Friday Mar 11, 2011

Blog being migrated

This former Sun Digital Libraries & Research team blog is being migrated to the Oracle blog platform in the next few months. I will begin to post to this blog and re-name it appropriately after the migration.


Thanks for your patience!

Friday Sep 11, 2009

Expert Chat: Digital Quicksand: Time-Draining Habits in a Web 2.0 World

Please join us in Second Life at the Sun theater for this really exciting and timely chat!

Speaker: Laura Stack (SL: LauraStack Ghost)
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker.

Where: Sun Campus in Second Life (SLURL:
When: October 13, 2009 - 9am SLT / PT (check your local time)

Topic: Digital Quicksand: Time-Draining Habits in a Web 2.0 World
Businesses and individuals worldwide keep finding interesting ways to use social networks and other interactive online media to do some pretty amazing things – from building their brands to getting to know their customers.  Like most technology, social networks and other social media tools are great resources but lousy masters.  You could spend all day hopping around to different sites, updating your information, and connecting with people all over the world.  But how does that add to your daily productivity?  Laura Stack discusses how to take advantage of the best aspects of social media, without letting it take advantage of you.

Come and listen to Laura, chat with her and participate in an engaging and dynamic conversation!

Learn more about Laura on her website and on Twitter.  You can find her books at this site as well. 

Friday Aug 28, 2009

New Video: Introduction to Virtual Worlds - Check out the Mixed Reality!

This new video, created by Robin Williams in the Information Services: Digital Libraries & Research group, has a great message about the value of virtual worlds for business and also uses various types of media to get the message across - including mixing real people and avatars - it's a must see!

Thursday Aug 20, 2009

Author Chat in Second Life with Clara Shih, The Facebook Era

Please join us for our next Author Chat at the Sun Second Life theatre!

Author Chat: Clara Shih, Author of The Facebook Era and CEO of Hearsay Labs (SL: ClaraShih Zufreur)

Where: Sun Campus in Second Life (SLURL: must have Second Life avatar and software (
When: September 28, 2009 - 5pm SLT / PT

Topic: Sales, Marketing, and Business in the Facebook Era
Last decade was about the World Wide Web of information and the power of linking content pages. Today, it's about the World Wide Web of people and the power of the online social graph across sites. Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin are rewriting the rules for customer engagement, interactions, and relationships. Social networking sites are changing everything we thought we knew about sales, marketing, and product development -- and empowering companies with new tools, insights, and ability to transform customers into true partners and your most effective sales force yet. Bestselling author and social networking expert Clara Shih will walk through the radical business transformation taking place and what sales, marketers, and professionals must do to thrive and win in the Facebook Era.

Come and listen to Clara, chat with her and participate in an engaging and dynamic conversation!

Learn more about Clara on her website and on Twitter.   

Sun employees - access The Facebook Era on Safari Books Online!

Hope to see you there!

Christy Confetti Higgins
Informaiton Services: Digital Libraries & Research
Sun Learning Services
Sun Microsystems
christy.confetti-AT-sun-DOT-com | 303-990-5005
Skype: cconfettihiggins
Twitter: and
Blog: and

Monday Aug 10, 2009

JavaOne 2009 Author Chats in Second Life Replays and Slides

Thank you again to everyone that joined our series of author chats in Second Life during JavaOne 2009. If you missed the sessions, here are some replays and slides as a way to share the learning - these are all posted to Sun's Social Learning Exchange (a fabulous platform for information and knowledge sharing - learn more here!)

