NASIG 2013: Libraries and Mobile Technologies in the Age of the Visible College

“This morning’s audience, seen from the lectern.” by Bryan Alexander

Speaker: Bryan Alexander

NITLE does a lot of research for liberal arts undergraduate type schools. One of the things that he does is publish a monthly newsletter covering trends in higher education, which may be worth paying some attention to (Future Trends). He is not a librarian, but he is a library fanboy.

What is mobile computing doing to the world, and what will it do in the future?

Things have changed rapidly in recent years. We’ve gone from needing telephone rooms at hotels to having phones in every pocket. The icon for computing has gone from desktop to laptop to anything/nothing — computing is all around us in many forms now. The PC is still a useful tool, but there are now so many other devices to do so many other things.

Smartphones are everywhere now, in many forms. We use them for content delivery and capture, and to interact with others through social tools. Over half of Americans now have a smartphone, with less than 10% remaining who have no cell phone, according to Pew. The mobile phone is now the primary communication device for the world. Think about this when you are developing publishing platforms.

The success of the Kindle laid the groundwork for the iPad. Netbooks/laptops now range in size and function.

Clickers are used extensively in the classroom, with great success. They can be used for feedback as well as prompting discussion. They are slowly shifting to using phones instead of separate devices.

Smartpens capture written content digitally as you write them, and you can record audio at the same time. One professor annotates notes on scripts while his students perform, and then provides them with the audio.

Marker-based augmented reality fumbled for a while in the US, but is starting to pick up in popularity. Now that more people have smartphones, QR codes are more prevalent.

The mouse and keyboard have been around since the 1960s, and they are being dramatically impacted by recent changes in technology. Touch screens (i.e. iPad), handhelds (i.e. WII), and nothing (i.e. Kinect).

If the federal government is using it, it is no longer bleeding edge. Ebooks have been around for a long time, in all sorts of formats. Some of the advantages of ebooks include ease of correcting errors, flexible presentation (i.e. font size), and a faster publication cycle. Some disadvantages include DRM, cost, and distribution by libraries.

Gaming has had a huge impact in the past few years. The median age of gamers is 35 or so. The industry size is comparable to music, and has impacts on hardware, software, interfaces, and other industries. There is a large and growing diversity of platforms, topics, genres, niches, and players.

Mobile devices let us make more microcontent (photo, video clip, text file), which leads to the problem of archiving all this stuff. These devices allow us to cover the world with a secondary layer of information. We love connecting with people, and rather than separating us, technology has allowed us to do that even more (except when we focus on our devices more than the people in front of us).

We’re now in a world of information on demand, although it’s not universal. Coverage is spreading, and the gaps are getting smaller.

When it comes to technology, Americans are either utopian or dystopian in our reactions. We’re not living in a middle ground very often. There are some things we don’t understand about our devices, such as multitasking and how that impacts our brain. There is also a generational divide, with our children being more immersed in technology than we are, and having different norms about using devices in social and professional settings.

The ARIS engine allows academics to build games with learning outcomes.

Augmented reality takes data and pins it down to the real world. It’s the inverse of virtual reality. Libraries are going to be the AR engine of the future. Some examples of AR include museum tours, GPS navigators, and location services (Yelp, Foursqure). Beyond that, there are applications that provide data overlaying images of what you point your phone at, such as real estate information and annotations. Google Goggles tries to provide information about objects based on images taken by a mobile device. You could have a virtual art gallery physically tied to a spot, but only displayed when viewed with an app on your phone.

Imagine what the world will be like transformed by the technology he’s been talking about.

1. Phantom Learning: Schools are rare and less needed. The number of people physically enrolled in schools has gone down. Learning on demand is now the thing. Institutions exist to supplement content (adjuncts), and libraries are the media production sites. Students are used to online classes, and un-augmented locations are weird.

II. Open World: Open content is the norm and is very web-centric. Global conversations increase, with more access and more creativity. Print publishers are nearly gone, authorship is mysterious, tons of malware, and privacy is fictitious. The internet has always been open and has never been about money. Identities have always been fictional.

III. Silo World: Most information is experienced in vertical stacks. Open content is almost like public access TV. Intellectual property intensifies, and campuses reorganize around the silos. Students identify with brands and think of “open” as radical and old-fashioned.

multitasking & efficient use of resources

Lukas Mathis wrote recently on his blog Ignore the Code about multitasking and what that means for humans versus computers. He made one point that resonated with me:

“The fact that the iPad only lets me see one app at a time often does not help me focus. Instead, it forces me to switch between apps constantly, thus preventing me from focusing on my task. Every time I have to deal with the iPad’s task switching, I’m interrupted.”

I noticed this when I was using the iPad at the last two conferences I attended. It was great for focusing my attention on the speaker and content, because I had to leave the note-taking app and open the Twitter app if I wanted to check on the back channel chatter. However, it was frustrating for that same reason, as it also meant that if I wanted to toss out a pithy quote from the presentation, it meant taking a chance on missing something important while I switched programs.

When I’ve had a laptop or netbook with me for note-taking, switching between programs was a simple keystroke that took a fraction of a second and barely any of my mental focus, and more often than not I could have Twitter and my note-taking program open side-by-side. While I was using only one resource at a time, by being able to switch between them quickly, I could “multi-task” efficiently.

