Saturday, May 30, 2009

Will my interest in Library 2.0/social media hurt me?

I've being a librarian for 2 years now, and it seems a good point as ever to look back at my career so far.

Looking back, what surprised me the most was how I suddenly got interested (maybe even obsessed) with Library2.0 when before I showed little interest in it at all.

The story of how it happened is somewhat interesting but I won't relate it here.

What I'm concerned here is whether I'm spending too much time and energy in this area, or could I be better off focusing time studying more traditional areas of librarianship like acquisitions , cataloging or working on my reference skills.

Of course the irony is that I recently was posted to the Information services department from Technical services and given greater freedom to suggest Library 2.0 ideas.

I should be happy but instead now I find myself in doubt.

Before this, I experimented with Library 2.0 on my own time (to my bosses reading this, I'm afraid to say some of the extra late hours in the office and weekends were spent on "research" of Library2.0!), still I wonder if the time spent on them could be better spent studying or working on more traditional areas of librarianship such as Acquisitions, Reference skills, cataloging etc.

If I had focused my energies on studying and working on those areas would I be a more effective librarian than I am now? I suppose I can comfort myself that I'm working on my social networking competencies that librarians are supposed to possess (or am I fooling myself?). Besides isn't learning about emerging tech part of every librarian's job?

But then again what use is it to be a wiz at the latest emerging tech but lack basic librarianship skills? Sure you could hack up a widget faster than I can say information literacy program, but
what use is it if you can't explain the differences between Google scholar vs Scopus vs Web of science for citation analysis?

You might be god-like at promoting your Facebook or Twitter account but what good is it if you can't answer the query that comes in via Twitter or Facebook about the difference between Datamonitor and Euromonitor reports ? (I would give a better more specific example but my librarianship skills are so bad, I can't think of better examples! ) Why bother with outreach in SecondLlife when you have a big fat zero in "normal" outreach?

Does anyone take issue with me if I say that given a choice between "traditional" librarianship and emerging tech, the former is almost always more valuable particularly to a librarian starting out?

It's one thing for mid-high level librarians with well established foundations in librarianship (and perhaps face diminishing returns when focusing on those areas) to start playing with Library 2.0 and another thing for a brand-new librarian to risk putting most of his energies in such a non-traditional area of librarianship.

The danger is that many of the newer and usually younger librarians are the ones who naturally take to "emerging technologies" and library 2.0, and they may spend too much time on it (as perhaps I have) and yet they are the ones who benefit the most from working on the basic tradtional areas of librarianship.

Many respected librarians such as Michael Stephens of Taming the web and Meredith Farkas of information wants to be free have warned about the dangers of technolust, and when I think about it, there is certainly some truth in it as it applies for me.

While it is fun to play with such tools, I have to be honest with myself that I know many of the ideas that I have or played with are really just cool toys but probably of little interest to our patrons. (Interestingly enough my part-time Phd research (if I ever finish it) can be seen as trying to measure the value of such activities but ....)

I worry that Library 2.0/social media is just a passing fad, and that 5 years down the road, when someone asked me what area of librarianship I excel in, I don't have much to say. Would I be better off working on other areas of librarianship that I show some aptitude in (say reference services) and try to be an expert in that?

And even if Library 2.0 were to continue to flourish and become an important part of librarianship, I also worry that given my limited technical skill (I'm for sure not a systems librarian), for me focusing on library2.0 is just a dead-end, because the best I can do is to make minor modifications of existing scripts.

So what do you think? Should librarians who are not system librarians do Library 2.0? Do you think it is a good idea for beginning librarians to put so much focus on Library 2.0? Or is it more productive to spend time learning the basics of librarianship before working on Library 2.0?

A balanced approach is best yes, but how much time should a librarian devote on it? 20% standard similar to Google's "20 percent time"?

Mashup your Library's Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Facebook accounts!

I've being thinking about how libraries can mashup their Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and other web 2.0 accounts and display them using cool visualizations.

Visualization on screensavers

Initially I toyed with the idea of displaying rss feeds using screensavers. Software such as Nuparadigm's RSS screensaver, RSSmore , , RSSsaver and more do this.

Since Twitter can be pushed out as a RSS feed, you can display them as a screensaver on library owned machines. You can of course add more than one feed, so you can add your blog feeds, or from any service that allows RSS feeds as output (or aggregate them all using Friendfeed and use the feed there as an output).

This is a light weight option that works well. But as cool as the visualizations and effects are, they only do text, so if you want to show off your Youtube videos or Flickr pictures, this isn't ideal

Next, I investigated web-based services.

