Conversation is Experience

Some web designers, especially those with a marketing or graphic design background, say they want to build an experience – but their designed experience, no matter who the website is for, tends to be designed like a movie or a rockstar’s website  – heavy on the Flash, on the intro page (complete with low-pitched ominous music), and it makes cute noises when you click on a link.

That’s great for a movie or a rockstar website. But most of us are building library, organization and company websites. What type of “experiences” should we be creating for those types of websites?

Conversation Spaces

Visitors to your website want to talk – with you, and with each other. Are you providing conversation spaces? The web is FULL of conversation now – check out Amazon, most newspaper and TV news sites, YouTube, this blog, Facebook, Twitter – all spaces where conversation can happen. And conversation DOES happen, because that’s what people do. We like to talk, we like to share, we like to voice our opinion (as I hope some of you do in the comments!).

So, my simple digital experience tip for today is this – make sure to create conversation spaces on your websites. Places like comment boxes, online forums or discussion groups around a topic, Twitter accounts for feedback, online places to Ask a Librarian, etc.

Enable Conversations

Also remember to actually enable conversations once you build the space. What’s that mean? In my library’s case, we allow unmoderated comments to fly free and easy onto our digital branch. I know what some of you are thinking – “OMG, David! Don’t you have a TON of cussing, swearing, name-calling, and other highly inappropriate things being posted? How could you EVER allow that!???!!??”

Um. No. We simply don’t have that. Yes, once in awhile we have some negative comments. But why would we moderate or not show those? Instead, we respond appropriately.

But some of you will need to moderate comments for one reason or the other (i.e., those old-fashioned city attorneys who haven’t yet discovered the joys of Facebook). If you DO moderate comments, make sure to do it quickly. Same day is good. Same hour is best. Why? Because it’s a CONVERSATION. If someone starts a conversation and you don’t get around to moderating the comment for a few days … well, you have killed the conversation. And that’s really no conversation at all.

pic by Adventures in Librarianship

What’s a Content Curator?

good bookRohit Bhargava, blogger at the Influential Marketing Blog and author of Personality Not Included: Why Companies Lose Their Authenticity And How Great Brands Get it Back, just posted Manifesto For The Content Curator: The Next Big Social Media Job Of The Future? You should go read it.

Rohit explains that a “Content Curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online.” OK – you and I both know these exist already, right? That’s what librarians do … especially special librarians in corporations (well, those that have them, anyway). But do they really?

Read Rohit’s job description for this person – it’s a bit different than your ordinary librarian job:

In the near future, experts predict that content on the web will double every 72 hours. The detached analysis of an algorithm will no longer be enough to find what we are looking for. To satisfy the people’s hunger for great content on any topic imaginable, there will need to be a new category of individual working online. Someone whose job it is not to create more content, but to make sense of all the content that others are creating. To find the best and most relevant content and bring it forward. The people who choose to take on this role will be known as Content Curators. The future of the social web will be driven by these Content Curators, who take it upon themselves to collect and share the best content online for others to consume and take on the role of citizen editors, publishing highly valuable compilations of content created by others. In time, these curators will bring more utility and order to the social web. In doing so, they will help to add a voice and point of view to organizations and companies that can connect them with customers – creating an entirely new dialogue based on valued content rather than just brand created marketing messages.

What do you think? Are librarians doing this now? Yes, we are for print stuff – we have that down pretty well. But how about for online & social media content? I don’t think so. I don’t think ANYONE has this nailed yet!

Thoughts? Share on my blog or on Rohit’s way-cool blog.

Rethinking the 3rd Place

I had a conversation with my supervisor (Rob Banks, Deputy Director of Operations at the library) a couple days ago, and thought it was worth sharing with y’all.

