Reduced budgets? Increased impact! MmIT 2012 Conference Round-Up

A big thank-you to everyone who was involved in the MmIT conference at the University of Sheffield on the 17th of April 2012, both to those who attended and those who helped & presented. There has been some excellent coverage of the event, with a fine summary written by Olivia Greenstreet in Information Today Europe. Notable blog entries may also be found at student volunteer’s Lady Pen’s Treasure Trove, first-time conference attendee Sensible Shoes and (another) student volunteer’s Michelle’s Library Stuff. For those with a view to reading the Twitter activity associated with the conference, the Information Resources Group at the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield provide an excellent set of links on their ScHARR entry.

Photographs taken by Sarah Cole Photography may be found on Flickr. A full overview of the day’s sessions can be found on the MmIT website; some slides are already collected for viewing elsewhere in this blog, and more details about others which will be accessible shall be available shortly.

Watch this blog for information about the MmIT 2013 conference, which the group are sure will be even more of a success than this year!

In the Palm of your Hand: the Future for the Hand-Held Librarian

The slides and notes for this presentation – due to be given at the Reduced Budgets? Increased Impact! Increasing LIS Impact with New Technologies conference at the University of Sheffield today – are available here:

Hand-Held Librarian #mmit2012

NB: this is the version presented on the day of the conference, which was amended slightly from earlier versions due to an error spotted in the original version. Please feel free to access this new version.

‘Skypebook’ hits back at Google+: what does this mean for libraries?

In what seems intended to be a high-profile response to the limited release of Google+, the 6th of July saw Facebook’s online announcement of a major video chat development between themselves and Skype. Facebook users will shortly find that their profiles offer them the in-built chance to chat 1-2-1 with their friends, with the seamless integration of this service into Facebook’s chat service. If (like this author) you’ve been initially mystified by press reports claiming that you can try it but were wondering why it has not yet turning up in your Facebook account, simply visit http://www.facebook.com/videocalling to access an introduction plus setup instructions. There are a couple of things to install, but the whole thing is far easier than opening a Skype account; if a user doesn’t have a webcam, they can still chat over microphone. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work with Android mobile phones yet (I can’t verify other platforms), but mobile versions are expected. Google+ may be going for videochat quantity in terms of ‘Hangouts’ (with its much vaunted 10-person video chat facility), though Facebook have definitely stolen back some of the limelight by launching a Facebook/Skype integration which doesn’t even require users to have a Skype account.

Despite the temptation to see this solely as a retort to Google’s headline-grabbing ‘launch’ of Google+, it is certainly not the case that this was an overnight development. Skype and Facebook struck a (largely unspecified) partnership back in October 2010, so this has probably been in the pipeline for some time. However, with the Google+ juggernaut gaining momentum and Microsoft (who are in the process of buying Skype as well has having Facebook shares) now firmly on the side of Facebook, this will be one web war worth watching. Whether or not this is the beginning of the end for the traditional phone network remains to be seen, though this is undoubtedly a major development.

Away from the tech intrigue, what could the integration of Skype and Facebook mean for libraries? Many libraries are currently using various aspects of Facebook for service promotion such as having a Facebook page, responding to user comments and allowing users to ‘check-in’ via Facebook places. Once Skype is 100% integrated, libraries can allow users to video/voice call to ask questions, and it is possible that this might be used by some for enquiries and enquiry handling. Many libraries already use web-chat/web-conferencing software for such purposes, and those with superior technology could see the current Facebook/Skype offering as a step backwards; however, those without these services might be attracted to the idea. And, in these hard times, using Skype via Facebook will be free, which is always good. The question remains about whether (in the above scenario) staff would use their own profiles or create alternate ‘work’ profiles for chatting with customers, but it is an interesting thought. Perhaps, one day, part of joining a library could even include the option for a user to befriend the library on Facebook and supply said library with a user’s online identity as part of their join-up record; this could form another route of communication, and is helpful if a user changes their mobile phone number and doesn’t tell the library…if the person being called is not online, they can even be left a video/voicemail message which they pick up next time they sign in. Intriguing.

Overall, one must admit that the Hangout feature on Google+ looks much more advanced, though the really exciting thing is that Facebook and Skype seem set to announce even more developments (see the BBC News article), so perhaps group conversations will one day be possible on ‘Skypebook’. Certainly Skype is an acknowledged leader in its field, so more developments are credible. One thing is for sure – we haven’t seen the last of the videochat wars yet, and interesting tools might well emerge which are useful for libraries.

The story so far: Google+

June 28th 2011 was a big day in search engine & social media land, seeing the  launch of Google+ (pronounced ‘Googleplus’ or ‘Googleplussed’?). Well, ‘launch’ is perhaps the wrong word, with only a small amount of early testers having access to it; the general launch date apparently “won’t  be long” (https://plus.google.com/). Essentially, Google+ may be seen the introduction of social networking elements with the ubiquitous Google search interface…why use a search engine and a social networking site when you can do both at the same time? Google+ allows users to log into the Google environment and personalise it as usual, with the addition of a live and customisable newsfeed stream called ‘Sparks’ and a way of putting contacts into groups for social networking known as ‘Circles’. ‘Hangouts’ allow a small group of contacts (10) to link up for a webcast session, and a ‘Mobile’ element most notably allows group instant messaging chats. For a fuller description of features, check out the official Google blog at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/introducing-google-project-real-life.html.

Overall, the jury is currently split. Clearly Google is trying to take on Facebook with this venture, with the aim of drawing all users into one information finding & sharing tool. This is not lost on a great many commentators (cf. xkcd’s rather amusing strip), and it’s true that most people are focusing on the looming assault on Facebook. With high-profile failures in the form of Google Buzz and Google Wave, Google really need to do well with this product, though the project is not an off-the-cuff venture and has been in development for some time (cf. this very positive review from Wired). But it seems to be trying to do more…certainly one can see the appeal of having a tool which makes it easy to search and share, and addition of web-conferencing and mobile tools is a powerful incentive to try it. There are downsides with the current version (read Phil Bradley’s blog posting, which highlights the confusion about the ‘+1’ function for web-links which doesn’t seem to act like a ‘like’ button on Facebook), but it’s too early to really tell what will happen. Perhaps the big question many will keep asking is ‘Would it replace Facebook?’, though (speaking personally) this author of this posting would be tempted to try it in a workplace setting before deciding whether or not to shift lock/stock to Google+. Certainly this has the potential to be far more than ‘just  another social networking tool’.

Will you be planning to use Google+? Join the debate below!