OPLIN 4cast #405: Goodbye, Yahoo Directory

October 1st, 2014

Yahoo logoLast Friday, in a progress report on “Product Focus,” Yahoo included three sentences announcing that “our business has evolved and at the end of 2014 (December 31), we will retire the Yahoo Directory.” While this is not surprising news — some of you youngsters may not even know what the Yahoo Directory is — it caught our attention because the original OPLIN website from mid-1996 to early 1999 was basically a collection of “link directories” (or “web directories”) similar to the Yahoo Directory. Before the founding of Google in 1998, link directories were the way people found things on the Internet. Librarians spent a lot of time building link directories and posting them on the Internet because that’s what librarians do; they help people find information. So in a way, the end of the Yahoo link directory is the end of one chapter in the history of the Internet that included a significant role for librarians.

  • Yahoo! is scuttling the only thing we knew them from (UPROXX | Bea Kaye)  “If you’re like me, then you had no idea that Yahoo! was actually an acronym. In 1994, Stanford students Jerry Yang and David Filo created a comprehensive web directory. At first they named it ‘Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web’, but shortly changed it to ‘Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.’ (If you are under the age of 20: Search engines sucked in the ’90s. Web directories like Yahoo were where it was at.)”
  • The Yahoo Directory — once the Internet’s most important search engine — is to close (Search Engine Land | Danny Sullivan)  “A ‘directory’ relies on humans to review websites, summarize them with short descriptions and organize them into a categories. When Yahoo started, this system was effective, because there weren’t that many pages on the web (relatively speaking) and automated search technology to organize websites wasn’t very good.”
  • End of an era: Yahoo Directory to shut down Dec. 31 (Best Techie | Shawn Farner)  “For a long time, the Directory was a big part of Yahoo’s business. That all changed when automated crawlers began indexing websites, and Yahoo partnered with several companies (including Google) to provide search results that weren’t compiled by humans. The Directory still existed, but it just wasn’t as important as it was in Yahoo’s heyday — the early-to-late ’90s.”
  • Yahoo will ring in the new year by killing its website directory (PCWorld | Zach Miners)  “Yahoo is also not the company it used to be. Since Marissa Mayer took over as CEO in 2012, she’s engineered a number of acquisitions and launched new products and apps, like digital video and online magazines, aimed at making Yahoo more relevant. But still, some things must go.”

Before the Ohio Web Library:

Below is a link directory of “Electronic Resources” from the original OPLIN website.
link directory

OPLIN 4cast #404: Better pictures

September 24th, 2014

picture frameChances are, your website has a lot of eye-catching images. In fact, if your site is typical of most websites, images probably account for about two-thirds of all the bytes that get delivered from your web server to the browser of someone looking at your site. And that’s OK, because a picture is worth a thousand words, right? But if the viewers of your website happen to be using smartphones, those pretty pictures may be worth a thousand angry words! Since that’s a problem for just about every website, HTML developers have come up with a new element tag: <picture>.

  • How a new HTML element will make the Web faster (Ars Technica | Scott Gilbertson)  “If you’ve got a nice fast fiber connection, that image payload isn’t such a big deal. But if you’re on a mobile network, that huge image payload is not just slowing you down, it’s using up your limited bandwidth. Depending on your mobile data plan, it may well be costing you money. What makes that image payload doubly annoying when you’re using a mobile device is that you’re getting images intended for giant monitors loaded on a screen slightly bigger than your palm. It’s a waste of bandwidth delivering pixels most simply don’t need.”
  • The new picture HTML code could make your website load faster (Small Business Trends | Joshua Sophy)  “Image-heavy Web pages can take a long time to download. Visitors get frustrated and leave your site. You may have implemented a responsive Web design, thinking that solves all your mobile problems. And it’s true that a responsive Web design solves some problems. It automatically arranges and displays your site elements to be viewed on smaller, narrower mobile screens. But responsive Web design isn’t the answer to everything. It doesn’t necessarily solve the image download issue.”
  • Native responsive images (Dev.Opera | Yoav Weiss)  “But, even though RWD [responsive Web design] sites looked different on each device, underneath, most of them continued to download the same resources for all devices. And since images comprised the major part of the bytes that websites were downloading, the developer community started to look into possible solutions to avoid this waste. […] The picture element specification that was written in collaboration between the community and browser vendors was merged into the HTML spec, and both Blink & Gecko’s implementations are destined to ship early this fall!”
  • Built-in browser support for responsive images (HTML5 Rocks | Pearl Chen)  “The <picture> element offers a declarative approach towards image resource loading. Web developers will no longer need CSS or JavaScript hacks to handle images in responsive designs. And users benefit from natively-optimized image resource loading—especially important for users on slower mobile internet connections. Alongside the newer srcset and sizes attributes recently added to <img>, the <picture> element gives web developers more flexibility in specifying image resources.”

