Blake's blog

In the Name of Politics

I found This One on Mefi the other day and this paragraph really stuck with me as being particularly insightful. It's refreshing to read something about politics that's not inflammatory.

"When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another."

This was written by John C. Danforth, a former United States senator, ambassador to the United Nations and a current Episcopal minister. +1 insightful to Mr. Danforth.

Searching For Desiree Goodwin

Yesterday I mentioned Desiree Goodwin suddenly being very popular on LISNews thanks to search engine referrals. But this is more interesting than I first thought. I was thinking about this search in particular and why it really takes a good librarian to answer a question on a name search like this. How does a computer know exactly what I'm looking for when I search for a name? If it was someone like George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, maybe that's more obvious, but what if I am searching for Desiree Goodwin? Am I looking for her web page, news stories about her, her picture, her email address? What if I'm searching for Blake Carver, or Steven M. Cohen? Obviously a librarian would bust out mad interview skills and save the day, but a search engine can't really do that.

Comparing just this one search gives me a bit of insight into what assumptions are being made by the big 4 search engines. For example, MSN puts LISNews at #1, Google #2, and while I'd like to say that's a brilliant search result, I can't. Yahoo's first and second results are some kind of odd search engine spam pages, and MSN seems to favor sites that have (or had) her name mentioned on their index page.

But let's take them one at a time:

Google has ABC (news), LISNews (news), bostonhearld(news), cnn(news), morelaw.com (law), yahoo news (news), dusbury.com (news), lists.iww.org (news), and tourbus.com (spam).

Ask Jeeves has bostonherald, three times (news), dustbury.com (news), usatoday (news), harvard.edu (her page), findarticles.com (news), and librarian-image.net (librarian image)

Now to Yahoo! tourbus.com (spam) occupies the first 2 spots, bostonherald.com (news), dustbury (news), cnn (news), openhuctw (news), libraryjournal (news), usatoday (news), excite (news), myway(news) and firstcoastnews (news)

Finally, MSN: LISNews is first (just like it should be for any search result), followed by insignificantthoughts (news), badsamaritan(news), boston (news), rosenblog(news), thesakeofargument (news) and resourceshelf (news).

MSN's search results are striking because everyone except the LISNews page are top level pages. Every other result set is made up of exclusively content pages. Example: the link to The Resource Shelf, is to resourceshelf.com, rather than some page at resourceshelf.com. Yahoo's results are odd because of the spam. AskJeeves at least pulls up one page from her at Harvard, and Google does things about the same as everyone else.

I also tried a couple less popular search engines to see what turned up. Clusty gave me a Cluster for Naked, Desiree Becker (7) that looked rather interesting, but the main search results were about the same as everyone else. Hidden amongst the many sponsor results at Altavista were similar results as well. Nothing new at DogPile either.

So who won? ::shrug:: I dunno, what was it I was searching for? Dropping a name into a search engine can mean we're searching for just about anything, and how a computer is supposed to read our minds? None of these search engines returned very interesting results for this query.

I did learn these search engines are all assuming we're looking for current events when we do a search on a name that is found in many current news stories. Is this a safe assumption? ::shrug::

Desiree, Spring, and a New LISNews Section

Desiree Goodwin really is hot! I was just looking at the HOF page and noticed one of the Desiree Goodwin posts from a few weeks ago was suddenly the most post popular story of the month. Puzzled, I did a bit of digging and found that the LISNews post is the number 2 search result for her name. I don't need to even tell you where it's #2 do I?
So, apparently she is hot after all (hot, you see, is being a synonym for sexy, she's suing for being treated as nothing more than sexy, do I need to explain all my jokes?). This phenomena has happened to us before, showing up in the top few of any search suddenly beings an avalanche of referrals. There's a new word just waiting to be invented!
Googletopped, googledossed, googlepopped, googleanche… There's one in there someplace.

Last Saturday, well maybe that was 2 weeks ago now, let's just say 9 days ago I wrote about having 8 inches of snow on the ground. This Saturday, well, last Saturday, let's just say 2 days ago, I sat out on the deck with my laptop top and enjoyed a star-lit sky and temperatures in the upper 50's. There's still a snow pile of two left in the parking lots, but the giant ice stalagmites are all gone from the gorge, so spring is here in my book. I installed the lights on the deck and it looks HOT! A few more weeks and I'll finally have the stupid thing finished. I'll have to write about the pain-filled deck building odyssey of 04-05 someday.

If all goes well I'm going to have a new section added to LISNews soon, but I need a good name. It'll be a section, maybe, so it'll be a subdomain just like the others (politics.lisnews.com, public.lisnews.com, harry.lisnews.com) but I'm not sure what to call it. This new page will be different from the others in a significant way. This new page will be all the journal posts, in order of time. So imagine the current index page, but instead of the stories just us authors post, it'll be made up of the journal posts from all the LISNewsterz. So, questions:
1. I don't know what to call it. Journals, blogs, talk…. It needs to be something.lisnews.com, journals.lisnews.com just doesn't sound right, neither does blogs.lisnews.com. So what say you? Name the new section and win fabulous prizes.
2. Should I just give it a new URL? I could very easily just break these away from the LISNews.com url completely and make a Metafilter like site based on the LISNews users journals area. This would mean a substantial change for the journals section, and I wouldn't feel right without hearing back from several people before I do this. How you write in your journal wouldn't really change, but how your writing gets accessed would. You'd suddenly be on the index page of a new domain shared by all the LISNewsterz. I love this idea, but I don't know how all ya'll feel about it. Again, we'd need to pick a domain name. Please let me know your thoughts on this.

One On LISHost

I've written more than enough about LISNews lately, so here's one on LISHost.

One of the best things about CIL2005 was meeting so many new people. One of my personal FAQs from CIL2005 was "What's the deal with LISHost?" A frequent follow up was "Do you make any money?" and "Oh, that's not your job?" LISHostees were out in force @CIL, on more than one occasion everyone at the table had some connection to my little project.

So, to work backwards through that short list, my "real job," the job that pays the bills, involves being a special librarian here in Western New York. I work at a power plant and I have my very own hard hat and steel toed boots. Needless to say this is a vastly different work environment than my last job, which was at Ohio State, which was again a vastly different environment than the job before that which was at a .com startup. Now that I think about it, this list goes on and on. I've been at this job for almost exactly 2 years now, which makes this my longest held job since I found myself with an MLS. I'm almost positive I'll be here at least several more years, if not decades.

Now, do I make any money from LISHost? Well, there's more than one way to answer that question I guess. The LISHost server currently costs $180 a month. LISHost has more than enough clients to cover those rather low costs. So, yes, I make some money. Another way to answer this question would be to figure out how much I make per hour of work I put in. I don't dare make that calculation, I'm scared, I can only guess it's about the same as I'd make working in a Malaysian sweat shop making sneakers. Though the hours are better usually, and working conditions are pretty good, the pay still stinks. That being said, I'm not in it for the money. LISHost is too much fun to even compare to sewing sneakers 12 hours a day.

LISHost is in some ways my second child (LISNews being the first, and number three is on the way). I've put in what seems like endless amounts of time and money to watch it grow over a period of years (2005 is our third year) into something rather special. In many ways I'm just being a librarian when I'm "working" at LISHost. I answer reference questions, I do research, I organize things, it's all surprisingly very librarianish. Since much of what I do at my "real job" is surprisingly UNlibrarianish LISHost, at least the support end of things, never feels like a drag. It's fun being able to answer interesting questions and help people through their problems. What could be more librarian-like? It can be a drag when I spend an hour or two on a problem and just can't figure it out. It's times like that I turn to the better half of LISHost, Joe Frazee. Joe's a super-geek, someone who can figure out any problem, and do it faster than anyone else. I handle most of the daily stuff like support requests, setting up new accounts and answering questions, but when it comes to the really heavy duty Linux geek stuff, Joe is a life saver. LISHost simply wouldn't exist without Joe.

