Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It's oh so quiet...

Seven days without a post..wow. Well..in the next two days I am going to be announcing something huge.

So stay tuned.
(which is a lot easier if you're using RSS to subscribe to this blog..because then you will be the first to know when it hits the feeds :) )

Monday, November 21, 2005

My first blog carnival

Thanks to Joy, I submitted my earlier post about IT Departments as a barrier to services to Carnival of the Infosciences #16 @ Librarystuff.net and my entry made it in. Woohoo!

What is a blog carnival you ask?
"A blog carnival is like a roving journal, a rotating showcase of interesting writing from around the blogosphere within a particular discipline. Individual bloggers volunteer to host a carnival on their personal blog, acting as chief editor for that edition. It falls to them to collect noteworthy items, and to sort through suggestions from the community, many of which are direct submissions from authors."
-From if:book: the blog carnival

Carnivals are also pretty cool because you can find other interesting blogs. Several people have emailed me since my inclusion in the carnival and I have found several others that are now in my Bloglines account.

No wonder blogs rule the web-o-verse :)

Actually...this is really a great example of how the new web is connecting people.

blyberg.net asks ILS vendors to listen

John @ Blyberg.net posts some very interesting thoughts on asking ILS vendors to open up their systems and let libraries design online services for their patrons, instead of being constrained by what the vendor supplies.

As a web developer, when I saw what III offered customization wise with their OPAC, it really broke my heart. I was hoping that by now vendors would be offering true customization of the OPAC, not just customizing within the contstraints of their own (inflexible) custom scripting language.

Ideally, I should be able to write my own templates and hook into an interface the vendor supplies and enable whatever functionality is needed. But as it stands, I can't do that. And as far as I know, there isn't a vendor that offers that.

But here is what I really don't understand. A free service like Flickr, offers a FREE API (programming interface) that I can hook into and design applications to work with their service.

If you put out an API, people will write programs for it just because they can! What vendor would not want 1, 2, 25, or 100 programmers writing applications, for fun, using an interface the vendor provided? The talent is out there, people will do it because they can. People will share it, it will get better, and guess what? If you ask nicely, I bet people would let you distribute it (at no cost!) with your package.

Our III OPAC functions great. It's easy and it works. But I want to do more to it and enable more in it (like RSS feeds) but I am constrained by what is already there. I have the motivation and the time..I need access. I need APIs.

Note: These are my opinions. My employer does not endorse or support these opinions in anyway. I hold nothing against any ILS vendor. My motto has always been to work with what I've got.

But what I'm asking is that we be given more for what we pay :)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Not another post!! A new blog...new intentions

This post..should hopefully be short. After taking a look at my intentions for this blog and doing some thinking, I am happy to announce: The LCLS weboratory

This new blog/site will be the home for all the web projects I'm tinkering with at LCLS. I will be using that blog to update on the status of projects and ideas I have. It will be a lot more technical than I'm going to be (from now on) with this blog. But don't rejoice yet. I will post things that are "technical" here. Just not as headspinning technical as I'll be at the weboratory.

Clam Chowder will remain as my The Web, Your Library, and You kind of blog. I will be posting more articles that apply directly to libraries and library tech issues. I will also cross post any interesting items from other bloggers / news sites as well as notes to any Library/Tech conferences I attend.

So...want to know what I'm up to? Check the weboratory (or subscribe to the RSS feed).
Want to know what's going on with tech in the library? Keep reading here (or subscribe to the RSS feed)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Honda will not let me steal my own radio (but someone else could)

About 5 weeks back, the battery in my 2000 civic was finally at its last. I took it to AutoZone, got a new battery, and after (embarrassingly) seeing how corroded the plugs were, had the new one installed.

Turn on car. Turn on radio.

"Code"

Hmmm. How about CD mode?

"Code"

Ummm. Station 1? No, how about 2..3..4..5

"Code Err"

Uh oh.

Honda's radio anti-theft system has a code that is unique to each radio. This code is supplied to you when you buy the car. So the dealer should have this, right?
Wrong.