The Developer's Edge
by Darryl Gove
June 3, 2009
eBook available via Safari Books Online:  Non-Sun Employees | Sun Employees
Slides and transcript | Replay of slides with audio

JavaFX: Developing Rich Internet Applications book
by Jim Clarke, James Connors and Eric Bruno
June 3, 2009
JavaFX video played during the session
eBook available via Safari Books Online: Non Sun Employees | Sun Employees

June 4th at 9am PT
Core JavaServer Faces 3/E
by David Mark Geary and Cay Horstmann
Rough Cut access via Safari Books Online: Non Sun Employees | Sun Employees  (early access to the book)

June 4, 2009 at 12pm PT
Real-Time Java Programming: with the Java RTS
by Greg Bollella and Eric J. Bruno
eBook available via Safari Books Online: Non Sun Employees | Sun Employees  (early access to the book)
Slides | Replay with slides and audio

Check our previous blog entries about the author chats with photos and more. Thank you -

Christy Confetti Higgins
Information Services: Digital Libraries & Research
Sun Learning Services

Thursday Jul 23, 2009

Visualizing The History of Information at Sun

As part of a bigger effort at Sun to capture Sun's history, the Information Services: Digital Libraires & Research team (previously known as SunLibrary) are pulling together the history of information at Sun. As part of this effort, these image were created that showcase visually the services, innovations, learnings, changes and impact of information to Sun's business over the years.

Keep a watch out here for the full timeline and history of information at Sun as told by Sun's information experts (both current and past)!


Thursday Jul 16, 2009

Research & Information Consulting Expertise at Sun

Good Decisions Depend on Good Information - one executive said "To make
strong business decisions we should have the best, most timely information. If we don't have the correct information, we may make faulty decisions." (Outsell Inc., August 2008, "What Executives Think About Information Management")

The Information Services: Digital Libraries & Research team at Sun (previously known as SunLibrary) has been providing information services to Sun employees, teams and programs for about 15 years: digital content, information/knowledge sharing, research, information consulting, information organization, content evaluation/analysis, enterprise search, social networking and other information services.

The research services have gone from answering any and every business related question to focusing on deeper, more complex research for strategic business requests to integrating the information experts/researchers into key programs at the company to today where we focus on the strategic research as well as our pro-active research service (via our Research Blog). This shift began around 1996 in conjunction with providing more digital information services to employees so they could more easily get information on their own, when they need it (we had to wait for information providers and publishers to catch up to our need for web-based content).

Information experts have the ability to understand the organization's information needs and anticipate those needs based on a keen pulse we have on the business and how integrated we are to teams across the organization. With that, we've created a Research Blog where we are sharing research results from key requests as well as conducting research pro-actively on topics that we know are important to Sun's business.

It is critical for employees to have access to quality information to drive their learning, business decisions and to stay competitive. What we've said for years is: Content + Research + Technology = Knowledge, Innovation, and Effectiveness = REVENUE.

From the Special Libraries Association blog, a member was interviewed about research skills. Here is what the interviewer, Chris Kennealy, author and journalist, said: "... discovered that there’s more to research on the Web than just “Google-ing.”  (read the full post and access the interview here)

We have been thrilled to offer these research and information consulting services at Sun and see the impact of information to Sun's business - information is our passion!

"If these highly skilled employees lack authoritative information to inform their decisions, their work is compromised." (Forrester, May 2008, "Best Practices: Reinventing The Corporate Library";)

Wednesday Nov 12, 2008

The evolution of knowledge management: lessons learned

It's been a while since we've talked about knowledge management (KM) - and there have been two recent comments on the last posting, so let's revisit the topic.

We've had the opportunity a couple of times in the last few months to talk about KM to different outside audiences. In September, I had the chance to talk with some library and information science students at the University of Denver about KM, and specifically KM at Sun. Then, at the end of October, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a site visit from APQC, along with Terry McKenzie and Peter Reiser, to talk about Sun and social networking and expertise location - yet another opportunity to essentially talk about KM.

