Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favourite Webslinger Posts of 2011

As the old year is almost over, I have a tradition of recalling my favourite blog posts from the preceding year.

Here are my favourite posts from the past year. The provide a snapshot of my evolving interests in online topics and my personal past-times.

Chicago Is My Kind of Town
To celebrate a milestone birthday of mine, my wife took me on a trip to Chicago. I was greatly impressed by the city's cool use of digital media.

Pondering Effects of Foursquare
After eagerly adopting (and blogging about) the geosocial location-based mobile service, Foursquare I cooled off to its use. I've resumed using it in late 2011 as it is has become the prime LBS and perhaps only one to hit critical mass. This post recounts how I uses it and my hopes for it to offer richer experiences.

IPTV - TV over the Internet with Bell Fibe
After years of using rabbit ears, I got my family cable TV for Christmas last year. I got Bell's new Fibe service, which is delivered over the Internet. The blog post details some of its pros and cons. But recently Bell Fibe launched some great new apps, including Facebook and Twitter - so I'm liking it even more now.

Types of Geotargetted Information
My doctoral research this year has been laying down ground work on on central concepts for location-based services. This posts looks into the nature of various forms of geotargetted information.

Elegy for Yahoo
When I first started using the Internet - first email, calendars and web searching, then photo sharing, blogging, and folksonomies it was all via Yahoo. But when Yahoo "updated" their services and didn't support syncing with my BlackBerry I sadly had to quit using them.  I believe my experience is indicative of Yahoo's overall fate.

TEDx LibrariansTO - An Idea Worth Spreading
I'm not a fan of the elitism of TED conferences, but I think their format for presentations is highly effective. This posts recaps what I found particularly effective about the TED format, as I experienced at a TEDx event.

A good month so I have two favourites:

McLuhan Centenary
2011 was the hundredth anniversary of Toronto's media visionary Marshall McLuhan. His program is now housed at the Faculty of Information (iSchool) at the University of Toronto (where I'm studying).  There were lots of events to mark his centennary and this posts highlights some of McLuhan's bon mots on media.

Good Things Grow in Ontario
Foodland Ontario ran one of the most fun and effective social media campaigns that I've heard of (and I don't just say that as my kid entered).

August and September
- No posts; on vacation to Alaska and Whistler and then back to iSchool.

Locative Media Innovation Day
Location based services and locative media are the subject of my doctoral research, so I was really excited to attend a local conference on the subject on Toronto's new premier conference venue, TIFF.

Blogging is History
iSchool often has great speakers. This blog post captured a public lecture on archiving considerations for bloggers. I was surprised by how many important considerations I - and I'm sure many other bloggers - was missing.

The Top 15 Canadians in Digital Media
I particularly like this post on an article I wrote for Backbone Magazine for a few reasons. For one, I I think it is important to honour Canadians making significant contributions to the digital media sphere, and I think this article highlights 15 incredible Canadians. But also, this article began as a blog post I wrote for Canada Day in 2008. It's great to see something that started here evolve into something more prominent.

2011 also saw the loss of my mentor and digital pioneer, Liz Metcalfe. Canada's online scene is not the same without her and we greatly miss her.

I blogged more in 2011 than I have in years. But I missed a post for September 29th of 2011 which was the five year anniversary of Webslinger. What began as an experiment in blogging - and despite occasional neglect and even considerations of abandonment - has become a vital part of my academic and personal life.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Top 15 Canadians in Digital Media

A blog post that I started a couple years ago in honour of Canada Day to track notable Canadians working in digital media has continued to grow over the years. Backbone Magazine asked me to write an article on this, so I selected 15 Canadians whose contributions to digital media was particularly outstanding.

The article, The Top 15 Canadians in digital media, is the November/December cover story for the print edition of Backbone Magazine. But the article is also available online on Backbone's website (along with other of my blog posts).

The editor of the magazine also started a discussion on LinkedIn to hear from other people on who else should be added to the list. I'd love to keep this list going - encompassing more people and a broader spectrum of industries and roles.

So please offer any suggestions you can think of either on the LinkedIn group or here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Practitioner barriers to diffusion and implementation of web accessibility

My research on the adoption challenges of web accessibility that I conducted during my master's research has been published this month in an academic journal.  The article Practitioner barriers to diffusion and implementation of web accessibility is published in the journal "Technology and Disability" (Volume 23, Number 4).

The paper looked at how as people are increasingly integrating online activities into their daily lives, disabled people are often impeded from accessing websites due to code and design barriers. Despite guidelines on how to improve web accessibility that have been around since the early days of the Web, accessibility adoption remains low. The responsibility to implement web accessibility tends to fall on web practitioners, yet prior scholarship has failed to adequately consult this group on their barriers to adoption.

I conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews with web practitioners from  various sectors, locations, and job duties. I found that current social and individual values, inadequate guidelines and support, and monetary demands are halting the diffusion of web accessibility. These factors perpetuate an artificial construct of online disability and impede developments towards an inclusive Web medium.

The paper offered a model and recommendations to remediate this environment and thus improve accessibility rates. I have previously posted my recommendations on this blog, but my model has been updated and I will include it here.

The various factors affecting web accessibility. Societal foundations include education and training, media and industry, law and policy, attitudes towards disability, market forces, and customer demand. Stakeholder 
Perceptions include those of the website owner and web practitioner. Issues arising during web development apply during the initial site design, maintenance and ongoing  enhancement, and during redesign. The tools and resources that are relevant include  guidelines, support material, authoring tools, testing support, and hired experts. End user factors include trans-coding abilities, user agents, and assistive

Thanks to everyone who helped out with this research either as participants or as reviewers!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Answer My Survey on Sense of Place & Location Based Services

Over the past few months, I’ve been exploring how location-based services and geotargetted information affect our relationship to the places we encounter. More people are using these mobile applications, including Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Places, SCVNGR, Layar, and a seeming endless array of apps to help us locate and learn more about everything from where we parked our car to the nearest restaurant.

Despite the growing popularity of location-based services, they still have not been well studied.  My PhD work is examining the interplay of people, mobile applications, and space. One of my first steps is to uncover how sense of place is formulated and how location-based surveys may affect this. 

As such, I’m conducting a survey on location-based services (LBS) and sense of place. I think it is important to hear from mobile device users to understand how their usage of LBS might influence sense of place. This research will be used for coursework for my PhD studies at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto.

I will be posting a summary of the findings here on the blog so that we can all better understand this growing technological trend.

Update December 20, 2011: The survey is now closed, but if you have thoughts on how location based services affect your sense of a place, please share them below.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Blogging is History

Earlier this week, I was at a public lecture given by Carolyn Hank, an information professor at McGill University, on archiving considerations for blogs. Archiving isn't a topic that stirs many people's interest (no offense to my archivist friends), let alone those in the notoriously now-oriented world of digital media.

But upon hearing Hank speak, I realized there are preservation and copyright issues that apply to all bloggers (not those, however, who blog about what they just ate or the club they're at).

