Since Google announced in April that they would be archiving Twitter tweets, they’ve been rolling it out in phases, first making it accessible only in the additional tools menu in the left sidebar (as Updates), and then in August making it available separately as Realtime Search. I’ve been finding it quite useful, and here’s a little example:

As I often do when a new person retweets me, I was recently looking over the tweets of @sarahebourne, to see what she’s tweeted on that looks interesting, that I might retweet and repay the favor. I do this by combining the person’s Twitter name with different subjects of interest. With Twitter search going back only 4 days, it doesn’t work well for this, so lately I’ve been using Google Realtime search — Here’s the search I did: sarahebourne ebooks – I found one particularly interesting tweet from two weeks ago linking to an August 5 Library Journal article on eBooks and accessibility. I found that several people liked  the article enough to retweet it, and figuring it might be of interest to my followers, I tweeted it, and sure enough, it got several retweets.

So, a little example of a useful tool — With the limited back-searching available in Twitter search, it’s been frustrating that good tweets and good discussions have disappeared very quickly — If a tweet didn’t get retweeted in four days, it was seemingly gone forever. So now tweets are given a new life. Conversations that happened a while back — like during summer, when many people were otherwise occupied — can be brought back to life, like the little conversation above.

Google Realtime Search is still  a work-in-progress! – It’s a great improvement on Twitter’s four-day search, but be aware that it doesn’t find ALL old tweets. From my short experience, it seems to give emphasis to tweets that have  been retweeted.

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

A big part of Steve Jobs magical mobile revolution has been the advent of the App, which greatly simplifies using a small mobile-device screen. As popular as iPhone Apps have been, though, iPhone’s Safari browser has also been a great success, showing the practicality of using a Web browser on a small screen.

Safari has shined even more on the larger-screened iPad. With its interface being so similar to the iPhone, it seemed when it first came out that Apps would play the same role on the iPad as on the iPhone. But with its larger screen, people quickly realized that the Safari browser does a fine job in presenting information, and that separate Apps are not nearly as important as on the iPhone. And of course the Safari browser has the great advantage that it lives on The Web.

So the trend, going from iPhone to iPad, is the growing importance of Safari on Apple devices. But this goes well beyond Apple, because Safari is just one of the large class of “WebKit” browsers. I became aware of the importance of this with news in the last month that the Kindle and the Blackberry are both getting WebKit browsers (Thanks to Mike Cane for giving a shout about the significance of this).

So, what’s a WebKit browser? WebKit is the “layout engine” for Safari, Google Chrome, and almost all mobile browsers (Android, Blackberry, Kindle et al). It’s especially good for mobile browsers because of its nimble code and advanced HTML capabilities. And WebKit is open-source, which is why it’s being used on such a wide range of platforms, beyond Apple.

Learning about WebKit has given me a whole new way of seeing the mobile Web world — The varied and interesting implications are many …

  • The iPad’s big splash – Desktop computing is fading fast, and mobile is booming. Until the iPad came out in April, “mobile” meant cellphones and other hand-held devices. Now with the iPad, the definition becomes fuzzy, and will get fuzzier, with smaller versions of the iPad rumored to be in the offing, and Android tablets with a variety of screen sizes certain to come out soon. The whole mobile tribe, from cellphones on up, are certain to have WebKit browsers.
  • Apple’s influence spreads – The first implementation of WebKit on a widely-used browser was when Apple developed Safari and made WebKit as a “fork,” or variation, of the existing Unix rendering engine KHTML. Although Apple made WebKit open-source, and usable by anyone, it’s come to be strongly identified with Apple. So isn’t it interesting that now WebKit, which is widely thought of as an Apple standard, is being used in the browsers of Google and Amazon — Is there any precedent for that? For anything that’s Apple-flavored being adopted by Google and Amazon, which may be Apple’s two biggest competitors in the near future?
  • Apple’s Unix roots are deep, going back to Unix based Mac OS X. WebKit deepens these roots, having been developed by Apple from the Unix KHTML layout engine.
  • WebKit & eBooksWebKit is used for many eReaders, because they have so much in common with web browser technologies, so it will become increasingly important for libraries as the use of eBooks grows.
  • Firefox is fading – Instead of WebKit, Firefox is built on the Gecko layout engine, which was designed for the bulky Windows environment, and it shows its age on mobile systems with more compact code.
  • The growing irrelevance of Microsoft – With very little mobile or tablet presence, their claims to be embracing cloud computing (which is closely connected to mobile computing) seem doubtful — Especially since none of their current or planned browsers are WebKit-based.

I’m often surprised in reading commentaries about the iPad and its competitors that WebKit isn’t mentioned — John Martellaro touched upon the sense I have of “seeing the leaves but missing the branches” in a recent such commentary — He talks about “the advanced technologies that Apple has been nursing along for a decade (unnoticed)” [boldface added] — YES! Exactly! — People see the effects of Apple magic but don’t notice the things that create the magic (Martellaro himself doesn’t mention WebKit!).

