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info NeoGnostic

iNG is a blog for 'new' thoughts about the information society - including librarianship, knowledge management, information architecture, content management, collection management - with an emphasis on electronic resources. Also about professional issues,

Last Build Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 20:21:33 +0000


Defining e-books and publishing

Tue, 09 Sep 2008 07:57:00 +0000

In the week in which my 'definition' article - Books in a virtual world: The evolution of the e-book and its lexicon - has finally seen the light of day (Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 40 (3): 193-206; and deposited/soon available on E-LIS & CADAIR), it was thrilling to see a post on if:book by Bob Stein in which he distilled some years of thinking into a 'definition' of publishing in the digital era - a unified field theory of publishing in the networked era. [I found his 'death of fiction' possibility less than thrilling, but the theory does not depend on that!]Bob departs from my approach by describing the networked book, not as either a physical entity or as content delivered, but as a social activity - an interaction or dialogue: as discourse moves off the page onto the network, the social aspects are revealed in sometimes startling clarity. These exchanges move from background to foreground, a transition that has dramatic implications.I think this essay may prove to be a very important piece of writing, and I hope that Bob keeps his promise to move it "into CommentPress so that the discussion can be more extensive than the blog's comment field." Of course, this is just a 'field theory' and, on closer examination, the model may not work so he is asking for comments on "which parts need deepening, fixing or wholesale reconsideration." Thekey questions a unified field theory has to answer: What are the characteristics of a successful author in the era of the digital network?Ditto for readers: how do you account for the range of behaviors that comprise reading in the era of the digital network?What is the role of the publisher and the editor?What is the relationship between the professional (author) and the amateur (reader)?Do the answers to 1–4 afford a viable economic model? Key to the theory "is the author's commitment to engage directly with readers" - and thus - inevitably, the readers' commitment to engaging with the author. Bob says thatreaders will increasingly see themselves as participants in a social process. He acknowledges that there will be levels and levels of engagement, but I think that this may be the weakness in the theory. Will readers engage? Do any but a handful wish to engage in this way? Jumping from author-text to reference material, to images, to primary sources, to Google, to author-notes, etc? Won't most readers who are reading from pleasure either not bother or become lost in the faux-scholarly process?But this is a theory, and I like it! I think that as a natural next stage there needs to be work done to support the theory - just as the JISC National e-Books Observatory Project is about exploring impacts, observing behaviours and developing new models to stimulate the e-books market - we need research - the publishers certainly need research - to see if the model is acceptable to the public at large, a public which still largely prefers books to e-books. Maybe the new reading experience will simply loose people along the way: the unconverted, the unregenerated, who just want to read! Will they everacknowledge the possibility of a flatter hierarchy that displaces the writer from the center or from the top of the food chain and moves the reader into a space of parallel importance and consideration ... acknowledge the intrinsic relationship between reading and writing as equally crucial elements of the same equationThe theory only works if sufficient publishers and readers buy-in to the model - even after a "transitional period (5, 10, 50 years)" - and I think that some research needs to be done now: more than just "careful listening to users/readers/authors" - indeed, some or all of Bob's thoughts/questions at the end of his essay may well be the basis of the research questions.>>Technorati tags: publishing; publishers; e-books; networked books; society>>IceRocket tags: publishing; publishers; e-books; networked books; society[...]

On reading and design: more thoughts

Tue, 08 Jul 2008 07:28:00 +0000

I have just been reading a short editorial piece by Patrick Tucker in The Futurist: The 21st Century Writer. It is a reflective piece on Tim O’Reilly’s “Tools of Change” conference, and focusses on publishing in an electronic age. Unsurprisingly.

For the serials publisher and the journalist, there is the thought that with half the world reporting and editorialising in blogs:
We’ve entered an era where the acts of thinking, writing, and to a certain extent publishing are indistinguishable, and where charging money for editorial content is becoming an ever trickier proposition.
I liked particularly the first part of this, suggesting that the act of "thinking out loud" has migrated to the Internet in the form of blogs. Especially, as in that very idea, is captured the reason why traditionally sponsored journalism should endure - it is (or should be) so much more than thinking out loud, as I am doing here, and it is distinguishable from my ramblings by its pedigree and publishing house.

For the book publisher, there is a reprise of my previous posts (one & two) on the subject:
the mission is to make an industry built on a fifteenth-century technology viable in the twenty-first century. That means reinventing the concept of the book for the digital age. There's (sic) is perhaps the biggest challenge.

