The Future of Publishing?

A promo video produced by DK Books for a Penguin sales conference has gone something like viral in the last two days, getting a lot of attention in my circles. In case you haven’t seen it:

I saw this video when DK first posted it, and have been thinking about it since then, mostly because I’ve been trying to figure out what makes me crazy about it.

When I watched it again yesterday it started to hit me: couched in the “hey, maybe social media isn’t going to kill reading after all; hey, maybe we really do need to start thinking about a new business model” stuff is an essentially conservative message about the ongoing primacy of the book. That only by reading everything exactly backward can you turn “books are dying” into “books are not dying!” That either the kids today only care about pop media crap or they care about reading, with no possibility that they can care about both, or that what appears to be pop media crap might in fact be important.

I dunno. It’s clever. It’s very nicely designed. And I’m happy it’s undoing some of the “kids today” rhetoric. But I’m not sold on the message overall. I genuinely believe that publishing has a future, but my feeling is that the future is going to look more like this video than like the book as we have known it. And no amount of running the tape backward will change that.

My Secret Life

Oh, hi! I’m sure it appears that I’ve forgotten about this blog thing. Really, it’s less that I’ve forgotten than that my attention has gotten fragmented in a million different directions, both work-wise and internet-communication-wise. Much of the stuff that I would have blogged back in the day is getting super-condensed and landing on Twitter, and some of the link-sharing stuff that I might have done here has for the last little while wound up being shared via Google Reader. So this space has mostly served for longer thoughts, things I want to puzzle through, and there’s been precious little time for that of late.

And, of course, the introduction of Google Buzz further complicates my communication network, as Buzz allows not just the bite-size, Twitter-like thoughts to be shared, and not just links-and-comments, but also slightly longer, more discussion-oriented thoughts. There’s been a lot of criticism of the rollout of Buzz — criticism that’s so widespread I’m not going to bother tracking down links; you can, um, Google it — and much of it well-deserved, but I’ll admit that I’m enjoying it, generally speaking. It brings together several modes of communication that I already use in a way that’s useful to me, and it allows me to keep up with what a set of people I follow are reading or thinking about. And it does that without necessarily hopelessly blurring the lines among social spheres, which means — at least for right now — it’s got many of the best aspects of Facebook, but with much less noise.

Necessarily, though, is a big caveat: one of the primary criticisms of the rollout of Buzz was the way it auto-added many of your email contacts to your followers, creating the potential for all kinds of havoc, as things people expected to be private were suddenly defaulting to a more public setting than they’d intended, and as groups that people meant to kept separate were suddenly mingling. The whole thing would have gone much better if the whole follower/following thing had been made opt-in at the outset.

That said, though, it’s possible to create pretty fine-grained control of who sees what in Buzz, if you’re vigilant about your contact groups and the ways you share stuff. So taking my own advice, I spent much of this morning wading through my contacts — synchronizing my Address Book with Google Contacts, creating better groups, assigning each and every contact to the right group, and so forth. I feel so organized right now it hurts.

But here’s the reason for this post: when I got to my own Google Contact entry, I spotted an email address that I wasn’t expecting to see: basically, firstname-dot-lastname at gmail. And I was a bit surprised — I didn’t know I had that email address. In fact, I so didn’t know I had that email address that I’d actually tried a couple of times in the last couple of years to obtain that email address, only to be told that it was taken.

And it was. Apparently, by me.

When I spotted that address in my contact information, I assumed it was a mistake, but decided to check it out. I logged out of my usual gmail account, and attempted a password reset on the other one. The system asked me for my father’s middle name — and trust me, this is a real determiner; there’s no way that someone else out there with my name has a father with the same middle name. And then it took me to the password reset screen.

The account was not only actually mine, but it was apparently my first gmail account; I sent myself an invite from that account to create the one I now use. All of the sent mail in that account was from me, mostly sending out gmail invitations, and all of it was over five years old.

The inbox, however, had a backlog of 525 messages from the last five years, most of them from the last two years. Of course a bunch of it was spam that hadn’t gotten properly filtered. But a lot of it was sent by actual people who typed in an actual email address. And going through these messages was absolutely dizzying. It felt as though some little part of my internet persona had broken off from me and been living a life — or, more accurately, lives — of its own.

I apparently attended an entrepreneurial workshop at Stanford in 2009, where I used this address on several sign-in sheets, and got several followup messages. I also attended a spiritual/motivational retreat in Salt Lake City a while back, and have been deluged with mail from the organization that ran it, as well as the other folks who were at that retreat. My father (not mine; my breakaway persona’s) has invited me to keep in touch with him on LinkedIn. I went to law school and shared class notes with several of my fellow students. I am much loved by a woman who shares my last name, and emails me every single day to tell me so. And then there’s the woman who was emailing me about the arrangements for the rehearsal dinner for her wedding; she’s probably pretty pissed at me right now.

I’ve had internet doppelgangers before, folks who mistakenly think my email address is theirs, and who use it to sign up for some of the most annoying things. This felt different, however, as I’d completely forgotten the account existed, and let it go on to live several different lives without me.

The question now is whether to start using that account. It’ll take some time, I imagine, to persuade my law school colleagues, my friends from the retreat, and everyone else that I’m not who they think I am, but the address is a good one, and it would be worth doing a bit of rehab on that persona, I think.