So for me, seeing things through the lens of WebKit has been like “pulling back the curtain” on current developments and power struggles in the Web world — In reading anything about competition among Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and various eBook competitors, it’s invaluable to think about how WebKit affects things. I think it’s likely that as things progress (and especially when Android tablets start coming out in the next few months), WebKit awareness will certainly grow fast.

I use a Windows desktop at work and a Mac desktop at home. I’ve been a confirmed FireFox user on both of them for several years. But in doing research for this article, I’ve switched to WebKit browsers — Safari on the Mac and Google Chrome on Windows. I like both of them a lot, especially Chrome — I’ll certainly be staying with it.

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

Is it because of mixed feelings about Google that librarians don’t talk much about Google having its origins in the library world? As described in the quote below, it’s well-established that Google PageRank is built on librarian Eugene Garfield’s citation-analysis work done in the 1950′s, which led to the standard library reference tool Science Citation Index, and later Web of Science — So why are we not shouting it out? – Google grew from library roots!

Guy Gugliotta’s 2009 article in Wired does a good job of connecting Garfield’s work with Google (boldface added):

The science citation revolution began more than 50 years ago. Eugene Garfield, then a young librarian pursuing a PhD in structural linguistics, started wondering about that most prosaic of bibliographic tools: the footnote. Most people think of footnotes as reaching backward in time to a document’s sources. But Garfield realized that they could reach forward, too—future footnotes would cite the original article. “The citation becomes the subject,” says Garfield, now 83 and enjoying his stature as the founding father of modern citation analysis. “It was a radical approach to retrieving information.”

Some three decades before the concept of the hyperlink and the World Wide Web crossed anybody’s mind, Garfield had figured out how to connect the immense body of scientific knowledge into a network. In the early 1960s he began publishing The Science Citation Index; Garfield sold the first edition, five volumes of arcane hard-copy reference, to academic libraries for $500.

Citation-based ranking schemes … are increasingly the coin of the online realm. Understanding and quantifying reputation is the best approach to navigating the tsunami of information on the Internet. That’s why Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin cited Eugene Garfield in their academic work on PageRank, the algorithm that powers their company’s search engine.

*      *       *       *       *

Why I’m calling Garfield the “grandfather of Google” — Gary Price, in 2004, seems to have been the first to refer to Garfield as The Father of Citation Analysis (which is repeated in the quote above) — So, if he’s the “father” of citation analysis, and citation analysis played a key role in the development of PageRank and Google, it’s a short step to … Garfield as Google’s grandfather.

*Garfield as a “librarian” — Although he apparently never worked in a library, Garfield did have an MLS and is often referred to as a “librarian,” as he is in the Wired quote above. In his early career, he had especially close connections in the medical library world, as this profile of him describes.

Picture of Garfield from Indiana University.

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

In another article, I’ve discussed the idea of the WIDE WORLD Web — the idea that people with significant connections outside the US have made disproportionately large contributions to innovation and quality on the Web. I suggest in that article that one reason for this is that Wide World people seem to have a particular appreciation for Simplicity & Elegance. In this article, I’ll discuss examples of this.

First, people and services that I’ve discussed before, with links to my articles about them:

Tor Ahlenius was a librarian at the Karolinska Institute library in Sweden. I first observed the surprising quality of Wide World web work when looking for quality link-lists in pre-Google days, and found that Ahlenius had the most elegant lists on the Web in health and medicine. Beyond Ahlenius, I found in working on Hardin MD that many others of the best link-lists were also from outside the US. Some may question the idea of characterizing link-list-keeping as “elegant” — But in pre-Google days it was an essential service, and comprehensive and well-maintained lists were difficult to find — A simple but critical skill, perfected to elegance by Ahlenius.

Moving forward and on a much larger stage, a couple of examples that are fairly well-known, but not usually thought of as having connections outside the US. But I’d suggest that they do indeed.

Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive, and Apple – Jobs was raised in California by adoptive American parents, but his biological father was from Syria. The secretive Jobs rarely talks about this, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see a connection with his career as a tech-genius. Jonathan Ive, who made the elegant designs of  the iPhone and iPad, has solid Wide World connections, being a native of England.

Sergey Brin and Google -  How would the world be different if he hadn’t moved from the USSR to the US when he was six years old and grown up to help invent Google’s elegant search and design revolutions?

Twitter was not developed by anyone with Wide World connections, but I’m including it because it’s elegant simplicity has been so firmly embraced by the Wide World community. I especially learned to appreciate this from following the prolific tweeting of Portuguese librarian Jose Afonso Furtado. He tweets mostly on library/publishing subjects, but during the serious outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico in 2009, he tweeted on that and I made good international contacts on Twitter through him.

Below are some Wide World examples I haven’t (yet) written about:

Tim-Berners Lee and the WWW – Lest we forget! — The Inventor of the Web was from England. As John Naughton says in his excellent profile of Berners-Lee, TBL’s great contribution was that he created a simple, elegant way to make hypertext, which had been around for several decades, usable by non-geeks — The World Wide Web.

Luis von Ahn, who grew up in Guatemala and is now on the faculty at Carnegie-Mellon – CAPTCHA inventor and MacArthur Genius Grant winner at age 27. He also was the developer of Google Image Labeler, an elegant application of crowdsourcing/gaming to tag pictures.

