or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


So Long Bloglines, And Thanks For All The Feeds

   September 21st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Bloglines tombstoneBy now you've probably read other peoples' laments about Bloglines closing down. It makes me sad because I've depended on it for years, personally and for work.

I'm hoping someone will take over Bloglines and continue it, but just in case, I've been testing replacements and thought I would share my findings. (I've heard that RSS readers are a thing of the past, but I have also heard the same thing about email, radio, and libraries, which are also things I use almost every day.)

Anyway, the two I looked at were Tiny Tiny RSS (tt-rss) and NetVibes. There are also others like Google Reader, Pageflakes, FriendFeed, but I already knew I wasn't interested in those.

My criteria was basically everything I liked about Bloglines - a tool that let me get at the information I wanted to read, rather than getting in the way. Specifically, these were:

  • organize feeds into categories
  • sort feeds any way you want, not just alphabetically
  • bookmark posts to read later
  • load quickly
  • email posts to people
  • posts go away automatically after you view them
  • three view options for posts - titles only (click to expand to read fully article), post summary, and full post. And the view option can be set differently for individual feeds

Tiny Tiny RSSTiny Tiny RSS
One catch with tt-rss is that it's not just an online reader like Bloglines, but software you install and host yourself - or, if you're like me, ask someone else to host for you (word up, Chris). But listen to this: Blake Carver of LIShost.org has created LISfeeds.com to host tt-rss for librarians to use! So if you can't host it yourself but would like to use tt-rss, contact Blake to create an account. Thank you Blake!

  • simple and clean interface
  • didn't see a setting for view options - it displays the titles and you have to click to expand
  • can organize feeds into categories, but sorting within categories is just alphabetical
  • doesn't always display videos inline (Netvibes seems better on that score)
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish to remove them)
  • a little slow - switching between feeds, marking as read, etc. - just everything seemed sluggish
  • unsure about updating - button doesn't always seem to work, so Chris created a special url that forces updates (which take a few minutes)
  • harder to read/skim, because titles are same font and weight as everything else on page
  • lots of options listed under articles, which I don't use and kind of distract me
  • couldn't find a way to email posts
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

NetvibesNetvibes
It looks like Netvibes' online RSS reader is just one portion of what they do. It's all I want though, so I just ignored all the widgety dashboard parts.

  • the overall interface is nice, but reading posts was still a little easier in Bloglines
  • top portion of the screen seems wasted - Bloglines devoted entire screen to feed reading
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish
  • setting in top right lets you chose display options per feed - title list, full post, or mosaic
  • a little bit slow - not horrible, but just enough to make me notice it
  • allows categories, and has drag-and-drop feed sorting which is nice (and easier than Bloglines)
  • plays videos inline, which Bloglines had problems with
  • updating can be wonky (which happened to Bloglines too) - sometimes you have to click into each category before new posts are displayed
  • a couple times every feed showed tons of new posts, but most didn't have anything new - but Bloglines did this too
  • it looks like one bad feed can prevent a whole category from loading - I had to delete and then re-add PLA blog feed because it wasn't working for me (but had to go through the category feed by feed to find it)
  • there's a link on each post to click right through to the comments, which is nice
  • one minor annoyance is that the posts' "mark as read" button is all the way on the right side of the screen, which is a pain with wide screen and a trackpad, because everything else I need to click is on the left side. But there is a "mark as read" button for the whole feed right where it should be
  • seems to randomly import posts from long ago, but might be because I'm just starting with it
  • have to either scroll past a post or manually click to mark things as read?
  • opening one article automatically closes another, which means you can't have more than one open at a time
  • handles oddballish feeds better than Bloglines, like Twitter streams and Flickr recent activity
  • does allow emailing posts, but I think it might send a link that requires a Netvibes account to clickthrough to - unless I'm doing it wrong
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

At the moment, I'm leaning towards using Netvibes. Mainly because it's a little bit faster, it lets me email posts (I'll have to work on the link issue though), I can set individual feeds to show either just titles or entire posts, and it seems closest to what I was used to Bloglines. I'm still sad about Bloglines, but I think I could get used to either of these.

Oh, but something else: since I've been using Bloglines for 5-6 years, I have hundreds of posts bookmarked in there, which I now what to retrieve somehow. Sigh, change.