Me:"Hi, my battery died and I need the radio code, here is my information"
Honda:"Ok sir, we can only help you if you can give us the radio serial number"
Me:"Ok, well, I dont think I have that. I bought the car 5 years ago where would it be?"
Honda:"Well, I dont know what we did 5 years ago, but usually its in the book, or on a sticker in the glovebox"
Me:"Ok, here are all the numbers I found" (I rattle off the numbers)
Honda:"Well..none of those look like it"
Me:"Well..how do I get the serial number?"
Honda:"You have to remove the radio."
Me:"How do I do that?"
Honda:"You can do it yourself, or you can pay some place like best buy to take it out and get the serial number, and then you can call us to get the code."

So get this. The car that I own, I have to pay, I have to PAY to get my radio back. I ALREADY BOUGHT THE CAR.

My buddy found the instructions. I'm not a car guy, I fix computers. So, taking apart my entire dash (and by entire dash, I mean the WHOLE dash), moving wireharnesses, and finally pulling out the radio to get this number does not seem worth the entire saturday I would spend doing it. (Not to mention..getting it back together).

But here's the kicker. If someone breaks into my car, STEALS my radio, and calls Honda, they can get the code. No ID required, no proof, they can steal my radio and get the code.

Congratulations Honda. Your anti-theft has been so effective, that I am now unable to steal my own radio. (but someone else could, and they could use it to!)

5 weeks now. 5 weeks without a radio. Without my CD PLAYER. My 7 minute drive to work now feels like about 40 with only the sound of my heater and the tires rolling on the ground to power my thoughts.

Good thing I discovered Green Tea. Otherwise I would so not be as chipper when I got to work.
Seriously.

Mini-rant: IT Departments as a barrier-- Why?

While at the session today, I heard a recurring theme. People needed tools that would help them circumvent their IT departments restrictions.

Why is this so?

I didn't hear this from one or two people, no, most of the audience was nodding when it was brought up that their IT department would not let them us IM software or would block software X or not install software Y on the server.

Why? Why stop your users from using new tools? Is your job of stifling their creativity and innovation that satisfying? Are you afraid that you won't have a job if they have these tools?

Is it security? Ok, lets argue that. If you are worried about security, do not, let me bold this, DO NOT put your computers/servers on the internet. So there is your security solution.

What does that do for usability? Well. Minus the Internet, you have essentially made your PCs useless. Don't believe me?

Ever had a power outage at home and lost your Internet? Sure. You still have your laptop, but how long do you spend on it when you know you can't use the Internet.

By denying requests your users make to have software X or Y, when they have legitimate needs, you are basically making their PCs useless to them. Oh sure, they can work on them, but you may as well take away their Internet while you're at it.

Yes, we need to protect our users. Believe me on that. I have been in IT long enough to have seen plenty of worms, hacks, pirate FTPs on unsecured servers, viruses, and scams. But that has not colored my view of enabling users; giving them the tools they want, to do their jobs in a way that works for them.

In my job as the web devloper at LCLS, I have given the users the ability to create and publish their own content. I was, and still am to some degree, responsible for much of the content publishing but that is happening less and less. In fact, one of my colleagues presented a tour of our website to our board at our November meeting. I was at the gym while she was putting on this presentation.

How could I do that? Easy. I gave them the tools, I helped them use those tools and they took off on their own.

I was an enabler.

Bragging on myself? Maybe a little, but here's my point.

Why are you not enabling your users? Let them try things, let them find things. While you are quashing worms or hunting spammers, let them try new software. What if they find something cool? It is not a threat to you, they want to help.

They want technology to work for them, not against them.

Think about that. And look at what you're doing and decide if you are helping your users or holding them back.

Live Blogging: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the New Social Tools

Okay..here is my first attempt at blogging a conference meeting live. NILRC is meeting in Collinsville, IL and Jenny Levine is here to present to the group. Sarah H. from LCLS is here with me, we just had a nice lunch chat with Jenny and now were in "Ballroom B" waiting for Jenny to get started.

By the way...it is freeeezing here and the wind is not helping.

My own comments will be in ( ). I'll try to remember that :)

The lights are dimmed and they're just waiting for a few more people before they get started. There is a pretty good sized group here, about 30 or so, all watching as Jenny is trying to leech the free wifi.

