Friday, January 28, 2011

Chicago Is My Kind of Town

I got back this week from a trip to Chicago to celebrate a milestone birthday. After reviewing my trip to Disneyworld in December through the perspective of my interactions with technology, I thought it would be enjoyable to relate here how digital media affected my Chicago trip.

For years, Chicago was the Second City, in that I wanted to go for many years but it was always my second choice. Several years ago when I was thinking of going I signed up for their tourist board's email newsletter. Over the years, I haven't read all their emails sent to me, but I did read some of them. More importantly, it kept the city as a tourist destination on the top of my mind so that when circumstances were right we did think of Chicago. This demonstrates that there is long-term value in online outreach efforts. With email it is easy to measure the click-throughs and response rates for short-term goals, but it is harder to measure the long-term impact such efforts have - but they are effective.

Chicago also captured my interest through their innovative and highly-entertaining project with Foursquare and Facebook last June. They offered special Foursquare badges for people checking into locations from the John Hughes' movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (set and filmed in Chicago). They also offered a contest to people who supplied details via Facebook of their favourite Bueller location (I entered for the police station where Jennifer Grey and Charlie Sheen are arrested and Sheen has the memorable "Drugs" line.)

Before determining whether or not to go to Chicago, my wife and I did a lot of research online. This has been par for the course for all our trip planning for years now. In addition to googling Chicago, I posted a request for info from my Facebook friends. These efforts were successful in helping us determine that the city would be a great destination and that there was lots there for our specific interests (e.g. family attractions, culture, pizza). My wife is the expert in finding hotel deals online. We've stayed downtown Manhattan, Banff, Prague, Hong Kong,Disney, and now Chicago all for under $100. She also cross references TripAdvisor (a traveller's best friend) to make sure we know what we're getting into. Also, as usual, we booked our flight, hotel, and airport shuttle online.

When thinking about a trip and planning it, I always visit the official tourism website. They are not usually the most definitive source of information, but they usually present the main attractions in an engaging and succinct manner. This is certainly the case with Chicago's official tourism website Explore Chicago. The website had a lot of what I was looking for, but overall I was disappointed with it. It is extremely difficult to find specific locations and even when I did, it was hard to find them again. Their search page is horribly overcomplicated and even when one figures out how to use it, the results presented are awful. I just now tried a search for "stained glass" as the stained glass museum there was one of my favourites. The museum, however, doesn't even appear on this first page of the results and instead a lot of seemingly unrelated stuff is. Even once you find a specific site, the information presented is overly brief and not particularly enticing (and in the case of this museum completely lacking in even one photo). Another bad user experience with the Explore Chicago website is their "Trip Planner" tool. The tool sounds awesome - an interactive, customized trip planner - how useful would that be! In reality, however, if one can find a location to enter into their trip planner and hits the button provided to add it, the site makes a user go through the process of logging in each and every time. It doesn't store log-in information even during an active session. The process of logging in every time I want to add an item is way too cumbersome. Once locations are added it is possible to make a schedule of the items, but that is not a particularly useful functionality. What I wanted and I believe would be the most useful, is to have the locations plotted onto a map so I can determine the vicinity of locations. This functionality would greatly help me determine a schedule and let me visit more stuff - and probably spend more money - so there is a financial incentive for the City to offer this functionality. I stopped using this website early on as it was so unhelpful. Suffice it to say, user experience is crucial and the website can be an enticement or it can be a complete roadblock.

As we were on a budget with this trip, we had to plan our usage of pubic transit. I've yet to find a city yet that had a user-friendly transit system or even barely-adequate way-finding aids. Chicago earns its nickname the windy city and even despite the heat lamps on the L-train stations, we did not want to be out in the cold more than we had to. My wife consulted Chicago's transit website and found it most helpful in linking directly to Google Maps for directions. The city's transfer policy is not properly explained on their website (as it is too complicated to begin with) but the site was useful in presenting basic info such as fares and where to buy passes (not a given with other transit websites, ie. Toronto's).

Once we arrived in Chicago, my interactions with digital media were less frequent than usual as I did not bring my BlackBerry because my carrier (Bell) charges too much for foreign data access. There were many times we really could have used it. It would have been much easier for directions or information on specific locations - instead we had to rely on tourist pamphlets and maps and helpful citizens. I would also have loved my BlackBerry to use Foursquare. I haven’t used Foursquare in weeks as the novelty has worn off and the home-based utility is lacking for me, but when in a new city Foursquare would be invaluable. It would be great to gettargeted tips on restaurants, sites, history, etc. Also, Chicago's tourism industry appears to be embracing Foursquare. I saw posters for Foursquare at various sites encouraging people to check in and offering special deals (which I would have loved).

