The Google Gods Listen. Give Thanks.

The Google gods are benevolent and generous. They care for us and are always listening to our Boolean prayers so that they might deliver the thing we most need at the moment it is most needed.

What? You don’t believe? You doubt the awesome, sometimes terrible, mercy of the Algorithm Almighty? Behold this item presented to me as gift in my morning Google news feed: “The Chekhov Sentence That Contains Almost All of Life” by Joe Fassler, published this very morning at 6am on the Atlantic culture site and tucked neatly in my news feed between headlines about Hurricane Florence and FEMA/ICE funding.

If you’ve been following in recent days, you will know that I’ve been pondering the significance  of Anton Chekov and trying to puzzle out the power of his short story style. I used, just yesterday, the last sentence of Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” to reflect on Chekhov’s ability to start and end a story at an unexpected place. Fassler’s piece is actually an interview with Gary Shteyngart, who offers the last line of “The Lady with the Dog” as an encapsulating statement on the situation of life. The story never ends. The lovers don’t break up. They don’t live happily ever after. They continue to struggle. They struggle because their lives are complicated. They struggle because they are deeply in love. They struggle because they are people and struggle is what people do.

Shteyngart offers the unresolved situation between the lovers as the unresolved situation for writers and parents and husbands and wives and teachers and oh just everybody.

“Personal growth is not some sudden breakthrough that solves everything. Instead, it’s incredibly protracted, hard-won, and painful. If anything, you’re less happy as a result, not more. But you get the sense the characters wouldn’t trade it. The final insight of this ending is that there is no final insight, there is no ending. You only keep on striving, and that’s the beauty.”

The article is short and definitely worth a read. Fassler and Shteyngart offer more insight about Chekhov in a few paragraphs than I could muster in a week of thought and two blog posts.

Truly, I say, the Google gods love us. They are listening. They provide a news feed both rich and bountiful. Give thanks.

Why SEO Matters to Librarians

I spent last Friday at the Knoxville-based Social Slam, an annual one day conference about social media as a tool for business marketing and communication. As usual, I found myself powerfully inspired by ideas from a bunch of folks in professions outside my own. This is how professional development is supposed to happen. Toss yourself headfirst into a gathering of smart people with adjacent but different interests from your own and start talking.

As an educator and librarian, I found a lot to learn from small business owners, marketing reps and social media mavens. I will post some of those lessons along the way.

I arrived late, missing the morning keynote. My first session was a primer on search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO is a series of skills, design practices and habits intended to improve a website’s ability to be found.  Information is not scarce. Attention is scarce. Getting found is as important as having something unique and useful to offer. If you can’t get yourself, your business or your cause found online, you might not exist. There are several essential habits to make your online presence more findable. The panel talked about the importance of clear, accurate metadata. They discussed the usefulness of well-crafted headlines and tagged images. All of these SEO-related suggestions are habits of good web design. They shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all librarians. They make websites, including library websites, findable.

Librarians care about SEO because we need our sites to findable. Students Google my library pages more often than they click to them from college pages.  I have seen members of my own team Google to our page rather than use browser bookmarks. Google (okay, and maybe Bing) are the gateway to getting found and being used.

Nothing shocking. That did not catch me off guard. Librarians should care about SEO because we need to market ourselves and be found.

Then the conversation turned to the social graph and the work Google and others are doing to personalize search results based on shares, clicks and other social metrics. Wonder why Google Plus exists? Google needed to get access to lots of social information about web user behavior and most of the best data was locked up in Facebook. Google Plus exists to shape what users find when they search. Google wants to learn enough about your interests and patterns of web use to predict which 2 or 3 sites will be most useful from a search results page of 23,000,000. They give you thousands of pages of results but really only care about the first few on that first page. They want those to be right, accurate and contextually relevant. They are getting better at it.

Search is getting personalized. As social interactions are folded into search algorithms, the social media footprints of a business or individual becomes more important. The panelists demonstrated how tools like Google Author can lift a blogger up search results and how Google Business listings can create a strong initial landing page in Google results. Well-focused content on Google Plus, Twitter and other sites can tie users to your site and create a kind of gravity toward your pages. Better yet, their check-ins and mentions can create a kind of gravity to bend their friends and their friends’ friends search results toward your site. This is important to librarians for a few reasons.