Tip: Many times its better to check the box: "Let windows manage my wireless connections" in the settings. I do this on every wireless PC I use and it has not failed me yet.

John Berry from NILRC has just started his introduction, welcoming everyone and introducing Jenny to the group.
(Maybe I'm typing too much :) )

(( her presentation will be available at: http://www.mls.lib.il.us/ ))

Jenny had all the bloggers, then RSS users, then IM users, and cell users raise their hands. Cell users by far outweighed all, bloggers & IM were in a tie for last.
Apparently, I dont count as a blogger yet :)

The "Information Shift" is a new era where information is coming to us. The millennial generation is the first genration born into and expecting information to follow them.
Pervasive Internet
Wireless/Wi-Fi
3G Networks

Digital convergence in devices
more storage / smaller package
faster

The U.S. is definately behind the curve on what we're doing with our cell phones vs what other countries do. Things like high speed video, kids school schedules, gaming, e-books on the phone, even checking out books with your cell phone at the library.

(we're getting there, but we've still got a ways to go)

The Beloit College Mindset List - a fun site that lists what kids of graduating high school classes have come to know and expect.

Kids now are growing up in a totally networked world, where geographic/personal information is shared and kids think nothing of it.

Things like wearable computers/smart clothing are just around the corner.

Eye Toy (I'm definately getting one of these). Eye toy projects you into your PS2 Games. It's a camera that you stand in front of an actually become a part of the game. (I'm SO BUYING ONE).

Gaming is relevant kids are learning many things from gaming. It's not just the mindless blasting many people make it out to be. Games are social, challenging, and are teaching decision making processes. Games are coming in different formats as well.

Books: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Got Game.

Tip: Don't call yourself a boss. Bosses are video game enemies that must be defeated. Be the strategy guy. (see "Got Game")

Got Game offers some good research on how gaming has shaped kids today. (I see some of these qualities in myself...)

How can we reach this audience that expects information to come to them?
Web 2.0 - the read/write web - the participatory web - the two-way web.
The new web is becoming more interactive and collaborative.

Blogging
Easy way to get your content out there (Definately!)
Blogging can help your staff get content onto your website faster and in a timely manner (this has definately helped LCLS since we converted to a blog style system for our website).

Information needs to get out there and not be held back. Many times if the information is a week or two old its stale. (Information also needs to be archived so those that miss it can find it. Blogs help with that too)

Blogs can be used in so many ways to reach your community. They are simple to set up (Free from places like Blogger) and easy to update (just as easy as using email). (If you arent thinking about a library blog - you should be!)

If you want to see a good model for a library/community blog: Check out the Ann Arbor District Library.

By using these web 2.0 tools, you are inviting your patrons into a dialogue with you, that may never have happened otherwise.

You can also integrate blogs with things like link resolvers and other tools to link to even more content.

Wiki
Collaborative, editable-by-anyone webpages. Users add the content. (Ahh..wiki means fast in Hawaiian..that makes sense now *click*)

(Good idea: A wiki for reference databases - something that librarians could contribute to, and people could comment on the ref databases - see Butler WikiRef)

Using wikis for meeting notes. SLS used this to post meeting notes and make corrections (Hmm..combined with wireless..this could be a fast way to take notes at staff meetings or the GateNet meetings)

Jenny demonstrated the libsuccess wiki. She went into programming - gaming - and then added an entry to the wiki for the Gaming in Libraries Symposium.
(Libsuccess.org has a cool wiki - check it out.)

(see the code project for a wiki/knowledge sharing app)

What about using a Wiki for your online catalog instructions? Let the users post up tips on how they use it.

pbwiki.com - free wiki resource, try it out, see how a wiki works

RSS
"The future of the web" - RSS Lets you create content once and display it anywhere on the web (back to my selling point: imagine going to to one website to see the content of your 20 favorite websites, instead of going to 20 seperate places.)

RSS itself is not for humans to read - computers interpret its display and formatting based on rules. (this is where things like style sheets and xtensible stylesheets (xsl) come into play. You make the rules for how it should look and the computer displays it that way).

"RSS was made for information junkies" - Jenny (great quote I think.)

