Monday Sep 24, 2007

Why Second Life? Why Web 2.0?

For our employee training sessions through 2007, we're going a bit outside of our usual realm of training topics. In the past, we've typically covered information resources offered through Sun Learning Services and Digital Libraries & Research, and how best to use those resources.

But in the sessions we're doing now and throughout the rest of 2007, we're covering things like Second Life, and Web 2.0 and social networking tools. Why are we bothering with these things when they don't appear to be directly related to information and resources currently available?

There are a few reasons. The most immediate reason is because we get asked about this stuff. The Digital Libraries & Research (DL&R) staff have recently done some recorded sessions for Sun's Employee Communications and Communities group, helping get them up-to-speed on technologies like wikis, RSS, virtual worlds and other social networking tools.

Why did they turn to Digital Libraries & Research? Well, because we work with a lot of different groups within Sun who are already playing around with these technologies - and we're also early investigators and adopters ourselves. The information profession has been investigating and dealing with a lot of these tools for a few years now and following developments very closely. As information professionals (aka librarians), it's our role to ensure that our customers can connect with quality information (in whatever form) from where and when they need it. Social networking tools allow us the ability to drive information and content in various forms in new and exciting ways - ways that people just coming into the workforce expect it to be.

And, the DL&R team likes to experiment with cutting edge tools to see how we can adopt these technologies for keeping Sun informed about our information resources and services. They also allow us to embed ourselves deeper into the communities at Sun.

The next reason is that we continue to see a demand out there from Sun employees to get up-to-date on what's going on with these developments. In other words, the Communications and Communities group isn't the only one interested in this stuff - we all seem to be fascinated by what's going on with the explosion of these social networking technologies. What are they? Why would you use them? How do I get started using them? How is Sun using them? A good example is the recently launched wikis.sun.com site, a wiki tool that Sun employees can use to build a community with Sun customers and partners - as well as anyone else who would like to participate.

The answers to the 'what', 'why' and 'how' of these tools are continually changing and evolving, which requires the DL&R team to stay current in this space - and to continue to offer regular updates on these technologies through our training sessions.

Next, these are learning and stretch opportunities for us, too. While we're certainly familiar with a lot of this technology, we're continually learning more about them. In order to present knowledgeably about these things, we gotta know what we're talking about, right? I personally find that I need to really dig into these technologies before doing a training session on them. And that's a great learning opportunity for me, too.

And the more we learn about these technologies, the more actively we'll be able to bring Sun employees information through these new tools. For example, we're already experimenting with the micro-blogging tool Twitter to communicate about our training sessions and other information of interest to Sun employees. We see this as a new way to not only market what we do, but to actively bring information to employees' attention through the channels they're already using.

Lastly - these technologies are fun. It's fascinating to see how some of these online communities get built out, what connections you can make, and the many, many innovative ways people use these tools. Have you seen 43 things, for example? It's a tool to help you think about what your goals are in life, but in a social way - so that you can track your progress, connect with others who have the same goal, etc.

In our training sessions, we only have about an hour to review the broad spectrum of Web 2.0 and social networking tools, so we aren't able to get too detailed. But these sessions are already sparking interest among Sun employees.

Scott Brown
Digital Libraries & Research

Monday Jul 02, 2007

The effective use of 'old' technologies

In the May and June Digital Libraries & Research learning events on finding market research and finding internal Sun information, and in recent posts, we've emphasized the need to use both search and browse strategies for effectively finding information.

My general approach, which I first heard from Cindy Hill, is what Cindy calls an 'and/plus' approach rather than an 'either/or' approach. Related to the recent training, to effectively find information, you need search and browse, not just one or the other. This entry is about the 'and/plus' principle in relation to the need for effective current information management tools and the newer social media tools.

I think a lot of people - myself included, up until the last few years - think of browse as stodgy and old-fashioned. Does anyone use Yahoo!'s directory structure any longer? (They took it off the front page so long ago, I have a hard time remembering what it looked like. I couldn't even find it from their current front page - I had to type in http://directory.yahoo.com.)

Frankly, I do still use it, when the need calls for it. Recently I had a request where the person needed a list of vendors in a particular niche IT area. There was NOTHING available through the traditional sources I'd go to - OneSource, Hoover's, the market research firms or even MarketResearch.com. So what was left?

That's right - directory listings. I found two great directories through Yahoo! and through DMOZ (remember DMOZ? Wow, that seems old), which provided me 85% of the companies I needed to know about, and provided leads to the next 10%.

