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.


http://delicious.com/jomcparklib/AdvertisingSpending

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.


http://www.lib.unc.edu/parklibrary/subjects/AdvertisingMediaSpending.html

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.


http://trailfire.com/Lopez/marks/89275

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.


http://www.mendeley.com/collections/23204/Valuation-of-library-services/


http://www.zotero.org/groups/library_valuation/items

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.


http://www.citeulike.org/user/aarontaycheehsien

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


http://friendfeed.com/researchshared

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.

Conclusion

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

Aggregating sources for academic research in a web 2.0 world

Introduction

In this rather long post, I will talk about the different sources one could add to stay on top of one’s research area. These include RSS feeds from traditional databases (citation alerts, table of contents of favourite journals), library opac feeds of searches and new additions, book vendor sites (e.g Amazon) book sharing sites (e.g LibraryThing), social bookmarking sites both generic (e.g. Delicious) and research 2.0 sites (e.g. citeulike), Google alerts and more
Next I cover three main types of RSS aggregators one can use including traditional RSS feed readers (e.g. Google reader), Startpages (e.g Netvibes) and lifestreaming services (e.g Friendfeed) that one can use.
Lastly, I mention why I think using RSS aggregators this way is not ideal mainly due to the lack of bibliographic management functions, and that existing services and products like Mendeley, Zotero, 2collab should incorporate RSS aggregation features.

What sources should I monitor?

When I do research, I’m pretty through in the Literature review phase. I’m the one who does the broadest possible search in Google scholar and then ploughs through over 300 results looking for anything relevent.

But thoroughness in terms of going through results is pointless if you look at the wrong places.

In the “old days” it was “easy”, you basically setup alerts for your favourite journals/databases and you were done.
Today this isn’t sufficient, thanks to the explosion in social networking sites as well as the rise of Science 2.0 and open science models means that the research that you need can be found in blogs and wikis.
More importantly, the rise of web 2.0 services means that more online communities exist, where members rate/recommend/like/comment on books, articles, links. which gives the smart researcher an edge if he is able to leverage on such sources to spot ‘hot’ research. On the individual level, you can follow or watch research collegues or other researchers in the same area and see what they are reading.
Some like Zotero and Wizfolio are evolutions of traditional bibliographic managers like Endnote and Refmanager. Others like 2collab and Nature Network are services from traditional Journal publishers like Elsevier.
How can one keep track of all these diverse sources? Forunately, pretty much everything can be consumed via a RSS feed (or you can screen scrape (another list of services here) if you are desperate) and the smart thing to do is to put them all together into a RSS reader.
I was just musing over the types of sources you would want to include, and I realized that there were several different possible sources, though you might not add all of them, some might be useful.

Type of sources

Academic databases like Scopus, Web of Science, Open source archives etc.

This would be your traditional sources where you create/setup

1) Keyword search alerts
2) Table of contents for your favorite journals
3) Citation alerts of your papers or very relevant papers

Remember to use this trick to insert the ezproxy stem if needed.

Book/library sources

Many libraries now allow you to run searches in the catalogue and export the results as a RSS feed. Some maintain a “new additions” RSS feed by subject etc. Definitely add this to your stream to keep update with latest books published in your area.

Many of the new generation OPACS, allows you to do tagging, and you or your research colleges could tag the books you are interested in and create a RSS feed for that to import into your stream.

Still chances are most libraries don’t have an active enough community doing tagging on their catalogues to be worth tracking tags. However book sharing sites like LibraryThing, GoodReads, Weread, Shelfari might have a sufficient mass of users. I know LibraryThing provides outputs in RSS, is it likely the rest do as well.

You are not limited to your library of course. Try WorldCat (you can create rss feeds from user created lists, and new additions, might be possible for keyword searchs but requires a api key), or OpenLibrary or even Amazon (use built-in API or Yahoopipes)! How about Google books?

Want to catch prepublication books? Maybe try one of the book vendors like Globalbooksinprint, Blackwell Book services etc, not quite sure if they offer RSS feeds though.

Popular blogs

This is somewhat rare, but if you happen to be fortunate enough to be in an area, where there are relevant blogs covering the area (For instance my old research area was on measuring information quality of Wikipedia, and there were 2 or 3 high quality blogs covering research in that area), you would definitely want to include that as a source.

If you are just looking for some general reading rather than something specific, you can use the method here find top blogs and to filter/rank the results using Postrank

Social bookmarking sites – E.g. Delicious, Twine, Diigo or Social media sites like Slideshare, Scribd

The paradigm example would be Delicious.

