Little Bird is Your Avian-Robot-Web-Based Librarian

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I know. Quite a mouthful. But it is a title fit for the endless sea of information that is the Internet. And the depth and breadth is only growing. How do you target your time and resources effectively to get to the information you need quickly? Back in the day, you would go to your public library, school library, or law library and enlist the assistance of the librarian, skilled in the art of finding the needle in the haystack of stacks. She or he even knew how to use a card catalog! But, there is no librarian patiently standing at the entrance to the World Wide Web. Or is there?

Enter Little Bird. Little Bird “bills” itself as the Robot Librarian for the Web. But it is more than just a search engine for information. Little Bird’s creator, former ReadWriteWeb writer Marshall Kirkpatrick, clearly understands that there is more value in connecting with the people who know than simply finding the right bits and bytes. So Little Bird seems to be more about panning for the influencers and experts in a given field, seeking out the connections and interactions between these people and mining that information that passes from them for you.

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I poked around on Little Bird’s site, using a password that simply allows me to view what is going on, as it is still in private, invite-only beta. I could see that listings and profile cards lean heavily on Twitter, although the engine behind the site isn’t limited to Twitter activity as it also can tap blog posts and LinkedIn activity. The more connections between top influencers – both in the form of content creation and in amount of attention to creators – the higher the influencers rank in results on Little Bird. As a result, it would be difficult to artificially promote oneself in Little Bird results as the engine also measures the quality of the influencers followers – purchasers of followers need not apply.

So, how do you use it? You can either browse “reports” created by others on various topics, or create your own. The site suggests that you don’t search on too broad or too narrow a topic in order to maximize your results. Once you have a topic, Little Bird “seeds” your search with a few good people, which you can keep or discard. When you run your search, Little Bird will look for experts on your topic in Twitter’s stream, analyze who is following those experts, and automatically build an index of the community of connections between experts in your chosen field. Run the search and get back a “report” of the top 500 experts in the field, and from there explore their content.

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You can also compare two Twitter users and see overlap and connections between follows and followers. This information can offer insight into how the influencer interacts with his or her community. Use this information to map how you might engage with this influencer and build your own influence. Because, as web denizens know, it really is all about influence these days.

There is also more “generic” information that you can browse, such as “hot news”, magazines built from shared material from influencers, most highly linked blogs, and direct search of topic insiders blogs and other content.

I am not surprised Marshall is behind this effort. I used to really enjoy reading his posts about crafting ways to automate his search to find whatever information he might be looking for – going deep into the Web trenches to pull data and make connections between data. He has gotten a great deal of interest from investors and other influencers, so hopefully Little Bird can move from private beta to full blown public web tool soon. Congrats and best wishes to the Little Bird team – sounds like a fascinating new way to gain insights and connections on the web.


Need Info? How To Subpoena Social Media

The Electronic Frontier Foundation,  a donor-funded nonprofit dedicated to defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights online, has been hounding relevant law enforcement agencies to get a hold of documents identifying how the government seeks information from social networking sites and how the sites respond to these requests. Via an ongoing social networking Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the EFF asked for copies of the social networks’ own guides that they provide to law enforcement giving the “how-to” on how to get information about site users.  EFF pulled guides from thirteen companies, including Facebook, MySpace, AOL, eBay, Ning, Tagged, Craigslist and others. The EFF then compared the guides and organized the data in spreadsheets ( .xls and .pdf). The guides cover the period from 2005 to 2010 and address requsets for contact information, photos, IP logs, friend networks, buying history, and private messages. The EFF wasn’t able to secure Twitter’s guide, but they did their own research and found some relevant information on the site to include on their spreadsheets as well. 

Check out the spreadsheet at the link above. Or, if you want to see some sample policy language straight from the horses’ mouths at Facebook, Craigslist and Twitter, hit the links below:


On-Line Privacy Public Service Announcement: Spokeo

Start the New Year off with a bang – check out what Spokeo knows about you. Spokeo, an online people search tool, warns up front that it’s not your grandma’s phone book. No, it certainly is not. My grandma’s phone book didn’t provide a map to my home, with a sat picture of it, as well as an estimated property value, my email addresses, age, relationship status and ages and names of my family members, hobbies, estimated income, social haunts and even more. Sure it may all reside somewhere in the public record, but a service that scours on- and off-line information, aggregating it in one easy-to-access location available to anyone seems just a wee bit on the sketchy side, even for my own open on-line sharing viewpoint.

