Relics from Our Glorious Future of the Past

Found in an old book, Decoration and Design for the 80s. This is the “date due” card, which would be stamped by the library when you checked the book out. It also has computer punch-slots (from the days when computers used punch cards). The data “stored” in the punches is currently unknown.

Feeling the Sting of iTunes Ping

Social networking has opened up amazing new ways to let users share their favorite stuff with their friends, while allowing marketers to see the flow of ideas around a particular online ecosystem. So it’s not surprising that for more than a year, [rumors swirled that Apple was working on some sort of home-grown social network that tied into iTunes][9to5Mac].

I just don’t think we were expecting that when it finally came out this month, we’d be staring at [iTunes Ping][].

To say that I’m disappointed in Apple would be putting it mildly. In its current state, Ping is at best a beta product.

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The Long Term. The Big Picture.

I’m a big fan of O’Reilly Radar; it’s a great place for really smart writing.

One recent piece by Nat Torkington, Clue is a Renewable Resource, is particularly smart to me because it represents someone who’s looking to take a long view on an employee. (It should come as no surprise that I got this link from Rands, a very smart guy who writes really well about managing people.) Unfortunately, we as a society seem completely incapable of taking any sort of long view right now and it’s something we’ve really got to start thinking more about.

Short-term thinking is, of course, necessary in dire times like these just to keep the lights on and a roof over your head, but we have to remember that short-term actions have long-term consequences. We have to stop treating people like robots and we have to stop thinking about the small picture to the exclusion of all else.

We have to start thinking long-term and big-picture.

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Dump the WWW!

Here we are, in 2010, and I’m still seeing ads and other links to websites that include the “www.” at the start of the web address. Now, thankfully, most people have gotten the message already that there’s no need for the “http://” in front of a URL, but I am still baffled as to why we’re still hanging on to the “www.” part, which is about as useful to a web site as the appendix is to the human body.

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Whither Broadband?

Broadband in the US is lagging (no pun intended) behind the rest of the world, both in terms of adoption rates and in speed. According to the OECD, [the percentage of American households with broadband Internet is ranked fifteenth in the world][oecd]. Even worse, the OECD defines “broadband” as “256 kbps and up”, which many would probably agree is a pretty paltry speed in this day and age. The FCC even used to define it as a mere 200 kbps—which isn’t even four times as fast as an old 56K modem—although thankfully, it seems to have been bumped up to 768 kbps or higher, which is a bit better.

[oecd]: http://www.oecd.org/document/54/0,3343,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html “OECD Broadband Portal (contains data on broadband adoption rates)”

Now, if you follow that link and read the first two Excel spreadsheets (curse you, OECD, for not providing PDF or HTML versions of this data!) you’ll see that it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds: first, the US has the highest number of overall broadband subscribers of any country; second, most of the countries with higher adoption percentages are countries far smaller than the US (Britain, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, S. Korea, etc.). Naturally, it’s a lot easier to wire up the entirety of small countries than it is a continent-spanning nation that’s quite spread out, as much of the US west of the Mississippi River is.

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The Smart Firehose

I’m an unabashed Google user.  I think Google has long provided the best search results on the Web and I don’t see any sign that’s going to change any time soon.  The reason I think Google has so totally eclipsed its competitors like Yahoo!, Ask and Excite (remember them?) is that Google is the search engine that follows what I like to call the “smart firehose” principle.

Google spends millions and millions of dollars every year on tweaking their search results to make them better.  Engineers at Google constantly ask themselves:  How can we give people the information they want in as few clicks as possible?  Can we add context-relevant information such as a map, movie showtimes or images in order to make the search results more useful? In other words, Google would rather just give you the information you need if it possibly can, instead of sending you somewhere else.

When you search for something using a standard Google search (that is, at Google.com or through your browser’s search box), the search engine doesn’t separate relevant results, forcing you to click various sections of results. Instead, Google just gives you a list of the best results, depending on what you’re searching for and regardless of what type of result it is; consequently, a Google search results list will include links to web pages, maps, images, videos and more, all in one list. This “smart firehose” model works well for Google because it gives good results and then trusts people to make the right choice.

Libraries, in comparison, are woefully behind in search. Catalog searches are almost always totally separate from research information, so in order to find good information about, say, diabetes, a user will need to do multiple searches; one for the library’s catalog and at least one for the research databases. Often, users will need to go into several different research databases and perform individual searches.

Library users need a smart firehose.

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