day at Willamette University. With Arty’s permission, I am posting the highlights from the mornings workshop on this blog.

Arty discussed her experiences of life from the edge as an ultralight aircraft pilot both literally and metaphorically, and the hurtles & risks she overcame to achieve some of her life-long goals. She is the only woman to have crossed the United States in an ultralight airplane.

One of the main points I pulled from the workshop is that baby steps often lead to more changes in life than major shifts. An attendee mentioned a philosophical analogy of games (e.g. board, card, or dice games), in which the winner succeeds through balancing the low risk of a series of small to moderate steps with the high risk and less frequent big steps. In other words, several small changes can be more effective than a single big leap of change. In the beginning, make very small steps such as imagining your goal, or just exploring the different options. The small steps may seem ridiculously small, but by conquering the small goals one at a time will put you on track for success.

She also discussed the different types of risks (financial, interpersonal/relationships, mental/intellectual, physical, psychological/emotional). Each type of risk will weigh differently for each individual. One person will view a physical challenge as more risky than a financial challenge, but another will view the same situation in completely the opposite way. It largely depends on our past experiences, personality, role models, attitudes towards life, etc.

Arty outlined five main principles for change:
1. Fly with people who stretch your wings. Surround yourself with those who will provide support, but encourage you to grow.
2. You are the pilot in command. Listen to the experts, but set your own limits.
3. Create big & challenging goals. Prepare before you take off and make risks acceptable. Focus on the goal, not the problem.
4. Be ready to change your flight plan. Fly where the bad weather isn’t, or land and wait it out.
5. Enjoy your flight.

To learn more about Arty, check her web site at

“Remarketing” in the Digital Domain: Abandonment Tracker Pro

In the sci-fi movie Minority Report, there is a scene in which Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderson, is walking through a mall. As he steps through the doors, dozens of cameras track every pedestrian. Advertisements targeted specifically to individuals then automatically appear next to the wall addressing the person by name. Over the years, a personal profile has been built for each person so that marketers know the types of products they like, and most effective advertising technique for an individual.

When the New York Times announced Abandonment Tracker Pro, a new product for vendors to track down customers after they leave a web site (to be released next month), the Minority Report instantly came to mind.

To an extent our society is already headed in that direction. While technology has not reached the level of this movie, we are currently leaving a trail of information about ourselves on the Internet: our preferences and dislikes, personality traits, shopping habits, our age, education, social status. Data miners are gobbling this info up and consolidating this info into personal profiles that may be sold to “third parties.”

So if this information is available to the general public, do private companies have a right to collect it and distribute it? Do you have a right, similar to the national Do-Not-Call phone list, to request these third parties to not contact you? Where can one draw the line between advertising and personal privacy?

I enjoyed the following quote from the NY Times article, and agree that it is very bold for marketers to venture in this direction (thought I am not surprised):

The idea that a visitor isn’t entitled to leave an online store empty-handed without being pestered sounds distasteful enough. But having that contact start immediately seems a new form of marketing brazenness.

Abandonment Tracker’s remarketing depends upon knowing the e-mail address of the wayward prospect; knowing the phone number will make follow-up phone calls possible, too. (And if you’ve signed in, a store would be able to find you with the e-mail address you provided when you registered.)

Charles Nicholls, SeeWhy’s founder, says he advises Web sites to have visitors “put their e-mail address in at the first step,” to increase the likelihood that it will be captured.

In the near future, do not be surprised if you are contacted from an online store about products that you viewed online but did not purchase.

Click here for more info about the Abandonment Tracker Pro.

Terminally Ill and Patents

There was a recent article in the New York Times about a legal fight over the access rights to research drugs. Basically, the drug known as Iplex was removed from the market due to a patent dispute, and was not for sale to the public anywhere in the world.

In today’s health industry, patients have a considerable amount of access to research medicine. Keep in mind that prior to the establishment of national health departments medicine, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there were few regulations for the creation, testing, or distribution of drugs. Medical companies at that time could provide research drugs without knowing the major risks or implications associated with the drugs. In many cases, a drug might reduce the symptoms of an illness or disease, but would have severe side effects that would harm or even kill the patient.

This article raises the question of whether the regulations should be overridden in cases of terminally ill patents, whose very survival depends on untested drugs and unregulated procedures. Would this be a step back for patient safety, or open another avenue for survival? Should a person die while waiting for permission to use drugs whose “owners” are embroiled arguments over patent rights? How should international patent rights be handled?