Here are useful considerations for all bloggers:

1) Does your blog have historical value?
Probably. But many bloggers prune or delete without thinking that there could be historic value to their posts. I admit, I delete as I please without any thought to any greater implications. As blogs are one of the main discursive forms of our era, they are definitely worth preserving.

Also studies, and certainly my blog's stats, show that there is tremendous value in the long tail of blogs, so it is worthwhile to keep old posts around.

2) Who owns the copyright for your blog?
This may seem a rather basic issue. But there are factors that can make things more complicated. This can particularly become an issue if you decide to publish your blog in some other format (e.g. as a book) or port to another provider.

If you use a hosted solution, you probably won't own the technology of the blog. As for the content, it's not a bad idea to check the terms of use with your service provider or any blog network or syndicators you may belong to.

Comments are a thorny issue as it doesn't seem there are clear laws or norms on who owns them. I tend to see blog comments as similar to callers of a radio show, audience members on a tv talk show, or someone interviewed by the media.  Once you say it to them, you don't own it anymore.  So I am not clear why bloggers wouldn't own their audience's comments?

I believe that commenters do not have the right to edit or retract without the blogger's permission. Of course, this wouldn't apply to comments that are libellous, against a terms of use, or otherwise morally problematic. Either way (and I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this), a blog should have a policy on this and should be clearly articulate to users.

3) Do you clearly state your ownership of your blog and its components?
Hank found that many blogs don't have any statement as to copyright of the blog or the rights of commenters. Considering how easy and free Creative Commons makes it to declare copyright and usage permissions, I was surprised that some bloggers don't have any sort of statement about this. I recently updated my Creative Commons licence after Hank's presentation. Clearly, I also need to state something about my commenting policy.

4) Is your blog already archived?
Hank pointed out that there are organizations already archiving blogs such as Internet Archive and others. I never thought of this, but I assumed this blog would not be archived. I checked with Internet Archive and a portion of it is. I never directed it to crawl my site, so this was a surprise.

This is important for bloggers to think about. I have posted items that I later regretted and wanted to edit or delete (and I did).  But if your blog is archived without your awareness, one can loose control of what lingers around.  It is, however, great to have my blog preserved with no effort on my part, but as a result I have lost a bit of control.  Internet Archives does offer instructions on how to add or remove your blog.

5) How does one archive a blog?
It's not as easy it seems. It's not simply a case of just backing-up past posts. First, if one is using a hosted solution, there could be technical or commercial limits to what can be saved - so one may be able to archive the text of the blog posts but not the wrapper or other elements.

6) What are the elements of a blog that should be archived?
Considering the dyanmic, contextual, and hyperlinked nature of blogs, it's impossible to perserve all the dimensions of a blog. So what are the essential elements that should be archived?

Certainly the main post is essential, but what about comments (and back to the issue of who owns these), the profile links, embedded content, hyperlinked context, and sidebar elements? Once one has determined the essential elements the next issue is how to technically preserve all this.

7) Whose responsibility is it to archive blogs?
It seems rather safe to me to say that some blogs should definitely be archived. It also seems safe to say that most bloggers and blog owners operate in the moment and often haven't considered this issue.

Should blog archiving fall to individual bloggers or is this something that should be handled by a government,  academic, or non-profit organization?

Although the concerns addressed above are applicable to most bloggers, the latter issue concerns everyone.  Blogs are history.  And we should protect our history.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Locative Media Definition

I recently attended a conference on locative media and the definition of locative media offered, and one that is often assumed, is that locative media are mediums that address a physical space through digital technology.
It is safe to assume there is consensus that locative media, should be media that address the location issue. But I find the digital assumption to be problematic. It may be useful for writers and pundits to use the term to distinguish it as a trend or as emerging technology, as per the use of term social media.

I think digital is not a defining traits so much as the ability to (easily) access a medium's content while in the referenced space.

Films, for example, would not generally be locative if viewed on a screen or television. So Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams about the cave paintings in southern France are not locative. But it could be, if it was  viewed on a mobile device or laptop while at the cave (or the cave authorities have a screening room at their interpretation centre). It's more feasible to consider a scenario of watching a clip of Woody Allen's Manhattan on a tablet while sitting in Central Park.

Access to the medium is definitely a defining trait too. Books about a place are not often easily accessible while at a given location unless one has planned ahead and brought the book along (as happens with travel guides). But this access barrier is breaking down with the growing popularity of e-books (although the form of the medium, i.e. its length, makes it less suitable for place-based consumption).

So if many media have locative aspects, perhaps the term locative media is meant for media that are exclusively locative, that is primarily consumed while at a location? This would be the case for interactive kiosks that malls and museums often use for wayfinding and other place-related information. Digital media don't have a monopoly on locative however, as plaques and print guestbooks, for examples, are non-digital and exclusively locative. The idea of exclusivity is problematic as some media may be mostly used while at a location, for example travel guidebooks or geosocial networking apps, can be also used a lot while in various locations.

I'm thinking that a definition of locative media would then be media that address place and are used while in the place.

I think discussing what the term locative media means is important not just for researchers and scholars in the field, but for developers and content creators. Considering the prior media that have come before and offer their strengths and weaknesses can be invaluable for guiding design and technical decisions.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Locative Media Innovation Day

Bill Buxton opened a half-day conference on locative media this past Friday at Toronto International Film Festival's (TIFF) new building, by noting that it is not just realtors anymore asserting the importance of location, location, location.

Considering the importance of location and my propensity to begin conference recaps by discussing the event location, I would like to say that TIFF is the best conference venue in Toronto. It was my first time attending an event at TIFF's headquarters in downtown Toronto (although I did attend their Tim Burton exhibition and blogged about their use of QR codes). Their building, the Bell Lightbox, is located on the spot I used as a shortcut to my first ever Internet job. Formerly a lacklustre parking lot, it is now a centre of cinematic and new media culture.

Unlike other conference venues, TIFF's seats are comfortable and the leg room is fine. I find it hard (and boring) to sit still and silently for hours and listen to people talk at me, but it's even more difficult when the seats cause excruciating pain. The event was filled to capacity, which made it a bit stuffy and hot - but it was worth it to see so many people interested in locative media. 

The conference is a joint event between TIFF Nexus series on new media and Toronto's Digifest, a week long conference and celebration of digital innovation. Considering this broad mandate, there were a few speakers that strayed from the locative media focus, but the innovations presented were incredible so I didn't mind. Attendees represented a good mix of developers, artists, producers, educators, students, researchers, and vendors. This mix is so much more rewarding than most other conferences attempt to assemble.

