Moving blog to

I have pretty much moved my blog to . Please change your bookmarks or subscribe to the new RSS feed at

Over the last few months, I have being resorting to cutting and pasting from to this blog, which isn’t ideal, as can be seen from the formating layout.

As stated here, the main reason for the move is the lack of flexibility on this platform that makes pasting of  javascript widgets hard if not impossible.

Hope to see you at !

Sharing links with users – 8 different ways

How do you share links, resources with your library patrons? In the past, the default option would certainly be through email. There is nothing wrong with sharing links through emails, though it seems to me a more structured and organized way would be better.

But today with the rise of social networks, collaborative tools and general web 2.0 love, there are a bewildering number of online sharing options, I thought it would be useful in this post to briefly consider each class of tools and assess their suitability.

To give us something concrete to work on, let us assume you arrange to meet with a graduate student to discuss his research topic. From then, on you want to regularly send his interesting resources you find. You can assume he has the same access to resources you have (so a direct link with ezproxy stem built-in would work) but you cannot assume he has registered for whatever service (including citation managers) you intend to use.

Of course, this scenario is just a smaller scale version of the task of creating subject guides, so many of the same solutions can be used.

The tools that I will cover below will generally generate a list of resources you shared on a webpage (which may or may not be password protected).

Depending on what type of librarian you are, you may be sharing mostly link to free public sites, or to links to academic journals articles in subscribed databases, and this impacts the type of tools you might use.

As an academic librarian who shares mostly links to academic articles the ideal sharing tool for me then would have the following characteristics though

(1) Handles links to password protected pages – In particular many general social bookmarking tools work fine with normal webpages but fall down when you try to handle links from subscribed databases which require logins. This is particularly so for tools that try to archive the page or add annotation overlays (see below).

(2) Allow exporting of citations in several formats – Most of the resources you are going to share are articles, so ideally the webpage that displayed the resources would be formatted in such a way that allows your library patron to easily export the citations in various ways (RIS, text, BIBtext) to whatever citation manager they prefer.

(3) Allows resource lists to be embedded in other spaces – The resource list should be exported as RSS which would allow you to create widgets using external services such as widgetbox to embed in other pages (including wikis, social networks, startup pages etc). Even better would be for the service to provide it’s own widgets such as delicious linkrolls. Diigo offers the very interesting WebSlides.

(4) Allow you to add annotation/comments – This could be an overlay of your comments over the webpage in question, or simply allows you to add comments next to the citation.

(5) Allows collaboration (real time?) – Ideally the user could add comments like “This is good”, “This is not relevant because…” etc. Better yet if the tool has a “like” feature as seen in Friendfeed and copied by facebook, google reader – allows you to get quick feedback what kinds of citations are relevant.

(6) Allows access without registering for a account – While (4) assumes to some extent that users will have to log-in, you can’t assume that the user will want to go through the pain of registering a new account just to view your list of resources. I would add that it is the whole process of REGISTERING (which typically requires that you fill in a long web form) that is annoying, a password protected list, where all the user needs to do is to enter the password you supply might be acceptable.

#1 Social bookmarking tools e.g. Delicious

The most famous of this is of course Delicious.

Newer and more trendy alternatives with many more features include Diigo, Twine, Google bookmarks and more. (Not sure if “Readitlater” type of tools like instantpaper might be used).

These tools were never designed in mind for academic use, though they can be readily adapted to such uses. Typically, they allow users to access resource lists without authentication, which reduces barriers to entry.

The main disadvantage is that as they are not designed for academic use, they don’t provide various niceties that web-based citation managers have including formatting of citations, links to resources via doi, coins etc.

Many of the older social bookmarking tools like Delicious also provide relatively little social networking functions. Delicious does allow you to add fans and/or export results to rss feeds though which allows you to create link roll widgets to embed on your webpage (see library subject guide created using delicious link rolls), but they definitely don’t provide anyway for the user to add comments to the resources you share.

Try Diigo or Twine if you want the ability to add comments.

