Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Monday, old, and insufficiently paranoid

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Which is to say:

  • It’s Monday as I write this, with all that implies.
  • I’m not that old, but possibly calmer–or just slower–than when I was a mere child of, say, 55.
  • And, responding to the Oh Noo! FaceBook Acquired FriendFeed! We’re Dooooomed! comments (and the news itself), I find that I’m insufficiently paranoid.

In other words, I’m not looking to flee FriendFeed just yet. (Yes, I have a FaceBook account–and yes, I have a lot more “friends” on FaceBook than I have followers on FriendFeed: that’s the way things go. Also, yes, I treat FaceBook with considerable caution, ignoring every cause/gift/thingie invitation…and probably spend more than ten times as much time on FF as on FB.)

Why so calm?

Because I don’t see the point of panic at this stage of the game, and I’m too tired to panic anyway.
After all, I haven’t spent a dime on FF. Sure, there’s “original content” there–probably hundreds of comments and posts that don’t appear anywhere else. None of which amounts to much in the grand scheme of things, or even in my odd little web universe.
The “maybe the sky’s just a little overcast, not falling” story–that is, that FB’s mostly buying FF for its talent and can readily afford to just leave FF alone–makes sense. And, you know, FF serves as a nice escape hatch for FB users who become overwhelmed with the glitz and sheer mass of FB. It probably doesn’t cost a lot to keep going, and I suspect a few modest little ads wouldn’t disturb users that much.
FB says they have no plans to shut FF down. Do I take them at their word?
Not necessarily–but if not, then what? Do I rush out to join another social medium (there are plenty to choose from)? Been there, done that, generally wasn’t pleased with the results–but times and social media change. Do I rush away from FF because I think it’s going away anyway? Why? How would my leaving somehow benefit me or avoid damage if FF does go away? It’s not like being a passenger in a car crash, after all…
Of course, that’s just me. Maybe for you, this is terrible, horrible news that requires major action right now. (Or maybe you’ve never heard of FF anyway–I think one reason it may work better is because it only has a million or so users.) In which case, if you’re one of the six dozen or so who I directly follow, well, I might miss you…but then, maybe you’ll start blogging again, and that might not be a bad thing.
And if you’re about to write a post saying “FriendFeed is dead…” ah, but that’s another post–or, rather, a magazine column, and it’s one I’m working on. (No, FriendFeed doesn’t appear in the title. The column should appear in December.)

Five years on

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Long-suffering readers will be aware that one of few things still left on my old blog, now retitled Walt, Even Randomer, is the series of brief reviews of old movies, done each time I go through a disc from one of the Mill Creek Entertainment packs (typically 50 movies on 12 discs).

Mill Creek Entertainment does a remarkable job of mining the public domain and other areas where they can license movies or TV for very small sums–including TV movies–to create large sets of VHS-quality movies, typically four or five to a DVD, sold in genre packs at extremely low prices.

I’d been using the movies to “stay on the treadmill” for the past five+ years–going through more than 300 movies in that time, including some true classics and a few total turkeys. Of late, I’ve been alternating discs from two sets and watching two movies in a typical week, so it takes about a year to go through a 50-pack.

End of background. Start of foreground.

So last week, I finished an unusual 20-pack (early Alfred Hitchcock), alternating with a comedy 50-pack (I’m on disc 9)…and, instead of starting another 50-pack, I started something a little different: the 250-movie Mystery Collection.
Two hundred and fifty movies on 60 DVDs…
And suddenly thought, “If I watch movies at the typical rate, I’ll finish this box in about five years.”
Which then suggested musing a little about five years on–particularly where media are concerned.
If you believe some pundits, physical media will all be gone in five years–we’ll rely on that great digital jukebox in the sky for everything, when and as we need it. I don’t buy that for a minute. For a variety of reasons, I firmly believe that many of us will be buying physical media five years from now, enough to make for healthy industries.
On a medium-by-medium basis? I’m deliberately not a futurist, but here’s my best guess:

