Help Me Find Some Techy Fun For The Kids

I’m currently involved in helping organise a library festival for our Children’s library services and I’m trying to find an engaging and fun interactive online service that will help us promote the festival to children (a broad age range from primary school up to mid-teens) and their parents.

At the moment we’re open to ideas, but initial thoughts are it could:

  • Be online and available to anyone with an internet connection
  • Be able to automatically pull in feeds from our social media accounts with minimal manual intervention.
  • Allow us to edit those feeds and add extra information from other sources.
  • Be engaging for children and parents, fun and look good.
  • Be interactive and encourage participation from people who visit the site.
  • Complement the festival and add a unique feature to it.

The sort of creative tools I like are Glogster, Prezi, Brickflow , Tiki-Toki and Montage. The sort of interactive sites I like are, NFBs interactive documentaries (eg, ). I’m not suggesting we’d have the time or money to put something as elaborate as the Roald Dahl and NFBs site together, but it just gives an idea of the sort of interaction I’m thinking about.

So, if anyone’s got any sites they think might be of interest to us, please let me know. Thanks.

Popular Bookmarks Yahoo Pipes Search Experiment #MashLib

A while ago I experimented with Yahoo Pipes to put together a search tool that aggregates links everyone has saved to social bookmarking sites Digg, Pinboard and Delicious and returns the most popular recent sites based on a simple keyword search. NB: I’m not talking about only the bookmarks I’ve saved, but all bookmarks saved by the communities on these sites.

So, if you enter the phrase “technology” you might get the following results list: [13] [13] [9] [7]


The results are displayed in popularity order and the number in square brackets indicates the number of times anyone has bookmarked the site recently on Digg, Delicious or Pinboard. Each of the sites that appear in the results list also act as a clickable link to that site.

As it’s been created in Yahoo Pipes you can also get a variety of useful data formats as output, including RSS, JSON and PHP.

I decided to put it together as a way of discovering new sites, based upon sites other people had recently found useful. It’s doesn’t currently provide a comprehensive list of sites, but it does offer an alternative way of discovering sites that I might not have been returned by big name search engines.

It’s something I’d like to develop, but had forgotten about it until @AgentK23 mentioned something to me recently about collaborative bookmarking.

How I’d like to develop it…

  • Include as many social bookmarking sites as possible as part of the aggregation process to improve the comprehensiveness of the search results. The 3 mentioned are ones that I could easily generate a hackable and useful search/result query url for. For example, I couldn’t do anything useful with Diigo bookmarks, as it limits the results of community RSS feeds to 20 items (Edit: See positive update at foot of blog post). I’d be happy to receive suggestions about other social bookmarking sites I could tap into in this way.
  • The clickable links to the websites mentioned in the search results currently just go to the home page of those sites, but I’d like to work out a way to go directly to relevant articles on the site instead. Because different websites have different search query structures I couldn’t turn the links into ones that just focus on the search keyword that had been entered. For example, the New York Times link for the “technology” search mentioned earlier goes to , not
  • Yahoo Pipes is a useful tool to try out ideas like this, but I’m still not sure about its reliability. So, I should think about developing this without relying on Yahoo Pipes.

Here’s the link to it if you want to try it out. Any feedback would be appreciated… and remember, it’s just an experiment and not a commercial product.

As most search tools have a daft name I thought I’d call it “DiPiDel POP!” – An abbreviation of Digg, Pinboard, Delicious Popular. 🙂

Update: Thanks to Marjolein Hoekstra who followed up on this post and got in touch with Diigo about my issue. They have now extended the RSS feed to 100 items, which is very responsive of them and great news too, as I can now use the site as an aggregation source. As well as including Diigo in the aggregation process, I’ve also now included Blogmarks and Bibsonomy. Thanks to Marjolein for suggesting them too.

Automating Information Discovery and Sharing (Umbrella Conference Presentation #UB13)

This is the presentation I gave at this week’s CILIP Umbrella conference, focusing on automating the discovery and sharing of information across many online networks using services like IFTTT and the importance of information literacy in this context.

Many Places = Many Conversations

Many websites now provide users with the ability to participate in social networking – by social networking I mean the 2 way communication between users.

This communication often revolves around the need to discover and share information.

To give you some idea of numbers of websites and users on them, the site lists each of the the top 15 social networking sites as having more than 4 million unique monthly visitors each. The most popular service (Facebook) has 750 million unique visitors per month. Wikipedia list 220+ popular social networking sites. “Popular” is the keyword here – there are many more that do not have such a high number of regular users.