Even more love for bloglines in Jenny's presentation. It really is a great site. (You really, really, really should just try it. Pick 5 websites, find their RSS feed addresses, add them to bloglines and just trying going to bloglines to check these websites instead of going to the 5 different sites on their own.)

Reading RSS feeds isnt enough. You NEED to start one. The easiest way to get an RSS feed is to start a blog. RSS will get your content out there and findable by even more search engines.

RSS will also let you bring other website content to your site.
Warning: You dont control the content of other websites..choose what content you bring to your site carefully.

(You need to really think long and hard about using RSS, both consuming it and PROVIDING it. RSS will soon be so seamlessly integrated into the browsers and into your operating system, that if you arent learning about it, you'll be far behind when it really becomes mainstream.)

Example: Proquest will be offering RSS feeds. You can subscribe and when you click into the content (from bloglines or your RSS aggregator), you will either be IP authenticated or asked to provide you barcode.

Other things you can do with RSS:
create a page of aggregated resources - things you recommend - and display them on a web page for your patrons.
create a page of recommended RSS feeds
Create a public view of your bloglines account and let people see what you recommend to read
Use RSS for research

With RSS, your content can be used by your patrons? Scary - you should see what patrons do with it. Imagine - a patrons blog or website with a section that displays what they have checked out or what they have on request. People are already doing this.

(III's 2006 LE has RSS support! Look for information on this soon...)

Podcasting
RSS with MP3 files attached. Podcasting is publishing audio via the Internet, usually with Mp3 files. This ties into "time shifting".

How it works: You record content on your computer (using a microphone and software), you take that recorded content (an mp3 files), upload it to a webserver, and if you use a blog that has RSS your file can be streamed across the Internet to your subscribers who can take the file and listen to it on their PC OR put it on their MP3 player.

Software: Ipodder - free software that downloads podcasts for you and saves them to your PC/MAC.

(Could we use podcasting for CE?? Big question..glad I'm blogging this, so I don't forget)
(what about podcasting for meetings?...if you miss one, you can catch up by listening in)

The "casting" part of "podcasting" is putting that MP3 file on a website and into an RSS feed.

Pitfalls:
Copyright - make sure you have the speaker's permission. (If you're creating your own content, OK, but if you have a speaker come in, make sure you ask).

By podcasting - your content can make it into iTunes. There is already a library category there.

Check out OPAL Podcast

Software to check out: Audacity - free software that lets you record MP3 files on your computer.

Podcasting requires RSS 2.0 - check the specifications on how to make sure your MP3 file gets picked up by the aggregators.

Instant Messaging
Kids are using instant messaging more than any other medium. Want to reach them? You need to be using IM.

Imagine: What if you could IM your catalog? Skip the browser, skip searching, with an IM bot, its possible to IM the catalog and get a response over an instant messaging program.

IM is the preferred method of communication for anyone under 25.

(thought: When you disable IM and chat in your library, you are telling your patrons [kids especially] that you don't want them in the library. Same with the cell phones. This is how people want to communicate..why are you stopping them?)

I.T. wont let you around IM? Use meebo.com

The goal is to reach your patrons where they are. That is what they are coming to expect.

Don't forget about "texting" or SMS. Sending short messages over your cell phone. Google has an SMS service where you send a txt message to a number and it replies with an answer.

Libraries should think about using SMS for reference as well as using IM.

Trillian
- a good multi-service IM program. Connect to AIM, ICQ, Yahoo!, and MSN in one program.

Cool Tools
Del.icio.us - this is a great social book mark site. (Check my links to the write to view my delicious book marks). Tagging - labelling data with meta data - but using the users vocabulary.

(Tagging is a huge thing. Users can describe their content in their own vocabulary and remember where they put it. This will not be going away)

Tag clouds - a webpage that lists the tags people are using and uses different font sizes to show (relatively) how many items are associated with that tag.

Try del.icio.us. Its like being new to the web again.

Furl - similar to del.icio.us, but not as social, FURL also has ratings for websites. FURL saves the URL, but also a copy of the page. It has a 5GB limit, but on the web, that should take a while to get to. FURL can keep copies of things you may only have access to for a limited time. These copies are not shared, but the people can subscribe to your FURL with RSS. It also preserves the date it was saved.