Librarians must understand and help others to understand how search works. It isn’t only about keywords anymore. Things are more complex.

Librarians need to know how content providers can shape their rankings to become more visible in a targeted market.

Most interestingly, SEO in the age of social search means that search results are personalized. Two people logged into their Google accounts can search for the same topic at the same time and get very different results. The age of one-size fits all library instruction is going away. Search is personalized; the results are custom-tailored.

We are just at the beginning of this new kind of search. I wonder what it will mean for phone-based reference consultations. “Go to Google, type this, visit the third link down” type information won’t work anymore.

We have to let people know how this kind of searching works. We need to advise them on the benefits, which are many, and help them opt out if they wish to do so.

I did a quick search on librarians and SEO and didn’t come up with much. Most people, like me, have been coming to the topic from the perspective of marketing their sites. SEO is how we get found.

I left the session realizing that my profession keeps getting more and more interesting. SEO is about how search works. If we can’t master that concept, we can’t be effective.

Another Google Tool Gone: Google Reader

Twitter is abuzz right now with the news that Google will deactivate Google Reader on July 1. I haven’t sifted through all the conspiracy theories, hand-wringing and lamentations yet. I will. There will be blood. Nothing gets nerds more bestirred than the loss of free tools that work so well and with such single purpose that they disappear into the background like plumbing.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what this feels like. Google just told me that they are coming to my house on July 1 and removing all my plumbing. Sorry. We just áren’t doing plumbing anymore.

Okay, not exactly, but this isn’t the first time Google has taken away a tool that I found essential, useful and brilliant in its simplicity. A few months ago, I lost Google Desktop, which for several years had been the easiest way to find anything in my work computer files. I file things pretty well but Google Desktop was a master tool because it indexed the fulltext of every document and every email on my hard drive. Major power. When I received a new laptop from work, I tried to reinstall the application only to learn that it had been discontinued months before. I have been limping along ever since with the Windows 7 native search feature. Useful but weak in comparison.

More recently, the migration from Google Docs to Google Drive broke some of my documents and made it hard to edit documents that started out as Word files. It took a while to realize that you can still save those documents as editable and shareable Google docs files. They just don’t make it obvious. I have since caught on. No big deal.

The loss of Google Reader is a bigger deal. I have been using Google Reader as my RSS aggregator for years. I particularly like the way it integrates with third party iOS apps like FeedlerPro. I’ve got a few months to research options. Lifehacker offers a few suggestions.

In the meantime, enjoy the firestorm on Twitter. The nerds are bestirred. Long live the nerds.

In which I spot the Google Street View car (twice)

Life is full of minor mysteries – things you wonder about but never really take the time to find out about. A perfect example: how does Google get such great pictures of my house when I drill down to street level on Google maps? Surely, they don’t have a car that drives all the streets of every town with a giant 360 degree camera on top.

That is, of course, exactly what they do. I saw it for myself, twice. Once yesterday and again today.

Yesterday, I took the day off to spend a day at Dollywood Theme Park with wife and kid. Ran a few errands first in the morning before leaving. On my way home from the credit union I passed the car with gaudy Google Street View decals wrapped all around and a giant tower with ball sticking up from the roof. I considered, for a moment, turning around and following so I could snap a picture for the blog but decided against since wife and kid were waiting for me to pick them up. Spotting the Google Street View car is, for a nerd, like spotting a unicorn. Will my friends believe me? Will I be able to describe it? Will I ever see it again? Was it only just a dream?

Saw it again this morning. This time I was with a friend. He didn’t seem to share my sense of profound wonder and amazement at this miraculous sighting. For a moment, I questioned my own enthusiasm for this second sighting. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal after all. Maybe nobody else finds it incredible that the most powerful internet company in the world actually sends cars out to drive all the roads and record pictures that are tagged with geo-location data. Who drives these cars? Are they Google employees or local temp hires? Can I get a giant camera mounted to the roof of my car and tag streets while I conduct my daily affairs? Where does that outrageous amount of data get stored? Is there a massive hard drive in the trunk of the car or it is beamed up into The Cloud right away to get digested by the Google server farms? I want to know.

So now, instead of one minor question, I have 5 medium-sized questions that I really want answered. Do me a favor, please. If you see this particular unicorn, please take a picture and, if you get the opportunity, tell the driver I have a few questions I need answered.

Please. Thanks.