I first noticed the disproportionate contributions from people with connections outside the US in the early days of Hardin MD. Before Google and PageRank the best lists of links were done by humans. In making Hardin MD, I kept close track of human-generated lists around the Web in health and medicine. A strong impression I got was that a disproportionate number of the most carefully chosen and well-maintained lists were from outside the US. A couple of examples — Tor Ahlenius at the Karolinska Institute library, whom I recently eulogized, and Ildo Shin, a physician in South Korea whose MedMark lists were by far the longest available, and had among the lowest rate of dead links (a common problem in those days).

With Americans being the preponderate population of the web-using world, why was it that it was people in other countries who managed to master the simple task of keeping good lists? I think it has to do with simplicity — I think maybe Americans have trouble cutting through the distractions on the Web that yell out for attention, to cut through the fluff to see what’s really important! I’ve seen this same tendency as the emphasis on Hardin MD has changed from meta-list making to pictures — I find that many of the best sites for medical pictures are also from around the world. The Hardin MD Skin Disease pictures page, for example, has sites from Sweden, Germany, Pakistan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Taiwan, and Nigeria. As with lists in Hardin MD, the important element here that’s captured by non-US people, I think, is the vision to take advantage of the simple virtues of the Web to accomplish a simple task — presentation of good medical pictures.

So, having been sensitized by my work on Hardin MD, I’ve broadened my observation over the years to see how an appreciation for simplicity and elegance has become central to the Web/Tech world of Google, Twitter, Apple. I continue the story of how people from the WIDE WORLD community, with connections outside the US, have made significant contributions emphasizing simplicity and elegance.

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

In my early work with Hardin MD, I observed that some of the best contributors were from outside the US. I’ve observed something similar on the Web in general, that people with significant connections to other countries excel in Web work disproportionately to their numbers. Several articles on this blog are on subjects that relate to the excellent work done by people around the world, so I’ve been thinking about a category name to bring these articles together. I discussed earlier the idea of using World-Wide for this, but that doesn’t distinguish the idea from the good ol’ “world-wide web,” so I’ve decided to give it a bit more branding and uniqueness by using the category WIDE-WORLD to denote strong connections outside the US.

In a separate article I’ll talk about how I discovered the concept of the WIDE WORLD web, starting with my work with Hardin MD, and broadening over the years to Google, Apple, and Twitter. In other articles, I’ll extend this discussion — emphasizing especially stories I’ve written about on this blog — and say why I think it is that WIDE WORLD users have made contributed so disproportionately to building the Web. In short, I’m suggesting there are two reasons for this — First, the valuing of simplicity & elegance and second, a heightened appreciation for storytelling.

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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

When I saw Sarah Kessler’s recent Mashable article Five Things the Library of Congress is Archiving Online, it struck me as being a disconnect — Mashable talking about libraries?! — Mashable is one of the largest blogs on the Web, covering especially social media and tech subjects. I watch it fairly regularly, enough to know that they rarely mention anything having to do faintly with libraries.

When I looked at the Mashable/LC article I wasn’t surprised to see that the first on Kessler’s list of five things archived* at LC is Twitter feeds–all of them. The surprising announcement of the LC Twitter archiving certainly did get unprecedented attention for the Library of Congress when it was announced in April. Many eyeballs that normally don’t pay any attention to libraries sat up and took notice — Mashable did, and it looks like they’re continuing to pay attention. Great! …

I’d suggest that we in the library world watch closely how the world’s view of libraries may be changing to our benefit with the LC-Twitter alliance. When I first came across the Kessler article on Twitter, a few days after it was written, it had, of course, been heavily retweeted. But I was surprised that few of the RT’s were by people I recognized in the library Twitterverse. And of the few library Twitterites who did pick it up, almost none of them mentioned that it was in Mashable — Missing the element of Context, I’d say! Context is a critical on Twitter — It’s not just WHAT is being said on Twitter, but how it’s connected in the Twittersphere — WHO is saying it and WHO IS READING IT — Exactly the sorts of things that future historians will be able to study on the LC Twitter archive!

So, Librarians — Get on Twitter and learn how to use it! The eyes of the world are watching!

*The other four things mentioned as being archived at LC (none of which would have drawn the attention of Mashable without the Twitter archive, I’d guess): election websites, a few Facebook pages, historical events, and news sites.

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

After hearing Daniel Pink’s keynote at the recent Medical Library Association meeting, I watched his TED talk (The surprising science of motivation) and I found it at least as inspiring as his words at MLA. Pink’s ideas on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation are well-known — People doing creative tasks, he says, are more highly motivated by inner drives than they are by external rewards — I won’t go into detail about his thesis here — I’ll just talk about a couple of stories — One that Pink tells and a little follow-up of my own.