Blinklist - takes del.icio.us one step further and adds network groups. This lets you hook up with other people and form a social circle to share book marks.

Citeulike / Connotea - Academic versions of del.icio.us

Social tools can connect you to people you may never have otherwise met; people with similar interests/hobbies/work.

Flickr - a social photo-sharing site. Very cool tool, share your photos, tag them, add notes ([read: meta data] that displays over the top of the picture) and put them on the web for all to see. Flickr is all about sharing.

How can you use flickr? How about posting & tagging photos of your library, programs & people @ your library. Check out Flickr and get lost for a few hours and see how people are using it.

(ok..i'm gonna wrap this up)

Jenny is still going through some of the new and fun online tools and how people are using them. Bottom line: there is a lot out there and a lot of things we need to look at outside our usual box. Our users want interactivity, they want responsiveness, and they want things delivered to them.

We need to be running towards these technologies instead of away. Take a while to let this all sink in, come back to it if you have to. At LCLS we'll be offering some exciting tech programs this year. Keep your eye on CLeO (subscribe to our RSS feeds) for these events.

Through technology, the users are now shaping the landscape, we need to be ready to be responsive to that!

Gah!!

As a "webmaster" it's not fun to come into work with the following error reports in your email:
The page: /Default.aspx returned the following error:

Unspecified error

Base Exception: System.Data.OleDb.OleDbException: Unspecified error
And
System.Web.Services.Protocols.SoapException: Server was unable to process request. ---> System.Data.OleDb.OleDbException: Unspecified error
So what happened?

Well.......I posted about the CLeO RSS feeds right? I put links on here and announced it to our members.

Oops.

The RSS feeds were working, but they were not properly caching, so I ran out of database connections.

I took a few things offline and am working on making less use of my DB connections. I knew one day I would hit this point. So, let that be my lesson..I need to plan my data resource uses better.

Bad programmer Chris, bad!

The LCLS site is back to working, but I've taken off the CLeO event lists, disabled the CLeO RSS Feeds (the day after I announced them...how bad does that look?), and I'm also redoing code that was a little too dependent on connecting to the CLeO DB.

This seems like it should have been a Monday issue..it's wednesday, right?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Froogle: Wishlists - just in time for Xmas!

I just noticed this today, but on Froogle you can sign in with your Google account (if you have one, or just use your Gmail account) and create a wishlist by searching for items on Froogle then adding them to your wishlist.

This has probably been around a while, but like I said, I just saw it. I've been reminded several times by my wife to get my list together. So...here it is honey.

Now, I do not expect any of my readers to get anything on there for me (seriously). Most of my family uses email, so this will go straight to their inboxes and hopefully help them get me the right gifts.

Hopefully they coordinate too..because so far it doesn't look like anyone else can take things off your list (which is good, because I would SOOO be finding out what I got long before Santa arrives).

I'll report back after the holidays when I finish collecting all the spoils :)

And no, I did not put the new Xbox 360 on there. Believe me, I want to. Especially since I found the Xbox 360 compatibility list. But last year I got the current Xbox..and the year before it was a PS/2.

Another new CLeO Feature...that's two in a row, look out!

I've had a few ideas for new features just to add to the things CLeO can do. This one isn't anything ground breaking, but it might be handy, especially if you use Outlook/Outlook Express or another program that supports VCalendar (.vcs) files.

Yes, Paul @ PALS, this is the feature I was alluding to in my comments. I added VCalendar exporting to CLeO. If you check out the LCLS CLeO and take a look at any event, like for instance, this one. You should see a new link that says: "Import Into Outlook/Outlook Express or another VCalendar program (What's this?)"

Clicking on that link (might not work from my blog here) will prompt you to open or save a VCS file. If you are using Outlook/Outlook Express or another program that supports VCalendar, it should open up to a new appointment and let you save it.

Like I said, it is nothing groundbreaking, but for our (and your) users who use CLeO and also use Outlook/Outlook Express it is kind of nice.

Note: This will not register the user for the event. They still have to click the register button as well.

If you're an Illinois Library System and using CLeO, I'll be in touch shortly on where to get it and how to use it if you want. This is another addon, just like the RSS, and only requires a few lines of code added in the event_details file.