Two main approaches here, you subscribe to relevant tags, or better yet identify people in your area and subscribe to their bookmarks (and or tags). To do the later, a very crude approach is to search for a link/paper that you feel is very relevant to your research and look at who else is bookmarking it. You can do the same for tags or better yet tag bundles

Once you have done the search you want, you can get the results via RSS

Lifestreaming aggregation sites

As discussed in an earlier post, Lifestreaming aggregators allow users to pull all their activities from various web 2.0 services and or RSS feeds into one centralized area. The paradigm example here is Friendfeed where there is a thriving community of life scientists apparently.

Why is this helpful?

You find a guy who seems to be in your area posting on Delicious. But Delicious is not the sum total of all his activities. He might be doing stuff on twitter, posting documents on Slideshare etc.

If he has a Friendfeed account, and he has thoughtfully added them all into his Friendfeed account you can get one aggregated feed to use into your stream!

Chances are though, you might not want to import his whole lifestream since it will include personal tweets etc. No problem! Friendfeed has the most advanced search I have seen from showing only results from a particular service (e.g. Delicious only) or particular person or if it has a number of “likes” or comments and of course on keywords. See below

Social networking/bookmarking sites for academics. E.g Labmeeting, citeulike, Mendeley, Connotea, 2collab, ResearchGate, Nature Network, Zotero, Wizfolio etc (see list here and here).

The problem with generic social bookmarking sites not designed for research is that most links shared are likely to be non-academic sources. But citeulike and their cousins are designed explictly for academic research, so it solves this problem.

Most of them remind me of old school Citation managers like Endnote, Refmanager but adding social bookmarking and networking options. Zotero in particularly had zero social networking features until 2.0 (currently beta), and they just announced supporting of RSS feeds of public Zotero libraries.
They not only allow you to keep track of citations but also incorporate web 2.0 sharing options.
Keep track of what people in your research area are reading, or what are the most popular articles on an aggregate level. The same advise above applies on finding people to watch, tags to follow.

Others

This could include everything from Google alerts (you can also do it for Google scholar only using these yahoo pipes), real-time searches (Twitter) or aggregators like Social Mention, Samepoint, WhosTalkin? for searching across web 2.0 services. Maybe even wikis (Scirus topic pages ?)

Filtering

Obviously you should customize your rss feed to provide targeted and relevant results, and this is often possible (e.g. RSS generated from results from a powerful Boolean keyword search in Scopus) , but in many cases you can’t.
If your RSS aggregator has powerful filtering options (or even recommendation systems), the problem can be lessened, but still you might consider filtering the rss feed first before pushing it into the stream.
There are many options out there, Yahoo! pipes is the most powerful, but you can see some options in lists here , here.

Type of RSS aggregators

There seem to be 3 main classes of such services/software that you can use to aggregate all your sources but unfortunately none of them were designed for the academic researcher in mind, so there are some problems with using them to keep track of research.

1. Traditional RSS feed readers – e.g Google reader, Feed Demon, bloglines
These are traditional rss feed readers. They tend to come in two forms, either web-based or program based.
As they were created back when the sole purpose of RSS was to read blogs, traditionally they tend to be relatively weak on the social sharing aspect (Note: Google reader has being slowly moving improving on this allowing you to “like” or share articles and connect with friends, while Feeddemon has similar etc.)
A sub class of these aggregators allow you to “build” your own newspaper from RSS feeds, essentially these are just RSS feed readers but with more innovative layouts that mimick newspapers (in pdf etc).
Examples include FeedJournal, Feed Chronicle
Of course most modern browsers including Firefox and Internet explorer 7+ as well as email desktop clients like Thunderbird, Outlook 2007 support RSS feeds natively so that is yet another option, though they tend to provide very basic functionality
In addition Firefox has several addons but Feedly (which works with Google reader accounts) is probably one of the best.
There are many more RSS feed readers, see this long list compiled in 2007 and this list in 2009.
2. Startup pages – e.g. Netvibes, Igoogle, Pageflakes

Such services resemble their web-based cousins but allows you to embed not just rss feeds but widgets (e.g. search widgets) as well. They are typically much more flexible in terms of layouts and provide some minimal sharing features.

Some libraries have used these services as sources for research on a general subject (also see my more detailed blog post), but it could obviously be used by an individual with a more specific focus.

3. Lifestream aggregators – e.g Friendfeed

Friendfeed has already being mentioned. As Friendfeed allows you to add unlimited number of rss feeds as well as specific web 2.0 services into your stream it can be used to aggregate rss feeds you are reading as well.

