Training: Tweetdeck, 22 November 2011

I’ve been using Twitter for a few years but I’m behind the times with my software! Following a talk about the use of Twitter, I signed up for a Tweetdeck intro session with John Stuttle, one of the Guardian’s systems editors.

Tweetdeck offers much more usability than the basic Twitter feed. Key for me is that it allows you to track more than one account at once (and from more than one social network), to tweet from more than one account simultaneously (say my personal and department ones) and to publish timed tweets (so we could set a tweet to launch the weekend’s From the archive in advance, for example).

John recommended signing up for a account as well, which allows you to analyse the statistics on how many people used your link to click through to a story, versus other links, and use that to improve your tweeting. provides various other stats too – to view statistics and graphs just click the Analyze link at the top once you’re signed in, or click on Info Page next to an individual link.


Marilyn Johnson, Brewster Kahle and the risks of leaping into digital with both feet

I’ve been out of the loop for a couple of weeks, camping in the not-quite-wilds of Northumberland. It’s strange being so disconnected from the web (I didn’t even have mobile reception for a lot of the time); it’s made me realise how much I rely on the internet to stay connected, to people, to the news, to the industry.

Having time away also meant I finished reading This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians And Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson. So even though I had two weeks internet-free, I spent it reading about digital librarians!

Marilyn Johnson’s book, which I’ll review separately, takes on new meaning in light of Seth Godin’s article The future of the library (and apologies if the debate has moved on while I’ve been away!).

Godin’s central argument was that fusty old librarians need to ditch the paper and move into the digital sphere. Johnson’s book provides ample evidence that librarians have been working online for decades (OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center, was founded in 1967, when the web was a mere twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye).

It also raises the risk of libraries leaping into digital without considering the ramifications for non-digitised, specialised collections, which can have funding and space cut, or be lost entirely.

A similar issue was raised this week by Brewster Kahle on the Internet Archive blog:

A reason to preserve the physical book that has been digitized is that it is the authentic and original version that can be used as a reference in the future. If there is ever a controversy about  the digital version, the original can be examined. A seed bank such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen as an authoritative and safe version of crops we are growing. Saving physical copies of digitized books might at least be seen in a similar light as an authoritative and safe copy that may be called upon in the future.

I was involved with digitising the Guardian and Observer a few years ago, creating a fantastic online resource of newspaper articles dating back to 1791 that would otherwise not be widely accessible. But we would never have considered scrapping the bound originals, or even the microfilm copies, once digitisation was complete.

Digitising books and library collections is an important step forward, but until a system is designed that is 100% reliable, not open to corruption or human error, and with a long-term shelf life, it would be madness to do away with paper collections altogether.  

Websites: LinkedIn

I’ve spent the evening doing the online equivalent of housework – tidying up my blog (the blogroll on the right was horribly out of date), and getting my online house in order.

Part of that involved sorting out my LinkedIn profile. I joined a while ago, but I’ve only been checking it every couple of months. I need to make it one of my go-to places on the web, alongside my email, Twitter, Flickr, the blogs I check regularly and, I admit it, Facebook too!

So I’ve updated and added to my profile, connected to a few of the most obvious colleagues and friends, and also joined the LIKE group (pending approval!). Hopefully it will become a key way of engaging with the information profession at large. If you’re on LinkedIn, add me to your network.

Guardian 190: From the archive

I can’t claim any credit for this because I’m on leave, but I was involved in pushing for the From the Archive blog initially so I’m a little bit proud!

The Guardian is celebrating its 190th birthday this month, and has pulled together a bundle of resources, including a rather nifty interactive showing 190 key moments in the Guardian’s development.

As part of that, the research department are blogging an article from each year – in order – on their blog From the Archive. I’m a bit late in highlighting it – they’ve already reached 1896 – but there’s plenty more to come, and you can access the back catalogue on the blog or through the main Guardian 190 microsite.

Chartership resources: Using Delicious to track reading

I’ve been puzzling over ways to record all the articles I read and sites I look at during the Chartership process (yes, I’m avoiding my CV writing!).

The simple solution would be to list them on a separate blog page above, like the Web Work page I use to record my writing and research pieces. There’d be no way to categorise them though, no way of adding keywords, and judging by the number of blogposts I’ve already scanned today it’s going to be a long, long list!

Instead, I’ve set up a Delicious account specifically for Chartership reading. We have a list at work, although it’s always been underused. It’s a great way of keeping track of useful resources in the age of information overload, as well as sharing links with others.

As well as keeping a record of my reading list, it also means I won’t have to blog about everything, just the articles and resources I’ve found particularly useful, and which I can apply to my day to day role.

I’m trying to select a list of tags that will help me categorise links without getting completely out of hand!

On the web: DocumentCloud

The Christian Science Monitor librarian (@CSMLibrary) flagged up a blogpost about DocumentCloud from the NewsliBlog today.

DocumentCloud is a free online tool for converting PDF documents into web text that you can annotate, making the contents much more accessible and useable. News organisations in particular have used it to provide readers with official documents that add value to a news story.

As Derek Willis (@derekwillis) says in his blogpost:

It’s a great way to maintain a set of files that anyone from the newsroom can access and annotate, making it a good candidate for long-term project work. And when you’re reading to show that work to the world, you can make any or all of the files public.

I’ve not had time to play around with it, but I’ve struggled in the past with ways of stripping text from a PDF quickly and without too many errors, so anything that helps speed up the process can only be a good thing!

I can think of several time-consuming queries it would have helped with off the top of my head – editing From the Archive articles that predate our text archive (anything pre-1984), taking content for the Datablog from government documents that are only released in PDF or the Russian spies story, for starters.

On the web: data visualisation:

Something we get asked for fairly regularly in the news library is a size comparison – some journalists like to be able to equate a distance or area in a story to a recognisable place in the UK (recent examples include a piece on nature reserves “covering an area the size of the west Midlands” and a reference to British manoeuvres in Sangin, Afghanistan “to capture an area the size of the Isle of Wight”).

There is a questionmark over the validity of such comparisons – how much value does it really add to a story, and how many people have a strong enough grasp of geography to be able to visualise even UK areas? But they show no sign of dropping out of use.

A new online tool developed by the BBC could help media librarians, journalists and readers to draw more relevant, and useful, comparisons in future. BBC Dimensions, found at, takes a template of a newsworthy event (for example the area afffected by the floods in Pakistan, the Twin Towers or the BP oil spill) and lays it over a Google map at a location of your choice.

Dimensions is a prototype and it has its limits – you can’t create a new template so the event you’re covering has to be listed already; you can’t play with the shape of the template so you need a reasonable amount of spacial awareness to be able to compare it to specific areas like counties or countries; and, perhaps most worryingly, the disclaimer at the bottom states, “We make no guarantee as to its accuracy, reliability or performance” – but it is a pretty good starting point for queries of comparison, and it’s a nifty way of using data visualisation to add value to a news story.