A common theme between these two presentations has been the lessons learned - probably more accurately, the lessons we keep re-learning. Here are some of the thoughts we shared with them:

We, as information professionals, need to continue to think differently and flexibly about information management, knowledge management, expertise - and what we bring to the conversation. What do we bring to the conversation? A couple of things:

  • A broad, 'big picture' perspective. We bring this perspective in two ways. Since we provide information resources and consulting across the entire organization, we are able to have a 'pulse' on the company. Because we get requests from all over Sun, we have a sense of what the company is thinking and what the important initiatives are at any given point. The way this ties into expertise location and knowledge sharing is that we have the ability to connect individuals or groups in the company who are working on similar initiatives. The individuals or groups might not have known that others in the company were working on similar issues, and we are often able to bring them together for more productive and complete work.

    The other broad perspective we bring is from the information industry as a whole. Because we're keeping track of what's going on in the information industry outside of Sun, we can bring those trends to bear within the company where appropriate. Because we often have the opportunity to benchmark with information professionals in other organizations, we can make sure we're staying on top of things in relation to other top companies in the world.

  • The ability to identify and locate key authoritative content. This is a reason why many folks within Sun turn to us when they need authoritative and business-critical content. Sure, it's easy enough to do a Google search to find information. Often, you can find the information you need that's 'good enough'. But what if you need the REALLY good stuff? The stuff you simply can't find on the open web? What if you don't know if the information you've found is authoritative? That's where we come in. If we have it, we'll get it to you. If you don't know what the 'good stuff' is, we can help identify it for you. (In fact, for a while we used the phrase 'we've got the good stuff' in our internal presentations.)

What are our other lessons learned?

Start small and move forward from there. As I specifically told the student group at DU, the word 'pilot' is your friend. Pilots are relatively benign. If a pilot fails, it's just that - a pilot that failed. It's not a failed project, it's not a smudge on your reputation - in fact, you get a gold star almost any way you look at it, because you're trying out new things! Good for you!

In doing pilots and 'starting small', it's important, if possible, to work with existing pain points and needs. There is so much opportunity in working with existing pain points, for a number of reasons. One, usually almost anything you can do is better than what currently exists. Two, when people are in pain, they are much more willing to be flexible, try new solutions and buy into your solution. Three, if you solve it, even a little bit - well, you're a hero again, and you have the opportunity to add that win to your portfolio of wins, and to potentially have a new group advocating for you in the company as well. How can you stand being so good?

Partnering and connecting – in every sense – is essential for success. Because KM is so bound up with social networking and 2.0 tools today, KM projects are inherently social in nature. They need people and groups to interact. What you're building is essentially a social system, based around information. So, it's important to build your connections and to get buy-in.

The recent Sun author chats in Second Life are a great example of this. We work with the SMI Press authors, the SMI press team and others to create these very popular events. There is no way we could do this effectively on our own. It is our partnerships that allow these events to be effective and valuable.

Additionally, because KM solutions will have some piece of technology associated with them, the IT department - or at least people who have IT skills - really become important colleagues and partners. Foster these connections - a good IT person on your side, as you likely know, is a wonderful thing.

Last, continue to experiment with new tools and stay on top of technology trends – this whole space is still evolving quickly. Emphasis here is on trends. That means, thankfully, you don't have to feel compelled to check out every single new tool and beta version of the latest social networking software that comes out. Do, however, keep an eye and an ear out for what the latest buzz is, and pay particular attention to those things that continue to come to your attention. To use an older example, at one point we kept hearing about Twitter. Several different colleagues, internally and externally to Sun, were mentioning it, and we'd seen it discussed on a couple of aliases. Well, we figured that maybe it was time to check it out, to see what it was all about, and to start thinking about how we might be able to use it. The result: the birth of our libraryresearch Twitter.  

To wrap up, here's an incident that really struck me lately about how far Sun has come in its evolution and use of social networking and 2.0 tools. I was talking with someone in a government setting recently about social networking tools and showing them some of the Sun tools available on the open web. We logged on to All of a sudden, he jumped up for a closer look and got really excited about it. He was pointing to the 'Popular Blogs' section of, the part that tells you which blogs have the most number of hits for the day.

I'm paraphrasing badly, but he said something along the lines of 'that's your expertise! Those are your go-to people in the organization!'