I've asked the hypothetical question before: could I have just conducted a search for this and found it? No way - my search NEVER would have turned up even 50% of the companies I found using these relatively authoritative directories.

In the networked information world, we're seeing an explosion of new technologies, and, even more extraordinary, widespread adoption of a number of these technologies. Social publishing and networking tools like Ning, Twitter, wikis and blogs are either in widespread use, or are quickly moving there. While this flood of new technologies does occasionally seem overwhelming, they are adding new dimensions and capabilities in creating, communicating and connecting with information, particularly the social knowledge and expertise that has been difficult to capture up to this point. This is truly an exciting time to be in information work!

The 'and/plus' approach applies to a lot of the areas and technologies you see in the information arena today. It becomes a matter of balancing the technologies and tools we already have that work well with the best features of the emerging technologies. For example, in tagging and categorizing information, folksonomies shouldn't supplant taxonomies - effective tagging systems will have elements of both.

Why? Because you need standardization in order to link stuff together, particularly to link out to other sources and make information findable across resources. But you also need the flexibility and currency of folksonomies. Folksonomies can respond much faster to new topics, buzz and trends than taxonomies can.

You also need a balance between relatively static, authoritative landing sites and social tools. It's phenomenal to have tools like wikis, because they offer the unparalleled ability to create group knowledge. Knowledge management, as a practice, has struggled for years with the idea of "tacit knowledge" - that intangible, hard-to-capture information that is in people's heads. Well, wikis and blogs have proven to be a giant step in the right direction for capturing tacit knowledge. Now you're starting to see wiki and blog search engines, because people are mining all of that tacit knowledge.

But again, the most effective solutions may be a balance of authoritative sources and portals - the central places for people to start - with social knowledge tools. When people need to know something with confidence - just to use a simple example, when they need to follow a standard or a law - they need to know THE place to go for that information.

It may not be able to reside on a wiki where it can be changed; it can't come up in a set of search results that are indistinguishable in authority from each other. People will always need THE ANSWER to many of their questions. That's why there are standards, guidelines and laws - they are the authoritative and acknowledged rules for doing something. For example, I don't want the Colorado State Driver's Handbook posted on a wiki, do you? It would make for a most interesting commute.

However, a wiki could be very effectively used as a collaboration tool linked off of a central site in order to get input, ideas, and to share experiences that relate to that topic. These authoritative sites - such as an internal competitive site or a subscription to IEEE conference proceedings - could integrate some of these social tools so users can read the trusted content and then rate, comment, share and discuss that information. These authoritative types of content could also use social tools such as blogs or microblogging tools to help keep users aware of the high value content they can access.

So, we believe that many current tools PLUS the new social media tools is what is going to be a powerful combination. It's not 'either/or' - it's 'and/plus'.

Scott Brown
Digital Libraries & Research

Monday Jun 11, 2007

The Joy of Serendipity

So we've talked about library as social setting and findability. Let's talk now about something a little more slippery: the concept of serendipity in discovering information.

Silly Putty was created while trying to find a substitute for rubber. The idea for the microwave oven was born when a scientist noticed that the candy bar in his pocket melted when exposed to radar waves. Serendipity happens all the time in chemistry, physics, pharmacology and medicine.

I think the definition that someone put into Wikipedia is quite good: "Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely." In fact, the Wikipedia article goes on to talk initially about the role of serendipity in science and technology, and provides several examples - a couple of which are above.

Now, when I need a specific data point - if I really just need to know, for example, how many broadband subscribers there were in the US in 2006 - I only need to find that information. I don't need to know that US broadband penetration was 72% - at least not for my purposes at this moment. I know exactly what data I need, and I need to find that exact data. That's the goal of findability.

But serendipity is different - it's about finding what you don't even know exists. It's about discovery, but it's about not knowing what you might discover. It's about the unplanned. So how do you plan for that?

To a large extent, by definition, you don't. You simply can't.

But to build upon the idea that "chance favors the prepared mind", you can create an environment for it to happen more readily - you can increase the chances that it can happen.

This is where collections of knowledge come into play, and where serendipity applies to libraries and other information collections. If you put a lot of information together, so that you can browse and wander through it, either physically or virtually, won't the chances increase that you'll find something extraordinary, something extraordinarily useful?

The answer is yes - and I state this through my own recurring experiences as a librarian and researcher. I know you've had these experiences, too. Often, I will have just finished working on a research request and, while working on a completely different request, I will run across a report or article that is unquestionably related to the previous request - but not in the way that I, or my requester, was thinking about it. It seems to come out of the blue, but is extremely relevant.