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Alikewise is for (Book) Lovers

   August 24th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Heart shadow in bookIt looks like Alikewise.com has been around all year, but I only heard about it this weekend - it's a dating website that matches people based on the books they like.

This is a great idea for a dating website - it seems a much better way to get at someone's true nature than filling out a profile by guessing what will make you attractive. I checked around the site a bit (without creating a profile), and wonder if there's a way to tie-in with sites like LibraryThing and Good Reads to capitalize on peoples' full libraries. LibraryThing sort of already does this, with their You and None Other meme.

But here's something funny: at my first library, we toyed with the idea of a "singles night" book group. We thought it'd be a perfect program for Friday nights, after work, to come and meet other single people interested in books. It never happened, but I always liked the idea. Maybe that'll eventually manifest in Alikewise meetups.

And wouldn't this be a heck of a social networking widget to add to a library catalog? "Like this book? Click here to meet other patrons that do, too."

via Burlington Free Press (thanks, Carney) and more at NPR



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Ebooks and Resources

   March 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Shelf Check ebook comicI've had ebooks on the brain lately for a few reasons, so I thought I'd pull together some resources I've been bookmarking.

But first, my reasons:

  1. My consortium will soon be offering ebooks via Overdrive. This is good, as Overdrive ebooks are compatible with Sony Reader and the Nook, but will still include existing Overdrive drawbacks
  2. The IT Section of the New England Library Association is devoting our spring workshop to ebooks. Speakers will range from libraries already circulating ebooks and ereaders to a certain library that made waves by going digital to a book store that takes digitized books and makes them print again. It will be a great day, and I'll post more details soon.

Ebooks are certainly in the cards for libraries, and hopefully not like these comic strips. In no particular order, here are a few ebook-related links worth reading:

Ebook Reader Reviews and Guides and Deconstruction
A nice introduction to ereaders and ebooks, "7 Things You Should Know About E-Readers," from EDUCAUSE, focusing on teaching and learning:

Reviews of ereaders from various sources:

The eBook Buyer's Guide to Privacy from the EFF talks about how each of the most popular ebook readers rate as far as privacy, tracking of purchases, sharing of information, etc.

I've seen a little discussion on the topic of "why digital," and this is a good evaluation of how and when and why technology matches content:

Ebook Price Wars
This is worth watching, because low prices means lots of people purchased the hardware, but rising prices means people will be coming to the library for ebooks instead of purchasing the content themselves.

Ebooks for Downloading
A few places where people can download ebooks for free - please list additional resources in the comments.

Of course, as soon as I finish typing this post, I'm going to pick up the old-fashion made-of-paper book I'm reading and enjoy flipping through the pages.



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Simple Book Suggester: BookSeer.com

   June 23rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

bookseer.comMy library started a new readers advisory program this summer, so I've been updating our reading suggestions webpage. A neat website I just added is bookseer.com.

Bookseer is like many "what should I read next" websites, except it is impressively simple. Just type a title and author into their fun interface, and it gives reading suggestions based on Amazon.com and Librarything.com data.

Of course, the suggestions will only be as good as the data. But I like that it's building on something already available, and automatically updated, rather than relying on manual edits. And it's simple, free, creative, and doesn't require an account.

via @EchoYouBack, MELIBS-L and LifeHacker



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New(ish) Reading Suggestion Websites

   January 6th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Here are a couple reading suggestions website I came across recently that I liked:

The first is TheBookCalendar.com, which is simply a book-a-day online calendar. It shows the cover, a description (and sometimes author video), includes an Amazon link, and also has email and rss options. via lisnews.org

ReadingTrails.com logoThe second one might not be all that new, but I just learn about it a few weeks ago. ReadingTrails.com and provides a reading suggestions by linking related books into a chain.

Sound odd? I first heard of this form of readers advisory during an RA workshop in the SLIS program at Kent State University. The idea behind it is to identify one theme from the book that the reader likes, then find another book that contains the same theme. Next, pick something from that second book the reader likes and, based on that second criteria, link it to a third book that has that criteria, and on and on and on in a long chain of connected books.