There are in fact some Friendfeed accounts created solely for that purpose. For example this is a Friendfeed account that aggregates Library 2.0 related feeds.

A big plus about using Friendfeed to aggregate your sources is that it clearly has the most powerful search.

On the social front, while it is no Facebook, it does have a very loyal following and was clearly designed to encourage networking (though by no means for academics)

It was the first to allow other users to “like” (as well as comment) on entries and allows you to filter results based on how many “likes” or comments a particular entry has allowing you to spot hot topics.

Friendfeed also allows you to be informed about updates (or update the stream) in myraid ways from email to instant messaging (or to be exported into RSS if you prefer).

Another virtue of Friendfeed is that it implements “Real-time” push technologies if available (e.g for Twitter (details)), compared to just straight RSS which uses the slower polling technique.

There is a ton of similar services around (e.g. http://www.plaxo.com/ etc) but few offer more features than Friendfeed , though I personally feel the layout of Friendfeed is inferior to say Streamy.
If you are tired of Friendfeed type aggregators, have a look at Genwi or some of the “smarter” systems that try to learn what you like , e.g http://www.feeds2.com/ , though personally I’m not a big fan of automated learning/recommendation systems.
Disadvantages
So you have made your choice and you have all your sources aggregated nicely and formated in one place. But there’s a catch, as these tools weren’t designed in mind for academic research, you will find that there is no way to do citation/bibliographic management!
Want to attach the pdf to an article or save the webpage? Too bad you can’t. Want to convert all your sources and cite them in APA style? No can do.
The best you can do it seems is to use a class of services already mentioned – networking/bookmarking sites for academics.
As these were designed from ground up for academic research, they also basically incorporated citation manager features of Endnote, Refmanager etc. They also have the advantage of being geared of allowing profiles to be tailored more academic research, compared to the more generic fields of other social networks.
As they are designed for academic use, they have many powerful features like support for ezproxy, openurl, doi), provide useful analytics, and other little nice touches like allowing you to annotate pdf, full text pdf search (features from Zotero, Wizfolio, Mendeley etc.
So why not use one of these services instead? I think this is where, they have missed the boat, they don’t offer RSS aggregation services!
For “discovery”, social networking features are fine as it goes, but given that most researchers are not on such specialized networks (I found only 5 relevant papers shared in 2collab – though to be fair it is probably the the best example of such services), the main source of discovery still comes from rss feeds from other sources! (I think some services allows you to search directly some databases and even save searches?)

For now, the hybrid approach would seem to be best. Use one of the RSS feed aggregators above for discovery, then pull them into say Mendeley or Zotero in the usual manner.
So what do you think? Are there social networking sites/services for researchers that help discovery the way I am using RSS feeds for? What types of rss feeds do you add for your research that I didn’t mention?
References
Doing science online – About open science models

An information dashboard for your library service points (I) – Using email, RSS and FriendFeed

Librarians are often overwhelmed by the mass of fast moving information they need to keep track of. Particularly in large libraries for librarians manning information desks, keeping up to date with the latest changes in policy and instructions is often a challenge.

One can use Wikis, or tools like Etherpad to manually update a “news page” or to make changes to the documentation, but often the latest changes and news is propagated through email from top management who are too busy to update the wiki. You also don’t want to update the wiki with something that is of short term utility and won’t apply after a week.

In the past, I used to just move these emails into a “policy” folder but that was unwieldy. Not to mention the fact that I would often miss such emails among the crowd of other emails in my inbox.

Creating a information dashboard

A natural idea here is to try to create a information dashboard for librarians manning information desks that puts essential information at one place.

It seems to me that the information dashboard would serve 2 purposes

(1) Providing fast access to commonly used resources (e.g. common search widgets, lists of phone numbers etc)

and

(2) It would bring together data about the latest changes in Library policies, things to take note of etc.

In this blog post, I’m more concerned with (2) – a future post might address (1). What is the most effective and efficient way to manage such information? The idea here is to setup something that is light weight, easy to use for all librarians of different skill levels. Ideally they would scan this information dashboard before they started their duty to remind themselves of the latest information.

One would of course set up desktop widgets using Google desktop, Yahoo! widgets etc on the computer used at the service point, but that would not be a very simple solution. You can also have a poor’s man desktop widget using Active Desktop (Windows XP) , an idea I might cover in a future post.

The other option would be to use web-based startpages like Netvibes, Pageflakes or Igoogle etc. The idea is simple of course, get the updates you need in RSS, and then feed it into the start page.

You could get the RSS feeds of your news portal (or do screen scraping if required), calender events etc (ical to rss) and put it into whatever startpage you like.

