In recent interviews about his new book The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry), I’ve been struck by Siva Vaidhyanathan’s deep ambivalence about Google — How profoundly he realizes, even with all his doubts about its motives, how much Google has become indispensable, for himself, for the world, and for librarians. I discussed this in a previous article, based on an interview with Vaidhyanathan in Publishers Weekly.

I recently came across another interview of Vaidhyanathan in Inside Higher Ed, where his conflicted Google-sense comes out maybe even more.  In the introduction, the author/interviewer, Steve Kolowich, I think does a good job of catching this sense:

As is often the case with cousins, the genetic differences between higher education and Google are more striking than their similarities. Beneath the interdependence and shared hereditary traits, tensions creep.

So, yes, the emphasis here is on “genetic differences” and “tensions.” But note the underlying context of these differences and tensions — That Google and academia are interdependent and closely related (“cousins” with “shared hereditary traits”). I want to repeat that the quote is not directly from Vaidhyanathan. But, as I said, I think it’s a good representation of his mixed views that come out in the interview.

Taking off from the idea of Google and academia being in a “cousin relationship,” in this article I’ll transfer the “cousin” idea from academia in general, more specifically to libraries. There are several things that bring this idea to mind — For one thing, Vaidhyanathan in the interview does make one notable mention of a library-Google connection, suggesting that colleges should consider hiring a librarian to be “Chief Google Officer,” to help faculty keep up with the stream of new Google tools. I’ll discuss a couple of other Google-Library connections in the conclusion, but the immediate thing that brought the idea to mind was reading an article on Larry Page, who will become the Google CEO on April 4, just after reading the Vaidhyanathan Inside Higher Ed interview.

7 Ways Larry Page is defining Google’s future, by Farhad Manjoo, is a long and penetrating portrait. As the title says, it does indeed center on Page. But with him being a Google co-founder, observations about the man and the company naturally intertwine. When I came across this article soon after reading the Vaidhyanathan Inside Higher Ed interview, the affinity between Google and libraries seemed natural.

The article is worth a read for many insightful passages, but here I’ll be looking at the parts of it that especially suggest to me the Google-Librarian relationship, mostly in a section called “Talk is Cheap” — The Google character discussed here, that I think fits librarians well also, is an understated modesty — Feeling uncomfortable shouting to the admiring bog about how great they (we) are:

Persuasion offends Google’s — and Page’s — meritocratic beliefs. The company became the biggest search engine in the world because it built a better product, not because it created better TV ads than Yahoo.

Google’s attitude (and librarians’ I think) is “We’ve got the good stuff, so why do we need to advertise it”:

Google’s build-it-and-they-will-come naïveté seems almost cute in the age of Apple. Many of Google’s advances go unnoticed by the public because nobody hears about them.

(An interesting aside in this quote is that Vaidhyanathan, in the Inside Higher Ed interview above suggests, as mentioned above, that librarians might be just the ones to help Google’s advances get noticed on college campuses.)

Manjoo mentions that Google PageRank is named for Larry Page, which brings up another little Page-Google-Library connection — As I’ve blogged before, PageRank has its origins in the mind of librarian Eugene Garfield, dubbed “Grandfather of Google” in my article — So, if Google’s grandfather is a librarian, doesn’t that make all of us librarians at least cousins? ;-)

On a personal level, Manjoo’s description of Page sounds like the stereotypical librarian: “reserved, unabashedly geeky, and said to be introverted.” He contrasts Page’s Google with Apple and Steve Jobs (who would certainly never be mistaken for a librarian), suggesting that the Page style may be a good fit:

With its new CEO an introvert, perhaps Google will never tap its inner Apple. But maybe, in the bigger picture, that’s a trade-off worth making. According to some surprising forthcoming research … introverts can be more successful leaders – particularly in dynamic, uncertain, and fast-changing environments like the tech industry.

The comments here on Google and Apple segue into another Google-Library commonality that I see, which is that they both stand on the side of the Open Web — Google certainly differs from libraries in being a commercial company that needs to make money. But for its basic function — Search — to work, it depends upon the Web being an open, free environment, as libraries strive to be for their users. Apple (and Facebook), on the other hand, occupies a more closed, “walled garden” environment, with tightly controlled access to information. So, for the good of the open model of the Web and libraries, it will be a good thing if Google under Larry Page does indeed not “tap its inner Apple.”

In conclusion, circling back to an apt Google-Library remark by Vaidhyanathan — In the “many-virtues-of-Google” part of the Inside Higher Ed interview above, he says “Google made the Web usable” — A user-friendly place where people can actually find what they’re looking for — Just like libraries do for their users.

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

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

I wrote in my last article about using Kindle apps to capture highlighted text on a web page so it can be pasted to other applications. This seems like a major advance in eBook reading to me. Surprisingly, I’ve found few other people who have given this the importance that I do, with one notable exception — After discovering that I could use the Kindle app to capture text, as I described in the previous article, I finally did discover an article that I’m excerpting here by education writer Will Richardson, in which he describes having the same Aha! experience with the Kindle annotation capture that I did.

The only comment I have about Richardson’s narrative is that he writes of his experience with the Kindle app on an iPad, and doesn’t mention being able to do the same thing on the Kindle PC and Mac apps. I don’t have an iPad, and I imagine he didn’t try using the PC and Mac apps, as I’ve done, but from what he describes, it certainly sounds like the Kindle app works equally well on all of them. Here are Richardson’s words (boldface added):

Last year, I put the Kindle app on my iPhone and downloaded a couple of books to read. … But non-fiction wasn’t so great. If you look at most of the non-fiction books in my library, you’ll see they’re totally marked up, underlined, annotated and messy … On the Kindle, I could highlight, and take a note, but it just wasn’t as useful. The notes were hard to find, and the highlights just weren’t feeling as sticky. I wasn’t impressed; in fact, it was frustrating.

Last week, when I downloaded my first book to my shiny new iPad, things improved. The larger screen made a big difference, creating highlights and typing in reflective notes was a breeze, but I was still feeling the same frustration with the limitations; …  I kept searching for a way to copy and paste sections of the book out into Evernote … My searches didn’t come up with anything, and I finally turned to Twitter and asked the question there. Ted Bongiovanni (@teddyb109) came to the rescue:

@willrich45 – re: iPad Kindle cut and paste, sort of. You can highlight, and then grab them from kindle.amazon.com #iPad #kindle

Turns out my iPad Kindle app syncs up all of my highlights and notes to my Amazon account. Who knew? When I finally got to the page Ted pointed me to in my own account, the page that listed every highlight and every note that I had taken on my Kindle version of John Seely Brown’s new book Pull, I could only think two words:

Game. Changer.

All of a sudden, by reading the book electronically as opposed to in print, I now have:

  • All of the most relevant, thought-provoking passages from the book listed on one web page, as in my own condensed version of just the best pieces
  • All of my notes and reflections attached to those individual notes
  • The ability to copy and paste all of those notes and highlights into Evernote which makes them searchable, editable, organizable, connectable and remixable
  • The ability to access my book notes and highlights from anywhere I have an Internet connection.

Game. Changer.

I keep thinking, what if I had every note and highlight that I had ever taken in a paper book available to search through, to connect with other similar ideas from other books, to synthesize electronically? … Others might not find this earth shattering, but this is a pretty heady shift for me right now, one that is definitely disrupting my worldview.

As I mention in the previous article, Amazon doesn’t quite have the process perfected, but when they do, I think this will, indeed, be a Game Changer for scholarly study … And imagine the possibilities if Google puts their attention to doing something like this for their collection of public domain eBooks …

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

Google has been under attack recently, because its search results often seem to be overwhelmed by spam-generated links. On the other hand, Wikipedia has gotten many laudatory commentaries on the occasion of its tenth anniversary.

The timing here is interesting — Google, which is driven by computer-generated algorithms, is being “outsmarted” by human SEO engineers who have figured out how to “game” the system to get their sites a high ranking in searches. And Wikipedia, powered by smart human curators, has risen to become “a necessary layer in the Internet knowledge system.

I’ve looked at several of the tenth-anniversary commentaries discussing the uniqueness of Wikipedia, and it’s surprising that I haven’t seen any that note the significance of its being a human-generated tool. TheAtlantic had a good round-up of commentaries by 13 “All-Star Thinkers” — Some of them do talk about the importance of collaboration in the working of Wikipedia, but none of them make the more basic, and, to me, even more acute observation that, in this age of the computer, it’s done by human beings!

In the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia, in the section The Nature of Wikipedia is this interesting quote from Goethe:

Here, as in other human endeavors, it is evident that the active attention of many, when concentrated on one point, produces excellence.

Indeed — As my library school teacher used to say “if there were enough smart humans we wouldn’t need to rely on computers.”

So — Librarians Take Note! Have you ever considered becoming a Wikipedia editor? — On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is making an effort to foster more diversity in curation — He especially mentions reaching out to Libraries for help.

Finally, on a related thread — Another notable aspect of Wikipedia that hasn’t been mentioned in anniversary articles — Not only is it done by humans, but it’s done by humans on a volunteer basis — As I discussed in an earlier article, Daniel Pink uses this as a classic example of “intrinsic motivation” >> Wikipedia vs Encarta: The Ali-Frazier of Motivation.

Related articles:

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

Google’s elegant, new 3-D anatomy viewer – Body Browser — is best experienced seeing it in live action. Since it’s not viewable on some commonly-used browsers (notably Internet Explorer) a good quick introduction to it is in video. Here’s the one that seems to be the standard on YouTube:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KidJ-2H0nyY[/youtube]

The maker of this video is apparently Hetman Ostap — From his channel page in YouTube (noobfromua), it looks like he’s a student in Ukraine. This is another example of what I wrote about earlier this year, that people outside the US, often in obscure places, seem to do great work on the Web — Making a video of the Body Browser seems like such an obviously good thing to do — Why did it take a Ukrainian student to do it?

http://bodybrowser.googlelabs.com/ … If you’re using a supported browser, this link will put you directly in the Body Browser. If not, it gives information on browsers that work.

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