  • Music: Even though CDs have already reached the 25-year mark (over the history of recorded music, a given medium has typically been dominant for about 25 years), they still represent the majority of music sales (about 2/3), despite widespread assumptions that CDs are already dead. There are two reasons for that: First, every DVD player is also a CD player; second, no replacement physical medium has succeeded (and those that have been attempted were, by and large, CD-equivalents). I’d bet that there will still be a multibillion-dollar (per year) CD industry five years from now, although it will probably be considerably smaller than today’s industry. But I’ll also bet that vinyl will still be with us five years from now, even though I’m not among the “digitization destroys music” brigade. (Not even close: The day we purchased our first CDs was a bit after the day we purchased our last LPs.)
  • Films & video: I’m nearly 100% certain that there will still be a large (that is, multibillion$) commercial market for DVDs five years from now–and almost certainly a decade from now. Unlike music, the infrastructure for a truly workable universal video jukebox isn’t in place–and, as with music, there are millions of us who actually prefer a physical object. I’m about 90% certain that Blu-ray Disc will also be a multibillion$ market five years from now. Will Blu-ray become dominant over DVD? Short of a forced conversion, I think it’s unlikely–not because there’s anything wrong with Blu-ray but because most people either don’t notice the difference or don’t care about the difference. (By all accounts, a very large percentage of people who own HDTVs never actually watch high-definition TV. Those people aren’t going to pay $1 more for a Blu-ray version, much less $5 more.) I think Blu-ray will do just fine, but for some people, anything short of market domination is a failure, in which case I think Blu-ray will fail.
  • Print magazines: Not going anywhere. Of course some are failing. Some always fail, and recessions aren’t great times to start magazines. It’s a tough time to start Yet Another Business Magazine (sorry, Portfolio); it’s a tough time to start Yet Another Any Sort of Magazine. I’ll still be subscribing to print magazines five years from now and ten years from now, and probably still paying absurdly low prices for some of them.
  • Print books: Do I even need to discuss this one? Unless you believe that an 0.2% dip in sales in the midst of the worst recession in decades means Books Are Doomed, there’s really no sensible discussion here. I hope ebooks, done right, take a few $billion of the book market where ebooks do it better–but I don’t happen to believe that ebooks are likely to “do it better” for most long-form narrative fiction and nonfiction in my lifetime, much less the next decade. (I plan to be around three more decades, with luck, and my family history suggests that’s on the short side.)
  • Print newspapers: I believe that hundreds of small and medium-sized print newspapers will still be around five and ten years from now; they’ve generally been doing better than the huge metro dailies. I hope that the better metro dailies will still be around–but I’m a little less sanguine. (Will we renew the San Francisco Chronicle next year at more than $400 a year? Hard to say…but I’d sure miss it, even though most content is available at SFGate.)

So, there it is: My personal take on what I think’s likely as regards physical media. I know some hotshot futurists say Everything’s Going Digital Real Soon Now. I also know the history of new and old media–and the wonders of DRM aren’t really helping. (Yes, Amazon probably did what it had to–but it also waved a Big Red Flag about the mutability of that big celestial jukebox. The book you “purchased” yesterday may or may not be the book you’re reading today…)
I could be wrong about any of these. I could be wrong about all of them–but I’d be very surprised. Heck, I’m hoping I’ll find interesting new Mill Creek 50-packs or 100-packs to buy in 2014. (The 250-packs appear to have been short-lived phenomena: you can still buy them from Amazon and elsewhere, but they don’t show up on Mill Creek’s website. That may be sensible…)
So, is this enough of an information science hook? The Future of Physical Media, from one reasonably informed perspective…

Uncontrolled Vocabulary: Another one down (at least for now)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Greg Schwartz just announced that Uncontrolled Vocabulary, the “weekly live interactive roundtable discussion of all things library,” is on hiatus. The eloquent post offers reasons why (a matter of family priorities) and how difficult it is to take the step.

It’s not a decision I make lightly and it in no way reflects my enthusiasm for what we do here. I love producing this program. I love the conversations. I love the people who’ve joined me on this journey. I know some of them will be genuinely disappointed. For this, I am sorry.

…Please understand that the problem for me is not so much the hosting of the show, which is only an hour of my time per week. It’s the never-ending involvement: the slave-like attention to my feed reader, the setting up of blog posts, the reading and re-reading of proposed conversation starters. All worthwhile activites that I enjoy, but that require a certain constant level of engagement which forces me to make compromises with the rest of my priorities. I’m making a conscious decision to not make those compromises anymore.

So far, it’s only on hiatus–but a “permanent vacation” is a possibility.

Great work (from everything I’ve heard)

True confession: I’ve never participated in a UV episode (there have been 71 to date)–and I’ve only listened to one of them all the way through.

That’s my loss. I’m just not a podcast person–even less so now that my daily commute is from the dining room to my office, maybe 25 feet. (But even when I was working, it was only a 10-15 minute commute–and I think I’d find something like UV too distracting for that commute.) Since I wasn’t a listener, it never made much sense to be a participant (and I tend not to do any professional stuff after dinner).