So to answer the first FAQ last, "what's the deal with LISHost?" My goals were and still are rather modest. I needed to plop LISNews on a dedicated server and couldn't afford the cost of the server on my own, so it seemed like a good idea to offer web hosting. Joe and I were already working together keeping a bunch of servers at OSU running, so I figured we could do the same for one more. Unfortunately, LISNews out grew LISHost, and now I've got LISNews on a second server named LISHost.com, and everyone else over on the LISHost.org server. So my original goal of paying for LISNews didn't work out so well, since I'm still stuck with a second server hosting nothing but LISNews. LISHost doesn't pay anywhere near enough for anyone to live on. I figure with about 600 or so paying clients I can do it full time, so we're only about 560 or so away from that, at current growth rates I should be able to think about running LISHost full time in 2020 or so, just around the time I figure web sites will be passé. Most of my goals for LISHost are short term still. I'd love to be able to move mail to a separate server, add a third hard drive to the server, or even a fourth for MySQL. Of course, this all costs more money, and more time, so I need to find a balance between the time & money I put in, and the money I'm making. More hostees need more resources, need more time, but bring in more money.

Unfortunately you can probably see where this is going. The more clients we get, the more money we bring in. This makes the billing department happy (The billing department being my wife). I handled the belling for the first 2 years, but it turns out I'm a much better sysadmin than book keeper. It didn't take long before I completely lost control of who owed me what. Luckily The Wife was happy to jump in and take over billing. The more clients we have the more billing problems we have, the more people we have to chase around to pay up, and the more time I spend. The good thing is the more hostees we have, the more money we bring in, but it's finding that balance between too much work and not enough money that might be hard to maintain going forward. I don't think I'm there yet, but I'm starting to think there will come a point when I'll just need to shut off new sign ups. Unfortunately I don't bring in nearly enough to pay anyone to "work" for LISHost, I'd need several hundred new accounts to do that. Between now and that magical number, I'd be completely swamped, so no matter what I'd be making it just wouldn't be worth it. So I need to be careful to NOT pass over that magical line where I just can't keep up. I'm I can see the line before I step over accidentally.

Having more domains also opens up a new security risk with each account. Everyone brings their own special blend of security troubles. Whether it's a new blog, or a calendar application, anytime someone starts running any kind of CGI program we have another chance to get cracked. This is what I worry most about. Like any child, it keeps me up at night on occasion. On any given day I probably get an average of 2 support requests, some days it's 10, other days just one, so LISHost does keep me busy. Other days I must fix something on the server that is causing troubles for all the domains, this usually takes up more time than anything else.

LISHost is (currently) a single Red Hat Enterprise Linux server. There's about 110 or so domains currently, so we're slowly approaching the point where we'll need to start thinking about a second server. I'm not sure what that magic number will be, but from what I've read, I'll need to think about it if we double that number. I run Qmail as the MTA, Apache 2.x, MySQL, PHP, Perl, and all the typical stuff you'd expect to find on a Linux server. I think I'm happy with Qmail over something more common, like Sendmail, though it's been so long since I've messed with Sendmail, I still question my decision from time to time. I've just recently had a request to install some neat Z39.50 and XML stuff that could prove to be very interesting. I always forget there is so much neat Open Source Library software out there.

So far, so good. I think we're doing a good job keeping up with everything. We're not at the point where I need to think about a new server, or shutting off new accounts, or hiring a new assistant, or doing anything else drastic. I feel the amount of money we're currently bringing in makes it worth all the work still, and I really do enjoy what I'm doing for people. There are days when it takes up way too much time, and there are days when it takes very little, so it still balances out, and that's what life is all about, balance.

The New Doctor Who

My father's favorite series is back, Doctor Who! I just finished Watching the New Dr. Who on CBC, and I'm happy to report it's no New Battlestar Gallactica on SciFi. Rose is quite a cutie, but for some reason this show didn't catch me at all like Battlestar did. It's not bad, but it's really not all that entertaining, so far. I say "luckily" because I think I only have room in my life for a certain number of TV shows, and if something else as good as Gallactica comes along I just don't know I could possibly cut out.

So the story is not bad, acting is OK, production not great. Overall, it's just not bad, which I supposed isn't bad, but it could be better. I do like the New Dr. he's fun, and Rose is well cast. She's not the same old emaciated teenager we see on every show here in the good 'ol USA. It's also good because it's very British, so I doubt it'll do very well if/when it gets shown on an American network. I've always enjoyed shows that aren't the same ol' thing, and this one is not another "Friends." There were a few jokes I just didn't get, something about the north? That probably killed on the BBC.

It's neat to hear the sounds again, that's really what I remember most from the original series, that grinding sound the ship makes, the great music. It seems to be a bit different, but I'm not sure if that's my poor memory or not. Overall, not bad, it's a good break from typing and programming, or it would be if I wasn't sitting here typing.

Here's a quick summary:
Rose meets the Dr. in a creepy basement, gets attacked by plastic people, and again at home, but he jumps in his blue box and gets away. She then works to track him down with the help of search-wise.net and an internet loony guy. He discovers pictures of the Dr. throughout time, "when disaster comes, he is there, and he has one constant companion….DEATH." A garbage can eats Rose's boyfriend who is turned into a plastic monster. Strangely, Rose doesn't even notice, it's so obvious!! So a headless boyfriend chases them around a bit, and we get to see the phone booth, finally, about 40 minutes in. It looks nothing like the original, as far as I can remember, it's more creepy and dark than I remember. The TARDIS, that's the name. So they eventually track down the evil living plastic "nesting consciousness" and find her real boyfriend. Dr. Who asks the bad blobs to leave, and the surprisingly say no. And then... I won't spoil the end for you, just in case.

I'll stick with it for a week or two, maybe it'll catch me at some point. I'm still looking forward to next season being chased by the Cylons!

LISNews: Numbers for March 2005

For those of you following along, here's the numbers from last month.

Total Sessions 327,404.00
Total Pageviews 965,840.00
Total Hits 2,599,562.00
Total Bytes Transferred 24.45 GB

Average Sessions Per Day 10,561.42
Average Pageviews Per Day 31,156.13
Average Hits Per Day 83,856.84
Average Bytes Transferred Per Day 807.78 MB

Average Pageviews Per Session 2.95
Average Hits Per Session 7.94
Average Bytes Per Session 78.32 KB
Average Length of Session 00:10:37

Most popular Journal feeds: Walt, Slashgirl, Blake, nbruce, shoe, birdie, andmdoneil.

Most popular Journals: Blake, nbruce, Daniel, Bibliofuture, walt, djfiander, show and birdie.

The journal RSS feeds are far more popular than the jounals regular web pages now.

Busiest authors:
Blake : 201
Rochelle : 77
birdie : 35
BrianS : 14
Ryan : 13
Bibliofuture : 9
Louise : 7
John : 4
Bill Drew : 3
bentley : 3
Ben : 1
Mock Turtle : 1
Anna : 1
Brian : 1
Daniel : 1

Authors hits per story:
Brian : 1347.00
Bill Drew : 735.00
John : 550.00
Mock Turtle : 375.00
birdie : 355.74
Rochelle : 300.90
Ryan : 243.69
Anna : 232.00
Ben : 228.00
Blake : 217.27
Bibliofuture : 197.00
bentley : 188.67
BrianS : 125.14
Louise : 121.29
Daniel : 119.00

Total number of comments: 780
Total number of commentors: 100
Busiest commentors:
Anonymous Patron : 122
GregS* : 78
Blake : 44
mdoneil : 38
kylere : 37
twistedlibrarian : 29
Rochelle : 28
Walt : 23
Fang-Face : 22
Bibliofuture : 22

Total number of stories: 371

Total number of submissions: 260

Total number of metamoderations: 1119
Total Fair: 1099
Total Unfair: 20

Total number of moderations: 557
--Total up: 488
--Total down: 35
--Funny: 9

Average score of moderated comments: 1.7343
Comments with a score of 5: 16
Comments with a score of 4: 34
Comments with a score of 3: 60
Comments with a score of 2: 163
Comments with a score of 1: 414
Comments with a score of less than 0: 12

Number of journal entries: 124
Number of journal comments: 123
Most prolific journalors:
18 : Blake
13 : Bibliofuture
11 : nbruce
10 : Durst
10 : Daniel
8 : slashgirl
7 : mdoneil
7 : Walt
4 : AshtabulaGuy
4 : birdie

Number of people who logged in: 320
Total number of user accounts: 4013

Snowy Saturday Night

I've written about how I write before, but I've never written about my write file. Tucked into my flash drive is a file I've affectionately named simply write.doc. It's 37 pages long and contains about 12,000 words, approximately half of which I've posted here in my journal. The other 6,000 or so words just sit and wait. They comprise essays that I feel are too political, too boring, too angry or too useless and will probably never see the light of day. There are several tickler paragraphs that could be an interesting start to something, or could just be nothing.

