General information

Online NW: Keynote Speaker Paul Bausch

Online Northwest is a conference focusing on the use of technology within libraries. The conference is held in late January or early February in Oregon.

Online NW 2006
February 10, 2006
CH2M Hill Alumni Center, Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon
Keynote: Paul Bausch

Paul Bausch was co-creator and developer of Blogger; PC Magazine named him one of their 2004 People of the Year, and he is currently a resident of Corvallis, OR, where he founded ORblogs, a directory of blogs written by Oregonians. Bausch has also written three O’Reilly “hack” books: Flickr Hacks (Feb. 2006), Yahoo! Hacks (Oct. 2005) and Amazon Hacks (Aug. 2003).

As part of the speaker introduction, it was suggested that

  • 2002 was the year of the blog
  • 2003 was the year of the RSS feed
  • 2004 was the year of the Wiki and
  • 2005 was the year of the podcast

Bausch began by exclaiming about what an exciting time this is, working at the intersection of libraries and technology. People use library skills on a daily basis with tools like Yahoo! and Google. Metadata is mainstream, although once the domain of librarians. People need this information. People in the web world and people in the library world have a lot of common and need to exchange information. Bausch expressed a desire to “convince you that the web and library worlds are working in the same arena.”

Notes from the talk:

About me (the speaker)
Helped put together Blogger. Has a degree in journalism. Also helped Safari Books Online working with the O’Reilly hack series. Need to explain the word hack. Not a black hat hacker. Reclaiming the word hack for the good guys.

Definitions: Hack: Verb. Informal. To alter a computer program. Bricolage: Noun. Taking whatever is at hand and assembling something out of it. Example: Amazon has this wish list feature; a hacker shows how you can adapt it to be on your cell phone. So when you are in the DVD store, you have your list with you.

Web 2.0
A phrase being used a lot lately. A lot of people use it as a euphemism for “cool” as in “That’s so web 2.0.” That’s not a good definition. Web 2.0 is the rebounding after the dotcom bubble burst.

How can he convince us that there’s substance behind all this excitement? He decided to approach it like a hack. First step, explain how the basic tool is intended to work. The way he looks at the web in general, whether 1.0 or . . .

That starts in ancient Greece. He likes to read a lot of history. His favorite story from history says a lot about the current state of the web: an astronomer named Ptolemy, 2nd c. A.D. collected all the astronomical data into a single volume, the Almagest, c. 150. In it, Ptolemy accumulated the knowledge of 100’s of years of Greek astronomy into a more accessible format in 13 volumes. Proposed a geocentric universe. The book was extremely influential, and its influence lasted for centuries. In the 9th century it was translated into Arabic. The book was lost to the western world in the Library of Alexandria fire.

The Middle Ages was the age of translation; we don’t think of it as an age of great discoveries. Someone could make a good living translating texts from Arabic into Greek or Latin.

Copernicus (fast forward a thousand years) was an Italian philosopher. He had access to Almagest and commentaries regarding it thanks to translation. He even learned Greek so he could get closer to the translation. Put out his own commentary “on the revolutions of the heavenly spheres” in 1543, adopting a heliocentric model. Copernicus and Ptolemy are the superstars of this story, but there are so many people who made the story possible: translators, commentators.

The central promise of a library is that someone can access scholarship, through reading what other people have written before they themselves can add to the larger conversation. In the web, we’re in the middle of our own world of translation, but we are translating offline processes into the online world. Web 2.0 is beginning to speak the language of the web like a native; finding its strengths.

Web 1.0 took our ideas about traditional media and directly transferred them to the web. The result was the newspaper web sites we see, very static, broadcasting information rather than providing a participatory space.

Web 2.0 is the next step. Yahoo! first organized the web with categories. Hired an army of editors. Translated an existing metaphor to the web. Google came along and did away with the categories. Looked for latent patterns in the way people used the web. This is an example of Web 2.0. They shifted the burden of organization from hired staff to others, to their users in a way.

Personal publishing started with home pages. Translated the metaphor of the newspaper with sections (or web pages) for different things, different topics. If something doesn’t fit into one of the categories, it probably doesn’t go up.

Blogger is a native web application. Instead of setting up categories, you organize by time, so you don’t have to create any categories. The other piece is that the information is organized into little pieces that can be individually linked to.

Barnes and Noble is an example of a traditional book store just translated onto the Web. Amazon added user reviews; the capability of selling your used books; provided universal bibliographic information. Not so much a bookstore as a platform where people can get and use information about books. This is Web 2.0.