But I’ve heard enough, from people I trust, to know that UV was great stuff–lively, interesting, informative, with a diverse range of perspectives. The one episode I did listen to made me want more, just not enough to find the time for it.

The profession definitely owes Greg thanks for what he’s done to date–and, to be sure, for the earlier Carnival of the Infosciences.

This stuff is hard (and not always very rewarding)

There have been a number of unique, passion-driven experiments in non-institutional, freely available  “periodical media” serving the library field–making a distinction between things that appear on a fairly regular basis and the hundreds of blogs and other wholly irregular sources. (If you think I’m putting down liblogs, you really don’t read my stuff much: I’m making a distinction, not a value judgment.)

A few examples (excluding peer-reviewed OA journals) and what’s become of them:

  • ExLibris, Marylaine Block’s weekly essay, which lasted more than 300 editions. It eventually became less-than-weekly. Block gave up on it in 2008, but continues to maintain the archive.
  • NewBreed Librarian, “a publication and web site intended to foster a sense of community for those new to librarianship, whether in school or just out.” The bimonthly “webzine,” heavy on graphic design, began in February 2001–and ended in August 2002.
  • Library Juice “was an irregular, weekly, then biweekly, then, for a moment, monthly electronic zine for librarians, library and information science students, and other interested people, published between January, 1998 and August, 2005.” Rory Litwin, who produced the zine throughout its eight-year life, resurrected the name as a blog, a book and a book publishing company. I’m not aware of any archive of the many zine issues.
  • Carnival of the Infosciences, while technically a series of blog posts, falls into this category, with the interesting twist that it had many direct hosts during its 90-issue life (August 2005 to May 2008). While the link here yields pointers to the first 57 editions, the wiki hasn’t been kept up to date; you’ll have to search a little to get the remaining 33 editions. Update: Schwartz notes that links to the latter half of the Carnivals are here; I just missed them.
  • Free Open Scholarship Newsletter, a monthly launched by Peter Suber in March 2001 to support “free online scholarship,” is a survivor–in part because SPARC took it over, sponsors it (Peter Suber is now a senior researcher at SPARC, among other things) and renamed it SPARC Open Access Newsletter in July 2003.
  • Current Cites, a team effort providing “8-12 annotated citations” of current library literature each month, is also a survivor and by far the longest-lived of any of these efforts, since it began in August 1990.
  • Added 2/25:, “Law and technology resources for legal professionals” (most definitely including law librarians) is a monthly collection of articles and columns (in a way, it’s an overlay journal) that Sabrina I. Pacifici has been doing since 1997. It has advertising and is a strong survivor. As noted on the “About” page, “LLRX is now in its 12th year of continuous publication, as a solo, independent enterprise.”
  • Cites & Insights, my own experiment in this field, began in December 2000 and has appeared at least monthly ever since. I no longer consider it an experiment. It does have modest sponsorship. And, frankly, if I was still fully employed and had a better sense of balance, free time and priorities…well, I’m not sure C&I would be around.

And now another one’s gone, at least temporarily. I didn’t use “unique” in the phrase “unique, passion-driven experiments” because I’m a sloppy writer–I used it because it’s true. Each of these (and probably others I’ve forgotten or somehow missed) has had its own strengths, weaknesses and approach. Each has served the library field well (in my opinion).

And most have, I suspect, been underappreciated and under-rewarded relative to the direct work and indirect effort that’s gone into them. As gray literature (and I’ll include podcasts as literature), they’re mostly ignored by indexing services and other “official” resources. Nobody got rich from advertising on any of these. In most cases, I think the creators have needed a little craziness to keep things going.

So, Greg, you’ve done good work–and made what’s undoubtedly the right decision. Hope things work out.

Have you heard good music lately?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

That’s a trick question, as the emphasis here is on heard; only you can decide what constitutes “good” in your case.

Or maybe the question is, “Depending on how and why you listen, do you know what you’re missing?”

Don’t worry–I’m not going to get into Audiophilia Extremis. I don’t have that kind of money or those kind of ears. I’m talking about differences that I really believe almost anyone who cares about music will hear–at least subconsciously and probably consciously.


I recently decided to upgrade my 2GB $40 MP3 player (Sansa Express) to a 4GB $50 player, at a total upgrade cost of $10. Which is to say, Office Depot had house-brand 2GB microSD cards on sale for $10, and the Sansa Express has a microSD expansion card.