Most of what I post here starts in my "write" file, where I will almost always write a first draft, revise it once or twice over the course of a day or two, and then post. Sometimes it never makes it past draft, and other times it just sits for weeks or months because I can't find the words or time to finish my thoughts.

But that's the great thing about having the journal here @LISNews. I can write about anything that comes to mind over here, and still keep LISNews on topic, this is my MEblog, and LISNews is my WEblog. We blog at LISNews, and I journal here. The separation of church (personal) and state (shared).

So anyways, this is a first and last draft. I'm sitting here with the cat in front of a nice warm fire on my new laptop cleaning up my flash drive, and out came this little essay. It's snowing quite heavily outside, the lights are dim and it's quiet, I'll enjoy this while I can.

A Quick Peek At Yahoo360

I've been writing about LISNews non-stop for a week now, so I'll take a quick break and cover Yahoo's new site/area/application/thingy.

I've never been big on any of the social software sites out there. I only grabbed a flickr account recently to wish Jessamyn's mom a happy birthday, I signed up with Orkut, Friendster and all those others to just have a look around. I never had a livejournal or blogger account. None of these services fits with how I currently use the web. So, that being said, Michael K. Pate recently passed me an invite to Yahoo360 and I had a look around, and I like what I see. 360 is basically one sites that ties all the latest online trends together into one nice neat little site. Mail, blog, pictures, homepage, lists, and friends; Yahoo has squeezed just about everything in there.

I'll start with what Yahoo calls "Blast messages" something they describe as "Any quick thought you want to share with everyone you know." It's basically the tag line on "your page", "my page" is a typically yahoo like home page that ties together bits of all my 360 items, and even offers an RSS reader to bring in anything else I might need (well, coming soon). The blast shows up on various other pages that list you name.

The blogging options are quite nice. You have a simple URL option, title and description to start. You can also decide who sees your blog (everyone except my parents is not an option, sorry kids) and you have options for your RSS feed and comments. Composing my first blog entry that "is sure to impress" was easy. I'm given an option to upload a photo along with the post, and I have the option of viewing the raw HTML or using the standard browser widgets to control layout and colors. I can also write and share reviews, which strangely holds a place at the same level as my blog, profile and lists.

I also have options to share music, my yahoo groups I belong to, photos, and play around with friends (unfortunately there is no options for enemies). The options for finding new people show some good ideas, if I was a people person, or looking for a new wife, this would be much more fun.

Overall I think the site is rather well done, it doesn't stand out as being far and away better than the other sites I've played with, but it gets the job done. For a beta site it seems rather well developed. For people who don't have their own site, Yahoo360 seems like a good place to get started with creating content. A library web site would be far ahead of the curve if it offered half of these features to it's users.

LISNews: Past, Present, and Mostly Future

My eighth and final CIL2005 presentation wrap up essay. Join me as I take a peek inside my cloudy crystal ball and see what possibilities the future could hold for LISNews.

We'll pass some significant milestones in 2005:

  1. I’ll post my 10,000th story
  2. We’ll have more than
  3. 20,000 comments
  4. 15,000 stories
  5. 6,000 journals
  6. 4,000+ user accounts (we just hit 4k yesterday)
  7. 30 million hits

And so on down the line, if the trends continue the numbers will all increase. If the trends reverse themselves the numbers will all decrease. Let's just assume the trends will continue forever. Numbers can be rather boring and many of them can be misleading. More interesting than boring numbers are the ideas I've been bouncing around in my head, and between the other authors, on what to do with LISNews. My single biggest, best and most exciting idea is to bring some kind of original reporting to the pages of LISNews. Unfortunately, this, and just about every other idea is being held back by money, or lack thereof, and time, an all to common tale in the world of libraries.

LISNews ain't cheap, and finding a way to reliably pay the $180 a month needs to be a priority for me this year. If I can only just barely pay the hosting bill, I obviously can't pay reporters as well. I can only think of a few possibilities how I might accomplish this task:
1. Incorporate LISNews as a non-profit, write grants and solicit donations, which would allow us to pay authors.
2. Seek out some kind of a partnership or get "bought out" by someone decent, some big and powerful .org, or someone else that would make us part of a large non-profit organization. This may also include a similar arrangement with a .com, but I like the .org idea better.
3. Incorporate LISNews as a for-profit, set up an advertising department and cover everything we do with ads. We can also sell all the usual crud to help bring in a few extra bucks (you know you want an LISNews thong!) This would put us in the advertising business.
4. Do nothing. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

My favorite option is #2, and I'm trying to find good ideas on possible people or places that might be interested. Though I'm not having much luck yet, there's still some possibilities floating around. There is a chance some of my conversations @CIL will start something, but there's nothing in the works. My second favorite idea is #1, and least favorite is #3. #4 is just the status quo, which really isn't a bad thing, assuming I can get enough donations to cover the server every year. There's always the chance I'll be able to find someone who has a spare server and some bandwidth, which would solve the hosting issue.

So if (and that's a BIG IF) we should happen to find some way to bring in some kind of money, what would we do with it? What I'd love to do is original reporting. That's not to say I'd be doing the reporting, but rather LISNews could hire "real reporters." Rather than just a link to a story we'd have our own story, maybe an interview, and other original content that you wouldn't find elsewhere. There area a million good stories that go unreported. Not a day goes by that I don't think about how a certain story would be a great interview, or there would be a story behind this story. But finding someone to do all that writing and work for free just isn't going to happen, and I just don't have the time or talent to do that myself. Which means we would need to HIRE someone to do all that interesting reporting. I'm full of ideas how we could have a reporter or two, and a few free lance writers working hard to bring you all sorts of interesting stories. I'm short on ideas on how I'd actually pay them to do this.

There are many other interesting ideas I have for the site, smaller ideas that would just take some time to code, ideas on a much smaller scale, more practical things.

Expanded coverage: Post more interesting, useful stories. We have a unique medium here, we can write what we want, about what we want, and we're not constrained by space concerns, we don't need to fit in ads, or worry about offending people who will boycott our advertisers. We also have our different sections that allow us to post far more stories than we currently do. The blog format allows us to post news as it happens, which is both a good thing, and can be too much sometimes. So spreading the articles between the various sections makes everything more readable.

Better mailing list, html, customizable: The Slashcode mailing list feels like an after thought and I think several things can be done to bring it up to speed. It would be grand if there was an HTML option, if it could be customized by each subscriber, and if each section had its own list. Librarians love listservs, and ours can use a facelift. As I write this it occurs to me I should bring back LISNews-Discuss, anyone remember that?

News alerts: I have no idea how many people would use it, but a "news alerts" plug-in would be a neat tool to have. You could subscribe to be notified every time we post a story about your library, or a story on books. Not an easy hack, but one that would be useful to all Slashcode sites.

Journals that have URLs: blake.lisnews.com, rochelle.lisnews.com, greg.lisnews.com, I think you see what I'm getting at there. Each subdomain would be each users journal. Easier said than done, especially because some user names (e.g. GregS*) use characters that can't be used in domains. Each user would have a really neat URL for their own blog. Not an easy hack, and one that would require moving DNS to the LISNews server. As soon as LISNews becomes my fulltime job I'll work on this one.

Journals section: Closely related would be journals.lisnews.com where the most recent journal entries would show up. This one is an easy hack, and I'll probably get to it sooner or later.

User email accounts: Wouldn't it be great if every LISNews user account came with it's very own email address @ LISNews? Talk about a can of worms! I don't think I'd ever have the time to administer this, but it's such a fun idea.

CSS/XHTML: About all I can say on this one is, they're working on it. I know I'm not the man to make this happen, but as soon as there's a CSS theme released for Slashcode I'll install it. The HTML we put out is old and rather crufty. I should just go through and update the most popular pages, but I haven't seem to found this on my list of things to do.

Scale some modules down: Some of the great tools Slashcode provides need to be changed a bit, dialed down if you will, to better suit our smaller LISNews audience. Moderation, and a few backend things would be more useful if they had more options.

Bug fixes: There's a bunch of little bugs here and there that need fixin', some are easier than others. The dates don't display correctly, some things don't update correctly, the titles on the journals don't fix themselves, the discussions page stinks, we need a new search engine, etc…

Prettier: I suppose I should use a mo' better word so I don't look like such a blog person, how 'bout Aesthetics: Orange and Blue?? What was I thinking? Unfortunately much of what you see (colors, icons, even the LISNews logo) was thrown together and was never meant to be permanent. At some point when I was toying with colors and logos and icons I just gave up, thinking I'd fix things up a little later. Well, a little later never came, and you can see the results. But hey, Blue and Orange are still better than purple any day of the week!