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OPLIN 4cast #403: Tor privacy

September 17th, 2014

Tor onion logoOver the weekend, Boing Boing published a piece about libraries in Massachusetts that are using the Tor browser on their public PCs to protect patron privacy. If you’re not familiar with Tor, it is free software that allows users to browse the Internet anonymously. It’s sometimes called “the onion router” because it sends browser requests through a roundabout network, hiding the original computer within layers of other computers, somewhat like the layers on an onion. Tor has also been in other news recently because of a claim that some employees of government spy agencies – like the National Security Agency (NSA) – have been helping Tor by passing them information about security breaches spies have used. If true, that would be an interesting development. But is it true?

  • Radical Librarianship: how ninja librarians are ensuring patrons’ electronic privacy (Boing Boing | Alison Macrina and April Glaser)  “Others have installed Firefox with privacy-protecting browser plugins like Disconnect.me, Ad-Block Plus, and The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger tools. Still more are setting up Tor middle relays on their libraries’ networks. One librarian said that the workshop made her feel ‘thoroughly empowered…[to] help stop illegal surveillance against my patrons.’ Amazing.”
  • NSA and GCHQ agents ‘leak Tor bugs’, alleges developer (BBC News | Leo Kelion)  “The allegations were made in an interview given to the BBC by Andrew Lewman, who is responsible for all the Tor Project’s operations. He said leaks had come from both the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the US National Security Agency (NSA). By fixing these flaws, the project can protect users’ anonymity, he said. ‘There are plenty of people in both organisations who can anonymously leak data to us to say – maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this,’ he said. ‘And they have.’”
  • How Tor’s dark web is getting darker thanks to spies (Tech Cheat Sheet | Natalie Shoemaker)  “Covert operations, like GCHQ, ‘heavily relies on Tor working to be able to do a lot of their operations,’ according to Lewman. But there’s also a seedy underbelly of child porn and illegal drug sales. You have to take the good with the bad if you want to protect your privacy these days. There are over 150 million people who have downloaded the browser in the past year, of which 2.5 million use it each day. It’s important to consider the people who are in dire situations, people who may be fighting against oppression that rely on networks like these–the ‘dark web’–in order to stay hidden and protected.”
  • Are government spies tipping off Tor? (Top Tech News | Jennifer LeClaire)  “He [Tyler Reguly, director of security research for Tripwire] told us this isn’t the first time that this topic has been discussed and no one should be naive enough to think that it will be the last. ‘Just a few weeks ago questions were raised about the safety of Tor. Stating that these organizations are assisting in increasing Tor’s safety is the perfect marketing ploy,’ Reguly said. ‘The statements can’t be verified and they help reduce concerns regarding privacy breaches while using Tor.’”

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OPLIN 4cast #402: Internet by name, not by number

September 10th, 2014

headstoneIt’s not everyday you look at the news and see that a group of the largest universities and Internet companies have decided it’s time to completely change the architecture of the Internet. But that’s what happened last week, as the formation of the Named Data Networking Consortium was announced. TCP/IP — short for Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol — was developed about 45 years ago to handle network communication between two computing devices identified by their IP addresses, and since then it has defined the way the Internet works. But a lot of Internet traffic these days looks more like broadcasting of content than one-to-one communication, and a growing number of network innovators feel that TCP/IP is about to reach its limits.