Bill Buxton a principal researcher at Microsoft opened the event by noting that intelligence of technology lies not so much in the innovation itself but in its context. "I don't care about technology" he stated, "it a utilitarian thing that can be easily discarded". The important consideration is the fundamental human behaviour or need that technology enables. He cited an automatic door opener as being a prime example of intelligent technology - not because it is technically sophisticated (it isn't) but because of its "embedded intelligence". Its intelligence comes from where it is and how well it fits into the ecology of the physical system. As such, locative media creators should not get wrapped up on new abilities of a technology, but rather consider the different dimensions of human behaviour. For one, closeless is not necessarily physical proximity, Buxton noted. There are different types of closelessness such as proximity but also emotional, cultural, and relational bonds, as well as intermediaries or physical impediments that all affects closeness. So assuming that physical proximity is the lead or only factor for locative media may lead to technology that doesn't serve the needs of users.

The next speaker, Richard Lachman of Ryerson University, offerred some foundational concepts of locative media. As the term locative media is used rather nebulously, Lachman offers a definition that locative media is "annotating physical space with digital content". To Lachman, technology such as augmented reality, location based services, and QR codes are examples of locative media. I can see the importance of having consistency in terminology, but I wonder if the content being digital is a fundamental criteria. As I have blogged about before, there are many types of technology or media that annotate physical space, from plaques and posters to graffiti and flags. There are commonalities between these older media and digital media. I don't like to extend a term to the point of meaningless and Lachman's digital focus is consistent with contemporary usage, but I think this exclusive digital focus makes it easy for creators to forget the lessons learned from earlier efforts and to not adequately consider how a new technology is offering something new or improved.

Lachman continued to explain other fundamental qualities of locative media by offering examples of current innovations. Proximity can be personally useful in some imaginative ways, he demonstrated by showcasing iNap, an application to wake up sleepy commuters when they pass a predesignated zone so they won't miss their stop. Discovery Channel's SharkRunner is particularly interesting in how it combines game play with the real-world by having users interact with real GPS-tagged sharks. Citing the case of Nicaragua invading Costa Rica based on faulty Google Maps data, Lachman also cautioned about the need for applications to preserve our trust. Accuracy is not the only element of trust that is essential, as privacy concerns of locative media can also be disconcerting as the new technology is in wide use "before we had time to adapt our social practices or norms". Lachman described how locative media can not only offer push content (content that pops out at you based on your location) or pull content (geolocated data that one selects to receive) but can be an interface to our world. To do this we need to consider awareness, expectations, user experience, values, and design.

The creator of murmur, one of the world's first digital locative media projects, Shawn Micallef spoke next about why he feels locative media has something special to offer.  Upon moving to a new city (in his case Toronto), he realized that  his "mental map of the city had a lot of dark spots". He wanted to uncover these "mental hinterlands" and found that exploring the city as earlier psychogeographers had done enabled him to form relations to his new spaces. He also began tweeting while he explored the city and received tweets back within moments that offered personal experiences or histories of his location that enriched Micallef's understanding of the place. His project murmur is now in 25-30 cities and will be soon relaunching with GPS ability. Micallef cautions that current locative media applications such as Foursquare really need to examine the value of place. To Micallef, Foursquare is mostly spam as he doesn't care where someone is but it is people's more thoughtful and unique relations to place that are interesting.

After speaking, Micallef introduced a series of locative media creators describing their projects. Incredible projects were presented such as Ghostbusters, a location-based game; Sauga 2030, a futuristic tour of Mississauga, Ontario; Sousveiller, participatory surveillance identification; This Dark Encounter, a marketing effort using real world, bookstore interaction to promote a new book; and Rocket Radar, proximal public transit schedule updates.

Adam Schwabe of Rocket Radar effectively summed up the role locative media projects must play to offer the "right information, at the right time, in the right way". Schwabe, however, doesn't believe in users setting up preferences or customization, he believes that is a lazy solution for developers. Instead, he believe it is paramount to build a system that should know about the user and get it right the first time.

I mentioned earlier that I loved the location of this conference, the other great thing about TIFF is they computer labs on site so they were able to offer a round of hands-on workshops. I also mentioned that I find it boring to sit and be spoken to for hours on end, so these workshops were a welcome technique.

I attended a session allowing me to create my own augmented reality work through SnapDragonAR. The software was created by York University's Future Cinema Labs and now spun off as a private company, Future Stories. I was blown away with the software as within moments I was able to make a really cool augmented reality application that responded both visually and aurally to a user's location in space. Fisher describes her reasoning behind developing the software as she's not concerned with "what technology makes possible, but what it makes easy". The software is a great tool for prototyping and experimenting with augmented reality. But Fisher envisions it being extended to further facilitate it integrating with location-aware technologies to offer geotargetted augmented reality. She did caution that this technology needs to improve as users are not necessarily interested in holding a device up to a precise spot or going out into traffic to get content. Fisher encourages people to focus on "spatial storytelling" and to do this effectively she suggests creator think about: structure, grammar, poetics, interactivity, interface, narrative, immersion, presence, and proprioception.

The following sessions of the conference introduced developers in TIFF Nexus Peripherals Initiative creative jam project that provided funding for game developers to experiment with game play and the physical world. Although all the presented games were amazing, they mostly focused on new types of physical controls and as such weren't up my alley.

As one who studies locative media, I was excited to see my hometown clueing in to this growing area and displaying some impressive local thought and innovation. Shawn Micallef, the grandparent of locative media via his murmur project, summed up this remarkable change with his conference tweet: "When we started [murmur] in 2003, I don't believe the word 'Locative Media' existed -- now there are #TIFFNexus conferences on it. Fun."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

McLuhan Centenary

Due to the centenary of media theorist Marshal McLuhan, there has been a flurry of recent coverage and events on his work and life.

As a fellow Torontonian, media junkie, and as a student at the faculty now housing his program (University of Toronto's Faculty of Information) I feel connected to his work. I therefore attended three events this week hosted by the McLuhan Legacy Network and the McLuhan 100 that helped me decipher McLuhan and consider his ongoing relevance to understanding media and to my studies in particular. 

I thought of writing a long post to summarize my take-aways from these events and how McLuhan work sheds lights on current digital tech and trends. But other sources (including my post excepting Bob Logan's insightful article on McLuhan) have already done this effectively.