On a personal level ,I regularly use 3 Twitter accounts; 2 Facebook accounts; 2 social bookmarking sites; 2 Tumblrs; LinkedIn; Google plus; Flickr and Youtube, as part of my day job, advocacy work and personal life.

So you can see that if you want to maintain an effective information discovery and sharing presence on these sites at this scale it may be difficult, especially with limited time and resources.

Automate to Overcome Problems

So, I’m going to talk about one way to overcome some of the difficulties of discovering and sharing information in this context, & I’ll cover…

Automating the discovery and sharing process.

I’m going to focus on a specific service found online at , because it’s a service I’m most familiar with. But I will also give you links to a handful of other services that work along similar lines to ifttt, that might be of interest to you and might suit your circumstances and ways of working better.

I’ll talk about when automation is useful, when it doesn’t always work and why human input is just as important.

And I’ll talk about the importance of information literacy in this context.

What is IFTTT?

It’s a free web service that can be found online at

Ifttt stands for “If This Then That” and I’ll explain why it’s called that later in this presentation.

It allows you to connect over 60 online and messaging services (referred to as channels on the ifttt site) together.

Ifttt automatically feeds information and data from one channel to another and it gives you some control over how that information is fed between channels.

Why is it useful?

It makes the pulling together, discovery and sharing of information across a variety of online networks easier and less time consuming than if you had to visit each site and manually login to either discover or share information.

I know some social networks allow you to automatically share information to other networks, but the good thing about ifttt is it allows you to manage your information connections/flows in a single place and it makes it easier to keep control .

Which Services Connect?

Here are the types of services/channels you can connect. The graphic on the right illustrates all of the services (as of June 2013).

For example, there is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer,, Hootsuite, Delicious, Diigo, Pinboard, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud,, Storify, Flickr, Instagram, Google calendar, Evernote, Dropbox, Gmail , Pocket, Etsy, Google Drive, SMS messaging, Weather, Date alerts, and also remote controlled services.

There is also a dedicated RSS channel, which means that any site with an RSS output can be plugged into ifttt.

How Does it Work?

It works by creating a link between 2 channels/services.

In some cases you need to authorise ifttt to be able to access some of your accounts on these channels.

One channel acts as a Trigger and another channel acts as a response to that trigger.

It takes its name from the idea that “IF the trigger channel does THIS action, THEN the response channel does THAT action.”

However, not every channel can be used as a trigger or a response. For example there are no Twitter triggers.

Different channels use different criteria as triggers/responses and you define the criteria to be used.
A single combination of a Trigger and a Response is known as a Recipe.

Recipes are automatically & regularly checked to see if they need to be run.

You can share your recipes with others.

The same trigger can be used for different recipes.

Recipe Example

This is how a recipe actually looks on the screen in edit mode:

This example auto tweets a link to a specific blog every time a new blog post is published on it and it adds appropriate hashtags to the tweet.

The trigger shows the RSS feed of the blog and the Action section shows the response.

In the box underneath “What’s happening?” you’ll see some of the text appears in curly brackets. This indicates a data field that is pulled through from the trigger channel – in this case {{Entrytitle}} is the blog post title and {{EntryURL}} is the link to the blog post. The + next to this box will list any data fields from the trigger channel that can be pulled through.

All other text that appears in the box is text entered by the user.

The final shot shows the tweet that is generated.

Further Examples (1)

These are a few of the 50+ recipes I have running at the moment, just to give you an idea of how you can use it.

There are a lot that use a service called Pocket here (red symbol with a V in the centre). I use Pocket as an RSS feed reader, as it allows me to pull in news articles to one place and tag them. The tags I use allow me to define which channel the article is shared to via an ifttt recipe.

I’m using recipes to send information to Buffer, which is connected to Twitter. This schedules when I send out my tweets. You can see what looks like the same Recipe going to buffer, but they’re different, in that each of them adds a different hashtag to the tweet that is sent out eg #lovelibraries #ebooks etc.

Further Examples (2)

In these examples you’ll see that Twitter only appears in the response channel column. There are no Twitter triggers, as Twitter aren’t keen on having content shared in this way.

The recipe that includes the weather channel as a trigger automatically tweets from our library account if there’s a chance of snow in the area to forewarn people about any possible library closures. It tweets “Snow forecast tomorrow. Please check our website for possible library closures.”