I have known about Spokeo for a while, but some recent updates make it a bit spookier. In November, Spokeo 5.0 was released, implementing graphics, icons, and a new design intended to present information in a more visual way. Just a few days ago, Spokeo released Username search, which scans social networks, blogs, photo albums, dating sites, music networks, video sites, ecommerce stores, and other web services in real-time to help find online profiles with similar usernames.

If you really want to stalk, I mean, search someone, you can upgrade to premium ($14.95 for three months and $59 for a year) and get name, phone, email, username search, and an import feature allowing users to utilize their email address book and social network contacts to pull information. Premium membership also features a tracking system – once the account is added to a friend’s list, Spokeo will periodically check for new updates from the account, with notifications and an update counter.

Spokeo’s information is scary accurate, but not completely accurate. Thus, one might be given the mistaken impression that all of the information presented is spot on, which it most decidedly is not if my own search was any indication.

Today I found a quick procedure for pulling yourself out of the database, which you may want to do when you see what Spokeo can spit out about you to anyone with an internet connection, thanks to Chris Hardwick over at the Nerdist blog. To summarize:

1. Navigate to Spokeo
2. Search your name in the box
3. Copy the URL when you get your result
4. Look for the Privacy link in very small type at the bottom of the page. Click.
5. Complete the form by pasting the URL in the field “To remove a listing from Spokeo…”
6. Enter a dummy email (create one for this purpose with Yahoo, Gmail or one of those temp email services). You don’t want the Spokeo creeps getting a hold of you, that’s for sure.
7. Click “Remove Listing”
8. When you get the email in your dummy account, click on the link “To complete the removal process…”
9. Go into your browser preferences and search your cookies for “spokeo.” Delete them.

Then, lean back and rest comfortably until the next on-line privacy hullabaloo. Go ahead, thank me.

Tech Addiction & Information Overload

I was compelled to open and read an article in my Google Reader from Lifehacker’s Adam Dachis entitled Why Technology is So Addictive and How You Can Avoid It (link here). I know, I know. To the casual observer, I probably fall squarely within the dopamine-addled masses who reach for their smartphone or iPad whenever there is a break in the level of external, non-tech stimulation. But I have grappled with this concept over the past several months. Not so much because I fear addiction, but more because I really don’t want to spend any more time on technology than I really must to reach the end I want to achieve.

O.k., English please. What I am saying is that technology, like your average hammer or pencil, is simply a tool. A means to an end. That end differs for different users (and I really don’t mean users in the druggie sense). Technology affords a compelling precision implement, a surgical scalpel, that can lessen the weight of otherwise heavy tasks. Such as staying on top of your area of expertise. Or staying in meaningful contact with people who are important to you, whether for business or personal reasons, and sharing relevant information.

Because of technology, we can now send greater quantity of higher quality communications and information to a larger audience. In turn, we (arguably) can absorb a greater quantity of higher quality and more timely information that might help us make important decisions across the spectrum of our needs. That is why the tech explosion of late has pulled along so many mainstream users – look, Auntie M, I can now get my daily updates on Cousin Lulu without having to pick up a phone, or even write an email.

I am not going to touch Mr. Dachis’ points on tech-etiquette here. I would like to assume that Studio Readers already know how to prioritize human interaction and tech interaction. But I do wish to point out Mr. Dachis’ cause for such addiction and overload issues and suggested remedy.:

One effective way of dealing with information overload is actually organizing information. This may be an obvious one, but most of us think more about organization than actually doing it. You’re going to get organized at some point, so you might as well start now (if you haven’t, that is). Email is one of the toughest things to get under control and there are more solutions out there than you could ever really try. Google’s new Priority Inbox is a great new way to focus on the important messages in your inbox. A Chrome and Firefox extension called Boomerang lets you schedule when you send and receive emails. Communicating through speed appropriate channels rather than funneling everything through email can help, too. You can even offload distractions to an iPad, or another device you have, so you can focus on specific things on specific devices. However you organize your information, just be sure to evolve your system to fit changes in the way your information flows.

