Sunday, July 31, 2011

Oh, Google

People are always telling me that Google is going to steal my job. Like Google would want my job.

I was filling in at the reference desk of another library recently, and a patron wanted to show me a website, so she put her cursor in the Google toolbar on the browser and typed--I kid you not--"Google" and hit enter. When the list of search results appeared on the screen, framed by what was obviously the Google interface, she clicked on the first result, which was, of course, Google. Only then did she do her keyword search.

Am I even making sense? What I'm saying is, she Googled Google and then clicked on the first link in the list of results from Google, which was also Google.

Google is not going to steal my job, because my job is to teach people how to use Google. Among other things.

But that's not really what I wanted to post about: Did you know that the Google search results you get are tailored to you? I knew the ads were tailored to my searches, and to my emails when I'm logged in, but I didn't realize that when I search for "Debt Crisis," I get a different list of results from you. I thought we all got the same results--whatever pages were most popular based on that magic algorithm. But no. My preferences and past searches are also taken to account, so my list of results might include different news sources than yours.

I do think this is kind of a big deal, even though I usually yawn at people who decry Google. I guess it isn't inherently bad, but I didn't know it was happening until I read this article, so until then I treated Google results as an indicator of what The World is clicking on. Now I have to treat it as an indicator of what I am clicking on, which is less interesting to me.

There was a recent article in the New York Review of Books about how Google's product isn't really searching--it's advertising. That's what made me think about all this. And everyone knows that Google's making us stupid, too, right?

But not stealing my job. Just for the record.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Social Networking Sites for Kids

>>For a more recent post on this topic see: Online Tools: Biblionasium (1/21/13)<<

Inspired by NYPL's summer reading site, I've been checking out different social networking sites for kids. I'd like to teach my students how to "social network" safely, and of course, developing my own online playground seems like the most awesome way, so I was curious about what the standards were for developing safe sites.

I like how the NYPL and Scholastic "Stacks" site have username generators that let kids pick an animal, color, or adjective, but don't let kids put any of their personal information in their username. I also appreciate that they don't require an email address, which kids are practically discouraged from having in public elementary schools (not that I agree with that).

I noticed that other sites have controlled vocabularies kids can use in their posts--and sometimes even prefab statements they can use, like those comments teachers put on report cards. So kids can't really chat freely, but they can respond to other people's, you know, stuff.

With a lot of these SVEs*, the emphasis really isn't on communicating with other kids, as far as I can tell. On sites like WebKinz and StarDoll, you're creating and maintaining an online creature--it might be an avatar, but it's not necessarily a representation of you--it's more a representation of a pet or toy you wish you had.

I haven't spent a lot of time playing around these sites yet, but I did explore StarDoll's Mortal Kiss site--apparently the publisher collaborated with an existing kids' social networking site to promote a particular title. Is this a model for libraries?

I'm cautious about partnering with commercial sites, but I wonder how many libraries have the capacity to develop and maintain their own social networking sites. On the other hand, I know very little about programming. I just know that when I tried out BuddyPress on my other site, I got malware the first week, so I just deleted the whole thing. I think it happened because I removed the email validation.

I also noticed that Follett offers something like social networking as part of its Destiny Quest--not that it's turned on for my library's catalog. This makes the most sense to me: have social networking be part of the online catalog, a database which already includes peoples' personal information as well as access to the collection. Now that RI public libraries have Encore, you can tag books and see a Google preview. Soon, can we write reviews? And will any aspect of this be designed with kids in mind?

Other sites to check out:

The Doll Palace
Club Penguin

*Like how I threw that in there? It stands for "Shared Virtual Environments" and I got it from "Tip of the Iceberg: Meaning, Identity, and Literacy in Preteen Virtual Worlds," by Eric M. Myers. This article was published in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Vol. 50, No. 4--Fall 2009. I got it through URI's access to Ebsco's URI only Library/Information Science & Technology Abstracts.