Thursday Threads: Estimating and Understanding Big Data, Key Loggers Steal Patron Keystrokes

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Two entries on big data lead this week’s edition of DLTJ Thursday Threads. The first is at the grandest scale possible: a calculation of the amount of information in the world. Add up all the digital memory (in cell phones, computers, and other devices) and analog media (for instance, paper) and it goes to a very big number. The authors try to put it in perspective, which for me brought home how insignificant my line of work can be. (All of our information is still less than 1% of what is encoded in the human DNA?) The second “big data” entry describes an effort to make sense of huge amounts of data in the National Archives through the use of visualization tools. Rounding out this week is a warning to those who run public computers — be on the look-out for key loggers that can be used to steal information from users.

Information Explorers versus Editors

A post by Bill Harris at “Dubious Quality” with the title Information got caught up in my Technorati filter for disruptive change in libraries. Geoff Engelstein, a colleague of Bill’s mentioned this in an e-mail:

We were a generation of information explorers. They [Geoff’s thirteen– and eleven-year-olds] are a generation of editors.

The context is a reflection on Bill’s part of the trials and feelings of success when conducting research: “you’d have to pull out a rack in the card catalog according to the alphabetized subject and flip through the cards. If you got lucky, the title of a book or a brief description would point you in the right direction. Then you had to actually find the book, skim through it, and hope that you’d find some information.” Bill even includes a link to a bibliographic instruction page showing how an actual card catalog works.

What Librarians Could Learn From Journalists

On Tuesday, the Poynter Institute (a school for journalists, future journalists, and teachers of journalists) released results of their EyeTrack07 study — an examination of reader behavior in the print and online mediums. An article on their website goes into more detail about the initial data but what caught my eye as of interest to the library community is the headline (“The Myth of Short Attention Spans”) and this conclusion “The reading-deep phenomenon [thoroughly reading a selected story] is even stronger online than in print.” Their website site has a video which explains the process and some of the initial results.