I looked at it more closely and I realized he was right. I remember when Jonathan's blog was regularly and reliably the number one blog. Nowadays, he's typically in the top five, but he's no longer consistently number one. Instead, Jim Grisanzio, Simon Phipps, Bryan Cantrill and Geertjan Wielenga are often holding the top spots, along with many other Sun experts.

His excitement gave me a renewed appreciation for - a tool that had previously felt old to me, but suddenly felt new and really exciting. In fact, it suddenly felt like a tool that had added value, because it has some history to it. Though it's a relatively 'new' tool, it has become firmly embedded in Sun's culture. At least over 4000 Sun bloggers feel that way.

I also felt a renewed appreciation for Sun's commitment to social networking tools. It's interesting to reflect on the evolution of the use of these tools in Sun, from blogs to wikis to the use of Facebook for Sun groups, to leading edge tools like SunSpace and Sun Learning eXchange. Sun has always been a leading-edge adopter in many ways, and its adoption of social networking tools is no exception.

Where will the future take us? What are the next steps? Stay tuned...

Scott Brown, Sr. Information Specialist

Thursday Jun 12, 2008

Role of Information Management in Social Media

So let's run through a few additional considerations as social networking and other 2.0 tools take off. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but just some of the effects as more and more people adopt these tools.  

“Ultra-customization”: If everyone has just the information they want - through RSS feeds, widgets, page customization, etc. - how do you get important information to everyone? How do you get everyone on the same page?

On a broad basis, this ties into the authority discussion. For organizations, this becomes a real challenge. Many organizations, Sun included, often have a "required" channel on an internal web page that can be customized - so everyone looks at the same thing. But how do you reach someone who doesn't look at that web page, ever - who gets their information primarily through another landing page, RSS feeds, etc.? Interestingly enough, often times the solution is sending an all-company email - reverting back to "old" technology. (Now, whether that actually reaches folks who email inbox is in the thousands of messages is another question.)

The point here is that organizations are already dealing with these kinds of issues. As customization becomes more and more prevelant, creating consistency for business needs is going to become an even more complex issue to address. When one is simply customizing information for one's personal use, this is a non-issue. Within an organization, it becomes a tension between what should I be looking at vs. what do I want to be looking at.

Increasing available knowledge does not mean people are going to use it - otherwise known as information overload. As we all know, there is more and more information being produced, and at an increasing rate. Thanks to tools like wikis, blogs, and social networks, everyone - anyone - now has the ability to create content and make it available on the open Web. This is a great democratizer of the Internet, as it allows everyone a "voice", so to speak.

But do concepts of democracy apply to information? Is all information created equal? Is all information equally useful, or are we littering up the Internet with a bunch of low-level information?

A specific example is what I call “wiki information death”. Wikis have become a very popular tool for creating and sharing content, which is wonderful. To me, it feels very much like the mid- to late-90s, when everyone was creating a web page on the Internet. Remember when you'd come across pages called things like "Bert's page" with horrible flashing graphics? To a large extent, we're seeing that phenomenon again today, with wikis (for groups), blogs (for individuals), and MySpace and Facebook pages (for both). True, most of the time the horrible graphics are gone (with the exception of MySpace).

The bottom line is that folks are putting up a lot of information - and a large percentage of that information is never going to be updated again. The person or group loses interest, there's nothing new to add, it was only an experiment in the first place - for whatever reason(s), this "information" is being put out there and then being essentially abandoned.

Undoubtedly you could derive a sense of what Internet users are thinking at a broad level, through mining all of the information available, useful or not. I'm sure there are many information discoveries to be made there, discoveries that I can't comprehend. But I can't help but think that a lot of "information" is actually just cluttering up the place.

Same content in multiple places. Weren't we just solving this problem with content management systems? With wikis in particular, you have the responsibility of keeping track of - and managing, and updating - your own content in your head. Yes, there is some hierarchy there, but wikis are pretty flat. Additionally, since you potentially have multiple people adding content, how do you prevent duplication?

