Category Archives: Technology

Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference 2012

It’s a beautiful time in Austin, Texas. The weather is warm to hot and the music is loud and proud. But I am in Austin for the  Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I attended this conference last year and I am pleased to be back again.

I’ll start my conference report with the morning session today (the first day) of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I will have to post another instalment for the after lunch sessions. By the way, I had lunch at the wonderful Blanton Museum down the road from the conference venue. The morning was both interesting and satisfying.

I will focus on the keynote since this was the presentation that had the most relevance and interest to me and my workplace. The keynote was delivered by Andrea Resmini currently working in Sweden. The title of his presentation was “Between physical and digital: understanding cross channel experiences”.

Andrea opened up with a story based on the Umberto Eco novel (and subsequent movie) The name of the rose. He focused on the labyrinthine library and the differences between the description and map of the library in the book and in the movie. The purpose of the story was to illustrate how important meaning is in understanding complex environments; and secondly, that we need to be able to understand how different media affect people’s experiences. Thus, is there really a meaningful difference between the physical reality of the library or information centre and that of the virtual library?

Taking some inspiration from William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, Andrea explains that cyberspace is not a place to go to, it is a layer tightly integrated into the world around us. And as such, there are cross channels that enable information to be delivered, exchanged, and received to suit the needs of individuals and the contexts in which they find themselves. Cross channels may be expressed this way: “Cross-channel is not about technology, or marketing, nor it is limited to media-related experiences: it’s a systemic change in the way we experience reality. The more the physical and the digital become intertwined, the more designing successful cross-channel user experiences becomes crucial”. A full explanation, from which this quote was taken, can be found here.

The point of course is that libraries can no longer think of themselves as a set of discrete multiple actions, or silos,  (e.g. circulation desk, catalogue, web site etc.) but as facilitator for the provision of information in different ways to meet the needs of clients/users/students and the way in which they want to access and consume information. This of course involves the virtual library.

More generally, all of us are not staying within one channel all of the time. We move between them, depending on what it is we need them to do. And we would like all the digital pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to fit and work together.

I will return in my next post to continue what Andrea went on to say, outlining his seven point “manifesto” about information architecture, the user experience, and cross channel experiences.

But to finish this post, I want to give some further reading. Andrea mentioned the book “Pervasive Information Architecture” and I will be chasing that up when I return home later in the week.



Reflections on Web 3.0 social media conference

I have had a few days now to reflect upon what was presented and discussed at the Web 3.0 social media conference that was held in Sydney last Thursday and Friday.

The key point is that social media cannot be ignored by companies and nor can it be ignored by “marketeers”. “Marketeers” is obviously some cutesy professional term used these days to describe marketing executives or marketing departments; a noun that I find strangely childish and stupid.  But I digress.

For the organisation, social media offers scope, range, and reach to potential customers and clients. Using social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allows organisations to communicate using channels that are becoming increasingly popular. 

Mark Higginson from Nielsens reported that growth in the online sector in Australia was strong, even showing a growth in online media use from the 55-plus demographic. Moreover, in the words of Alex Crompton from Aussie (Home Loans), “It’s (social media) where the people are.” In other words, look at where your audience is and work out the best (if not all) the media channels necessary to connect with them. The online space will continue to eat into traditional advertising channel revenue as people spend more time online.

Not surprisingly, the case for social media use was strong. Not only did presenters emphasise the communication and marketing aspects, but many also told us of the importance of “community”, “engagement” and “the social” aspects of the online universe. Online brand reputation and “tribal support” are significant, as both Alex Crompton (Aussie) and Karen Ganschow (Telstra) indicated in their presentations. Products and services can be improved by using social media as a way of listening to customers, and then using the feedback to enhance the customer (and brand) experience – all good commercial sense. Generating online champions who advocate (and even solve problems) on your behalf, is even better!

Nick Love from Fox Interactive Media was confident that the internet in the near future would be totally about “the social”. Nick was so confident , that he forecast that “social” media would become redundant since the social aspects of online use and interaction would become embedded into everything that happens online. Nick referred to the “social web” as a way of explaining how pervasive the shift to social networks was becoming. Mark Higginson from Nielsen wasn’t convinced (and nor was I) that the internet in the future would be totally social, but I think Mark and I would agree that the social aspects of online communication and engagement will continue to grow and become very important.

The three of us would agree, however, that social media has an important “reputation currency” associated with it, something at the heart of authenticity and engagement. It remains to be seen how marketeers will leverage “authenticity” and “engagement” to sell their wares and promote their brands.  Actually, it is already beginning to happen on social media sites such as Youtube where content is becoming monetised (product placement is a classic example).