One can also consider “clipping” software/services like Evernote, Zoho Notebook which can store anything you can imagine, but it’s can’t clear how good the sharing features are.

#2 Web annotation tools/ advanced Social bookmarking tools – e.g. Awesome Highlighter

The idea of annotating webpages goes back to a 1999 outfit Third voice. The idea is that you install a browser plugin of some kind, then you can view comments or annotations left by other visitors of the page.

Comments or annotations are usually overlaid over the existing page, or in some cases, a separate frame opens with comments about that page at the side (some will even pull comments from Twitter, friendfeed about that page).

This is a very crowded space with many alternatives including A.nnotate , Awesome Highlighter ShiftSpace, Fleck, Stickis, TrailFire, SharedCopy, webnotes, Reframeit and more.

A few libraries have started to use TrailFire to guide users. Below is an example from Central Pennsylvania College library which they use to annotate pages to guide users through their webpages.

More traditional social bookmarking tools like Diigo, Iterasi, Qitera, also incorporate archiving of the existing page with comments/annotations and images captured. Diigo in particular has an interesting WebSlides feature.

Being able to add annotations seems useful. Imagine not only linking to a specific article, but also highlighting sections that you find relevant or interesting. Imagine being able to engage in a conversation with a user about an online article, by scribbling in the margins.

The main problem with almost all web annotation tools is that they don’t really work with links to subscribed databases as they are typically accessed behind a password with the added complication of ezproxy links, and as such web annotation/archiving features fail.

Iterasi seems to be the only one that is capable of doing so, though I’m not sure of the copyright implications.

#3 Web based citation Managers – Citeulike, Zotero

Since we are typically sharing articles, why not use a tool designed for it? While desktop based citation managers are still popular, in recent years, many web-based citation managers have began to appear, and desktop managers have added web-based versions or at least allow sharing to users who are using the same citation manager.

In addition, designers of citation managers have become inspired by the success of social networking sites and have began to mimic such sites by adding features that encourage collaboration, finding people in similar fields etc.

Another crowded field such products/services include Citeulike, Mendley, 2collab, Wizfolio, Connotea , Labmeeting, ResearchGate, Nature Network, Zotero, plus huge list here

It’s hard to characterize these services as a whole and I have minimal experience with all but 3. There seems to be several classes

1) 100% web-based, delicious-like tools (e.g. Penntags, Connotea, Citeulike, 2collab, refworks) , these generally focus on uploading your citations and to varying degrees sharing with users but don’t have “cite as you write” features to aid writing of your thesis.

2) Citation managers in web-based form (e.g Wizfolio, Refworks)

3) Citation managers in desktop form but also include web-based versions (e.g. EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero)

An excellent discussion about such tools can be found here and here

The main thing I’m looking for here in such services is the ease at which you can share resources, typically links to articles.

Connotea, Citeulike and Zotero, Mendeley are either completely web-based or allow you to push lists of resources to a web-based site, which does not require users to login to view.

Typical examples would be Mendeley’s public collection or Zotero’s groups. Note: If you want to share pdfs or full-texts you can use Mendeley’s shared collection option instead.

Citeulike is probably even better since it’s web-based page allows exporting of citations in various formats including RIS, txt, RSS etc. RIS is particularly important to support since most citation managers support that.

Somewhat less ideal is EndNote, which allows sharing only between users of EndNote web. Of course, you could just export selected Endnote citations into txt and then email the list to the user.

#4 RSS feed readers – Google reader etc

I have written quite a bit about using rss feed reader as a discovery tool. You can use Google reader to share with users, or post to a shared item page for those who don’t have a account. Added plus, users can give feedback by liking it.

One disadvantage is that you run into problems when you are trying to share to more than two persons. You can have a public page of (1) Your starred items (2) Things you shared (and (3) specific folders) but what if you need to share to more than 2 users?

#5 Collaborative tools – wikis, google docs etc.

Of the tools managed above, most of them have few collaborative capabilities.

