Friday, May 29, 2009

Google Wave: possibilities for librarians

Thanks to Ben for alerting me to Google Wave -
Google Wave Preview

It led me to the Google Wave developer preview presentation at the Day 2 Keynote of Google I/O (it's 1 hr 20mins long).


"What might email be like if it was invented today?" (5min 30sec).
Google Wave is Google's response to that question.

At first I didn't get what Google Wave was about. How would it be different from email? Or current wikis, photo and video sharing platforms?

What's the difference between this model of communication...
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[screenshot at 6min 10sec]

... and this one?
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[screenshot at 6min 30sec]

About 15 mins into the video, I began to glimpse of possibilities. From an end-user view point. Particularly as a librarian/ information professional.

As a librarian, the Google Wave demo shows how it could transform the way we provide Enquiry and Advisory services. Or how we research, collaborate and publish documents.

I began to understand how email conversations could be expanded into a collaborative documents (this much was mentioned by the presenter). Because Google is making this open-source and encouraging developers to build apps, future collaboration could take place across different platforms.

Based on my watching the video, the implications seem to be that:
  • Libraries don't have to force users to learn how to use our systems just to collaborate with them.
  • It was clear from the demo that the Google Wave technology will speed up communications.
  • There are also hints that we may need to learn new ways of collaboration. And also to be able to shift our mental models.

The collaborative feature was immediately apparent. From this initial message...
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[8min 30sec]

... more users can be included by dragging their profiles/ avatars to the conversation:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

There can be discussions within the larger email. Visually, it's much clearer what the side-discussions are about:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[10min 12sec]

Things began to look really interesting when they showed the character-by-character "live" transmission of instant messages!
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[10min 45sec]

Although I'm not a developer, I could appreciate the complexities that had to be overcome for instantaneous character-by-character transmission.

Current IM systems tell you the other party is typing a message. You don't see the full message until the user hits "send". The Google Wave developers felt that half of the time in IM is wasted just waiting for messages to be completed. Hence, the character-by-character transmission. Which can be disabled.

Google Wave allows more participants to be added to the conversation. The Playback feature allows new participants to play, from the very start, how the conversation has developed up to that point.
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[13min 10sec]
It's like an automated "See History" of edits and conversations. One could view the original and subsequent messages as if you were already clued into the conversation in the first place. Much more efficient than searching for text archives (which may not be available to new participants in an email setting.

21 min 24sec: Integration of Google Wave conversations to blogs:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[29min 20sec]

At the 35min mark, the demo on "Live" concurrent editing (up to five people during the demo). What's impressive is that the edits could be seen instantaneously, character-by-character.
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

One can create links to other Wave conversations. I's a really clean and visual way to organise/ archive conversations and provide context:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I_O 2009
[40min 50sec]

45min - a spell-checker that takes the context into consideration when recommending words (aka "bean soup demo").
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

Impressive spell checker functionality. It was able to recommend words based on context (e.g. Bean Soup Vs Been so long). Would be a boon for people with disabilities trying to articulate thoughts on email.

47min: adding images and URL links. Would be a boon to formulating responses to enquiries.

48min - demo of the APIs etc.

Another extension/ gadget was something that allowed collaboration on maps:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
[53min 45sec]

55min: an extension that creates forms. e.g. surveys, polls
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I_O 2009-2

57min: integration with platforms like Twitter; "Twave" = a wave of tweets:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

1hr mark: Demo of a code bug filing extension. The extension allowed a more flexible and efficient way for tracking code issues. You can file parts of the documents and/ or assign to collaborators (imagine if this was how enquiries are fulfilled):
Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I_O 2009

Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I_O 2009 - "Buggy" extension

1hr 06mins: Presenter Lars said any organisation can build their own Wave system, even in competition with Google, and the protocol will allow Waves to be shared.

Accounts on different wave systems can work together (one possibility is that librarians can invite, or be invitees, to collaborative enquiries/ projects).
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

1hr 05min: Presenter Stephanie explains how private messages remains on private servers; Google won't have access to it.