We did interact with digital media in some cool and helpful ways. Interactive on-the-spot maps (e.g. at the Water Tower Place or the Art Institute) helped us find specific spots. We walked past "The Oprah Store" at least ten times before an interactive map helped us determine it was actually a tiny kiosk. Once there they didn't have the postcards I wanted and the friendly clerk advised me to go to the online store to order them. (I did get to see Oprah's shoes and shirt at least). We noticed interactive maps outside, but considering how hellishly cold it was in Chicago, we weren't inclined to pause long enough to check them out.

There was some cool use of digital media at some of the museums and attractions, but not as cutting edge as I'd like. The Children’s Museum, for instance, was lacking in innovative use of digital media (although outstanding in every other way). The Children’s Museum did have one digital experience that both my daughter and I loved. In their nature section, there are computers and a giant screen. One has their picture taken by a camera and his/her face is transposed onto the body of a bee or butterfly. Then using a bug-shaped controller you can fly your insect-self around the city of Chicago. It was really fun and well executed.

The maze at Navy Pier seemed like an expensive tourist trap, but it was surprisingly really good(unlike most of their counterparts in other cities, such as Niagara Falls). The maze used references from Chicago's history and tied them into immersive audio-visual, spatial experiences and interactive media. For example, images of the great Chicago fire are projected onto a large floor space and guests must stomp out the fire. I've encountered interactive floor media before (Ontario's Science Center makes great use of it) but this was a lot of fun and appropriately-tied to Chicago. They also had a Bears football game on the floor, which was also a lot of fun ("Go Bears").

Another cool use of digital media was at the John Hancock Observatory. We decided to go to there rather than the Sears Tower as I saw on the Explore Chicago that a skating rink had just opened up on the top. I couldn't resist skating at 94 stories high. The multimedia tours seemed interesting rather than just the now obligatory audio tours that everyone still offers. Even though they were included we didn't do them as they require earphones and make the experience too isolating. They have yet to make an automated tour that allows guests to interact with each other - something people travelling together generally want to do. We did enjoy their new interactive telescopes. Made by a Montreal company, they are only available in North America at this location. The telescopes offer the standard functionality of panning and zooming, but where they were really cool is they embed textual and photographic information on top of what you're seeing live - so by touching the screen you can see and learn more than otherwise possible. The telescopes also allow the viewer to change the view to a non-live view of the same thing at different times of day or seasons. My daughter choose the Spanish language version for some reason which detracted from our experience - but otherwise the telescopes were among the most interesting, fun, useful and user-friendly tech I've encountered. There is a lot of hype of augmented reality but very little real application; judging from these telescopes though the functionality is incredible.

The Art Institute of Chicago lacked innovative or creative digital media. Overall, it is one of the best art galleries I have been to in the world. Their collection is really strong in modern and contemporary art, but had no digital media that I could detect. Digital artists are doing creative things online, and it would be great to see a major cultural institution recognize this officially on-site and online. The Art Institute does have a cool feature that allows one to make a "collection" of their favourite works to annotate and share with friends (here's my collection). There are significant usability problems with this feature, but it does make a great souvenir and online conversation starter (I posted it to Facebook).

As we were leaving our hotel, I noticed a poster in the elevator asking guests to friend the hotel. I want to friend Beyonce and Shakira, maybe even the Cheesecake Factory but I'm not sure I have such a close personal bond with a hotel. I do feel that way with the city. We loved our trip to Chicago as it is a rich cultural center. Compared to other cities, it seems Chicago is making better use of digital media. Cities are missing out on how the effective and innovative use of digital media can not only enhance a traveller's visit but offer the city financial benefits as well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is Privacy an Outdated Concept?

I attended a talk tonight at UofT's iSchool Institute by Canadian science fiction author Robert Sawyer. He spoke on his belief of the outdated notion of privacy. In writing this blog post a paradox of privacy of mine occurred to me - I was hesitant to use his name as whenever I name a person or company on this blog, I inevitably receive an email or comment from them (okay this hasn't always proven the case as with my mentions of Beyonce or Shakira). Even though I publish this article in a public space, it still feels like an invasion when I hear from the people I'm talking about. I often find myself censoring myself so that I can maintain my sense of broadcasting my private thoughts.