If you intend to collaborative on a long term basis, chances are you might want to go with either tools that are designed along such lines.

The first major class would be wikis of course.

In addition, there are collaborative tools such as etherpad, google docs, Zoho Office, Buzzword etc. Then there is the possible game changer Googlewave. These are web-based word processors that allow several people to collaborate on at the same time, changes can be seen in real-time or near real-time.

The chief disadvantage of such tools is that the input is unstructured.

#6 Blogs – e.g. Posterous, Tumbler.

Anyone tried using blogs to share resources? One could use widgets to pull in data from any one of the earlier classes of services and then allow users to comment.

“Light blogging” platforms like Posterous, Tumbler might also be used, due to the ease in which you can bring in data from various sources (including just emailing it!) and to push them to other sources.

Odd ideas, use the email options in databases, to post straight to Posterous?

#7 Social networks, life aggregation services – Facebook, Friendfeed etc

I have never heard of anyone trying this, but in theory you could set up special facebook pages, or Friendfeed rooms to share resources. Both services, make it easy for users to comment, “like” entries and provide real-time updates.

Friendfeed is similar to Posterous and provides half a dozen ways to bring in information, and to export the stream.

Another interesting feature about Friendfeed , you can share files!

You could import links into Friendfeed using various methods, from sending emails, to the use of bookmarklets (either the built-in one or generic ones like kwout), or importing results from RSS feeds (e.g. Citeulike ,Zotero, Mendeley’s public collection)

Below, I experiment with pushing rss feeds from Citeulike and Mendeley’s public collection

Many libraries are experimenting with Facebook pages. I have limited experience in this area, but I wonder if one could use facebook pages as a sort of subject guide, or more specifically to share resources to specific users.

#8 Startup pages – e.g. Netvibes, Pageflakes

Startup pages is another topic I have written a lot about, though I have typically written about it in terms of being a general subject guide, rather than being a specific resource list for a specific user.


I’ve probably left out, several other ways you can share resources, feel free to leave comments on how you share resources.

Updating presentations in widgets

Web 2.0 services like Slideshare, Youtube are now an accepted part of the web, and Libraries are using them as a matter of course to embed their presentations onto webpages. However, updating these presentations, often involve a two step process, you upload your presentation on the service, then you edit your webpage with the html snipplet. If you need to regularly change the presentation that appears on your web page this gets old pretty fast. Is there a better way?

The key idea here is to use widgets that are flexible enough that you can control what appears using tags without having to constantly edit the html of your page.


By now, use of Slideshare (or alternatives such as Scribd, Issuu, Docstoc, Slidesix, Slideboom, Zohoshow, Myplick, Googledocs etc) to present documents (powerpoints, PDFs etc) is hardly considered innovative. Libraries have embedded Slideshare widgets onto their webpages, subject guides (including Libguides or startup pages like Netvibes) and even wikis.

Embedding Slideshare widgets is quite simple, once you have uploaded the document you want onto Slideshare, you simply go to the document and copy and paste the html code under “Embed” (click on custom link next to it for more control) onto any page you want and it appears as below

Several presentations in one Slideshare widget?

This is how most people use SlideShare to embed their documents. But what if you wanted to embed several documents onto one page? For instance, you conducted several library tutorials for students in Sociology, and you want them all to appear. Sure, you could add one widget for each document but that would take up a lot of space.

Can you put them all into one widget? Yes, you can.

You can add either a SlideShare Playlist widget or a Slideshare Presentation Pack Widget

You can customize the documents that will appear in the Widget using various options, but for our purposes here is what you do.

Say you want 4 documents to appear together in a widget, tag all 4 documents with the same tag, in my example, I tagged them with ‘sociology’

When you create the playlist or presentation pack widget, select “my tags” and in the pull down menu select ‘sociology’. Look at the preview below and if you are happy you can embed the html which will give you the result shown below.

The widget above, packs all 4 documents uploaded by you onto Slideshare with the tag ‘sociology’.

A great time saver

Initially, I found this a useful way to pack more than one presentation together in one widget, but later on I realized that this widget also was a great time saver. How so?