You see the complications. I'm not arguing that social networking tools don't bring a lot of value - they do. As I've mentioned earlier, these tools are delivering the promise of KM. But they also bring complications that need to be addressed. They affect the answer to the question: What does one year, three years, five years from now look like for information, KM and IM?

Can we foresee and address all the gaps and needs areas we know about? No, not all at once, certainly. So let's look at what's important, right here and now. What can we do today to help address some of these issues?
Maintenance - or maybe I should say, dedication and responsibility. It's really easy to start a blog, wiki, or network. What's hard is putting the time into it: creating entries, blogging regularly, building a community around a wiki, keeping a network alive. In an ideal world, a network doesn't necessarily need a "leader". In reality, the network is made up of the people in that network, and some people will naturally emerge as leaders. Those that have a passion around the topic will help drive it. Be aware of the need to "feed and care for" your social networking tool, and be ready to dedicate the time to maintain it so it remains usable and valuable.

Related to this is managing the information lifecycle - particularly maintenance and the end of the cycle. Librarians have been concerned - and rightly so - with preserving and archiving information since the beginning of libraries. This still is an important function. Often, the "library" is the final destination for information that has become outdated or is no longer needed - until someone really needs it again. That's one of the instances where the library becomes the lifesaver.

But archiving and preservation can't be indiscriminate. With all the potential "information litter" around, it becomes more important than ever to be able to get rid of information.

I can hear a gasp from some of you - "get rid of information???" On the face of things, this goes against our sensibilities. What if you need that information later? Of course, you need to follow your legal guidelines and records retention rules. What I'm suggesting is that we need to be more decisive and active in scoping what information we should keep, and be willing to take action in actually getting rid of information. Of course I'm not talking about getting rid of the Constitution - but think about whether you really need that old project wiki, with all the detail around the meeting notes, etc. Necessary? It might feel like it today. Review your old information regularly and get rid of what's lost its relevance.

Flexibility, and a willingness to let go. An example of this that I absolutely love is Marcy Phelps' Power Networking for Introverts blog. Marcy started this blog in 2007 - and then she ended it in April of this year. Here's an excerpt from her last entry:

I started blogging about networking because it interested me. I built my business by networking, and I learned a lot along the way. But it takes a lot of reading to keep up with a topic in order to write and speak about it - especially one that is not exactly your specialty.

I love this. To me, this exemplifies information creation and sharing at its best. Marcy started because she had a passion around the topic. She stopped because, well, in my view, her passion and life priorities shifted. She left behind a great source of information - but she doesn't feel compelled to keep it going if she can't dedicate the time to it. So she let it go.

Dedication, responsibility, lifecycle management, and letting go - to me, all encapsulated in this blog and in this information practitioner.

Management of information - knowledge management, information management, content management, search,
discovery, social media, metadata - is only going to become more critical moving forward. We'll continue to explore how information management is changing and evolving, and how we can change and evolve along with it. 

Tuesday May 27, 2008

Knowledge and authority

Earlier this year I attended an event sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SLA. The speaker was Karl Fisch, who created the "Did You Know?" video, something you've probably seen, at least in part. Karl used the video and the statistics contained within it to help his faculty understand what students are going to need to be successful in the 21st century.

In any case, at the presentation, Karl mentioned that he was floored when he recently saw a newspaper piece that cited Wikipedia as a source.

For anyone familiar with Wikipedia, this should floor you, too, since you know that anyone can potentially add anything - anonymously - to Wikipedia.

This is an issue of basic information literacy, something most librarians are quite familiar with. (Thomson Reuters has a good page on the basics of determining web site authority.) Social networking adds a new spin on it. So, for this example, how do you determine authority in Wikipedia - where there is no identified author or authority?

Well, essentially, you don't. Wikipedia can be a great starting point for getting oriented quickly to a topic. Would I ever quote it directly? Probably not. When we're doing training in this area, we point people to the links off of the Wikipedia entry - that's where you're going to find the sites where you can dig into authority.