Visible Tweets

With the twitter craze out there, services such as Visible Tweets (see movie below) , Twitterverse (now down) , provides cool visualizations of Twitter tweets. The main problem with them was the same as before, they only do Tweets, you can't include pictures or videos.

Example using unquietlibrary(Creekview High School Library) as a keyword

Twitter Fountain

I also came across Twitterfountain (see below)

This is a tool used at conferences that allows mashingup of Tweets and images from Flickr. As such it will pick up every tweet that is tagged with a chosen keyword. The background displayed will be pictures tagged with another chosen keyword.

In the example above, I chose "unquietlibrary" (Creekview High School Library, a library that has being very progressive with regards to the use of Social media) as the keyword. While this works fine for picking up tweets and flickr pictures uploaded by the user account unquietlibrary, it will also pick up other Tweets and Flickr pictures by other accounts which tag flickr pictures using the same keyword, or Tweet using the keyword.

This is good for conferences when you want to allow any user to contribute, but this is not a good idea if you just want to display tweets or images from your account only.

Finally, I came across possibly the best solution - Flotzam!


Flotzam mashups up Flickr, Twitter, Youtube, Digg , Facebook and RSS feeds and will display not just text but also images and videos.

Better yet you can choose to display by user and/or by tags/keyword. For our use, we will just want to restrict results from our account, rather than by keywords.

For Twitter you can even view the tweets of a user and all his friends.

You can also add Facebook accounts, though you need to log-in first. I tried using my Facebook account but it produces strange random results, like pictures of my friends? More testing needed for this.

You can also change various settings with regards to how many notices you see at the same time etc.

There are 4 themes out there, and they are all seriously cool! So much so I embed all 4 videos using the 4 themes below. Examples are from my library and the unquietlibrary.

Even better is if you can get Tetris Flotzam working (below).

Unfortunately for me, it crashes whenever I try to change the settings.

Do note that flotzam is quite a memory hog, and you need to have quite a powerful system and requires .Net 3.5 framework SP1 installed.

One thing that I didn't address is this. While all this is cool, what practical use can you put this too? Many libraries have large LCD plasma flat screens at various points in the library which they use to display notices (my library uses a looping powerpoint display). Seems to me Flotzam could be used on these displays, perhaps interspersed with the usual notices.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Official Library Twitter accounts- what factors are correlated with number of followers?

After posting about what Library Twitter accounts are doing here and here, I stumbled upon a more efficient way of getting the statistics and this resulted in the following batch of statistics (Number of followers, Number of following, Followers/following ratio, Age of account (based on first tweet) and total updates for all 456 accounts on the Library Twitter League.

And as luck would have it, at the same time the Twitter League was updated and you can now, get the very same statistics as well from there! You can now order by not just followers, but also following , follower/following ratio, signup date and alphabetical. In any case, the data will be used in this post.

Is the list representative of Library Twitter accounts?

No doubt, many people will have questions about how representative the list is. As mentioned here ,the list began from self-reported cases from here , here and here . I was somewhat concerned that this list has an inherent bias in listing mature accounts, so I searched using Twitter search using "Lib", "library", "ref" etc as well as directories such as wefollow and tried as best as I could to add obvious library accounts.

Nevertheless, I can't rule out the fact that the sample here isn't representative, though I submit that 456 is a large sample and is probably a good starting place as any.

Descriptive statistics

You will notice from the results above that the mean and median number of followers, 212 and 113 respectively is a bit different compared to what was reported in an earlier post (the mean was lower, but median was higher in earlier smaller sample), mainly because the composition of accounts in the earlier batch was quite different (earlier calculations had left out a few big accounts, while excluding numerous smaller accounts).

Age of account

A new statistic we have is the age of the account based on first tweet in days. The oldest account is 984 days old, or over 2.5 years old, making it one of the pioneer accounts. But 50% of accounts are younger than 132 days old (roughly 4 months), showing a surge in many new accounts.

Above shows the cumulative distribution graph of Library Twitter accounts by age (days).

Total updates

95% of library Twitter accounts have updated less than 1,000 times but this does not take into account the age of accounts.

Updates per day

It was obvious also to calculate updates per day, and generally library Twitter accounts don't update much with a mean update of 0.98 updates per day.

The twitter library accounts generally don't update a lot. 95% of accounts update less than 3 times daily. Note that update per day is calculated by taking total updates divided by the age of the account. Some accounts are dormant for a while before they become really active, so this statistic probably understates the current updates per day.