An example: for someone who liked the magical aspect of the Narnia books, you might suggest they read Harry Potter. Then, since the Harry Potter series is based in England, you could link it to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

Sort of like a six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but for books. It's a neat idea, but tough to do mentally - which is why it's a perfect task for a database. Or, in this case, "an innovative new social network for book lovers." They say:

Reading Trails is a wonderful way to discover books to read, meet new people, and most importantly, to share your reading experiences with friends by creating trails. In particular, Reading Trails is a great tool for book clubs....

Because a book can appear on more than one trail, trails intersect. The result is a network of trails that can be browsed to find unexpected reading pleasures.

I checked out the site, and it seemed typical of new and innovative ideas - it's a great idea, and I got some useful information from it, but the site doesn't always work the way I expect.

It can be used without signing into an account, which is good. And you can search for books or themes, and from there scroll up and down the "reading trail" of that book to find other reading suggestions. Great.

Other good things:

  • Fairly easy to use, and the trails are visual and useful and pretty cool
  • Lets people write reviews of the books
  • Provides links to Amazon to buy the book and WorldCat to find the book at a library
  • Provides widget code to embed into your website, like this:

A few technical glitches I noticed:

  • On the search results page, each book had a little checkbox next to it, and I couldn't figure out what that was for
  • Each book also had an odd little box under it, which only becomes useful when you are logged in (if it's not useful, it shouldn't be shown)
  • For the searches I ran, the bottom of the screen would say something like "Viewing 1-7 of 7 matches" and yet there would be twelve books displayed. None of the searches I performed displayed a number of books that matched what was listed on the bottom of the page
  • Some of the trail themes I searched for did not exist (Vietnam, Iraq, poverty, aliens) but most others did
  • There doesn't seem to be a way to view details of any book - just see where it falls in various trails
  • They don't seem to explain why books are linked in a chain - I'd be curious to see what theme connects them

Most of these cons are probably due to the newness of the website, and will likely be improved as the site grows.

I don't think I'll use these much on a personal level (unlike LibraryThing), but I will keep both in mind for readers advisory at the reference desk.



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Resources for Book Suggestions

   February 14th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Last week's Reference Question was about me finding a new source for suggesting good books for patrons - the Mass Book Awards.

Liz's comment on the post was a good one, and I thought it warranted a bit of research and a full post devoted to answering it. She said:

There are a few websites which allow you to enter some of your favorite bands and it pops out suggestions of similar bands you might like - wouldn’t it be awesome if they had a site like that for books?...

Here are some resources I found that let you search for a book/author you like, and then link from it to similar books:

  • WhatShouldIReadNext.com - search for a book to see recommendations
  • reader2.com - search for a book to see recommendations; also shows tags associated with each book
  • AllReaders.com - search for a title or author, and similar books are listed at the end of each book description; also allows searching by plot, setting, or character
  • StoryCode.com - lets you search for a title or author and suggests similar stories (based on user data); also has other features
  • LibraryThing.com - offers book suggestions based on user-entered tags; you can also browse tags for books on a certain subject, or use their unsuggester to find books unlike a particular book
  • GoodReads.com - seems a lot like LibraryThing, but puts more emphasis on recommendations of people in your friends network rather than cumulative data
  • NoveList - the old standby, but you probably need to go through your local library for it
  • Amazon.com - it is Amazon, so it's primary focus is to sell book, not recommend them, but it does offer suggestions based on what people purchase and search by topic (as it were)

There are lots of other sites devoted to book suggestions. A few others I found that didn't fit above but that are also useful are:

  • Listal.com Books - search (hidden in upper right corner) for books and link to others via tags (seems to focus more on social connections)
  • FictionFinder from OCLC - offers Subject cloud (like tag cloud) to find similar books; also allows searching, and each book has links to see other books with the same subjects, genres, characters or setting
  • Find a Good Book from Hennepin County Library - search for an author to find recommended reading lists where that author's books appear (plus links to other listings and resources)
  • Staff Recommendations from the Skokie Public Library - search for a subject to find books their staff has reviewed and recommends

And here's a few resources that are list-based - you click the subject you like, and you browse the list of books in that subject:

I'm sure there are tons of others - even my library also has a readers advisory webpage. If I missed one of your favorites, please share it with a comment below.



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