I woke up this morning and turned on CSPAN to find an interesting analysis of the publishing industry Beyond the Book, and if you’ve watched a lot of Book TV (as I know many of you haven’t), you’ll realize that CSPAN is a regular Slashdot. This morning, a conversation about publishing turns into a discussion of the Internet, which only makes sense, reading and writing has re-entered many people’s lives in the form of web pages, e-mails, blogs, etc. Sure, we’re all moving much faster, but written communication has experienced a rennaisance of late.
The program was interesting, I was only half watching and Ken Goffman starts talking about Creative Commons, and Lessig. He ended with a reference to wikis as a new form of publishing, and it was interesting to see the reaction of Glenna Matthews, author of Silicon Valley, Women, and the California Dream. She took Ken’s reference to wikis and ran with it, commenting about her being uncomfortable with putting her name on anything she didn’t have ultimate control over. She then made a statement about how most academics would be uncomfortable with such an arrangment after making an equally mysterious statement about how great it was that academics have a salary and they don’t depend on writing for money, as if this somehow changes the approach to writing. Gary Luke from Sasquatch Books made a comment about the importance of the editing process.
Someone then stood up and commented on how the internet has helped the publishing industry (I could only make out the first name from his name tag - “John”). He spoke about electronic books, he referenced Cory Docotorow as an example of someone commited to online content (you can download Eastern Standard Tribe for free, or you can pay for a real book). He also mentioned a bookmobile that prints any children’s book a child wants from an electronic format. It struck me that it is getting more and more difficult for retail publishers to continue to ignore electronic books - by this time, I should be able to get my hands on any book online (for a small fee).
I don’t think that Goffman, author of Counterculture Through the Ages was trying to say that Wikis were the ultimate direction of all writing, he was simply trying to make a statement that wikis are a form of writing within the context of more open licensing and electronic collaboration. Even though the founder of Wikipedia questions it’s reliability, it isn’t a less valid form of publication because it happens to be collaborative. Contrary to Matthew’ assertion, many academics already practice collaborative writing; some journals in genetics have papers with fourty authors. And, Matthews’ statement about academic writing being somehow superior because academics don’t depend on writing for money, strikes me as shortsighted; very few people make a serious living from writing, and saying that writing for money somehow cheapens the effort just doesn’t make any sense. Show me a PhD student who doesn’t understand that journal papers are mandatory if you have any expectation of advancing in your field, or should I call it an academic “career”.
I think people who don’t know about open source culture confuse many issues together; the whole community appears as some ultra-anarchist challenge to the establishment, some experiment bound to fail. Goffman plays the part of the maladjusted long-hair excitedly telling people of the uncharted future of information freedom. To someone bent on proving that the Internet is a “wild-west”, us pasty geek types just provide the confirmation. It doesn’t matter what Ken Goffman said, electronic publishing is just another wacked out idea from the same people who brought us the dot-bomb of 2001. How could anything positive happen on the Internet, something the New York Times just compared to a “Web of Dark Alleys” (nytimes article from 12/20/04)?
From what I see on CSPAN, we don’t do a great job of selling ourselves to the mainstream media. It should be no surprise that we have a hard time communicating ideas like Creative Commons, Open Source, opposition to the DMCA and INDUCE act to the general public. We’re the freaks who sit way too much, and enjoying writing code on the weekends…. :-) We need to do a better job so that when someone starts talking about Creative Commons or open source they are understood? What we really need is to get people like Lessig, Doctorow, Behlendorf, and Stallman on CSPAN. I’d like to see CSPAN televize a roundtable on the internet and get people from the FSF and the ASF together to explain open source and the various disagreements to politicians. Hopefully, one day, we’ll be able to point to someone in the Congress who not only knows what DeCSS is, but knows how to compile it and run it. Maybe if we had a geek in the cabinet we wouldn’t decide to standardize our Navy on Windows XP.
I want more Electronic Books….
Back to books……One of the things that amazed me about gopher in the early nineties was the availability of Shakespeare. I forget almost everything about gopher except the rotating progress character, but I remember stumbling upon the complete electronic works of Shakespeare and getting really excited about the future. We’ve made some progress since then - O’Reilly’s Safari and the Internet Archive - but, we’ve got more work ahead of us.
These days people are talking about the “end of reading” - “have people stopped reading, because of competing avenues of communication such as TV, Movies, and the Internet?” And, you’ll frequently hear “publishing industry people” refering to online books and the internet as a “threat”. Any time anyone ever mentions an online text, people always have add the qualifier - oh, well, we all know that reading a book online is just totally impossible.
Sure, reading a Grisham novel online, might not appeal to many right now, but, as technology improves, you can’t rule out a usable electronic book format To just rule the possibility of electronic books out makes little sense. I love books, I buy many, but I’m getting rid of more books than I’m buying, and best sellers like Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, kill a fair of number of trees only to be discarded after a few months. I’m certain that the copy of “SVG Essentials” I gave to the Salvation Army will probably go unused for a few years before someone decides to send it to a landfill.
I’d actually prefer to have fewer real books and more electronic books, I’d like a device that’s flexible, rugged, something with a backlight I could read in the daylight. I’m looking for a flexible tablet PC I can just beat up that costs $250. I’d also like the ability to print out a book with solid binding and graphics.
I’m looking forward to the day when a large amount of content is under the Creative Commons License (CCL). Lessig has already released a book under the CCL and O’Reilly has started to publish a few titles such as “Version Control with Subversion” under the Creative Commons.
I go to a book store and marvel and the amount of inventory that just doesn’t move. I’d be happy if more publishers put works under Creative Commons once they fall below a certain sales level or fall out of print.
Academic writing (well technical academic writing) continues to make itself irrelevant…
A huge amount of publishing happens in academic journals, many of which remain hidden from the general public. Take, for example, the IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering. I subscribed to this publication for a few years, and ultimately decided to cancel my membership as I was deriving almost no value from the experience and parting with about $400 a year. IEEE transactions in software engineering yielded one or two valuable articles over a five year period, but the majority of content was highly focused on C++ and almost totally irrelevant to the day of a working developer. From what I’ve seen, much software innovation, happens in the open source community or in industry. Progress that happens in industry tends to remain tightly held, and progress that happens in open source is widely available.
Highly specialized academic journals such as the IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices make more sense, they address a tightly focused, highly specialized group of individuals who communicate in a language of there own. Few people need to read “Two-dimensional analytical modeling of fully depleted DMG SOI MOSFET and evidence for diminished SCEs”.
Sheepish retraction: the original blog entry originally stated that the IEEE was forcing me to use IE, this was wrong. IEEE should publishing RSS feeds, they should be allowing open access to searching content at the very least. The IEEE should be maintaining an elaborate Wiki for each specialty. Each Wiki would be limited to the field experts or graduate students in a particular field.
Hopefully, the ACM is doing a better job at this. I was going to join the IEEE again, but I’ve decided to check out the ACM instead
Edit note: For some reason I was calling the Creative Commons license “Create Commons”, which is an interesting type for me. Since I just spent the last year or so writing a book on Jakarta Commons, I find myself unable to type the word “Common” without a trailing “s”. (Typo fixed 6:17 PM)
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