Yuri Selukoff – A very recent Wide World rising star – Russian developer of GoodReader, widely hailed as the best PDF reader for iPhone and iPad (and one of the two top-sellers of all iPad Apps). The simple, elegant trick of GoodReader is that it extracts pure text from PDF files and “reflows it” into wrapped text format. Selukoff’s GoodReader work reminds me of Tor Ahlenius, discussed at the top of this article, which was my first discovery of simple, elegant Web work originating from the Wide World community. As with Selukoff and GoodReader, it makes me wonder — Why does it take someone from outside the US to give the world such a simple, useful tool?

Related articles:

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

In its original meaning Elegance had to do with tasteful and graceful. In Sci-Tech-CompSci, it’s come to be associated with simplicity – surprisingly simple yet effective (Wikipedia) … cleverly simple (FreeDictionary) — I’ve written quite a lot on this blog about the concept of simple design, especially in the context of  library user-interface (UI) issues and design for mobile devices. Recently, I’ve also been thinking about simplicity in the context of my experience with Hardin MD, remembering the value of list-keeping in pre-Google days — A simple task, but a surprisingly difficult one to execute.

Quality list-keeping, UI design and mobile design — those fit well within the concept of “simple” — But moving beyond those, I’m seeing that there are broader topics that I’ve been writing about that extend the concept of “simple” to something more like “elegant.” I think of there being a continuum from the simple list-keeping of the early Web to simple design to the full-fledged Elegance of the giants discussed below, and I see all of these as being motivated by the same instinct, and blending together so much that they’re hard to separate. So I’m making a new category — Elegance — and putting all of the blend into it — Simple to Elegant.

Here are some highlights of my recent articles – The boldface name links (Apple, Google, etc) go to all of the articles in the category. The links within each paragraph go to articles that are more specifically on elegance:

AppleSteve Jobs and Jonathan Ive have set the standard for elegant design, as stated in a recent iPad review – “Led by British-born Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design team has created another iconically elegant piece of hardware: the iPad.” (boldface by me)

Google – Like Apple, Google has contributed much set the standard for elegant design. I suspect when Google first became popular, the Wikipedia definition of “elegance” given above — “surprisingly simple yet effective” — is just what a lot of people thought — How could this young upstart, with a homepage that was made up of mostly white space compete against the link-laden gateway pages of the era?

Twitter – Tim O’Reilly captures the essence of Twitter’s secret, I think — In writing about why he loves Twitter the first reason he gives is – “Twitter is simple – It does one small thing, and does it well” — Again, echoing the Wikipedia definition of Elegance – “surprisingly simple yet effective.”

And, of course … Wikipedia fits its own definition of Elegance – “surprisingly simple yet effective” — Who would have predicted the simple idea of users making the best dictionary in the world?

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

As is obvious from the screenshots here, the Google Revolution was about more than good searching — It’s also about design — It seems hard to imagine now that the busy design on the AltaVista page below was the standard for web pages before Google, but it was.

The Google Design influence went further than the home page — The home page was a sign of the whole approach of Google, a beacon for savvy designers that told them the Google search engine would be looking for sites that followed the Simple Design Way of Google. And of course, it’s worked — Simple design is the standard now, and pages like the AltaVista 2000 homepage look like … something out of the last century.

Related articles:

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

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 presentation at the recent Emerging Technologies in Academic Libraries (#emtacl10) conference in Norway, Ida Aalen challenged librarians with her talk I’ve got Google, why do I need you? – A student’s expectations of academic libraries (SlideShare | PDF). Aalen is a media & communications graduate student at the Norwegian University of Sci&Tech, the site of the conference. Several of her slides were good, but the one I liked most is the one at left “I gave up this …,” a screenshot of an overly complicated library catalog interface that she contrasts with Google.

Aalen’s slide especially caught my attention because it resonates so strongly with my recent article and graphic that makes the same contrast between the simple interfaces of Apple and Google and the busy interfaces of library catalogs.

Seeing the similarity of Aalen’s ideas and my article, I’ve changed the second slide in the sequence at left, to highlight the contrast between the simple Google interface and complicated library interfaces. The top part of the graphic (I gave up this) is pretty much the same as Aalen’s. But in the slide following (For Google), she had an advanced Google Scholar search screen. I think substituting the simple Google search home screen as I’ve done captures the spirit of her presentation (and certainly its title!).

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

Nick Bilton wrote in the NY Times last week:

Consumers are witnessing the beginning of a new war between computer companies. Instead of the Apple-Microsoft conflict of the early 1980s, this fight is taking place between Apple and Google.

In a follow-up article, Bilton has the graphic below, that I’ve tweeked to emphasize what will certainly be a key element in the Apple-Google competition, and why Microsoft makes a logical ally for Apple — Microsoft has the Bing online search engine but doesn’t have mobile hardware. Apple has the iPhone/iTouch, but doesn’t have a search engine. Google has both …

blogSpan5

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

This is a subset of my list that has all titles as of November, 2009, when Google announced that they would provide their own list. The titles below are my subjective picks, based on generality of interest and/or length of availability.

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