1hr 12min: Translation robot.
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009
Collaboration with people who don't necessarily speak the first language. Yet another possibility for information services.

Speed and efficiency: that's what I gather from this Google Wave model of conversation and collaboration. It's a recurrent theme throughout the demo.

On the downside, speed and efficiency may also mean more noise and possibly more wastage. Just because you can do a lot of things doesn't mean you're efficient.

For some people, they will find that time will even be more compressed time. Not everyone might be able to adopt the same speed of processing information and collaboration.

Before the Google Wave hits, I think librarians have to anticipate and develop new service protocols.

For example, we will need to shift from the current default of one-librarian per enquiry to a model involving many librarians per enquiry. A true team effort when responding to enquiries. Librarians can handle enquiries like how a team of surgeons/ medical staff operate on a patient.

Someone to input a response, someone to verify information, one to edit, one to phrase, one to check for grammar. one to look for images, another for videos, or electronic databases.

Not all enquiries need to be handled that way. It's just like how some patients can be handled by one doctor while some cases require many specialists.

"Using modern tools... changes your thinking" (39min) - Lars

Google Wave and a proliferation of 3rd party gadgets may mean a lot more discovery and experimentation. We'd have to be able to unlearn and adapt quickly.

49 min: Presenter said it took a while for them to discover how to use the tool and work in different ways. Like how they first replied to a RSVP list with sequential messages. Then someone suggested editing the initial message like a Wiki to indicate who's going and who's not.
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

Later, one team member developed a code to make indicating RSVP list more efficient:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

Efficiency is well and fine, but speed can be a distraction. Users need to take a breather, look at what's been edited before sending.

43min - Lars said they found that the speed was also a distraction. It drew people to unfinished work. So they are trying to find a balance.

I've also a nagging feeling that the more powerful and efficient the feature, the more reliant we become on them. Which may not be a good thing.

Take for instance the automated dictionaries and spelling checks. Chances are we won't make ourselves learn how to spell properly (why should we, when the automated feature is more dependable?).

Would we find our ability diminished when these tools aren't available?

I consider myself a non-digital native. Perhaps it's not an exaggeration to say the Google Wave demo is a sign of a coming digital tsunami.

We can surf the wave or go under.

Seems to me if librarians want to be ready for the coming wave, we need to develop new skills for processing information and conversations at a faster rate. Because that seems to be the trend.

The other implication is that digital preservation will be even more critical. Imagine all the collaborative efforts gone when the server crashes. Or power fails.

From the Google Wave About page:
Google Wave is a new model for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year.

What is a wave?
A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

Email. Instant messaging. Share photos and links. Integrate blogging sites, discussion groups. Incorporate wikis. Being open-sourced, developers can build their own apps.

Now I understand better the difference between these two models shown in the demo:
YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009 YouTube - Google Wave Developer Preview at Google I/O 2009

Perhaps a simple way to understand Google Wave is this: it's built upon the privacy of current email systems and allows it to become more inclusive and collaborative, and more efficient.

Pretty exciting stuff.

Aside: When I viewed the Youtube video this morning, it had about 340 views. When I caught the rest of the video in the evening about 10 hours later, it had jumped to more than 65,000 views.

Friday, May 22, 2009

READ! Singapore 2009

It's back!

The annual reading initiative was launched by the NLB on Friday morning, 22 May 09, at the Conrad Hotel (the hotel is one of the main sponsors):
READ! Singapore 2009 launch

From the NLB press release, 22 May 09
Exciting New Initiatives To Reach Out To Families And Youths Through READ! Singapore 2009
Release Date : 22 May 2009
  • The iconic event returns with a series of new activities and book discussions to enhance the reading experience of Singaporeans
  • Highlights include the inaugural “Youth Writers Awards Asia 2010” and 144-hour Reading Marathon

SINGAPORE, 22 May 2009 – The National Library Board (NLB) today officially launched READ! Singapore 2009, the iconic nationwide reading initiative that aims to promote a culture of reading fiction among Singaporeans. In its fifth year, READ! Singapore is aptly themed “Dreams and Choices” to encourage Singaporeans to stay focused on their goals during these challenging times.