In the spirit of Marshall McLuhan, I'll share one-liners or aphorisms from these events. McLuhan was famous for these, such as "the medium is the message" and "if it works, it's obsolete".  As the sessions were panel discussions and invited audience participation capturing the speaker's name proved difficult - so my apologies for not attributing sources. All were quotations or rephrasings of McLuhan or commentary inspired by McLuhan.
  • Art is an early warning system. Artists are antennae of a race and prepare us for the coming onslaught.
  • With pervasive media are we amoebas pulled and stimulated by environment but ultimately torn asunder by it?
  • McLuhan is the patron saint of art schools for championing lateral thinking. 
  • If it ain't broke; break it!
  • Northrop Frye on said he avoided McLuhan as 90% of what McLuhan says is original and I'm not used to it!
  • An obsolete medium becomes art.
  • Media provides both a service and disservice. (So mobiles can help us stay in touch with elderly relatives but can be used as reason to avoid meeting them in person.)
  • McLuhan liked to use paradoxes to provoke discussion, but these vex and confuse people.
  • The next killer app is user experience.
  • Is the iPad a medium? It's amorphous. At one moment it can be an reader like a book or a keyboard like a piano. Is it a medium of its own or a mimic?
  • I don't do theories, but rather break molds.
  • Page turning on tablets is bad user experience. It's a transitory technique from an old medium that limits the new medium.
  • I don't necessarily agree with everything I say.
  • We now have a distributed medium with the Internet now we need distributed participation.
  • McLuhan conspired for his centenary be hottest day in Canada's history! Is this a sign of new hot medium coming?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Marshall McLuhan - Digital Visionary

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan's birthday. To commemorate this milestone and recognize McLuhan's ongoing relevance to communication and media theory, various organizations and people have been holding events or writing about McLuhan. Although McLuhan is generally regarded as Canada's preeminent communication scholar and is still well known for his theories and concepts such "The medium is the message" and the "global village", his role as predictor and shaper of digital technology is less well known.

At a McLuhan event last evening a colleague and friend of McLuhan's, Prof. Bob Logan, related McLuhan's visions of future technology that has been realized. Logan's paper, McLuhan Misunderstood: Setting the Record Straight, addresses this topic and clarifyies other issues about McLuhan. The work is publised in full on the website McLuhan Galaxy, but Prof. Logan has allowed me to excerpt the passages regarding McLuhan's contributions and predictions to our digital culture.


So many of McLuhan’s pronouncements about the effects of electric media are prophetic because it seems as though he was aware of the coming of the Net, the Web and other digital media. A simple example of his prescience is that he, in fact, through his writing foreshadowed the Internet. William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, certainly deserves credit for coining the term cyberspace but long before Neuromancer was written or even conceived of, McLuhan (1967, p. 67) described the Internet in the following passage in response to being asked "How is the computer affecting education" McLuhan’s response was an almost exact description of the Internet:

The computer in education is in a very tentative state but it does represent basically speeded up access to information and when it is applied to the telephone and to Xerox it permits access to the libraries of the world, almost immediately, without delay. And so the immediate effect of the computer is to pull up the walls of the subjects and divisions of knowledge in favor of over-all field, total awareness – Gestalt.
McLuhan description of the Internet was complete with the exception of packet switching if you allow Xeroxing to represent the reproduction of a hard copy by a printer. And he opined this description two full years before the development of ARPANET in 1969, the forerunner of the Internet.

An even earlier remark by McLuhan (1962) in the Gutenberg Galaxy also foreshadows the Internet:

A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve individual encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.
One can also interpret without too much of a stretch the retrieval of "individual encyclopedic function" in the above quote as a foreshadowing of Wikipedia as Derrick de Kerckhove once did (

McLuhan not only foreshadowed the Internet and Wikipedia, but he also foreshadowed, a Web site that connects companies that have a problem to solve with experts that Innocentive has aggregated. They call the process "Open Innovation," which they describe as follows:

Open Innovation allows many people from different disciplines to tackle the same problem simultaneously and not sequentially. Anyone can participate with collaborative technology and Open Innovation training. When many minds are working on the same problem, it will take less time to solve it.
McLuhan (1971 – with my emphasis) in a convocation address at the University of Alberta said:
The university and school of the future must be a means of total community participation, not in the consumption of available knowledge, but in the creation of completely unavailable insights. The overwhelming obstacle to such community participation in problem solving and research at the top levels, is the reluctance to admit, and to describe, in detail their difficulties and their ignorance. There is no kind of problem that baffles one or a dozen experts that cannot be solved at once by a million minds that are given a chance simultaneously to tackle a problem. The satisfaction of individual prestige, which we formerly derived from the possession of expertise, must now yield to the much greater satisfactions of dialogue and group discovery. The task yields to the task force.
McLuhan not only foreshadowed the development of the Internet and crowd sourcing he with his co-author George B. Leonard in an article in the popular magazine Look also explained why the digital media would be so compelling to young people and to a certain degree their elders. They suggested that the age of print and the fragmentation that it encouraged was over (McLuhan and Leonard, 1967).

More swiftly than we can realize, we are moving into an era dazzlingly different. Fragmentation, specialization and sameness will be replaced by wholeness, diversity and, above all, a deep involvement... To be involved means to be drawn in, to interact. To go on interacting, the student must get some-where. In other words, the student and the learning environment (a person, a group of people, a book, a programmed course, an electronic learning console or whatever) must respond to each other in a pleasing and purposeful interplay. When a situation of involvement is set up, the student finds it hard to drag himself away.
He and Leonard (ibid.) also predicted that the relationship to humankind’s knowledge would change with electrically configured information as we are beginning to see in this the Internet Age.

When computers are properly used, in fact, they are almost certain to increase individual diversity. A worldwide network of computers will make all of mankind’s factual knowledge available to students everywhere in a matter of minutes or seconds. Then, the human brain will not have to serve as a repository of specific facts, and the uses of memory will shift in the new education, breaking the timeworn, rigid chains of memory may have greater priority than forging new links. New materials may be learned just as were the great myths of [p. 25] past cultures-as fully integrated systems that resonate on several levels and share the qualities of poetry and song.
Still another foreshadowing of McLuhan was that of the smart phone as described by his biographer Phillip Marchand (1989, p. 170).

He told an audience in New York City shortly after the publication of Understanding Media that there might come a day when we would all have portable computers, about the size of a hearing aid, to help mesh our personal experiences with the experience of the great wired brain of the outer world.

What makes this prediction even more amazing is that there were no personal computers at the time, no cell phones and no Internet (i.e. "the great wired brain of the outer world").
The notion of the need for keeping messages short and hence the power of the one-liner foreshadows in our digital era texting, instant messaging and Twitter.


I believe that I have only scratched the surface in explaining the ideas of this great thinker. No article can do justice to the ideas that Marshall McLuhan engendered. I hope that my essay helps the reader in their approach to McLuhan. However, the only way to understand McLuhan is to read him directly and figure out what he means for you for as he said “the user is the content.”


Marchand, Philip. 1989. Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger. Toronto: Random House.

McLuhan, Marshall. 1967. “The New Education.” The Basilian Teacher, Vol. 11 (2), pp. 66-73.


Thanks to Bob Logan for permission to use this.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cool Off at Toronto's Harbourfront

It's too hot here in Toronto (41 degrees Celsius factoring in the humidity) to spend much time in front of a heat-producing computer, so I'm recycling an article I wrote awhile ago on a walking tour of Toronto's harbourfront that promises to offer scenic and historic sites by the cooling Lake Ontario...

