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)


(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 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, 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. 🙂

Mashup your Library’s Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Facebook accounts!

I’ve being thinking about how libraries can mashup their Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and other web 2.0 accounts and display them using cool visualizations.

Visualization on screensavers

Initially I toyed with the idea of displaying rss feeds using screensavers. Software such as Nuparadigm’s RSS screensaver, RSSmore , , RSSsaver and more do this.

Since Twitter can be pushed out as a RSS feed, you can display them as a screensaver on library owned machines. You can of course add more than one feed, so you can add your blog feeds, or from any service that allows RSS feeds as output (or aggregate them all using Friendfeed and use the feed there as an output).

This is a light weight option that works well. But as cool as the visualizations and effects are, they only do text, so if you want to show off your Youtube videos or Flickr pictures, this isn’t ideal

Next, I investigated web-based services.

Visible Tweets

With the twitter craze out there, services such as Visible Tweets (see movie below) , Twitterverse (now down) , provides cool visualizations of Twitter tweets. The main problem with them was the same as before, they only do Tweets, you can’t include pictures or videos.

Example using unquietlibrary(Creekview High School Library) as a keyword

Twitter Fountain

I also came across Twitterfountain (see below)

This is a tool used at conferences that allows mashingup of Tweets and images from Flickr. As such it will pick up every tweet that is tagged with a chosen keyword. The background displayed will be pictures tagged with another chosen keyword.

In the example above, I chose “unquietlibrary” (Creekview High School Library, a library that has being very progressive with regards to the use of Social media) as the keyword. While this works fine for picking up tweets and flickr pictures uploaded by the user account unquietlibrary, it will also pick up other Tweets and Flickr pictures by other accounts which tag flickr pictures using the same keyword, or Tweet using the keyword.

This is good for conferences when you want to allow any user to contribute, but this is not a good idea if you just want to display tweets or images from your account only.

Finally, I came across possibly the best solution – Flotzam!


Flotzam mashups up Flickr, Twitter, Youtube, Digg , Facebook and RSS feeds and will display not just text but also images and videos.

Better yet you can choose to display by user and/or by tags/keyword. For our use, we will just want to restrict results from our account, rather than by keywords.

For Twitter you can even view the tweets of a user and all his friends.

You can also add Facebook accounts, though you need to log-in first. I tried using my Facebook account but it produces strange random results, like pictures of my friends? More testing needed for this.

You can also change various settings with regards to how many notices you see at the same time etc.

There are 4 themes out there, and they are all seriously cool! So much so I embed all 4 videos using the 4 themes below. Examples are from my library and the unquietlibrary.

Even better is if you can get Tetris Flotzam working (below).

Unfortunately for me, it crashes whenever I try to change the settings.

Do note that flotzam is quite a memory hog, and you need to have quite a powerful system and requires .Net 3.5 framework SP1 installed.

One thing that I didn’t address is this. While all this is cool, what practical use can you put this too? Many libraries have large LCD plasma flat screens at various points in the library which they use to display notices (my library uses a looping powerpoint display). Seems to me Flotzam could be used on these displays, perhaps interspersed with the usual notices.

Official Library Twitter accounts- what factors are correlated with number of followers?

After posting about what Library Twitter accounts are doing here and here, I stumbled upon a more efficient way of getting the statistics and this resulted in the following batch of statistics (Number of followers, Number of following, Followers/following ratio, Age of account (based on first tweet) and total updates for all 456 accounts on the Library Twitter League.

And as luck would have it, at the same time the Twitter League was updated and you can now, get the very same statistics as well from there! You can now order by not just followers, but also following , follower/following ratio, signup date and alphabetical. In any case, the data will be used in this post.

Is the list representative of Library Twitter accounts?

No doubt, many people will have questions about how representative the list is. As mentioned here ,the list began from self-reported cases from here , here and here . I was somewhat concerned that this list has an inherent bias in listing mature accounts, so I searched using Twitter search using “Lib”, “library”, “ref” etc as well as directories such as wefollow and tried as best as I could to add obvious library accounts.

Nevertheless, I can’t rule out the fact that the sample here isn’t representative, though I submit that 456 is a large sample and is probably a good starting place as any.

Descriptive statistics

You will notice from the results above that the mean and median number of followers, 212 and 113 respectively is a bit different compared to what was reported in an earlier post (the mean was lower, but median was higher in earlier smaller sample), mainly because the composition of accounts in the earlier batch was quite different (earlier calculations had left out a few big accounts, while excluding numerous smaller accounts).

Age of account

A new statistic we have is the age of the account based on first tweet in days. The oldest account is 984 days old, or over 2.5 years old, making it one of the pioneer accounts. But 50% of accounts are younger than 132 days old (roughly 4 months), showing a surge in many new accounts.

Above shows the cumulative distribution graph of Library Twitter accounts by age (days).

Total updates

95% of library Twitter accounts have updated less than 1,000 times but this does not take into account the age of accounts.

Updates per day

It was obvious also to calculate updates per day, and generally library Twitter accounts don’t update much with a mean update of 0.98 updates per day.

The twitter library accounts generally don’t update a lot. 95% of accounts update less than 3 times daily. Note that update per day is calculated by taking total updates divided by the age of the account. Some accounts are dormant for a while before they become really active, so this statistic probably understates the current updates per day.