TFF ratio

One statistic, I calculated in an earlier blog post was Twitter follower/following ratio or more formally named Twitter Follower-Friend Ratio (TFF)

I was curious, what the typical TFF ratio of library accounts was. Did Library twitter accounts follow everyone who followed them as recommended here? Did they embark on a strategy to proactively follow identified users and hence had TFF ratios below 1?

As noted in earlier post, proactively identifying people who are your users allows and following them, allows you to proactively respond to them even if they are not directed to you, and even if they just say "library" without mentioning the name of your library.

For all 458 library twitter accounts the following pie chart shows the distribution below

It seems that a majority (57%) of Library Twitter accounts have less followers then those following them! 5% had no followers and the rest had more followers than following.

As we have seen in an earlier blog post, this result differs quite a bit when we only consider the top 100 Library Twitter accounts (based on following size) as shown below. In particularly, only 15% of the top 100, have TFF ratios of below 1 (see below).

In a sense this is not surprising. The sample of all 458 Twitter accounts, includes many accounts just starting out, and they might be still in a "growth" stage or some may be initially employing a strategy of following many accounts to build up reciprocal relationships?

Bio of Twitter accounts followed

What type of accounts are library Twitter accounts following? The following word cloud of the bios of the followers of a Library in Oklahma (via Twittersheep) is quite typical.

Libraries Twitter account seems to be following Libraries, Librarians, writers and probably "book lovers", and of course people in Oklahma.

Another typical account showing that this Library like to follow authors.

Correlation analysis

Finally did a little bit of correlation analysis


1) As expected age of account is highly positive correlated with number of followers. Number of those following is not correlated with age.

2) Number of followers is highly and positively correlated with TFF ratios.

It seems to me that, at least for the library twitter accounts, larger follower accounts are correlated with high TFF ratios (low number of following relative to followers). Probably the biggest most famous accounts such as Library of Congress, New York Public Library by virtue of their reputation gain huge number of followers automatically and do not need to build up their following by reciprocal following.

3) As expected age of account is correlated with total number of updates.

4) Updates per day is correlated with Followers and followings.

Obviously there is quite a bit of co-linearity.

Multi-linear regression - what explains number of followers

Ran a quick regression analysis

Multi-linear regression (stepwise) was carried out with number of followers as the dependent variable, and the other statistics as independent variable.

The final model, has a adjusted R-square of 0.567.

It indicates that number of followers is explained by increased number of followings, follower/following ratio, age (in days) and updates per day.

Is this model useful? Just putting it out there. Probably requires a larger range of independent variables.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

4 Different ways to track social media reactions for your blog or site

I used to own a web domain a few year ago, and every month I would dutifully download and analyse my server logs using Analog. Recently, I started blogging again and I began using Google analytics. But I noticed that there is now a new class of tracking analytics that claim to track social media reactions (delicious bookmarks, Diggs, Tweets etc). They will show you for each page, how many people bookmarked it on delicious, linked to it on Friendfeed etc.

At first, I was a bit confused how this differed from
Google analytics. Until I realized that these services will automatically search services for backlinks and will track them even if no-one clicks on the link. In comparison, Google analytics or analyzing your server logs will only notify you of a link if someone clicks on it.

The services I found that did this include Backtype connect, Postrank, Disqus and a greasemonkey script for Google analytics.

Backtype Connect

Search engine :
Bookmarklet :
WordPress plugin :
Blogger and other Websites :

Backtype connect allows you to view backlinks to any webpage. You can manually enter the url in the search form and it will display comments from Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, Reddit, other blogs which mention the webpage. There is also a bookmarklet version as well as a WordPress Plugin.

You can use ConvoTrack (which uses Backtype connect) to incorporate a similar feature to any other blog platform or website (see below).

In my blog, I have embedded the Javascript code from here as a blogspot gadget and it results in a hovering/moving Convotrack button that appears at the extreme left of each page (above).

Click on it and it will open a sidebar showing comments from blogs, Twitter etc.

My subjective experience is that it is very fast to add Twitter and FriendFeed comments. But while it does Digg, it doesn't yet track Social bookmarking sites like Diigo or Delicious?


Postrank like Backtype connect it tries to keep track of backlinks to a page, including social bookmarking/news sites (Diigo, Delicious, Digg etc), blog comments, Backtracks from other Blogs, Microblogging sites (e.g. Twitter), FriendFeed etc. See full list of sources here.

Unlike Backtype connect it's goes beyond just listing of sources but also includes number of clicks, number of views and then it uses a algothrim to combine all these information to generate a postrank score.