Make LISNews easier to use: Slashcode is not easy to use. If you think it is you've been hanging around LISNews or Slashdot too much lately. Why do you click on a little tiny button labeled "reply" to post a comment? The Slashcode UI can use more than a few tweaks.

More collaborative stuff: Tags are one thing that come to mind I think would be a relatively easy hack. There's a few other neat collaborative "folksonomy" things floating around I think we could incorporate without much work.

I've felt for a long time LISNews has many possibilities to grow. I don't know if we have the audience, and I'm not entirely sure I'm the person who can do it or not, but at this point there's not anyone else jumping up and down to carry us forward. I think it's up to me to actually do the work to get us set up as some sort of non-profit, or find someone to host the site, and that's going to mean some work now, which doesn't worry me, but what does worry me is the work in the future. I need to think about how much work I'm creating for myself down the road. Life will suddenly become hectic for me in August and I'm afraid I won't have the time to keep up with LISHost and LISNews (especially since LISHost has been driving me NUTS this week). I'll need lots of help with things like writing editing and just keeping the darn thing going.

So this just leaves many of the same ol' open questions: Do we really provide anything unique that people would pay for? Who would do what? Would I have to hire people? Do we have a large enough audience so that anyone would be interested in sponsoring or buying us? Do I really need to do anything? Will I have the time to do anything?

Experience has taught me it'll be impossible to make LISNews an organization for original reporting without some kind of funding, and where some kind of funding would come from I do not know. Luckily I don't think we're in any danger of going under any time soon. In our current form we're probably going to be useful for at least a few more years. We have a rather vibrant community that has so far supported the site and made it possible for me to keep things running. I have every reason to believe that will continue for at least the short term, and hopefully some new options will open up in the long term.

What else has almost 5 years of building an online community taught me? I'll explore those issues more at a later date.

LISNews: Technical Details

Warning: this is rather technical. If you don't care about technology, programming, hardware and other stuff like that, you might just want to skip this one. If you're really interested in learning how Slashcode works, get the book, read the lists, or install it yourself.

This is the seventh in my series of greatly expanded CIL2005 presentation, (Now you can see why I ran out of time) this one is just a brief look at some of the technical details behind LISNews.

Slashcode is an interesting program. By interesting I mean hard to use, poorly supported and documented, temperamental and touchy. It's also feature rich, rather flexible, powerful and can serve thousands of pages an hour without even breaking a sweat. It also allows multiple sites to run off of a single installed code base, and has about a billion other interesting things to offer. It does require Apache 1.x, though I can only assume they'll move it to Apache 2 at some point. Because it uses mod_perl and ties itself into Apache so tightly it doesn't play nice with other domains, so it almost needs to be on a stand alone server. It does an admirable job of handling millions of page views from millions of people, and a good job of policing thousands of comments from thousands of people. It doesn't scale (down) all that well though. Normally when we geeks write about scalability we think big, this time I'm thinking small. Slashcode is designed to run Slashdot, a site that has thousands of users, serves millions of pages, and receives thousands of comments. Slashdot does in one day what LISNews does in 6 months or maybe a year, so you can imagine that we have different needs than they do. An important part of Slashcode is policing the thousands of trouble makers at Slashdot we thankfully don't have to deal with. So while Slashcode has a few bugs and some usability issues, and a few other problems, overall I think it's a great tool for running a community site.

LISNews is powered by a modest web server located in the EV1 datacenter down in Texas. It specs out like so:
Pentium IV 2ghz
Red Hat 7.2
1.5 gigs of ram
2 - 75 gig hard drives (one just for backups)
Uptime of >30 days
Load average usually around < 0.5

When I started LISNews I wanted to make a Slashdot for librarians. Since LISNews is now powered by the same software that powers Slashdot, I guess I've reached that goal. We're the Slashdot for librarians, powered by Slashcode: Slashdot Like Automated Storytelling Homepage

Slashcode is obviously the open source Perl stuff behind Slashdot.org. Since it's open source anyone can read the code, download it, and run their own Slashcode site. Because you can go read the code you can figure out what sorts of things only the cool people like me can see on the backend, and some other different things we as authors can do. I just want to touch on a few of the important things that make Slashcode go: Themes, Db Abstraction, Db API, Perl Template Toolkit, Plugins, multiple-sites, Apache (1), MySQL & mod_perl

Themes: Since Slashcode is designed to run not just Slashdot, but any other site, it's customizable through these things called themes. Basically a theme is a bunch of HTML and other code that makes a site look like, well, itself. The themes are made up of, or maybe more accurately, powered by the Template Toolkit language. This allows the data to be stored in a database backend, and edited through a web browser (though when changes are made Apache needs to be restarted).

Database Stuff: LISNews, just like Slashdot, runs with a MySQL database backend. Slashcode dose use an abstraction level, which means, in theory, you can use any database you prefer. Slashcode also has a decent Database API that makes it rather easy to develop your own tools and plugins. Generally having a everything stored in a database gives you more flexibility, of course that also means if the database goes down so does your site.

Plugins One nice thing about Slashcode is the ability to add plugins. A plugin can add some functionality that isn't present in the base code set. The HOF page is a plugin, so is "the zoo" aka friends and foes, and anyone can write their own plugins.

Some other interesting little geeky things that keep the site running:
Applets: Little programs that run inside Apache process. These are essentially the Perl pages that build HTML for browsers. Index.pl is one applet. It's the page you see when you're logged in as the home page.
Tasks: Programs that are running independently from Apache. Run by SLASHD. System tasks like building RDF pages, html pages, sending email. SLASHD is really the heart of the site, and when she crashes the static site stops being built, and the email stops. There are essentially 2 different versions of the site, the one you see when you're logged in, and the one everyone else sees. Being logged in you have a lot more things to play with, and more options to choose what you do see. SLASHD keeps rebuilding the static site.
Modules: Slash.pm, Utility.pm, DB.pm. These are the perl libraries that define all the objects and functions used by everything else The modules are the heart and the soul of the site, since just about everything that gets done comes out of one of the modules.
Utilities: Various utilities are just run as needed. Daily emails, stats, user controls, template control, and several others are lurking in the background.

I could go on, but chances are anyone who is very interested in the back end stuff can download and install Slashcode for themselves. So up next will be my final "slide" where I'll write about the future of LISNews.

LISNews: The people (Including me)

I wrote about "That Community feeling" a bit in my last exciting CIL2005 LISNews recap, allow me to expand upon my people ideas. The comments, the journals, the ability to speak openly, the "Friends and Foes", all of these features contribute to a pretty strong sense of community here @ Your LISNews. People write about each other, they write about LISNews, they bitch and complain, and of course they also praise and compliment. LISNews is slowly starting to grow into a dysfunctional, disjointed, dispersed online family of folks from across a wide spectrum of our profession.

LISNews is a community of about 4,000 people from around the world. We're not all librarians, Birdie sells neato library oriented greeting cards, Hermit just seems to like the site, Ender is a book geek, and many others just seem to have some odd attraction to what goes on here @LISNews. Not everyone is a woman, liberal, man, white, conservative, black, and so on. The group also includes odd folks, some conservatives, a few liberals, retirees, directors, cranks, and all those in between. Since LISNews is so open it lends itself very well to achieving real diversity where everyone has an equal voice. Of course, diverse view points, especially on the web, will often lead to arguments, something we get plenty of. There are days LISNews looks a bit like Deadwood, without the prostitutes and gambling.

We (probably) get close to 6,000 unique people that view at least one page on any given weekday, add to that a large unknown number of others who read the site through one of our many feeds each day, and I think you'll agree LISNews has a pretty good sized audience. I think we appeal to a wide audience (wider than most blogs) because of the people involved. Obviously we don't get anywhere near that many comments, so it's a small percentage of folks that actually actively participate in the site each day, you might say most readers are lurkers. Generally, the most active folks are the most argumentative. Others will leave a comment when they have something interesting to add, or an experience to share. Still others spend all their time moderating comments, or metamoderating the moderators, and never leave a comment. Slashcode has so many little toys to play with it seems like there's something for everyone.