I long ago reripped all my CDs at 320K MP3, the highest quality for MP3, because I thought I could hear the difference between 192K (which I’d originally ripped at) and 320K–and I was certain I could hear the difference between 128K and 192K, without even paying attention.

So I was going to choose something like 450 tunes to fit into 4GB (at 320K, music typically uses about 2.3 megabytes per minute; figure right around 28 hours of music for 4GB, or around 420-480 songs, given that lots of the songs I like are 4-6 minutes)

But I remembered, before I started in, that I’d planned to do some selective editing of some cuts, and two cuts could be dealt with very easily. (There are quite a few where I’d like to do a bit of editing, but that takes time…) Namely,

  • James Taylor’s version of “Walking My Baby Back Home” has an inexplicable 50 seconds of pure silence at the end of the song–probably a CD mastering error of some sort.
  • The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”…well, I find the last 2+ minutes excruciatingly repetitive, and I can actually do without John’s yelping.

So I downloaded Audigy (again–I’d had it on my old desktop, although I’d never used it) and the MP3/Export plugin. (There’s apparently now a good free competitor to Audigy, which I haven’t investigated: I don’t do a lot of sound editing, obviously.)

And opened “Walking My Baby Back Home,” confirmed that the last 50 seconds were in fact a flat line on the audio visualization, and deleted all but the first three seconds. Then saved it.

And played it in Windows Media Player…and, well, ugh. It was lifeless, a little muffled, uninteresting. Then checked the filesize. Hmm. 2.2MB for a 2.5 minute song.

Whoops. The MP3 export defaults to 128KMP3. I hadn’t checked that.

So, reripped the file (at 320K–I’d set Windows Media Player for that and it’s a sticky setting), redid the edit in Audigy, and saved it again–after changing the MP3 setting to 320K.

It sounded great; pretty much identical to the CD, and worlds better than the 128K MP3.

This should come as no surprise

128K MP3 is somewhere between AM and FM quality, at best. You’re throwing away 90% of the data in the original recording: How can you expect that the results won’t be damaged? (And, of course, “restoring” 128K MP3 to a CD-R as .WAV files does not do anything to improve the sound quality. “Lossy” means just that.)

What did come as a surprise was how obvious the loss was–and this wasn’t through some fancy stereo system or even the lovely Altec-Lansing PC speakers I used to use. It was through $10 Sony clipon semi-earbuds. (I’m not sure what to call them. They have loops that go over your ears; the speakers themselves sit sideways into your ear, but they’re not really in-ear phones. They’re a damn site better than the usual earbuds that come wih music players–and that certainly includes iPods, from everything I’ve heard, but come on: They’re $10 devices!)

Other voices heard from

I was reading an anecdote where someone’s son, home from college for the holidays, happened to listen to a CD of music he enjoyed–and had been listening to on a portable music player at a typical bitrate (probably 128K-164K). And suddenly exclaimed about how much better it sounded, how much more music was there.

True golden-ear readers (if there are any of you out there) will be appalled that I’m listening to MP3 at all, or that I even consider CD to be good sound quality. (Even worse, I believe that some of the CD-Rs I used to record, consisting of 320K MP3 expanded back to WAV, may just possibly sound better than the original CDs–which turns out to be at least theoretically possible, given jitter issues. Let’s not press that point.) Understand: I don’t claim to be golden-eared, and may not be too far away from hearing aids. $500 headphones and $50,000 speakers would just be wasted on me, I suspect.

I was using the $10 Sonys, which are great for travel (the Sansa Express is an unusually compact player–basically a fat flash drive–and it and the Sonys fit into a little zipped change purse that I can drop in my pocket), because my old home headphones (a $30 Radio Shack set with titanium elements, probably made by Koss) fell apart: the cheapo plastic hinges just snapped after a few years of use.

Since then, I’ve acquired some surprisingly decent headphones–Sennheiser PX100, oddly-foldable on-ear (but not circumaural) phones that cost $37.50 at Amazon. (They just arrived today. The first time I’ve ever purchased audio equipment based on Consumer Reports’ recommendation. They’re excellent by my standards, but headbangers and bass fanatics won’t like them. They’re designed to travel well.) I’m sure the differences would be even more obvious on these, to say nothing of anything like high-end equipment.

