Archive for the ‘Writing and blogging’ Category

Eight years of randomness

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Time for the annual post again–on April 1, because this blog had its first post on April 1, 2005.

No, that wasn’t an accident.

I didn’t expect it to last more than four or five years. In some ways, it didn’t: the peak month for posts was actually May 2005, and the peak year for posts (that have survived) was 2008.

Of course, I didn’t expect Cites & Insights to last more than six or seven years either–and it almost didn’t make it past Year 11.

I’m not going anywhere. The blog continues to be unscheduled, erratic and somewhat random.

A couple of metrics

As of right now, there are 1,739 surviving posts. (I’ve trimmed some, mostly announcements of Lulu sales and other date-specific posts with no other content.)

There are 4,026 comments–not counting the 89,000+ that have been trapped by Spam Karma 2 or that I’ve flagged as spam. That’s 2.3 comments per post, but most posts don’t have any comments…

The blog seems to get a lot of traffic, although it’s never been quite clear whether that traffic has much to do with actual readers.

For the first three months of 2013, through March 31, there have been 146,441 sessions (1609 per day, but an average of 4,771 pageviews per day). I have no idea how many of those represent actual readers; I’m guessing a minority.

On the other hand, the blog has been visited from 22,474 IP addresses over the past three months, and it’s hard to believe that there are thousands and thousands of crazed spiders…

Quiet(er) on the blogging front

Monday, July 30th, 2012

For some reason, I thought August was going to be a fairly placid month. After all, I’ve already written (but not edited) the two-part essay that will make up most of the September Cites & Insights and part of the October issue as well; another essay for September’s already in place; and I just finished doing a little recheck of an old spreadsheet that will yield (most or all of) the rest of the October issue. Figure a week to turn the results into an essay (and a new page here, one that LSW members have a head’s-up for).

But there’s also… [Updated 8/2 to correct personal misunderstandings and keep track for myself!]

  • Comments due by the end of August as an external reviewer for a promotion review; I will do that this week (and, given the candidate, it’s a pleasure)\
  • Speaker forms and bio for Internet Librarian speech by 8/26 (slides & draft due September 26; whew)
  • Some specific blogging expectations on a different blog, second full week of August.
  • Almost forgot: I should get proposed editorial changes for my social networking book this month…Later
  • I agreed to do a foreword for a book, also due by the end of the month.
  • Oh, and as noted in the previous post, IMLS just released the FY2010 public library database, and I’d like to at least get started on the real, improved, useful Give Us a Dollar and You’ll Get Back Four in August, so I can finish in September (or at worst October) [This last one is the biggie and drives other deadlines.]

Not complaining. But this does mean that post traffic here is likely to be even lighter than usual. Not that anybody will notice the difference…


Never underestimate the power of good editing and focused writing

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Laura Crossett sent me a fine reminder of the worth of good editing and focused writing. She looked at the core paragraph in this post (down below the first two horizontal rules) and offered an alternative version, which is far superior to what I wrote.

Here’s her version:

Your public library is in competition with a lot of other agencies–city, county, district, even state–for money. You want your library to sustain its current services and expand them in the future. You know you get a lot of bang for your buck, but how do you show that to the people who hold the purse strings? One way is to use the data in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. Walt Crawford has compiled, analyzed, and organized library funding and service data from all around the United States. Give Us a Dollar will let you compare your services to those of other similar libraries at a glance and will help give you the data you need to show your funders how much you already stretch their dollars–and how much more you could provide with even a few dollars more.

She also asked who I thought the key audiences were, and I came up with some answers–leading to the first part of the now-revised post.

So, if you’re a library consultant, public librarian, state library person or library school person–please go read the original post again (specifically the top part) and let me know: Does this sound interesting?

To clarify: Telling me “this might be interesting” or “this might be worthwhile” is not saying “And I’ll buy a copy.” No obligation or expectation of any sort.

And if enough people do think it’s interesting, I will find a way to thank the six libraries who did buy the preliminary version (so far), if only by providing a substantially discounted version of the much-improved book.

And, well, what I say in the post title: Never underestimate the power of good editing and focused writing.