Could I have searched for it and found it? NO - because I didn't know I was looking for it.

Sometimes it's more ordinary - I'm going through a familiar resource, but something new has been added. For example, I was recently looking for information on the IT market and going through IDC.com. Suddenly, I ran across a press release for market sizing for the IT leasing market - exactly the thing that I was addressing with the previous requester.

Now, this isn't earthshaking serendipity - this kind of "ordinary" serendipity isn't world-changing. This level of serendipity is more along the lines of Lawrence Block's quote: "Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for."

But what happens when you have a collection of millions of documents or pieces of information - like Google, like IEEE Electronic Library, like the British Library - and you can browse through them, virtually or physically, just to see what you can find? To see where you might find connections or patterns where there weren't connections before?

While physical libraries provide certain kinds of opportunities for serendipity, tools like Grokker (we have an exterprise version at Sun called Sun Grokker) provide the virtual experience of serendipity. Grokker and the variety of mashups coming out these days are starting to break open the physical constraints and allow information to interact in new ways. And this enhances serendipity.

There is no question, at least in my mind, that information in isolated collections can be useful. Discrete collections can provide focus, a concentration of information, which is particularly useful for specialized audiences.

But when you start to bring a lot of disparate information together, surprising and world-changing things can happen. Suddenly you get to experience what Sir Isaac Newton might have felt like, getting hit on the head by the apple. New ideas are born. Innovative products are produced. New lands are discovered. The game changes.

And that's just another reason why I love what I do. That's part of the reason why I truly have the best job at Sun. What we do helps the folks at Sun have those serendipitous moments, the "AHA!" moments that make Sun the unique company and workplace that it is.

That, and I get to work with some of the most amazing and fun people in the company :)

Scott Brown
Digital Libraries & Research
Sun Learning Services

Wednesday May 23, 2007

The Magic of Findability

In my last entry, I talked about library as social setting. Here I get to talk about the two additional points Hal Stern brought out in his blog entry: 1) the organization and preservation of knowledge for findability, and 2) the concept of serendipity in discovering information.

In the age of Google, of information almost literally at your fingertips, Hal states that "you need libraries and the organization they impose to an even greater extent." I believe that, too. But why is that?

All of us have experienced the crush and incoherency of too much information. Say I want to find out information on outsourcing. If I do a Google search at 10am Mountain Time on May 14, 2007, I get over 58 million hits.

The first two "sponsored" links are for CapGemini (a consulting services group) and Nortel (the Google or Services folks might know why this comes up, but I sure don't). I also get image search results for outsourcing. (Why do I need images for outsourcing?)

I get the Wikipedia entry for outsourcing, which is good; Wikipedia's always a fairly reliable place to get up to speed on a topic. On this first page of results, I also get The Outsourcing Institute, a BusinessWeek article, and InformationWeek's Outsourcing center - all good.

So I'm off to a good start. But say what I really want is some definitive guides on outsourcing. Suppose I want some case studies and best practices around outsourcing. Will I find things like The outsourcing handbook: how to implement a successful outsourcing process, by Mark J. Power, Kevin C. Desouza, and Carlo Bonifazi? If this does come up in my Google search, how will I access it? Do I have to buy it? How do I know the eBook version exists from NetLibrary and do I need to buy it?

In the end, how much is it going to cost me - and how much time will I need to spend - to get knowledgable about outsourcing - without having to wade through the massive amounts of information about outsourcing out there?

It all comes down to this: how do I find what I'm looking for, even when I may not be exactly sure of what I'm looking for?

Peter Morville recently coined the word findability. Findability essentially is a word expressing the characteristic of how easy it is to, well, find something. If you need a piece of information, how easily and quickly can you get access to it?

Libraries - in whatever form, and in whatever setting, whether the function is called a "library" or not - are all about findability. That's our JOB. That's our profession - and it has been for many many years. First, we identify and find the information, and then we make it findable for others. (This is one of the driving ideas behind a lot of the Web 2.0 tools and social tools out there: finding and connecting people and information in a variety of different ways, getting your hands on the information when and where you need it.)

Because of this basic fact of our profession, we're constantly trying to improve findability - not only for you, our customer, but also for ourselves. After all, if I'm doing research and I can't find something - even something I KNOW exists - I'm stuck. I can't find it, so it might as well not exist.

But if we've done a good job, then you can lay your hands on the information you need quickly. Or we can lay our hands on it quickly and get it to you.

And that's magic. That's the opposite experience I like to think we've all had. You need that critical piece of information, right now, and, bang, all of a sudden someone hands it to you, or it pops right up for you. It's a beautiful moment. It's a gratifying moment for everyone involved.