But if you are just interested in looking at links, you can hover over the post and it will show the backlinks found. You need to set it up first by importing your RSS feed into Postrank, my experience is that it will take time for the data to appear, sometimes a couple of days, but when done you will see your posts being scored.

In the example above, hovering over one of my posts, you can see Postrank thinks it has being bookmarked on Delicious, 6 times, mentioned on Twitter 4 times, viewed 45 times, clicked twice and there is one comment.

Clicking on either the number next to the Delicious icon will bring you to the appropriate pages to find out more on who is bookmarking that page, but oddly enough you can't do the same for Twitter, FriendFeed or Diigo etc. This is a huge disadvantage if you want more than just the number of backlinks.

You can also embed a very popular widget showing the top posts of that blog. I have also embeded this widget which you can see on the left.

I personally find that it is probably the most comprehensive of the services I've tried, particularly in the listing of social bookmarking sites. It's not perfect though and it does seem to miss Twitter and FriendFeed likes/comments compared to Backtype.


Disqus is a third party blog comments system and aggregator, and allows you to keep track of comments across blogs. They compete with Intensedebate and to some extent backtype. Basically you install Disqus which will replace your blog comments system with Disqus. Recently
they added "social media reactions", which tracks links to blog posts from Digg, Flickr, Twitter , FriendFeed , Picasa, YouTube and more.

Once you have replaced your blog's commenting system with Disqus, you can then turn on the option by going to "Admin" then "settings" then check the sources you want to track (see below)

The main problem with this however is that I find that this feature doesn't work properly. In post after post, I find zero mentions, even though other services mentioned in this post find links! Below is one of the few examples, where it seems to work (and even then it shows only one).

Social Media Metrics plugins for Google analytics

It occurs to me that the services mentioned above have predecessors in the form of analytical services and web log analysis software such as Google analytics and Analog.

Are there any essential differences between such software and the services already mentioned? Yes. As far as I can tell, services like Google analytics and Analog only analyse referrer links. That is if someone posts something on say Delicious or Twitter and someone clicks on it, it will be registered.

On the other hand, if I twit a link to your blog and no-one clicks on it, it will not register on Google analytics and Analog. The services already mentioned on the other hand, actively search various services for the url and will show such mentions/ links even if no-one clicks on them.

Can you combine the two?

I found this greasemonkey script here that does this very thing with Google analytics.

You need to have a Google analytics account first of course. Then install Firefox and the greasemonkey addon, then add the script here (click on install).

Once this is all done, go to your Google analytics accounts. Select the report for the website you are tracking (assuming you are tracking more than one website), click on "content" on the left sidebar, then click on any of the listed pages.

Currently it doesn't do Twitter or Delicious. The backlinks from Yahoo is a bit odd also, though it does catch some Twitter links.

Other services?

Recently there has being a rise in so called social media search engines that search social media sites only, including microblogging sites (e.g. Twitter), social bookmarking (e.g. Delicious) and social news sites (e.g. Digg) forums and blogs.

These include oneriot , Scoopler , Social Mention, Samepoint, WhosTalkin?, Yauba, Spy, tuSavvy, blogcatalogue , and lots more

With the right API they might be adapted for use.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Managing Twitter accounts for libraries - What are libraries doing?

There is considerable literature by now on handling reference and/or communicating with patrons via phone, email and Instant Messaging, but would the same considerations apply for Twitter?

Still certain issues/questions (if not answers) would be similar for all types of channels.

First off, I must confess, I have not set up a Twitter account for a Library, so this post will have more questions than answers. But I have being looking at what other libraries have done on Library Twitter League to provide some guidance which will provide most of the meat of this post.

Still nothing beats personal experience, so please help by commenting on how you manage your Twitter account for libraries!

Issue 1: What information is going to be twittered? How is Twitter going to be updated? Manually? Automatically? Or a combination of both?

The easiest
way of course would be to leverage on existing work already being done , extract the information into an RSS feed (e.g. From blogs, delicious accounts etc) and feed it into Twitter using tools like Twitterfeed. Alternatively, if one already had a Friendfeed account, one could just aggregate everything into Friendfeed and then set Friendfeed to post to Twitter.

Such fully automated accounts generally have high number of updates and my subjective feeling from looking at such accounts is that they appear to be less engaged with users because the "light is on, but really there is no-one at home"

Such automatic methods alone would also mean a loss of flexibility and reliance on another layer of service (Friendfeed or Twitterfeed) which the library would not control on top of Twitter.