I realize this behaviour is at odds with itself - but as raised in tonight's talk we (particularly my generation) are in a transitional phase from a having sense of privacy to the realization that privacy is dead. Sawyer argued that we only ever protected our privacy for two reasons: shame and wrong-doing. When societal values were more restrictive we guarded our personal lives to fit in and prevent societal repercussions. As more things become tolerable in our society this is no longer necessary. The latter point is where Sawyer mostly focused. He noted that with destructive weaponry becoming more powerful and harder to detect, it will become increasingly possible for those full of hate or for mad scientists to annihilate humanity. So notions of privacy must be put aside for our protection and preservation. He asked, can we now truly afford privacy?

Sawyer noted, however, that this is largely a moot point anyway as corporations already have access to extensive information about us. And moreover we have willing given companies our privacy (whether or not we were beguiled to do so).

An audience member objected that people do not in fact wittingly give up their privacy. I wanted to chime in that this was not necessarily true as I have given up a lot of private info about myself to the mobile app Foursquare fully knowing what I was giving up. Hell, I was even hopeful that giving up this info would result in more corporate invasion of my "private space" to offer me even paltry deals. Air Miles knows tons about me, and I LOVE all the free trips I've gotten from them.

Some of the audience were rankled by Sawyer's provocative assertion that privacy is dead (or rather reassertion as he and other technologists have noted this for years). Sawyer noted that already the boat has sailed on this (or as he said the "aircraft carrier") and it is impossible now to stop people from releasing info to companies. Instead he argued that we need to learn how to live with this new reality and to enact policy against the misuse of personal info.

I agree with Sawyer that people are too busy and too impressed with using tech like Facebook or Google to start en masse to recapture and to assert their privacy. Some believe that caring about protecting privacy is a generational one - as witness to the tons of Facebook users who don't ever change their default settings and then publish the most intimate details of their lives. I don't feel that this is generational. I may not post drunken photos of myself but in general I don't really care about privacy discussions or policy.

The only reason I went to see Sawyer speak on this topic tonight is that I loved the TV series based on his book FlashForward and that my wife recommended him as a speaker after hearing him speak on the human rights of clones and robots.

Still the privacy session was interesting and Sawyer read amply from his works. Including a new trilogy (begins with Wake) on what happens when the world wide web gains intelligence. Now that is a topic I care about.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Collecting or Hoarding?

My school has an exhibit on the practice of collecting and is displaying a sample of some of my collections. The exhibit closes this week, but there's still time to see my and others oddities displayed. For more information on the exhibit read the University of Toronto's news item: Faculty of Information’s 'cabinets of curiosities' on display.

The event organizers wanted the collectors to write about their collection and name it. For the first time I actually thought of my stuff as a collection. I thought of calling it "The Eccentric, Eclectic Hoard" but figured that "Saving Weird Stuff" was more accurate. I hadn't really thought about my collecting process or motivations before. I realized that I do have a propensity to save and organize stuff, whether it is souvenirs, books, objet d'art, or digital resources. I've written before about how my Delicious bookmarks provided a sense of control and satisfaction, but hadn't looked at my collecting more holistically.

Am I collector or hoarder? I'm not ready to go on TLC's “Hoarding: Buried Alive” (I hope) but I am a serial saver. Over the years, I've amassed many collections: comic books, fridge magnets, old books about the Internet, pins, postcards, Toronto history books, socks, sunglasses, View Master disks, etc.

A few years ago I realized my collecting was more pathology than hobby, so I started pruning. I now maintain most collections only passively. Collections like mine, however, have a way of never dying as friends and family continue to donate items and I continue to stumble upon irresistible acquisitions. In reexamining my collections, however, I was struck that the intrinsic qualities of an item are now often secondary to the memories they evoke – and thus worthy of saving/hoarding. But possibly in a more selective manner.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Assessment of Quality and Personal Suitability in Peer-Review Journals

This post relates the process I went through to find and assess relevant leading academic journals. There are a lot of peer-reviewed journals, but not all are created equal - some are more topically suitable but less esteemed - finding a balance is crucial. This post relates my specific process, but could be applied to others in any other academic field seeking to find journals suitable to their work.

Determining a suitable venue for academic publication is challenging for new scholars. One must consider both a journal’s suitability of content and approach as well as its potential influence. Although there are metrics to help determine the perceived esteem of a journal, gauging its overall value can be difficult. For example, journals rated highly by traditional metrics might be more inclined towards conservative methods and topics, which may ill suit emerging scholars pursuing innovative approaches and emerging topics. In addition, highly-rated journals often have lower acceptance rates decreasing the likelihood of publication. The delays of resubmitting to alternative journals may result work loosing its timeliness or being the first to publish on a given topic. This paper aims to explore the process I developed to ascertain suitable journals for publication of my chosen research area (i.e. the use of mobile social media in libraries or information repositories). I will also briefly address journal bibliometrics.

