In February, Google began giving prominent placement to articles in NLM’s PubMed Health. As I discussed in a previous article, NLM and Google have been strangely silent about announcing this new feature, with no discussion of it anywhere that I can find.

It’s especially surprising that Google hasn’t said anything about this because — coincidentally with the NLM boost — Google’s ranking system has been under attack recently, with charges that doctom sites (most notably JC Penney) have used Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tricks that cause Google to give high rankings to their product pages.

As I’ve discussed before, although using SEO techniques to get high rankings in Google is widely discussed in the doctom world, it’s an almost unknown subject to most librarians. This is unfortunate, because without a background understanding of SEO, the next step in the “NLM-CIA conspiracy” story seems completely bizarre …

As I discussed in my previous article, soon after Google began giving prominent ranking to NLM, Jeff Hamilton, who blogs about ADHD, raised questions in his short article PubMed Health Who?:

Where the heck did these guys come from? Try and Google “ADHD” and these guys are the #1 search result!! PubMed Health is a new online resource under development at [NLM-NCBI] … Hmmmm, CIA? Secret Government agency? How does an organization go from not being on the radar to the #1 search engine result for ADHD overnight? … You’ve heard stories about how much control and power the Government has over the Internet…….I wonder if this secret SEO organization would be interested in doing some site optimization for me …

As a member of the medical library community, it seems laughable that anyone would suggest underhanded dealings between NLM and Google, and in my previous article I described Hamilton’s idea as “hare-brained.” But thinking it over I realize that to a non-librarian who’s been reading about the recent Google-SEO controversy, Hamilton’s speculations seem more reasonable. As he says, it does indeed seem surprising that PubMed Health pages suddenly began appearing at the top of Google’s rankings, with no explanation from Google or NLM about why this is happening.

The story gets more meta-interesting because Google’s ranking of Hamilton’s SEO story itself becomes part of the story — If the article had stayed on his blog, it probably wouldn’t have gotten much attention from Google and hence the eyeballs of the world. But instead it got copied on the Psychology Today blog, and that brought it a high ranking (generally between #1 and #6 in the last two weeks) in a Google search for PubMed Health — So, let’s say you’re a health-information-seeking consumer who comes across a PubMed Health page in a Google search — You like the page, so you do some googling to find out more about PubMed Health — And what do you find? Hamilton’s NLM-CIA conspiracy article.

So what’s wrong here? Why is a standard resource by large government site like NLM not able to outrank a blogger’s speculations about its validity in a Google search? Normally, Google does a good job finding “the real thing,” the site itself. The problem, I think, is that there has been nothing for Google to link to for “PubMed Health” — It didn’t even have a home page until last week, when it was announced by NLM/NCBI in Twitter. And there still hasn’t been a press release or longer announcement by NLM or Google. If these sources existed, they and medical library bloggers discussions of them would soon dominate Google’s top ten, and leave wild NLM-CIA conspiracy speculations in the dust. I’d guess that sooner or later, NLM and/or Google will make some sort of announcement. But I’d predict that the longer they wait, the harder it will be to displace Hamilton’s article from its high ranking — In my experience, Google has a persistent memory, and it often holds on to links after they have been obsolesced by events.

I think this is an excellent example of why librarians should learn more about SEO — If people at NLM and in the wider medical library community were paying more attention to SEO, it would have been clear that the sudden appearance of a new resource from NLM at the top of Google searches needs to be explained.

Learning more about SEO — If you google for SEO be ready for a fire-hose of sites offering to help you get a Google ranking. You might want to start out with Wikipedia’s lengthy SEO article or a book on SEO in the Dummies guide series.

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

In his recent article in Library Journal (The Benefits of Less) Aaron Schmidt talks about simplifying library websites to make them more usable. He suggests that a good way to work on this is to think how the site would be designed for mobile devices:

Another way to brainstorm the most important parts of your website is to imagine you’re building a mobile version. Given the limited screen real estate available, what parts of your site are essential?