Issue 2: What accounts should one follow? Should one auto-follow every user who follows you? Should one proactively identify accounts belonging to users and follow them?

In theory there is no need at all to follow any other Twitter accounts, as one can freely direct replies denoted by @username to any account even one that one is not following. So for instance if a user directs a query to you (he need not be following you) , you can reply using @username without following him.

There are in fact three reasons I can think of why you might want to follow users

Firstly, once you have followed a user, he can send you a private direct message , and this preserves the privacy of any transactions that occurs.

The second reason why Libraries might want to follow other accounts is to encourage them to follow back! I can imagine a policy that involved doing a search for the institution name, or library to identify users of the library, and follow them in hope of them following you back. Not the best reason of course but still....

The third reason is probably the strongest. If a twitter account follows your Library account, chances are he is a user of your library. Or you might follow twitter accounts if you are sure he is a user whether he follows you or not. As such when he mentions "library" it will automatically appear in your timeline and you will be see it and be reasonably sure he is talking about your library and you have a chance to respond to it.

The example above which shows a threaded reply (via Twitree) that initially puzzled me. While some libraries do environmental scanning and proactively answer queries or complaints when they notice their name or website being mentioned (see examples later) despite not being explicitly addressed, how did "Okstatelibrary" ( Oklahoma State University Libraries) in this case know that the user "hpat" was talking about them?

After all, all that was mentioned was "library" and the query wasn't directed at them.

The answer can be found from the fact that "Okstatelibrary" seems to at the very least routinely follow all twitter accounts that follow them or possibly even follow accounts that they identify as belonging to their users even if they are not following back (implied by the fact that the follower/following ratio is below 1) , so they can be sure that "Hpat" which they happen to follow is a user and is talking about them.

Without doing this, even a environmental scan of your library name would not pick this up.

Does that mean it makes sense to try to proactively identify users of your library on Twitter and follow them?

To see what libraries were doing , I did a rough empirical study.

Based on the top 100 accounts (by follower counts) on the Twitter Library League, I looked at their Twitter Follower/Following ratios, to see what strategy they were following.

As you can see above, 8% of accounts followed no-one at all!

15% of accounts followed more accounts than they had followers. Particularly some accounts had ratios as low as 0.4! Possibly they were trying the strategy mentioned above of following accounts they identified as belonging to their users ? For example the thread below (courtesy of Tweetree) seems to indicate a proactive stance of finding users to follow?

However 29% of accounts had followers that were between 1 to 2 times as many as they were following, and almost half (48%), were followed by more than 2 times as many accounts as they were following.

This seems to indicate that in general libraries were quite selective in following accounts, and most did not auto-follow every account they followed. An open question for further research though is what accounts were followed and why.

This article recommends that you link to resources such as BBC's Twitter account, though a quick look seems to suggest that accounts that were selective in following accounts, generally chose other library accounts, vendors etc to follow!

Further evidence can be seen from the special Twitter account I setup that follows all Library Twitter accounts tracked on the Library Twitter League.

Out of 450 Library Twitter accounts I followed, roughly 68 accounts followed me back (not all accounts following that account are Library accounts as some Librarians probably thought it was interesting to watch me and I didn't feel like blocking them), roughly a follow rate of 15%.

I couldn't tell if any of the 68 was autofollowing me, or had a manual policy of doing so, though a couple of accounts had Follower/following ratios of 1 or less, that seem to indicate so.

Should one send an auto welcome message to all users following you?

Another interesting thing is that I got 5 direct messages from Libraries, welcoming me and thanking me for following them. Probably a canned auto-message? Of the 5, only 2 followed me back though.

Issue 3: Are users sending queries via Twitter? Should libraries proactively try to answer queries concerns them but are not directed at them? What targets should be set in terms of response time when answering queries received via Twitter?

Even if you do not set up your Twitter account to be an out-right reference query service, you will no doubt start receiving queries. I wondered though how many queries one expects to receive. The 140 character limit doesn't make it particularly handy to ask or answer queries ,so probably answers would have to be moved to another communication channel (email probably).

To answer these questions on what libraries were doing again, i turned to the top 100 Library Twitter accounts (by follower count) listed on the Library Twitter list. I used TweeTree (which showed threaded conversations with dates and times) to review roughly 2 week worth of Twits for each account to look at replies sent to and from the Library account.

I unearthed quite a lot of interesting information, so much so that the bulk of it will be the subject of another blog post, I will just mention some relevant details here.

In general how many queries should you expect via Twitter? What type of queries are being sent?