To leash the dog days of summer, take a walk along Toronto’s waterfront.  It was Toronto’s harbour that convinced John Graves Simcoe to choose this location as the provincial capital in 1793, because the natural cove was ideal to defend the city from quarrelsome Americans. The lake has been integral to the development of Toronto.  It’s also where Toronto gets its drinking water.  Lake water is also used to provide environmentally-friendly cooling for Financial District offices

Toronto’s shoreline has changed dramatically over the years.  After the last ice age, everything south of Davenport Road was under the waters of giant Lake Iroquois. The waters gradually receded and the shore in Simcoe’s day was at Front Street. A storm in 1858 washed out the eastern edge of the harbour helping sever Toronto Island from the mainland. More recent landfill projects have extended the shoreline to its present location.

The waterfront was always a transportation hub - first ships, then trains, and then automotives with the 1966 opening of the Gardiner. (Toronto’s port, despite years of decline, is apparently increasing in use, due in part to high gasoline costs.)  Industry located in proximity to transportation, and as a result of both, the Lake was cut off from Torontonians first by peers then by railway tracks – more recently its highway and now walls of condominiums blocking the waterfront from most Torontonians.

Nonetheless, it is possible to walk along much of Toronto’s lakeshore to enjoy views of the lake and key historic sites.

Start your stroll at the foot of Yonge Street with the Redpath Sugar Refinery, still an operating factory and the biggest user of the port. Their sugar shed has a huge whale mural by artist Wyland and is one of his 100 “Whaling Walls.”  Redpath has a free, semi-sweet sugar museum.

Walking west you’ll pass the former Caption John’s seafood restaurant ship, docked there since 1975 (previously it was a Croatian ferry).

Further west there’s the ferry docks. Ferries have been running to the islands and other locales for decades. This is where to catch the ferry to Toronto Island. The trip affords great views of the city. Toronto Island (or more correctly islands) is probably Toronto’s best park - complete with gardens, beaches (including one for nudists), amusement park, farm, Toronto’s oldest structure the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse (reputed to be haunted by a former murdered keeper), restaurants, and it is the location of Babe Ruth’s first professional home run). The failed Toronto to Rochester, New York catamaran ferry also left near here but only lasted only a few months. Turns out Torontonians weren’t lining up to go to Rochester after all.

Continuing on, you’ll pass the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel. It is located on the site of Toronto’s worst disaster, the fire of the S.S. Noronic.  In the middle of the night on September 17, 1949, the cruise ship, docked overnight, burned before many passengers were even awakened.  Of the 695 on board approximately 118 died – all passengers. The cause was unknown, but a cowardly crew and inadequate safety measures were blamed.

Next, stop and grab an ice cap at Second Cup, housed in the original ferry terminal, Pier 6. Built in 1907, it is the oldest remaining waterfront building.

Next door is the Queen’s Quay Terminal, built in 1927, it was Canada’s first poured concrete building. Once one of the largest shipping warehouses, it was remodeled to house overpriced shops, restaurants and offices. The Terminal is part of Harbourfront Centre, Toronto’s preeminent cultural centre with (mostly free) festivals, concerts, art studios, galleries, and theatres. Harbourfront Centre was built largely by retrofitting heritage buildings including a power plant.

Conclude your walk with a rest on the beach of Toronto’s waterfront new park, “HTO,” complete with sand and sun umbrellas.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Good Things Grow in Ontario

In a act of self-promotion (or rather, for my daughter) I'm going to blog about a social media campaign and urge you to vote for my daughter. But it is a great campaign and rather novel for Ontario.

Recently at the Canada Day celebrations at Queen's Park, Toronto the Ontario government agency, Foodland Ontario, had a booth set up. We were drawn to them as they were offering free samples. It is a truism that free food will always draw a crowd. I'd previously encountered Foodland Ontario for their TV commercials and there useful awhile Twitter account (great recipes using local produce).

So once we had our cucumbers and dip, we noticed they had a video setup for a song contest. The contest is "Sing and Win". Contestants sing the Foodland jingle and compete in an online voting contest for the chance to win free groceries. They had a mini-studio set up with a video camera, lights, and audio mixer. Videos are them uploaded to Facebook (via YouTube) where people can vote daily for their favourite. As the recordings were done so professionally, the final videos are refreshingly good technical quality.

Considering my tone deafness, I didn't feel anyone deserved having to hear me caterwaul. But my young daughter jumped at the chance to perform (I think she's the reincarnation of Ethel Merman).  Participating in the contest was a lot of fun, as was watching other people sing. But any campaign that builds upon people's narcisstic joy at seeing and sharing stuff about themselves or their kids is guaranteed to succeed.
So within a couple days of the event the video was uploaded, we eagerly watched it and voted. This campaign has such incredible viral potential - of course, everyone would want to share their videos and get their friends to vote for them. But here's the problem - it is way too difficult to direct friends to a specific video for them to vote.

The process is cumbersome and vague. I think using Facebook is great as really almost everyone who is online on Canada is on it. But to participate in this campaign one has to friend the Foodland Ontario Facebook page, then one has to select the venue (Queen's Park) then scroll through pages of videos to find the specific one. I would have liked to be able to send friends directly to the video to watch and vote.

One shouldn't have to friend a company to participate. I think if this restriction was gone it might be possible to pass on a link directly to the video and the participation levels would be much higher.  This is essential both from a contestant and company perspective. As a contestant, I want as many of my friends to vote as possible. From a marketing perspective, the more people that are aware of Foodland Ontario and engage with their brand the greater the campaign success.

To be fair, it seems like this problem is on Facebook's end, as I'm not sure one can interact with a company on Facebook unless one friends them. People may be reluctant to do this as not only is it another step (each obstacle thrown at people will entail a certain level of drop-out) but also people might be concerned that friending a company entails being spammed with their messages (as has happened to me).

Even if this barrier was removed, it would still not be possible to link directly to the video.  I'm not sure why this is the case as YouTube assigns each video a unique identifier. 

In the end though, Foodland Ontario's "Sing and Win" campaign makes excellent use of social media - but some technical obstacles really prevented it from being much more viral and effective than it could be.

Now here's my plug to vote for my daughter:

  1. Visit Foodland Ontario on Facebook and "Like" them
  2. Go to the "Sing and Win" contest page via the icon on the right
  3. Select the venue "Queen's Park Canada" on the right
  4. Go to page 6 of the videos (via the arrow on the right)
  5. Watch the "Nora F" video and click the vote button
  6. Visit every day to vote again
See what I mean?  Anyway, thanks for any votes!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Job Posting Sites for Canadian Internet Professionals

I looked at this blog's stats recently and noticed my post on Canadian Job Posting Sites for Internet Professionals from 2008 is not only my top blog post of all time but continues to be popular every month.

I haven't been on the look-out for a job in ages, but I know some of the sources I previously listed are no longer relevant. So I have updated my list and included it below.

All sites all appear to free for job-seekers. Rates for employers to post jobs vary greatly, from free (Craigslist) to expensive (Workopolis, Monster).

