Tag Archives: Yahoo

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Why Geeks Support Barack Obama

ObamaI just donated $25 to Barack Obama. Much like many other geeks before me. Obama is clearly the choice of the country’s programmers, researchers, and other eggheads. Why?

Despite the explosion of baby name voting posts, I usually write about more technical topics on this blog. I’m very interested in the intersection of technology and society, and use of the internet in social interaction. So I think it’s fair to talk about that other vote that’s going on right now, the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.

As I said before, Obama is clearly the choice of the geek constituency. Don’t believe me? Here’s a graph of individual campaign contributions by employees at five large, notoriously geeky tech companies, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon:

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Use OpenId in your WordPress blog for comments and your identity

Worn old welcome mat The web has evolved into this amazing place filled with user-created content, blogs, wikis, photo sharing sites, and users can enter comments on just about all of them. But there’s a problem – commenting in Blogger, Flickr, and some random self-hosted WordPress blog requires you to create user accounts or type in tedious contact information separately in each one.

As a user, you probably want to spend your time commenting rather than remembering usernames and passwords.  As a blogger, you no doubt want to make it as easy as possible for your readers to comment on your posts.  What we need is some really powerful identity management system to make this all possible.

OpenID is an attempt at creating such a system that seems to be growing quickly.  Instead of hundreds of usernames and passwords you have a simple URL that you control.  I just added it to my WordPress blog to see if it’s helpful, and I’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to use it and allow your commenters to use it too.

How to use your blog as your OpenID

First off, you need to get an OpenID.  Luckily, you probably already have one.  Major sites like Blogger, LiveJournal, Flickr, and Yahoo are supporting OpenID so you can just go with what you have.  You can also go with a specific provider.  Which one should you use?  It doesn’t really matter, since you can use your site’s URL as your OpenID and switch providers whenever you want.

Now that you have a URL, you need to use delegation to allow your site’s URL to stand in.  In WordPress, this means opening up the header.php and adding a few lines to your <head> section.  If you’re using Google’s Blogger (like me), the links would look something like this:

<link rel=”openid.server” href=”http://draft.blogger.com/openid-server.g” />
<link rel=”openid.delegate” href=”http://blogname.blogspot.com/” />

One side note – if you view the source of this page, you won’t see these lines.  I’m using my root domain instead.

For more information, see this post by Sam Ruby.

How to use OpenID for comments in WordPress

This part is simple – like everything else you want to do with WordPress, there’s a plugin.  Just download and install the WP-OpenID plugin and activate it.

You should notice a little OpenID icon in the fields for the comments below this post.  Go a head and test it out.

Notes: Why are online catalogs still hard to use?

Borgman, C.L. (1996). Why are online catalogs still hard to use? Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 47 (7): 493-503. 

In this 1996 study, Borgman revisits a 1986 study of online library catalogs. In the original study, computer interfaces and online catalogs were still fairly new—the study looked at how the design of traditional card catalogs could inform the design of new online catalogs. By the time of this study online catalogs were common but still not easy to use. Three kinds of knowledge were seen as necessary for online catalog searching: conceptual knowledge about the information retrieval process in general, semantic knowledge of how to query the particular system, and technical knowledge including basic computer skills. Semantic knowledge and technical knowledge differ here in the same way as semantic and syntactic knowledge in computer science. The study also covers specific concepts like action, access points, search terms, boolean logic, and file organization. In the short term, Borgman recommends training and help facilities to help users gain the skills they need to use current systems. In the long run, though, libraries must employ the findings of information-seeking process research if they are ever going to create usable interfaces.

The study does point out a number of reasons why online catalogs are difficult for users, whether it’s because they lack computer skills or semantic knowledge. One good example is from a common type of query language. Even if the user knows that “FI” means “find” and “AU” means author, they may not know whether to use “FI AU ROBERT M. HAYES,” “FI AU R M HAYES,” “FI AU HAYES, ROBERT M,” etc., and how the results will differ. Unfortunately the article lacks clear instructions or examples of how to make the systems better. The conclusion that different types of training materials could be helpful seems to me like a bandage rather than a cure.

I think a lot of the criticisms are still true, but that modern cataloging and searching systems have become easier. I’m not so sure it’s because catalog designers have started applying information-seeking research in their interfaces, though. It almost seems like library systems are being made easier in self-defense. Users are getting more and more used to a Google or Yahoo type interface—a simple search box that looks at full text and uses advanced algorithms to find relevant results. I think part of this is due to the fact that people in the library field have experience with complicated, powerful structure search systems and are used to a lot of manual encoding of records. Web developers, lacking this background, have been more free to think in terms of searching massive amounts of unstructured data and automating the collection and indexing process. I also think that simple things such as showing the results, including summaries of each item, in a scrollable, clickable list, have helped a great deal to support the information seeking process. Things like search history and “back” and “forward” buttons, “search within these results,” automatic spell checking, etc. are becoming pretty standard as well.