The nice thing about the widget above is that as you change the tags given to the documents you have uploaded, it will update accordingly. So for example, if you decide one of 4 documents above is outdated, you can just go to that Slideshare document (click ‘edit’), remove the tag on the outdated widget and the widget will not show it anymore.

Similarly, adding another new presentation is as simple, just upload the document to Slideshare , give it the correct tag and it will appear automatically!

This is a great time saver as all you need to do is to work on Slideshare, change the tags on Slideshare and you don’t have to update the html on the page at all.

Compare to the old way when you have to do a two step process of adding a presentation to Slideshare, then editing your html page and then uploading to your content management system.

Moreover, some organizations might restrict access to the content management system, so in the past the poor guy with access had to constantly change the html on the webpage upon request. Using this widget, all he needs to do is to add the widget to the html once and upload on the server, and anyone else with access to the slideshare account can manipulate what appears by adding or removing tags.

It’s a pity you can’t do this for the normal single presentation widget version of Slideshare. Or at least I haven’t found a good way, not if you still want to retain the older presentation somewhere.

Would be nice if you could have a widget that always shows the latest presentation you uploaded, or you could indicate on Slideshare somehow that the widget would display a certain presentation (which you could change on the fly).

You can of course create a presentation pack with one presentation but it’s not an elegant solution as the widget is meant for showing more than one widget.

Replacing presentations

A common scenario for me is this ; I upload a presentation on SlideShare , after which I decide to make some changes to the presentation.

As you probably know, you can update the presentation with the newer version by using the “Replace presentation” tab option. This will ensure the statistics for “views”, “favourites” , “embeds” will be carried forward.

One bug I noticed is that, the widget doesn’t seem to display the newest version uploaded. Or at least it doesn’t do so immediately. Here’s a trick to get around the problem. To force the widget to update instantly, first remove the tag (“sociology” for instance) from the existing presentation.

Then replace the presentation with your new version and add the tag.

This will ensure that the widget will display the latest version of the presentation.


I haven’t really looked at whether there are similar methods for widgets from Scribd, Youtube etc, though it seems you can embed your Youtube’s Playlist to achieve something similar. I’m sure there are many Flickr widgets that do something similar.

The key idea here is to use widgets that are flexible enough that you can control what appears from the web 2.0 account without having to constantly edit the html of your page.

Are there better methods? How do you update your widgets?

Feedback for libraries – Getsatisfaction, UserVoice, Yelp


Today’s libraries interact with users and obtain feedback in a dizzying number of ways from email to sms, instant messaging, twitter, skype, Facebook and comments on blogs.

But most of these methods are private (e.g other users cannot see an email sent to your library) or in the case of comments on blogs/wall posts on Facebook the feedback obtained is unstructured.

Why allow users to see feedback from others? By allowing users to vote on or comment on feedback already left by other users, this allows you to get a sense how common a certain problem is or how popular a certain requested feature is (is this crowd sourcing?). There are also some efficiency gains as you can answer a commonly asked question with just one reply, yielding you a kind of FAQ/Knowledge base.

Services like UserVoice and Getsatisfaction provide such features. Think of them as forums customized for collecting feedback ( “Feedback 2.0”?)

Currently many of the top web 2.0 companies are using these services, including Twitter and Google related services.

It still early days but a few libraries have started exploring Getsatisfaction, these include Lunia Library, Vancouver Public Library (blog entry) . Others include Pierce County Library System, Charles City County Library Campaign, Central Medical Library UMCG, John C. Fremont Library District

Luria Library on GetSatisfaction

There seems to be slightly fewer libraries using UserVoice, but these include Cook Library
and Diablo Valley Library

Diablo Valley Library on UserVoice

Yelp and other local information sites

While UserVoice and Getsatisfaction aim to be feedback/support systems for companies and services (though they allow users not affiliated with services to start support pages) , there is another set of feedback systems that naturally aggregate user reviews of services that libraries should be aware of.

