Archive for March, 2007



March 30, 2007

One thing that is happening in the world of tech without many noticing is convergence. Recently, Apple launched the AppleTV, which is a very quiet way of doing something pretty significant. iTunes was a previous example of convergence, putting music, television, movies, podcasts, etc. in one place on your computer and putting all of those things that previously had their own domain into one place. AppleTV is doing a similar thing, but it will take a bit of time to see if anyone notices or cares. This new appliance connects your computer conveniently to your TV, and allows you to move your files from the iTunes store to your television screen wirelessly and seamlessly. A lot of people can’t possibly imagine at this point why such a thing matters, but there’s something important underlying all of this. The AppleTV allows network TV, movies, and independently created things like podcasts and videocasts to all live together in one place. Previously, while I might have all of my stuff living on my computer (we watch a lot of our TV and movies on my iMac as well as listening to music etc), it was necessary to switch between functions to go from TV to something else … the machine has to be changed into “something else” in order to use it for a new purpose. It would seem that AppleTV puts it all in one place and lists your favourite podcasts right next to your favourite million-dollar-per-episode TV show. There is a slow but steady move away from podcasts etc being considered “fringe” media and this device makes the narrowing gap more real. (it is a fact that many podcasts of the video and audio variety are becoming quite popular … diggnation, … etc. , but they are still on something other than your most glamorous of entertainment devices (i.e. – Lost is on TV, diggnation is just on your little computer)). It’s not that I plan to buy one of these things, but the concept is interesting.

By the way, Apple has done the usual on this new device. Officially, the AppleTV could not deal with all of those files that you downloaded on your own from less than respectable places. Well, it turns out that within days of the AppleTV release someone had hacked the thing to make it capable of downloading and playing anything … this reminds me of the Apple digital rights management system on iTunes, which is most definitely in place and working, but is ridiculously easy to hack. I wouldn’t want to claim that these things are made intentionally easy for hackers, but it sure does make the devices a lot more fun.


Read this? You must.

March 21, 2007

Simple post here: someone just reminded me of the cluetrain manifesto.  You cannot proceed until you have read this.  Sorry to all of those who have been aware of this forever.


E-mail is outta style. Immediacy is in.

March 20, 2007

It had to happen sooner or later. Apparently email is going to be the realm of old people starting any day now. Email had a very long run and will likely take a while yet to die out, but soon it will be as unusual for your average tech-savvy person as the payphone is now. Perhaps I exaggerate, but not too wildly. Seems that people (particularly young ones) like text-messaging so much that email seems awfully formal, demanding a lot of time and overhead (like having to sit at a computer and open a piece of software and all). This ties to my experience with the 15-yr olds … clearly, they’d rather clutch the stylish and darn convenient cell-phone than attempt to hunt down a computer, compose something, then wait for a reply. These people seem to be remarkably social, like to make themselves accessible as much as possible, and to really value immediacy. The same thing seems to be true of MySpace (apparently now replaced by “virb“, a pretty nifty kind of persoanl space thingy), where people are just around all of the time, ready to be be-friended, or chatted with, or whatever. Virb seems to add the latest trend of immediacy to this business … “I updated my page 47 seconds ago”, and you’re a loser if you haven’t updated in the last hour. Perhaps the most extreme example of this (that this old guy knows about), is twitter, which allows you to let the world know what you’re doing RIGHT NOW (and now, and now …). I’m quite serious … on twitter, people just post what they’re doing at that moment, and they make friends with other people who are doing … stuff. Posts might read: “Drinking coffee”, and everyone who lists you as a friend, gets a message (by reading the page, RSS, or text-message) to let them know that you’re drinking coffee. It makes no sense, but a bazillion people (including presidential candidate John Edwards) are doing it. Some of these people have thousands of friends, and they continually receive updates … “So what?”, you, quite reasonably, say. I’m not sure what this all means, but while this micro-reporting on one’s life seems very silly, it also seems to be drawing in lots of participants. (and making email seem downright pre-historic … and rational).




User Needs

March 13, 2007

While attending a conference in Toronto this past weekend (I wasn’t at the conference, I was just tagging along while my wife conference’d … the best job in the world) I managed to be in the presence of some of those “students of the future” that we always talk about in libraries. In the “hospitality room” … the most wonderful of rooms, by the way, with an endless supply of food and drink …. the 15-yr old daughter of one of the other attendees was forever lounging about with her friend. These two had cell phones constantly in their hands … constantly. In fact, they rarely closed them. They were both text-messaging the entire time I was around and I suspect that it never stops. This was true multi-tasking as the messaging was completely interwoven with their real-life discussions, and there would be little beeps from their phones every 30 seconds as another message came in. I had heard that this was going on, but the confirmation was quite interesting to observe. I was always looking for reasons to go somewhere else during this conference (since I didn’t know anyone, and was surrounded by people with little in common with myself), and offered to zip to store for some ice cream at one point. Much to my dismay the girls wanted to go along (as they also were really bored) … and yes, I was genuinely dismayed …. but this gave me the opportunity to ask them some questions about their phone use while nobody would be alarmed by the 43 yr old asking questions of the 15 yr olds.

Walking along looking at their phones, they did confirm that they never turn them off, and they are constantly messaging friends back home. They are very aware of all of the ins and outs of billing and exactly how to minimize charges. In fact, as everyone was talking about what to eat that night, they were relaying the conversation to their distant friends (who must be pretty hard up for entertainment). It seems that their phones rarely ring, and you can easily see the advantage of that as their parents, mere feet away, had no idea what they were up to, other than the fact that their phones kept annoyingly beeping. They said that almost all of their friends have cell phones (another thing I wanted to clear up), and that they also message constantly. The part that I wouldn’t have guessed is that they really only consider MSN to be a sort of poor substitute for their phones … i.e. – they’ll use MSN, but they’d rather not be sitting in front of a computer all of the time, so the phone is far more useful.

This may all seem remarkably trivial (particularly if you’re a 15-yr old yourself and it sounds like I’m talking about something so obvious that it’s laughable), but I don’t have my own 15-yr old yet, and by the time my kids get there, we’ll be onto something entirely new. Fact is, we in libraries sit around talking about what our users want all of the time, and are perpetually trying to keep up with the latest, while assuring ourselves that we’re quite on top of things. Surveying works pretty well, but people answer surveys in very strange ways, and their responses to the question of what they need from their library is swayed by what they think libraries can offer (i.e. – they are unlikely to say that they want to communicate in high-tech ways with library resources, if all that they think the library does is provide a study space or a photocopier … (nothing wrong with that, by the way). Anyway, getting stuck escorting a couple of 15 yr olds to the 7-11 may have been the most educational experience I’ve had in some time. In a couple of years, they’ll be on campus … with their phones.

(PS – the best thing that phone makers could do is simply get rid of the stupid numeric keypads on cell phones … it would seem that these folks are dialling numbers far less than they are typing messages … we’ll have to see how the new Apple phone is doing this come June … if I recall, they have some type of contextual system planned so that you see a keypad when typing and a number pad when dialling).