Mystery Sale–and the Lull in Posts

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

From now through May 31, 2012, there’s a Mystery Sale on Cites & Insights Books (that is, Lulu’s having a Mystery Sale)–which makes it a great time to pick up one or more of my books, or, if you’re a library with a strong collection on Californiana, pioneer life, western migration, etc., a great time to buy Anna Julia Young’s Autobiography. (That’s the hardcover. Here’s the paperback.)

Or, for that matter, a good time to pick up the hardcover version of The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing.

I don’t know what the discount is, or whether it increases if you buy multiple books. Last time I actually ordered during one of Lulu’s odd mystery sales, it was somewhere between 10% and 20%, but I can’t guarantee anything.

The Lull in Posts

I’ve done enough tracking of and writing about blogs, and liblogs in particular, that I should have known better: I said I expected to be posting more…and lately, I’ve been posting less.

The reason’s simple enough.

I’m hard at work on Give Us A Buck and We’ll Give You Back Four (originally “Five” and it may yet change), the study of public library benefits that I discussed here and in prior posts.

My hope is to have it out sometime next week, or at worst the week after.

As for the June issue of Cites & Insights…that should appear a few days after the book does.

As for steady blogging…well, I never was very steady at this.

The worth of creativity: From jerk to troll in three easy steps

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012


I was finishing up the draft of one (long) essay for the next Cites & Insights, looking at posts about the future (but not one/two-year forecasts: that’s the second half), and got to a commentary by Jason Scott at ASCII, his weblog: Dated November 10, 2010, entitled “Your Roger Corman Future.

You may want to read the whole thing. It’s 2,500 words, plus 38 comments of varying length. Scott writes well and forcefully, even if he has one of the most unpleasant to read blog designs I’ve encountered: White text on a black background and, if you let the site specify the typeface, you get a bizarre monospaced (like Courier!) sans serif. His writing makes up for it, I think.

Scott does documentaries related to the history of computing (one on bulletin board systems, one on text adventures), along with a bunch of other things (he’s really good at saving tech-related stuff that would otherwise disappear entirely, and now works at the Internet Archive).

When he released GET LAMP, his package on text adventures (actually three documentaries “combined with a coin,” he priced it at $45, which isn’t bad for quality independent productions. And he’s grossed (not netted) six figures on it, which–as he says–makes him hot stuff where true indie filmmaking is concerned. (He’s also a whiz at Kickstarter, to be sure.)

But he got pushback…some of which resonated with what I’ve encountered, but Scott gets it in much more abhorrent ways.

All of which leads to this post.

The Premise: You’re Not Willing to Pay the Price for Some Creative Work That You Might Want to Read/See/Whatever

Here’s what all levels discussed below have in common. Somebody has created something (available in multiple copies). They, or their publisher or distributor, has set a price for copies, possibly one price for physical copies, another for digital copies.

You’re interested in that something, but you’re not willing to pay the price set by the publisher or creator.

The levels come in what you do about it.

Level 0: You don’t pay. If it’s available at the library, you borrow.

This is “level 0” because you’re not being a jerk at all. You’re exercising your entirely valid and reasonable option of not buying something because the price is higher than you’re willing to pay.

Nothing wrong here. Nothing at all.

Oh, and if a library you have access to is willing to pay the price and you choose to borrow it from the library? Good for you.

There’s a related level, where you’re also not being a jerk in any way, but it’s a level that only affects some creators and some would-be readers/viewers:

Level 0b: The creator asks for feedback on the price and you say it’s too high

Nothing wrong there either–at least if you’re not abusive in your response and don’t make a point of suggesting a “digital price” that essentially says to the creator “your time, energy and creativity aren’t worth squat.”

So: If I say “I have a new book prepared on Topic X. It’s 200 pages long or a 1MB PDF. I think $45 for a paperback, $55 for a hardcover, and $30 for a download is about right. What do you think?”

You’re being perfectly reasonable to respond “I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for the download or $15 for the paperback” or some variant on that.

