About Nicholas Tomaiuolo

Nick Tomaiuolo earned his MLS at Southern Connecticut State University where he was named a Scholar of the School of Library Science and Instructional Technology, inducted into Beta Phi Mu (the International Library and Information Studies Honor Society), and has been designated a Distinguished Alumnus. He teaches online research skills courses for both Central Connecticut State University and the University of Maryland University College. Likes: database searching, literature, marottes, Stratocasters, theater, and travel. Dislikes: hubris, martinets, opportunists, and technology for technology’s sake. His first book, The Web Library, was published in 2004. His second book UContent: The Information Professional's Guide to User-Generated Content was published in January 2012.

Author Archive | Nicholas Tomaiuolo

A New Vehicle for Self-Publishing

UContent’s chapter on Project Gutenberg (aka PG) focused on the procedure the user must follow to contribute content to Gutenberg’s large depository of works in the public domain (PG now holds 40,000 titles including free eBooks for Kindle). The contributed content, however, is rarely the original work of the contributor.

Barbara Quint recently reported PG has expanded its role, and launched its portal for user-generated content (self-published works). PG’s “Self-Publishing Portal” went public on July 4, 2012.

Self-published authors are able to upload their works as PDFs (or MP3s for spoken word), and share them. Moreover, authors retain all rights (e.g., they may withdraw their works if, for instance, a commercial publisher takes an interest) and, of course, true to PG’s generous mission, the authors can use the Portal for free. On July 20 the Portal held 693 works, and as of August 16, 2012 it contains 768 books. That is an 11% increase in one month.  In light of this, the pundits writing for Advertising Age and The Daily Beast, who have declared that user-generated content has seen its day, may want to revisit their appraisals.

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What’s My Favorite Search Engine? The One I Built!

Pricey gourmet store pasta salad–it’s prepared in a way that appeals to everyone. It looks great, has all the tastiest ingredients but, for some reason, it doesn’t taste as good as your own–-because you make your pasta salad exactly the way you like it. With just the right touch of “this and that” and none of what the rest of the crowd might think is yummy, but plenty of what you know is perfect. I’ve found the same holds true for search engines. We can use the Google, Bing, or any of the other off-the-rack search engines for most of our searches, but when we are willing to spend a little extra time to customize our search experience, we are gaining a foothold in creating a part of the Web’s infrastructure.

When we think of user-generated content, we think of photo sharing, blogs, and videos, but we should also think of phenomena that put us in control of our Web experience. While quirky utilities such as Yahoo! Pipes (and readers who have firsthand experience with Pipes will, I think, agree that while Yahoo! has afforded us the power to design our own information experience, the first word that comes to mind when we think of Pipes is “buggy”) fall into this category, I’m sure most of us who have experimented with CSEs have found them to be a useful resource in our toolboxes. CSEs permit us to direct our queries to the Websites we have determined are most useful.

A CSE is a search engine we can program. It allows the user to query the Web sites the user has determined are the most relevant. Only a handful of developers offer us a way to do this. The most basic is Rollyo. A more complex option is Gigablast. The most popular build-your-own search engine is probably Google’s Custom Search Engine.

Why build a custom search engine? At times we may want to zero in on Websites that will help our patrons locate information that the big search engines will bury in 100s of pages of retrieval. For example, Terry Ballard at New York Law School’s Mendik Library configured a Google CSE called DRAGNET that searches recommended legal Web sites. Sometimes CSEs are built to replace utilities that have been abandoned by their original agencies. Tara Calishain recently configured a cool CSE that searches official United States state Web sites. She found that, because Google Uncle Sam search had closed over a year ago, her engine could fill that void.

My book UContent covers not only the different ways librarians are using social media, but also details my firsthand experiences with each type of user-generated content I discuss. In Chapter 11 my coverage of CSEs led to building several of them– take a look at the pages and give them a test drive. I used Rollyo, Google, Gigablast, and a couple of the less well-known CSEs.