Really, so much of the handling of our technology depends on implementing efficiencies so that the tech is a helpful passenger rather than the driver of the vehicle. For example, just last night, I spent about a half hour reorganizing my iPad feed readers. I have determined from the past few months that I can cut through my feeds faster if I can read them in an uncluttered, visual format on the iPad. So, I now have two text-based and two magazine-layout-based readers on my iPad, with different feeds in each app. Why? Because I can blow right through the most important feeds on the visual readers in record time. If I have additional time, I can always go to the text-based readers to hit more detail.

The future of the web is relevancy. To me, it is far more important to be relevant than it is to be fast. Along with my post this morning about Google’s new Priority Inbox that will automatically sort your email for you, the list of applications that cater to relevancy while improving delivery speed are growing. Filters like Google Reader’s “magic” setting and apps like Feedly, my6sense, Zite and Lazyfeed are making it easer to spend less time researching and more time creating. My admonition to lawyers, professionals or, really, anyone on the Web is to get to know these filtering systems and use them to avoid overload and the addiction necessary to stay on top of the overload. At first it will require spending more time getting up to speed and implementing your chosen method. But ultimately, you might even end up with enough time to start a new hobby. Like stamp collecting. Or gardening.

There Really Is A "Day" For Everything

Mark your calendars: March 31, 2010 is Document Freedom Day. What exactly is Document Freedom Day? Well, despite the somewhat silly name, the day does serve a useful purpose – to educate regarding and promote the use of open standards and free document formats across the Web. This purpose serves you because adoption of open standards ultimately results in a Web that is more user-friendly and accessible. While the process of opening up the Web in this regard is a bit “techy” for the average lawyer, any Web user can get behind the idea of open sourcing and freely accessible information. Gotta go get my “I ♥  Open Source Docs” pin right away!

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Deep Web Research for 2010

DiggingWay back, almost a year ago, I posted about a paper presented by Marcus Zillman on deep web research. Deep web research involves getting below the surface layer of web pages to documents stored on-line with extensions such as .pdf, .doc, .xls, ppt, .ps. and other more esoteric extensions. These extensions and this type of searching are particularly applicable to business research, as companies tend to store their information in this manner.

Mr. Zillman has done it again – check out his list of deep web resources for 2010 published on His comprehensive list includes articles with background information, tools, resources on the semantic web, presentations, pertinent blogs and lots of other great links. You don’t have to “dig deep” to find what you might be looking for with Mr. Zillman’s help!

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Digital Curation Or Horder Syndrome?

The news du jour is all about curation. Digital curation, that is. I have noted a higher than average concentration of writing on this topic over the past few days. Clearly, people are interested in it. And that makes good sense to me.

What is digital curation? In its broadest sense, curation is the act of organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts. Libraries and museums are excellent real world examples of curation. Digital curation refers more narrowly to the process of establshing and developing long-term repositories of digital assets, per Wikipedia’s entry on the topic. Good luck finding a more concrete explanation than that.

I will try to provide one. For me, digital curation is the gentle swirling of the prospectors’ pan while looking for lumps of gold among the gravel. Through this blog, Reader shares and various social media posts, I attempt to act as a digital curator – I spend my on-line time scanning readers, blogs, tweets, and other content for interesting information that may be useful to me and to people who subscribe to my content. I am a human curator and, hopefully, I provide a shortcut to better information through my blog posts and other social networking channels.

There are other ways to secure curated content. You can employ web tools that automate the process of material selection. The best of these automated offerings will attempt to “read” your interests and respond accordingly.  Google Reader has recently incorporated a setting called “magic” that purports to sort the mountains of content and push the news most likely to be of interest to you to the top of the pile. Feedly, the fantastic add-on for Firefox and now Chrome, does the same and takes it a step further by presenting the content in an easy-read format with precise controls over preferred sources. Lazyfeed, another Web tool, reads your tags and content from various media channels and funnels back to you the most relevant blog entries from across the ‘net. my6sense,an iPhone application, utilizes an algorithm called “digital intuition” to interpret your reading and sharing habits and feed back the content you are most likely to find compelling.