Karen Stocks from Youtube keenly promoted (financial) success from Youtube celebrity spinoffs and content creators such as Australian Natalie Tran. Youtube offered global reach, attention, and eyeballs for product placement and brand awareness. At the heart of Youtube success was “viral marketing” – some authentic and often accidentally successful Youtube clip that captured “people’s imagination” and took off. One quoted example was the Mentos mints in the bottles of diet coke that literally took off, and with it sales of diet coke to boot! Of course, it’s not all beer and skittles (or mints and coke) for Youtube content creators. Naomi Klein warned us in No Logo that companies prowl for ideas from a range of sources (and these days social media is one of them) for emerging trends and then commercialise without any profit going to the edgy content creators who displayed their ideas first.

Michael Kordehi proved that Microsoft has informed and entertaining speakers with a great presentation on enhancing a richer and deeper personal experience with the web. Michael showed off some of the IT whizz-bangery that he and his team had done for NineMSN’s Grazia magazine. The image quality of the digital fashion shoot photos were enhanced for much finer image detail (something clients wanted from fashion photos online) AND also to enhance the way readers could share these images with their friends. Using your own navigation around the images, you could then save and send it to friends so that they saw the same sequence of images as you did. I think he referred to it as an “e-journey” but I think he’ll need to do more work on that term to make it part of the popular lexicon.

Other professionally presented talks were from Paul Borrod of Facebook and Cliff Rosenberg from LinkedIn, both of whom promoted the social media benefits of their respective services. I already use LinkedIn but I must say that I am a little more inclined to take Facebook  more seriously than I have in the past, based on some improvements to the interface and an assurance to improve privacy.

Marc Lehmann ( talked about the naturally selected web which pretty much was about getting the web to cut through the mess and give you exactly what you want without relying on search. Because we are all still time-poor, we need a more life-like web that relates to our own needs and our own digital identity. Marc thought that today it is not about the web, it’s all about the data. How can we get the data we need and personalise the information to meet our individual demands and save us time?  And Nicholas Gruen, in his presentation on Government 2.0 and web 3.0, also advocated how the provision of (government) data could be used by people in many different ways – the classic example was the Gov 2.0 mashup late last year at which an inventive bunch of people reframed and rearticulated government data into informative and interesting ways. In other words, put the data out there and let the people work out for themselves how they will use it and what meaning they will derive from it.

One of the best presentations from the conference was from Sandy Carter of IBM. Sandy gave some excellent real-life examples of companies using social media for a variety of strategic purposes. The message was clear: before using social media, an organisation must articulate and understand the problem it is trying to solve and then work out how (or if) social media can make a positive difference. In fact, 80% of your time should be about planning and setting out the objectives and the strategy, while the remaining 20% is about the technology and the tools. Much of what Sandy had to say, and in far greater detail, is in her book The new language of marketing 2.0. The book outlines a set of six steps (ANGELS) that provide a useful guide to utilising traditional marketing techniques with what web 2.0 has to offer. And thanks Sandy for the free copy!

There  were other interesting papers that I summarised in my notes but I need not go into detail here. Suffice to say, the conference encouraged thought and good discussion about how social media can be leveraged to improve communication, enhance marketing and customer engagement, and promote new forms of interaction and community among online participants. The conference was very impressive indeed.

On podcasts, learning, and uni students

When I first went to university I wrote all my essays on a typewriter.  The desktop PC revolution and word processing programs were only just beginning.  In fact, the typewriter held fast in universities throughout much of the 1980s; some universities having specific rooms full of typewriters for students to tap away upon. I had my own typewriter; but even that posed certain problems.  One memorable comment from a lecturer on one of my essays was: “I think a new typewriter ribbon would have been helpful”! 

The change from typewriter to PC and word processing was a massive change for students – a change for the best.

Nowadays, university students have it pretty easy when it comes to doing their university work.  Students have laptops that can go anywhere and word processors that make writing and editing assignments relatively painless.  Thankfully, computers made “white ink” corrections redundant.  Students don’t have to queue for ages at photocopier machines to copy key journal articles anymore – almost all academic journals these days are available online via the university library.