The Big Ones
These sites have a large number of Canadian jobs overall, and Internet jobs in particular. One can post one's resume here and create alerts to have postings emailed to you regularly.
  1. Craigslist
  2. Job Bank - job listings by Service Canada
  3. JobShark
  4. Kijiji
  5. LinkedIn
  7. Workopolis
Internet and IT specific
  1. Sitepoint
  2. Backbone
  3. ProBlogger - jobs for bloggers
  4. Dice
Communications & Digital Media
  1. International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
  2. - has Canadian and international listings
  3. JeffGaulin - journalism jobs
  4. Applied Arts design-oriented jobs
  1. Charity Village - usually has Internet and IT jobs posted
  2. Ontario Public Sector Careers
  3. Public Service Commission of Canada - jobs with the federal government
  1. - academic jobs
  2. Guru - for freelancers of various professions, including Internet)

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Who's Who in Canadian Digital Media & Technology

In honour of Canada's birthday, I'm updating my list of Canadian individuals and companies who contributed to digital culture or technology.

My goal is to document an aspect of Canadian history and culture that is overlooked. I'm fairly loose in my definition of Canadian. Some people or companies got their start in Canada, but were acquired or lured to the United States. Some innovations were done by Canadians while abroad. The point is not to debate citizenship, but rather to document innovations and their Canadian connections to demonstrate that Canada has made and continues to make a significant contribution to digital media and technology.

Update September 2011 - since writing this I've added over 30 more entries (and could add even more).


Companies or Projects

This list is not exhaustive - but it was exhausting to put together.

I know I missed entries. My inclusion criteria is completely subjective and I have an Internet bias, but every year this list grows so hopefully it'll become increasingly definitive and encompass more elements of the digital sphere.

I'm particularly keen on capturing individuals and companies with a historic or international influence. Please help me out by letting me know of any additions.

July 14, 2011 Update:  Thanks to the expertise of Sara Grimes, I was able to add a bunch of entries on Canadian gaming luminaries that was previously lacking.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

TEDx LibrariansTO - An Idea Worth Spreading

I've enjoyed watching TED talks online for years but I've never been among the elite who can attend the conference in person. TED talks are on a diverse range of topics but all are brief (18 minutes or less) and highly engaging. Between TED's effective format and history of impressive speakers, TED talks are a popular and powerful source of ideas and inspiration (and confrontation).

TED talks are available free to view on their website, but watching a video online isn't the same as attending in person. As the events are very costly to attend, far away (in California & the UK), and are only open to those approved of, attending in person is not an option for most of the planet. However, TED has opened up by allowing independent events to model themselves on TED, hence the TEDx movement. I think this is a great idea and have been eagerly awaiting a local TEDx event.

So I was excited to attend a TEDx event today in Toronto - TEDx LibrariansTO. Although, I am not a librarian (despite pulls to the contrary), I was interested in the conference theme as librarians inspiring society on new (hopefully better) ways to share and use information.

Speakers identified the importance of adding and valuing games to collections, on encouraging "slow reading" of print books, adding hackspace or playspace, organizing more community events and unconferences, or ditching the idea of libraries altogether. The goal was to reconceive of libraries beyond book storage and the librarian profession beyond the "bunhead" stereotype (although there was a heated discussion on working with the old stereotype). I would have liked more discussion on the role digital libraries and m-libraries can play, but overall the speakers all presented interesting and provocative ideas also pertinent to the information field in general.

Being new to a TED event and having heard that presenters receive instructions on the TED format, I was excited to experience something new and ideally more effective. I find academic conferences are often tedious and self-serving, industry conferences are often too vague and corporate self-serving, and unconferences are often lacking in focus.

Overall, I found the TED format was extremely effective. I read over the TEDx details they give to would-be organizers and they certainly have a lot of rules and guidelines - which they assert is based on their 25 years of experience. And it definitely works!

The TEDxLibrariansTO event organizers did a great job in finding interesting and effective speakers and ensuring that the event ran smoothly - managing logistics and overcoming technical hurdles is no small accomplishment. The caterer (Mystic Muffin) was awesome, which always keeps attendees happy.

Here's what I find worked well:
  • visionary, call to arms messages 
  • no jargon, esoterica, or self-promotion
  • spartan, highly-visual slides
  • rigidly enforced time limits
  • smaller number of attendees

One of the problems with conference speakers is they get too much into the details of their subject. I'm Sesame Street generation so sell me on your vision. If people are interested in what you're saying they can look up the details. TED actually recommends people read their speech if they are not comfortable speaking without notes. But I'm not sure that reading a presentation is any better than rambling.

TED has lots of guidelines about the structure of the event too and advises against having any panels or keynotes (to promote equality) and they insist that some of their videos be shown (no hardship as there are so many amazing ones to choose from).

TED also recommends that there be long breaks (45 minutes) between sessions and that speakers stay for all or most of the day. This is so attendees can discuss amongst themselves or with speakers the points raised. The event organizers followed this and as the crowd was particularly friendly, so I found this format worked really well. But, I do not think it would work with other groups or with a large number of attendees.

TEDx LibrariansTO was an excellent showcase for the format. The event today raised a lot of fascinating points and sparked discussion all within a short period of time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Location-Based Services - A Unique Experience?

For the past year, I've been looking into location-based services (i.e. an application running on a mobile device that offers information or entertainment based on the device/user's location). Although, I do not think that functionality of information to be situated and pertain to a given location is unique to mobile devices (see my prior post on Types of Geotargetted Information), I do think that location-based services (LBS) are a unique experience. 

The individual features of a given LBS may not in itself be unique. But when the various facets are added together I believe it is a new experience. 

Characteristics of location-based services:

  1. Location aware (i.e. can automatically detect location & deliver applicable content)
  2. Context sensitive (e.g. light levels, accelerometer, time of day, etc.)
  3. User customizable
  4. Ubiquitous access
    AND the potential for
  5. Diverse sources of information
  6. User-generated content (both to read and to create)
  7. Social networking
  8. Gaming
Having studied media for a long time now (too long, I suppose) I'm hesitant to declare anything a new phenomenon. However, other than talking to a particularly knowledge person who follows one around, I'm unaware of any other experience that offers at least the first four characteristics, let alone all of them.  Please feel free to contradict me or add additional facets of LBS.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What Happened in Vancouver?

Like many Canadians, I watched the riots in Vancouver live on television. And like all Canadians (except a few contemptible rioters) I'm greatly ashamed that this happened here. By now, we've heard theories on what prompted the riots - the current pet theory being that it was the acts of a few determined, premeditated vandals (or "anarchists") with drunken masses spurring them on.  I think these things are more complicated and multifaceted than most discussions of the issue are acknowledging, so I won't attempt to offer a definitive take on the events. 

Riots aren't a new phenomenon. But what did struck me most while watching the live footage was the great many people taking pictures on their mobile devices of the riot. At times, it seemed like a few number of vandals were surrounded by a wall of mobile-wielding people.

There were two types of these people - those who posed inanely for photos in front of the violence and those who were photodocumenting the experience. The latter group did not have the gleeful facial expressions proudly displayed by the former. The main difference between the two were that the first group were clearly enjoying the riot and possibly encouraging it, while the other group appeared to be shocked or enthralled by the events.

