Internship, part 4

The NOPL 23 Things:

My main, ongoing project

The original 23 Things was created by Helene Blowers to instruct staff in Web 2.0 technologies; it has proven very popular, and has since been adopted by hundreds of organizations in several countries.

23 Things logo I created

This was the project I took on this summer at Northern Onondaga Public Library. Kate wanted to get the ball rolling on it as soon as possible: after all, when normal staff is already busy, you don’t want to waste the opportunities afforded by intern power. 🙂 My initial assignment was simply to research possible topics to cover and any associated issues (e.g., free or pay services, basic info, etc). This outline was presented to the committee responsible for organizing Staff Development Day, during which the 23 Things would be officially announced.

Beyond a couple particular topics Kate wanted to be sure were included, such as Overdrive, the library eBook service (not strictly Web 2.0 but useful for staff to be familiar with), I was given free reign to determine the vehicle of the lessons (I chose the fairly typical blog, and WordPress over Blogger for almost everything), the context and exercises, the readings, and the schedule (which did need to be approved).

I opted to make each “Thing” an exercise for a topic rather than a whole topic itself, though I’ve seen it done either way. This was primarily for simplicity’s sake. All major topics and sites of Web 2.0 were covered, and judging from the slow progress of the participants, I’m certain that it was a good call to not require even more exercises per topic.

Participants were instructed first to come to the 23 Things blog for sign-up instructions, which boil down to: 1) create a blog, and 2) fill out this form. (I previously discussed some of the difficulties with even this.) For each completed thing, participants are supposed to create a blog entry about their experience with and opinion of those things in order to get credit. Those who have completed all 23 Things (and have the blog posts to prove it) will be eligible to win their choice of a Flip camera or Sony eReader at the end of the official program in mid-October. Ultimately, I believe we got most of the full-time employees and many of the part-timers to sign up, for a greater than 50% overall sign-up rate. Follow-through, on the other hand…there are to this day blogs that never got a first or second post.

Side note: I’m kind of worried that when it’s time to pick a winner, no one will be eligible. 4.5 months were allowed for what I would consider to be pretty simple activities. I understand that people are busy at work and then have other obligations at home, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect 30 minutes one day to at least skim the “lesson” and do the task and create a short blog post on it. I’m not sure whether its a testament to the participants’ other duties’ pervasiveness, or my failure to inspire an interest in the relevance of this subject, or both, or what, that’s to blame.

I drew inspiration from a number of other 23 Things sites (sites and videos to use as references, possible topics to cover), but all content is original. This is partially to my discomfort with wholesale “borrowing” of other work, even when permissible through the Creative Commons license, and partially due to the fact that at this point, let’s face it: Web 2.0 has been around a while. Many of those older projects referenced sites or topics that no longer existed or seemed relevant, or at least weren’t as relevant as other, newer developments in social media.

I tried to strike the (very challenging) balance between catering to the completely inexperienced while trying to come up with enough new or interesting things to maintain the attention of the more experienced users. (Interestingly, the earliest sign-ups seemed to be from the people least in need of Web 2.0 lessons!) I also devised “the 24th Thing” to take care of this problem: for any lesson that was old hat, participants could instead explore something new to them, or at least come up with some new twist on the given topic (for instance, one person explained Yahoo! Pipes in her post on RSS feeds). Alternately, if they were pressed for time or just incurious, they could simply write about their past experience using XYZ– the purpose of this project was not expertise or drudgery, but rather simply ensuring everyone had the exposure they wanted. I tried wherever possible to address multiple services (e.g., Microblogging = not just Twitter but also Plurk or Tumblr) so as to limit anyone to the Internet’s equivalent of big box chain stores, and to address issues like the Creative Commons and fair use and privacy.

Once the program got rolling, part of my week was divided between the three branches in the immediate NOPL system to help anyone who needed extra guidance. I certainly did help people through, there’s no arguing that, but in doing so circumvented all that hard work I put into writing entries for the blog…after all, there’s no need to read if I can give you a 2 minute summary and instructions. On the other hand, I suppose that means I really only needed 2 minutes worth of text: again, a problem in part due to the wide variation in experience and interest levels of my audience.

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