  • Forget IP, Cisco thinks the answer to the data tsunami may be Named Data Networking (TelecomTV | Guy Daniels)  “TCP/IP was created for a point-to-point, voice-centric world – a communications network. The fact that it has lasted so long and still supports the data-centric distribution networks of today is testimony to its creators’ skills. But with the IoT [Internet of Things] threatening to increase data traffic and apps by several orders of magnitude, ecommerce and digital media growing, the Internet has become a ‘distribution network’. Therefore, a rethink is required.”
  • NDN project overview  “To carry the Internet into the future, a conceptually simple yet transformational architectural shift is required, from today’s focus on where – addresses and hosts — to what – the content that users and applications care about. The Named Data Networking (NDN) project aims to develop a new Internet architecture that can capitalize on strengths — and address weaknesses — of the Internet’s current host-based, point-to-point communication architecture in order to naturally accommodate emerging patterns of communication.”
  • UCLA, Cisco & more join forces to replace TCP/IP (Network World | Bob Brown)  “Since that time [2010], participating organizations have somewhat quietly been working on new protocols and specifications, including a new packet format, that have been put through their paces in a testbed that spans from the United States to Asia. Their aim is to put forth an Internet architecture that’s more secure, able to support more bandwidth and friendlier to app developers. Cryptographic authentication, flow balance and adaptive routing/forwarding are among the key underlying principles.”
  • DEATH TO TCP/IP cry Cisco, Intel, US gov and boffins galore (The Register | Simon Sharwood)  “Intel, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent, Qualcomm, Comcast and Orange are also contributing to the effort to create the new protocols. Work on the Named Data Networking (NDN) has been going on for some time: the National Science Foundation has been pumping in cash since 2010. The significance of this launch is that industry is now involved, and the consortium is committed to producing open-source software to take researchers’ work beyond the hypothetical.”

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OPLIN 4cast #401: Looking to the horizon

September 3rd, 2014

NMC logoThe New Media Consortium recently released the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Library Edition [pdf], produced in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences in Chur, the Technische Informationsbibliothek in Hannover, and the ETH-Bibliothek in Zurich. The NMC Horizon Project started in 2002, and each year it investigates emerging technologies and trends likely to affect education around the globe. That means the Library Edition is focused on academic and research libraries rather than public libraries, but some of the topics discussed in the report will look very familiar to any type of library.

  • Prioritization of mobile content and delivery (page 8)  “‘The Right to e-Read’ campaign by the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA) is a Europe-wide initiative to raise awareness for stakeholders and policy makers about the challenges libraries face in providing e-books and digital content because of copyright concerns. Libraries in the United States are closely following the legal policies regarding the purchasing and resale of digital content.”
  • Rethinking the roles and skills of librarians (page 22)  “A number of universities have experimented with fellowship programs and other non-permanent hiring situations that bring in people with the desired skills to work on discipline-specific projects. This strategy provides libraries the opportunity to test new types of professionals and see if their roles merit the creation of a new position.”
  • Competition from alternative avenues of discovery (page 26)  “A recent Slate article explored libraries’ potential transition from print materials to technology and training. Academic and research libraries are incorporating more authentic experiences for information discovery — immersive opportunities that Google Scholar and Wikipedia cannot yet foster. Seattle University’s Lemieux Library, for example, is home to the Media Production Center where students and faculty receive the training and support needed to turn their creative ideas into tangible products.”
  • Semantic web and linked data (page 44)  “Library catalogs will be a more valuable information resource if their metadata is an interoperable part of the semantic web and not siloed in separate inaccessible databases. It is no longer enough for libraries to have their own websites with collection data; there is growing emphasis to integrate these collection catalogs into sites and services more frequently accessed by users.”