I suspect Schmidt is not aware of it — I haven’t seen it discussed much in library circles — but the idea of building the mobile version of a site first, before building the full desktop site, is more than just an imaginary brainstorming idea in the dotcom tech world — In 2009, Luke Wroblewski proposed his Mobile First idea that this is the best way to design a website — Design the site first for mobile, then work on the full site design. Last year, Google’s Eric Schmidt took up Wroblewski’s theme, saying in a speech at the Mobile World Congress that Google would “work on mobile first” in bringing new tools to the Web.

A few months ago, venture-capitalist Fred Wilson wrote an elegant summary of the Mobile First idea that resonates strongly with Aaron Schmidt’s ideas for designing library websites:

I was meeting with the team from one of our portfolio companies a few weeks ago and we were talking about a redesign of their new web service. I had told them I thought the initial design was too busy and too complicated to work well in the market. They showed me the iPhone app they were planning to release soon. I said “just do that on the web.” And happily they told me they were thinking the same thing.

Using the mobile web as a constraint to think about web design is growing in popularity. I see it in my own efforts and the efforts of our portfolio companies. When users spend more time accessing your service over a mobile device, they are going to get used to that UI/UX. When you ask them to navigate a substantially busier and more complex UI/UX when they log onto the web, you are likely to keep them on the mobile app and off the web app.

I’m starting to think a unifying vision for all apps should start with the mobile app, not the web app. And so it may also be mobile first web second in designing web apps these days.

Wilson could almost be talking about the same “busy, complicated” library websites that Aaron Schmidt talks about — Good website design for a venture capitalist is also good for libraries.

Related articles:

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

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a frequent commentator on the Google Books Settlement, and my impression has been that he’s generally on the “anti-Google” side. In a long interview by Andrew Albanese in Publishers Weekly, however, Vaidhyanathan presents a more nuanced view. He continues to be unfavorable to the Settlement, and to the part played by libraries in scanning their books for Google. But he also acknowledges the failure of public institutions, especially libraries, in taking the initiative to digitize the world’s books. The interview is full of interesting insights on a wide range of Google-related subjects. Here are some excerpts on Google Books (boldface added):

The Google Books plan is a perfect example of public failure. The great national, public, and university libraries of the world never garnered the funds or the political will and vision needed to create a universal, digital delivery service like Google envisions. Public institutions failed to see and thus satisfy a desire—perhaps a need—for such a service. Google stepped in and declared that it could offer something close to universal access for no cost to the public. The catch, of course, was that it would have to be done on Google’s terms.

Here Vaidhyanathan’s mixed sentiments about Google and the Settlement start to show — He says that if Google had proceeded in its legal battle as he would have preferred, the legality of Search might have been undermined — Which apparently would be OK with him — Even though he says earlier in the interview that he “loves Google” and relies heavily on its Web Search, so acknowledging that he’s like the rest of us, caught on the horns of the Google good-evil dilemma:

[On Google's Fair Use defense in the Books Settlement] Say, Google had decided to fight in court, rather than settle. And say it won before the Supreme Court. Congress was never going to let them just win. Congress would have listened to the major content providers, and it would have intervened in a way that would have restricted fair use. That in turn could have undermined some fundamental practices of the Web, like search. …  But with books, Google reached from the digital world into the analogue world and said to publishers, “You now need to operate by the rules of the Web.”  … As a policy argument, there is something to be said for running copyright the way Google wants to run it. If we were testifying before Congress about such a change, I would be right up there with Google. But as it stands, that’s not what Congress has said, and that’s not what the courts have said.

And here, he seems to be acknowledging that if Google had followed the conventional legal procedures that other companies have to do, there’s a pretty good chance that the scanning project wouldn’t have gotten off the ground yet:

[On the Settlement as a corporate end run around the legislative process] Google figures that if it creates good products and they get popular, the courts and Congress will be less likely to undo them. But that is an arrogant, audacious perspective on the legal and legislative system, and it’s fundamentally antidemocratic. Google should have to do things the old-fashioned way: hire lobbyists to bribe legislators to get their agenda passed [laughs]. Seriously, though, that’s what every other company has to do. And as sick as it sounds, that’s the way the game is played. If Congress thinks it is a bad idea to permit a digital library like this, then we fight harder to convince them why it is a good idea, and we make those arguments in public.