If you say “You must offer the download for free” or “A 200-page paperback costs $8.50 to produce through Lulu, so $9 is the most you should charge” -well, now you’re starting to be a jerk. You’re explicitly saying that my (or Scott’s) work is not worth anything.

But let’s move on:

Level 1: You post public messages asserting that my price is outrageous and that only a price directly related to the cost of producing a single copy is reasonable (e.g., $0 or so for downloads)…or, for works involving a publisher, you blame the author for the price set by the publisher.

This assumes that I didn’t say “How much should I charge for this?” It’s not the same as saying “This might be interesting, but I’m not willing to pay $X.” it’s saying “It’s wrong for the creator to charge enough to yield any net revenue for his or her work”–perhaps not in those words, but in effect.

You’re being somewhat of a jerk. You’re telling the creator that creativity is worthless.

I’ve had that happen. You learn to live with it pretty quickly.

[Perhaps at this same level: You’re asked how much you would pay for something. You (several of you) say “I’d pay X.” The creator sets the (suggested) price at X. Nobody pays that amount. Not that that would ever happen…]

Level 2: You post negative reviews about the work, even though you haven’t read or seen it, based entirely on the price (or on assumptions about the work that you haven’t checked).

Now you’re being a major jerk: You’re trying to discourage other people from paying for creative work, since you know (or should know) that people look at star averages sometimes without actually reading the reviews. “Geez, the only review is one-star: It must be crap.”

I was looking up replacement string reels for my electric edger, to make sure I had the right part and approximate price–after two years’ use, it finally ran out of “string.” One site had three reviews, all of them highly negative. Why? In two cases, because the person purchased the wrong thing, and therefore it was a bad, bad thing. The third one was just mysterious.

Need I say Open Access: What You Need to Know Now–where a science blogger assailed the book because he/she assumed ALA had commissioned the report and, therefore, should release it for free (you know, since every scientific organization releases all the work appearing under the organization’s imprimatur absolutely for free, like the American Chemical Society), and a “reviewer” (possibly the same person) wrote a one-star “review” at Amazon that was based on a price I had no control over and an assumption that this was a “white paper” (presumably paid for in advance). (I normally wouldn’t link to Amazon, but since that’s where the review is…

This is the kind of thing that gets discouraging. And it’s the worst I’ve encountered. But not Scott: He’s been subjected to…

Level 3: You inform the creator (publicly or otherwise) that the asking price is outrageous and, therefore, you are wholly justified in looking for a pirated version, which you intend to do.

Now you’ve gone from jerk to troll (probably not the right word, but I still don’t like “pirate” for copyright infringement, even in this most blatant of cases): You’re saying “I want what you’ve done; I don’t think you deserve payment; therefore it’s ethical for me to break the law in order to acquire your work without paying you for it.”

Go read the post and comments. Scott says this sort of thing a whole lot more eloquently than I ever will.

Who or what writes this stuff?

Monday, March 12th, 2012

I stopped doing “great spam I have known” posts–with rare exceptions–partly because you really can’t cut-and-paste from the list of spam comments presented by Spam Karma, partly because there are so damn many of them…

But a few, those that are apparently slightly less spammy than others, show up in a daily email summary (and a few–two yesterday!–actually get through until I see and flag them). Many of these have slightly deficient grammar and substantially deficient sense. Some are almost classic, such as this one:

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Well, I’m happy that the sketch is attractive; too bad it’s invisible. But thaty may have to do with my not being sufficiently well-preferred, according to this comment:

Thanks , I have just been searching for information about this topic for a while and yours is the best I’ve came upon till now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you positive about the source?|What i do not realize is actually how you are not actually much more well-preferred than you may be right now. You’re very intelligent.

Unfortunately, some compliments aren’t even worth the electrons that carry them…

Nicely played, spammer…but not quite nicely enough

Monday, February 27th, 2012

A little more than a month ago, I posted “Keeping it going: another update on library social networking et al.” Included in that post was an amplification of my need for funding to expand and continue my broad investigations into public library social networking.

Somebody (who shall go nameless) posted what appeared to be a cogent reply, noting the existence of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and suggesting that I try there. It was flagged for moderation, and reading the first paragraph, I almost approved it…until I got to the final paragraph, where it turned into a sales pitch for some product entirely unrelated to me, libraries or even the Gates Foundation.