We were talking about our impending website redesign (yes, we’re at it again). I had sent him a rough draft of my redesign plan, and we were talking through it. He had been reading my book on digital experiences, and that had fired off some really cool thoughts about the concept of 3rd place for him… here’s what he said that made us start thinking:

“It’s not 3rd place – it’s The Place:”

  • Typically, Rob has maybe 6 windows open on his computer while at work – email,   a couple of work documents he’s working on, TweetDeck (ok – does YOUR deputy director have TweetDeck open constantly? Just sayin), and a couple of websites – usually including Facebook.
  • He’s doing several things at the same time … but Facebook is always on, and he’s always connected to his Facebook friends.
  • When he’s not at work, Rob has a Blackberry with a Facebook app – so Facebook is always on there, too. He can connect to Facebook whenever he wants to, no matter where he is.
  • Rob can still be in his physical “3rd place” and (important point) STILL BE CONNECTED to Facebook and his friends.
  • And that’s the idea that needs to be translated over to our library’s digital branch.

Our library websites/digital branches will probably never be a real 3rd place to people – and that’s ok. Instead of working towards that, let’s work harder to make this now-old phrase, “be where the patrons are,” a bit more seamless.

good bookRob can be in his 3rd place – but he is also constantly connected to friends/colleagues/family in Facebook at the same time. Facebook, in a way, has transcended the 3rd place to be “The Place.” It’s always on, always available to him, when he wants to be there.

Our library websites/digital branches can be like this, too! So… still developing, but this is definitely going in the redesign plan.

Thoughts? How are you “always there, always on” when patrons want to reach you?

Photo by javaturtle

Starter questions for Ultimate Debate 2009

I participated in a panel at ALA2009 with some cool people called The Ultimate Debate: Has Library 2.0 Fulfilled its Promise? It was fun! I was sent “starter questions” beforehand – and of course, since this was a live discussion, we hit them in different ways.

I thought you might find my “starter answers” interesting, so here they are:

What does Library 2.0 mean to you?

How am I supposed to answer that? It means … “a job!” I usually say it’s two things: 1. web 2.0, as it affects libraries; and 2. some of the underlying philosophies of web 2.0, but applied to non-techie things in a library. Ideas like patron-centered change and participation in the creation of content and community. Doing things a different, non-librarian way would be included here. Things like getting rid of Dewey.

What are we trying to solve with these technologies?

Connecting with community online. Old style websites connected patrons to info. 2.0 sites still do that, but also let you: interact with the content; interact with the creator of that content; and interact with staff and other patrons. It’s sorta like … visiting the library. For real. You can actually “do stuff” there. For me, that’s the goal – when you visit my library’s website, you should be visiting the library. I look at 2.0 tools as helping us get there.

Will these technologies help libraries or are they just hype?

None of the major, popular tools are hype in and of themselves, I don’t think. Yes, they can be HYPED, but they’re not hype. Facebook and twitter being mentioned on Oprah and Conan O’Brien? Hype. Me conducting real business using those tools? Not hype.

Which libraries are leading the way in implementing 2.0 technologies?

TSCPL! Darien Library. Lots of other libraries doing parts and pieces of this…

Are there particular types of libraries (academic, school, etc) that are more involved?

Not sure there’s a more/less involved thing. But it’s different angles to similar problems. Public libraries are doing a lot with blogs for public consumption, and doing a lot with IM reference and gaming. I know academic libraries are focused on making courseware more social … not sure I really know if there’s larger emphases in general with academic libraries or special libraries (would love for someone to chime in here!). There are a TON of tools, and everyone’s using them in a different way, to meet different goals.

Do these technologies make the most sense for a particular user base? Who is best served by them?

Particular user base? Not really – it’s more a specific skill-level base, which stretches across many user bases. Please no one tell me that you should use Facebook to attract college students … my MOM is is a big-time gamer on Facebook, for peet’s sake! There are national demographics you can look at – so more younger than older, but that’s changing.

“Who is best served by them” – figure out what target audiences YOU want to reach, then match the tool to the group. Young professionals? Twitter and Facebook. 35-year old moms? Facebook. Want more interaction on your website, more community interaction? Blogs and people who have computers!

Where is the profession in adopting 2.0 technologies?