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Writings about e-book publishing, 2008: update

Fri, 27 Jun 2008 08:02:00 +0000

There has been a rush of article added to my Writings about e-book publishing, 2008 over the last 5 or 6 weeks. So much so, that it is already approaching the length of last year's page!

The last item to be added, an article by Laura Dawson in Book Business, comes from a journal newly available in electronic mode (to which you must subscribe, but which looks worth watching). It is doubly interesting as the editorial (by Noelle Skodzinski) quotes Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Marketplace, as saying
Get your mind-set out of the book business and into the reader business
... which has a ghostly echo of my last piece here, A necessary change in reading? Cader added, "Publishers have to leverage the damn book".

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A necessary change in reading?

Tue, 10 Jun 2008 12:25:00 +0000

I often write about reading in this blog; it is a fairly natural - even logical - progression or collocation for anyone thinking about information, books or libraries. In Is Google Making Us Stupid, Nicholas Carr wonders if - like the Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico [who, after Gutenberg's printing press] worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their mindshe should see the Internet, epitomised in Google, as destroying the possibility of immersive reading, leaving us with only the skills to scan and skim. He references both the recent Google Generation report from UCL, which spoke of new forms of “reading” [which] are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins and Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, who worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace.He also speaks of the plasticity of our brains which - even in adults - re-write neural pathways to re-learn skills like reading. He suggests that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.Perhaps (I hope) he paints a black-and-white picture that is too stark, that does not allow of a possibility to skim when it is required and to read comprehensively when needed. In yesterday's post about Sara Lloyd's article on publishers and e-books, I wrote that Sara noted that the: question really is no longer, “Will consumers read on screens in the future?”… [but] is rather, “How will consumers read on screens in the future?” She went on to say that reading is changing "and will continue to change substantially" and to note different modes of reading, including a more exploratory style of online reading and researching that is different from 'immersive reading'. "A new generation of more consciously transliterate readers" will require more of their books - however we define these - and thus more of their publishers. The 'new book' will require "publishers to become enablers for reading, and its associated processes."Maryanne Wolf argues that the way we read influences or dictates the way we think. If that is true the Internet is truly spawning a world of butterfly minds! Carr quoted a recent essay, [in which] the playwright Richard Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake: I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”But, perhaps this is not so new. Samuel Johnson wrote Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. (Samuel Johnson (Boswell's Life of Johnson) It's just that technological progress makes it all so much easier, and quicker, and available, and automatic. Because someone, somewhere has published it on the Internet. And those same publishers need to be at the centre of these digital conversations, driving their development and providing the tools for readers to engage with the text and with each other if they are to remain relevant... [they] had better be the ones defining what the shape of a ‘networked book’ should be ... because if they [...]

Patents; Google; and Re-inventions of wheels

Tue, 10 Jun 2008 08:11:00 +0000

According to Edlyn Simmons (chapter on 'Patents' in Armstrong and Large, Manual of Online Search Strategies, Ashgate, 1992):
In most countries, no patent is granted until the application has been examined to determine whether the claimed invention is new, useful and inventive.
Which makes me wonder how - as reported in Lorcan Dempsey's Blog - Google can file a patent application for "what it calls a 'virtual bookshelf site'". As the posting points out there are over a dozen such sites, including LibraryThing (see left-hand column, here), and Google already has MyLibrary within Google Book Search.

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Is Bluster over Google Book Search = Shame that publishers didn’t get there first?