The user journals have become my favorite part of the site. It's where we really get to know each other. Where else can you read work day stories, database reviews, The Catholic Worker Digest, stories about home, and cries for help, all in one place? The journals are an exciting & eclectic collection of some of the most interesting writing you'll find about and by librarians anywhere.

I mentioned diverse view points, especially on the web, will often lead to fights. The worst part of my job is when people complain about each other, or me, or the site. Playing referee to a few angry folks bent on destroying each other, is really just no fun whatsoever. There are days, very rare days, when I just want to flip it off and pick up a new hobby that doesn't involve other people & computers. We all have days like these I think, but they don't last. I really do enjoy the many roles I play here at LISNews. I can take a day, or week, off and LISNews keeps going. So, what is my role?

I'm an editor, an author, ombudsman, programmer, systems administrator, and I'm also the help desk. As an author/editor I try to run LISNews similarly to other sites I enjoy using. In other words I think like a user. I post stories spread out over time, so there's not too much to read all at once, I post things that are interesting to me, or things I think might be interesting to others. All this, of course, takes up quite a bit of my time. I try not to think about the time I put into the site, or the number of stories I post (it might just make me cry). I recently wrote about my posting style, and I've been working on how and what I post. I think what I don't do enough is add opinion, links and insight, to what I post, I don't tie things together. I'm in a fairly unique position here as I get to see literally hundreds of stories a week, and I think I can add some interesting stuff to much of what I post. As the ombudsman and help desk I'm also the guy who gets yelled at, asked to play referee, and some days I must try to keep people under some sort of control. As programmer and sys admin I write and maintain the code and the server and as founder, I have the honor of being creator of something a rather large number of people use and enjoy. It's hard some days to wear all these different hats, but after almost 5 years it's just part of my day. LISNews is still fun.

As author, I am but one of many. People like Rochelle, Birdie and Ryan all post interesting stuff quite often. I've always thought one of our greatest strengths is the number of authors we have, though we can always use a few more. Birdie writes the polls, Rochelle does a lot of editing, I post a lot of stories, we all have small roles that add up to one well run site. Being an LISNews author gives us all a rather large voice to talk with our profession, and I think we have a good group who don’t abuse the privilege and work hard with no rewards to share things they find interesting. LISNews would just be another MEblog without all the other authors. Many authors have come and gone over the years, more gone than come. If you look at the HOF page you might notice only 4 of the 10 busiest authors are still even active or with us at all. Outside of the busiest authors, there's a long list of people who were granted author powers, only to never be heard from again, and an even longer list of people who posted once or twice and moved on. Strangely it's not the LISNews dropouts I wonder about, because I can understand why someone wouldn't have the time or interest in posting, it's the one's that stick around I wonder about. Why do they do it? What drives someone to post hundreds or thousands of stories here? I have no good answer; I think perhaps we're all just a little insane. Over the years it has proven to be remarkably hard to recruit and retain and devoted authors. The few we have are outstanding and deserve a big hug should you ever see them in person.

At CIL I was asked why I keep LISNews running. I didn't really have a very good answer, my response was "Why does anyone else participate in the site?" So to attempt to answer the question I gave it some though. About the best answer I can come up with is "because it is there." I don't know why anyone chooses to participate with the site, I'm not even sure if I know why I do it. Like I said, it's fun, it's interesting, and I really do enjoy it. I still have the time it takes to keep things running, though that may change in August. For me LISNews has been a huge career booster, a great networking tool, and an amazing learning experience.

Just 2 more things left to write about and I'll have covered everything I wanted to cover @CIL2005, some of the geeky backend details, and then, finally, the future of LISNews. I should have those posted tomorrow, and Thursday if all goes well.

LISNews: The Story Behind The Stories

Over the years I've resisted the urge to add things like job listings and other areas that might water down what we do or duplicated what other sites are already doing so well.
So what is it we do so well? Why do people visit LISNews? I can only make a guess, but I think it's something like this:

  1. News
  2. Comments
  3. Journals
  4. Community feeling
  5. They have a voice
  6. Class assignment
  7. Recommended by friend/colleague
  8. We give librarian fetishists a place to find their soul mates

The News: Now, here's what I'd like to tell you about the stories: our most popular stories are also our most useful, insightful, helpful, practical and interesting. We post some really helpful and interesting stories that can be used by people in their jobs. Stories people can learn from and grow and apply in practical ways. Unfortunately, those stories are seldom the most popular. Sometimes I feel like our most popular stories would fit perfectly if we were the Jerry Springer show for librarians.


The most popular stories in the past have been about general "save the children" issues, politics (especially last year), LISNews, and blogging. Generally, the most popular stories are the ones that get people's blood boiling. Please, in the name of all that is good and holy, won't someone think of the children.


I like to find our stories the old fashioned way and just let people send them to us. Of course, that doesn't always work out so well, and I'm often hunting for more. The best stories come in via email or via the submit a story link. When I go hunting for stories I'll usually use one of several different news search engines. Just recently I switched to good old fashioned email. I find almost all my stories now via Google email news alerts. Googlebot is a helluva newshound. I'll also just do some random other searching from time to time. When I'm thinking about what to post I'll usually try to avoid stories that are of very limited appeal, particularly inflammatory, over reported, or things that aren't exactly "librarian." I try to keep things reasonably well balanced and avoid attack pieces most of the time. In general, I try to be "fair & balanced" I report and let you decide.


The news is what we do, and I think we do a pretty darn good job. I think that's how it'll always be, I don't see us expanding into job listings, or video training or things that are already being done elsewhere.


The Comments: Sometimes we'll post a story and it'll take on a life of it's own, the story is not behind the link at all, it's in the comments. It's not written by the reporter or a single person at all, it's written by the lisnewsterz over time, in the comments. The story sets it off, and some people will actually RTFA, but the comments can become a better story. Those of you who are regular readers of Slashdot, Kur5hin, or Metafilter know what I mean. We're not as good as Slashdot or mefi, because we have far fewer active commenters, but we're good nonetheless. LISNews is really online discourse; it's all about the community.


What's also great is the fact checking, back watching and additional information the people bring to the site through comments and email. It's the open source model applied to news reporting.


We also allow anyone to post a comment without being logged in. This is something I've always wrestled with, and for several months last year we even turned anonymous commenting off. It's been back on for almost 2 months now, and I've not heard any complaints, and Anonymous Patron has been reasonably well behaved.


That Community feeling: The comments, the journals, the ability to speak openly, the "Friends and Foes", all of these features add up to a pretty strong sense of community @LISNews. People write about each other, they write about LISNews, they bitch and complain, and they also praise and compliment. LISNews is slowing starting to be a dysfunctional, disjointed, dispersed online family of librarians from across a wide spectrum of our profession. I'll write about the people and community more in my next installment coming to a computer screen near you some time this week.

LISNews: A Brief History

Here is part four of my summary from my CIL2005 presentation.

LISNews was born on November 2, 1999 when I signed up with Pegasus Web Technologies after an exhaustive search for a good web host. I had been teaching web design for the entire year and I think it was about time I really learned how run my own site. I wanted to see what this Unix thing was all about, learn some new skills, have something cool to put on my resume, but most of all I wanted to make a Slashdot for librarians to see if it would work. I remember being very nervous at the time, $20 a month was a considerable amount of money at the time and I had no idea what I was doing, nor was I really quite sure why I was doing this in the first place.

I spent a few months trying different formats, learning command line Unix, toying with ideas, and trying to install some usable version of Slashcode. Steve Galbraith and I posted flat html files full of things we found interesting, but it was too much work. At that time there weren't 50 million different options for running a blog. I knew I wanted to emulate Slashdot as closely as possible, but the code was quite rough at the time, so I went with the PHP version, PHPSlash. Luckily for me I had a friend at the time who was a real programmer, Nabeal Ahmed, and he helped me set up PHPSlash, and we had things more or less running smoothly sometime around March of 2000. March 20th I sent out an announcement or two, or 60, to any and all librarian lists I could find. March 21st the site crashed. I never would have guessed I could've over promoted, but I did, and so many people stopped by for a peek at the new site it just about killed the server. I had things back up and running, and within a few days we were enjoying dozens of visitors a day. Slow growth over the next couple of years eventually got us in trouble with our host. A dynamic site like LISNews is resource intensive on any server, and a few big stories during 2001 and 2002 lead to Pegasus asking nicely for us to move on.