For associated readings, click here.

Three Ways Libraries Can Be Different

Three Ways Libraries Can Be Different
Something to ponder. Originally posted by StevenB on User Experiences

In a recent post I discussed the importance of differentiation to the process of designing a user experience. So how exactly could a library differentiate itself from other providers of information such as Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and even Twitter – now being touted as a search engine? In the minds of our user communities the library may already be differentiated, but not in a good way. The library is likely perceived, in comparison to these other services, as being mostly about the printed book, less convenient and less technologically sophisticated. While the library is less convenient – quality research does takes time – it certainly is about far more than books and many are innovating with technology. How do we eliminate the negative differential factors and replace them with more positive ones?

In this post I’d like to suggest three things we librarians can do to position the library as substantially different from those other organizations that gather information for retrieval:

* Totality
* Meaning
* Relationships

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Mindspot the Movie: The Library as Universe

Here is a great video of Mindspot, a universe for youth. It is a library built for the needs of youth in the Aarhus Public Libraries, Denmark. Find more info see

Free Speech, Anonymity, and Technology

(Source: Technology Review May/June 2009 — sign up for a free account to access)

“Sokwanele” means “enough is enough” in a certain Bantu dialect. It is also the name of a Zimbabwean pro-democracy website whose bloggers last year published accounts of atrocities by Robert Mugabe’s regime and posted Election Day updates describing voter intimidation and apparent ballot stuffing. You can visit Sokwanele’s “terror album” and see photographs: of a hospitalized 70-year-old woman who’d been beaten and thrown on her cooking fire (she later died, the site says); of firebombed homes; of people with deep wounds carved into their backs. You can find detailed, frequently updated maps describing regional violence and other incidents. You will be confronted with gruesome news, starkly captioned: “Joshua Bakacheza’s Body Found.” …

Tor is an open-source Internet anonymity system–one of several systems that encrypt data or hide the accompanying Internet address, and route the data to its final destination through intermediate computers called proxies. This combination of routing and encryption can mask a computer’s actual location and circumvent government filters; to prying eyes, the Internet traffic seems to be coming from the proxies. At a time when global Internet access and social-networking technologies are surging, such tools are increasingly important to bloggers and other Web users living under repressive regimes. Without them, people in these countries might be unable to speak or read freely online (see “Beating Surveillance and Censorship”).

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Paperless Society & the New Kindle


Amazon released a larger version of the Kindle on Wednesday, with a screen size 2 1/2 times larger than the original design. The goal of the screen size changed was to display book pages better, and is geared primarily towards the newspaper, journals, and textbook markets. 70% of Kindle users are over the age of 40, but you can bet that the average customer age will drop if Amazon gets traction with college age customers. This strategy is brilliant on the part of Amazon, and this powerful marketing technique is a great way to get younger people using their products and gain a steady following.

I’ve never physically held a Kindle (though I’ve done plenty of research online), but I’m sure that they are good products. I may even own a Kindle of my own some day. My complaint with the Kindle is really the philosophy behind its creation, and not the technology itself. The philosophy with which I disagree is creating a paperless society.

First of all, no other technology is as proficient & long lasting as ink and paper (aka “the book”). Sure, electronic documents are quick to produce & easy to distribute. However, once printed words & pictures are imprinted on paper it will literally remain there until the material is destroyed. Paper and ink represent a permanence that technology can not match at this point of time.

No batteries, extension cords, charging ports, or any energy sources are needed besides the light needed to read the document. The information can be viewed literally by hundreds of people simply by handing it from person to person. It can survive a fair amount of water damage and rough handling better than technology. It doesn’t get viruses–just mold, food stains, etc. Nothing beats taking a book on vacation, curling up with a book on a blustery night in front of a warm cozy fire when the power is out, or slipping a small book in my pocket to read on the go.

Ebooks primarily appeal to sight, one of the five senses, as do printed documents. They currently do not account for touch, taste, smell, or sound. To be fair, it would be a very easy to include audio readings with ebooks, such as the old fashion read-along books on tape/cd. This would be one function that printed books can not do. However, there also exists information with the ink & paper itself that can not be replicated by technology, such as the texture of paper, the layers of ink and pigments used to create the ink, and the smell of the book. To be fair, there have been attempts to use book-like scents to simulate the smell one would encounter while turning pages of an old book. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about the sense of taste, although toddlers may disagree.

It would be more appropriate to create a paperless society that COMPLIMENTS printed documents instead of replacing them.

Read more about the Kindle