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Creepy Treehouse?

08/26/2008 1 comment

From a wonderful post on Flexknowlogy, I was introduced to the term in education technology of “creepy tree house.” From their article the definition is:

n. A place, physical or virtual (e.g. online), built by adults with the intention of luring in kids.

Example: “Kids … can see a [creepy tree house] a mile away and generally do a good job in avoiding them.” John Krutsch in Are You Building a Creepy Treehouse?”

n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.

(see article for remaining uses)

The main concept is a sound argument and one with which libraries struggle to find a safe distance from which to communicate with their main audience, the students. It may be difficult to let go of the notion that we need to be at arm’s reach for the students at every point along their day. Blackboard, as mentioned in the article, is a prime example of this notion.

I remember first using it as a student and laughing at the collaborative features. After using them for about 10 minutes, I asked the rest of my group whether they wanted to use Google Docs and Skype, as they were much more efficient and less buggy. I applaud Blackboard for trying to bridge the digital gap between students and faculty, but the amount of time spent using “BB only” applications will most certainly cause some students to grow weary of the labor.

Library systems are slowly entering into this realm as well, especially if we start to look at where the next-gen catalogs are going. Catalogs are now featuring clustered search results, personal item lists, and user submitted comments. Library web sites are consistently offering Instant Messaging and, to a smaller extent, text messaging reference services. These types of service methods move closer to the concept of “creepy tree house” as they mimic communication methods not normally associated with research or academic endeavors. There is also a slowly growing number of library promotional videos that pop up on YouTube, trying to ride the viral marketing wave.

I am not saying that these things are a bad move by any means, but it is important to be aware of what these movements might mean in the eyes of the new students. Will they accept librarians in their social spaces or will our presence be seen as a nuisance? I hope that students will catch on but not tune out.

In a sense the “creepy treehouse” metaphor could also be applied to the generational divide that exists when librarians or educators attempt to adopt cultural cues taken from their younger audience. Be wary of using such references if they may have a very short shelf-life, or small target audience. Once used you may not be able to regain that “respectable” status of intellectual librarian. But then again, what’s the fun in being serious all the time…

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Update: Here’s Knol-ly

Google has finally unveiled their Wikipedia competition, called Knol. There are a good number of articles already written and the authorship of articles remains a very impressive feature. The ability to have closed collaboration and feedback from users that can be taken into consideration, allows for a much less volatile system for editing.

I will be curious to see how far this project goes towards attaining the role of a timely and peer reviewed collaborative encyclopedia.

Related posts of mine:

Knol’s Fair in Love and Wikis

Change is Scary

Gear Changer

On June 3rd 2008 Encyclopedia Britannica announced their new vision for their online encyclopedia. Though many comments have centered around how Britannica has collapsed under the pressure of WIkipedia’s fame, I don’t believe this movement towards a more expansive reference tool is equivalent to the Wikipedia model. Taken from their announcement post:

These efforts not only will improve the scope and quality of Encyclopaedia Britannica, but they’ll also allow expert contributors and readers to supplement this content with their own. The result will be a place with broader and more relevant coverage for information seekers and a welcoming community for scholars, experts, and lay contributors.

One of the main fears, that countless voices echo, is that Wikipedia is unverified drivel created by vandals and impish recluses.  The more immediate truth is that Wikipedia has grown from a volatile collection of obscure popular culture facts to a burgeoning model of how dynamic information creation can be. The community of editors have brokered for more control over substantial articles and have reduced the opportunities for article vandalism to a near minimal concern. But yet many educators pan its possibilities by citing the established comfort of traditional resources. Then this change was introduced.

The interesting thing is that Britannica isn’t suggesting that they jettison their core of scholarly knowledge and replace it with “Joe Public’s” views on the British monarchy. Instead they are inviting scholars and experts in the field to contribute to their content and supplement the communal resource with their own work. From what I could ascertain from the original announcement, lay users would have contribution rights to a connected aspect of the “core” knowledge base. This means that they most probably wouldn’t be able to edit the main entries but would possibly have their own work and commentary be associated with related topics. Though this may not seem like a lucrative endeavor, the ability to have your work be dispersed into the scholarly community could help new authors gain a foothold into their academic endeavors via this new peer review outlet.

