Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sharing links with users - 8 different ways

How do you share links, resources with your library patrons? In the past, the default option would certainly be through email. There is nothing wrong with sharing links through emails, though it seems to me a more structured and organized way would be better.

But today with the rise of social networks, collaborative tools and general web 2.0 love, there are a bewildering number of online sharing options, I thought it would be useful in this post to briefly consider each class of tools and assess their suitability.

To give us something concrete to work on, let us assume you arrange to meet with a graduate student to discuss his research topic. From then, on you want to regularly send his interesting resources you find. You can assume he has the same access to resources you have (so a direct link with ezproxy stem built-in would work) but you cannot assume he has registered for whatever service (including citation managers) you intend to use.

Of course, this scenario is just a smaller scale version of the task of creating subject guides, so many of the same solutions can be used.

The tools that I will cover below will generally generate a list of resources you shared on a webpage (which may or may not be password protected).

Depending on what type of librarian you are, you may be sharing mostly link to free public sites, or to links to academic journals articles in subscribed databases, and this impacts the type of tools you might use.

As an academic librarian who shares mostly links to academic articles the ideal sharing tool for me then would have the following characteristics though

(1) Handles links to password protected pages - In particular many general social bookmarking tools work fine with normal webpages but fall down when you try to handle links from subscribed databases which require logins. This is particularly so for tools that try to archive the page or add annotation overlays (see below).

(2) Allow exporting of citations in several formats - Most of the resources you are going to share are articles, so ideally the webpage that displayed the resources would be formatted in such a way that allows your library patron to easily export the citations in various ways (RIS, text, BIBtext) to whatever citation manager they prefer.

(3) Allows resource lists to be embedded in other spaces - The resource list should be exported as RSS which would allow you to create widgets using external services such as widgetbox to embed in other pages (including wikis, social networks, startup pages etc). Even better would be for the service to provide it's own widgets such as delicious linkrolls. Diigo offers the very interesting WebSlides.

(4) Allow you to add annotation/comments - This could be an overlay of your comments over the webpage in question, or simply allows you to add comments next to the citation.

(5) Allows collaboration (real time?) - Ideally the user could add comments like "This is good", "This is not relevant because..." etc. Better yet if the tool has a "like" feature as seen in Friendfeed and copied by facebook, google reader - allows you to get quick feedback what kinds of citations are relevant.

(6) Allows access without registering for a account - While (4) assumes to some extent that users will have to log-in, you can't assume that the user will want to go through the pain of registering a new account just to view your list of resources. I would add that it is the whole process of REGISTERING (which typically requires that you fill in a long web form) that is annoying, a password protected list, where all the user needs to do is to enter the password you supply might be acceptable.


#1 Social bookmarking tools e.g. Delicious

The most famous of this is of course Delicious.


http://delicious.com/jomcparklib/AdvertisingSpending

Newer and more trendy alternatives with many more features include Diigo, Twine, Google bookmarks and more. (Not sure if "Readitlater" type of tools like instantpaper might be used).

These tools were never designed in mind for academic use, though they can be readily adapted to such uses. Typically, they allow users to access resource lists without authentication, which reduces barriers to entry.

The main disadvantage is that as they are not designed for academic use, they don't provide various niceties that web-based citation managers have including formatting of citations, links to resources via doi, coins etc.

Many of the older social bookmarking tools like Delicious also provide relatively little social networking functions. Delicious does allow you to add fans and/or export results to rss feeds though which allows you to create link roll widgets to embed on your webpage (see library subject guide created using delicious link rolls), but they definitely don't provide anyway for the user to add comments to the resources you share.


http://www.lib.unc.edu/parklibrary/subjects/AdvertisingMediaSpending.html

Try Diigo or Twine if you want the ability to add comments.

One can also consider "clipping" software/services like Evernote, Zoho Notebook which can store anything you can imagine, but it's can't clear how good the sharing features are.

#2 Web annotation tools/ advanced Social bookmarking tools - e.g. Awesome Highlighter

The idea of annotating webpages goes back to a 1999 outfit Third voice. The idea is that you install a browser plugin of some kind, then you can view comments or annotations left by other visitors of the page.

Comments or annotations are usually overlaid over the existing page, or in some cases, a separate frame opens with comments about that page at the side (some will even pull comments from Twitter, friendfeed about that page).

This is a very crowded space with many alternatives including A.nnotate , Awesome Highlighter ShiftSpace, Fleck, Stickis, TrailFire, SharedCopy, webnotes, Reframeit and more.

A few libraries have started to use TrailFire to guide users. Below is an example from Central Pennsylvania College library which they use to annotate pages to guide users through their webpages.


http://trailfire.com/Lopez/marks/89275




More traditional social bookmarking tools like Diigo, Iterasi, Qitera, also incorporate archiving of the existing page with comments/annotations and images captured. Diigo in particular has an interesting WebSlides feature.