I can understand the allure of a riot. They are a rare and powerful spectacle. And if such an event happens in one's city there would be a certain amazement that would incline people to stop in their tracks and watch the unbelievable and dramatic events unfold.

This is what happened to me when I witnessed my first (and only) riot. I was a teenager backpacking through Europe when a riot broke out in downtown Athens. There were emotional crowds, yelling, fights, and fires. It was classic Greek drama staged in the streets. As a kid from the 'burbs, this experience was like nothing I had ever encountered, so I, like many others in the vicinity, stopped and stared at the events. It seems human nature to be inclined to document and communicate such remarkable events. As I did in Athens. If I'd had a mobile back then I would have been uploading pix and status updates online. Instead, I took pictures on the device of the era - film camera. And later I shared what I observed to friends via the appropriate medium of the time: postcards. So I understand to some degree the behaviour of these riot paparazzi.

But when the Athenian police arrived to break up the riot, I knew it was time to leave - as should have all  Vancouverites once things clearly were out of hand. Some Vancoverites no doubt did leave the riot area early and others intervened to try to stop the rioters -  but, as I noticed with the live footage, many stood by continuing to take pictures. The gawkers who remained on the scene prevented the police from stopping those causing the riot. Thus, these seeming passive witnesses also bare responsibility - and shame - for their role in the riot.

I've been trying to understand the behaviour of these people. Certainly, the spectacle of the event captivated some people past the point of feeling any civic responsibility. Copious liquor no doubt did so too. Perhaps there is also a degree of bravado in displaying evidence of one's eyewitness position to extraordinary events - history in the making.  Also, as we have seen with other riots, people are also motivated to produce catch  criminals in the act to provide evidence to the police. But I think there is more to than just these factors.

My research lately has examined how fundamental one's relationship is to place. Having a sense of place is central for humans as it is a leading way for us to know and remember our world. Such a violent upheaval of one's place - whether a neighbourhood, city, or country, would produce incredulity. As in 'I can't believe this is happening - here!!'

I think that taking pictures and videos of such shocking events is a way for people to comprehend the events and to make them real, whether or not they want the events to be real. The more attachment one feels to a place, the greater the reaction such an event would provoke. And hence I believe this leads to a compulsion to remain, to continue photo documenting the personal attack on one's place - and to stay until a degree of equilibrium is restored (or the degree of violence is untenable).

Doubtless not everyone's motivations were so benign, but I do think this helps to partially explain the recent events in Vancouver.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In Memoriam: Liz Metcalfe, Digital Pioneer

Canadians often don't recount or adequately value their history, let alone their online history. It was through the efforts of people like Liz Metcalfe that Canadians have an online voice. Liz Metcalfe was involved in a variety of early Canadian projects that launched national online properties.

Liz was a digital pioneer for Canada. Last night, I found out that she was killed in a horrible traffic accident.

Liz began her Internet career in 1989 - long before the Netscape IPO and the meteoric days. She worked for such Internet collossi as, Yahoo, Rogers, and AOL. She help these companies establish their initial presence in Canada. One of the first online portals in Canada's was launched under Liz's direction, Southam's Montreal Gazette portal.

With Rogers she helped launch, one of Canada's first and largest financial websites (subsequently merged with Canadian Business). Her collaborative reports on Canadian online banking and brokerage offerings were significant in assisting Canadians to move their financial affairs online and spurring the companies to improve their online services. She also provided a stream of regular content for the website and helped develop phenomenally popular RRSP tools. With a background education in film and journalism and a love of technology, Liz was one of the first people to understand the unique nature of the Web medium - helping develop interactive features when most other companies were still offering brochureware.

At an individual level, Liz authored email newsletters and blogs long before they were a mainstay here. Under the various forms of her Media Gleaner she covered domestic and international and tech issues. She was a locus of information and her Facebook postings became topics for diverse, occasionally heated, discussion. An example of this was the purchase of Huffington Post by AOL that she reworked into a blog post

In addition to being one of Canada's leading digital pioneers, Liz was an incredible woman with an unbridled and diverse range of interests and passions. She was a science fiction aficionado - introducing me to such treasures as Ender's Game, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and filk music. She wrote scifi and poetry. Her love of motorcycling was chronicled in her blog, Moto-Mojo. Her solo road-trip through Belgium and France and resulting escapades were a riveting travelogue and vicarious delight.

Liz died on her motorcycle riding back from a charity event that she regularly participated in for Toronto's Rape Crisis Centre. Please consider making a donation in Liz's honour via her CanadaHelps WROAR Ride campaign page.

I owe so much of my Internet career to Liz. After graduating from Humber's Internet management program in 1999, I went to work for a start-up doing programming. It wasn't my cup of tea, but already the bubble was bursting, as were career opportunities. I really wanted to make content and direct the structure and offerings of websites. I applied for a job at AOL that I didn't get, but a colleague of Liz's referred my name to her. I got a call from Liz about a web producer opening for I never liked personal finance and had no background in it, but Liz was so engaging and encouraging, I decided to set up an interview.

I didn't show up. Normally, not showing up for an interview is a definitive act, but Liz called me back. She instinctively knew my concerns and convinced me that my skills and interests could be applied, so I interviewed and started working at in 2000. Liz was right; it was a great opportunity. She and the Quicken team were excellent role models and teammates. We built an incredible, innovative website together. One of the projects that Liz and I worked on together that I'm most proud of is the University Planner - the first tool in Canada to use StatsCan data to help students calculate and plan for the actual cost of a university education.

Liz also offered daily guidance at our regular morning meetings that she set up. The team would discuss topical news and project details every morning. Through Liz, I learned how to write killer homepage teasers (among them the "Vince Carter teaser" where attaching a celebrity name to any topic guaranteed click-throughs).

The burst hit the Rogers' online properties hard, so we all moved on to other projects. If it wasn't for Liz, I would likely not have had the opportunity to be a web producer, a job that I loved.

It was Liz who shaped my love of understanding what users want and figuring out how to offer content and experiences to meet their needs. She gave me the career outlet to refine my skills and interests, which I continue to expand through my PhD studies.

On a personal level, Liz was a close friend to me and my family. Liz befriended everyone she met and managed to find time to support all her many friends. As my wife recalls, "You were such a thoughtful, generous person and a true friend. I'll never forget how you actually volunteered to read my tediously long master's thesis (not even my own husband would look at it) and made such kind and supportive comments. You will be greatly missed!"

On her Facebook page, Liz described herself as "an incurable optimist, a collection of contradictions and a cultural hybrid." It was these elements that made her not only a wonderful person to know but such an important person in the history of Canada's Internet.

We miss you Liz!


Here is Liz's obituary in the Toronto Star and a news story on Liz and the accident on Global.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Libraries and the Mobile Web 2.0

Earlier this year, I looked at the convergence of social media and mobile library applications. I found this was an area that could have a lot of potential to augment information services, but found little innovation in this area. The intersection of increasing user involvement in creating, finding, and sharing their own information, combined with the direct and ubiquitous access of mobiles has prompted discussion in library literature, but it appears little action - yet.