A couple of recipes here are also used for backup/archiving purposes – my bookmarked links on Diigo are backed up on Pinboard; and any photos I share on Facebook are also backed up to my Flickr account.

I also use ifttt to build up a work and CPD log by connecting my Google calendar, blogs and Linkedin account to Evernote, which I find useful for appraisals and one-to-ones with my line manager.

Services Similar to IFTTT

So, I’ve focused on using ifttt here, but there are other similar services available that you could try. And it might be that if you like the look of ifttt, but it doesn’t quite suit what you want to do or the way you work, it’s worth having a look at some of these other services.

I’d say Zapier & WeWiredWeb are the most similar services to ifttt.

Wappwolf is limited to activity when uploading files to Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive – you can convert files, unzip or share to other places eg Flickr; Google Drive; Slideshare; Kindle. The focus here is on the automation of processes rather than sharing to networks.

Issues and Drawbacks

So, what are some of the issues of using a service like ifttt?

If you’re increasing the amount of information you’re discovering and you’ve made it easier to share with others you can bombard people with too much information.

Sometimes uninformative or misleading articles or news headlines are pulled through. For example, the news headline pulled through from an RSS news feed “New chapter for town library” isn’t very informative. What’s the story behind that? Which library is it talking about? Or maybe the headline isn’t factually correct.

Also, will the information pulled through from the trigger source be informative enough for your readers on the site you’re sending it to?

Human Input

So that’s why it’s important to have some human intervention, so you can keep some control over the discovery and sharing process.

Make sure you regularly check that your recipes are running smoothly.

I control how information is shared by using Pocket as an RSS feed reader (eg like Google Reader), which I use to sift out irrelevant information before sharing. Recently over an 11 week period 3771 news items were fed into my Pocket account from 9 different resources, and I only shared 668 of these items to 10 different channels via Pocket. Therefore only 17-18% of items were worth sharing.

If a blog title or news headline isn’t appropriate or informative enough you can decide to share it manually instead of automatically.

Ifttt can still do a lot of the repetitive gathering of information, logging into different accounts and sharing, but you can also keep control over it.

It also helps to think about your discovery and sharing of information from an information literacy perspective…

Search, Identify, Gather

Think about where the useful sources of information are going to be.

I find the most useful ones are services that either have a dedicated ifttt channel , or one with an RSS feed of search results as an output.

It’s surprising how many original sources of information aren’t fed into social networks, and that’s one of the reasons why you shouldn’t just rely on social networks as your main information source.

Assess and Evaluate

Assess and evaluate the information coming through from your ifttt recipes.

Some of my ifttt recipes don’t need to be filtered in any way – for example, any backup or archiving I’ve setup; or if it’s a feed from a trusted source. They can just run automatically without any intermediate filtering stage.

But if I need to filter information I use Pocket. This allows me to read and assess the value of the information coming through. If I want to share that information I add a tag to the item in Pocket and the tag I use dictates where the information is shared. Eg. “ggtwitter” will send that item to the my personal Twitter account; “ggLinkedIn” will send it to my LinkedIn account. In this instance I need to use recipes to pull the information into Pocket and another set of recipes to share the information from Pocket to another service.

Communicate and Share

Think about where, when and how you want to share that information.

Which of your social network accounts do you want to send this information to?

When do people need this info? Straight away; Soon; or is it not time critical? For example, it’s generally no good posting an important piece of information on Twitter at midnight when most of your followers are asleep, so you might want to use Buffer to schedule these tweets instead.

Adapt or tailor the way you share the information depending upon which network it’s being shared to. For example, you may want to add hashtags to the updates you send out on Twitter, but you wouldn’t include hashtags on updates you send to Facebook.

Organise and Archive

Think about standardising the way you pull information together and share it with different services/channels.

You could use ifttt to keep a record of what you share with others; creating archives, logs or backing up your social networking data.

And don’t forget that if it the information saved in these archives isn’t perfect you can always go in and edit it to tidy it up.

Automating Discovery and Sharing

So, in summary if you either do spend a lot of time juggling different web presences to discover and share information with others, or you want to have more of a web presence, consider automating some of these processes to reduce your efforts and standardise your information discovery & sharing practices.

Ifttt or one of the other services I mentioned can help and it lets the machine take some of the strain, whilst keeping enough control of it yourself to ensure that the right information is discovered and shared more effectively.