Pink’s story that I found especially interesting is about Wikipedia and Encarta. I’m transcribing it since I don’t find that anyone else has done it. Here’s a link to the segment of the video with the story:

In the mid-1990′s Microsoft started an encyclopedia called Encarta. They employed all the right incentives. They paid professionals to write and edit thousands of articles. Well compensated managers oversaw the whole thing to make sure it came in on budget and on time. A few years later another encyclopedia started — A different model — Do it for fun. No one gets paid a cent or a euro or a yen. Do it because you like to do it. Now 10 years ago if you had talked to an economist … anywhere … and said “Hey, I’ve got these different models for creating an encyclopedia — If they went head to head who would win? 10 years ago you could not have found a single, sober economist anywhere on planet earth who would have predicted the Wikipedia model. This is the Titanic battle between these two approaches. This is the Ali-Frazier of motivation, right, this is the Thrilla in Manila, alright — Intrinsic motivators vs extrinsic motivators — Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose versus Carrots & sticks – And who wins — Intrinsic motivation, autonomy, mastery and purpose — in a Knockout.

Great story, well told! Indeed, who would have predicted Wikipedia? Or, in the same vein, who would have predicted blogs and Twitter threatening to replace paid journalists?

My own little story — After returning from a long week at MLA, I watched the Pink video on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. Partly inspired by Pink’s words and partly by ideas from MLA, I decided I’d spend some holiday time on Monday Twittering about the BP Gulf oil disaster — A subject out of my usual more “serious” use of Twitter but — Intrinsic Motivation ;-) –  It’s an area of personal interest, and a chance to put my Twitter skills to work to do a tiny bit to help save the world, maybe?

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

National Library of Medicine staffer Loren Frant gave a good presentation at the NLM Online Users’ session at the recent MLA annual meeting, on the development of the mobile version of MedlinePlus that launched in January. I was especially interested in Loren’s talking about the decision to make this a mobile-optimized web site instead of an app. This goes along with the trend that I’ve noted — The great disadvantage of making apps for library resources is that separate apps have to be made for each of the many different mobile platforms in existence. Instead of making apps, then, it’s more efficient to make mobile-optimized web sites that will display well on any mobile platform.

When I wrote an article on the newly-launched MLP, I missed the fact that it was an optimized web site instead of an app (being a newbie iTouch user ;-) at the time). After hearing Loren’s talk, I discovered that she wrote a good article on the MLP Mobile launch (that I missed because it came out one day after mine!), in which she discusses its being a mobile web site instead of an app, as at her MLA talk.

With the booming popularity of the iPad that was launched two months ago, of course the same discussion of app vs optimized web site is being repeated, although with the larger screen size there’s much less that needs to be done to optimize web pages than on the iPhone. I’ll be watching to see whether NLM does anything to tweek MLP for the iPad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I came across this little snippet from Sumant Srivathsan, in Bombay, on his use of the Kindle, that gives a concise description of why digital (non-paper) books hold much practical appeal for people in much of the the non-US world. I sometimes hear talk about eBooks being elitist, which I think is a fairly US/European-centric view — For people in the tropical world, especially Africa, I’d guess that it’s pretty much a question of digital reading or no reading, in the near future. Here are Srivathsan’s down-to-earth words:

Like any self-respecting reader, I have a healthy collection of books, and consequently, an overflowing bookcase. I also live in Bombay, where every enemy of books – heat, humidity, dust, shortage of space – exists in abundance. As a result, half my library rests in a quiet corner in my mother’s apartment in Madras, waiting for the day when they can finally claim a place of their own in my home. I try to keep my books well, without tears, creases, folds, dog-ears or any form of marking. Given that much of my reading takes place on the trains and stations of Bombay’s local train system, this is far from easy to do, especially when one hand is occupied in desperately holding on to an available support for the duration of the commute. My success rate at book maintenance stands at about 40 per cent.

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

Nick Bilton’s recent NYT article ‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web struck a responsive chord for me and for many other, as evidenced by its viral spread on Twitter – What especially struck me about the article and its spreading on Twitter was the virtual ignoring of the coiner of the catchy term “controlled serendipity” — Maria Popova, who is certainly well-known on the Web for her blog Brain Pickings, and her Twittering (@brainpicker) — The article came out early in the day on Friday, Jan 22. Before I tweeted it several hours and many tweets later, remarkably, not a single tweet about it mentioned either Popova or @brainpicker. So I decided then that I would emphasize “Popova’s brain” in my talk about the ideas in the article.

In thinking about a tweet and blog article title that would emphasize Popova’s contribution, I settled upon the word “creative.” Before I chose that, though, I did some thesaurus searching to find other possibilities. None seemed better than “creative,” but I did discover an intriguing word that’s new to me – Deviceful - Wow! What a great word! … Note the dictionary definition for Serendipity: “Making desirable discoveries by accident” …

Deviceful — A Middle English word notable for its use in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, not commonly used now … Surprising, in this age of devices, but a Google search shows little indication that the Ad-makers have discovered it, even those deviceful minds at Apple! (The top 10 hits in Googling deviceful are all, except one Photography site, either dictionary definitions or Middle English-related) … So, I think, such a striking word is worth building an article around — I think about using it in the title of an article I planned on Popova … but … even better: I realize what’s just a few days away, the Climax of the iPad Hype, the long-awaited Launch! In following this interesting story, unavoidably, I hear a lot about Steve Jobs, but I also learn about the quieter, but vital, role of designer Jonathan Ive, and I write an article on the two of them — Deviceful Minds.

… So … A nice little example of “Controlled” Serendipity? — “Serendipity with a purpose” or “Serendipity that turns into a story” … Having the knack of knowing when an interesting path is going to lead to something useful — In this example, following the path from creative … to … deviceful … led to writing an article.

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