In concluding the interview, Vaidhyanathan returns to the high road, calling for the people of the world to finally take up their responsibility and create the universal digital library:

[On the argument that libraries would never have been able to do the project that Google is doing] If we, the people of the world, the librarians of the world, the scholars of the world, the publishers of the world, decide that we should have a universal digital library, then let’s write a plan, change the laws, raise money, and do it right. If we’re going to create this with public resources, let’s do it in the public interest, not corporate interest. There’s nothing wrong with Google pursuing a books project, of course, and, yes, there are benefits. But we have to understand that what Google has created is first and foremost for Google.

See the complete interview for additional interesting insights: Sergey Brin and Google as the mind of God; the “brilliant story” of Google Search; and why publishers will like Google eBooks more than Amazon.

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

Josh Keller’s recent article in the Chronicle, As the Web goes mobile, colleges fail to keep up, as the title indicates, focuses on college campuses. But it’s message also applies well to libraries, as I’ve discussed before. Around the same time I saw the Chronicle article, I came across the graphic on the left that seems to capture the same ideas in a picture – Together with the chart on the right, from the Chronicle article, the message is clear – “The mobile wave is coming fast, don’t get washed away.” Here are Keller’s words:

Hand-held devices like smartphones and tablets are fast becoming the primary way many people use the Internet. Half of all college students used mobile gear to get on the Internet every day last year, compared with 10 percent of students in 2008, according to Educause, the educational-technology consortium.

But many colleges still treat their mobile Web sites as low-stakes experiments. That attitude risks losing prospective applicants and donors through admissions and alumni portals that don’t work, and it risks frustrating current students who want to manage coursework and the rest of their lives with their mobile phones, says David R. Morton, director of mobile communications at the University of Washington. “For so many institutions,” he says, “mobile is a part-time job, almost an afterthought.”

One key to these projects is recognizing the mobility of mobile devices, and not treating them as if they were small desktop computers. Among colleges, even the leading mobile applications and Web sites still function like add-ons; students and others can get much the same information on a personal computer, although perhaps not as quickly.

But many college officials say that will change within a few years. As more people adopt Internet-enabled mobile phones, colleges will be able to take advantage of features like the ability to record information on the fly or to determine somebody else’s location.

Colleges often do not realize how far their Web services have fallen behind what students are used to, says Kayvon Beykpour, of Blackboard. The Stanford graduate recalls that signing up for courses online was so difficult that it was a “running joke” in the computer-science department. “Students are using Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, all these Web 2.0 systems every day,” Mr. Beykpour says. “It’s like their top five Web sites they use. And the sixth Web site is the school Web site, because you have to use it. And that’s where the biggest disconnect is.”

Another recent thread speaks to the problem of trying to keep up with the mobile wave — In a talk making the rounds on Twitter, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt says put your best people on mobile — A pretty strong indication that Google et al are scooping up all the mobile programmers they can find, which means that inevitably it’s going to be hard for us in academia to compete. So for the time being, we’ll probably need to rely on the sorts of third-party solutions discussed in the Chronicle article, like Blackboard and iMobileU.

For me, a key to understanding the deep infrastructure of mobile has been learning about WebKit, the underlying technology of all mobile browsers, including Safari, Chrome, and Android. Read more in my earlier article: The Mobile Revolution & the WebKit Revolution.

Mobile wave graphic credit: http://ssb.mofusepremium.com/blog/the-mobile-web/the-mobile-browser-is-the-killer-app

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

In an article on the most popular online stories of 2010 in the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World, Whitney Mathews discusses writing headlines with “‘Google juice’” to attract traffic — In other words, using the principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) — Mathews talks especially about a syndicated AP story in April for which they made the headline “iPad vs. Kindle” — With this short, pithy headline, the article has consistently been in the top ten hits in Google searches ever since (which I confirmed several times in the last few days), and of course has brought a lot of traffic.

