The Database Game

The word “database” is a scary one. For any person who is not tech oriented, it can quickly spike blood pressure and give the weak the urge to wet themselves. I have flashbacks to my freshman year of undergrad, trying to build a project on Microsoft Access, failing miserably and still managing to pass the class with a C. Phew!

The truth is, however, that we use databases every single day. We just don’t realize it. Databases are digital organizations of information and provide an easy way to weed out and retrieve information when it is requested. It doesn’t sound complicated because it really isn’t. Here’s an example.

An old-fashioned office Rolodex would hold contact information in alphabetical order (if the Rolodex’s owner organized it correctly). When a specific number or contact was needed, the searcher would flip the Rolodex to the correct letter of the alphabet, choose the correct information they sought, and be on their way. Therefore, an old-fashioned Rolodex is a hands-on version of a simple database. We don’t tend to see this anymore because this particular database has been replaced by the simple tech version known as the contact list on your cell phone.

Now algorithms and whatnot may be more complicated than my example above, but below are some of the databases you may come across and use every single day…

iTunes, Media Player, and Computer Music Playback Systems

I love music. I love it to a point that I used nearly all my money from my first job to buy CDs. This got to the point that my mother scolded me and told me more than once to put my money in the bank. With my collection growing, I was excited to receive my first laptop and upload all of my music to the Media Player. It was an easy way for me to have all of my music accessible at once, with no fumbling around for discs or cassettes, and be able to listen to a certain song with just a couple clicks. Essentially, music, no waiting.

MediaPlayerPic

Windows Media Player

Apple revolutionized this further with the invention of the iPod. Suddenly, all that music became mobile on a device the size of a debit card. Then music became downloadable by internet access through services like iTunes.

And the beauty of all these items? They are all databases!

While the device being used has been updated to offer more convenience over the years, the basis of the software of these devices has always been databases. The music in the system is organized by a set of fields: artist, song title, album title, music genre, etc. Each time a song is downloaded or an album is uploaded to the system, the database grows.  Think of it as entering a form on a Microsoft Access project.  You are plugging in information to the system that will be retrieved later to be used (ie, you upload the song to the system so that you can listen to it later).

The fun part about this type of database is that the listener is given the option to manipulate the database further by adding playlists. That means the listener can create lists of music that they would (or would not) like to hear in a particular order. This is a beautiful amenity compared to years past of CDs being organized on a shelf in alphabetical order by artist or album title.  And yes, I did this. I’m a librarian. What did you expect?

Internet Movie Database

This one is a bit of a given as the word “database” is in it’s title, but the exact same theories apply when it comes to how the website works.  All of the information that is accessible is due to it’s organization. Just as with various media players, the information is organized based on various fields. Instead of singers and song writers though, it is organized based on actors, film titles, directors, producers, etc.

For all of your movie needs!

For all of your movie needs!

The organization of this website is so well done and so easy to navigate that I very rarely turn to any other type of entertainment website when I’m trying to figure out who was in what, who directed who, etc.  Here’s a great example…

Mine and my husband’s new favorite movie as of late is A Million Ways to Die in the West. During the fair scene, there is a gentleman selling tonic that Peter insists is the same actor who plays Mr. Belding from Save By the Bell. First, yes, I have a husband who watches Saved By the Bell. I don’t like to address this very often. Two, I did not believe it was the same gentleman who played Mr. Belding. The man seemed unrecognizable as Mr. Belding to me. How did we settle the score? We looked up the information on IMDB. Sure enough, Dennis Haskins is playing the Snake Oil Salesman in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Oddly enough when we looked up this fact, I discovered that the gentleman with the English accent during the fair scene is Ewan McGregor! Well hell.

In closing with this one, I’d like to say is Internet Movie Database is probably responsible for saving many marriages by settling stupid movie arguments and holy crap! There are a lot of great cameos in A Million Ways to Die in the West!

Pinterest

Pinterest now has my attention. I avoided it for the first couple of years because so many people warned me about how addictive it would become. Then out of bordem one night, I decided to check it out and play on it a bit. My Facebook status after that first session stated, “To the bitches who told me I should try Pinterest, I want my Friday night back!” You will become addicted and it will happen quickly, like some type of pleasure drug. You have been vehemently warned.

Pinterest: results with visualization.

Pinterest: results with visualization.

Now that this has been said, here is why I love Pinterest so much and why it is so interesting to me (besides the fact that I have a whole new way to check out ridiculously cute cats doing ridiculously cute things). Not only does this website work like a database (with it’s information organized under different subjects and fields, which are designed to be pulled up easily for use), but it also works as a major search engine!

I don’t think this was goal that the creators of Pinterest were pursuing at first, but due to Pinterest’s increased popularity, this is what has happened! Whoops!

While talking with some of my lady friends, they confessed that when it came to recipes, parenting advice and tips, or building outfits for special occassions, Google was becoming a thing of the past. The new go to? Pinterest. Why? Because Pinterest offers the instant visualization with it’s results. Not only does the link being sought after come up, but there is a photo to go along with it. What this generally does for the seeker is cuts down on the time that they use analyzing whether the information is going to be worth their time to look over. If the photo doesn’t meet their expectations visually, the seeker clicks off and moves on to the next set of results. Pinterest makes this further convenient by allowing the seeker to further narrow down their results in the search box based on popular searches. The database works to narrow down all of the information being pulled in order to give the seeker that one bit of information they are hoping to find. And let’s be realistic. It’s more than likely a photo of a funny dog in a hat.

Who me?

Who me?

So now that the concepts of databases have been explained a bit, they don’t seem nearly as complex or vomit inducing as they had in the past. Databases are simply the organized systems used to keep and look up information. And they don’t have to be overly techy by any means.  Some of the most popular hold the key to music, movies, and media! Sounds more than a little fun if you ask me. But then again, I am a librarian. I live for this stuff.

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