In line with the theme, the READ! Singapore Steering Committee has selected eight novels and eight short stories in the four official languages, written by well-known local and international authors. The selected novels and short stories explore the choices made by the characters in their journey to fulfil their dreams. Each of the short stories is translated into the other three languages and compiled into four anthologies to encourage Singaporeans to read across cultures and communities.

From 22 May to 31 August this year, Singaporeans can look forward to a host of exciting reading activities at various locations islandwide. For the first time, READ! Singapore will hold a Singapore record-setting event with a 144-hour Reading Marathon. Participants will form teams of not more than 12 members to read the selected READ! Singapore literary works or other stories of their choice for a continuous period of six hours per team. After completing six hours, each team will pass the baton to the next team to continue the reading marathon. The event will run from 3 to 9 July at The Plaza, National Library Building.

Additionally, READ! Singapore is reaching out to youths in the region with the inaugural “Youth Writers Awards Asia 2010”. Organised in partnership with Reader's Digest, this short story writing competition is held in celebration of Singapore hosting the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Youths aged 13 to 17 years can participate by submitting short stories on the theme, “Dare to Dream: Stories of Imagination, Passion and Sporting Excellence”. Winning entries will be selected and published in a book to be distributed to athletes during the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore next year as part of the national effort to promote sporting excellence.

“Through READ! Singapore, we hope to reach out to not only Singaporeans, and also youths in the region to build bonds through a shared love for reading. READ! Singapore can be a platform to inspire all Singaporeans to reflect on their priorities in life, explore new horizons and work towards their dreams,” said Ms Ngian Lek Choh, Deputy Chief Executive, NLB.

The selected short stories have also been produced into audio books for Singaporeans who are not able to experience the joy of reading a book due to age, illiteracy or handicap, to participate in the READ! Singapore book discussions. The audio books feature forewords by RAdm (NS) Lui Tuck Yew, Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, in English; Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Manpower, in Chinese; Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, in Malay; and Mr S Iswaran, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, and Education, in Tamil. The short stories are narrated by popular media personalities from local radio stations including 938LIVE, Capital 95.8FM, Warna 94.2FM and Oli 96.8FM.

3,000 copies of audio books in the four languages will be distributed to voluntary welfare organisations such as the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped and Sunshine Welfare Action Mission Home.

For more information on READ! Singapore 2009, please visit:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Aardvark (or "Is Social Search the future for the library information/ reference service?")

Fellow colleague and liblogarian, Aaron Tan, blogged about this new social search service called Aardvark (

A few weeks ago, Aaron emailed me an invite. I took it up but only after he followed up by speaking to me face to face (I've a point to make about this, at the end of the post).

Aardvark works like this: You send a question and it finds someone who can answer. Or it will send you questions that you've told Aardvark you'd like to try answering.

The service isn't an Expert System. It doesn't answer your question but would try to find another member in its network who might be able to.

Signing up was a breeze. The set-up was systematic and intuitive.

A 20-second demo was enough to get one started (to the librarians out there, this is not to say 20 seconds was enough to educate potential librarians on the art of questioning and the Reference Interview... I wish it were that easy too!)
Aardvark - Getting started

Basically, I specify the type of questions/ topics I'm most comfortable answering.
Aardvark - Settings for "Answering"

Then I tell Aardvark whether I'd like to talk to Aardvark via email or chat, or both (by "talk", it means how I wish Aardvark to send questions for me to answer, and how I'd like to send my own questions to Aardvark).
Aardvark - IM & Email settings

At the Aardvark dashboard, I can access the questions I've asked and also those I've answered. So far, my questions have not been answered. I've a choice whether to resubmit
Aardvark - Q&A history
It's unclear to me how continuous and proactive is Aardvark in attempting to match my questions with people who might be able to answer. Or how questions are queued and given priority.

Seems that there's a certain time frame that Aardvark will attempt the match, after which my question would be put on my History page. I have the option of resubmitting. In that sense, I guess my question is considered "closed". Aardvark might want to provide a "Remove my question" option there.