TFF ratio

One statistic, I calculated in an earlier blog post was Twitter follower/following ratio or more formally named Twitter Follower-Friend Ratio (TFF)

I was curious, what the typical TFF ratio of library accounts was. Did Library twitter accounts follow everyone who followed them as recommended here? Did they embark on a strategy to proactively follow identified users and hence had TFF ratios below 1?

As noted in earlier post, proactively identifying people who are your users allows and following them, allows you to proactively respond to them even if they are not directed to you, and even if they just say “library” without mentioning the name of your library.

For all 458 library twitter accounts the following pie chart shows the distribution below

It seems that a majority (57%) of Library Twitter accounts have less followers then those following them! 5% had no followers and the rest had more followers than following.

As we have seen in an earlier blog post, this result differs quite a bit when we only consider the top 100 Library Twitter accounts (based on following size) as shown below. In particularly, only 15% of the top 100, have TFF ratios of below 1 (see below).

In a sense this is not surprising. The sample of all 458 Twitter accounts, includes many accounts just starting out, and they might be still in a “growth” stage or some may be initially employing a strategy of following many accounts to build up reciprocal relationships?

Bio of Twitter accounts followed

What type of accounts are library Twitter accounts following? The following word cloud of the bios of the followers of a Library in Oklahma (via Twittersheep) is quite typical.

Libraries Twitter account seems to be following Libraries, Librarians, writers and probably “book lovers”, and of course people in Oklahma.

Another typical account showing that this Library like to follow authors.

Correlation analysis

Finally did a little bit of correlation analysis


1) As expected age of account is highly positive correlated with number of followers. Number of those following is not correlated with age.

2) Number of followers is highly and positively correlated with TFF ratios.

It seems to me that, at least for the library twitter accounts, larger follower accounts are correlated with high TFF ratios (low number of following relative to followers). Probably the biggest most famous accounts such as Library of Congress, New York Public Library by virtue of their reputation gain huge number of followers automatically and do not need to build up their following by reciprocal following.

3) As expected age of account is correlated with total number of updates.

4) Updates per day is correlated with Followers and followings.

Obviously there is quite a bit of co-linearity.

Multi-linear regression – what explains number of followers

Ran a quick regression analysis

Multi-linear regression (stepwise) was carried out with number of followers as the dependent variable, and the other statistics as independent variable.

The final model, has a adjusted R-square of 0.567.

It indicates that number of followers is explained by increased number of followings, follower/following ratio, age (in days) and updates per day.

Is this model useful? Just putting it out there. Probably requires a larger range of independent variables.

Library twitter league – official library twitter accounts compared

Recently, I was pondering about the need to set targets or KPI (key performance indicators) for Libraries carrying out Social media activities. Take Libraries with Twitter accounts for example, what would be a suitable target?

The first thing that comes to mind is number of followers, which would be a measure of how many people you are reaching, but what would be a creditable target? One very inaccurate and rough way would be to look at the followers that other libraries have achieved (while taking into account relevant differences such as size of population served etc).

Rather than creating a static list I used the TwitterLeague service , and populated it with entries from here , here and here.

I had a suspicion that the lists above were biased towards successful, established accounts, as such I further supplemented them by adding more accounts. I searched for the word “Library”, “Lib”, “Reference” using Twitter’s find people service and added the accounts I found there.The full list as of May 15, 2009 stands at over 400 entries, but here’s just the top 20.

The full results (which update dynamically) are available here .

You can also download a xml version of the list, and view it in Excel etc.

A rough calculation (this will change as I add more twitter accounts) shows that the median number of followers is 147, while the average number of followers is 260.

Not surprisingly, Library of Congress is way ahead in the follower counts, more than 4 times of the next highest library account.

Of the top 20 library accounts, Public and National libraries dominate compared to Academic libraries with only the 3 universities (Yale has 2 accounts in the top 20) making the top 20. They include second placed Open University Library from the UK (a distance learning university), Yale Library accounts (6th and 7h place) and College of DuPAGE library (8th place)

It will probably be interesting to revisit the statistics say 6 months later to see if there are any major changes.

Of course, follower counts alone probably don’t tell everything. Some accounts are just starting out, others follow a large number of accounts, which typically follow back etc. Other Twitter analytic services such as Twitter Grader , Twinfluence , Twitterholic, Twitalyzer, Tweetstats provide more sophisticated measures of influence, by taking into account follower/following ratios, % of retwits etc. The JCPR Twitter index is probably the most advanced metric available used to measure online influence.

Hopefully, TwitterLeague will add more statistics, please help vote for additional features here.

Given that libraries are using twitter for different purposes, I can see possible value in studying statistics such as rate of updates, signal to noise ratio (percentage of twits with links or hash tags) of accounts, Name pointing (percentage of times @ is sent to account) and more. For example, a twitter acccount used mainly for pushing service announcements would probably have a different tweeting profile compared to one that was used for reference service.

I also created a new Twitter account leaguelibrary and populated it with the twitter accounts from the library league twitter list (using Twitterator to quickly add multiple accounts).

I was hoping to find a way to export all the twits from this account and then carry out text analysis, using Many eyes‘s to create Word Trees, Wordle , Tag Cloud and Phrase Net.

Unfortunately while I found many ways to export my own public timeline of tweets, there doesn’t seem to be a way to export my tweets PLUS tweets of accounts I’m following? Does anyone know a way to do this? I did manage to get a RSS feed of what I wanted though, and I might use this for analysis.

For now, I use My Twitterflock to generate a word cloud from the bios of the library accounts I’m following.

As well as a word cloud of what they are posting about