Luckily at this time I was still at OSU and had Joe Frazee around to assist me in setting up our very own dedicated server. Joe is one of the smartest people I know, and I felt with his help I'd be able to conquer just about anything Linux could throw at us. Luckily he's still around helping me with LISHost. My grand plan at the time was to grab a dedicated server, and find 10 or 20 people who needed a site hosted and this would help defray the costs. It didn't take long for me to find 10, and then 20, then 30, and now I think we're up to about 40 paying "customers." Now that I had root on the LISNews server I knew it was time to make the move to the "real" Slashcode, to really become the Slashdot for librarians. Moving to Slashcode was actually quite easy, and within about a week in the summer of 2003 I had most of the old PHP Site moved on over to the exciting new Slashcode site. We now had moderation, and journals, and all the exciting time wasters that Slashcode has to offer. We also had a new problem. It turns out Slashcode does not play well with others. I had to make a choice, either LISNews had to go, or everyone else had to go. So during the fall/winter of 2003 I spent about a month or 2 slowly moving the 20 or thirty domains over to a new server, and left LISNews behind. Now LISNews was alone on it's very own server. I now had a new problem. I was paying $180 a month to host LISNews, and another $180 a month for LISHost. The Google Ads weren't (and still aren't) paying for the server, so I had to turn to the LISNews community and beg for help. Luckily for me, everyone chipped in a few bucks, and within a month I had the server paid through all of 2004. This leads us up to today, when I'm again begging for money to cover 2005.
I can't possibly over emphasize how much I've been helped by some remarkable people along the way. Steven M Cohen during the early years was instrumental in posting several hundred stories, as was Ieleene, and a few other early authors who've moved on. Lately it's been Rochelle who has been working her fingers to the bone. Behind the scenes I've already mentioned Joe and Nabeal, but other people have mad contributions that go unnoticed. A few dedicated readers have sent in story suggestions for years. Bob Cox has been by far the most generous with his submissions. If we had a buck for every story we posted from him we'd all be rich. Others than come to mind include Reg Aubry, Lee Hadden, Charles Davis, and even the Search-Engines-Web guy who seems to have moved on.

LISNews is a collaborative project, while I do put in a lot of time, we'd be no where with out the incredible amount of time so many other people put in.

Up next, the news!

LISNews: Strengths and Weaknesses

This is the third summary of my CIL2005 session on LISNews. I'm also getting warmed up for LITA.
I tried to highlight some of what I think of as not just the strengths and weaknesses of us here @LISNews, but also of blogs in general. You may notice some overlap between the strengths and weakness, that's by design.


Strengths
We're Open for Business: comments, journals, discussions, submissions, and multiple authors. In other words, we're Collaborative. Everyone has a chance to comment on most everything that happens around here and I think that helps to keep us honest, accurate, and fair. That doesn't mean everything we do is always honest, accurate and fair, but we come close most of the time. Anyone can share something, criticize, make changes and help contribute in different ways to what we see at LISNews.
I think this was the part of my presentation in which I started to whine like a little baby in describing what some emails sound like to me sometimes.
"he's picking on me" "she's picking on me" "he's picking on her" "they're picking on him" "you make me sick" "he makes me sick" "make him stop" "make her stop" and so on….
Occasionally I just feel like a babysitter. (If it was really all that bad most of the time I'd just quit. Obviously most of the time all is well and everyone is happy.) To quote the great 21st century philosopher Reel Big Fish: "No matter what I do, no matter what I say, somebody hates me."


We're busier: More visitors, submissions, comments, stories and participation. More than what? Busier than who? Well, than most other sites in our "space," or so I like to think. This is good because we get more comments and submissions, which help bring in more people, who leave more comments, and submit more suggestions. We're not as busy as the real Slashdot, nor will be ever be, but we get an impressive number of visitors. Each month when I summarize the stats I get excited to see how busy the site has become. The growth really amazes me still. Early on I decided I wouldn't try to seed conversations by commenting on my own stuff, or post stories that are deliberately inflammatory because I know people will comment. Most of the growth has happened @LISNews independent of anything I did, maybe even in spite of everything I do. Even with all the people involved I need to do very little policing, and do almost nothing to promote discussions. I think it's best if they happen on their own. If I knew the magic trick to good online discussions I might use it, but I'm still largely clueless. We get an impressive number of visitors, and it really is the biggest reasons why LISNews is so interesting.


A community that supports site financially: LISNews costs me $180 to keep running every month, I obviously couldn't do that without help from all the generous contributions from LISNews readers.


Fast server: For once, speed doesn't kill, it keeps us going. The LISNews server should always feel snappy and throw back pages about as fast as you can request them. This should help keep people coming back, and make it more enjoyable for everyone.


HTML decent enough to be displayed on most browsers. The HTML Slashcode generates is fairly compatible with most modern browsers. There are different versions for some alternative browsers, and I think it's largely acceptable, for now.


Weaknesses
We're Open: comments, journals, discussions, submissions, and multiple authors.
In other words, we're confused and inconsistent sometimes. Because we do have more visitors, more submissions, more comments and more participation, we have more problems to deal with. Authors have been scared off a few times by negative comments. At least 3 times I can think of we had great authors posting interesting things only to be shouted down and scared off. People leave a comment once only to be scared off. Other people fight and bicker with each other. Such is life on the internet, either we accept that or we turn it off and stick with reading books.


HTML only just decent enough to be displayed on most browsers. It's old, tired and in need of a serious update. Slashcode needs to be moved up to XHTML and CSS ASAP. I do know they're finally working on that, so hopefully we'll get that implemented sometime this year


Too fast and/or too slow: Some days we post 35 stories, other days none. Most days we find that happy medium, some magic number that feels right, but quite often we fail. Since we are so open, and so many can post, this is something that I'm not sure I even want to think about controlling. . I really don't know what the magic number of stories per day really is, so to say we're only going to post one story an hour, or 12 a day, or put any kind of number on it would probably be a mistake.


Too many and/or too few authors. To find the few active authors we do have was quite easy. I begged. I sent out announcements to lists, asked friends, and that's about it. It turns out there just aren't many people willing to spend a lot of their free time doing something that doesn't pay and goes largely unnoticed by almost everyone. Not very surprising! For the few of us that stick with it, we enjoy doing it for our own reasons I guess. I've signed up well over 100 different authors over the years, and very few stick with it, I can fully understand why. It doesn't surprise me that people don't stick with us, it surprises me that people DO stick with us! I am grateful for all the interesting stories posted by all the talented authors over the years.


Not World Wide [web] enough. 2 of the three w's mean World Wide and we're, unfortunately, a western hemisphere group. Our authors are almost exclusively based in the US. I've had a really hard time figuring our how to recruit authors in general, and it's been next to impossible to find anyone from outside the US.


We are Untrammeled by editors (kinda). To quote Gorman yet again, we really are untouched by editors (kinda). As bloggers we tend to write quickly, not worry much about grammar, and generally keep our styles pretty loose. I see nothing wrong with that in most cases. A blog is usually not a work of great scholarly import, and there's no reason why we always need a team of editors poking at everything we write. That being said, we are not untrammeled, we have comments, a contact us form, and email. People are more than happy to point out our mistakes and while this is no doubt very different than working with a real editor, we have a very strong editorial mechanism in place.


Overall I think the pros far outweigh the cons. We have a great thing going here and it continues to engage me after almost 5 years. Up next, a look at the history of LISNews

LISNews: Many Facets for Many People


Rather than just post my boring slides from CIL last week I'll expand on my notes and post a series of essays here that explore what I talked about in greater detail. I'll also be able to cover some of the things I never got to in my session. Yesterday was What Gorman Got Right, to is LISNews: Many Facets for Many People
I attempted to start my presentation by doing my best to really define what LISNews has become over the years by saying what LISNews is Not. LISNews is not (primarily) a “interactive electronic diary� where the unpublishables communicate our thoughts. Quoting Gorman again, I wanted to point out we are much more "newsy" than most blogs, we do more "real" reporting than reflecting.


So what is LISNews? I think it's different things to different people.


Online librarian community
I think LISNews is a community because the members pay to keep it running, they write about LISNews and each other. I think there are people who feel they are a part of LISNews. People have friends and enemies on the site.


Slashcode powered weblog
Maybe this is where the lurkers fit in. For most of the readers that visit the site we're a place to catch up and read some news and comments. It's just a weblog that uses Slashcode and they stop by to see what's going on. For the majority of our readers, we're just a weblog, a place to read and a place to learn.


