Archive for May, 2008

Libraries and Web 2.0

May 17, 2008

The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County started a learning program for its employees a few years ago called 23 Things. It was intended to help people learn about new Web technologies that have changed the way we interact with the Web. It was evidently successful, and other libraries followed suit, using the formula and exercises set out by the Charlotte and Mecklenburg County Library.

Their site says that (as of May, 2006) there are over 200 libraries who are using their Web 2.0 (23 things) learning tool. It’s a pretty neat set of exercises. But I have some suggestions for anyone in a library thinking of implementing this program.

  1. Don’t have all your employees sign up for Gmail to be able to use Blogger (which is now owned by Google). They can get a Blogger account with any active e-mail address. When Google sees 300+ or 100+ or even 50+ e-mail accounts being generated, and accessed, from the same IP address, and Blogger accounts instantly created with those accounts they’re going to think one thing: Spammers! Actually they aren’t doing the thinking, they set up bots to capture just those types of events, so they don’t have to think about it. Once you’re flagged as a spammer, forget trying to get the e-mail account unblocked.
  2. Unblock the content you want staff to be able to access. This would be a good time to take a closer look at just what your filter is blocking and whitelist those inocuous sites you want the staff to be able to play with.
  3. A lot has happened since 23 Things first appeared. If you are going to encourage learning technology, don’t limit the discussion and exercises to old technology. Do a little research, hang out at technology conferences, follow technology feeds, talk to a tech-savvy person, and find out what is current and what is coming down the pike. Then change or add to the discussion to make the exercise current and relevant.  Seriously.  Others have already made changes.  You can, too.
  4. If you haven’t already, read The Cluetrain Manifesto, available online or in print.  This really is an absolute must for administrators, whether you’re doing the 23 Things or not.

And, of course, you deserve great commendations for taking this step into Web 2.0.  Welcome!

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Too much marketing and not enough meat

May 8, 2008

A message to the SeniorServ list from Allan Kleiman alerted me to BigScreenLive. Since I’m always interested in what’s available for older adults, especially the ones with limited computer experience, I had to instantly check it out. Now, the upfront disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I do see a few problems right off the bat.

The first problem, which instantly affects their credibility with me, is when they state, right on the front page:

Our goal is to make computing effortless and enjoyable. While our software runs on any PC, we also recommend hardware to make it easier.

but on the Software and Hardware page, they state,

To get started, you will need:

  • Access to a computer with Microsoft Windows XP or Vista. [emphasis mine]
  • A monitor resolution of at least 1280 x 800. The experience is optimized for a resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is most 17 inch or larger monitors.
  • A high-speed internet connection.

People are aware today (yes, even the Seniors) that PC does not necessarily mean a Windows machine. Let’s have a little truth in advertising here, please.

But even larger problems loom. Who, exactly, is the site for? Children of older adults? Retirement communities? Older adults themselves? Older adults themselves range from very computer savvy to totally clueless (and generally content to stay that way). The computer savvy ones, of course, wouldn’t even look at the site; neither would the totally clueless. That still leaves a wide range of computer users, some who are already doing the things BigScreenLive wants to introduce them to, some that are struggling to learn even the basics just to be able to do the things on BigScreenLive, and some who are frustrated by the very things BigScreenLive offers to help with.

I suspect the target audience is children of older adults: the ones who call me about signing up their parent(s) for computer classes. For this group, the site looks the most inviting and promising, because this is a group that is already fairly comfortable on computers, and that wants their parents online also, but without the frustrating computer problems older novices face. The marketing makes it look like the perfect solution. Will its marketing be successful? Probably so, with enough money. I keep thinking of how many people continue to use AOL.

Whether it is a good product is another question, however. From looking through the site, and watching its tutorial, it is evident that older novices would need training just to use the program (for example, they have to know how to enlarge the text themselves). The e-mail program, while fairly basic, will definitely be confusing to novices. It boasts “Easily upload digital photos to the Family Album” (emphasis theirs). Easy, maybe, for the adult children, but not for the older novice, without some training (which is the whole problem to begin with). I think the product would be really useful for about 2% of Seniors wanting to use the computer. But I think far more will be “given” a subscription, with little hope of actually using it.