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OPLIN 4cast #400: E-government in Ohio

August 27th, 2014

Ohio flagAnybody who works near the public computers in a library knows that e-government – the government doing its business with the people online rather than in person or through the mail – brings a lot of people into the library to use those computers. It started with tax form downloads and then got a big boost last year as people registered for “Obamacare.” Legislators typically justify providing new services only online by pointing to the public libraries as the safety net for those who do not have Internet access elsewhere, though libraries seldom see any of the money e-government saves. Connect Ohio has now released some interesting data that shows there are already a lot of people using e-government in Ohio, and that number is almost certainly going to grow.

  • 3.6 million Ohioans use e-government services (Connected Nation | Lyndsey Kleven)  “Younger Internet users in Ohio (50% of 18-34 year olds) are more likely than their older peers (46% of ages 35 or older) to go online to search for information, apply for services, or fill out forms. Across the state, more than 1.2 million households still do not subscribe to home broadband service, one in eight cite lack of digital skills as leading barrier to home broadband subscription.”
  • Making government accessible: e-Government usage in Ohio (Connect Ohio) [pdf]  “Two groups in Ohio experience a unique need to remain in contact with government offices. Ohio veterans often work with government agencies for issues ranging from healthcare to job training. In addition, state and federal agencies work with Ohio adults who have disabilities to improve their care and ensure that they have access to the services they need. For many of these Ohioans, the Internet is how they stay in touch with those government agencies.”
  • State Library of Ohio: Leading practices for e-government services (WebJunction | Vanessa Mason and Liz Morris)  “While the state library staff members that attended the monthly meetings of this group [Ohio Network for Health Coverage and Enrollment] initially encountered suspicion due to questions about the role of a state library agency’s place in enrollment strategies, over time meeting attendees not only embraced the role of libraries in supporting marketplace enrollment, but came to expect it as a natural and necessary fit. These monthly meetings helped state library staff learn from practitioners in other institutions and provided resources that librarians could take back and adapt to share with their public libraries.”
  • eGads! eGov! Helping libraries navigate online government resources (OLC Immersion Workshop)  “As more and more government services and programs move to online access, more patrons are turning to their libraries for help navigating this eGovernment environment. Workshop participants will learn about frontline, best practices for helping patrons with eGovernment websites along with legal issues to consider. Presenters from the Ohio Department of Veterans Services, Social Security Administration, and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services will discuss government programs and services and the best practices for accessing these programs and services.”

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OPLIN 4cast #399: Chatting gets serious

August 20th, 2014

chat bubblesInstant messaging is not new. Neither is the online chat room. The CompuServe “CB Simulator” in 1980 was probably the first Internet application that we would recognize now as instant messaging. Internet Relay Chat (IRC), the ancestor of today’s chat rooms, dates from 1988. Now add the more modern increase in the use of mobile devices, mix in some annoyance with email spam, and suddenly the venerable old chat is a hot business communication application. When you remember that many of the people now entering the workforce grew up using their phones to message friends, that’s not really a surprising development.

