Widgets, web and writing

More webby news. First up, if you have a Google website, you can now get to be a pre-beta tester of widgets, including games. Jenny is just so excited about this, and has already put several on her own Google website. As I know from Deblog, get a good game on your site, and you are guaranteed the punters (in her case, the Daily Set and me — Ian Hocking I curse thee for telling me about this game, though it is lovely to have met Debra, so I take it back — and Daily Set is a good game because you can do it in about 5 mins if you are me, 1 if you are Debra.).

While still on Google, anyone waiting to try Writerly will apparently have to wait until Summer.

Geeking with Greg has a posting about a talk by Tim O’Reilly in which Tim defines web 2.0 as "harnessing collective intelligence". So now you know. I’ve subscribed to Greg the Geek’s blog only for a few days, but so far it has been ace. Greg Linden is someone who used to work at Amazon but does no longer (all the details are on his blog), so he has a particular insight into goings-on there. These days his blog seems much more wide-ranging, though. On Web 2.0 and Tim O’R’s speech (to which Greg links), Greg says: " I like the idea we are building on the expertise and information of the vast community of the Web. I like the idea that web applications should automatically learn, adapt, and improve based on needs.
"I also like the idea that "Web 2.0" should include many companies that people were trying to classify as "Web 1.0". Amazon.com, with its customer reviews and personalized pages, clearly is harnessing the collective wisdom of Amazon shoppers. Google also is constantly improving based on the behavior of searchers.
"Web 2.0 applications get better and better the more people use them. Web 2.0 applications learn from the behavior of their users. Web 2.0 applications harness collective intelligence."

In another posting on his site, Greg discusses a personalised newspaper and personalised news, which of course is very Web 2.0. "Just read articles, that’s it. Findory learns from the articles you read, adapts to your interests, and builds you a personalized front page. Findory gets better and better the more you read."

Must check it out sometime….I think the enthusiasm is endearing. But I will keep on trying these innovations; eventually I’ll find one that I find useful and that works (or that I can work, at any rate).

If you venture out of the world of blogs and perform web searches, there is a useful article on Digg’s blog revealing the most dangerous search words. At this link are eight words or terms you are advised never to key into a search engine, as more than 64 per cent of sites that are linked to these terms will cause you trouble from adware, spyware or spam. I am not going to tempt fate by writing them down here.

Over at a site I keep on posting about, Problogger, is a nice illustrated posting "8 reasons why new media is growing." Here is Darren’s characteristically down-to-earth intro to his post:

" “Why is New Media becoming popular?” After being introduced to a friend of a friend as a ‘full time blogger’ the other night at a pub I was asked the above question by the friend of a friend. He accepted that ‘New Media’ is popular – but was at a bit of a loss as to the reasons for WHY it was." Darren goes on to provide the eight reasons, in nice bite-size chunks (see, I know all the revision jargon!) and a nice picture for each (yummy grapefruit). I really do like Darren’s style and his blog – I think it is one that Dave Lull first introduced me to, so thank you Dave, if so.

Moving slightly away from the purely technologicial and towards business applications, on InfoNeoGnostic there is a characteristically thoughtful post about new outlooks on publishing. Chris Armstrong "mashes up" a couple of articles he has read. The Caravan project is an experiment that will start next year; it "will offer customers the choice of receiving books in one of 5 formats: hardcover, digital, audio, print-on-demand, and by chapter", as publishers cannot continue to "print 10 books to sell 6". The other part of Chris’s own mash up is a piece of news from the National Academies Press: "to maximize dissemination, while remaining completely self-sustaining… to give away as much as humanly possible, while still selling enough books to survive financially." See the link to Chris’s article for more, and for the relevant links.

That’s my take on the tecchysphere for tonight.

Libraries and social software

Fantastic posting on Information Wants to Be Free called Libraries in Social Networking Software. Meredith Farkas writes a thoughtful analysis of the libraries’ place in social software like MySpace and Facebook. "I wish playing with social software and thinking about how to use it in libraries could be my full-time job. But at the same time, I’m really pragmatic about technology implementation in libraries. I hate the idea of implementing new things at libraries because they’re “cool” and not to serve a specific purpose. So I often question why librarians are doing the things they do with social software."

Meredith’s point is that young (16-25) library users overwhelmingly use these social networking sites, so libraries need to work with this. Most libraries that are using these sites don’t use them effectively; those that do need to solicit feedback from students and create a portal within the software (MySpace or whatever). Most library sites don’t encourage feedback, apparently.