To initially select journals for inclusion, I compiled a list from personal sources. My personal selections were based upon my favoured sources for reading, recently cited journals, and those encountered during a recent literature review. Using this list, I then was able to determine the suitable categories of Australian Research Council (ARC) ranked journals, which were “Information Systems” (category #0806) and “Library and Information Studies” (#0807). Downloading the full ARC ranked outlets list enabled me to sort by category. I was quickly able to cull unsuitable journals based on their titles; others required an examination of the specific journal to determine its topical suitability. This resulted in 62 possible journals to consider. I then examined the editorial aims and scope of the 62 journals by reviewing the issues from the past two to three years. This review allowed me to filter out results based on an inappropriate scope (e.g. engineering) and to then reduce viable journals to 31.

To determine the perceived esteem and influence of a journal, I compiled various established bibliometrics, specifically the ARC’s assigned score, the five year impact factor, SCImago Journal Rank (SJR), and Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP). Bibliometrics have individual strengths and weaknesses. The ARC score is based on the subjective assessment of Australian academics, and no specific formula appears to be made public. Critics of ARC rankings note that it overly favours coverage of Australian topics and unfairly allocates top grades based on a fixed, subjective percentage (i.e. the top five percent of journals in the given field) which penalizes journals in specialized or emerging fields. ARC rankings do allow a more holistic assessment of a journal, acknowledging the importance of more than just resulting citations. The impact factor measurements (both one and five year) rely solely on citations. Although this can result in a more objective metric, it has limitations. Impact factors do not account for differing citation behaviour and volume in different fields, nor do they consider the quality of the citing source or filter out author or journal self-citations. Furthermore, the Institute for Scientific Information index that impact factors are drawn from does not include open-source journals and does include citation sources that are not original research (e.g. review articles). The one year timeframe of the standard impact factor, I feel, does not adequately suit the citation behaviour of the information field. Consequently, I chose to use the five year impact factor. The SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) indicator and Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) score, I believe, are more transparent and suitable metrics for evaluation, both of which are provided by Scopus. Scopus, to begin, has a much larger database than Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and includes open-source journals. SJR considers the prestige of a citation source in its formula (similar to Google’s Page Rank) and has a larger citation window (three years) than the impact factor. SNIP assesses the citation patterns of a given field to determine a field-specific score. For example, medical fields tend to cite work more quickly and frequently compared to humanities research.

Having compiled these four metrics per journal, I then weighed each equally to attempt to smooth out biases. My assessment assigned a potential three marks per each journal’s ranking per metric, for a maximum potential score of 12. One point was assigned for the approximate lowest third of rankings and three points assigned for the top third ranking. A key limitation with this approach is that if a journal does not appear in either ISI or Scopus index or have an associated bibliometric, they are given the lowest possible score regardless of the reason for their absence. Nonetheless, this system is useful to give a list of top-ranking, topically-suitable journals.

To determine suitability of editorial content, I assigned a five-point score, with five being deemed the most relevance to my research area and one the least. This was based on a review of the past three years of the journals issues. I looked for articles exploring similar topics to my interests and with a similar epistemological viewpoint to mine.

To attempt to wed journals with deemed high esteem with relevance to my personal areas of interest, I performed a comparison between both lists. I wanted to choose journals with a high overall ranking (i.e. my composite score) and thus determined a score of ten or higher was an acceptable level (twelve journals attained this level). I also wanted to choose journals with a high level of relevance to my research area and thus chose a score of four or higher (ten journals met this level). Any journals that met these criteria were determined to be high-ranking and personally-relevant. The journals that qualified (with their associated composite and relevance scores) are, Internet Research (11, 5), Interacting with Computers (11, 4), Journal of Academic Librarianship (11, 4), and Information Technology and Libraries (10, 4).

From this list of four journals, I attempted to find the acceptance rates of publication. This information would be useful to determine the likelihood of being published in the journal. I was unable to find this information for the above journals (in general, it seems this information is a insider secret)

This overall process has been useful in identifying new publication sources and in gaining a richer understanding of the perceived esteem of various journals. I believe this process has also resulted in a list of the most suitable journals for me to consider when I am ready to publish my research.