I found that in general the number of queries directed at Library Twitter accounts were quite low. Many accounts had in fact zero real queries (retwits are not counted) by users directed at them. These accounts seemed to be mostly automated accounts, pumping out large number of updates on new book arrivals, blog entries, news etc. Possibly, followers assumed no-one real was behind it, and hence didn't bother to send queries there.

The accounts which were generally more engaging of users got slightly more queries directed to them but even the most active ones didn't seem to get more than 1 or 2 a day. These were typical directional questions ranging from questions about times of events

to queries about contacts

to procedure questions about replacing lost cards

to queries about searching

Should you proactively monitor mentions of your library and respond to them?

“I use Twitter’s search feature to locate people who are in the Grand Rapids area who tweet certain keywords. Words like “library,” “GRPL,” “reading,” “book,” and “Evergreen” which is the name of our new catalog. Once you do the search you can create RSS feeds that are updated whenever someone mentions the words. I then subscribe to the RSS feeds using Google Reader to periodically find new people, insert the library into conversations, and see what people are saying about the library.” -- Source

One thing I noticed was that accounts that got more queries from users were in fact also pretty proactive, doing environmental scans to answer queries and complains that weren't directed at them. Probably such accounts appeared less robotic, were engaged and as such users were encouraged to ask questions.

Some examples.

Proactively responding to a complain because NY Public Library was mentioned.

Proactively answering a twit that mentioned the website name

Proactively answering yet another a tweet that mentions NYPL (new york public library)

What are the expectations of users in terms of response time when sending queries via Twitter?

Given the fact that people tout Twitter as "real-time", would their expectations for replies be closer to that of users communicating via Instant Messaging or would it be closer to that of email (roughly expecting a reply by the end of the business day).

There is no way to tell about expectations without surveying users, but a quick unscientific look at roughly 50 threaded replies from library twitter accounts, seems to indicate that most library twitter accounts were responding to queries from anything between 2 minutes to 4 hours . Almost all were within the day for sure, which seems to indicate that for librarians at least they were treating it similar to queries via email.

Should you arrange for staff to monitor Twitter at the same time as monitoring other communication channels (SMS, Email, Instant Messaging)?

If monitoring Twitter directly via a client or the web is too troublesome, one can set Twitter to send email alerts, whenever a direct message is sent to you. But I believe it doesn't do so for replies to you though, though there are many workarounds to get informed via email, though it's unclear what delay this involves.

Issue 4 : What targets if any should be set?

As detailed in my last blog post, a target of 200-250 followers is probably realistic. If one was ambitious, one could aim for anything between 350-1,000 followers and that would put one within the top 50 Library Twitter accounts (out of some 450 accounts tracked). Anything above 2,000 followers is pretty much impossible, currently only Library of Congress has gone beyond this level, but they are clearly a special case.

Now dear reader it's your turn, if you have a Twitter account for a library, how do you handle the issues mentioned above? What other important issues, points am I missing?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Are Public libraries really more successful on Twitter? If so Why?

In my recent posts comparing Twitter accounts of libraries, I found that when listing by follower counts, only 4 out of the top 20 accounts belonged to Academic libraries.

In fact, when I looked at the top 50 accounts the situation looks even worse. I found that only 7 accounts belonged to the Academic libraries. There were OU_Library (Open University in UK), YaleScienceLibraries, Yale Law Library, LS! Librarian (College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn,), Peace Palace Library, OkStateLibrary (Oklahoma State University Libraries), Pace Law Library.

The 50th account right now has some 387 followers which means that only 6 academic libraries (Yale University library has 2 accounts in the top 50), managed to get over 387 followers.

Let's just take for the moment that "success" is measured by number of followers, how then can we explain this?

Hypothesis one : Academic Libraries have a smaller audience base compared to Public libraries, and hence you should be measuring success in terms of followers/ audience base

I would guess that a Library that serves a city or a state, would easily have a potential audience size (or should we just measure card holding members?) that dwarfs all but the biggest academic libraries. If this is the case it wouldn't be really surprising to find that Public libraries have the largest absolute Twitter follower counts.

Still this doesn't particularly explain the success of Yale University libraries, which has two accounts in the top 10. They have maybe 15,000 students and staff (which is respectable but not huge, my own institution easily exceeds 30,000), a combined Twitter follower account of over 2,400, which works out to a reach of 16% which is quite impressive even if you consider that not all followers might be Yale University student or staff (e.g. other librarians, interested public etc).

One day if I have a time, I might try to calculate this for accounts on Twitter though getting the audience base statistics would be quite painful. Still I would guess that getting an absolute follower count of 200-300 wouldn't be hard.