What is CLeO? CLeO is an online event registration system that was created by the Lewis & Clark Library System. We offer CLeO (as is) free to any libraries or systems that want it. If you're interested in checking it out, let me know. It's written in Microsoft ASP (Active Server Pages) and uses an MS Access database as the backend and it has been tested on Windows NT4 through Windows 2003.

Monday, November 14, 2005

More love for Bloglines: RSS Feeds added in CLeO

Last week I worked on adding RSS support for CLeO - our online CE registration system. I now have three feeds available:

Upcoming events - Next 7 days
Recently added events - Added in the last 14 days
Today's Events

How can you use these?
Simple. Get a Bloglines account.

How will it help you?
Track all the websites you like to read IN ONE PLACE. Have content come to you, stop spending your time going to find it.

To save you some more time, here are three events you may be particularly interested in:
Instant Messaging for Reference Services - 2/3/2006 - This will be opened up for registration soon!
How to set up IM (Instant Messaging) in your library - 2/17/2006 - A follow up to the Instant Messaging for Reference Services
Blogs, RSS, and Social Bookmarking websites- using free online tools to reach your patrons - 2/28/2006 - What these tools are, who is using them, and how YOU can use them to reach your patrons.

Also..I hope to very soon announce a new and exciting program for LCLS members. More information will follow VERY SOON.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Make subscribing to RSS easy

I was browsing for local St. Louis news RSS feeds at ksdk.com when I noticed something. On their rss page, they have buttons that say "Add to my Yahoo!" and "Add to Newsgator".

I thought..hey, how handy. So I took a look at the "Sub with Bloglines" button and realized, DUH, its just a uniform link that uses javascript to fill in the address for the feed.

So...you could make a link like this:
www.bloglines.com/sub/http://www.lcls.org/rss.aspx
Example: Click me to Subscribe to this page with Bloglines!

And when a user clicks it, they are directed to Bloglines, where if they are signed in, they get prompted to add the feed. If not, they are asked to log in OR create an account.

How cool is that?

I plan on adding a "Subscribe with Bloglines" link to the LCLS RSS feed, and I will also add in a subscribe with My Yahoo! and any other service I find that offers such a simple feature. If you know of one, leave a comment!

Want to subscribe to my blog?

Bloglines: Click Here!
Yahoo!: Click Here!

A couple follow ups

1) I've had several people e-mail to say they are using the AIM status icon. Thanks for the heads up and sorry to anyone who couldn't find my email..I neglected to enable it in my profile. Good job, I know :)

Dennis Smith stumbled across the AIM status icon, and although he's not exactly a library I did make an exception. But, what he did do was clean up the icons a bit so they blend better on any color background.

Thanks Dennis!

2) Via Frappr, I stumbled across the Wanderings of a Student Librarian. Joy is a student librarian over in MO, and she has an excellent Bloglines tutorial:

Bloglines for Librarians in Three (and a half) Easy Steps

If you are interested in Bloglines, check out her tutorial! Its much simpler than my long-winded explanation of why Bloglines is the best ever :)

Also, while on the subject of Bloglines, "jena" left this comment:
One of the great things about Bloglines is that it will "auto-discover" RSS feeds. If you don't know if a website has one or not, you can just type in the site's base address, and Bloglines will try to find a feed associated with it. It's not completely infallible, as sometimes it can't locate a feed that should be there, but most of the time, it works.

There is also a "bookmarklet" that you can drag to your bookmarks folder; then, when you find a site you want to keep track of, you just click on the bookmarlet and it will automatically try to find any associated feeds and let you subscribe to them, without having to go back to the Bloglines page.
I checked it out and added the Sub with bloglines button to my Firefox bookmarks toolbar. It works great!

There are instructions for several browsers here: http://www.bloglines.com/help/easysub?tip=6

Monday, November 07, 2005

My recommended webtool of the day: Bloglines

This is my second attempt at this post. The first attempt...well, I got distracted and closed the browser window (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!). So...this may be a little different than what I had planned because, well, what I planned left my brain a while ago. (Guess a Pensieve would be too much to ask for?)

What does Bloglines mean to you?