Other services, like MeeHive, Regator and Collected, organize and present the information in logical streams so that you can “cut right to the chase” of the particular news topics you are interested in.

For me, services such as these are a necessary antidote to the out-of-control flood of barely curated content flowing through Twitter and other social media sites. Apart from my few trusted resources, I find it difficult to use Twitter as a news source, particularly since I have no control over the arbitrary content choices  within the stream. The search function helps, but does not assure me that the “curator” is up to my standards. Time spent clicking on links and verifying the validity of the sources is better spent diving right into trustworthy content. As more and more content is generated, all of us are going to need proper curation to save us from web horders.

The list of helpful tools cited above is not exhaustive. It does offer a starting point for anyone interested in separating the wheat from the chaff. Rest assured the number of digital curation tools will be expanding – web experts such as Steve Rubel have taken the position that the future of the Web is digital curation and services that direct the flow of relevant information that is absorbed quickly, easily and smoothly. Rubel’s reasoning is that web denizens are “attention strapped.” I would describe it more as overstimulated. Effective digital curation is the cure for the overwhelm.

Do you have tips, tricks or tools to help you sift through to the diamonds? Please share with the class in the comments!


? – Txt Ur Librarian or Expert 4 411

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Image via Wikipedia

What a great idea for dispensing reference information in the digital age: This website is a collaboration among fifty participating libraries, Altarama Information Systems and WebClarity Software, Inc.  The “collaborative text messaging” service permits patrons of the participating libraries to text questions to the service at number 309-222-7740 and receive a text response from a real, live reference librarian. The pilot program just started at the end of July and will continue through December, 2009. While standard text messaging rates apply, the service itself is free. Service hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mon – Fri and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, the librarians rest.

Not a member of the MyInfoQuest consortium libraries and/or interested in help outside of their service hours? Try ChaCha – another free service offering 24 hours of “expert” answers to phone calls or text questions. You can call ChaCha at 1.800.2ChaCha (1.800.224.2242) or text ChaCha at 242242 (spells ChaCha). ChaCha routes the question to “the most knowledgable person on that topic in our guide community.” The answer is spit back out as a text message reportedly within minutes. I couldn’t resist – I followed a link to see what people were asking and came up with this list:

  • Are dolphins nice or mean to people
    1 min ago | Asked 3 times | in Animals & Plants
  • What is the biggest water slide in the world
    1 min ago | Asked 12 times | in Attractions & Destinations
  • Who does the voice of chris griffen from family guy
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in TV & Radio
  • If you switch birth control pills does it make you more likely to get pregnant for a while
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Pregnancy
  • What is longest word in the english language
    1 min ago | Asked 90 times | in Literature , Definitions , Language & Lookup
  • Are there muscles in your fingers
    1 min ago | in Fitness , Biology
  • What does ‘Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori’ mean
    1 min ago | in Translations
  • What is the best way to preserve and dry a rose
    1 min ago | in Home & Garden
  • What is a foxtrot
    1 min ago | Asked 6 times | in Definitions
  • What is the number to nationwide insurance company
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Demographics
  • How many people live in the US? How many people live in the US
    1 min ago | Asked 96 times | in Demographics
  • What movies has Alexa Vega appeared in
    1 min ago | Asked 13 times | in Movies
  • What are the basic rules of tennis
    1 min ago | Asked 6 times | in Tennis
  • What is the Chicago Whitesox stadium name
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Baseball
  • What are the lyrics to “over the rainbow”
    1 min ago | Asked 10 times | in Music
  • What is the best way to get a girl to approach you
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Relationships & Dating
  • What is the cheat code for Sims 2 Pets for the computer
  • Clearly, ChaCha is highly focused on pop culture and most answers appear readily obtainable from a basic Google search. I am tempted to run a legal question through the service and see what kind of response I get in return.

    In any event, the model of ready access to an “expert” and receipt of an answer within minutes in mobile “txt” form is intiguing and appealing. I can envision legal reference professionals providing such a service to their attorney-clients and attorneys providing such a service to their own clients, subject to ethical guidelines of course. Innovation in a medium embraced by the masses seems is a winner in my book.

    Hat tip to ResourceShelf

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