Verdict : Possible reason.

Hypothesis two : Public Libraries were first to get on the Twitter bandwagon

As time goes by, Twitter accounts tend to accumulate followers (particularly spammers who follow you in hope of following you better), if Public Libraries were first on Twitter, they would have a natural lead. Also possibly many academic libraries have not ye started or focused their energies on promoting their Twitter accounts (more of them are on Facebook?) and hence you don't see that many mature accounts from them yet. It would be nice to be able to grab the first twit dates from the Twitter league account to test this hypothesis.

Verdict : Unlikely.

Hypothesis three : Public Libraries are more aggressive in following users.

As most Twitter users know if you follow someone, changes are they will return the favor and follow you back. One can rack up a high absolute follower count simply by following everyone. Hence some measures of Twitter influence calculate Follower/Following ratios to take this into account. I calculated this for the top 100 library Twitter accounts (see future post for these and other statistics), and so far I do not notice Public Libraries having lower Follower/Following ratios so this is not likely to be a reason.

Verdict : Untrue.

Hypothesis four : The audience of academic libraries are not interested in Twitter compared to users of Public Libraries.

A commenter on my last post pointed me to College Students Don't Use Twitter as a possible reason . I don't quite buy this idea (at least in this general form, see next hypothesis) Clearly Twitter is still not mainstream and not many people (including college students) use it. But this doesn't explain the relative success of Public Libraries, unless there is evidence that the non-college using crowd (early teens and older working professionals) use Twitter a lot more.

Verdict : Unproven.

Hypothesis five : The audience of academic libraries are less interested in connecting via Twitter etc because they are automatically plugged in the system various other channels compared to public libraries users.

Here I'm saying that even if everyone had a Twitter account, University students and staff would not want to connect to Twitter accounts compared to users of Public Libraries. This is clearly a big speculative leap and I throw it out just for discussion.

If you are a university student, you have dozen of channels to hear about library news. You expect to hear it from your professors, your classmates, you get pushed information via your email, electronic courseware llike Blackboard etc. Most of this is even automatic without you lifting a finger. So yet another communication channel which you need to manually add doesn't particularly add much to you.

In comparison, a public library user is generally less connected to the library. My own public library provides a host of digital services, you can get RSS feeds, get email/smss updates and reminders of the books you returned, be warned when books are due etc. But none of it is automatic, and you have to opt into the service.

They don't yet have a Twitter account, but given that I am less updated and informed about library news from them, I'm sure a Twitter account would add value to me.

There's a certain irony here in that because my public library does not automatically reach out to me, it makes me even more hungry for news from them.

Verdict : Totally speculative.

Are public libraries generally more successful at outreach with social media?

Of course you probably noticed that the last reason (and the first reason) if they hold water for Twitter, it would hold water for almost all types of social media initiatives!

One would notice that on average public libraries would have more friends in Facebook, more subscribers in Friendfeed, more fans on their Youtube channels etc.

Anyone have evidence for this one way or another? If not, I'm going to try to find out.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Library twitter league - official library twitter accounts compared

Recently, I was pondering about the need to set targets or KPI (key performance indicators) for Libraries carrying out Social media activities. Take Libraries with Twitter accounts for example, what would be a suitable target?

The first thing that comes to mind is number of followers, which would be a measure of how many people you are reaching, but what would be a creditable target? One very inaccurate and rough way would be to look at the followers that other libraries have achieved (while taking into account relevant differences such as size of population served etc).

Rather than creating a static list I used the TwitterLeague service , and populated it with entries from here and here.

I had a suspicion that the lists above were biased towards successful, established accounts, as such I further supplemented them by adding additional accounts. I searched for the word Library using Twitter's find people service and added the accounts I found there. The results are available here . I have also embedded the results at the very bottom of this post.

You can also download a xml version of the list, and view it in Excel etc.

A rough calculation (this will change as I add more twitter accounts) shows that the median number of followers is 147, while the average number of followers is 260.

Not surprisingly, Library of Congress is way ahead in the follower account, more than 4 times of the next highest library account.

Of the top 20 library accounts, Public and National libraries dominate compared to Academic libraries with only the 3 including second placed Open University Library from the UK (a distance learning university), Yale Library accounts (6th and 7h place) and College of DuPAGE library (8th place) breaking the top 20.

It will probably be interesting to revisit the statistics say 6 months later to see if there are any major changes.