It was spam–but not “pure and simple.” Some spambot had actually managed to parse the post well enough to come up with a seemingly logical response, one that wasn’t just parroting the post. Or maybe some human spammer figured I’d be so delighted with the suggestion that I wouldn’t read all the way through to the end of the post.

Didn’t happen.

Oh, as to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for which I have the greatest respect:

I checked. The foundation doesn’t make grants to individuals. In fact, it can’t make grants to individuals even if it was so inclined: Its tax status and charter prevent it.

Also, for U.S. library-related grants at least, it appears that Gates always goes looking, it doesn’t accept applications.

I would love to have appropriate institutional affiliation or partnership. Any suggestions are welcome. I’m pretty sure that most other foundations (e.g., Knight) will have similar limits to Gates. (Some library school want to make a name for in-depth study of public library use of social networks? I could work with you, possibly…)

So far, no progress on finding sources of funding (or, really, knowing how to do so). The improbable possibility of Kickstarter is starting to look better…

Anyway: As the title says: Nicely played, spammer…but not quite nicely enough.

And I once again apologize to people who submit legitimate comments only to have them trapped as spam. I continue to average more than 100 spamments per day, so really don’t look carefully at each apparent spamment. If you think this has happened, please, please email me your comment at waltcrawford at

Looking Back: hypePad and buzzkill

Friday, February 17th, 2012

One reason I expect to see more activity in this blog in the future is that I plan to prepost some portions of some Cites & Insights essays, just as I’ve always done for Offtopic Perspectives. The paragraphs that follow are the final portion of what will be the first section of the next Cites & Insights, and the only portion written so far. Not to give anything away, but it should be clear from the first sentence that I do plan to change and eliminate some sections of C&I—one reason I’m still polling. [Up to 30 responses as of 11 a.m., Friday, February 17, 2012. Can I hear 35? 40? 31?]

One section name that neither made the cut nor has a direct replacement: The Zeitgeist. It wasn’t used all that often—five times in all, as far as I can tell—and the last one landed with such a “tree in the forest” non-effect that I pretty much gave up the idea. Iris Jastram suggested the name (actually “preserving the zeitgeist”) as something Cites & Insights does or has done, for which I thank her: Even if I dropped the section name, I like the idea.

The very first essay tagged as The Zeitgeist appeared in the Spring 2010 issue (and was the entirety of that issue other than a Bibs & Blather on sponsorship and the surprise loss of my part-time job). The essay-specific subtitle was hypePad and buzzkill.

I reread the essay recently as part of an ongoing process of interleaving old Cites & Insights printed issues in with my flow of other magazines. At this writing, I’m about two months behind on other magazines and slightly less than two years behind on C&I, but the latter’s deliberate: I insert one issue of C&I in front of each Condé Nast Traveler when that magazine arrives. By the time I reread an issue, I’ve long since forgotten it, so I can read it freshly. That’s an attempt to replicate the experience of reading my magazine columns (all of which are now defunct, but it was a good two decades or so) a few months after writing them.


So I read this essay. At first I thought “it would be a prime candidate for a ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ mea culpa about how badly off I was on my projections.”

Except that I didn’t make any projections regarding sales for the iPad: That part of the article wasn’t really about the iPad itself, it was about the sheer hype and hyperbole (not quite the same thing) before and immediately after its introduction. And I don’t see any need to apologize for anything I said in the article. In fact, while the iPad has sold much better than most non-Apple-centric observers expected, it has not destroyed ereaders, it has not wiped out netbooks or PCs or open computing (unless you’re one of those for whom a slowing of sales increases constitutes “wiped out”), and I don’t believe it’s changed everything. I’m still not part of the target market. My brother and sister-in-law are (they travel a lot more, for one thing), and they both have iPads (one of them is on a second-generation unit). They love them. They’re very intelligent people. We’ve tried them out. So far, we’ve found no particular desire to buy one—although there have been uses for which I’ve suggested that my wife might want one. So far, she doesn’t. If we wanted to spend more on computing and media consumption, switching to cable broadband from our increasingly-flaky DSL would probably come way ahead of buying iPads. (By the way, Apple’s down to 57% of the tablet market…but you can’t prove that by the pundits who still proclaim that there is no tablet market, only an iPad market. Using the same logic by which there is no personal computing market, only a Windows market—except that Windows still has more than 90% market share.)