When I log in to my Gmail account, I can see Aardvark as one of my contact.
Gmail chat - Aardvark

To interact with Aardvark, I send a text command, like IRC (do people still do IRC now?)
Gmail chat interaction with Aardvark

This is one example of how questions are sent my way (in this case, I'd "pass"):
Aardvark - Q&A

Here's what happens when I send a question to Aardvark. I asked, "Why is the sky blue?"
Ask Aardvark
I was impressed that Aardvark prompted me for more details to my question. I can see how that would help the person who might potentially answer my question.

In this case, I didn't elaborate. Aardvark acknowledges my input and assigns it a subject (it must have drawn from its thesaurus or something).
ask aardvark

A few minutes later, I received a response from someone whose profile indicated that he was in Sweden. His reply was, "Because it looks a lot better than yellow". Heh.
answer from Aardvark user

And very shortly after that, I received a better reply (this time I chose to look at the reply via the Vark dashboard):
Aardvark answer

From my dashboard, I can also rate the quality/ appropriateness of the reply. Or flag inappropriate responses. Aardvark also allows me to look at the profile (as much details as they choose to reveal) of those who've answered my question.
Aardvark answers

Many aspects of Aardvark impresses me.

It's intuitive and simple to use. Usability and system functionality are excellent -- the ease of setup, how quickly I was able to familiarise myself with the dashboard, how I'm able to track the questions I've asked and also the answers I've received, the level of interactivity between the system and myself (and indirectly with other users).

It's clearly very accessible (the service is just an email and chat away).

Aardvark's developers have clearly considered the user experience. I've no doubt I'm interacting with a machine. Vark doesn't pretend to be more than what it's not. Still, I'm feel I'm treated as an individual and that my question is important. There's an approriate amount of feedback and responses are timely.
aardvark - feedback to customer

What is less certain is the quality of answers. Case in point: the responses to my "why is the sky blue" question.

The first response was clearly a joke. The second response was much better but what it lacked was the citation (this is my librarian training kicking in -- we're taught to always provide the source, so that users can also verify the information themselves).

It's easy to adopt the system feature of Aardvark, but I'd suggest what is impressive about aardvark isn't its system features but its idea of utilising social network to fulfil an information need.

More important, Aardvark respresents a paradigm shift in where we librarians see ourselves in the user's information search process.

Librarians often treat a question as "completed" when we have sent off the reply. We see ourselves as the final stop in the user's information search. But looking at Aardvark, it is clear that one individual's reply is but one facet of the many responses the information seeker could potentially receive.

Which means, librarians have to see ourselves as merely participants in the users' information search and NOT a "one-stop" or "only-stop".

To put it bluntly, it's time to step down from the professional pedestal.

Aardvark forces us librarians to see that the user ultimately assesses the answer based on its relevance and not primarly WHO provides the answer.

I've heard fellow colleagues tout that the information services provided by librarians are superior because of our training and expertise. I'd humbly suggest those aren't selling points that users can relate to. To put it bluntly, users don't care about your credentials as much as the answers they can get immediately and whether they find the information relevant.

My snappy answer is 'No'.

At one level, this is an excellent wake-up call for librarians. An impetus to reassess the way we deliver reference and reader-advisory services. We librarians can see Aardvark as a competitor and we'd better react to it.

When I say "competitor", I mean a friendly one. There's no need to treat Aardvark as an adversary. I'd take it as a benchmark and a model to re-think our service.

Two, I see a service like Aardvark as something that would raise the overall awareness of Information and Reference Services among the library potential customers. For example, a person might not have used the library or any information service before Aardvark. If librarians time it right and leverage on heightened awareness, it serves as a way to promote our service.

Three, librarians should see Aardvark as a space where we become community members and participants. If we establish our credentials, as those who consistently provide answers which other community member rate highly, then I'm confident people might turn to us directly.

Aardvark might be a chance for librarians to reinforce our Brand. E.g. we'd never give a frivilous answer to "why the sky is blue".