University students today don’t even need to go to classes to listen to lectures since many lectures are now podcast, enabling students to listen to the material at a time most convenient for them.  Moreover, podcasts overcome the multitasking dilemma we “older” students had when trying to listen to lecturers and write down salient points at the same time! Podcasting, like laptop computers, give students greater freedom and flexibility for learning.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that university students are spending less time on campus and more time online, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Three out of four students use podcasts of lectures and a third believe online lecture materials can be a replacement for attending classes, according to the nationwide survey of 2422 first-year students by the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne”.

While we can say that technology has created the capacity for increasing a student’s online experiences, the other reason is financial.  The cost of education is much greater these days then when I first went to university (in the days when university education was nominally “free”).  Over the past 10-15 years, university students have had to pay expensive fees or take a loan to pay for their studies. For undergraduate students in particular, paying for education means there is a greater need to take part-time jobs to earn money to pay for fees, as well as the usual costs associated with text books and transport.

The negative side to all of this is the lack of on-campus activity that comes with university life.  If students are learning by themselves via online services, podcasts, and even wikis, where is the social interaction that is also part of the educational experience? 

People in the workforce do not work in social vacuums.  The lecture, with all its ancient history behind it, acted as a focal point for students to meet before and afterwards.  The death of the lecture means new focal points will need to overcome the loss of social interaction.  And I don’t just mean the fun part of social interaction; I mean actually meeting with other students (both by design and serendipity) to discuss what they have learned and what needs to be thought through.

It is interesting to compare the university experiences of students today with what will be their work experiences.  For the most part, employers want staff to be at work in a specific physical location.  Despite all the hype, working from home is still relatively rare.  Working with people at the workplace is still the fundamental organisational architecture that university students today will move into.

In the knowledge management industry, we are very supportive of face-to-face contact to establish trust to enhance workplace (working) relationships.  Trust is integral to many of the knowledge management initiatives that we like to promote, especially in terms of leadership, communication, collaboration, people networks, and operational effectiveness.

Information technology gives us speed and scale that cannot easily be replicated in face-to-face environments.  For example, knowledge management professionals like to promote online communities of practice, wikis, and podcasts too.  We see that there are many different ways to communicate information and knowledge and we try not to rely on only one channel.  We like to consider context and how our KM work best fits within that context.  In many ways, we are like both the university students and university lecturers of today’s world.

Getting the balance right in the context in which we operate is the real challenge.

Just had James Dellow from Headshift speaking at AusAID this afternoon on Government 2.0.  Among the audience were several representatives from other government agencies giving the seminar a real whole-of-government feel.  Government 2.0 is often considered in the light of open government, something I have blogged about before.

James spoke about the Federal Government sponsored Government 2.0 Taskforce final report published at the end of 2009. Key insights included some of the thinking behind the Online Engagement Guidelines and Web 2.0 Toolkit.

Much of the discussion focused, naturally enough for a government-centric audience, on risk.  There remains a considerable concern among some senior executive service that web 2.0 and open government are too risky. The fear largely is about the risk of negative publicity or political sensitivities, but also includes concerns about the technology and giving public servants more authority and responsibility in dealing with the community. In sum, the issues relate to risk, privacy, responsibility, responsiveness, and consistency (quality).

Personally, I don’t see the risks as being too different from that facing the private sector – just replace the government Minister with a company CEO and you get the same sort of concerns.  The challenge is how to mitigate risk and yet get the benefits from using web 2.0 applications and thinking to provide a better public service; one more in tune with the community and what the community needs from government agencies.

In addition, the challenge is also in asking where does the leadership for Government 2.0 come from?  Is it from the politicians, the senior executive service, the communications unit, or IT?

I will get the Slideshare link of James soon and post for the presentation slides to be available.

All in all, a very good seminar and thank you, James!

 As part of the Taskforce’s consultation process, they commissioned the creation of Online Engagement Guidelines and a Web 2.0 Toolkit. This was designed to provide guidance to government agencies using web 2.0 tools and provided a recommendation for a toolkit of web 2.0 technologies that agencies can use based on principles of shared services and re-use.

On open government

This evening I discovered the text of a speech by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on working smarter in government (i.e. the civil service).  Now working smarter, and leveraging what organisation’s already do more effectively,  are at the heart of good knowledge management.  The speech is much broader than simply having the civil service become more efficient – Brown outlines a vision for open government and engagement with the citizenry.  Interestingly, what Brown says about government and public engagement sounds very similar to the sentiments expressed in the Engage Report that I blogged about in my previous blog post.

In particular, Brown says: “We will ensure that people can get access to the information they need to engage in dialogue with public service professionals; and in doing so reduce bureaucratic burdens. This will drive improvements in public services, making them more personal and cost-effective, whilst at the same time strengthening democratic deliberation and giving frontline workers and voluntary organisations the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways. We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public … In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.”