Thankfully, I don’t often have need to do this on a mobile device like the iPad or my Android phone, so right now this isn’t a problem for me. However, if these types of interfaces become the new standard for computing, someone will need to find a way to allow for multiple screens running multiple programs that can be moved between with the flick of a finger. Otherwise, we will have even more problems focusing on the task at hand.

Pandora Town Hall (Richmond, VA)

Open question/answer forum with Tim Westergren, the founder of the Music Genome Project and Pandora Internet Radio.

June 29, 2009
approx 100 attending
free t-shirts! free burritos from Chipotle!

Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora

His original plan was to get in a car & drive across country to find local music to add to Pandora, but it wasn’t quite as romantic as he thought it would be. On the way home, he planned a meetup on the fly using the Pandora blog, and since then, whenever he visits a new city, he organizes get together like this one.

Tim is a Stanford graduate and a musician, although he didn’t study it specifically. He spent most of his 20s playing in bands, touring around the country, but not necessarily as a huge commercial success. It’s hard to get on the radio, and radio is the key to professional longevity. Eventually, he shifted to film score composition, which required him to analyze music and break it down into components that represent what is happening on the screen. This generated the idea of a musical genome.

The Music Genome Project was launched in 2000 with some seed money that lasted about a year. Eventually, they ran out of money and couldn’t pay their 45 employees. They tried several different ways to raise money, but nothing worked until some venture investors put money into it in 2004. At that point, they took the genome and repurposed it into a radio (Pandora) in 2005.

They have never advertised — it has all been word of mouth. They now add about 65,000 new listeners per day! They can see profitability on the horizon. Pandora is mainly advertising supported. The Amazon commissions provide a little income, but not as much as you might think they would.

There are about 75,000 artists on the site, and about 70% are not on a major label. The song selection is not based on popularity, like most radio, but rather on the elements of the songs and how they relate to what the user has selected.

Playlists are initially created by the song or artists musical proximity to begin with, and then is refined as the user thumbs up or down songs. Your thumbs up and down effect only the station you are listening to, and it effects whatever the rest of the playlist was going to be. They use the over-all audience feedback to adjust across the site, but it’s not as immediate or personalized.

They have had some trouble with royalties. They pay both publishing and performer royalties per song. They operate under the DMCA, including the royalty structure. Every five years, a committee determines what the rate will be for the next year. In July 2007, the committee decided to triple the ratings and made it retroactive. It essentially bankrupted the company.

Pandora called upon the listeners to help them by contacting their congressional representative to voice opposition to the decision. Congress received 400,000 faxes in three days, breaking the structure on the Hill for a week! Their phones were ringing all day long! Eventually, they contacted Pandora to make it stop. They are now finishing up what needs to be done to bring the royalty back to something more reasonable. (Virtually all the staffers on Capitol Hill are Pandora users — made it easy to get appointments with congress members.)

Music comes to Pandora from a variety of sources. They get a pile of physical and virtual submissions from artists. They also pay attention to searches that don’t result in anything in their catalog, as well as explicit suggestions from listeners.

They have a plan to offer musicians incentives to participate. For example, if someone thumbs up something, there would be a pop-up that suggest checking out a similar (or the same) band that is playing locally. Most of the room would opt into emails that let them know when bands they like are coming to town. Musicians could see what songs are being thumbed up or down and where the listeners are located.

Listener suggestion: on the similar artists pages, provide more immediate sampling of recommendations.

What is the cataloging backlog? It takes about 8-10 weeks, and only about 30% of what is submitted makes it in. They select based on quality: for what a song is trying to do, does it do it well? They know when they’ve made a wrong decision if they don’t include something and a bunch of people search for it.

Pandora is not legal outside of the US, but many international users fake US zip codes. However, in order to avoid lawsuits, they started blocking by IP. As soon as they implemented IP blocking, they received a flood of messages, including one from a town that would have “Pandora night” at a local club. (The Department of Defense called up and asked them to block military IP ranges because Pandora was hogging the bandwidth!)

Why are some songs quieter than others? Tell them. They should be correcting for that.

The music genome is used by a lot of scorers and concert promoters to find artists and songs that are similar to the ones they want.

Could the users be allowed more granular ratings rather than thumbing up or down whole songs? About a third of the room would be interested in that.

Mobile device users are seeing fewer advertisements, and one listener is concerned that this will impact revenue. Between the iPhone, the Blackberry, and the Palm Pre, they have about 45,000 listeners on mobile devices. This is important to them, because these devices will be how Pandora will get into listener’s cars. And, in actuality, mobile listeners interact with advertisements four times as much as web listeners.

Tim thinks that eventually Pandora will host local radio. I’m not so sure how that would work.

Subscription Pandora is 192kbps, which sounds pretty good (and it comes with a desktop application). It’s not likely to get to audiophile level until the pipes are big enough to handle the bandwidth.

Variety and repetition is their biggest areas where they get feedback from listeners. The best way to get variety is to add different artists. If you thumb down an artist three times, they should be removed from the station.

They stream about 1/3 of the data that YouTube streams daily, with around 100 servers. Tim is not intimately familiar with the tech that goes into make Pandora work.

[The questions kept coming, but I couldn’t stay any longer, unfortunately. If you have a chance to attend a Pandora Town Hall, do it!]