I’ve been aware of the importance of choosing language carefully to bring search engine traffic since the early days of Hardin MD, before SEO became big business, and I’ve been surprised that libraries have been so slow to put it to use. Recently I’ve been paying attention to publishing and journalism because I see that people in those fields are thinking about many of the same digital-future questions as librarians. So I was glad to find, in the Lawrence story, that journalists ARE thinking about crafting their stories to be found by Google. A bit of googling (searching for SEO newspapers site:edu) showed that Lawrence is not alone — There’s a lot on SEO and newspapers.

How about libraries? …

Comparing journalism to librarianship, searching for SEO libraries site:edu finds very little — Actually, I’ve been doing this search periodically for several months, and have never found anything in the top ten, until today I did find one piece, a Word document from Binghamton University Libraries (YAY!) on using SEO for their web pages.

In the dotcom part of the online world, SEO is a givenWhy have libraries not used it more? I’ll be writing more about this in the next few weeks, so keep watching.

What’s Chocolate got to do with the story? …

It just happened that this week, as I was reading about SEO in Lawrence, I was also following a NY Times story with the catchy title Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate. This was a lengthy article about an innovative Phoenix nursing home, with only incidental mention of chocolate, but the smart headline writer with some SEO-savvy used the word to get attention — The story was in the top ten most emailed NYT stories all week, and I suspect the chocolate hook had a lot to do with that.

And finally, with my mind on chocolate and libraries, I found this cute little article that was my most popular tweet of the week, no doubt showing the (SEO) power of chocolate! …

ericrumsey: How about a Library with Chocolate instead of Books? NY Educ Dept says NO! http://nyti.ms/fJoGlI

Thanks to my son Brian Rumsey, who lives in Lawrence, and brought my attention to the Journal-World story.

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

I found these links looking at home pages of AAHSL libraries on the list of Medical & Health Sciences Libraries. I’m sure I missed some, so if you know of any, put in a comment, a tweet, or send on email (address at bottom of page). All of the libraries on Twitter below are in the AAHSL Twitter list/feed I made — Take a look to see what all these folks are tweeting about!

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

Twitter is notorious for having a short attention span – Trending topics tend to last for just a few days — The iPad has been a remarkable exception to this — Since it was introduced in April, its popularity on Twitter just seems to continue on and on. I experience this clearly myself because my tweets on the iPad are invariably the most popular ones.

With so much being written on the iPad, I often search in Twitter by combining “iPad” with another word — libraries, librarians, schools, learning, healthcare, medical etc. I’ve been surprised that combining iPad with library-related words consistently retrieves very little. So I did a little survey, counting the number of tweets retrieved in Twitter searches for some of these words, as shown in the graph at left (details on method below).

I don’t want to read too much into this quick-and-dirty little survey — Maybe it’s just a matter of time before the iPad surge filters down to libraries. But I still have to wonder … The apparent lack of interest in the iPad in the library world is especially surprising in view of the search figures in the chart for books, magazines, newspapers, and ebooks – the content of libraries.

As I was writing this post, I happened upon Brian Kenney’s article encouraging libraries to join the party and get into the “eBook game” like their patrons are quickly doing. The advice about libraries and eBooks in his catchy title fits the iPad also: You have to be in it to win it! – With the iPad having quickly established itself as the most popular device for reading digital books and magazines, and with its booming sales predicted to hit 28 million in 2011, isn’t it time for librarians to join the iPad party?

Methods — The numbers in the chart are the average of two searches done on Thurs, Aug 19 and Fri, Sept 3, each of the searches going back four days. I counted the number of pages for each search and multiplied by 10, assuming 10 tweets per page. For library related words, how about “library”? — I didn’t include it because of the varying contexts of the word — in particular iTunes library and iPod library — which are unrelated to libraries that are run by librarians. I did do a close examination of the 172 hits for library (on Sept 8th) and found that about 22 seemed to have some connection to the desired context, which would have raised the numbers in the chart a bit, but not enough to change the overall impression that the iPad is not mentioned much in connection with libraries. So I’ve chosen to stick with simple unambiguous words, especially so that the test can be easily repeated over time.

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