  • Why these startups think chat apps are the next big thing in workplace collaboration (GigaOM | Jonathan Vanian)  “The idea is that workers are now spending their days immersed in the world of the chat box; a sort of modern-day equivalent of the office water cooler, where ideas and jokes can be shared, but also — thanks to software and the ability to link up to the storage-service providers — the place where documents can be stored, indexed and able to be easily accessed. According to a recent Gigaom Research report by Stowe Boyd, this idea of contextual conversation ‘is likely to become the dominant social motif of the next generation of work-technology applications.’”
  • Why enterprise mobile messaging is the latest startup craze (CITEworld | Matt Weinberger)  “In libraries, coffee shops, and anywhere else where workers are not in front of a computer all day, text and IM is the smartphone-friendly mode of communication of choice. That means that coworkers need to befriend each other on their personal social networks, or else swap phone numbers, neither of which makes for a healthy or comfortable life-work balance. It’s a lot easier when you empower those same front-office workers with a tool where they don’t need to know the phone number of the person they need to talk to.”
  • Beyond Google Hangouts: What these chat apps are doing differently (HSI blog | Ryann Rasmussen)  “Many of the chat startups mentioned here [Slack, HipChat, Flowdock, and Convo] are still in their infancy, but they’re already making a splash. Inspired by everything from small businesses to giants, these chat startups are looking at the workplace from every angle. Larger companies like Rally, Atlassian and Microsoft are purchasing these startups, a testament to their potential in offices around the globe.”
  • Slack is killing email (The Verge | Ellis Hamburger)  “There’s something intrinsic to communicating with a larger number of people that’s going to be difficult to manage, especially given the amount of information we get. Email has gotten worse over the last 10 years or so. Ten years ago, 50 to 60 percent of email was from another person, and now it’s 8 to 10 percent. The other 90 percent is from a machine — email marketing, receipts, new Twitter followers, Facebook comments, check-ins, monthly statements, blah blah blah.”

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OPLIN 4cast #398: Google and HTTPS

August 13th, 2014

padlockGoogle made an interesting announcement last week. Because they want to promote the use of secure, encoded HTTPS for website connections, they are going to make HTTPS a “ranking signal” for their search results. In other words, if a website uses HTTPS, it will show up higher in a Google search than a site that does not — maybe only a little bit higher for now since this will initially be just a minor ranking signal, but Google confesses that they may make it a more important signal later. Almost all the reaction was positive, except for tweets from people who work in the search engine optimization business, but as librarians, shouldn’t we be a bit concerned that the quality of information might be judged based on its format instead of its content, just so Google can make a point about web security?

  • Google Search starts penalizing websites that don’t use encryption (PC World | Jeremy Kirk)  “The move is designed to spur developers to implement TLS (Transport Layer Security), which uses a digital certificate to encrypt traffic, signified by a padlock in most browsers and ‘https’ at the beginning of a URL. As Google scans Web pages, it takes into account certain attributes, such as whether a Web page has unique content, to determine where it will appear in search rankings. It has added the use of https into those signals, although it will be a ‘lightweight’ one and applies to about 1 percent of search queries now…”
  • In major shift, Google boosts search rankings of HTTPS-protected sites (Ars Technica | Dan Goodin)  “TLS also provides a means for cryptographically validating that a server claiming to belong to Google, Bank of America, or any other website is authentic, rather than an impostor set up to trick users. Over the past few years, American Civil Liberties Union Principal Technologist Chris Soghoian has used a carrot-and-stick approach to persuade more sites to HTTPS-protect their pages. He sometimes publicly chastises companies that transmit sensitive information over unencrypted connections.”
  • Google boosts secure sites in search results (Electronic Frontier Foundation | Bill Budington)  “This week’s announcement further underlines a commitment to encrypting Internet traffic and keeping user data safe, and encouraging others to do so. We urge Google to go further and carry out its plan to strengthen the preference of HTTPS sites, as well as favoring sites that have configured HTTPS well…”
  • Google to reward sites with HTTPS security in search rankings (Forbes | Larry Magid)  “This is one more example of the power of Google’s ranking system. While Google doesn’t control content on the web, its search is by far the most effective way for content to be found so anything a webmaster can do to increase a Google ranking equates to more visitors and, in many cases, more revenue.”

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OPLIN 4cast #397: BadUSB

August 6th, 2014

USB driveAs if you needed something else to worry about, there seems to be a strong possibility that USB devices can be used in new and nasty ways to damage computers, such as the public computers in libraries. Security researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell are giving a briefing tomorrow about “BadUSB—on accessories that turn evil” at the Black Hat convention in Las Vegas. Their presentation has already received a lot of attention because they have found a way to reprogram the controller chip in a USB thumb drive so it acts like a different USB device, perhaps a keyboard or network card. And there doesn’t seem to be any easy way (yet) to protect your computers.