Let's take, for example, Digital Divide. Wikipedia is actually quite good on this; the page has sections on origins of the term, digital divide and education, global digital divide and overcoming the digital divide. Now, a couple of things. Take the statement, "European Union study from 2005 conduc(t)ed in 14 European countries and focused on the issue of digital divide found that within the EU, the digital divide is primarily a matter of age and education."

Digital divide wikipedia

Would you take that as a quote and put it in a presentation? Well, you could, but probably best to try to chase this back to the source. This piece of the Wikipedia entry is good, because it footnotes the EU study and provides a link to the source study.

EU example
Note, though, when I viewed this entry, that link to the EU study is broken. To do my due diligence, I should do a Google (or Eurostat) search, and then I'll find the newsletter source. Now, is this a reliable and credible source? You bet.

The other great thing about a good Wikipedia entry that helps you with finding authoritative information is an "External links" section. Here's where you can really start to pursue your information search. Again, be sure to use caution - just because a link is included here doesn't mean it's necessarily credible. And, there may be additional authoritative resources not included that you should seek out. Use these external links and citations to continue your search.


So what does this little tangent have to do with KM, IM and CM? We hope to illustrate simply that the issues and challenges around KM, IM and CM become more complicated with social networking tools, primarily because they blur the boundaries around knowledge and information. Is a Wikipedia entry a "valid" piece of information? What if you have a wiki page behind your firewall, that has only been created by your organization - is that  a more "valid" piece of knowledge? Does the value and validity of the content of a wiki change depending upon its context?

How do social networking tools, and the information contained therein, affect your view of your corporate knowledge?

How will we ever deal with all of this?

Before we plunge into despair, let's look at some other challenges posed by social networking tools...

Monday May 12, 2008

Re-examining knowledge management

Knowledge management - KM - is experiencing a resurgence of interest here at Sun, at least a resurgence of buzz. We had this interest and buzz back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but most of that buzz died away over a few years.

But now, KM seems to be back! Why is that?

Much of KM the first time around was about capturing 'tacit' knowledge - the knowledge that essentially never gets published. The processes and information floating around in peoples' heads. In the enterprise, that meant capturing the company knowledge and making it available.

Part of what's driving the KM discussion this time is all the social networking tools available today. Blogs, wikis, networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook and more are now actually capturing that tacit knowledge. Today, people and groups have ways to easily record their output and to record all that stuff floating around in their heads. In many instances, it's easier to find people now more than ever, so you can quickly find and connect with experts. Communities and networks spring up around anything and everything. All this is exactly what KM was trying to accomplish the first time around - but it was usually too hard to participate back then. Social media tools have become an important part of KM and are driving interest in KM again.

But - social media tools both enhance and complicate the KM picture. Yes, they are capturing a lot of this knowledge. But at the same time, they're adding yet another layer of information to the already enormous information universe. True, the technology to find information is getting better, our ability to store information is getting greater, and the computing power to search larger and larger pools of information is continually growing. But as the universe of information grows larger, the opportunities and challenges of finding the information one is seeking grow larger as well.

Over the next few entries, I'll be exploring topics such as:

  • What is knowledge? What do we include as 'knowledge'?

  • What's the difference between knowledge management (KM), information management (IM), content management (CM) - especially when so many folks are using these (or at least thinking about these) interchangeably?

  • How does one determine authority in a social setting? What's right? What's accurate?

  • If everyone has just the information they want, how do you get important information to everyone? How do you get everyone on the same page?

  • What does one year, three years, five years from now look like for information, KM and IM?
We don't have any ready answers for these questions. But we'll be sharing with you a little about what we're thinking around these areas, and what some possible next steps might look like.

Scott Brown, Sr. Information Specialist

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 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

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 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 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


Sharing stories of information management, collaboration, integration, sharing, and social enterprise applications for corporate information services.


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