As for the buzzkill section, for which the actual section heading was Buzzkill: Google Screws Up, I still think that’s a fair summary. Remember Google Buzz? How it was an instant success—because Google simply dumped everybody into it, populating your “social network” with email contacts? It was pretty much a disaster, and Google bailed out. Google+ may not be perfect (not by a long shot!), but it’s better.

I’m going to quote the final subsection of that essay, “Thinking about the Parallels.” I believe it’s held up pretty well:

Both Google and Apple are large companies in Silicon Valley, both of which rely heavily on user trust and faith. Both have groups of admirers who proclaim they can do no wrong and assail doubters.

As far as I can tell, Apple didn’t actively generate the level of hype, although the company certainly did its share of leaking and dissembling. Most of the hypePad story is about reactions and expectations, not about the device itself or Apple’s handling of it. I’ve never been much of an Apple person, and I’m not a great fan of Steve Jobs. That said, and discounting nonsense like “magical” and “revolutionary,” the iPad will succeed or fail largely on its own merits. While those merits may not meet my needs—and while I do believe you’re better off thinking of the iPad as an appliance, not another kind of computer, and that the closed model is dangerous—there’s no doubt its merits are real. It’s up to the public, early adopters and others, to decide whether the tablet form factor finally makes sense. It’s up to other companies to raise the bar that the iPad sets—which, depending on what people are looking for, may be easy or difficult.

Google was in charge of its own destiny. Google screwed up big time. I’ve generally been a cautious fan of Google. I like Gmail a lot. I think the Google Books project has many good aspects and could have been a blow for fair use (if Google hadn’t caved). I’ll be more cautious in the future about turning any part of my virtual life over to my former neighbors in Mountain View. Where I’ve usually been negatively disposed toward Apple, I’ve usually been positive (if cautious) about Google. In this case, Google screwed up. With any luck, Buzz will go the way of Orkut and Google users will get a lot more cautious.

Apple +1, Google -1. Is that a fair parallel?

Blog maintenance: An update

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Three weeks ago, I noted plans to be more active on this blog–and to do some maintenance in the process.

That post garnered more non-spam feedback than I usually get.

I note “non-spam” because the level of spam comments has now risen enough that I can’t honestly pretend to scan them for wrongly-categorized comments: It’s now typically more than 100 per day, sometimes much more.

In general, people objected to my plans to get rid of “a whole bunch of posts that are outdated, and some of them really don’t have any significance any more.” I listened and tried to clarify what I had in mind, perhaps less than successfully.

And then I acted. And, with one big exception, I’m mostly done.

If you have an exceptional memory or took a snapshot of the homepage on January 24, you may note some changes in the “Categories” sidebar. There’s a new “Passé” category with relatively few posts. Another category changed names. Yet another category was merged into what should have been a parent category. There may be a couple more cases like that.

I added a new Micropublishing category for tutorials and other posts that serve as additional material for The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing.

And several categories have smaller numbers than they did on January 24.

What’s happened so far

In addition to the category changes and renaming noted above, I’ve deleted posts very selectively. Nearly all of the small number of deletions were posts that said nothing more than that Lulu was offering a short-term discount (and urging folks to buy C&I Books at the lower prices) or announcing a price change in a C&I book. I should congratulate my readership on a complete and utter disdain for sales, since none of those discount announcements seems to have resulted in even a single sale (and I’ve pretty much stopped doing them, although Lulu seems to have more short-term sales than ever).

I did not delete posts that made points I no longer agree with. I did not delete announcements for issues of C&I. I did not delete any post that, in my opinion, had any useful content, even if it was outmoded. (The new Passé category includes a few of those latter posts.)