Other upcoming examples include Flickr,, Wiki. These applications have made the activity social.

Three Aspects of Web 2.0

Bausch proposed to describe 3 aspects of Web 2.0 so as to help us spot them:

One: Openness

The first attribute is a sense of openness, a willingness to share data.

Publishing is closed. Books: He loves books, but it’s very frustrating not to have access to the text in his books. He calls it the Ctrl-F problem. In a single book it’s annoying; if you have a stack of books, it’s a real problem, and if you don’t even know which books to look in, it’s even worse.

There is some work being done. He works with Safari Books. Safari U is a project where you can take sections of different books and combine them in new ways. Google Print is another example. Similar to Amazon’s “search inside the books” feature. These approaches upset traditional business.

Another aspect of openness is being aware of how people use the web. Flickr URLs are so simple. Flickr loves links. Give people not only the URL but a little snippet of HTML so that you can link to the photo. So many sites want to restrict how you can use the content, and attempt to control your experience on their sites.

Two: Decentralization

Example: using Google Maps; combining an RSS feed from the Chicago police dept and Google Maps. No one from the police department or Google ever sat together in a room and agreed to do this. An independent developer put this together without anyone granting permission, or needing to. Google’s open API allows people to do this kind of thing.

This is Web 2.0; taking pieces and assembling them into something new.

Take Wikipedia as another example; they have between 2 and 5 employees, but have amassed an encyclopedia to rival anything published. While not 100% accurate, neither are the published ones. It’s good enough most of the time.

Weblogs made RSS possible because they created large amounts of content that people could work with. Something that would traditionally be done by newspapers, assembling information in categories, using RSS people can do for themselves.

As an example, ORblogs, one of Bausch’s web sites; collects all the information from many Oregon bloggers together into one source. This is possible even though all these people are using different tools in different places.

Three: Participation

A great example is how Flickr attacked the problem of categorization; organizing by date wasn’t enough. They came up with a system of tagging; assigning keywords to each photo; didn’t try to prescribe the vocabulary; turns out this sort of works; you don’t have to worry about the physical attributes in a digital space.

It’s possible in a digital world for every user to have his or her own categorization system. Same thing in; people add value by tagging; users can go in and see how others are categorizing the same things, or how they are using the same tags.

Flickr lets him keep up with his friends; seeing what they are doing. One can also collaborate with strangers. He showed the example of squared circle; a whole community who take pictures of circular things and crop them into squares. A great metaphor for the web because people are sort of adding their own little bit selfishly, but have no idea their own little piece would be part of this larger visualization (someone created a giant circle of all the circles). A lot of people behind the scenes are making this possible; allowing for openness.

Bausch cited Ranganathan’s 5 laws of lib science as found on Wikipedia.
Replace the word books with weblogs, or wikis, or whatever words you use for your online stuff; these are good principles for web designers.

A goal of libraries is to enable conversations like those of Copernicus and Ptolemy on a global scale, and on a local scale also. These Web 2.0 tools are also helping do this.

Someone in the audience asked or commented about context. In losing the original context; one loses significant information about the original person and their qualifications. Bausch answered that the Web is about links; any piece of information can be linked back to its original source and context. This ability to link isn’t present in the physical world; the context can be present but you have to work at it. The second piece is authority, and that’s a whole other talk! (audience laughter)

Bausch has seen a lot of stuff about Library 2.0 also, but a lot of it is just hype and talk. He recommended a couple of the following breakout sessions, those on Social Software and Firefox Extensions as examples of more practical expressions of applying Web 2.0 to create Library 2.0.

Someone asked about Yahoo!’s purchase of Flickr. In Bausch’s opinion, Flickr will change Yahoo! rather than the other way around. He encouraged us all to go look at Flickr and to emulate it.

I attended the following breakout sessions:

  • Firefox Can Do That?: Using Extensions to Customize Your Web Browser
  • Harvesting Business Information by Harnessing the Power of RSS Feeds and Blogs
  • A Little Help From Your Friends: An Overview of Shared and Social Bookmarking
  • Doing More with What You Have: Leveraging Your Subscription Databases (I was the presenter on this session, so my attendance was fairly obligatory!)

A listing of all breakout sessions with links to some session presentations (and more to be added as they are made available) is available.

Executive summaries of all breakout sessions are also available.