Try it yourself

If you have even halfway decent headphones (or speakers, for that matter), and if you’re listening to low-bitrate downloads or rips, and if you have a CD with any of the music you’re listening to…well, give it a try. Actually listen to the same songs (particularly songs with voices and acoustic instruments, e.g., guitar, piano, whatever–folk, jazz, you name it) in both forms. Pay attention.

I think you’ll find there’s just more music than you’ve been hearing–maybe not more notes, but a lot more to the notes. You’ll hear the instruments more clearly, you’ll get more out of the singers.

There’s also a subconscious aspect to this, at least for many (most?) of us. If you find that you stop listening to your digital music after half an hour or so, you may be suffering “digital fatigue”–the nature of the loss and artifacts in low-bitrate digital music tends to be tiring. I love Pandora, but I really can’t listen to it for more than 20-30 minutes; it makes my ears hurt. That’s true of almost all streaming music.

Maybe you’ll find that you don’t hear a difference or don’t care about the difference. Maybe you’ll find that you do.

If you do, there are steps you can take:

  • Rerip your CDs, either to .WAV (if you have loads of disk space and devices that can handle it) or a lossless format such as FLAC (again, if you have loads of space and compatible devices), or at least to high-bitrate MP3 (I’d suggest 256K or high VBR at a minimum; 320K is the max). After all, disk space is cheap these days–surely you can afford a gigabyte for every seven hours of music?
  • If you use a portable player, think about the tradeoffs. Do you really feel the need for 2,000 songs on your 8GB player? Personally, I’d rather have 450 songs I really care about than 4,000 songs that I may never listen to more than once a year. But that’s me. (I wound up with 463 songs, after going through the 2,200 I have on hard disk and informally rating them. I could squeeze a few more in, but this is good. If I wanted to include all the songs that I rated at least as “pretty good” (3 stars) instead of just “very good” (4 stars) and “excellent” (5 stars), I’d need an 8GB player. Maybe next year. Maybe not: The very good/excellent playlist is both varied and quite wonderful.)
  • If you’re still using the earbuds that came with the player–no matter how much the player itself cost–try something a little better. $10 will get you semi-decent devices; $20 will buy fair sound; $40 will buy pretty good sound. From what I’ve read and heard, most name-brand players (including iPods, Sansa’s devices, Muze and Creative’s players) will produce much better sound than the default earbuds provide; they just need better earphones.

I won’t tell you what kind of music you should enjoy. I will suggest that some of you may not be really hearing the music you love–and that you’ll enjoy it more when you do. (And you don’t need to go for broke to do that: Note that my “stereo system” at this point cost $87.50 total, and is very satisfying.)

Blog analysis

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Nope, this isn’t more advance flogging for The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008. (You’ll get that soon enough, along with a special offer for early purchasers. If you’re wondering: I uploaded the PDFs to Lulu yesterday, and am now waiting for the proof copy, which could take a couple of weeks.)

This is a Friday funny–and a slightly delayed joining in an offhand meme I saw at Helene Blowers’ Library Bytes. Namely, a few blog analyzers…and in this case, how they rate this here blog.


This one claims to do a Myers-Briggs style analysis of the blog. I just ran it and came up with:

ESTP – The Doers

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Bwahahah… yep, that’s me, out there playing volleyball when I’m not on the links or joking with my huge array of friends, since I’m so attuned to people. And, you know, never following through on anything, which is why Cites & Insights disappeared after six issues and I’ve never managed to complete any of those books I’ve started writing…

What’s most absurd here is that I ran the same site’s test a few days ago (November 10), when Blowers posted her item–and came out INTP, The Thinkers (and an introvert). I’m notoriously an introvert (and yes, I tested that way on a real Myers-Briggs test–I think it was INTP. That was when I was LITA Vice President/President-Elect; the LITA Executive Director had all of the Executive Committee members take the M-B test and assured us we were all “E”s because, after all, how else could you win an election?)

So in four days with, I think, two posts, I’ve gone from introvert to extrovert and from one who regularly finishes projects to one who leaps from idea to idea? Man, those must have been some impressive posts…or this is an unusually silly beta site.


This one “uses Artificial Intelligence” to determine whether a blog is written by a man or a woman.

The robots say I write like a man (75%, whatever that might mean).

Well, at least that’s not as absurd as ESTP; last I checked, the gender choice was right.

Readability Test

What grade level this blog is written at.

Junior high school. Whereas C&I is at college/undergrad level and my personal website (which includes a few old articles) is at “Genius” level.

