powerpoint cat

I think I remember reading somewhere that SlideShare was shutting down, but I can’t find any other reference to it, so let’s proceed.

Slideshare is a site where people can share and view power point presentations. You can publish your own (for example, conference presentation) or search for a presentation that might suit your purpose (for example, something for attendees to read before they come to your training course).

I first used Slideshare in 2008 after a conference, but since then I’ve tended just to upload to eSpace, so everything is in one place. It’s gotten plenty of views, but there wasn’t any ability to give more context than just a mere transcript, and nothing has ever come of it.

I tried to find a good Slidecast on virtual reference to put in the InfoAssist training for the research help desk, but nothing really jumped out because you just get the slides, not the speech to go with it (either in print or in audio)

However, it’s a good source for ideas for how to put together a presentation (and for what not to do – I mean, white font on a lemon yellow background? PLEASE!) and if you log in you can download some of the presentations to make your own edits. Because why invent the wheel, right?

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skyping dog

The world certainly is a smaller place now, thanks to the internet. And Skype brings it even closer together, so that anyone who’s got a computer with a camera and microphone and internet connection can talk to someone else, no matter where they are.

I’ve been using Skype since 2011, when my son was born but his grandparents were living overseas for 12 months. We used to log on every few days early evening their time, pop the laptop on the floor and let them watch and talk to the baby for hours on end. Later, when our little boy was a bit bigger, we’ve used it when my husband has been away for work, so they can still have storytime before bed. We also used it for chats with a family member who spent a year studying at a university overseas. I’ve been using Google Talk (same kind of idea) as well, for meetings with other members of a state professional organisation committee where we’re scattered all over the state.

The downside is that the conversation is really only as good as your hardware and internet connection. It can sometimes be quite a production (especially at night) to get the lighting just right so your fellow Skyper can see you. We had lots of trouble talking to the family member at uni overseas as her 13th-century building, while lovely, had thick brick walls which were terrible for wi-fi access.

 

At the end of the day, nothing’s quite better than a proper hug from a friend. However, if you can’t, Skype’s a good (temporary) solution if the technology stars align in your favour!

headphone cat

Right off the bat, I’ll confess I am a big lover of audiobooks. They’re pretty much the only things I borrow from the public library. And yes, BORROW, not download, as I really just listen to audiobooks in the car (much better than commercial radio or Wiggles CDs which are my other options)

LibriVox is a giant database of public-domain audio books available for download. You won’t find “Fifty Shades of Grey” or the latest Matthew Reilly here – strictly titles that are out of copyright, read out by volunteers.

You can download the item as a full file for playing on an MP3 or burning to CD, or subscribe via iTunes to get it onto your Apple device.

The titles can be a bit hit and miss – at the moment as I type I’ve got Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow” on, which has a reader with a quite pleasant American accent, and a good pace and tone for the original story. I’m enjoying it enough to keep listening for the rest of the afternoon I think! Which is a much better option than some of the Jane Austen read out by a woman with a very unfortunate southern drawl…

I don’t think LibriVox will replace my public library audiobook habits – maybe one day if I get a new car with an MP3 jack. At the moment, it’s CD-only for me, so I’d have to burn LibriVox books to CD and it’s probably not quite worth the effort!

I like Google Books and I use it quite a lot at work as a discovery tool for finding new books to purchase. It’s useful to be able to see parts of a book, even just snippets, to get a bit more context and make sure it’s the right sort of book for the library. Often I search and stick books in a Library so I can export it later for staff to check the catalogue. I made one recently after the passing of Nelson Mandela, since I figure books on him will be popular for a while. You can have a look here, if you like. One issue it does have is giving 2013 publication dates to things that are just reissues, not new books, so you need to check thoroughly!