Let's start off with what it does. Bloglines lets you give it the URL (the web address) of an RSS feed and it then goes out and periodically downloads that information for you (checking for new items), so you can come back to it later. Simply go to the Bloglines website, set up an account (needs your name, and email address) and then start adding the RSS feeds you want.

Wait a minute, you said RSS. What does that mean to me?

RSS = Really Simple Syndication

Simply put RSS is about sharing. RSS is a way to share content from one website to another, in a standard way. RSS is a web-standard that was created to share data so web-programmers (like me) would not have to do crazy things like write programs that memorized the layout of a website and pulled out certain parts (aka Screen Scraping).

Ok, so really it was created to share data, and RSS makes sharing data easier (I did not say easy!). So now, with RSS, I could display information from CNN, Foxnews, someone else's blog, or any website that offers RSS (like LCLS). Most importantly I can do this because RSS returns information in a specific format, so I could write one program to interpret data from many different websites.

The easiest way to think of RSS is to think about a news article. You have a title, the byline, author, intro text, and the full-text of the article. That is how RSS stores information. An RSS reader (like Bloglines) interprets that information and formats it so that it is easily readible by you.

Another simple analogy would be to compare RSS to e-mail. With RSS content on the web comes TO YOU (just like all that unwanted e-mail), instead of you having to GO FIND IT.

Tools like Bloglines help you get the benefit of RSS. Bloglines reads the RSS feeds you store and brings you the information in a nicely formatted webpage. No work, other than adding the feed's URL, is required on your part.

By using a tool like Bloglines, you dont have to visit 50 websites a day to catch up. If they offer RSS, you can store all the RSS feeds in one place and go to one (1) website and see all of what your 50 favorite websites have put online recently. (Who can say "time saver" three times fast?)

Bloglines really stuck out to me, because it also has a mode that lets you create a special URL that you can send your friends and they can see what RSS feeds you're reading, and view them through the Bloglines website.

If you visit: http://www.bloglines.com/public/cdeweese, you can view all the RSS feeds I read.

You can control, of course, what ones you make available and what ones you don't.

Bloglines is simple to use, simply visit the main website, create a new account, and start adding RSS feeds. Believe me when I say, a lot, A LOT of places offer RSS. All the major news outlets are doing it, blogs the world over have RSS, and libraries are jumping into the game as well.

There are other tools you can use to download RSS feeds to your desktop as well.

One I use on my desktop is:
-SharpReader. Sharp reader is a desktop application that sits in the system tray and downloads RSS content for you and alerts you when new things are downloaded.
Benefit: Content comes to you (after you start the program, it is similar to outlook/outlook express in that it stays open downloading for you and alerting you when new things are posted)
Downside: Only available to you on the computer you install it on.

Since I started using Bloglines, I have not been using SharpReader as much. But several staff here at LCLS now use SharpReader to subscribe to RSS feeds for the LCLS website, as well as any other sites they like to keep up with.

Creating an RSS feed is a little more work than viewing them, but thanks to sites like Bloglines and desktop tools like SharpReader, viewing RSS is even easier than it was when RSS started.

Where can you find RSS feeds? Most websites list them fairly obviously on their websites, look for the XML graphic, or a link that says RSS, ATOM, or Web feed.

RSS is not some big sophisticated techno-geeky thing, but the aura that surrounds it because it was embraced by geeks kinda shyed some away. With so many tools available, especially ones as simple as Bloglines, RSS can be integrated into your daily computer habits and it will change the way you interact with the web.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Continuous learning for your inner geek in 2006 @ LCLS

In February LCLS will host Aaron Schmidt who will be presenting a session on using IM (Instant Messaging) for reference. A few weeks after that (mid-february), I will be hosting a follow up session that will focus strictly on IM software, and setting it up on the PCs in your library.

Near the end of February I plan on holding a session on Blogs, RSS, and Social Bookmarking websites and how you can use these free online tools to reach your patrons. I will have numerous examples of these tools being used by other libraries, as well as showing how LCLS has started using a few of these tools to reach our member libraries.

Also, look for a gaming in libraries session sometime as well (late spring 2006) where I will cover the topic of gaming in libraries and how other libraries are using it. This will be my follow up after attending the Gaming in Libraries Symposium hosted by MLS in Chicago.