Some other odd ideas, how about pulling in your internal Twitter accounts used for communication , so one can leave messages for whoever is taking over next?

In this blog post, instead of using the usual suspects such as Netvibes, I used Individurls – a service that displays RSS feeds. There are other choices but I chose it because of its simplicity and elegent displays.

Email to RSS

Okay it’s obvious what to do with RSS feeds and you can feed news sources if they come in RSS, but what about emails?

My institution has access to Confluence Wiki, a enterprise level wiki which allows you to generate RSS feeds of any page, including “news” pages and “mails” pages.

What “mails” does is that you set up a POP/IMAP account with Confluence wiki, and any emails sent to that email account will be posted on the Wiki.

From there, one can then generate a RSS of that mails page and pull it into Individurls (or any RSS reader or display widget). If your wiki is password protected you will need to set up your RSS feed with the user name and password string.

So all you need to do is to tell people who want to send important internal mail to cc that email address, and the information there will be automatically posted.

Here’s how it will look like.

No access to Confluence Wiki, or any Wiki that has this feature? You can try services like MAILtoRSS , or any service that accepts input in emails but can output in RSS such as Posterous. I’m sure there are others.

One thing that concerned me was the delay involved. While the email to RSS portion seems to be negligible , RSS feeds takes a while to update (and even more delay if you need to do screen scraping). I did some testing and it can take about 10-20 minutes to update via RSS.

I tried using Pingshot service from Feedburner (similar service is Pingoat.com and more here), which speeds up updates to selected services, including MyYahoo! . MyYahoo! incidently allows you to display RSS feeds so one can burn feeds using Feedburner, turn on the Pingshot service and plug the resulting RSS feed into MyYahoo! In theory, this should speed up RSS updates. But it was still slow to update in my testing.

Using FriendFeed to create a information dashboard

How about using Friendfeed? It is already set up as an aggregator of feeds and unlike RSS feed readers it displays images too. On top of that, the page autoupdates in real-time, so you can keep it open and watch without reloading.

You can also update FriendFeed using email and that will show up immediately on the Friendfeed page.

First register/update the email addresses you will be updating Friendfeed with (you can add more than one). From the registered account, you then send an email to share@friendfeed.com, and “The subject becomes your entry title and anything in the body of the email is posted as a comment. You can even attach a photo to be included in your post”.

You can also, install the FriendFeed Desktop notifer, which will pop up whenever it receives something new.

This gives you both a page listing the recent changes, as well as instant updates via a popup.

Sadly you can’t do anything about information that is aggregated on Friendfeed via RSS as that will still have its normal delay(though there are solutions like simple update protocol (SUP) that speed up updates for supported services like Disqus and Backtype) ,

One way of working

When you start duty at the service point, you go to the Friendfeed page to refresh your memory about the latest news. The information there will be updated in near real time if it is pushed via email. You can continue to monitor that page, or you can just rely on the FriendFeed Desktop notifer to update you instantly of any other changes that occur while you are on duty.

Once a month, someone reviews all the news and decides which ones if any, should be updated in our Wiki.

I suspect that there are better ways , cleverer ways to do this by chaining several services, but all this might be moot, as Googlewave might just blow them all away. 🙂

Subject guides on web 2.0 startup pages – 12 widgets

In the past few years, libraries have become increasingly innovative in the different ways they display their subject guide. Practically everything under the sun has being tried.

Libraries have tried wikis (here), paid for Libguides (here), used Delicious linkrolls (
here) and Squidoo (here). I haven’t heard of a library using Google Knol, but I won’t be surprised. Libraries have also tried opensource software such as Subjects Plus (here) , LibData (here), Research Guide, Pirate Source (here) , Library à la Carte (here)

I have being exploring two related ideas, but the one I will discuss here involves using web 2.0 startup service pages like Igoogle, Netvibes, Pageflakes, others

Many libraries have used Netvibes in particular. Though the use seems to be mainly as generic library portals + subject guides, rather than outright subject guide, but the principle is similar

What do such services do? They are dynamic personalized pages where you can choose to aggregate material from different sites. Typically you install widgets such as calenders, web-mail etc together with RSS feeds to put all your most commonly used material on one page.

Of course there is nothing to stop libraries from creating pages made up of different widgets/modules and RSS feeds and opening access to the world. Such pages will function as normal pages for users who don’t use such services, while other users who do use such services can grab whatever modules/widgets they need to mix and match on their own pages.

It’s unclear how many users use such services, so the question is why use this over static pages?