  • Why the security of USB is fundamentally broken (Wired | Andy Greenberg)  “The malware they created, called BadUSB, can be installed on a USB device to completely take over a PC, invisibly alter files installed from the memory stick, or even redirect the user’s internet traffic. Because BadUSB resides not in the flash memory storage of USB devices, but in the firmware that controls their basic functions, the attack code can remain hidden long after the contents of the device’s memory would appear to the average user to be deleted.”
  • Researchers warn about ‘BadUSB’ exploit (PC Mag | David Murphy)  “A device could, for example, emulate a USB-connected keyboard and automatically send over all sorts of keystrokes that, when combined, could lead to issues—installing malware, wiping key files off a drive, copying files over to the USB device, etc. And that’s just the first example. SRLabs notes that a USB-connected device could also pretend that it’s a network card and redirect the traffic to and from a system through a rogue DNS server. Or, better yet, it could infect that system with a boot-sector virus that could be a bit tougher to detect and remove than your average infection.”
  • BadUSB: Big, bad USB security problems ahead (ZDNet | Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)  “The hackers claim that ‘Simply reinstalling the operating system – the standard response to otherwise ineradicable malware – does not address BadUSB infections at their root. The USB thumb drive, from which the operating system is reinstalled, may already be infected, as may the hardwired webcam or other USB components inside the computer. A BadUSB device may even have replaced the computer’s BIOS – again by emulating a keyboard and unlocking a hidden file on the USB thumb drive.’ In short, ‘Once infected, computers and their USB peripherals can never be trusted again.’”
  • Don’t panic over the latest USB flaw (Tom’s Guide | Marshall Honorof)  “BadUSB is a proof-of-concept attack, designed by security researchers. They’re not going to release it into the wild[…] Furthermore, demonstrating something like BadUSB at a conference like Black Hat is basically an open invitation for the security community to fix this vulnerability before it becomes widespread.”

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OPLIN 4cast #396: Global communication

July 30th, 2014

Google Translate iconYou have to give Google credit for thinking big. Some recent developments seem to indicate that they believe it’s time for Google Translate, which has been slowly getting better, to truly make an impact on the global language barriers to communication. Translate can currently handle 80 languages, and if it’s not yet accurate enough for the medical community, it seems to be good enough for government websites trying to engage the 10% of Americans with limited English proficiency. So what is the best way to accelerate improvement of Google Translate? Google’s answer: They have empowered Translate users to do the job.

  • Translate Community: Help us improve Google Translate! (Google Translate blog | Sveta Kelman)  “We’ve just launched a new Translate Community where language enthusiasts can help us improve translation quality for the 80 languages we support, as well as help us in launching new languages. In the new community, you’ll find options to help with a variety of things, including generating new translations and rating existing ones. Over time, you’ll find more ways to contribute, as well as get more visibility into the impact of your contributions and the activity across the community.”
  • Google wants to improve its translations through crowdsourcing (TechCrunch | Frederic Lardinois)  “For those who don’t want to join the community, Google also recently launched a new feature directly in Google Translate that allows you to contribute your own translation when you see a mistake. Google Translate always allowed you to rate translations as helpful, not helpful and offensive, but now you can actually provide the service with the actual correction.”
  • Google Translate gets Translate Community to improve translation quality (TechOne3 | Jagmeet Singh)  “Apart from making an authorised community, Google has recently added the ability to suggest an entirely new translation directly in Google Translate. To submit translations, users have to click the ‘Improve this translation’ pencil icon and click ‘Contribute’ to submit.”
  • Five things to consider before using Google Translate for Bengali translation (Smartling blog | Rehana Parvin)  “Every time Google Translate isn’t able to translate a word into Bengali, you can add the word in manually, save the change, and use it the next time. Taking the same example from above, the word, ‘বইয়ের’ is incorrect. The correct word would be ‘বইটি’. If you click on the word ‘বইয়ের,’ you’ll be able to click and choose the correct replacement.”

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