Sunday, April 12, 2009

Libraries on FriendFeed

We recently started a small scale experimental presence on Friendfeed (official announcement) . Friendfeed is one of the most popular life-streaming services out there. I was curious about whether libraries were using such services and did a small survey on it. More on that later.

What is lifestreaming?

In today's world, one person might be on Flickr, Facebook, Friendster, Slideshare, Youtube, Delicious or a hundred other different web 2.0/Social media accounts at the same time. Lifestreaming services aggregates all these accounts into one central place, for interested people to follow. Wired in Dec 2008 claimed that Lifestreaming is one of the web technologies of 2008 that you should be using now. For a brief description of how typical lifestreaming service work see here. The lifestream blog provides a comprehensive review of the latest state of art in Lifestreaming.

Libraries and lifestreaming?

Given that libraries are currently reaching out to user communities via blogs, Facebook, Flickr, Delicious and a myraid other social networking/media accounts, it seems natural for them to consider using lifestreaming applications to provide a centralized location for all these accounts.

There are many lifestreaming applications out there (see list and comparison), though it is still early days in this new area, Friendfeed (by an ex-googler), is currently the industry leader (though Facebook has recently added similar functions).

Though Friendfeed does not provide support to as many services as say Profilactic, they have a relative intutive interface, a powerful search engine and relative size, though like most lifestreaming services they currently cater mostly to the early adopter crowd (including most librarians)

I was curious to see how many libraries have started Friendfeed accounts and so I did a small experiment. I searched Friendfeed for accounts with the word "Library" or "libraries". I filtered out as best as I could accounts that clearly wasn't Library accounts (for some reason it gives me accounts where library doesn't appear in the account name?), excluded accounts that had no updates, and left out accounts where the feed was private (still testing)? In the end I ended up with 15 accounts.A couple seemed to be in testing/experimental modes though they all had at least 10 updates.

What are libraries doing with Friendfeed?

It was quite fascinating looking at the friendfeed account of each library. You get a quick snap shot of what web 2.0/library 2.0 activities each library is engaging in and I already see some interesting ideas that I didn't think of. I also uploaded the data into googledocs here , feel free to edit.

One obvious thing I did was to see what web 2.0 accounts libraries were linking to in Friendfeed (I didn't check if they actually had updates from those accounts though). Also if they had more than more accounts of the same service (say 2 blogs or 2 Flickr accounts), I counted them once.

Do note that the diagram above is not representative of what libraries are doing in the web2.0/socialmedia arena (for that see this). Rather they show what libraries who have Friendfeed accounts (who are likely to be early adopters) are doing.

Out of 15 accounts, 12 accounts have blogs. 11 accounts Twitter, 10 have Flickr account, 8 Delicious, 5 Youtube, 3 Slideshare, 2 Facebook, Librarything, Gtalk and a scattering of the rest.

There are few surprises, though I'm mildly surprised Slideshare (and similar services) are not used more to share presentations (think library tutorials).

Though Twitter is getting a lot of press, it is still a technology that libraries are getting grips on (more info here, here , list of twittering libraries), so I suspect the large number of Twitter accounts here only reflects the fact that Libraries on Friendfeed are obviously early adopters.

Using the classification of social media services found here , we can see libraries are basically using blogs, microstreaming services (Twitter, Plurk etc), photo sharing sites (Flickr, Picasa etc) , social bookmarking services (Delicious, Diigo, Twine etc).

Lesser used are video sharing sites (Youtube, Vimeo etc) , document sharing (Slideshare, Scribd etc) , book services (Librarything, Good reads, Amazon etc), music/movie review services ( Last.fm, iLike)

You can probably write an entire book on how libraries can use each category of social media service to reach out, so I won't try at least for now.

But viewing social media services in such categories, one can suddenly see a lot of ways in which libraries can creatively use social media that we currently aren't using.

For example how about using events related services like Upcoming , or calenders 2.0 service to publish library events? Geo-location services like Brightkite to keep patrons updated about your location? Sharing documents via Google reader ?

Lifestream services accept any kind of RSS feed (some might even accept ical format for online calenders?) , so you can add content as long as it is in RSS format.

For example, we currently convert our "new additions to libraries" into RSS format and push it to our Friendfeed account. If the content you want is not in RSS format, you can try using a data/feedscraper to convert a static webpage into RSS. I recommend Dapper.

Conclusion

The lifestreaming arena is still in a state of flux and understandably libraries might want to adopt a wait and see attitude. It is possible that Friendfeed and similar services will die off as standalone services as Facebook adds similar feature . On the other hand, maintenance of Friendfeed accounts is comparative light compared to a Facebook account.

If you are already running several web 2.0 accounts, friendfeed adds very little to the burden, once you set it up and link to your other accounts. Just continue to post pictures to Flickr, bookmarks to Delicious, make blog posts and your Friendfeed account will be updated automatically.

Even if users don't use it, you can also aggregate all the content through Friendfeed and embed it into your Library portal via a widget.

Until later

Aaron Tay

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