So next time you need to find something? You know where to go - to your librarians in your corporation, university or community. Unless it's your car keys. We can't help you there. Unless you tagged them with a social tagging tool. Did you look on the couch?

Next up: Serendipity.

Scott Brown
Digital Libraries & Research
Sun Learning Services

Friday May 11, 2007

Library as social setting

In a recent blog posting, Hal Stern asked rhetorically, "When you have Google, who needs a library?"

While his question was rhetorical, this is a very real question for us as librarians - one we face regularly. The question is really just a spin on the old "everything can be found on the Web" urban legend.

The refreshing thing about Hal's answer to his own question is that he touches on three things that people don't always think of when they think "libraries":

\* "Library" as a social setting (see also Beyond Google, The Journal of EDS Agility Alliance, Sun Microsystems' piece in The Road to Innovation issue)
\* The organization and preservation of knowledge for findability
\* Serendipity, or discovering information rather than searching for it

I'd like to say a bit more about each of these, but won't do so in one long posting. So in this posting (which in itself is a bit long), I'll address the first one: "library" as social setting.

Digital Libraries & Research recently went 100% digital. For years, we have concentrated on bringing more and more digital resources into Sun, because we realized Sun employees need digital, always-on access. Sun employees work everywhere and "everywhen". We want to make sure that as many Sun folks have access to the information they need as soon as they need it, and digital resources perform this function well.

As more and more information has become digitized, however, we've noticed two interesting trends:

1) People didn't want just digital or just print; they wanted both. It wasn't a case of "either/or" - it was "and/plus". Sun folks want to be able to get to the information they need quickly and digitally, but they also want to have the print available to them. Not a lot of people want to read a whole book on-screen - and if you're reading in bed at night, holding up a laptop can get pretty tiring (though the last Harry Potter hardback book weighed almost as much as a laptop).

2) Even though we provide digital resources online, and also used to ship print material to Sun employees wherever they were, people still continued to come into the library space.

This second piece is most intriguing. If you don't have to come to the library, if you can get what you need online, why would you come into the library?

Because it is a "space" with a meaning - a space that represents and encourages thought, research and inspiration. The library space is a separation from work space - you're away from your phone and email, you're surrounded by information, and it's very attractive to be there and know you've got the time and space to really dig into information. You can search for specific things, but you can also stumble upon information you didn't know existed - sometimes information that's key to what you're doing. For those of us who used the library in university or college, it's also reminiscent of the kind of deep research and thinking that we did there.

At the same time, it can be a social setting - a place to meet your colleagues, to work together in an information-filled space, to collaborate and generate ideas, to get things done. It's a place to run into someone you haven't seen in a while and reconnect, and it's a place to meet new people who are interested in the same work you're doing. It's a place to make connections - people to information, people to people, and information to information.

These characteristics - the library as an inspirational place, and as a meeting place - make library spaces unique, and those unique qualities will never entirely be replicated by a Google search.

But as more social networking and Web 2.0 tools come online, they begin to create an interesting challenge and opportunity: how do we create these kinds of virtual "spaces", where there is the combination of the serendipity of discovery, the atmosphere of research, and the social interaction components?

The Digital Libraries & Research team has always looked to new technologies coming online to address this kind of opportunity. That's why we're looking into opportunites for providing information and information consulting through Second Life, actively using wikis, blogs and tags, and continuing to look at new tools (like Ning.com and other social networking tools) to bring new "library" experiences to life, for all the Sun Learning Services audiences: employees, partners, customers and community.

Next post, I'll talk about the importance of findability.

Scott Brown
Digital Libraries & Research
Sun Learning Services

Monday Feb 26, 2007

Access to books before they are published - Really?



Because I work in a fast-paced, high tech environment, frequently there are moments when I need information that's not easily or readily available, usually because it hasn't yet been published. So when Safari launched its Rough Cuts, I knew that this new publishing approach was going to be just what I needed.

Now I - and all Sun employees - have before-it's-published access to Safari's leading authors' books. Rough Cuts are an author's manuscript, still in draft form. The author not only wants people to read the pre-published manuscript, but is also loking for insights, comments, and critiques.

Sun employees can now view Rough Cuts titles online. Just click Add to put the title in your Favorites. The title will be updated as the author and technical reviewers make changes and you'll see new versions as they're created. Once the manuscript is published, it will be added to the regular Safari Library as a book.