Basically such services provide a lot of flexibility. Staff can easily create tabs, arrange the layout of each section by drag and drop, grab different sections or pages etc. In comparison, wikis or static pages are harder to customize this way.

A good example is Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen‘s Netvibes page.

Looking at what libraries have done, you can see there is a lot of room for creativity out there, but let me describe some ideas I like. I basically looked at my own static subject guide and thought how I could convert it to something more dynamic.

Let’s take it as given that the OPAC search box, FAQs, instructions etc are already available and focus on subject specific material.

Examples will be drawn from Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen , Shrewsbury and Telford Health Libraries , Dublin City Public Library . My own institution also offers Nexus, which is similar (will blog more about it in another post).

Add RSS feeds of journal or database searches

Why offer lists of high impact journals when you can list table of contents of the latest issues of those journals?

This is a pretty obvious idea, get the RSS feed of the table of contents of the latest issue of the top journals in a given field and then feed it into a widget/module to display the results. Most journals offer the RSS feed on their homepages or you can try ticToOCS Journal Service. To ensure that the link works to handle the ezproxy properly you should convert the RSS feed using the Yahoo pipes method I described previously.


The most basic way would be to offer each RSS feed individually.

But a more advanced idea would be to offer a widget that combines RSS feeds of several journals/search engines, filter out results that don’t meet a certain specified keyword , dedupe (and rank?) and display results.

Or how about a widget/module that tracks citation alerts/mentions from Scopus/web of science and Google scholar, and dedupes results? I’m sure that will come in handy for people tracking citations of their papers. A widget linking to citeulike, various web-based citation managers?

Add searchboxes of databases

Why offer a boring static link to the recommended say Economics databases, when you can offer dynamic search widgets?

Using the method I described here on now to Creating custom search boxes for library use , one can also offer search widgets to be placed on the startup page. If you are a truly progresive library offering opensearch plugins, you can also provide a link to it too.


As the image above shows, the user can grab the whole widget to put on their startup page (click on wrench icon), or they can click on “add search to browser” link next to the title to add the opensearch plugin version to their browser’s search box!

Topcited articles in given area

Use Scopus topcited to list top cited article in an area of interest.




Add book related widgets

You can create a RSS feed from your OPAC showing a list of new books in a certain subject, or popular books.


Shrewsbury and Telford Health Libraries , Dublin City Public Library

Or better yet embed a Librarything Widget!

Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen

Add Delicious, social bookmarking widgets

Your library uses Delicious to tag internet links? Insert a blog roll as a widget!



Dublin City Public Library

Add instructional tips

If you have being linking to powerpoints of your subject specific tutorials, convert them into slideshare (or similar alternatives) and then put in the widget. It’s a bit clunky to have one slideshare widget for one presentation, so package them all in one using slideshare presentation pack to combine several in one (see below). Have screencasts of tutorials? Even better!





Most popular blog posts in given area

My subject area is Economics so I can use palgrave’s Econolog which tracks and ranks most popular (based on comments) Economics blog posts.


But what if you want to add blogs on other topics? What you should do is to combine the top 20 or so blogs in your area, aggregate and rank them using Postrank and grab only the top posts.

If you are not sure what the top blogs are in a given area, you can use delicious to search for most popular blogs (e.g. Geography+blog), grab and combine the posts from these feeds and then pass then through Postrank , a service which checks for duplicates and ranks or just displays top blog posts based on popularity (number of comments, number of clicks, number of blog trackbacks, links from social media sites like Twitter, Friendfeed, Digg, delicious, see details etc).

Excellent resources on this topic include

Add other library widgets

If you have created subject specific library widgets like conduit toolbars, bookmarklets etc , why not offer them here?



Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen

Add calender widget

Use various calender 2.0 services like Google calender, 30boxes, upcoming etc to list events. E.g upcoming talks of interest (e.g. database talk, tutorials etc).

Dublin City Public Library

Add feedback widget

Insert Meebo or your favourite chat widget so you can get feedback. Add a poll, or a askalibrarian form. If you are really bold, how about adding a twitter widget or even a getsatisfaction page/widget!


Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen


Add custom google search engine

Most subject guides have a link to a list of free online resources. Why not create a custom search engine to search those sites? Use either Google custom search engine or Rollyo search engine
and offer it as a widget

Add Google analytics

Want to know how often your public Netvibes page is being accessed? Add a module with the google analyics code included! Of course, this works only for the public page, but typically each module/widget usage will be automatically tracked as well.


Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Groningen


I’m just scratching the surface of what can be done. In the future I will from time to time post about specific library widgets that have useful functionality.

Until then
Aaron Tay