Anyone with a particular information focus may want to try developing a CSE. To get an idea of the broad range of CSEs that individuals have worked on, take a look at the Directory of Google Custom Search Engines or the Custom Search Engine Links Directory. That’s another advantage of CSEs – once someone builds one, you can use it too. They’re easy to configure. You can start building yours right here.

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How Companies Use the Crowd

As I researched the topic of user written online reviews for the book UContent (e.g., think book, dvd, and product reviews in Amazon, patrons’ reviews of items in OPACs, and hotel reviews in TripAdvisor), I began to realize that there is great power in eWOM (electronic Word of Mouth). Positive user written reviews can help a product or service flourish, and just one or two bad reviews can sink the ship.

There’s another way that products/companies seek to benefit from content contributed by customers/end-users. By doing a nominal amount of outreach, many companies have succeeded in getting customers to provide promotional content – and it’s usually done without as much as a penny exchanging hands. One example is Tiffany & Company’s “Love is Everywhere” campaign–Tiffany customers place their initials in a heart on a map of the world at a place that is especially meaningful for them, romantically speaking. Another example is “fans”shooting video for a Ford Focus ST television commercial.

This type of crowdsourcing is an area of user-generated content that I began exploring in UContent, and I plan to it cover more extensively in my presentation at Internet Librarian on October 24, 2012. In addition to the examples I provide here, I’ll present more instances of high profile companies using the crowd to promote their goods or services.

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Some Interesting Thoughts about Librarians and Blogging

Blogging is one of the earliest forms of user-generated content. The Web’s first blog, called “Justin’s Links from the Underground” was started in 1994 by Justin Hall while he was a student at Swarthmore College. Hall, now a reviewer of gaming conferences, blogs to this day–a testimony to the tenacious nature of bloggers. Librarians, who are always adding content to the internet in one form or another (e.g., video tours and tutorials, slide presentations, library Facebook pages), actively blog, too. While many are followed by their peers, Jessamyn West, author of “The Librarian in Black” blog came to the attention of a wider reader audience when AbeBooks reblogged a list of the “25 Most Famous Librarians in History,” which included Jessamyn right alongside Melvil Dewey and Giacomo Casanova.

Before I began writing the Blogs chapter of UContent, I corresponded with Walt Crawford. Walt, a prolific veteran of the library blogosphere, is the author of the 2010 book But Still They Blog: The Liblog Landscape 2007-2009. He also writes two blogs Cites & Insights and “Walt at Random.”

When I asked what makes a good “liblog” (a blog written by library people), Walt replied, “Good liblogs have personality (the writing is in the blogger’s own voice), interest (the posts are engaging), and have substance (the blogger has something to say that is at least worth reading, which does not mean every post or even any post has to be deeply serious).”

In my Blogs chapter I chose dozens of high profile blogs, and accessed their influence on librarianship in two ways. I looked at the level of each blogs activity (number of posts). I also noted the number of interactions with readers (comments posted). The random sample of blogs I studied came from several notable lists including GetDegrees’ “Top Fifty Librarian Blogs,” the aforementioned Cites & Insights (June, 2009), Blake Carver’s “10 Librarian Blogs to Read in 2010,” and others. The full list of the sites I consulted is here.

The author of a recent question on a library discussion list, wanting to gain a foothold of the liblog landscape, asked colleagues to name some interesting blogs written by librarians. Many individuals gave their preferences, and I added that my ranked list was also a great place to begin. Here are the top four blogs from my list of 47, which ranked individual librarian’s blogs (by number of interactive comments, and the total number of blogger posts). The sample was taken from three randomly chosen months during 2008 – 2010:

The “Annoyed Librarian” ranked number one with a whopping average of 71 comments per post. Having 8.57 comments per post, Meredith Farkas’ “Information Wants to be Free” ranked second. “Judge a Book by Its Cover” was third with an average of 8.36 comments per post, and “In the Library with a Lead Pipe” was fourth. It averaged 8.27 comments per post.


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