It appears that initial usage of social media by libraries focused on promotion and communication between librarians and patrons. For example, social networking sites, podcasts, and blogs were used to share library information and news (e.g., location, hours, new collections, events, etc.).

Libraries are also using social media to build a sense of community around the library through such means as book blogs and online forums (for example, a book club). Rather than focus on specific technologies, Rutherford attempted to examine the role of social media by libraries (2008). She interviewed public librarians and found social media used for four main purposes: 1) community development, 2) patron outreach and acquisition, 3) communication expansion, and 4) power distribution.

Rutherford found on the whole, that social media was not often used by libraries, and when it was, that it was used predominantly in a limited way. For example, libraries are allowing patrons to comment on library information or submit questions in new ways, but are not offering users the functionality to create content. This may be due to the profession wishing to maintain expertise and information authority and accuracy standards (Rutherford, 2008).

My review of the literature revealed the following types of social media usage by libraries:
  1. collaborative information filtering and recommendation via user-generated ratings and reviews and collective usage data)
  2. enhanced information retrieval via user-generated metadata and social search
  3. content and annotation creation by users individually and collectively (e.g., via wikis, blogs)
  4. information sharing via social networking sites and syndication.
I found no examples of mobile libraries social media functions other than the viewing of user-generated content (please let me know of any). There are signs, however, that social media for m-libraries have emerged this year.

In January 2010, Library Thing released their Library Anywhere mobile application that connects a library's online public access catalog (OPAC with Library Thing’s user-supplied rating and review data.

Similarly, SirsiDynix upgraded their BookMyne mobile application in November 2010 to add social recommendation data provided by the book social network Goodreads. Such user-generated metadata has been added as an information overlay of OPAC displays before. This functionality allows users to see how others have tagged a book and browse resources tagged similarly.

In addition to social metadata, researchers have found that mobile users want to annotate information resources for individual organization and/or social sharing. Amazon has demonstrated the potential of harnessing collective annotations Their e-Reader, Kindle, has a highlights feature that allows users to upload their e-book highlights. Amazon aggregates these highlights to display the collective sense of a work’s key passages.

The importance for libraries to offer similarly innovative functionality is highlighted by Lippincott who wonders,

Will libraries move quickly to implement strategies for mobile devices, moving beyond pilot projects, such as SMS text message in reference, that address only one segment of user needs? Will the library be perceived as less and less central to the academy’s content needs? (p. 212)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Portable Device Purchase Paralysis

For the past few months, I have wanted to purchase a portable computing device but have been paralyzed by an inability to determine what best to buy. I don't have the budget to buy everything, so I've been trying to decide whether to buy a tablet, e-reader, or netbook. Recently our laptop computer has been gravely ill and so this adds to my purchase dilemma.

Basically, my requirements for a portable device is that it facilitates reading, note-taking, word processing, and Internet browsing. I'd also like something that plays DVDs as this has proven invaluable for entertaining my daughter when direly needed.

Media coverage and reviews of these devices hasn't helped me choose what to buy. Fortunately, my faculty provides loaners of tablets, netbooks, and e-readers, so I have been able to take these out for a test drive.

Recently, I tried an iPad for a few days. My faculty doesn't have an iPad 2, but from what I gather iPad 2 significantly differs in offering more content creation functionality. As this isn't essential for me, the original iPad seemed like it would meet most of my needs.

Within a few moments of using the iPad, I was greatly impressed on how user-friendly and intuitive it is. I have never used touchscreen devices beyond various service kiosks or amusements, but I was able to start using it within seconds. I have seen demos and tried it on in stores so I wasn't completely new on what to do, but considering how limited my prior experience was, the ease of use is a sufficient accomplishment.

Apple's user experience (UX) status is legendary, but my prior (all bad) experiences with Mac and the cultish fervour of Apple devotees had put me off Apple for years. I didn't have an instruction manual or getting started guide (not that these have historically been particularly useful). So it did take me trial-and-error playing around to figure out some operational functions.

Overall, I found the iPad to be a great content consumption device as hyped. The display of graphics and documents are better than any other mobile device or even a regular desktop computer I've encountered. Graphics looked amazing! I was also very impressed with how quickly programs load and close. The touch interface to read documents is incredible - it is so easy to turn pages, adjust display size, or to zoom in.

The device also passed the public transit test. On a crowded bus or subway, it is impossible to use most devices except smartphones. I even found it annoying to use a netbook without a stable surface to set it on - so using it at live events or lectures is often difficult. But the iPad in contrast, due to its size, weight, and on-screen keyboard enable it to be used in the less-than-ideal environments that I frequent.

Even though the device itself was relatively easy and convenient to use, there were some serious usability problems. The iPod doesn't handle direct light well, as I found the Kobo e-reader did. I was surprised that I couldn't view at all the screen with my sunglasses on (the polarizations must not like each other) which is a real pain in sunny conditions. The omnipresent fingerprints on the screen also drove me crazy.

The device seems to have problems discerning a precise location of a user's touch. This was a huge problem when trying to edit notes as it seems impossible to direct the cursor to the middle of a word. Similarly, web-browsing was unnecessarily painful as it was often too difficult to click on links or open menus.

The two things that I most hated with the iPad were the difficulty in typing and the inability to import photos any way without an iTunes account. I read a workaround to avoid using iTunes to import photos, but really it shouldn't be necessary. I definitely would like a USB port, which would make importing photos and connecting to other devices much easier. The difficulty in typing is a major barrier as I need to regularly take notes at live events or lectures or to compose blog posts and papers. I found the on-screen keyboard lacked any way to non-visually confirm that my fingers were correctly positioned. As a result, I made more errors. Also one had to toggle to another keyboard screen for the number and other keys, which slowed me down way too much.

Other annoying things with the iPad were the lack of a spell-checker, the inability to have two programs running simultaneously, and a lack of persistent application menus (or at least an easy way to recall them).

Still of all the devices I've recently test driven, I am leaning to an iPad. Each device has its advantages, but as I can only afford one I need something with more functionality than an e-Reader offers. Netbooks are better for typing than an iPad but aren't as flexibly usable as iPods, nor is reading on them as good. I'm not considering RIM's tablet, PlayBook, as it is too small and I want to have access to the latest and most innovative apps as seems best with Apple.

Although the iPad may be the best option, I am unconvinced that the problems outweigh the cost. I find typing to be so difficult that it is a deal-breaker for me.

This all may be a moot point, however. Recently the Toronto Transit Commission has put up posters advising riders not to use electronic devices due to theft. I ride the TTC regularly and have never perceived theft problem, but it must be for the TTC to post warnings. At least no one will wants to steal my print-outs, course books, or notepads. So I'll probably have to make do with just old tech and my smartphone for awhile longer.