Of course, follower counts alone probably don't tell everything. Some accounts are just starting out, others follow a large number of accounts, which typically follow back etc. Other Twitter analytic services such as Twitter Grader , Twinfluence , Twitterholic, Twitalyzer, Tweetstats provide more sophisticated measures of influence, by taking into account follower/following ratios, % of retwits etc. The JCPR Twitter index is probably the most advanced metric available used to measure online influence.

Hopefully, TwitterLeague will add more statistics, please help vote for additional features here.

Given that libraries are using twitter for different purposes, I can see possible value in studying statistics such as rate of updates, signal to noise ratio (percentage of twits with links or hash tags) of accounts, Name pointing (percentage of times @ is sent to account) and more. For example, a twitter acccount used mainly for pushing service announcements would probably have a different tweeting profile compared to one that was used for reference service.

I also created a new Twitter account leaguelibrary and populated it with the twitter accounts from the library league twitter list (using Twitterator to quickly add multiple accounts).

I was hoping to find a way to export all the twits from this account and then carry out text analysis, using Many eyes's to create Word Trees, Wordle , Tag Cloud and Phrase Net.

Unfortunately while I found many ways to export my own public timeline of tweets, there doesn't seem to be a way to export my tweets PLUS tweets of accounts I'm following? Does anyone know a way to do this? I did manage to get a RSS feed of what I wanted though, and I might use this for analysis.

For now, I use My Twitterflock to generate a word cloud from the bios of the library accounts I'm following.

As well as a word cloud of what they are posting about

Updated to state that there are 3 Academic libraries (4 accounts) in top 20, plus plans to revisit the statistics 6 months later.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Google Profiles of libraries


In this post, I will talk about a little known service called Google Profiles, why it is becoming important, and I will describe how libraries have being using it, the web 2.0 accounts they are listing on it, and compare it to the accounts listed by libraries on Friendfeed.

Google Profiles

For years, Google had a little known feature/service called Google Profiles, which allowed users of Google accounts to setup profiles of themselves. In many ways they were similar to the lifestreaming accounts like Friendfeed, in that you listed other associated accounts such as Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, which you owned. Despite Google's brand recognition, they have never being particularly skilled at building social networks and Google Profiles was pretty much ignored.

This was until April 2009, where they placed their trump card. Two changes occured, one minor change, one major. The first change was that they allowed users to use a custom profile url, instead of a long string of numbers. For sure looks better than Below shows an example of a Google Profile set up by E.H Butler Library.

More significantly, these Google Profiles appear at the bottom of Google searches! when you do a search.

You can find out more about Google profiles here.

Libraries on Google profiles- Methodology

In a previous post, I looked at Library accounts on Friendfeed (a popular Lifestreaming service) and studied the web 2.0 accounts that Libraries linked to. A very obvious idea now is to do the same for libraries on Google Profiles as well.

I did a Google Profile search, by searching for the word library in the title. This results in about 162 entries. Unfortunately the vast majority of entries were blank, or had at best a link to their homepage. These I ignored on the admittedly dubious assumption that most libraries had at least a blog and accounts without blogs were Google Profiles that were not properly maintained. Moroever I noticed that one of the libraries, the Unquiet Library had both a Google Profile and Friendfeed with the later having more accounts listed. Of the remaining, I took note of the accounts they listed. Again a Google doc version of the data is available.

Results are as below.

The disclaimers I made for previous post applies here, the data above is not representative of what libraries in general are doing in the web2.0/socialmedia arena . Rather they show what libraries who have custom Google Profiles are doing.

Comparing Libraries on Google profiles and Libraries on Friendfeed

I've reproduced the chart showing accounts linked to in Friendfeed above.

The main difference between the two charts is that compared to Libraries on Friendfeed, fewer Libraries on Google Profiles list Twitter accounts.

A minor difference perhaps is that Libraries on Google Profiles tend to list more Picasa accounts for photo sharing compred to Flickr. This can be explained by the fact that Picasa is a Google service can will be autoamatically added.

We also see libraries listing Google Books (example)and more Google Reader (example) accounts. They are quite a few innovative uses of these 2 accounts, see more from data.

Unlike Friendfeed where you can only add specific accounts, or accounts with RSS feeds, with Google Profiles you are free to add any URL, and libraries have exploited this by adding links to subject guides (example), internet archive (example), Yahoo pipes (example) etc.

Another difference seems to be that none of the libraries on Google Profiles list links to delicious . It's unclear if this is a result of libraries not listing them, or the libraries not having an account in the first place.

So does your library have a Google Profile ? Are you maintaining it?

Aaron Tay

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