Gee, Time Warner, Thanks for Asking

I’ve just gotten the following email message from my friends at Time Warner Cable:

We’ve got a hard choice…

Roll Over or Get Tough?

No one likes paying more. You don’t. We don’t.

Yet, every time our contracts with TV program providers come up for renewal, that’s what we face.

Price increases. Big ones. Up to 300% more.

Sometimes we can avoid passing them on to you. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes, a network will threaten to take your shows away if we don’t roll over.

Whenever that’s happened in the past, we’d make the best deal we could and hope that would be the end of it. But it never was. So no more.

The networks shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat on what you watch and how much you pay. You’re our customers, so help us decide what to do.

Let us know if you want us to Roll Over or Get Tough.

We’re just one company, but there are millions of you.

Together, we just might be able to make a difference in what America pays for its favorite entertainment.

So, in effect, you’re using the power of crowdsourcing to find out whether your customers would prefer to pay the same amount for less entertainment, or to pay more for the same amount. By intimating that we all need to form a united front to stick it to the network Man.

One might also consider that the same united front could conceivably used to tell one’s cable provider where they can stick not only their bogus referendum but also their ridiculously overpriced service.

We may be your customers, but if you think you’re in the driver’s seat on what we watch and how much we pay, you might consider that piece of mail I got last week telling me that Fios is coming to my neighborhood.

Is all I’m saying.

The Rise of the Landscape Web

I’ve noticed over the last couple of months that several of my favorite websites were becoming, well, wide. It’s become increasingly common, in fact, for me to find myself scrolling sideways as well as up-and-down when out there browsing, and frankly, it was getting to be a bit annoying.

But with my entry (yes, at last!) into the ranks of those who are getting to play with the Google Wave preview, it hit me: the fundamental orientation of the web is changing. And Wave may well cement that change.

Here’s the thing. Early web pages were composed vertically, in portrait layout, partially because of the limitations of screen width and partially because of the rear-view mirrorism that caused us to think about these new digital forms as “pages.” That concept has proven surprisingly sticky: web “pages” scroll vertically to this day, and very few sites have played with the horizontal axis.

Enter Google Wave, however (and possibly, as its necessary precursor, Google Chrome, though being a Mac user I can’t really speak to that at all).

wave

Its three-column orientation demands horizontality — if the columns are too narrow, you lose a lot of the toolbar options, and everything just feels out of proportion.

So this makes me wonder, if Wave gets the kind of buy-in that the hype suggests, whether we’re seeing the fundamental orientation of the web switching from portrait to landscape — not that we won’t still be scrolling vertically rather than horizontally, but that the basic screen unit will be wider than it is tall.

This has deep implications for contemporary web design, I think, and not least for me; the other Planned Obsolescence works quite well in a wide window: you can stretch the main text and comments columns to be as wide as you would like. But it doesn’t work well here at all, as I’ve been using a fixed-width theme, and that ugly gray background block at right just gets bigger and bigger.

I’ll be curious to see whether this shift becomes — no pun intended — broader. Is the basic assumption of web layout becoming landscape? How do we organize a wider window?

The Waiting…

You know what they say about it.

Google Wave went into a wider preview release yesterday, as the first of what was supposed to be 100,000 invites were sent out to folks who’d agreed to beta-test for the developers. And everyone, myself included, has been waiting with bated breath.

Well, not exactly bated breath. More like breath that’s being used to whine and wheedle, hoping for an invite to come sooner.

The developers, however, are (a) in Australia, and so not operating on my time zone!, and (b) apparently pushing out these invites by hand. One. At. A. Time.

So I have no idea whether I made the 100,000 cut or not. I do know, however, that a friend who did passed an invite my way last night, and that invite hasn’t yet been processed, so I’m still locked out.

It’s not like I don’t have other things I need to do (like respond to some of the awesome comments that have been left on [the other] Planned Obsolescence), but I’m still checking my Gmail account every three seconds just in case.

Something’s… Not… Right…

I went to bed last night about 11.30, and got up this morning around 7.30. And inbetween, didn’t receive a single piece of email. For some reason, I’m having a hard time accepting this — nothing from my listservs, nothing from my students, nothing from random spammers. Nothing. Why is it that eight hours of radio silence, over a Saturday night and into Sunday morning, has me convinced that something is wrong?

Blegging: Preservation

I’m deep in the thick of the chapter I’m writing on issues of preservation for digital scholarship, and am feeling fairly acutely the extent to which these issues have not been on my radar before now, so I need to ask for your help, particularly the digital librarians among you.

While there are a number of extremely important reports that have been published around these issues of late (see, for instance, the Blue Ribbon Task Force interim report, “Sustaining the Digital Investment,” the MITH white paper “Approaches to Managing and Collecting Born-Digital Literary Materials for Scholarly Use”, and the ARL report, “Safeguarding Collections at the Dawn of the 21st Century”, among others), I’m focusing the chapter around a few particular projects of which I could really use a deeper sense.

What I’m looking for is critical accounts of the histories of the histories of projects such as TEI, COinS, DOI, and LOCKSS, accounts that both convey the development and administration of the programs as well as any lingering issues with which the projects need to contend. I’ve found some basic stuff about each project, but if there are particularly good resources out there, I’d love to hear about them!

[Ed: Just critical accounts of the histories of the projects, not critical accounts of the histories of the histories. Not enough coffee yet…]