When Google first came out its ability to find thousands of links and to put the best of them at the top of the list was considered downright spooky, in the words of one doctor. We’d never had anything like that — Before Google, the choice was a human-generated list — either a relatively short list of subjective “best links” or a long, boring alphabetical/classified list — or, even worse, a search-engine list, that often seemed to be totally random.

And then there were Tor Ahlenius’ elegant lists of Diseases and Disorders at the Karolinska Institute Library in Sweden. Tor had  the uncanny ability to make relatively lengthy lists with the best  links at the top. There  was never any indication about the criteria used to choose the “best,” but it was clear that the  top links  were, in some sense, “high quality.” Often, these were links that I had come across on other peoples’ link lists, but sometimes there would be gems that I had never seen linked anywhere else.

When Google revolutionized searching with its PageRank technology, I had the uncanny feeling that I had gotten a pre-taste of Google in Tor’s lists — His simple, understated lists were just like Google’s — “Give me all the sites on the subject, and put the best ones at the top.” And, of course, it was all out of his head. Tor’s pages resonated with Google not only in the quality of their links but also in their simple design — just the links on a spare white page.

Another part of the appeal of Tor’s link lists for me was that he tended to put sites with good pictures toward the top. Although I’ve never seen this written about, I think Google has a similar tendency. And, as I’ve learned from Hardin MD stats, pictures are indeed popular.

At the recent Medical Library Association annual meeting in Washington DC, I learned from Tor’s friend Arne Jakobsson, who was attending from Norway, the sad news that Tor died in early May, after having retired a few years ago.

Tor had the mind of a scientist – He had a PhD in Quantum Chemistry and had done computer programming earlier in his career. As someone has said, if there were enough really smart people, computers wouldn’t be necessary — People could do it all. Of course that’s not possible in the real world. But Tor was a shining example of how its not so unimaginable. In the height of his list-keeping, I’d take the lists generated by his brain over Google anytime.

Tor’s lists are still available — I suspect he continued to work on them until the end.

Thank you to Tor’s family and Ylva Gavel at the Karolinska library for the picture of Tor.

Tor was part of the inspiration for a series of articles I wrote soon after his passing, on the superior Web work of people around the world:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In a previous article, I cited librarian Michelle Kraft’s article, Stop the App Madness, in which she cautioned librarians against the temptation to create mobile-device apps for library sources — As she said, libraries just don’t have the staff or resources to go down that road. I thought about Michelle’s good advice as I wrote in the just-published article iPad App Fatigue & “The Boring Old Web”. As I write there, people are finding that the Safari browser is so good on the iPad that it’s not necessary to create separate apps. And that’s good news for libraries. It means we can focus attention on our websites instead of diverting attention to make separate apps for the iPhone, Android, and other mobile devices.

Because the iPad may not need separate apps for optimal use doesn’t mean that we can go on making web pages just like always — In the long term, I think the significance of the iPad will be that it has broadened the use of the multitouch interface, that first came into common usage on the iPhone and iPod Touch. With the iPad, it comes closer to being used on laptops and desktops. Dan Frakes has a good description of importance of multitouch:

As those who’ve used Safari on an iPhone or iPod touch can attest, there’s something deeply intuitive about touchscreen browsing: tapping links and buttons with your fingertip, sliding your finger up and down the screen to scroll, pinching or tapping to zoom…it just feels so much more natural than using a mouse or a trackpad to interact indirectly with a Web page

For us in libraries, then, I think we need to be learning to use the multitouch interface, so that we can optimize our websites to make them touch-friendly. And, of course, we’re not alone in this — Everyone else is recognizing that we’re on the verge of the touch revolution, so we’ll have plenty of help.

I’m not suggesting that librarians go out and buy an iPad right now. But I would suggest, as I have before, that librarians consider getting an iPod Touch — It’s a good, economical, way to learn to use a mobile interface, and it’s also a good introduction to the multitouch interface. And with the lavish media attention that the iPad has gotten, I suspect that the demand for iTouch may weaken, and it might be just the time to find a bargain!