Mon, 09 Jun 2008 15:57:00 +0000

I do not really like quoting at length in my blog entries, but the article that I am referencing here is such an important article from the house of a major publisher, that I think it is warranted. Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan Digital Publishing has written an article linked from the company blog, the digitalist: A book publisher’s manifesto for the 21st century (pdf).Book. Publisher. Manifesto. Read it!Right at the start, there is the statement which shows such a clear view of the implications of a digital future that I am awed to hear it expressed by a publisher (not because I think publishers have no vision, but because I think acceptance of this particular vision must impinge profoundly on publishing):We will need to work out how to position the book at the centre of a network rather than how to distribute it to the end of a chain.Built on the thought that e-books are content with context rather than content with cover, this is a publisher looking at possibilities:We will need to think much less about products and much more about content; we will need to think of ‘the book’ as a core or base structure but perhaps one with more porous edges than it has had before.The article looks to a future in which e-books may be written using the wisdom of crowds, or in which they can offer shared reading such as is trialed in Book Glutton.Reading is not an activity that can be defined simply and it is all too often described as a solitary, immersive experience, as in the experience of reading a novel for hours at a time… even if a reader spends some solitary time reading, readers have always traditionally liked to swap views and ideas about the content of books, to turn over the corners of pages in which favourite passages appear to which they want to refer again, and to write notes in the margins.To date, publishers seem to have been content to digitise their paper books, leaving the more adventurous formats, the social books, the new structures, the experimentation to those outside of the conventional publishing arena. I have always wondered how – or if – these experiments will migrate into the centre stage of ‘real publishing’ – and now we have evidence of major-league interest. This is exciting! And why?Google Book Search set out to define 'access'; can the publishers redefine 'book'? If the:question really is no longer, “Will consumers read on screens in the future?”… [but] is rather, “How will consumers read on screens in the future?”…publishers had better be the ones defining what the shape of a ‘networked book’ should be … because if they are not someone else sure as hell will be.>>Technorati tags: books; ebooks; publishing; publishers; networked books>>IceRocket tags: books; ebooks; publishing; publishers; networked books[...]

Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine

Tue, 03 Jun 2008 09:27:00 +0000

… but what does Ray Bradbury mean when he says that
There is no future for e-books because they are not books
Variously quoted - Kindleville, The Leary Letter, etc: at BookExpo America
When, or indeed, why is a book not a book?

If we take digitized version of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, or even of his Fahrenheit 451, and present it on-screen, surely we have an electronic or digitized version of the book? It could, I suppose, be argued that that without pagination and formatting it is simple ‘text’ or ‘images’ – but paginated into ur-book form one might suppose that the neologism works.

I would guess – I hesitate to put words into his mouth, but I would guess – that Mr Bradbury may mean that robbed of sentience; unable to touch, hold, heft, weigh, smell, to generally experience the physicality of a book, we cannot experience the same pleasure and pain of reading a book. We cannot have shelves of them in our houses or libraries. We cannot pile them for reading beside our armchair or bed. We shall never be able to return to one, dog-eared with use, to have it fall open at our favourite passage. Thus, with such differing properties, they cannot be the same: we cannot call an e-book, a book. It is like comparing oranges and apples.

And, perhaps, we will never read an e-book in the same way – with the same attention, diligence and apprehension as we do a book. Indeed, there is some evidence that readers often only ‘dip’ into e-books.

So, further, Ray Bradbury may fear that, like Montag, the digitizers and the e-book purveyors are the firemen of our culture. Bradbury has said that Fahrenheit 451
is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature … His fear in 1953 [was] that television would kill books
It is not a long step to suppose that e-books could kill books.

“They smell of burned fuel”, indeed!

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Reader Wars! A link from Dar es Salaam!

Mon, 19 May 2008 17:15:00 +0000

Thanks to Joe Wikert at Kindleville for the following:
Mobipocket for the iPhone/iTouch
Earlier this morning Kevin Tofel wrote a blog post about how there will be a Mobipocket app for the iPhone later this year. He then went on to question what sort of impact this will have on the Kindle. A couple of readers commented that a) the reading experience on a Kindle is much better than an iPhone/iTouch and b) Amazon owns Mobipocket, so they're not likely to kill their own device.

True and true, but now that I've been using Mobipocket on my Blackberry for a bit I have to admit there are many other factors that come into play. [continues]

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e-Book copyright in the UK

Tue, 13 May 2008 18:32:00 +0000

CILIP members will already be aware from the CILIP LIS in Politics blog that - in response to a supplementary question from Tony Baldry on the protection of copyright in relation to e-books, and on piracy - Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Andy Burnham said that with respect to e-books:
there was a genuine issue with the illegal sharing of material online that had caused particular damage to the music industry. The first step would be voluntary agreements, he explained. Furthermore, he noted that he had been disappointed by the response of the ISPs
He ended by noting that:
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that jointly with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we will shortly publish a document that includes options for legislation if voluntary agreements cannot be secured.
There is clearly a view that ISPs have responsibility for illegal downloading - one wonders if the government believes that ISPs have responsibility for illegal copying as well. As a timely instance, only today a colleague purchased and downloaded two e-books, only to discover that the PDF files were completely unprotected, and could easily have been shared around the office (he didn't!) or, indeed the world.