Four, librarians (who have the competencies and passion) would automatically have an advantage over most users in terms of professional standards. I don't mean librarians neccessarily "provide better information". What I mean is the way librarians (in general) are trained to provide citations, verify and triangulate sources etc.

In Aaron's post, he wrote: "Like it or not, librarians are not the first people [others] think about whenever [they] need to know something".

I feel we have to accept that as a permanent reality.

To any librarian who does not believe and accept that reality, I'll ask them this: When you have a question on what to eat for lunch or where to visit during your vacation, do you ask a friend or a stranger?

I'll go back to my earlier point, about how I tried out Aardvark only after Aaron spoke to me face to face. I'd left his email invite sitting in my email in-box for days. It was only after he explained how it works and said "You have to try it" that I decided to do so.

I'm not suggesting librarians try to be friends with everyone. We can't.

What I'm saying is that the way to go is for librarians to be part of people's social networks. Granted, critics will say this isn't scalable but I'd argue we're not giving up the in-library service.

It's about extending our reach.

Having one finger out there -- being a friend to one person in the community -- is better than none at all.

[Update 16 May 09: If you wish to try out Aardvark, leave a comment with your email or email me, indicating three topics you see yourself answering. I'll send you an invite. As of this post, Aardvark is 'by invite' only].

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Great storytelling doesn't require fancy animation, video or soundtrack.

Enuff said.

[For a larger view of the video, click here]

The creator of the video was inspired by this one.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thoughts from the New Media Seminar 2009 (for the Singapore civil service)

Yesterday I attended the New Media Seminar organised by the Civil Service College. I was there to speak, as a representative of my employer the NLB, to share learning points from NLB's new media initiatives.

[Photo courtesy of @victortan]

(BTW you won't see NLB listed, as we were left out of the programme list for some reason).
Civil Service College - New Media Seminar 2009
Link | Sharedcopy

Before I began my presentation, I said "If I exceed my 30mins, feel free to tell me to Shut Up And Sit Down". I think only half the room got the joke. Ah well...

I got to listen to the other speakers and presentation while I waited for my turn to speak.

During the presentation by REACH, on Why and How they use new media for e-engagement, I thought: What does Engagement mean? And how would REACH define it?

So I tweeted this to their twitter account:
"@REACH_Singapore - nice overview of ur new media efforts @ MICA new media seminar. Question: how do u define Engagement? Thks!"
Twitter / Ivan Chew: @REACH_Singapore

They responded today. It was a lengthy response, as far as Tweets go. Four separate tweets (the URLs are listed here):
REACH_Singapore on Twitter

I was quite sure they'd respond to my tweet, for they'd responded to this earlier tweet from me some time ago. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply this time round.

Maybe I needed to be convinced that it wasn't a fluke the first time, LOL.

My session TWEETS
Here are some of my tweets during the session (thanks to the free Wireless@SG). I've left out some of the tweet-responses and re-tweets by twitters who were following me (it was pretty cool to see that sort of "indirect active participation" by the non-participants!).