Another great thing (and I will admit to being slightly ashamed here) Google Books can do is help you find bits and pieces for research if your library doesn’t have the book you need and you don’t want to wait to get it on Document Delivery, or (even worse) if you’re too lazy to go and get the print version out! When I was doing my thesis last year, I needed a couple of Yiddish definitions for my glossary, and while we have a few Yiddish dictionaries in the library, I was studying from home and very comfortable. On Google Books I found David C. Gross’s “English-Yiddish, Yiddish-English Dictionary” in preview format, and I was able to search it for the term I wanted, get the answer and the page reference and then reference the print book without having to come to the library! I did also check a couple of things I was keen to get through Doc Del on Google Books, and could read the relevant chapter online without costing UQ Library money to get the print for me! Winner! (I will even admit to that greatest of sins – forgetting to note down a page number for a reference and searching a Snippet View of the book in question for the term so I could snag the page number!)

So it’s quite nice to have both an extensive catalogue of what print books are available around the place, and a repository of things that are available in at least partial view for use. It probably saves researchers, and universities, time and money, and makes them aware of new items that they hadn’t known about before. Of course, I might not agree if I was an author or a publisher, but let’s leave that discussion for another time…

I’ve been using LibraryThing for a few years now, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it here in the Thingz 🙂

I think I’d consider myself a LibraryThing “power user” – I have used it to collate a catalogue for the library at my synagogue (where I’ve been doing some volunteer work) so that members of the congregation could see what was in the collection and request items by email since most of them are elderly and the library’s right up on the third floor with no lift. I’ve also recommended it to a few colleagues to organise their large personal collections, and to a couple of other people who run little organisational libraries. It’s nice and flexible, and free/cheap (I think it cost $20 to get an unlimited account for our synagogue, which was well spent!)

I also use a personal account, not to collect a list of all my books, but to play a book swapping game. Previously the game had run via a blog, but moving it to a LibraryThing group gave it a wonderful new dimension as the books on offer in the game are collected in the library, linked through to reviews and to other titles in the series or by the author, tag them with their availability etc, and use the group bulletin board to play the game and communicate. The administrator says it’s much less work than it used to be, and as a player it’s very nice.

So there are lots of things you can use LibraryThing for. It’s a very flexible free/freemium service for organising, sharing and describing books. It’s very easy to use since all you need is an ISBN or title and it will search across whichever library or online database you choose (there are hundreds) to populate the book info form and enter it into your library. 

At work we could look into using LibraryThing for creating “interesting titles” or “new books” lists for our clients – I don’t know that you could connect it to your library catalogue to auto-search, but there is an RSS feed to accounts so if we filled the LibraryThing library once a week, or once a month, patrons could subscribe to the feed to see the new books automatically. Worth looking into!

I played around with Dashboards a few years ago (I think Google had one back then, from memory?) and wasn’t quite sold. I hate-hate-hated Netvibes then, it was so ugly and clunky, but I see it’s recently (?) had some cosmetic surgery and so in the name of science I’ll give it another go, and I’ll give Pinterest a go for comparison.

The idea behind dashboards is to start collecting things that you like and want to save for future use, or to show people. It could be RSS feeds, posts, or additional widgets built into the service. It’s kind of like your filing cabinet and mailbox in one. I’ll lay out my thoughts on each of the two options we were given below:

NetVibes

Easy start-up, but I entered to find my account pre-populated. That might not bug everyone, but it DID bug me. I had to spend the first two minutes of my experience deleting all the existing feeds, and so my excitement and drive to get started had been soured; I wasn’t gung-ho to start building it like I would have been with a blank canvas.

Next – There’s NO guidance and NO tutorial. Clicking things at random to try and see how to add something. Second time in two minutes NetVibes has made me cross. Yes, I know “ADD” should be self-evident, but some sort of bubble pop-up saying “add your first app here, let’s try it” would have been nice.  There’s a nice range of things you can add, but I don’t like that some things are Premium Apps ($$$) without indicating at first glance. And a couple of things promised apps, but then they didn’t work. Plus, a little voice in my head points out that “you know, your phone does most of this too…”

So maybe rather than being a tool for me, it’s a tool for me to show things to others. I wanted to link it here to show you, but since there was zero guidance on how to turn a private dashboard public I gave up. I don’t think I’d keep using it, but if I were a corporate social media manager I might have one for my organisation or company to collect and share lots of things. Maybe. Probably not.