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Counterpoint: On reading and design

Mon, 12 May 2008 14:02:00 +0000

In a 2006 keynote paper, Michael Jon Jenson, wrote that - having previously forecast the end of paper books, he had discovered that he was wrong:
My fundamental error was in thinking that technology was the driver, rather than the human culture using the new technologies.
So are we humans really incapable of learning new tricks, of moving on, of evolving? Is our social history just too much for us to break away from? William Powers (pdf. cf, yesterday) notes that
in the literature of media studies, there is a determinist school which holds that technologies shape society
but he also reminds us that even Nicholas Negroponte was forced to explain why his treatise on Being Digital was written on paper [not practical in terms of its reach to important people; repurposing of content; and "a more personal, slightly ascetic reason. Interactive multimedia leaves very little to the imagination."]

So I am left with the question: which will evolve: us or the book?!

Or perhaps I mean which will evolve first? Will we learn to cope with technology and e-book readers, or will e-book readers evolve to resemble books and thus become acceptable to us unregenerated humans? It would be nice to think that the media studies people are right - after all, television did not kill off the radio - we can learn to handle new inputs. Or is the point that we can learn to handle new inputs IF THEY ARE GOOD or TEMPTING ENOUGH?

The current generation of e-book readers use e-ink and screen technologies which give a reading experience nearly equivalent to print on paper... but no user thinks of them as paper-based books. e-Ink comes from the same stable - MIT MediaLab - as Mr Negroponte, so it is not unreasonable to suppose that there is some urge to embrace the digital - with all its worldly pleasures; or perhaps the Negropontian ascetic urge will eventually lead to a happy medium (in both senses) that we can accept as a book despite its ability to change its content and define unrecognised words for us.

Perhaps it is better to end, where I started. Jenson also wrote:
Evolution is not survival of the strongest, or failure of the weakest. Evolution is not fair; it's not predictable; it's not kind. Nor is it cruel, or chaotic, or unfair, for that matter. It's what happens when environmental pressures change.

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On reading and design

Sun, 11 May 2008 08:48:00 +0000

I was reading a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review by Ezra Klein, The Future of Reading, which explores his experiences with a Kindle, and - more generally - with reading on something that is not paper-based. Klein quotes William Powers’s brilliant essay “Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Why Paper Is Eternal,” (pdf) which considers the evolution of paper and the way it has subtly shaped not only the way we read, but what we read. A little later he goes on to say: The problem is that the Kindle tries to compete too directly with paper. It attempts to electronically mimic the experience of reading a book. But the book is very, very good at providing the experience of reading a book. That is when it struck me! Clever as all the e-book reading devices are, their essential problem - which inhibits their uptake by the reading public - is that they have evolved from the computer family (laptops, personal digital assistants - PDAs and so on) and not from the book, or even from paper. They do not share a common history. They can never presume to equality. They can never expect to be viewed as a book.John Markoff, in The New York Times, reminded us that Apple's Steve Jobs was skeptical about the Amazon Kindle book reader because most Americans don’t read... So if he were going to reinvent reading, how would Mr. Jobs do it? We may have moved on from re-inventing the book to reinventing reading, but the implication is the same: Jobs would shape reading to fit in with Apple's computing designs and the so-called 'Safari Pad': our understanding of reading and of the book will need to change to match the technology. Will the Safari Pad (or any next e-book reader) look and feel like a book? No. Will it succeed? The power of Apple or Amazon may move it in the right direction, but it will not replace paper and will not succeed until the designers remember what it is that they are designing. Ezra Klein suggests that: At the end of the day, the true advances won’t come in the Kindle, but in the content. Just as the capabilities of the device will shape what authors decide to do with it, so too will the decisions of authors shape the evolution of the device. While I agree that authors will benefit from taking advantage of the technology, I think that this view is still too optimistic. Success will only come when the physical reader offers the same experience as the physical book - not just the screen, but the feel, use and the heft of it. As Klein says - books are very good at what they do - they have been perfected over several hundred years. The (clever) ability to place an e-bookmark, scribble notes on a screen or to read an e-book socially is not enough. You can do that with real books!Without learning new techniques. Just plain better!>>Technorati tags: ebooks; readers; reading>>IceRocket tags: ebooks; readers; reading[...]