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Scott Stein at CNET wrote yesterday about what he calls iPad App fatigue — the growing realization, after the first flush of  iPad interest, that there aren’t many good iPad apps. This fits nicely with articles I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks suggesting that the primacy of Apps-Thinking is a holdover from the iPhone, where it IS valuable to have a separate app to tailor information for a small screen. But people are realizing that the iPad screen is big enough that it’s not necessary to have a separate app, that most web sites do just fine with the iPad’s Safari browser.

On this theme, Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons says that although many publishers have succumbed to Steve Jobs’s App fever, some more cautious ones are unconvinced. He reports his conversation with Nick Denton, publisher of Gawker Media: “Every single time something new comes out and people wonder what’s the killer app, the answer is the same. It’s the Web every time.The boring old Web.” The Web has grown into its own organic “ecosytem” — What advantage is there, Lyons and Denton suggest, in trying to create a separate ecosytem-app for each media source, a separate app that doesn’t talk to the ecosystem of the Web?:

Denton has looked at some of the news-media apps and says he’s unimpressed. … “I loved the look of the Time app, but then I tried to select and copy a paragraph to send to a friend. I did the action automatically, without even thinking.” And guess what? You can’t do that. “You can’t e-mail. You can’t bookmark. It made me realize how much the experience of reading has changed. Nobody really just reads anymore. They copy text, send links, tweet,” Denton says.

Dan Frommer, in a follow-up article, captures Lyons & Denton’s thoughts with his snappy title: Hey, Media Companies, The ‘Boring Old Web’ Is Way More Important Than Your Crappy iPad App.

Jacob Weisberg, over at Slate, writes on the same motif. He says traditional publishers’ idea that they’re going to make big bucks selling iPad apps for their magazines is off-target because the Web version of magazines is at least as good as the app versions:

The first problem with the publishers’ fantasy … is that you don’t need those cute little apps to read newspapers and magazines. On the iPhone, apps bring real advantages—it’s no fun navigating a complex Web page through that 3.5-inch window. The iPad, by contrast, has a 9.7-inch display that is big, bright, and beautiful. The Safari browser is a great way to read any publication on the device, so long as you have a good WiFi connection.

And finally, new media journalist Jason Fry weighs in — He says news sites are finding that their iPad apps are superfluous because the web version is just as good or better:

What surprises me most after a few weeks playing with the iPad is that the browser is so good. So good, in fact, that I don’t bother with apps from news organizations, or most anybody else. The iPhone taught us that the browser was only to be used in extremis and apps were king, but the iPad reverses that.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I’ve been following discussions in two different worlds this week. The first of these is based on an article by Brian Mathews, in which he discusses the effect of mobile cloud computing on libraries. His ideas especially drew attention when the Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog pulled ideas from Mathews’ speculations in an article with the provocative title If Libraries Remove Computers, Will Anyone Come? This was such a good title ;-) that the LISNews blog also ran a follow-up article with the same title. My thoughts on the discussion are well-summarized in the title of my comments on the LISNews article – Removing Computers is Moot: Mobile, Cloud & iPad are Coming! My point (and I think Mathews’ point) is that mobile cloud computing is coming, and when it does, there will be little need to have computers in libraries because students won’t be using them.

The other discussion I’ve been following is based on a talk given by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley (AKA “Queen of the Internet”) — Mobile Internet Will Soon Overtake Fixed Internet. Her talk was much-discussed and her slide below was much shared on blogs — It’s relevance to the Libraries Removing Computers discussion is apparent — Mobile is going to overtake Desktop by 2014. What will libraries be like by then?

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

It’s well-known that narrow columns are easier to read. So it’s surprising that I can find almost nothing (except this) that connects that observation with the unexpected success of the iPhone as a reading device.

Newspapers and magazines, of course, almost always have narrow columns. With the iPhone, books do also — Could that be one of the reasons for the iPhone’s success?

Here are examples of reading on an iPhone, from a Stanza eBook and the NY Times:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey