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

Good writing relevant to a broad topic is often buried in a discussion of a more narrow topic — By its title, Zoe Rose’s recent article is about the Monocle eReader, which works in the Safari browser. But in fact much of the article is a good narrative about why networked eBooks are better than downloaded, device-tethered eBooks.

Rose’s article caught my attention for several reasons — It resonates with Hugh McGuire’s recent article about the future of connected books on the Internet and my commentary suggesting that Google Books gives a hint of this. As with McGuire, Rose’s writing on Internet-connected eBooks suggests what I’ve written before about Google Books as the new eBooks. Also, recent discussions of the Safari browser on the iPad outshining Apps for reading are much in tune with Rose’s emphasis on the appeal of browser-based eBooks. Here are her words:

Monocle is a new development in eBookery. It could be revolutionary, for one reason: it works in browsers. Which is to say, you access your eBook content through the Internet.

Fundamentally, there are two ways to access content using machines:
1. Content lives on the user’s own device. This is a download-based model. Example: iTunes.
2. Content lives on external servers which are accessed by the user’s device. This is a web-based model. Example: Spotfiy.

There’s a user-facing difference between the two, and I think the no-download model will eventually have the upper hand. For content users, the download model is the more annoying option, because it’s tethered to a device. To  use my husband as an example: At work and at home, he uses different machines. They’re powerful desktops, so physically lugging them about is not a good option. Because of this, a device-tethered eBook is no use to him. But he always has an Internet connection. He can always log on to a website.

There’s a developing trend of people using multiple machines to access their content, instead of the trusty old family PC. My household isn’t unusual – it has two people, a desktop, two laptops, an ipad, and an iphone. Matching that trend on the other side, we can also see Internet access growing exponentially – it’s quite likely (if not inevitable) that ubiquity is just around the corner.

Which is more likely? A future where people use the same device all the time, or a future where people have Internet access all the time? In choosing between browser-based and download-based content models, these trends point to an access-it-through-the-Internet model as being where the smart money is.

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

“The browser platform wars are over. WebKit won. Gecko & IE lost” – Ian McKellar

As I wrote recently, one of the important effects of the iPad is that it’s shown that the WebKit browser platform is important beyond the world of mobile devices, with its use on Safari for iPad and also for Google Chrome. “WebKit” will likely soon become part of vocabulary of the wide Web-using world. Now, though, it’s talked about mainly by geekish tech people, so it’s hard to sift out non-geek talk about it that can inform the rest of us. The article by Gecko and WebKit developer Ian McKellar (@ian) that I’m excerpting below does a good job of this. McKellar states strongly his view that the programming environment of Mozilla/Firefox is outmoded and that the browsers of the future will be WebKit-based.

About the sub-title above: “The browser platform wars are over …” — This is from a tweet by McKellar, in response to my tweeting a link to his article. Although his tweet includes IE (Internet Explorer), his article is only on WebKit and Mozilla.

Gecko (in McKellar’s quote) is the browser platform for Firefox. Mozilla (in the excerpting below) is closely associated with Mozilla Firefox.

Excerpts from McKellar’s article [boldface added]:

In my experience (8 years building Mozilla based products and playing with WebKit since 2003) there are a few clear technical and social differences that can make WebKit a more attractive platform for developers than Mozilla.

The scale and complexity of the Mozilla codebase is daunting. Mozilla advocates will say that that’s because Mozilla provides more functionality, but the reality is that even if you don’t want all that functionality you still have to dig through and around it to get your work done. Much of the Mozilla platform is poorly documented, poorly understood and incomplete … while WebKit is smaller, simpler and newer.

The scale of the Mozilla organization is also daunting. Mozilla’s web presence is vast and is filled with inaccurate, outdated content. Their goals are vague and mostly irrelevant to developers. By contrast WebKit’s web site is simple and straight-forward.

Perhaps I’m short-sighted, but I don’t see a clear path forward for Mozilla in competing with WebKit as a platform for web content display. The long history of Mozilla have left them with a large, complicated codebase that’s not getting smaller. The rapid growth and defensive attitude of the organization (probably brought on by the Netscape / IE wars) has left it without a culture that welcomes friendly competition. … I’m just glad we have an alternative web content platform.

So, where to to from here? As iPad-like tablet devices nudge into the world of desktop computing, it seems likely that WebKit browsers are the future. Though FireFox and Internet Explorer will probably continue to dominate the desktop for some time, the WebKit future is available now on the desktop in Google Chrome — I’ve started using it regularly, and I find it superior to FireFox in many ways. So consider giving it a try.

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

“The browser platform wars are over. WebKit won. Gecko & IE lost”

In July, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone declared, to much media splash, that Twitter is the world’s fastest growing search engine.

In May, I started noticing that Twitter search, that formerly extended back 10 days, was only going back 4-5 days. What gives, Biz? If it’s growing so fast, why cut back the time of searches?

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

A little example of how collective intelligence helps to build a better Twittersphere – My original tweet (on the bottom below) is in response to an article that was getting a lot of Tweets on the Six Degrees of Separation and Twitter. I wondered how this compares with Facebook, and found in Wikipedia that Twitter is said to have fewer degrees of separation than Facebook, which is shown by the numbers in the tweet. My tweet said: “Twitter a Close-Knit Network …” — @sanjeevn improved this to show the closer connections in Twitter by smartly adding the letter r”: “Twitter a Closer-Knit Network …” – So, thanks, @sanjeevn, for improving my tweet — Keeping the ball rolling, and passing it on … to @Pjoseph85

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

Building on the phenomenal popularity of the iPad, David Rothman recently proposed in a guest article in TheAtlantic what he calls a National Information Stimulus Plan (Here’s the whole long article & Rothman’s shorter summary) — Using tax breaks to encourage citizens to buy iPads to build up peoples’ skills at using information tools. Of course, the iPad part of Rothman’s idea has gotten most of the attention. But he also focuses a lot on libraries and healthcare, two of the themes of this blog. So I’m excerpting some of his comments on those subjects below.

With the iPad being so popular for reading books, Rothman broadens his appeal for the stimulus plan to the idea of a national digital library:

Might iPad-style technology in fact be a godsend for millions of schoolchildren with obsolete textbooks? And could e-books benefit the elderly, the disabled, and other library users, too, including U.S. workers eager to upgrade job skills? If nothing else, the iPad and similar machines could drive down library costs per book. That could help keep reading alive in places like Hood River County, Oregon, where the 98-year-old library system plans to close for financial reasons –just one of many cash-strapped U.S. libraries.

Along the way, as the technology’s price declined, the mass automation potential of the tablets could justify the cost of a national digital library system. Such potential might count even more than the library initiative itself. Call it a national information stimulus plan or NISP. The stimulus would be in the form of more and better information, as well as greater efficiencies in both the public and private sectors.

Neighborhood libraries serve as community gathering places and for many other reasons are preferable to digital collections alone. But a national digital library system able to serve library-bereft neighborhoods–and places like Hood River County–would be better than no library service at all. Local librarians could still help choose books to be offered.

Taking off from his own recent experience as a patient, he argues that the information stimulus plan could benefit the nation’s healthcare system:

But how to cost-justify a well-stocked national digital library system? Multibillion-dollar savings and other benefits could result from iPad-style technology in a number of ways, beyond the library world, if the United States had a better information strategy. Simpler e-commerce and tax forms–at local, state and national levels–are just a start. Healthcare is the real paper dragon to slay, and the Americans might even live longer if we acted. The National Institutes of Health and other leading institutions could more effectively distribute medical information to doctors and patients alike, and the sick could use the same machines to monitor treatments and juggle around pills, not just track the financial details.

Let’s look, close up, at the paper dragon. When a Northern Virginia man suffered a heart attack in September 2008, this AARP member felt as if the healthcare industry had bullied him into becoming an accountant–caught as he was between the hospital, the doctors and the insurance company.  … I know first-hand of the horrors here. You see, I’m the cardiac patient from Northern Virginia, and remember mine is a best-case scenario or at least somewhat close to it. The hospital itself was theoretically within the insurance company’s network for almost full coverage. But oh, the loopholes!

So why not use iPad-type machines and easy-to-use software closely tied in with the devices? Then, for example, I could instantly show why an insurance company rejected problematic items that the doctors’ offices or hospitals were now trying to get me to pay for.

Forget about just paper-based information or facts from separate corporate Web sites with password hassles and other joys. Give me instead a simple iPad-style application or a centralized Web-based “dashboard” or maybe a choice, so I can more easily try to reconcile information from different sources … Case by case, let patients themselves play more of a role in policing our health system … The same dashboard could also help me retrieve drug information–I gulp down five pills a day, a small number compared to some patients’–and alert me to relevant medical news. …

And he extends the “iPad Stimulus” beyond healthcare:

Healthcare is just one example of how a coherent and comprehensive strategy for iPad-style machines and others could empower individual Americans in new ways and improve life in areas besides literacy, education, and training. Furthermore, the right information policy could help build a constituency for the library initiative far beyond teachers, librarians, and book-lovers.

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 Storytelling. Here, then,I’ll discuss examples of this from articles I’ve written.

The outstanding example of resonance between the Wide World community, storytelling, and the Web is certainly British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie’s tantalizing word picture in Haroun and the Sea of Stories that I see as an envisioning (prediction?) of  the Web. Rushdie, of course, was raised as a Muslim in India, and his “stories within stories within stories” style in Haroun resonates equally with One Thousand and One Nights and with the Web that we experience, with its “liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity,” to borrow Rushdie’s words.

I’ve gotten new insights into storytelling and the Web in following the active brain of Bulgarian blogger and storytelling fan Maria Popova. She coined the phrase “controlled serendipity” that spread virally last winter after being headlined in a NY Times article by Nick Bilton. As I wrote in my commentary about that article, I think the reason the phrase resonated so strongly with people is because it captures the essence of how we use the Web — To follow stories, and make new stories ourselves. So I see Popova as another example of a heightened appreciation of storytelling from the Wide World community.

Popova combines her interest in storytelling with a strong interest in TED conferences (popularized on the Web as video stories told by prominent people), and I learned to see the TED-Storytelling connection from her. Beyond Popova, TED provides another example of the Wide World community and storytelling — TED Curator Chris Anderson grew up in Pakistan and India — the land of Rushdie — and it certainly seems possible that this experience helped to foster his building TED into a prime Web storytelling spot.

Related articles:

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