We’re all across the board. There’s people like the ones giving this presentation … and there are librarians that would rather not ever touch a computer, let alone a cell phone. Poll – how many people don’t know how to send a text message on your phone (ok – this works better in a presentation than in my blog… I know ALL my readers can send text messages … right?)? How many KNOW of someone you work with that can’t do that? … and txt messaging is one of the older 2.0 technologies.

What are the barriers we face?

Staff not wanting to change and staff not leading the way. I know an urban public library where the web guy and the director want to do things, but they say “our staff won’t buy that.” Do you hear that? They’re letting the staff control what happens… even though they’re in a hip college town.

Wrong thinking about patrons. Librarians tell me – “oh, our patrons don’t do that.” But then, I find out that they’re only talking about “the regulars.” You know, those 100 or so people that you know by name, that use your services heavily every day. We have those. We also did a GIS studay, and found out our biggest potential growth segment in Shawnee county are the upper middle class types who live outside of the city. Many of them aren’t yet our patrons. We need to be asking THEM what they want … not the people coming in the door every day.

Why are some libraries not having success implementing 2.0 technologies?

Didn’t set strategy and goals.
didn’t assign more than 1-2 people to do it
didn’t focus on a target audience
Considered it “extra work”
Wasn’t part of their annual review
wasn’t a priority for individual/for the library

Or… poor content. Can’t write well = no one’s going to read your blog

Are Library 2.0 technologies worth it?

YES. Is having multiple daily conversations with your community worth it? Is answering real questions of your patrons worth it? Is allowing your patrons to add their own thoughts and creativity to something worth it? How about having a new, fairly inexpensive service point/branch? YES.

What aspects/technologies are most or least worth the time to implement?

Really depends on the organization and the customers you’re aiming at. This is key. Example – Is txt msg reference service to senior citizens worth it? Probably not.

What is more hype than substance?

Again, nothing’s hype in and of itself. Ashton Kutcher is hype. Twitter is not.

What is one 2.0 technology you would suggest to libraries?

Two things: What’s new blog. Facebook Page.

What’s next after 2.0?

Nirvana. Joke! Seriously…
– becoming ubiquitous. More people reading RSS feeds … when the print newspapers all disappear sooner than we all think. You’ll want to figure out RSS then, to save the reader’s time.
– Becoming easier. Video on the web – 4 years ago, it was pretty advanced stuff. Today, it’s a Flip camera and youtube. Simple.
– A lot more crazy change. I don’t think we’ve hit the peak yet in terms of technology changes. I think the rollercoaster’s just starting up the hill.

More Chat in the Catalog

Remember my post on TSCPL’s Meebo chat widget embedded in our library catalog? Since then, we have stopped using the Meebo Me widget. It was great – it helped us start our IM reference service, and it was easy to embed pretty much wherever we wanted. But we grew out of it!

We discovered a few shortcomings, like not being able to send hotlinks through it, and our public services staff really wanted the ability to send an IM to someone else. So now, we’re using Libraryh3lp for our IM reference service. Libraryh3lp gives us those added benefits and more.

And we’re doing a few different things with the catalog embed, too. Here’s a pic of the keyword, No Records Found search:

New version of the Chat Reference service in the catalog

We’re trying to make instructions clear, friendly and attractive. If you click the Ask Now button, you get a tiny IM widget pop-up page. Why pop-up? With our Meebo widget, we discovered that a lot of people would start asking a question, then click something … and they’d be gone, because they had clicked away from the page with the embedded IM widget. Bumer! With our new pop-up version, that problem is solved. Users can click away all they want … and still interact with us.

But even cooler than that – Michael, our web designer (one of his many hats) discovered a way to embed a similar thing on the Search Results page:

Search Results page - Chat added!

This provides more opportunities for patrons to ask questions when they get stuck on a search – even if they’re finding things. Basically, they have access to us ON EVERY SEARCH they do.

And not just IM access – that’s provided via the Ask Now button. But we also include our phone number and a link to our email Ask a Librarian form.

We’re excited about this – should be fun to see if we get more catalog-related questions.