Oh, at that time I didn't think I'd need a hash-tag but I now realise for easy of reference, I should use one next time:
  • listening to REACH presentation. Why and how they use new media. I've a question: "what does Engagement mean?" [link]
  • think aloud: if engagement means dialogue, REACH has done well. Wrt citizens' views shaping govt policies, I think REACH has done that too. [link]
  • think aloud: the challenge wrt "engagement" is about expectations. Esp. by person giving feedback. Receiving feedback is also an artform [link]
  • listening to kew soon from MICA. he points out blogs appeared in 1999 and are still around 10 yrs later, and growing. [link]
  • good presentation by MICA new media unit officer, on overview of FB. I feel MICA could do a public talk @ public libraries on FB! [link]
  • MICA officer giving talk on "deconstructing wikipedia". could mention RSS updates but good overview. Again, should do public talk! [link]
  • Think aloud: govt agencies should keep track of wikipedia entry of public info. ensure public info is factual and consistent. [link]
  • Learned something new. Starhub is on Twitter: @starhubcares [link]
  • presenter says he didn't need to be @ AWARE EGM to know what's going on. He read Tweets. I'd caution info needs to be triangulated. [link]
  • listening 2 talk on new media use @ 2008 US presidential elections. Think aloud: new media helps get word out but ur word gotta make sense [link]
  • thinking aloud: to me, new media engagement by public service = 80% Listening +20% Responding. [link]
  • think aloud: in a crisis, silence (from the authorities) is definitely not golden. New media will amplify trust or distrust. [link]
  • mentioned in sichuan quake case study - ( [link]
  • think aloud: in a crisis, empowerment of potential citizen reporters is better strategy than trying to manage noise & misinformation [link]
  • contrast of PRC gov & Obama's reaction to online criticisms. Former arrested ppl; latter countered w better information [link]
  • @motorman says: a key diff for SYOG is the equal emphasis on sports and culture. Not merely win or lose but cultural diplomacy. I like that! [link]
  • video @ has teen saying "the site is confusing... I like it" LOL [link]
  • Julian aka @motorman mentions partnership with NLB ask! Service at site. [link]
  • SYOG features educational vids like how doping tests are carried out. Wonder if it's on youtube? [link]
  • SYOG vid: "are you prepared for ur doping test?"; "yes. Urine". LOL [link]
  • Listening to NDP organisers on their thoughts on how to apply new media to NDP [link]
  • NDP ex-co sees new media for content that can't go on to MSM. E.g. What soldiers feel about National Day (no voice to be left out) [link]
  • BG Tan asks if getting controversial blogger would legitimize him/ her. I feel reverse also true: Blogger will help legitimize NDP w reader! [link]
  • this is new to me [link]
  • the earlier HPB site earned me dirty looks. The site loaded on my mobile. Started playing music. Ppl think my phone went off. Darn [link]
  • HPB doesn't stop at websites. They conduct surveys as well. They'd like their users "to be a source of their information" [link]
  • weng keong says SPF approach to new media is "open and pragmatic". Aware they have to mitigate risks of using new media [link]
  • fact: 4 in 10 arrests are public-assisted. SPF sees new media as a natural extension of community partnership [link]
  • SPF youtube channel partly a response to provide authenticated SPF videos [link]
  • SPF provides a sms service for Deaf/ speech impaired persons to contact the police. Wow, I didn't know that [link]
  • SPF allows comments for their new media platforms. Says to not do so is to run counter to web 2.0 spirit [link]
  • think aloud: SPF going into new media (w/o controversy) says a lot about the level of trust citizens have in SPF [link]
  • SPF FB page has fans from outside SG. proves that internet is a global audience, not just local [link]
  • best quote frm MICA new media seminar. SPF said "we experiment w NM in peace time so that we learn how to use it effectively in a crisis" [link]


At the end of the one-day seminar, I felt upbeat about the Singapore Civil Service efforts to embrace new media.

In truth, I was skeptical about the seminar when I learned about it. I thought it would be yet another surface-level attempt at show-and-tell and nothing more.

But from the speeches by the Head Civil Service and the Permanent Secretary, and hearing first-hand the thinking behind the other agencies' new media efforts, I walked away convinced that the Singapore Civil Service is serious about using New Media for e-engagement.

It's not a "let's join the bandwagon" mentality, for sure. It's also not lip service either.

Lest the pessimists think this amounts to some nefarious attempt by the civil service to control new media space, I can only say that I didn't sense that.

During the final panel session, there was a discussion about e-engagement policies. I won't report what was said exactly (I'd like to approach this cautiously, heh).

But I'll share my personal view wrt the civil service and e-engagement (see item 22, here): the civil service's willingness to adapt, and harmoniously evolve, is a lot more optimistic that what might be generally perceived.

I'm convinced the Singapore Civil Service in general, is beginning to get New Media.

To quote one senior civil servant, "this (seminar) is not the end but the start of a conversation".

Friday, May 01, 2009

Personal rules for managing 'noise' during crisis situations

NOTICE: This commentary mentions the H1N1 outbreak but it is not an update of the crisis per se. You should treat this post as potential 'noise' by default.

