Archive for July, 2008

A few days have passed and the hype is already dying down. Time to face facts. Cuil ain’t no Dark Knight. It generated some early enthusiasm, but it hasn’t really sustained it. I keep going back to the site, but I’m just not all that impressed with Cuil. It simply isn’t finding things that appear in the first few hits of a Google search.

Stephanie has written an interesting post on Cuil over at Dube’s World. In her post she tackles one of the annoyances I’ve had with Cuil. What’s up with those random images? Cuil’s search results display is nice. I like the layout of the brief summary. If the pictures were drawn from the website, I would like those as well. Unfortunately, the pictures usually seem to have no relevance to the website with which Cuil pairs them. What’s up with that? Does anyone know how Cuil matches images to search hits?

I noted a few days ago that Cuil couldn’t even find “iron man”. At least they’ve solved THAT little problem.    😉

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I’ve written before about some of these ideas when I was thinking about multitasking. Multitasking and Internet skimming seem to be two facets of the same problem. In some ways they both combine to reduce our ability to sustain focused concentration over time. I don’t mean to say that they’re all bad. Multitasking and skimming both have their place, and – like it or not – they’re both part of 21st century worklife. I worry though, that that we are rapidly becoming a society of skimmers, and the youngest readers are the ones who are most at risk

So what is the solution to this problem? Libraries have always sponsored reading programs, and that includes some built-in know-how. Combine that with some of the new information literacy programs, and I think a lot of people are on the right track. Teaching people to evaluate information is increasingly important. I think that libraries have a great opportunity to develop solid information literacy skills with the upcoming generation. Adding an Internet component to this is a logical extension. I’m trying to envision a good elementary or jr. high school reading program that combines Internet reading (not skimming) with thoughtful consideration of the content as well as careful questioning of the content’s authority and accuracy. What would that look like? Maybe someone has already built the ideal program and I just haven’t seen it yet.

The New York Times article I referenced in the previous post mentioned one thing that I found to be very encouraging. Many of the teens who are heavy Internet users are also writing a lot. They’re posting on message boards. They’re contributing to fan fiction sites. And if they’re writing on any level, hopefully they’re thinking about their content and how to present it. There is good writing and there is bad writing, but all writing can benefit from practice.

I would even venture to suggest that many of today’s teens are doing more writing than I did at that age. I wrote the papers that were required in classes, but that’s just about all I wrote. The nature of the Internet and particularly Web 2.0 applications drives participation. It demands putting something in – not just taking something out. I do have my concerns about teens’ Internet reading/skimming habits, but more writing is definitely a good thing!

The New York Times ran a very interesting article a few days ago. The article considers a number of issues surrounding teens’ reading habits. It discusses “Internet reading skills” and the fact that this type of reading is not evaluated by standardized tests. It considers arguments that Internet reading is both helpful and harmful. Many of the readers’ comments are as interesting as the article itself. One of the ideas in particular took me by surprise. Some of the people quoted in the article and a number of the respondents took an attitude of “at least they’re reading something” and “Internet reading is better than no reading at all.”

Interesting ideas, but for me they ignore two of the fundamental questions: WHAT are they reading and HOW are they reading?

First the “what.” I think the content is far more important that the medium. If a person is reading War and Peace, the Wall Street Journal, or Plato’s dialogues, does the medium really matter? Of course not. Book, printout, computer screen, or smartphone – good content is good content. Let the readers choose the format that they find most comfortable. However, if a person’s Internet reading is limited to message board postings, instant messages, and MySpace comments, then the content is far less meaningful.

Next the “how.” There is a lot of variety in how people read Internet content. Some are reading articles in online journals. Some are reading public domain books. And some are clicking rapidly from page to page as quickly as the next tantalizing tidbit catches their eye. I don’t consider this last category reading. It’s skimming, and it’s creating a generation of people who can’t sustain prolonged, in-depth focus on content.