I applaud the sentiments expressed in this speech by Gordon Brown.  Similarly, the Engage Report in Australia says: “Engagement is the central theme of this report. It deals with the connection of people to information so that knowledge assets can be re-used to create new and often unexpected value. It deals as well with the growing opportunities for more effective collaboration with citizens in different dimensions of government – policy development, regulatory reform, program and service design”.

Yet I still have that nagging concern that public-government engagement is not what it appears.  Sure, I understand the desire to publish government content (in greater volume no doubt, but hopefully in a form that is of most value to the public).  I applaud the use of web 2.0 tools to facilitate some form of public feedback or dialogue.  I certainly understand the view that the public has a right to be informed and that government needs to become more accountable.  These are all good things and are very big steps for government to be actively pursuing.  Yet, how much of all of this is just an enormous content dump, and how much of it will be real engagement – engagement where citizens actively become involved with the workings and decsions of government departments and agencies?

Web 2.0 requires a different way of thinking.  There is more emphasis on distributed intelligence and networks rather than centralised control systems and fixed hierarchies.  Web 2.0 is not about control, but more interested in the dialogue and “the conversation”. Web 2.0 tools and applications are interactive and immediate.  And most importantly, web 2.0 thinking is the thinking of the new world environment of the 21st century so there is no excuse not to partake of the best that web 2.0 can offer.  It’s simply evolutionary organisational dynamics.

Brown in his speech goes on to say: “But if the purpose of our reforms is not only to be more efficient, but to meet future challenges and re-engineer our public services from good to great, Whitehall has to let go – and empower staff and the public to shape provision in meeting local needs and priorities” (my bold and italics).  This cultural change will not be easy.  The same issue was identified in Australia in the Engage Report – that there is a strong cultural and operational tendency within government to withhold information.  There are many reasons, some of which are spurious and others that have some legitimacy. Traditional control-based organisations in government will need to change if open government is to become a reality. But there are realistic concerns around privacy, political risk, and copyright – challenges all of which can be overcome I must say.

The challenge for open government and increasing citizen engagement with government is not the web 2.0 tools which are readily available.  The challenge is how to foster a culture of openness and collaboration in government agencies.  In addition, there may be significant resource issues around content management and web sites, records management systems, information management, and knowledge management.  The classic organisational problem, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, is no longer now just a knowledge management problem; it’s now a government-wide problem that must be overcome before open government can be effective.  However, the fundamental success factor for open government will be people-based – trust and organisational culture being pivotal.

The vision for open government espoused by UK PM Gordon Brown and in the Engage Report for Australia are commendable.  They are optimistic and challenging.  But they also offer opportunities for knowledge management to become a significant and active stakeholder in the way in which open government might unfold.  I certainly hope so.

On sailing ships and dodos

Dave Snowden told a good story at a knowledge management conference a couple of years ago about the sailing ship.  In the early 19th century, mighty sailing ships with giant masts and sails were the dominant form of sea transport in the modern world at that time.  Along came ships constructed of iron and powered by motorised engines which were more efficient (they could power along whether the wind blew or not) and became more reliable and versatile shipping vessels.  The sailing ship industry responded with even bigger ships with more masts and more giant sails but in the end the sailing ships were doomed by a new technology that made sea transport more efficient and effective.  Perhaps the sailing ship may make a return in an oil-depleted and global greenhouse environment in the 21st century but that’s another story…

And that poor old bird, the dodo, was no match for the slaughter by humans, and by invading pigs plundering their nests and territory.  Alas, they were unable to adapt to the ravages brought upon them in such a short space of time and they became extinct.

Which brings me to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald about a conference in India at which the media moguls of the 21st century are battling to stay in the game in a world enriched and informed via the World Wide Web.  The World Newspaper Congress is hearing from embattled media moguls about how unfair the internet is making the news and information business since they haven’t been clever enough to work out a successful business model for the changed world media environment.

Like the 19th century sailing ship industry, the newspaper moguls are desperate to keep alive a form of business that is actually being surpassed by more modern and disruptive technologies. The internet and social networking are changing the way content is published, consumed, and valued.  Content on the internet is more immediate, more personal, more varied, and more versatile compared to traditional newspaper publishing.  Not only that, but people these days do not have to rely on newspapers for their dose of worldly information since much of the information out there on the internet is provided by people for free and can be accessed for free! Even newspapers and television news programs seek out these stories from ordinary folk who witness events first hand or who have some other form of newsworthy story.