First, let me say there's a Charity Fun Day 2009 organised by the Assisi Hospice. It's tomorrow, 2 May 2009. Some precautions have been taken because of the H1N1 outbreak (e.g. advisory to stall participants on who should stay home; and agreement to be subjected to temperature-taking). See also, Otterman's post here.
Assisi Charity Fun Day 2009
Link | sharedcopy

I was reflecting on recent developments about the Swine Flu, now officially called influenza A(H1N1) by the World Health Organisation.
WHO | World Health Organization

My friend Walter wrote in his blog that "a major global crisis like Swine Flu appear to be more talked about and discussed in mainstream rather than social media." He contrasted it with the much noiser and emotional discussions about these two Dominoes Pizza workers who were charged with food tampering.

Then another friend, Kevin, shared this Wired Magazine article by Clive Thompson, on How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge.
After years of celebrating the information revolution, we need to focus on the countervailing force: The disinformation revolution.

In relating Clive Thompson's article to the H1N1 crisis, I don't think people who blog about the crisis (or Tweet or post in Facebook) are deliberately trying to create any disinformation. Of course, some might unwittingly do so if they phrase their opinions to sound like facts.

I suspect some people may frown upon others posting/ blogging/ tweeting updates and comments on the developing crisis situation. The concern being that more noise would lead to panic.

But fact is that people will talk.

They need to.

If it's not blogs or Twitter or Facebook, it'll be at coffee shops, cafes, classrooms, office lounges, in the trains and on buses.

I don't claim to be the authority on this. This is just a sharing of what I subconsciously practice with regards to dealing with information about the current H1N1 outbreak.
  1. Know the source of the information (i.e. are they official or unofficial)
  2. Check with official sources
  3. Make up my own mind. Trust myself

I'd prioritise my sources of information in this order:
  • Official Local sources - (Ministry of health, for health-specific information) and (Singapore Government Crisis Website, for general crisis updates and local instructions)
  • Official International sources -
  • My employer
  • Unofficial sources (Friends, Blogs etc.)

For health and crisis-reaction information, my preference is on local information before international. Obviously, local updates impact me in a more immediate manner.

My employer would also be an important source of information. Their rules and policies would dictate how employees have to act during times of crisis. In my case, it also dictates how we serve and what we communicate to the public during the affected period.

However, I'd still verify any health-related instructions, issued from my employer or internal committees, with first-hand official sources (i.e. Ministry of Health and the Singapore Government Crisis website). This isn't about not trusting my employer or colleagues. It's about not taking information for granted when it comes to public safety and interest.

Unofficial sources like blogs and word-of-mouth updates from friends are equally important. For the H1N1 situation, I'm often first alerted to official updates from Tweets Twitter and postings in email lists. Simply because I spend more time on those social networking sites (I don't know of anyone who'd stare at official sites minute-by-minute). The important thing is to verify these unofficial sources with offical ones.

As I mentioned earlier, most people would not deliberately create disinformation. If anyone feels that bloggers and Twitters are sources of confusion, I'd say they are missing the point.

What could be done is to encourage people to cite their information source. Mention where they obtained the information or provide a link. Let their readers/ listeners verify the information.

Public libraries and librarians could take a lead in this (you knew this line was coming, right? LOL)

Take Precautions. Stay informed. Stay alert. Life Goes On.

Rather than being worried about what is uncontrollable (the crisis itself, or information noise), the productive way might be to learn how to filter out the noise during times of crisis. Form our own independent and informed decisions.

Tomorrow I've volunteered to help my band buddy at the Assisi Hospice Charity Fun Day. Last year was my first experience with the event (Adrian blogged about it here; see also Siva's post). I was glad I was able to put whatever limited skills I had to good use. : )

I'm sure the H1N1 outbreak will mean fewer people turning up. That's reality. Besides, anyone with flu or fever, or not feeling well in general, should stay home and rest.

Depending on whether the H1N1 crisis escalates or not, there's a chance the event might be called off.

Until then, we'll plan as if things will go on. And be prepared if it doesn't.

[Update: This post from Siva is also worth reading. He reinforces the need to be a reliable source of information, and shares how he practices it].