Mailing list
For several thousand people we're also a mailing list, and for some of them, we're only a mailing list. I'm always surprised when someone tells me they only read the email and never visit the site.


RSS Feeds
Maybe I'm just splitting hairs, but I think a site is different when viewed through RSS colored glasses. It's not better or worse, just different, a feed reader presents the site in a different way. There is practically an unlimited number of feeds coming out of LISNews now, and a feed reader really limits you to just certain parts of the site.


Collection of blogs
The LISNews journals section is one of my favorite things about Slashcode. Not only can you come and read the index page where we post the news, you can also read a separate section that allows anyone to post anything. You never know what you'll find, and it's almost always interesting.


User comments
Come for the news, stay for the comments. The comments make it a place for discussion of ideas. Sometimes the comments become more interesting than the stories themselves. The comments correct, and often add to the stories to make them more interesting and useful.


The News
Last but not least LISNews is, the news. Stories from around the world you'd never see anywhere else dropped into nice neat categories for easy browsing.


Some other ideas I tried to explore.
LISNews is a database of:
14,000 news stories, links and articles
16,000 comments
3,000 journals (blog) entries


LISNews is a loosely connected group of librarians and others who share things they find interesting


LISNews is an online collaborative community of librarians (and others) who take time to educate, inform, infuriate and amuse others


LISNews is just one of over 200 library blogs that can be read @ LISFeeds.com. In many ways we're very different than most of them, but we're also just one of the gang.


So if I had to describe what LISNews is to someone who had never visited the site, off the top O' my head, I might sum it up like this:
It's an online community, it's a place where librarians gather to discuss news and events, and it's a place that allows everyone to participate in most everything that happens. We share and educate each other, we amuse and enrage each other, and we do it because we enjoy what we do. It's all about collaboration.

Up next will be strengths and weaknesses. This may take me a few weeks to get though.

Going on the record

Since I got caught, I thought I'd explain the little, and rather boring, story behind the Houston Chronicle piece in which librarians were discussed in relation to LB (can we start calling her LB now? It's got a good ring to it). A couple of us got quoted, some of us were more entertaining than others.

You might remember last year, or maybe it was the year before, Julie Mason, reporter for the Houston Chronicle, contacted me looking for some librarian feedback on Laura Bush. We ended up with a decent sized article in the Chronicle that looked at how we think about her.

Julie emailed me the first night of CIL with a similar query, to which I replied "hey, you're in luck, not only am I here in DC, there's an entire conference of us here, why not join us for dinner?" She accepted, and sat in a dine-around attended by maybe about a dozen librarians. She thru a few questions at us and we all tried to be as quotable as possible. Some of us were "on the record" while others declined, but it was an interesting discussion on stereotypes, LB and how we see her. The consensus (as I saw it) was none of us think about her or have any idea what she's up to. It turns out she had given out some awards the day before in DC and we'd all missed the story (it was of course on LISNews). The administration "plays the librarian card" because it makes her look good, but none of us could think of anything she's done to really help us. None of us were too excited about the image of her reading to children all the time. I don’t think anyone had any negative feelings towards her, it was just more like shrugs all around. I think there was 4 people out of 12 that said they voted for Bush the second time around, so we weren't all devil worshiping liberals who have Bush voodoo dolls in out caves.

I like Julie, she seems nice and it's good that there's at least one reporter for a big paper that likes to know what we think. I really wanted to hear more about the Gucker/Gannon thing, but she kind of shrugged it off like it really was no big deal. It seems that the White House press pool is an eclectic bunch, and he didn't really stand out as interesting to any of them, even after he was, uh, outted. Some day I'll have to interview her about the "bloggers as journalists" thing that interests me so much.

So anyway, that's my reporter in the librarian dinner story, not very exciting, while what I said was much more interesting within the context of the conversation at the time, I'm now on the record: "We are not all gentle creatures who read books to children." Not a quote that'll be added to the Book of Famous Library Quotes, but I could've done worse.

What Gorman Got Right

One of my CIL slides (I'll post them all with notes soon) was something I quickly added at the last minute:
"What Gorman Got Right"
I tried to highlight some good points he made that might help us be better writers.

1. Bloggers Ain’t Editors
Strangely enough ain't isn't in my spell check. We really are untrammeled by editors. This is great, because we are able to post quickly and not worry about someone stopping us for no good reason. This is bad because we can post quickly and not have someone stop us for very good reasons. Sure, we could use some help with spelling and grammar from time to time, but most readers know we're flying without a net, and respect the idea that we are usually erroring on the side of speed over accuracy, and quantity over quality.


2. Blogging is not always scholarly
I suppose it comes down to one thing, for the most part, blogs are not meant to be scholarly explorations of deep and powerful issues. They are meant to keep us on the cutting edge, and occasionally look back, but we are generally about what's next. They are meant to report, share and start discussions. Picking on us for not being scholarly only shows an amazing ignorance of what we do and why we do it.


3. We are boosters and hopeful
I'm not entirely sure I understand his point here, but for the most part bloggers love tootin' their own horns. We love to talk about ourselves and other bloggers. We are proud of our work and we can sometimes overestimate our importance. If anything that helps make us better. There is nothing wrong with an occasional "Hurray for our team!"


4. We do move too fast
As the old saying goes, speed kills. Blogs move fast, stories that fall off the home page are quickly forgotten in favor of what ever is newer and more exciting. We have a unique medium in which we can really spend allot of time and space exploring big issues, it's just never done. This is a good point, and something I think about often.


5. Some of us are fanatical digitalists
While we have a few blog people who think everything should be digitized, most of us have a more realistic view. At the very least we can smell a curmudgeon a mile away and are not afraid to try and explain the strengths of going digital. After all, you can't grep a dead tree.


4. We are quick to judge and criticize
Just ask Jeff Gucker, Dan Rather, Michael Gorman or Sony Barari.


5. Our writing tends to be short and emotional
The medium, in some ways, controls the message. Our blogging software allows us to post quickly, and we take advantage of that ability. Most of what we write is quick and to the point. Sometimes we whine and complain, and sometimes we attack. We have the ability to instantly communicate with people around the world, and we use it every day. It's what we do, and there's nothing wrong with brevity.


6. Sometimes we only need random facts and paragraphs
Our intellectual needs are not met by the random tidbits we post to our sites, what we post to our sites is just the tip of the intellectual iceberg. We post what we find interesting to share, to get people started, and to make sure we can find our way back. What we post is never meant to be an exhaustive look into any topic. We don't always need to read a work of scholarly excellence from beginning to end to understand a topic. We are not attempting to emulate a scholarly work, and any comparisons between the two just doesn't work. We're more like a book review than a full book.

I'll finish up adding good comments to the rest of my slides and post them here sooner than later.

Getting Back In The Saddle

A week away from home was longer than I'd thought. Slowly I'm getting back up to speed at work. I'm resubscribed to all my lists and Google News Alerts, I'm about half way through the pile of stuff on my desk, completely caught up on work email, and about 90% on LIS* email. LISFeeds has been bumpin' lately, we're already up over 200 feeds. I think I've cleaned everything off the laptop I brought to DC from work (at least I hope so) and now I need to convince the boss to send me to a conference or two later in the year. SLA is looking good, and if I can afford it LITA would be a good thing, and I really want to hit Internet Librarian, but that's doubtful (just bad timing).

Random work note: We have a new expense statement system at work that was a breeze to use, much easier than the old, for once change was good.

I was quite pleased to see about $300 in my paypal account when I got back, so we're well on our way to paying for the server this year! I'll make a FPP or two soon and hopefully that'll be it.

One thing I learned @CIL2005 was just how much of a curmudgeon I am. I don't use a feed reader, I don't have a Technorati Profile or use blogdigger, Flickr, del.icio.us or just about anything else that seems to be so popular these days. My personal blog doesn't have a name, and I'm not the "some catchy name" librarian. I don't browse the web on a handheld, don't even own a laptop, and I don't feel like I need an account with Skype, blogger, or Furl. I don't ego surf, blog roll or even read all my friends blogs. Curmudgeon is no doubt not the right word to use, since I'm aware of those site & services, but I just don't have time to use them. Is this something that I should be worried about? If I had the time I think I would participate, but my days are full now, with 0 kids, I can only assume if that increases by one I'll have even less time. If I could just cut out work, the house, and LIS* I'd have so much more free time to devote to social software!