Tips

\* Select Rough Cuts in the Quick Links drop down (once you are logged in)
\* Search for Rough Cuts by searching in the TITLE field
\* Provide input to authors by creating a PUBLIC NOTE (everyone can see these notes)

Check it out! Learn and stay competitive by having early access to quality technical information.

For employees, go to Digital Libraries & Research from the SunWeb KeyLinks drop down.

For non Sun employees who are interested in Safari and Safari Rough Cuts - you can check their public website and Rough Cuts site.

Christy

Monday Jan 29, 2007

Is it right? Is it reliable?

CNET News recently published an article entitled Most reliable search tool could be your librarian (which, of course, has been a great uplift to many of the librarians you know). I've blogged previously on the ways librarians could improve Google. However, this article brings a different spin to the conversation.

The author of the article states, "While the Web is good for offering quick results from a broad range of sources, which may or may not be trustworthy, librarians can help people get access to more authoritative information and go deeper with their research." I touched on this previously, but let's expand on this topic.

Google is great for the quick data point - and for finding the latest theories on the Lost TV series. But what if you need some really critical information, like market share in the server space? What if you have to present to executives and you need your information to be not only correct but reliable?

Sure, you could do a Google search and see what comes up. You can even get to press releases and articles telling you what the top market research vendors are reporting.

But what if you need the source - the full information from true authorities? How do you know what's available and what's reliable?

That is where librarians - your information professionals - who are highly skilled - can bring real value to your information search. We can locate the information, and we can point you to the most reliable and trusted sources for the information. For the example above, you can find market share information for servers from IDC and Gartner, the top two IT market research firms, on our internal Numbers Clearinghouse (Sun employees, check out our main site for links to this resource). Basically, the best information, available from the most reliable resources.

Would you be able to get those exact market share numbers - not only for Sun, but for IBM, HP and other competitors - from a Google search? No way. If, by some chance, you happened to find the IDC or Gartner site, you'll be required pay many thousands of dollars to access the information. If you know to go through Sun's Digital Libraries & Research portal (again, Sun employees, check this out), you not only get access to the information, but the information's already been funded by Sun. You win, and Sun wins - because you're leveraging the information already purchased.

Of course, the information isn't always so easy to find, even for librarians (believe it or not). Across the board, librarians are finding that search engines have reduced the number of questions they receive. However, the complexity of the questions is increasing. In some cases, the information may simply not be out there in published format.

Our goal within the Digital Libraries & Research group, Sun Learning Services, is to enable Sun employees to spend less time looking for information so they can move more quickly from searching to executing - with the most complete, reliable information available.

Got questions? Sun employees - check out our main site, under Key Links from the SunWeb page.

Not a Sun employee? Check with your organization's information experts!

Wednesday Jan 24, 2007

Where have all the phone booths gone?

All over the United States local phone companies have been removing public phone booths. Why? Because there is much less use of them now that so many people have mobile phones. No longer do we need to hunt for a phone booth, find the right amount of change (is it 25c, 35c, 50c?), and hope that the phone is working. Now we can call anytime, anywhere, without hassle or inconvenience. Of course, there are some sentimental losses, such as Superman no longer having a place to change into his super-uniform, but I'm sure even he has adjusted.

What do phone booths have to do with libraries?

Just like the phone booth, libraries have also been going digital. Now you can read a book, newspaper, or magazine online. Now you can complete in-depth research through thousands of sources online that were once only available in print. Now you can collaborate with team members, sharing your documents online. And you can learn through online resources and training opportunities. None of this is particularly new since this change has been occurring for the last 50 years. It's just that the shift from our dependence on physical to digital has accelerated in the last 5 years.

What does that mean for SunLibrary? We've also been undergoing a transformation. Since 1995 our strategic plan has been to create an information environment that supports Sun employees to be info-self-sufficient. And we've been accomplishing this goal by going digital as fast as we can. Last year we estimated that our services and resources were already 90-95% digital. This year we're pleased to announce that we're 100% digital and we have a new name, Digital Libraries & Research, to reflect this change.

As part of Sun Learning Services (SLS), we are now integrated into SLS's Learning Technology team. We are working on making external and internal content even more immediately available to Sun employees – always at their fingertips, whenever they need answers to their questions. With the power of SLS's newly launched MyLearning portal, they can learn just-in-time and just in the way they want. And whenever Sun employees want more information or would like to investigate a topic more deeply, they can work with our librarians and information specialists to get just what they need.

Where are all the phone booths? Where is the library? Just check the web – we've gone digital!

Sun employees - you can find us from the SunWeb Key Links drop down box: Digital Libraries & Research and MyLearning.

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