The one thing that concerns me is that under the proposed model there is the possibility that each user could be editing existing content, which then becomes a new piece of content separate from the original in some manner. The concept of thousands of slightly altered versions of one piece of information seems rather unnerving to me. Hopefully they can iron out these types of concepts before the full release.

For another model similar to this you may want to check out an earlier posting entitled:

Knol’s Fair in Love and Wiki’s

Google Maps now with more info

Google has recently made some very interesting developments in their map content(from Cnet).  Along with the user created maps, geo-tagged photographs, and related local ads; users can now find Wikipedia entries relating to geographically linked sites.  Once you are in the general area of the location you are curious about, simply hit the “more” tab to see Wikipedia entries and photos.  The short informational blurbs are taken from the Wikipedia entry and allow users to seamlessly browse into more information.

Granted, if you don’t trust Wikipedia this service may be more annoying than useful, but I wish that everything had a little more information on Google maps.  Now if they would just show Flickr photos on there and not just ones from Panoramio…

Maybe an institution can start working on adding not only historic photos to the mix but related historical information gleaned from other data sources and archived materials.  Hmmm sounds like we need a grant…

See also:

Stephen Francouer on Wikipedia vs. Other resources

I Still Can’t Find the Any key!

05/01/2008 1 comment

Making the rounds on many blogs and dlists is the article from the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled, “A Sociologist Says Students Aren’t So Web-Wise After All.”

Eszter Hargittai, the sociologist involved, asserts the claim made that just because students are of the younger generation it doesn’t justly follow that they will be more “Web-savvy.” According to Dr. Hargittai college freshmen are often unable to exhibit a  “basic understanding of such terms as BCC (blind copy on e-mail), podcasting, and phishing.”  She goes on to claim that such deficiencies could relate to students not realizing the volatility of such online tools as Wikipedia and how they are created and maintained.

For the most part, this statement seems to hinge on the assumption that being “Web-savvy” directly relates to the level of knowledge about “how” these systems work and not on “how” to make these systems complete the tasks they are designed to do.  The aspect of this issue that really needs more attention is the acceptance of technology in their tasks and rate of adaptability.  Sure they may not be able to speak WIki code just from looking at the published page, but would they understand the “document structure” in a faster time frame than the Baby-boomer generation?

I hope that this article, and the wave of “I told you so’s” from those questioning the skills of Gen-Y, won’t be used as ammo to  negate the development of advanced technology services.  We have an open road in front of us for sharing information with those who are “Web-savvy” and possibly even inspiring the next generation of web geniuses.  On the flip-side, I whole-heartedly support assessing student skill levels in technology competencies.  I would go so far as to start pushing for a standardized assessment tool to be rolled into our library instruction tools.  It would not only help instruct the students but their faculty and ourselves at the same time.

For those who missed it the first time, here is a post in which I talked about issues such as this in longer detail.

Where’s the Any key?

Short interview with Niko Pfund from OUPblog

http://blog.oup.com/2008/04/inside-oxford-questions-for-niko-pfund/

An interesting interview with Niko Pfund the Vice President and Publisher of the Academic and Trade division of Oxford University Press in New York.  His frank and honest take on the topics of online publishing and Wikipedia are thought provoking and interesting to hear from the “non-library” side of these arguments.

Google is like White Bread, choices choices (Part 2)

bread

(Continued thoughts from my post on the topic.)

The analogy– Google = “White bread,” means that Libraries = oh let’s say “Gluten-free whole grain with caraway seeds on top.”

If this analogy holds, why would someone choose the unhealthy, cheap, and nearly flavorless selection when they can have something baked fresh, flavorful, and which probably won’t make their stomach turn (the person analyzing their research will play the stomach here)?

Well, there may be several answers to that, which may include cost, accessibility, relative satisfaction, and most importantly familiarity. Why do I say familiarity is high on the list over things such as cost? Well when everyone seems to be using the same bread to make many types of sandwiches, it becomes second nature to expect that to feed your hunger. I mean if you were looking at a menu and someone said “white bread it” for nearly every selection, wouldn’t you sooner or later just start eating it all the time?
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