I’ve seen these people, and I’ve worked with them. It can be frustrating for both sides. They ask a question. You answer it. But they think you haven’t answered it because they only skimmed the reply. They didn’t READ the full details. There wasn’t a helpful picture or video embedded in the reply. There were no links to send them off to a host of Internet sites. There was merely clear content, but somehow they just couldn’t comprehend it.

Cuil? Say what?

Posted: July 28, 2008 in search engines, services
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So I was finally able to get into Cuil and try a few searches. I have to say that I’m not overly impressed with what I’ve seen so far, but I’m trying to stay open-minded and I’ll keep trying it. I’m not convinced that the search results are as contextually relevant as I need them to be. And on some levels, Cuil simply fails, and fails bigtime.

Here are a couple of sample searches.

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Now I realize that Iron Man wasn’t the biggest movie of the summer. It’s not going to give the Dark Knight a run for its money. It was reasonably popular though, and you’d think I would be able to find something. Fan sites? Perhaps an IMDB listing? Or hmmm . . . I don’t know . . . maybe the actual movie site?

This is another strange one.

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The University of Mississippi only has several thousand web pages, so it’s no wonder Cuil couldn’t find it, huh? Strangely though, if I capitalize my search terms, Cuil does return hits. I wonder if the Cuil folks realize that most people don’t capitalize things when they’re doing a search? Live and learn.

An Inauspicious Start

Posted: July 28, 2008 in search engines, services
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As I was driving in to work this morning, I head an NPR story about the new search engine, Cuil, and I was ready to give it a try. Created by former Google employees, Cuil hopes to challenges Google’s 60+ % market share dominance in part by indexing more pages than any other search engine provider.

So imagine my surprise when I went to the website and got this:

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And this:

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I like Google. I’ve used it regularly since I first heard about it, and it is my search engine of choice. However, I’m not a zealot. I’m willing to try new search engines to see if they give me better results than my fave. But if you’re going to try to take on Google, you’d better make sure your stuff works on opening day!

An inauspicious start indeed!

Some Big Screen Goodness

Posted: July 24, 2008 in library, services
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We recently dropped the last pieces of hardware into our new group collaboration rooms. We have a dearth of group spaces in our library, so these three new areas will probably be a hit with our patrons. As we were planning the rooms we decided that we wanted to include a computer for group work, and since everyone in the group needs to be able to see the project, some sort of large-screen monitor seemed to be the way to go. After considering several options, we finally decided on 40″ Samsung TVs as the group monitor. There’s nothing unusual or innovative about this layout, but we didn’t have it before, now we do, and I think it will be very popular with patrons once the fall semester gets underway.

In the meantime we’ve noticed and interesting phenomenon with the rooms. We’ve had the rooms available for some time before the hardware arrived, and they were already getting a lot of use. We still see groups using them since the new hardware has been installed, but many times the groups are just working around the table and ignoring the computer and TV. There could be several reasons for this. Perhaps some of these groups just need a place to meet but don’t really need to view or assemble presentation materials together. Or perhaps they are using the equipment but not at the moment that I happen by.

There is a third possibility that we’ve discussed, and it’s perhaps the most interesting of the three. We’ve wondered if the patrons just don’t realize that the equipment is there for their use. Granted, we have not advertised these new tools. However, they’re sitting in a public space, and the patrons are definitely using the space. One colleague suggested that since it looks like an expensive setup, the patrons are hesitant to use it. If that’s the case, that will certainly change soon. However, it raises an interesting question for me. How often do libraries roll out new services or spaces that, by their very design, somehow communicate that they are NOT for patron use? Perhaps this is just an anomaly. Or perhaps it’s really happening. I’ll have to scratch my head over this one for awhile.

A couple of years ago Karen Coombs wrote a post describing a small fix that blossomed into a major issue – an event she termed technological quicksand. What a delightfully descriptive phrase! We’ve all been there. A little fix . . . a minor upgrade . . . the unsettling feeling that something has just gone very wrong. Suddenly we’re sinking. We’re being sucked into a troubleshooting/repair/restore nightmare that will consume hours or days! And it always seems to start with some itty bitty little thing, doesn’t it? Technological quicksand indeed!