Of course, the newspapers are indeed part of the problem.  Over the past twenty years (at least) newspaper proprietors have dumbed down journalism and investigative reporting so much that newspaper content is hardly superior to much of the informed news and information provided by ordinary people. In fact, it is ordinary people who actually have something interesting to say, without the caveat of having to say something that will generate advertising revenue or hanker for the bouquets from supporting ideologues.

Reading newspapers these days is like reading a bevy of opinion pieces; the opinions being no more informed or relevant than that of bloggers and social networkers.  Instead of lifting quality and gaining some comparative advantage this way, newspapers have taken the easy route and proffered a multitude of opinion, loose reporting and drivel that can be easily replicated anywhere. 

At the same time, newspapers continue to search for more “eyeballs” to convince advertisers that newspapers are still relevant.  Newspapers still want to be found on the internet to capture these “eyeballs”, yet they want to determine and control the method and channels of being found. They want to use the 21st century technology but only in the manner of their 20th century world view of dominance and control of the news. Even advertisers are shifting their world view.  Advertisers are increasingly using new methods of messaging and advertising utilising the new communication mediums available via the internet, social networking, and other forms of communication channels.

At least the newspaper industry hasn’t had it as bad as the dodo. The dodo had relatively little time to adjust to the ravages of invading species before they finally met their final and irrevocable end. Newspapers have had plenty of time, and had plenty of warning about the competitive content available via a host of alternative sources.

Newspaper organisations are like the 19th century sailing ships trying to battle their way forward using their existing tired techniques and old-century attitudes, and failing to confront the new realities of a brave new world.  Like those 19th century sailing ships, newspapers as they exist today will die off and be replaced by a more efficient and effective form of  news communication that does not rely on old thinking and old technologies.

Newspaper moguls can whine all they like but they need to accept the new communication realities and make the necessary adjustments, or go the way of the sailing ship and eventually, the dodo.

On the road to knowledge management

I regard myself as a knowledge worker and integrally involved within the information sector. Over the last ten years I have increasingly been involved more on the knowledge management side of things than on the library-side.

When I first entered the information sector in the 1980’s I was physically based in a library. I worked in public libraries and corporate libraries, Macquarie Bank being my first corporate library experience. I have worked at the Parliamentary Library in Canberra. In all those environments there were books and often files that formed the main body of the “collection”.

Throughout the second-half of the 1980’s, electronic and online databases helped broaden the reach of information access and increase the speed and scale at which information could be found and circulated to the people who needed it. But I was still sitting in “the library”. And this was not such a bad thing, especially in corporate environments, where the library and my position in it were viewed as “neutral”. I was able to play information broker between different people and sections of the business – keeping in mind governance and compliance issues.

From the second-half of the 1990’s until recently, except for my time at the Parliamentary Library in Canberra, my working library environment became much smaller. My management and use of information resources  became much more digitally based (and the internet was the obvious driving force). Bookshelves gave way to intranet portals and Google, and online databases became more sophisticated and carried significantly more content.

During much of the “noughties” (the year 2000 and beyond), the emphasis was less on a centralised one-to-one directed research and information service, but on establishing and managing networks of information and people within the organisation. In addition, more communication channels could be used to enhance reach and provide more specialised services while at the same time increasing the number of access points and search options. Communities of practice was one such manifestation.

Now I am working in a “library environment” that has no on-site physical collection and specialises in distributing information widely and in specific, tailored information products. We still have a book and journal collection, although most journals are now accessed electronically.  There is less emphasis on one-to-one research, although this service is still provided.

We still use an electronic library management system, although we also have a (rather mediocre) content management system using Sharepoint 2003. Information is much more dispersed within organisations and there is far greater user-generated content, both internally and externally.

We also have thematic networks that are gradually emerging as a facility to promote knowledge sharing and information distribution across a range of groups of various subject interests.

There are other disparite activities that are happening in learning and development, human resources, internal communications, and information technology. There is much information produced and knowledge generated in program areas and country desks.  They all have a part to play in how knowledge management takes shape within an organisation. Yet there is a need to give shape to knowledge management as a real and driving entity within organisations – all organisations.

The way forward is still to be mapped out in terms of an integrated strategic approach to knowledge management, although I hope to be part of it. After all, one of the strengths of the library and information profession is in “organising”, whether it is a subject search or an intranet page.

Giving life to knowledge management is therefore a real challenge and something a modern “library” can certainly play a vital part.