Meredith’s post is an extremely accessible account of how libraries can use these social software tools effectively. By accessible, I mean that I, who am neither a librarian nor a very technologically literate person, could easily see what she is getting at. At the end of the piece is a wonderful set of resources (links), and (so far) 25 comments (including a few bringing in Flickr, which I have noticed features many pictures of bookmobiles and the like). My main reaction to all of it is "oh, how American". I just wonder how many libraries in the UK have heard of social software and/or are doing anything with it? The idea of my local library doing anything more than providing a basic Internet connection at a few ropey old terminals in half-hour time slots is impossible to contemplate. Maybe academic libraries in the UK are better. But somehow I doubt it, I suspect that the vast majority still see themselves as passive providers of information, rather than as the kind of socially inclusive organisation described by Meredith and her fellow librarians.

Pig Island

If I were David Montgomery and had a crime-fiction blurb factory, what I’d say about Pig Island, Mo Hayder’s latest,  is "Lord of the flies on speed", but this has probably been said before. No captain to restore the status quo at the end of this book either, of course.

Of Mo Hayder‘s four books to date, the first two were a linked pair about a London detective trying to solve grisly ritual murders (Birdman) and the case of a kidnapped child (the Treatment). The best part by far about these books was the tragic and utterly bleak subplot of the main character’s own brother, who vanished as a child. The third book, Tokyo (called The Devil of Nanking in the USA) featured an amazingly powerful story about a main character who is obsessed with the Nanking massacre of the 1930s (of which I had never previously heard) and a particular atrocity rumoured to have occurred there. These three books certainly don’t work in some aspects (the plot of Tokyo degenerates into James Bond farce, despite the powerful core dilemma), but they all contain extremely disturbing and imaginative writing, in which the author just keeps on hammering away at things we usually just don’t want to know about. They certainly aren’t books one forgets (and with my memory, that’s saying something).

In Pig Island, just published, Hayder tries the same formula in a different setting. She almost, but not quite, carries it off. A religious sect has bought a remote Scottish island previously owned by a pig farmer; the main character is a Liverpool journalist who has a history with the sect’s leader and goes over to investigate some "strange goings on". What seems like far too many pages of revolting descriptions of things to do with dead pigs (and worse) later, the action reverts to the mainland and a stalker plot, again with far too many pages devoted to it. The book is by far the strongest in the last third, as the true condition of the teenage girl ex-islander is gradually revealed. Hayder delivers her final trademark twist, but this is definitely a book calling out for Evil Editor. I hope "big author disease" is not looming.

For all its faults, the author digs into physical deformity in a relentless way, refusing to spare any detail. Even though there are plenty of unbelievable plot developments necessary to keep all the balls in the air (in particular the portrayal of the way the medical profession treats the patient), one does genuinely learn something. I think. Well, I learnt some medical facts that I didn’t know before I read this book, in any case. But definitely not a book to recommend to your granny.

Bosses from hell and elsewhere

Richard Morrison, the best thing at the moment about the Times, asks today "Can’t stand the boss?" Cue lots of helpful (?) summaries of the personalities of "the hard to handle boss", "the four types of boss who could ruin your life", etc. I am not sure that this sort of article does much for anyone other than causes them to raise the odd smile, but Richard Morrison is always readable, and I recommend this piece to anyone who is a boss or has a boss. As RM says: "The strange thing is that most of us are bosses, in at least some aspects of our lives — even if the only thing we boss is a pet gerbil or a husband." And how do we treat these subordinates, he asks? With courtesy and fairness, setting reasonable goals, backing them in a crisis and so on? Or have we instead come home from work and "bawled at the kids for some petty misdemeanour, creating waves of resentment that ripple out all evening?"

Inevitably, there is a book promotion involved, this one is called Working with You is Killing Me, subtitle: "freeing yourself from emotional traps at work", by Katherine Crowely and Kathi Elster. The Amazon synopsis reads:  "The toughest part of any job is dealing with the people around you. Scratch the surface of any company and you’ll uncover a hotbed of emotions – people feeling anxious about performance, angry at co-workers, and misunderstood by management. Now, in "Working with You Is Killing Me", readers learn how to "unhook" from these emotional pitfalls and gain valuable strategies for confronting workplace conflicts in a healthy, productive way. They’ll discover how to: manage an ill-tempered boss before he or she explodes; defend themselves against idea-pilfering rivals before they steal all the credit; and detach from those annoying co-workers whose irritating habits ruin the day." No customer reviews as yet on UK Amazon (the delivery time is that give-away "4-6 weeks" which in Amazonspeak means "not published in UK yet"), but I await them with (mild) interest.