tools


We’re kind of trapped (in a good way) in a social networking track here at bar camp day 2. I combined sessions with Sam Wallin — he wanted to discuss general social networks and how they relate to libraries. I wanted to talk about Facebook (and other apps) and what adoption of it (and related, heavily architected tools) means to info professionals.

SamWallin at InfoCamp Social Networking Session

Like Kathleen noted, lots of questions and few answers. I proposed that Facebook might become the killer app and that people will then use Facebook as kind of homebase or main tool (in some cases taking the place of other tools — email, IM, etc — at least in some contexts.), In such a situation, how does the “generic” or architected nature of the site impact the work that info pros can do to expidite the flow of information.

Again, not a lot of answers but a lot of disagreement with me. Many people felt that they don’t see facebook as the killer app — for that to happen there needs to be some way to separate personal and work lives (and separate the networks you belong to in those cases). And if you do separate those parts of your life, then the would shut down the ubiquitous nature of Facebook.

To some degree I can relate to that idea. I agree that you don’t want to do work networking on a site where you post photos of your drunken new years eve episode. I’m not sure if the answer is more social networks. Maybe it’s more thoughtful use of a main network where you limit what you share to make it appropriate for a broader group of users and then belong to special networks (or have a specialized blog or web page or usenetgroup or whatever) for your “fringe” activities.

I liked Justin’s philosophy — he doles out little “tidbits” of information on Facebook. People can learn a little bit more about him based on the groups he belongs to and how he interacts with those however they don’t get a lot of detail from his profile alone.

For what it’s worth, I’m willing to say I might be wrong on one count (at least). Facebook might not kill Linkedin (one of the many inflammatory things I said today). In fact, Linkedin may get stronger because it fills one of those fringe area needs I discuss above. For example you may say you are an interaction designer on your facebook profile, but may not want to throw in your resume or client list up there. Instead, you can let your Linked-in profile fill that need.

I’m not sure what all this means for me…I’ve got some more thinking to do. How about you?

I commented on Plone in my “Open Source Social Software” post last week. I still think it’s a great CMS and a great way to go if you can put in the time to get it set up right. What a lot of people don’t know is that a Plone isn’t limited to a plain vanilla interface (like you see by default at Plone.org and with a default install.). I think the default is OK looking, but if people knew what it _could_ be, they might be a little more motivated to embrace a fresh design from the start.

Thankfully, the folks behind Plone have gathered the work of talented designers, coders, and the like, at a nice gallery on Plone.net The collection site itself is a is a step beyond the out-of-the box Plone look. Check it out. Maybe you’ll get some ideas to add a little zing to your vanilla.

I’m always looking for the mediating technology that Kathleen mentions (number 4). For a while I thought Plone was going to be my ticket to some kind of librarian-makes-good-via-content-organization consulting goodness. Heck, I even went the conference and got the t-shirt.

I’m still groovin’ on Plone, but you know what? It’s hard. It’s a great tool for managing all your content and maybe for building (and maintaining) a web presence from scratch. But what what about if you already have some stuff going on? You know…. you’ve got an intranet. and maybe some servers with files shares? Or some folks on your team have or want to start their own WordPress or other blog? To make Plone work in a situation like this you either some serious coding ju-ju or you gotta start from scratch.

Sure, a complete Plone site can be effective, cost-efficient, and easy-to-maintain, but starting over is not the answer for everyone. In my past content life I lived with terrible sites I wasn’t allowed to scrap. Many of these, though, these could have been dramatically improved with just the slightest bit of social software love. I suppose that’s why I’ve been thinking lately about ways to integrate some social features into such existing settings.

One potential I’m excited about is the open source tool Elgg. I still need to dig into it more deeply (perhaps in my post-graduation unemployment come June?), but this thing has some potential. According to the blurb at SourceForge, “Elgg is an open source social networking platform developed for LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) which encompasses weblogging, file storage, RSS aggregation, personal profiles, FOAF functionality and more.”

Simply put, it’s a tool that enables you to provide some of those fancy social features all the cool kids today are using — on your existing platform. Want to provide your users a blog? Wiki? Online IDs and messaging? It’s looking to me that Elgg could be your answer. A titillatingly titled Wired article on social software trends in education talks about Elgg is being used at the University of Brighton (UK), France Telecom, and others.

You can get Elgg in a whitebox, open source, customize-it-yourself platform, or you can purchase a ready-to-roll, supported enterprise version. We can talk later about the effective use OSS participation incentives (in this case, the open source developer also runs a company that sells an enterprise version), but that’s another post or two.

So far I’m really taken with the profile page functionality you can provide for users. In many cases that might be all you need (but come on, don’t stop there….). ‘ll dig around in this and report back in a while.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out where I heard about Elgg — the American Libraries Association! Imagine that…I’m on the web looking for cool stuff all the time and I find this cool software in an ALA email (well, it was actually just a link to the actually pretty poor Wired story, but I think ALA still gets props for sending me in the right direction). Dave Tosh of Elgg and CurveRider posts over at EduSpaces (yes, an Elgg platformed site) clears up some misinformation in the Wired story starts another conversation.

So, anyone out there used Elgg? Have another worthy tool I’ve missed?