Being able to add annotations seems useful. Imagine not only linking to a specific article, but also highlighting sections that you find relevant or interesting. Imagine being able to engage in a conversation with a user about an online article, by scribbling in the margins.

The main problem with almost all web annotation tools is that they don't really work with links to subscribed databases as they are typically accessed behind a password with the added complication of ezproxy links, and as such web annotation/archiving features fail.

Iterasi seems to be the only one that is capable of doing so, though I'm not sure of the copyright implications.



#3 Web based citation Managers - Citeulike, Zotero

Since we are typically sharing articles, why not use a tool designed for it? While desktop based citation managers are still popular, in recent years, many web-based citation managers have began to appear, and desktop managers have added web-based versions or at least allow sharing to users who are using the same citation manager.

In addition, designers of citation managers have become inspired by the success of social networking sites and have began to mimic such sites by adding features that encourage collaboration, finding people in similar fields etc.

Another crowded field such products/services include Citeulike, Mendley, 2collab, Wizfolio, Connotea , Labmeeting, ResearchGate, Nature Network, Zotero, plus huge list here

It's hard to characterize these services as a whole and I have minimal experience with all but 3. There seems to be several classes

1) 100% web-based, delicious-like tools (e.g. Penntags, Connotea, Citeulike, 2collab, refworks) , these generally focus on uploading your citations and to varying degrees sharing with users but don't have "cite as you write" features to aid writing of your thesis.

2) Citation managers in web-based form (e.g Wizfolio, Refworks)

3) Citation managers in desktop form but also include web-based versions (e.g. EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero)

An excellent discussion about such tools can be found here and here

The main thing I'm looking for here in such services is the ease at which you can share resources, typically links to articles.

Connotea, Citeulike and Zotero, Mendeley are either completely web-based or allow you to push lists of resources to a web-based site, which does not require users to login to view.

Typical examples would be Mendeley's public collection or Zotero's groups. Note: If you want to share pdfs or full-texts you can use Mendeley's shared collection option instead.



http://www.mendeley.com/collections/23204/Valuation-of-library-services/


http://www.zotero.org/groups/library_valuation/items


Citeulike is probably even better since it's web-based page allows exporting of citations in various formats including RIS, txt, RSS etc. RIS is particularly important to support since most citation managers support that.


http://www.citeulike.org/user/aarontaycheehsien


Somewhat less ideal is EndNote, which allows sharing only between users of EndNote web. Of course, you could just export selected Endnote citations into txt and then email the list to the user.

#4 RSS feed readers - Google reader etc

I have written quite a bit about using rss feed reader as a discovery tool. You can use Google reader to share with users, or post to a shared item page for those who don't have a account. Added plus, users can give feedback by liking it.





One disadvantage is that you run into problems when you are trying to share to more than two persons. You can have a public page of (1) Your starred items (2) Things you shared (and (3) specific folders) but what if you need to share to more than 2 users?


#5 Collaborative tools - wikis, google docs etc.

Of the tools managed above, most of them have few collaborative capabilities.

If you intend to collaborative on a long term basis, chances are you might want to go with either tools that are designed along such lines.

The first major class would be wikis of course.

In addition, there are collaborative tools such as etherpad, google docs, Zoho Office, Buzzword etc. Then there is the possible game changer Googlewave. These are web-based word processors that allow several people to collaborate on at the same time, changes can be seen in real-time or near real-time.

The chief disadvantage of such tools is that the input is unstructured.



#6 Blogs - e.g. Posterous, Tumbler.

Anyone tried using blogs to share resources? One could use widgets to pull in data from any one of the earlier classes of services and then allow users to comment.

"Light blogging" platforms like Posterous, Tumbler might also be used, due to the ease in which you can bring in data from various sources (including just emailing it!) and to push them to other sources.

Odd ideas, use the email options in databases, to post straight to Posterous?

#7 Social networks, life aggregation services - Facebook, Friendfeed etc

I have never heard of anyone trying this, but in theory you could set up special facebook pages, or Friendfeed rooms to share resources. Both services, make it easy for users to comment, "like" entries and provide real-time updates.

Friendfeed is similar to Posterous and provides half a dozen ways to bring in information, and to export the stream.

Another interesting feature about Friendfeed , you can share files!

You could import links into Friendfeed using various methods, from sending emails, to the use of bookmarklets (either the built-in one or generic ones like kwout), or importing results from RSS feeds (e.g. Citeulike ,Zotero, Mendeley's public collection)

Below, I experiment with pushing rss feeds from Citeulike and Mendeley's public collection


http://friendfeed.com/researchshared


Many libraries are experimenting with Facebook pages. I have limited experience in this area, but I wonder if one could use facebook pages as a sort of subject guide, or more specifically to share resources to specific users.


#8 Startup pages - e.g. Netvibes, Pageflakes

Startup pages is another topic I have written a lot about, though I have typically written about it in terms of being a general subject guide, rather than being a specific resource list for a specific user.




Conclusion

I've probably left out, several other ways you can share resources, feel free to leave comments on how you share resources.
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