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Chapter 5: Current developments in social media and Web 2.0

This chapter presents an overview of social media and web 2.0 developments and the common technologies. It explores the ways in which social media is relevant to the Parliamentary library both as a tool for research and as a means of outward projection of the library services.

One of the phenomenal developments of the last decade has been the acceptance and transformation of the web from a purely informational resource to a two-way, highly engaged medium of communication. This has occurred across cultural, national and economic boundaries. Web 2.0 and Social Networking have been the buzz-words underlying this transformation. Web 2.0 refers to a “second generation” of web-based services typified by two-way engagement, collaboration and information sharing.

Web 2.0 is not a single concept. Rather it is a metaphor for the convergence of technologies that enables rich participation in and remixing (mash-ups) of applications. The element of participation is most richly expressed in the emergence of blogs and other vehicles for personal expression on the web. The ease with which personal narrative can be interwoven with other websites and other information sources was a key transition point from the web as a one-way information source to the web as an interactive discussion place. Social networking (Facebook, Twitter and others) has extended this further by providing immediacy to personal expression in a context of networked relationships.

The library no longer stands as the principal reference point for accumulated knowledge of an organisation. It remains, however, one of the trusted sources of knowledge. This presents both opportunities and challenges for the library. Amidst the diversity of rich information sources now available to anyone with an Internet connection, the Parliamentary Library itself must assert its role as:

  • a trusted source of impartial information,
  • a source of advice and training for those navigating these diverse resources,
  • a point of reference to facilitate understanding and filtering these diverse resources, and
  • a reliable point of permanent record and potentially also a distribution point for resources that contribute to these wider resources.

This presents a professional development challenge for libraries: to be conversant and even situated in the middle of these new tools while maintaining a firm grip on the responsibilities for trustworthy management of information resources on behalf of Parliamentary Libraries.

Leveraging Web 2.0 for research

The physical collection of the library is only one of the reference points for research to meet the needs of parliamentary libraries. In addition to being a unique new phenomenon of communication between groups, it also presents additional opportunities for research by the library on behalf of its members and clients. For the parliamentary library the research may begin within the bounds of the library but it will certainly extend beyond that. Many of the resources now available for research are free, and are being used by library clients themselves. The role of the information professional here is important, as key concepts in searching remain important:

  • Exhaustivity: the degree to which your research touches on the full range of information resources and search results that meet the clients needs
  • Specificity: the degree to which your research is exactly what the client needs

The research may have to mediate information already obtained by the client that is of mixed quality and reliability. Just as doctors face the phenomenon of patients coming with their own Google search results on their ailments, so also information professionals must help to analyse and integrate information from quite disparate sources. Michael Sayers neatly encapsulated the new generation of research tools available to the library in the term “Searching 2.0”. Beyond the borders of the library and its traditional research databases and catalogue, lie a rich set of resources available in the Web 2.0 domain.

The research process itself is changing with the “quantum affect” of web 2.0 participation - the research may itself leave a trail of participation behind through tagging, reviews and blogging that enrich in the overall information resource.

The following are some of the key Web 2.0 resources available to the researching in the Parliamentary Library:

The Google Gaggle

Google search - still the pre-eminent search engine. The ranking algorithm, based on frequency of links to a given page has proven effective over time, even when distorted by Google's sale of keywords and strenuous efforts by others to distort rankings to their own ends. However, the Google search is not the only rich resource provided by the imaginative crowd at Google. Probably more important for research purposes are the new members in the Google fold.

Google scholar ( - indexes research articles, legal patents legal opinions and journals, providing a free vehicle for citation-based searching. While a big draw card for academics, this can also be a useful method for background research on key topic areas of interest to parliamentary members.

Google books ( - is the latest Herculean effort by Google to become the hub for discovering all publications. While faltering on the copyright front, it still represents an extraordinary research resource. A result page in Google books is an example of the mash-ups possible in web 2.0 - with reviews, cover art, related works, tag clouds of terms in the work, bibliographic information (including subject relationships) sample pages of scans, links to commercial providers of the work and “find in a library” - linking to WorldCat.

Google maps ( - by providing Google maps as an online resource that was simultaneously accessible as a web page and as a tool for others to mash-up with geographical information, Google has provided an immeasurably effective resource. Google maps is itself replete with metadata and therefore represents a search tool for not only location discovery but also for searching about places, people and things.

Google blog ( - provides a search engine indexing blogs specifically.

Google news ( - a news feed - that can be regionalised and taken as an RSS feed (for example all news items mentioning a given person).

Google+ ( - Googles' latest response to Facebook, following their failed Wave product, with video chat (hangout).

There are potential privacy with Google services as there are with most major search engines. The IP address, search keywords and sites visited may all be tracked. Alternatives such as Scroogle ( & leverage Google to yield search results that preserve privacy and without advertisements. They do not pass through to external sites search times used and insulate the searcher from logging and local recording of search terms used. Other search engines such as ixquick ( attempt to protect the privacy of the search process.