Typically they are online review directories (location based) that list businesses such as restaurants and users are encouraged to comment and rate such services.

Yelp is probably the most famous of them. Yelp is unique among its competitors in that it as a specific category for libraries so there are quite a lot of reviews for libraries there.

Do note that Yelp is available only for selected cities in the US and the UK.

Libraries that have being Yelped in San Francisco

Yelp allows you to claim your business profile and it’s probably a good idea if your library is listed. Doing so allows you to respond to feedback, get analytics, send offers to users etc.

San Francisco Public Library Main branch Yelp page

Yelp isn’t a particularly new service and some blogs have covered this including this and this , so the rest of this blog will cover UserVoice and Getsatisfaction

Usersatisfaction features

Here’s some of the features offered by Usersatisfaction

Side-Mounted feedback link

Feedback tab on Lupton Library

Rather than burying the feedback link in some obscure place, both Uservoice and Getsatisfaction allows you to create a rather eye-catching feedback link that shows one’s commitment in soliciting feedback.

By adding simple javascript code provided one can display a “feedback” tab that appears on the left of the screen. This tab is extremely prominent and hovers as you scroll down the page. Clicking on it will either bring you to the getsatisfaction/Uservoice page or show a short summary.

So far, not all libraries have chosen to do this though

Categories in Getsatisfaction

The main categories users can post in Getsatisfaction are “Ask a question”, “share an idea” , “report a problem” and “give praise”. It has the usual feature where it tries to determine if something similar has already being posted etc.

Allows users to vote on ideas, questions, problems

Autogenerates categories like “popular ideas”, “frequently asked questions”

GetSatisfaction also automatically generate categories like “Frequently asked questions”, “Popular idea”, “Recent praise”, “unanswered” etc.

Create widgets

There are quite a few features you expect of web 2.0 services including the use of RSS feeds, social bookmarking/tagging, giving overall rating of service etc. But perhaps of interest would be the ability to add 4 different widgets to monitor getsatisfaction, including the “feedback tab”, “feedback page”, “Satisfaction search”, and “topic page”. These can be used to supplement FAQ pages.

In particular you can embed the feedback page widget into your pages, so feedback can be carried out straight from your webpages. If the user leaves a email, they will create a getsatisfaction account which will inform them when a reply is received.

Maui Community Library Getsatisfaction embeded in their webpage

– use cases

UserVoice seems to be more focused on voting for ideas/features, rather than for questions. Each voter is given a number of votes (default is 10) and they can spend their votes on voting for each idea (3 maximum). As ideas are deleted or implemented the votes will be returned.

You can pre-seed UserVoice with ideas , for instance you might want to find out what users think of extending opening hours in some days but cutting down on others, if they would like to increase ebooks etc. But users can also add their own ideas.

One of the more interesting users of UserVoice for libraries seems to be by Cook Library.

Cook Library has being working on redesigning their webpage. They have being doing it in a very transparent way and have being very open to feedback, beside their excellent blog, they have effectively leveraged UserVoice to collect ideas on their webpage redesign.

Cook Library Website Redesign UserVoice page

Currently there are almost 500 votes cast, assuming each voter used up all 10 votes, this would mean a minimum of 50 people voting.

Some of the top voted ideas look generic, “unclutter the page”, but the high number of votes (close to 100) seem to indicate it’s a big problem.

You don’t actually have to log-in to vote, and looking at the votes on the page, most votes are indeed by anonymous voters who didn’t bother to register an account.


There is some risk engaging with users in such an open manner of course. But it should be noted that users are already commenting on your services on the net, (or these days Tweeting about it ) anyway. A centralized place to address such issues would in fact be a lot easier, rather than doing environmental scanning to keep track of feedback posted elsewhere.

Is your library using UserVoice, Getsatisfaction or Yelp ? What are your experiences so far? Are there any similar systems out there to collect user feedback that you are using?


There are other alternatives to UserVoice including CrowdSound, IdeaScale and Suggestionbox. See IdealScale used for JISC repository