Pinterest

One thing I didn’t like from the outset was Pinterest’s helpful “Let Pinterest personalise your experience based on other sites you visit. ” Hang on a cotton pickin’ minute! That sounds a bit stalker-y! So I switched that off. I think enough sites do creepy things like that (I’m looking at you, Google and Facebook) and I will decide what I share, not you, Pinterest! (Of course, that’s not to say Netvibes isn’t doing it behing my back…) The tutorial about how to get it to work was good – brief, practical and welcome because it’s maybe not the most intuitive of things from the outset.

I got to set up my board. It was very helpful in suggesting what I might pin. I pinned something. I lost my board. I found the board but the thing wasn’t there. I went round in circles and swore lots for 5 minutes. I got offered thousands of unhelpful other people’s photos when I just wanted mine. I found my board. It’s here if you want a look. (Though if I want to see it I have to open it in a new browser or I just see the editing tools. Dislike.) I think I was a bit let down that Pinterest was just photos. I think that limits it a bit. I know I can put links in to the description but if I want to share cute, funny, helpful or whatever photos, I’ll probably just do it on Facebook.

I guess this would be a quick way to put together a simple and user-interactive gallery – like if you were an artist, or had a small business making things. But I don’t think it’s for me – I can’t see it doing anything other than taking up time.

 

The Final Verdict

Dashboards put stuff from other places all in one place for you. They let you (in theory) share them with other people. I think they’d work well if you went in with a plan and a purpose and something to say with them they might work as a broadcast tool. But I don’t think they’d make life easier for you.

 

 

 

I’d like to think I can consider myself reasonably well-versed when it comes to RSS. I used to teach classes on subscribing to RSS feeds back in “the noughties” when they first started becoming commonplace. We’d help people set up a Google Reader account, show them how to get journal contents, database search and citation tracker RSS feeds. It was a great tool for researchers (academics more so than students, but maybe PhDs) to just set and forget as long as they checked their Reader once in a while.

hungry cat

Not this sort of feed…

Another thing we used to show people, and a tool I quite liked myself, was the variety of programs that used to convert RSS feeds to emails and send you a daily digest. I used one (Feedburner from memory?) myself for a while and it was great. Even easier for the set-and-forgetters as it’s coming in to something they check all the time, no need to go to another site.

I used RSS feeds quite a lot – used to get the feed from the XCKD webcomic and it’d give me a smile every morning when I came into work. I used to get feeds from a few library and tech blogs, so I could do a browse through for professional reading quickly (there was always a lot of duplication). I used to be involved in the Blog Every Day of June challenges many Australian library professionals did annually, and my reader was a great way to amalgamate all those blogs together for reading, commenting, being part of the community.

Google Reader has since been, um, “euthanized” by Google (what were they thinking? Did they not look at usage stats at all? Surely it could have just sat there without any developer having to lift a finger to update it or anything? *sobs*)  Feedburner also suffered tragic abandonment and assisted death. All my RSS tools were decommissioned in the space of about 6 months, and I tried a few other services but they were so buggy I gave up and looked for alternatives.

What does that mean? Does it mean RSS is dead? Maybe not – maybe it’s just changing where it lives and how we get to it. Building LibGuides, I’ve put an RSS feed widget into every single one. It feeds in new release news stories on the given topic and adds meaningful content to my LibGuide without me having to lift a finger. Lots of people are using things like TwitterFeed and similar to get the RSS from their blogs into their twitter accounts. I must say, many of the personal blogs I’d previously followed on GR have gone down that route and I still see all their content, just via Twitter now.

So maybe microblogging and widgets are the way we get push-out content now. Maybe readers are (were?) a second-tier tool in a tech toolbox so full these days that the second we could get our other tools to do that for us, we didn’t need them any more. But the more a tool gets subsumed into a larger do-it-all tool, the more it gets missed in the minutiae of everything else that tool gets used for.

If you do still use a reader, I’d love to know why and which one! I could be tempted back, I think, given the right tool…

(P.S – I still miss GR and Feedburner a bit every day…)