What I’ve mostly done is to reduce multiple categorization–especially on posts that primarily announce new issues of Cites & Insights or discuss things related to C&I.

What’s left

As time and patience permit, I’m still going through the posts with Cites & Insights as a category, removing other category tags when the post announces a new issue or is primarily about the ejournal. I’m doing that chronologically (that is, oldest first), starting with page 15 of a post list for the category. I’ve done pages 15-11, and expect to do pages 10-1 over the next few days or weeks.

Update, 12:15 p.m. PDT, February 10, 2012: “the next few days or weeks” turned out to be the next two hours. This process is now complete.

I’m not deleting posts in the process. I’m only cleaning up categories.

More posts?

I think so. I tentatively plan to expand the use of Walt at Random as a precursor to Cites & Insights, just as it is now for old movies. And I hope to expand on some points here that don’t make sense in C&I. And, of course, I’m still working on (or planning to work on) possible funding for an ongoing study of public library use of social networks…and possibly book ideas.

Anyway, that’s what’s happened and what’s left. I don’t believe I’ve betrayed any archival principals. I do believe the Category sidebar will be a little more useful–and, of course, the search box and chronological navigation haven’t changed at all.

Keeping it going: Another update on library social networking et al

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

A few months back, one of the many Library Society of the World FriendFeedFolk made an idle comment about setting me up as an institution.

I trust the person didn’t actually mean that I need to be institutionalized. Let’s assume that’s the case. I hope I’m still a few decades away from being institutionalized…

While I’d certainly accept an ongoing “consultancy” or, say, Jack-of-some-trades Emeritus position, with adequate funding (let’s call it $15,000/year plus inflation, for at least four years), somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’d still like to hope that there’s a way to make a more project-oriented version of this happen–namely, the future outlined in “Prospectus: An Ongoing Public Library Social Network Scan” [which I’ve updated slightly since it was first posted, and which appears in differently-modified form in Bibs & Blather within the current Cites & Insights] and expanded in “A library is…

Over the last few days, as I’ve reviewed the full second draft of Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries and started determining how to modify it for the third (submission) draft, I’ve realized and found out some additional items that may add meat to all of this.

The IMLS Oops

I knew all along that the best source of key data for libraries in all 50 states (plus DC and some American territories) was IMLS–but last August, when I tried to download and open the latest public library statistics, I found that it wouldn’t work: The Access file wouldn’t open in Excel and the flat file was not something I could handle. (The Access file is actually three linked .mdb databases.)

Either I did something wrong back then (quite possible), something’s changed on my computer (also possible–I do have Windows Update auto-enabled), or something’s changed elsewhere in the universe, because when I tried the same thing today, it worked.

This would have been nice last August–or, better, last June before I started any of the library scans–if only because the IMLS database includes the actual names that public libraries use, which either aren’t always used in the state spreadsheets (available from most but not all states) or aren’t in columns that I found obvious. As a result, some library searches were clumsier than they needed to be, and it’s even possible that I missed a few.

So: If I did have funding to do a complete sweep for 2012 and later years, I could apparently work with the national files even without buying new software. That’s a good thing. And having the actual library names in one neat column does make life easier…

The potential side-effects

If I could get ongoing funding for this project, I could be persuaded quite easily to treat it as a form of personal sponsorship (and yes, $15,000/year plus inflation would be about right), which would mean:

  • PDFs and other electronic output directly from the studies themselves would be freely available and would carry a Creative Commons BY (attribution) license. (If there are spreadsheets, they’d carry a CC0 license, although that’s silly since data is fundamentally not copyrightable anyway.)
  • I would retroactively change the Creative Commons license for Cites & Insights and Walt at Random from CC BY-NC to CC BY–that is, “use it as you will, as long as you give me credit.”
  • I would treat all of my books for which I have full control as carrying a Founder’s License: That is, I’d dedicate them to the public domain after 14 years. That would include all my books before Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality–which is more than 14 years old, but I’m not in a position to make it public domain. (When Being Analog turns 14, in another year, I’d ask ALA Editions whether it’s out of print and thus has control return to me. If so, I’d make it public domain.)

So there’s an amplification. Any takers?