WorldCat ( , managed by the library Goliath OCLC, complements rather than competes with Google. Representing an aggregate collection of OCLC members around the world it sports > 1.4 billion items. Among the interlinking functions are “Ask a Librarian” which links through to a librarian in affiliated libraries.


Wikipedia represents a phenomenal resource. Established in 2001, it has carved out a unique place in the web. Its content may often be of questionable authenticity, and can be fraught with misuse and inaccuracy. Nevertheless, its sheer scope makes it unequaled in breadth of content. Irrespective of whether the information professional disdains or lives by Wikipedia, it is important to be aware of its presence in the information sphere. This awareness for the parliamentary library can include:

  • establishing a profile on Wikipedia for the library
  • becoming familiar with its search and alerting capabilities.

Wikipedia has a free-text search similar to Google, including the ability to qualify search terms. For instance parliament -Westminster will search on articles with the term parliament and without the term Westminster. The wiki includes a useful pseudo-authority for commonly used terms - searching on “Parliament (disambiguation)” will illustrate this concept - giving alternative semantics around a wider term.

Parliamentary members may be interested in references to themselves or to topics they are interested in. Registering on the wiki is the entry point for contributing and editing articles. It also allows the registered client to mark pages to “Watch”. This will result in email alerts when there is activity on a topic that is of interest.

Facebook, YouTube, Flickr

Social networking allows individuals to describe their interests and activities and develop a community of common interests. The core group of social networking tools represented by Facebook, YouTube and Flickr represent a vast, raw, resource of content and information. Each of these resources has a separate search engine, and most have a form of advanced search which at least allow searching by types of media and recency of publication (for instance the “search options” in YouTube). As with Wikipedia, YouTube has a subscribe option to monitor particular pages or “channels”. Yahoo's Flickr also has an advanced search allowing filtering by media type or date, and a range of functions to annotate through tagging or “favourites”. Unlike Flickr and YouTube, Facebook requires sign-in for searching. The search options are limited. The importance of Facebook is networking and “presence”, and the integration of Facebook with other Web 2.0 functions such as Twitter.


While Blogs are a common method of outward communication by the library (see below), they are also an important resource to be tracked and monitored by the library. Parliamentary members may maintain blogs, and the indexing and referencing of these by the library can provide a valuable resource on the intranet or extranet. Similarly, when researching issues for members, reference to blogs as well as media releases may be important. Google blog search may also be a useful service in this context.

Regional and function-specific search engines

Social Media as a marketing and information channel about the library

Opportunities for the utilisation of social media as an information channel about the library and for alerting services/dissemination of information.

The library is for and about its current and future clients and their information needs. The information professionals that are part of the library and and research services are situated in the midst of a complex network of information and communication. It is important for the library to be aware and situated in the midst of the information and communication channels of its clients. For this reason, if no other, the Social Network toolkit is an important part of the resources used by the library.


Wikipedia is just one in a class of web based documentation tools that enable quick, often participatory, development of web content in a simple, rapid manner. Wikis are characterised by a simple writing syntax that (after a short learning curve) allows simple collaborative development of web-based information. It can complement an intranet for purposes of documentation and information delivery. The software supporting Wikis is light-weight - DokuWiki ( for instance requires no database and has a very simple install, but is complemented by a wide range of “plugins” than extend its functionality. The wiki can be used for a broad range of task support in the library, from documentation to knowledge management.


The blog is probably the first, easiest and most personal Web 2.0 presents the Parliamentary Library can establish. The library is the conduit of news on information, events and resources that are very suitable to blogging and can attract a considerable following. Types of news suitable for a blog include:

  • New titles and resources available through the library
  • Summaries of news feeds relevant to members
  • Book reviews
  • Events and activities


Libraries are great content creators as well as content managers. The Parliamentary Library may be the custodian of a range of information resources that members are vitally interested in. This may include current news feeds, new publications, media releases from other members. In addition that the library may be responsible for managing the intranet, extranet and web presents not only of the library bat other sections of the parliament. RSS (definition here) represents a simple means of distributing this information to others on a selective or wholesale basis. The technology for RSS syndication is already integrated into may library and information applications. Clients can consume RSS syndicated feeds easily through standard web browsers and email clients. Moreover they can, as with all Web 2.0 resources, reshape these feeds themselves in different ways. Blog updates can be syndicated through RSS.


Twitter is a vehicle for very short, and very immediate communication to a wider audience. A “tweet” is a short communication (of no more than 140 characters) that can be “followed” by others that may be interested. Tweets can be an effective tool for communication between information professionals. It can be a means of researching and tracking developments and announcements by members and others of interest to the Parliamentary library and the Parliament as a whole. The draw card of the “tweet”, as against RSS, is the personal nature, the immediacy and the brevity of the communication. Along the theme of rich inter-networking of social media tools, tweets can themselves feed from (and to) other social media tools, such as Facebook and Blogs. They can be a rich means for keeping abreast of developments at conferences that you are interested but cannot attend - through the use of hashtags and other “back channels”.