Scholarly Communications Report: e-books

Fri, 09 May 2008 12:11:00 +0000

The UK JISC Scholarly Communications Working Group commissioned a report, delivered recently (March 2008) by Key Perspectives Ltd on Key Concerns within the Scholarly Communications Process (Word doc). The report was asked to produce
a ‘big picture’ overview of scholarly communication at the present time, exploring with researchers and other stakeholders the four areas of concern, reporting on the findings and giving a series of practical recommendations for action.
As such it dealt mostly with e-journals and open access ("There is little evidence of real engagement of senior management with issues around new forms of scholarly communication, despite the profound changes that are taking place and the effect these may have on the institution"), but also looked at research data and e-books, and at copyright and quality/peer review. It is a substantial report, and well worth reading.

e-Books receive little attention, primarily because the author believes that, "Researchers in all disciplines like e-books and want more of them, but the model has not yet become mainstream." What the report does say is:
Procurement of e-books is not optimal yet. Researchers and teaching faculty would like many more books in electronic form, accessible via the library website, particularly textbooks which they can recommend for course reading lists knowing that all students have access to them and that copyright constraints have been dealt with. The practice has not yet caught up with the ideal, however: libraries would like to buy more books in digital form but publishers are not making them available in the ubiquitous way that would be seen as optimal.
And there is one e-book recommendation:
It is recommended that a study is carried out on the provision and procurement of e-books in different disciplines. The study should identify where the barriers to provision lie and which business models prove most appropriate and sustainable for e-monographs and e-textbooks...
I would agree with that, in fact we (IAL) nearly did exactly that for the JISC a few years ago. Hey ho.

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Writings about e-book publishing, 2008

Fri, 02 May 2008 08:30:00 +0000

I can't remember a previous year when I have had so many titles listed in the first 4 months. Admittedly, some are blog postings - but there's some interesting debate going on, and as regular visitors will know, I only select the more discoursive or debatable blog posts!

If you need to keep up to date with what is happening in the e-book publishing and library world, this is the place for you! Writings about e-book publishing, 2008 is updated continuously - with links to articles where possible.

As you might suppose with the JISC National e-Book Observatory taking place, there will be a number of references to this (just as there was to SuperBook in 2007), and the first report (by Ian Rowlands) is now available.

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CILIP Council Briefings

Thu, 01 May 2008 15:56:00 +0000

The new-style Council met this week for the 4th time, and now a blog and forum have been set up – as promised – so that short briefing reports on the Council's current work can be posted.

The Blog - Council Matters - can be found at:

The Forum (CILIP members only) can be found at:

In due course, members will be able to read the full Minutes on the CILIP website Council pages (again, CILIP members only)

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Quote of the Month... or Year

Thu, 17 Apr 2008 18:05:00 +0000

From The Register:
BT's secret Phorm trials open door to corporate eavesdropping
One was subsequently told over email by an official: "It is important to remember that private companies such as ISPs are allowed to do certain things under section 3 of [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] that Law Enforcement Agencies cannot do without permission."
I have absolutely no comment.
I am still in shock.
Or am I not really surprised?

New article on e-books

Mon, 07 Apr 2008 07:39:00 +0000

By way of reporting myself back from working in Ghana, let me report on a new article on e-book aggregators!

My colleague, Ray Lonsdale and I recently undertook a small piece of research for an article which has just appeared in the April - 7 (4) - edition of CILIP's Library + Information Update. Our aim was to bring together an overview of e-book aggregators - we didn't have the space for a full comparision, so in a 'comparative review' we have highlighted the various strengths and described approaches.

The article, Aggre-culture: what do e-book aggregators offer, appears on pages 28 - 33...

And it is clearly my month for being published as I am quoted by Tim Buckley Owen on page 1 of Gazette (Pricing and standards hamper e-book take-up) and a re-hash of my paper from the Talis Conference has appeared in Panlibus: Total Resources are not Standard Resources (p9)!

Don't forget - to keep up to date with e-book articles, visit my Writings about e-book publishing, 2008, which has a healthy set of titles for so early in the year!

Quick Update on UK ID Cards

Thu, 06 Mar 2008 08:25:00 +0000

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was interviewed on ID Cards a few moments ago on Radio 4's 'Today Programme' - apparently students are going to be among the first targetted groups...

We were assured that there would be no compulsion within the life of this government, but Jacqui Smith did NOT address questions on:
  • bad data - what happens if data are incorrectly entered, etc - how will this inconvenience individuals having their ID checked?
  • the sharing of data in the National Identity Register with other government agencies
She avoided responding to a question about whether it would look suspicious if you chose not to have an ID card...