CIL 2005

Maybe trying to summarize nearly one week of the CIL geekfest is a futile pursuit, but I’ll give it a shot. I’m sitting in National Airport waiting to board my plane for Buffalo and what follows is just a quick memory dump, rather than a well polished essay. An attempt to preserve just some memories and ideas from the week, to tell a few stories about the people places and things that made the 20th Computers In Libraries Conference the best.

I’ve always thought going to conferences makes a person smarter. Being around others tends to spark ideas, which tends to spark ideas in others and so on . This year CIL went above and beyond thanks to the sheer number of energetic and brilliant people in attendance.

On the people: I am certain that even though I haven’t even left DC yet I’m already forgetting people I should be writing about here.

First, Andrea Mercado. Learn that name now, because in the coming years she’ll no doubt be a “Mover & Shaker� or she’ll be the head of something or in charge of some place important. Her work, energy and personality make it inevitable. She’s a mover and shaker in a conviently small and portable format.
Steven M Cohen. The MOT and Master of Ceremony for many of our ceremonies, on stage and off, he’s a master of networking and social interaction. No doubt very deserving of the place he already holds in our profession.
Aaron Schmidt. Don’t let his tats scare you, he’s a vegetarian and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. His contributions to the profession will no doubt be moving & shaking for years.
Michael Stephens. With an unbeatable stage presence, his unique looks and brilliance make him a mover and shaker that will be training the next generation of librarians for decades to come (once he gets his PHD).
Greg Schwartz. He may not have been one of the core Bloggers but his podcasting will be heard by audiences far and wide
Stephen Abram. Sirsi has one of the smartest librarians in the world working as VP Of Innovation. He not only has the best job title at the conference (VP of innovation) he might also have the largest brain. All this despite the fact he’s Canadian.

Karen Coombs, Michael Suaers, Michelle, Brian Smith, Amanda, Betha, Tom, Roy Tenant and Michael Pate. There are just too many smart people for me to write about today. Never let it be said that us library geeks don’t know how to party.

The entire ITI staff. Bill, Darlene, Scott, Marydee, Nancy and of course Jane. The ITI staff really know how to put on a conference and they treat their speakers shockingly well. They make us all feel special and though ITI has a terrible privacy policy, their conference staff is really unbeatable. When I compare my past experiences at ALA to any of the several ITI joints I’ve attended I’m amazed anyone would actually return to ALA when given the choice.

One dine-around was attended by Julie the Houston Chronicle White House Reporter who asked us some questions about Laura Bush which turned out to be more than a little interesting. It’s fun to what how people talk differently when they’re “on the record:� I think we all tried extra hard to be smart and quotable.

The geek bell curve apparently started with Amanda, who installed Linux on her tablet PC at the conference, and ended with Brian, who doesn’t even have a broadband connection at home. The rest of us have talents and equipment that put us somewhere in between.

On the Things: The sessions were almost without exception incredibly useful. Often entertaining and always informative, the sessions covered everything from gadgets to print and everything in between. I don’t think I need to elaborate much, since they were all covered extensively by the gaggle of Bloggers in attendance. I don’t think my LISNews presentation went well. I didn’t cover what I wanted to cover, I was nervous for a while, and I’m not sure I really said anything useful. I’ll just let others judge for me.

On the Places: DC is probably the best city for a conference in the US, the places to go actually make it hard to stay at the conference. I managed to spend just a few hours outside of our little DuPont Circle neighborhood, but what I saw around DC was wonderful. I hit the White House, a few Smithsonian institutions, the Supreme Court, Capitol, and almost the LOC (too many darn tourists).

On the Inside Jokes: it turns out some of the brightest minds in librarianship today are also some of the funniest. Watching how a true master of public speaking is able to work one of the funniest and dirtiest inside jokes into a speech being attended by close to 2,000 people, without anyone noticing except the small intended audience, was to witness a classic event. From tea baggin’ to tossin’ salad, full frontal gubernatorial nudity to hot and meta, the laughs never stopped.

On the Meta: Being in large crowds always makes me introspective & rather quiet, and this week was no exception. It made me realize that my day job must change, and it also made me think long and hard about how I spend my free time. Andrea and I had a great discussion on the Metro about how we spend our time and where our careers might end up. Some people write and promote themselves (and their work) because they’re good at it and they enjoy the growth promotion and attention brings. I’m not sure I’m one of those people, much of what I do is behind the scenes and harder to make look exciting. In many ways what I do @LISHost is very librarian, I enjoy answering my own reference questions @LISHost. Maybe once a year at a conference is enough for me. I enjoy spending my time in front of my computer with a SSH session or two fixing bugs. It’s not glamorous, but right now it really brings me joy, along with a little bit of money. My life will be changing significantly this year, so that may bring changes in how I approach my career.

Speaking of LISHost, We also had our first successful crack while I was at one of the dine-arounds. Luckily it was caught instantly by the site owner who immediately called me. Joe was around and we quickly got things patched up and moved on. It still amazes me that I’m able to do things like that from anywhere the world. Working with three people in three different states to patch up a problem caused by someone on the other side of the world was very meta.

The conference got me thinking about how most of us in most situations are consumers. That is, most people are in most situations are not the ones creating and driving. At conferences there are so many produces in a much greater numbers and a higher concentration than about any where else. They are truly the movers and shakers, recognized or not, and they are invited to conferences to strut and be rightly recognized. It’s exciting to be surrounded by the real drivers of our profession. Some of us a lucky enough to find a niche in which we can be a driver rather than a passenger and what’s nice is we are able to bring others along for the ride thanks to conferences.

I also think I’ve made up my mind in the Windows Vs. Mac battle that’s been raging in my head for the past several months. Assuming price isn’t going to be significantly different, I’m going Mac, probably a Powerbook. That should make a few people happy.

I was struck by how technology is really driving our profession in ways that I don’t really think about much. It surrounds everything we do and I’m scared that I won’t be able to stay relevant. I may be on the cutting edge of something now, but I am unsure of how to stay there. How do I keep myself educated and relevant (or at least maintain that illusion)?

Also how do I keep LISNews updated and relevant? How do we move it forward, Part of my dissapointment with my presentation came from the lack of questions after the LISNews presentation . I think if I had really engaged and informed the crowd they would’ve been asking more questions. The WebJunction presentation gave me about 300 new ideas on how we might proceed, and talking with Betha about how things run there was incredible. I think much of what we do @LISNews is complimentary to what they do, and I’d like to see us collaborate in the future.

The “core Bloggers� thing was surprisingly divisive at the conference and apparently outside as well. As Bloggers (Core or not, I was not) I think we need to talk about what we do and look at how we do things more and talk about ourselves less. What was being done from the conference was a great beginning, an amazing 1.0 of conference blogging.. Let’s look at how we did things and look for the next step. Stephen Abram said something about the Sirsi sales crew working the booth being in “today� and being VP of Innovation, his job was to be in 10 years from now, and I hope a blogger will take the lead on being the VP of Innovation for the LIS Core Bloggers. Let’s begin by asking some big questions. How do we work together, how do we improve what we write, can we do some real reporting and is what we do fit for print, or would anyone want to read what we do in print. As Andrea would say, we need to be more meta, less focused on “me�, and more focused on “us� and what we can really do for each other and our profession. How do we move beyond what we do now and into something else?

I’m exhausted, I’m starving and it’s time to head back to Buffalo. It’ll be good to get back to work next week so I can get some rest.

Countdown To Computers In Libraries 2005

Information Today sent me some useful email yesterday with some notes on the conference next week. It turns out the have an official blog where "You'll find lots of insider tips and information about speakers, sessions, exhibits, and special events, plus easy links to other blogs that are covering the conference. "

The ITI Blog also has links to all the cool kids who'll be there blogging, Steven, Tara, Andrea, Michael, Marydee and Aaron. I'm not sure if that means I'm not a cool kid, I won't be writing at the conference, or both. In any case, I'll be there, laptop in hand (er atop my lap) and I'll probably write a thing or two. First, I'll be sure I have something to say, which might just not happen. I've never tried to really report on a conference, so it may just be something that doesn't work for me. There's also a Blogdigger Group, which might be useful if you know how to use such a thing.

The Final Program says LISNews will be in the "International Ballroom Center" on Thursday at 4:15. Be there or be square.

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