Why does the library need to have a presence in Facebook - where they already have a web page presence? The significance of a Facebook page for the libraries lies in positioning the library in the midst of the discourse and information networks of the clients themselves. A presence in Facebook is a portal not only to communication with clients, but also with other libraries. A presence there should be judged on a mature assessment of:

  • the capability of your library to maintain and keep relevant this presence
  • the degree to which your members and staff are themselves using Facebook (you may be surprised)

As with tweets, the attraction of Facebook lies in the sense of personal engagement that it represents, and therefore the outward expression of the library in the community.


Tagging is the means by which your clients can interact with your information systems. Tagging allows the client to create topic phrases that express their particular interest, and share these “tags” with others. It is one of the ways in which the catalogue and other resources can be opened up to the dynamic nature social networking interaction.

Tagging transforms an otherwise static resource into a dynamically evolving and inter-connected resource. The ILMS software for the library catalogue may already support tagging. Similarly, many of the news and information resources that the library engages with in research and support activities will already support tagging. By engaging actively with tagging - and by tagging the results of existing research, the process of information engagement with members can be extended by contributing to the readily accessible pool of information that is directly relevant, by experience, to members and their support staff. There are risks associated with tagging and inappropriate usage of tags. This risks balanced by the additional utility offered by the ability for your clients to select particular resources from your collection and share these selections with others.

Contributing to Web 2.0 - Inter-operability

As well as engagement through in the Web 2.0 social networking sphere, the library can engage in a more fundamental way by open up its own unique services to the web through web services. The library can be a rich aggregate resource of useful information by and about the members it serves. Enabling web services that others can consume is a way of going beyond the vicarious engagement using others tools and contributing to the information admixture of the web.

To be useful, such services need to be built in a metadata framework that facilitates interoperability. Services can be delivered through a set of functions or “Application Programming Interfaces” (API's). These may be implemented through:

  • Web services - programmatic interfaces between a client system and a web server
  • AJAX and other Javascript-based services - such as used by Google maps to provide simple mapping services using Javascript.


Standalone software
  • Mozilla Thunderbird. Mozilla Thunderbird supports an RSS feed. Indeed most modern email clients now have an RSS reader built in. Mozilla Thunderbird is the most popular open source alternative to Microsoft's Outlook.
  • Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck is a program for organizing and posting to various social media services including Twitter (who now owns Tweetdeck), Facebook, FourSquare, LinkedIn and anything with a Twitter-compatible API (though they haven't integrated Google+ as of this writing). Software like this allows easier monitoring of hashtags and lists as well. It is available for desktop clients as well as mobile devices.


Google Products

  • Google Reader. Google Reader is web-based RSS reader, with support for organizing and sharing individual articles and RSS feeds. It's useful for accessing RSS feeds away from the desktop.
  • Google Scholar. Google Scholar indexes research articles, legal patents legal opinions and journals, providing a free vehicle for citation-based searching.
  • Google Books. Google Books provides access to books, with reviews, cover art, related works, tag clouds of terms in the work, bibliographic information (including subject relationships) sample pages of scans, links to commercial providers of the work and “find in a library” - linking to WorldCat.
  • Google Maps. Google Maps provides a search tool for not only location discovery but also for searching about places, people and things, including an extensible API that allows integration with your own website.
  • Google Blog. Google Blog. - provides a search engine indexing blogs specifically.
  • Google News. Google News provides a search engine and news feed from news sources around the world.
  • Google Plus. Google Plus is Googles' latest foray into social networking.


  • Scroogle. Scroogle leverages Google to yield search results that preserve privacy and without advertisements.
  • Ixquick. This search engine has protections for the privacy of the search process.
  • Ning. Ning is a (commercial) tool to create your own social networking site.
  • WorldCat. WorldCat is OCLC's interlinking catalogue of books.


  • OStatus. OStatus is an open standard for distributed status updates. It is currently used by StatusNet, the software behind the open-source Twitter alternative (

Social media for democratic engagement and participation

Social media has been revolutionary in the full sense of the word. It has changed the ways in which the citizens engage with their government, and also opened up new channels for two-way communication between individuals and also between organisations and individuals.

There is considerable room for risk, mistakes and failure in an area for which there are poorly defined rules for etiquette and behaviour. The Parliamentary library has the potential to play a role in facilitating the effective introduction and use of these tools in the Parliamentary environment and to make resources available to Parliamentary members and their staff to use and understand these services.


Justin Unrau, 2011/07/11 10:39

It might be a good idea to mention Google+ here in the Emerging Tools section. Google+ has only been up and public for about 10 days now, but it seems it might stick around better than Google Wave and Google Buzz did. Since it's new it doesn't have some of the features of Facebook (including the ability to split off a professionalish presence in the network the way Facebook Pages can work), and it may never get the saturation that Facebook has, but as far as emerging or alternatives, it's notable.

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social.txt · Last modified: 2011/10/19 18:42 by admin

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