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Sink or Swim

If this new business doesn't convince libraries to try new service models, nothing will.

Though libraries are free and BookSwim is not, the convenience BookSwim offers trumps the expense, because there's very little people are not be willing to give or give up for convenience. After all, most libraries offer DVDs for free, too, but that hasn't slowed Netflix. Besides, there are no back-end late fees, and subscribers even has the option to buy and keep the books they don't want to part with.

In BookSwim's own words:

We spent our Thursday night as always, freeloading books in our local behemoth bookstore café. When asked to pay for the books along with the coffee, "No, we're just gonna read them and put them back... but thanks for asking."

Now this kind of behavior should never be condoned, but we noticed a pattern - everyone else was doing it, although maybe not so openly. If all of these people are simply reading, why aren't they vagrantly loitering at a library? It's free! Well, there's no double mocha lattes at the library... but through our research to find the answer we discovered that the whole literary distribution model needed to be turned upside down.
Much has been written about the potential threat posed to libraries by such services as Google Book Search and Kindle. But BookSwim seems to me to be the first real and direct threat to the traditional library model.

Just imagine: A student searches his library's OPAC for a book but discovers it is either not part of the collection or is checked out and not due back for two weeks. He then clicks on BookSwim, logs into his account, and receives the book in three days.



Mrs. Librarian (who keeps me Playful) recently pointed out that my last post's headline coupled with my longish hiatus generates a certain creep factor. Sorry if I worried anyone. Truth is, I've been busy. And when not busy, I've been obsessing over my mobile phone in a very unplayful way.

I hate talking on the phone. Always have. It made my love life difficult as a teenager and has made my work life difficult as an adult. I simply and truly loathe talking with another person and not seeing that person's facial expressions. Cell phones didn't improve the situation so I was a late and reluctant adopter, despite otherwise being a certified gadget head.

My current cell is only the second one I've owned, and it's a fairly discrete flip model. I still avoid talking on it every chance I get, and when I can't avoid it, I either end or "drop" the call as soon as possible.

Of late, though, I've been thinking of upgrading to a smart phone. I've played out a few personal episodes of Lost recently, so access to mobile online maps would be nice. And if I've got the Internet, I might as well get email. As we've already determined, I hate talking on phones, so a text-messaging package that charges less than 10 cents a word (ironically, what writers used to get paid) would be nice, as would a full keypad, because T9 behaves no better than a moderately retarded mind reader.

Like any good user-centered evangelist, I've had these thoughts while playing with my current cell phone to get a better handle on its own features that I've never used. And then I noticed something, I'm embarrassed to say, for the first time. Whenever I turn the phone on, it's small screen says, "Welcome."

What, exactly, is it welcoming me into?


Death of a Blogger

It's been a while since my last 'Roll Review, and I intended this entry to be one. Lord knows Mark Federman's blog, What Is the (Next) Message, deserves some praise. He's a McLuhanite pursuing his doctoral candidacy at the source, the Univerity of Toronto, and his posts are always meaningful and mindful.

However, his latest post is a true gem and deserves a mention all its own. Using a New York Times article from April 6 about how for-pay bloggers are driving themselves into the grave, he discusses how we as post-industrial knowledge workers are still being held to an Industrial Age work standard.

He especially nails it on the head when he writes,

It is, I think, incumbent on those of us to claim to understand the effects of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity - that to my mind describes the world as we wittingly or unwittingly experience it - to consciously enact a change to the imposed paradigm of constant competition, continual economic expansion, and the myth that there is some sort of dichotomy between work and life.


The Point

I've long thought of American Public Radio's Marketplace as one of the finest business news sources out there, particularly for interesting things being done with technology. And they proved their mettle once again by directing my attention to The Point.

Though Gladwell's book has come under some intense and convincing scrutiny of late, his title does provide a vivid metaphor for the moment when a social movement takes off. The Point operates on the principle that people will only invest themselves in an idea, a product, or a movement if they know they won't be alone, bearing the entire weight of the burden.

They provide a platform for any kind of group action, be it socially or commercially oriented, allowing people to pledge themselves to that action. The catch is that your obligation is triggered only if a predetermined number of people or sum of money is reached. On the social end of the spectrum, you could organize a boycott against a local business or try to raise money for a nonprofit. Once a reasonable minimum of participants or monetary donations is set, you and those who sign on with you will know if the campaign will move forward and have an impact.

They have several cute animated scenarios of how their service might be used—none of which I could embed for you here, unfortunately. But I encourage you to check them out. This is Web-enabled transparency and group action at its best, and I know of a few librarians out there who could make good use of this.

Update: Found this longish, kind of corny, but very thorough introduction of The Point on their blog. Enjoy.


Digital Desire

Mrs. Librarian (who keeps me Playful) alerted me to this entry at [BB-Blog], which in turn points to this post at Everyone Forever about desire paths. Desire path is a term used by landscape architects to describe those informal dirt walkways worn into lawns or fields by people finding the shortest distance between two points. This is such a wonderful phrase and like most wonderful phrases could be appropriated meaningfully into other contexts—like, for instance, information science, which counts among its primary mandates information pathfinding.

The notion of the desire path reminded me of a new tool brought to my attention earlier this week called ShiftSpace. This open source API that plugs into Firefox builds a metalayer above any Web site, allowing its user to manipulate that page with a suite of tools without changing the site's code at its source—and without the user having to know how to script.

I'll let them introduce the API themselves:

Imagine the possibilities. With such utilitarian tools as Highlights and Notes, librarians could mark up various sites for information literacy sessions or as digital pathfinders. Teachers could annotate sites for lessons on digital resource assessment, then help their students map their own Internet research annotations into Trails, which would facilitate collaborative research among students. With such interventionist tools as ImageSwap and SourceShift, artists could rearrange a corporation's Web pages to create protest or parody pieces. And because the changes are stored locally through the API, rather than through the source code held on proprietary servers, the librarian, teacher, and artist need not wait for access or permission to make their changes.

ShiftSpace is currently only at version 0.10, so it's early days yet for the tool. All Shifts are stored locally, unless designated as Public, in which case they're aggregated on If the user visits a publicly modified page, the API alerts them of it through the browser, so they can activate the console. According to the site, they plan to build social functionality and P2P networking capabilities into future iterations of the tool.

Though it's often described as a public space, the Internet is not one really. All data is stored on servers, and all servers are owned by someone. ShiftSpace promises to enable us to capture that data and do with it as we please. If ShiftSpace succeeds, particularly in their social and P2P plans, they'll manage to subvert the entire proprietary nature of the Internet and create the first truly public digital space—one in which we can create our own desire paths.


April's Fool

An earmark of a clever April Fool's joke is that it is just plausible enough to to give us pause and just outsized enough to make us panicked or outraged.

Yesterday, WNYC's Brian Lehrer offered a fake segment on a Moral Rectitude Index supposedly being implemented by New York City. The "initiative" would tie records of our personal habits to our license plate numbers, which would trigger rebates to the congestion pricing plan proposed by Mayor Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, American Public Media's evening Marketplace report reported on a fictitious plan by the IRS to buy goods for people in heavy debt, rather than send them the $600 or $1,200 they should receive as part of the federal economic stimulus package. The idea, according to the report, is that the government wants to force the money to be spent instead of paying off existing loans, thus actually stimulating the economy, and the IRS would use their extensive financial data on individuals to determine who's at risk to simply use the rebate on debt.

I find it interesting that, in both instances, the hoax was plausible and outrageous for the same information-related reasons: plausible in that the data the government would require to implement both "programs" is out there, ready to be used; outrageous in that it's only their good intentions and some semblance of transparency in government that stops them from doing so.