... and nobody mentioned the cost!

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Whither IWR?

Wed, 05 Mar 2008 08:51:00 +0000

Or, "Withered IWR"

The latest issue of Information World Review fell through my letterbox... well, actually, drifted, feather-like to the floor beneath my letterbox... and I wondered:
Where's it all gone?
I have been a reader and fan of IWR for around 30 years, during which time it has had a half-dozen or so make-overs, each resulting in a less vibrant, less relevant, less informative product. No make-over in style this time, but seemingly a new editor, and the latest issue ran to 24 small pages... of which, eight and a half are advertising, seven are longer articles, and six offer us some - not much - news.

I have to wonder if the new slimmed-down version has any value at all - news stories already published on blogs, light-weight journalism: scholarly search - good; health information - good; profile of BL University Challenge star - what? financial/business information - too short to be worthy.

And the unintentional irony of the editorial, which talked about 'information rich content'.

Is there less information industry news these days? Or are we all assumed to know it already?

My God! I'm turning into an old man - I remember in the old days when grass was greener...

It's eBook Week again!

Mon, 03 Mar 2008 19:30:00 +0000

... and we are reminded of this by, e.g. Epublishers Weekly, in their latest post, 30 Benefits of Ebooks. And there are 30, too!

Slightly strangely, the Benefits are copyright - © 2008 by Michael Pastore... which presumably means I can only quote 3 here! Most of them are pretty obvious: searchable, portable, update-able, "defy space" (I thought "save shelf space" but it seems that this means they can be read by many people at one time - defy the time-space continuum of StarTrek, I suppose), and so on. But all worth repeating, just so libraries, readers and publishers get the message.

But I have to take issue with number 14 - e-books are free. Some may be - like the cited Project Gutenberg - but as a generalisation, it is very 'Dumas'. As in "All generalisations are dangerous, even this one." You have to pay for some e-books. Others are licensed.

And on a day that I have discovered both Hypertextopia and the First Monday article, Open access book publishing in writing studies: A case study, number 23 - Ebooks empower individuals to write and to publish... is very apposite.

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Democracy, sh'mockery

Sun, 24 Feb 2008 14:51:00 +0000

Congratulations to Phil for nailing this one: "The point really is that it's not the wisdom of the crowds, it's a gentle dictatorship of the chaperones" - which is slightly more pointed than the the wisdom of the chaperones". He, in turn was referencing a multi-authored paper (PDF), "Power of the Few vs. Wisdom of the Crowd: Wikipedia and the Rise of the Bourgeoisie" by Ed Chi and colleagues. To be fair, Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, is supposed to have said it first; he is quoted as saying, "most of the work on Wikipedia is done by a small number of users" in 2004 [URL no longer active].

Does this affect our view of a major Web resource? Should it?

Possibly. Those of us who have been advocating its use have mostly based our arguments on the fact that errors introduced by miscreant editors are soon remedied. Is this, CAN this still be true? What if one member of the small percent of Wikipedia users responsible for about half of the site's edits (a blog post by Ed Chi) is a rogue? What level of misinformation could this produce?

Shall I continue to use Wikipedia? Yes, certainly.

But I shall take even more care to verify anything important. After all, that is what I preach when I talk about evaluating web information!

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British Standard For Accessible Websites.

Tue, 19 Feb 2008 08:30:00 +0000

Headstar's E-GOVERNMENT BULLETIN, Issue 257, 18 February 2008, reports that work has begun on a British Standard For Accessible Websites. The news item begins:

Work has begun on the development of a full British Standard for developing accessible websites, E-Government Bulletin's sister publication E-Access Bulletin has learned.

The move follows the publication by the British Standards Institution (BSi) in March 2006 of initial guidance known as a 'PAS' or 'Publicly Available Specification'. This was 'PAS 78: a guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites'.

A new technical committee IST/45 is now being assembled to oversee the development of a full standard, of which the chair elect is PAS78 lead author Julie Howell, former RNIB digital access campaigner and currently head of accessibility at the digital agency Fortune Cookie. Other members of the committee are likely to be drawn from organisations represented on the PAS78 steering group such as the British Computer Society; Cabinet Office; and the former Disability Rights Commission (DRC), now part of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

When finished, the British Standard will be available for purchase from the BSi at a price comparable with other standards, usually between £30 and £100. PAS78 was made available for free download by DRC, which sponsored its development and bought a distribution licence, though this type of arrangement is not possible for full standards. The PAS has been downloaded more than 54,000 times to date.