Keep an eye on CLeO and our event calendar for these events!

If you are interested in these events let me know. Also, if you are using IM, Blogs/RSS, or a Social Bookmarking site (like Del.icio.us) in your library, let me know, especially if you are from Illinois, or better yet, a member of LCLS.

What are all these things you ask?? Attend the events and I guarantee you will know!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Add AIM Presence to your website with a simple IMG tag!

*SEE UPDATE BELOW*

I spent a little time this afternoon working on my AIM Presence project. A lot of people want to put online/offline status icons on their websites so patrons and/or readers can see if the person is online and likely available.

AIM offers its presence service, but the big hold up is that connecting to it requires a knowledge of making SOAP requests using some server side language.

I see a lot of glazed over eyes right now.

This is where I come in. After hearing Jenny's enthusiasm over my addition of AIM status icons to the LCLS site, I realized I could probably come up with a way to make it easy for people to hook into the AIM Presence service via a simple webservice I created.

Version 1
This afternoon I hacked out version 1 of my AIM Presence hook. After a 2 minute IM with Jenny, I realized something. I had not helped at all! I asked her if she knew how to do SOAP requests in Cold Fusion. Duh, Chris, the whole point of this was so people wouldn't have to do that.

Wow did I miss the mark.

Then I remembered something. You see, I do a lot of programming research via Google. A lot. There are tons of coders out there, just like me who write code and share it. When I do projects, I map out what I need to do, and then I hit Google and some of my favorite programming resource sites to find the nuts and bolts of how to do it. So I come across a lot, A LOT of articles.

I found this little gem from from Jeremy Rule's blog over at MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network). What is it you ask? Well, with the power of server side programming, you can do a lot of neat things. One of those happens to be changing the content type you send to the browser.

Ok, what does that mean? That means..I can do things like tell your browser my website is sending you an image, and create that image with programming code either by A) Creating it from scratch and writing the programming to do it, or B) Loading another image and create a new image based off that.

I can write a web page that when you go to it, instead of getting an HTML webpage, you get an image.

Bingo!

So thanks to Jeremy's article (who, incidentally, has no idea who I am...just another anonymous reader), I crafted up a simple webpage that you can put inside an HTML IMG tag and get an online or offline icon.

It's that simple. (For you)

How can you use this on your website?? Easy! Anywhere you want to show an AIM status icon, use this code:
/* UPDATED 1/10/2006 - The old method is going away, please switch to this one */
<a href="aim:GoIM?screenname=PUT_YOUR_SCREENNAME_HERE"><img src="http://big.oscar.aol.com/YOUR_SCREEN_NAME_HERE?on_url=http://PATH_TO_ONLINE_IMAGE&off_url=http://PATH_TO_OFFLINE_IMAGE" border="0" /></a>
Where you see "PUT_YOUR_SCREENNAME_HERE", do just that. Replace that text with your screen name, paste this code into your website and wah-la. Your online status is now available the world over.

Where you see PATH_TO_ONLINE_IMAGE and PATH_TO_OFFLINE_IMAGE, replace those with the http:// path to the ONLINE and OFFLINE images you want to use.


/* This Q&A is no longer valid because of the changes I suggested. So just ignore it */


Q&A
Q: Can I use this one my website?
A: Yes. You are free to use this if:
  1. Your website is a library website (YES, your library related blogs count :) )
  2. You kindly email or IM me with your library name and website URL, so I know who is using it and where they are coming from.
Sometime in the future, I will add a layer of security that will restrict this to the people who contact me. For now, try it out.

For the curious out there, I bet you're looking at my Svc= querystring going, hmmm, why would he make us specify AIM. What else could we put there?

Well, as of now, just AIM. But over the next few weeks I hope to tap into Yahoo!, and ICQ. If possible, I will put MSN on there as well. But as of today, I do not think MSN offers a web presence service like AOL, Yahoo!, and ICQ.

That's it for this evening (I know you're thinking, that's it??). But I'm off to play some Star Wars: Battlefront 2 on the Xbox with my wife, who decided that she had to have the game the day it came out! Seriously, it was her idea!