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Big Brother is SO watching you little Bro'

Thu, 14 Feb 2008 19:34:00 +0000

Information World Review revealed today, that in an experiment which apparently started in 2006,
The UK government is to create a database that will hold the academic achievements of every citizen from the age of 14.

The system has been under trial since 2006 and will allow colleges, universities and future employers to check whether prospective candidates have the qualifications they claim.

and of course, although no one has yet said so, this data will be linked (if the system ever works) to all that other data that the government will hold on you (medical, criminal...) and to the National Identity Register.

At least it may stop all those e-mail offering me a cheap PhD in 7 days.

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Are ID Cards just a little taxing?

Thu, 31 Jan 2008 14:46:00 +0000

For those of us who have been publishing views which are anti-ID Cards, there seems to be a whiff of vindication in the air. We have said (among other things) that ID Cards:
  • will not provide the security that is their raison d'etre
  • will not work
  • will cost individuals real money
Information World Review (IWR) - Confusion reigns over UK ID cards - Backers jump ship and memos leak - has revealed that two 'key backers' have pulled out of the project, and that finger-print data may not now be included for cost reasons. Surely without biometrics all you have is a bit of plastic with your name on? How secure is that?

Meanwhile, sister publication has noted that:
Academics at the London School of Economics have warned that the cost of an ID card is likely to be around £300, and could soar to as much as £500.
They estimate that the project cost may rise to a "staggering £19bn" rather than the already high published figure of £5.8bn.

So while the project may be taxing the minds of ministers now, it is obviously set to tax you and I when we are obliged to spend £500 in order to own an obligatory ID Card (remember the system is supposed to be all joined up with e.g. the NHS systems so without your £500 Card you may not be eligible for a bed and your free dose of MRSA).

The IWR story also highlights a second leaked memo, which says:
"Various forms of coercion, such as designation of the application process for identity documents issued by UK ministers (e.g. passports) are an option to stimulate applications in a manageable way... There are advantages to designation of documents associated with particular target groups, e.g. young people who may be applying for their first driving licence"
IWR add that if "UK citizens still refuse to sign up to the scheme the memo allows for full enforcement of use, but states that":
"universal compulsion should not be used unless absolutely necessary"
So that's alright then! I'd hate to be forced to pay.

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Clarion Call for Libraries

Sun, 13 Jan 2008 15:16:00 +0000

I'm just catching up with my (probably far too many) blogs -reminded of a David Weinberger post from 2005, "No, I'm not keeping up with your blog" (if he thought that then...) - but I have just read - nearly missed it - a posting on Kindle News: Why not Rent-A-Book for Kindle, and it struck me that libraries (public, university, whatever) could be missing a chance here. It's what we do. We lend books.

Now Kindle is clearly a lost cause for us as it's linked - without question - to buying books on Amazon and doesn't seem likely to reach the UK for a decade or so, but what about the iRex iLiad (of which I have spoken before, and which is gradually getting more press over here - it even has its own blog now: i to i blog and a wikipedia entry). I often say that I can see a time when students might arrive for their library induction and ask to have their year's reading downloaded onto their reader, and that this would require some careful licensing - lending e-books on readers' readers (if you see what I mean!) would need some careful thought by publishers, aggregators and libraries... but what a chance.

e-Books are beginning to find their place in higher and further education - public libraries haven't really explored to any great extent the huge amount of e-fiction out there... and it's time they did!

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Public Libraries

Fri, 11 Jan 2008 08:37:00 +0000

Following on from Bob's most recent blog about the other Bob's book, which he linked to CILIP and professionalism in public libraries (he did get a bit carried away in the middle with Che Guevara and James Bond(!), but the essential message that in 2008 CILIP will make professionalism a major issue is very clear)...

I wanted to point to a Panlibus post which highlights MLA Chief Executive Roy Clare, who spoke so well at Talis Insight, appeared on yesterday's edition of the Radio 4 You and Yours programme (podcast). I missed this, but the BBC had had early sight of the CIPFA annual report of the audit of UK public libraries, which mentioned the 10% reduction in income and the (much publicised in recent newspapers, e.g. The Independent, The Telegraph) 40 libraries which closed during 2007. Roy Clare was also bullish about the importance and value of public libraries, and noted that comparisons with Amazon were a "simplistic way of looking at it".

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