Hmm. I’m happy enough with “Junior high school” for the blog, but I wonder whether that’s as erratic a rating as the Typealyzer. Somehow, though, I find it hard to believe that the handful of items on my personal website are that much deeper intellectually or confounding in style than C&I–or, for that matter, that C&I is all that much more hifalutin’ than this here blog.

In this case, it’s a repeat performance: I posted about this site last November. Came out junior high school then, too–and most individual essays from C&I came out high school, which was fine with me.

What is your blog worth

Claims to determine the blog’s monetary value based on Technorati ranking and advertising potential.


I love the precision: Not just $28,000, but $28,227.

Ah, but the “most successful linkbaiter, ever” who put up this site claims his blog is worth $6,220,101.72. Must be nice to be rich. (And yes, that site has LOADS of ads. When I had ads here, I made $24–over six months, as I remember. Yes, my Technorati “authority” rating and number of subscribers have both grown. Not that much, though…)

As Helene says, “use at your own risk” and “for your pure amusement purposes only.” By the way, she comes out ISTJ, woman, high school and $47,569.

Oh, and if someone wants to sponsor this blog, I’d ask a whole lot less than $28,227 (but more than $227)–but then, is that “per year” or “over a lifetime”?

In fact, I am very much looking for sponsorship–but primarily for ongoing real-world research into blogs and wikis, with this blog being a tertiary possibility.

Meanwhile, you may find these tests fun. If you test at the genius level…well, I probably couldn’t understand all them big words anyway.

Ejournal as blog: A novel experiment?

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

One of the founders told me about In the Library with the Lead Pipe earlier this week–but somehow I failed to blog about it then. Let’s make up for that…since I think this is an interesting experiment off to a good start.

What it is

In the Library with the Lead Pipe is intended to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions. Each article is peer-reviewed by at least one external and one internal reviewer.

It’s a group of six librarians–all named, all with biographical pages, from academic, public and school libraries.

In addition to essays by its founders, In the Library with the Lead Pipe will feature articles by guests representing special libraries and archives, as well as educators, administrators, library support staff, and community members.

What’s novel

Look at the boldfaced sentence in the first quote (emphasis added). These aren’t traditional blog posts.

They’re articles–and they’re peer reviewed.

They’re not scholarly articles (although I suppose some of them could be), so this isn’t precisely a Gold OA journal. It is, though, an ejournal–it has an overall name, there are individual signed articles, articles are peer-reviewed–in the form of a blog.

No ISSN (yet), but they plan weekly publication (in your reader every Wednesday!), going twice-weekly if there’s enough material.

What’s here

In addition to the welcoming post that explains what this is, there’s the first article: “What happens in the library…” by Brett Bonfield. It’s an article-length review of Pop Goes the Library–and it’s both a good read and, I suspect, a very useful review. (Hey, it’s got me interested in reading the book, and that’s a surprise.)

There are two feeds–one for posts, one for comments.

Minor grumps

The WordPress design is carefully thought out, I suspect, and probably well suited to this experiment.

From my specialized perspective as a sometimes quant analyst of liblogs, it’s not ideal: The home page includes only the first few lines of each article–and, at least for now, the archive shows only the titles (and incorrect comment counts). But, again, that’s from a specialized perspective–for 99% of readers, the design will work just fine.


This is an interesting idea and I suspect the group behind it has enough commitment to make it a serious experiment. I wish it well–and it’s certainly in my feed list.

You might want to give it a try. You won’t be bombarded with 10 posts a day, that’s for sure. If future articles are at the level of the first one, there’s likely to be some good reading here.

Oh yes: Here’s the subtitle:

The murder victim? Your library assumptions. Suspects? It could have been any of us.

I wish I’d said that

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Those of you who read Cites & Insights–and if you don’t, you really should–know that I’ve looked at Wikipedia off and on, from a number of angles.

One aspect of Wikipedia that’s always bothered me is, I believe, built into the model: The more important the entry, the less likely that it will have a coherent voice. From what I’m seeing, the situation at Wikipedia is getting worse as there are more efforts to assure that everything is properly footnoted. I was hoping Citizendium would be different–that requiring signed contributions would encourage coherent essays–but even Citizendium has procedures that work against editorial coherence to some extent, as I discussed in “Citizendium and the Writer’s Voice,” in the May 2008 issue. The essay starts on page 10, but the relevant discussion starts on page 17: “The writer’s voice, the expert’s mind.”

For a one-paragraph factoid, it doesn’t much matter. But for anything much more significant, I’d really like an encyclopedia article to be an essay, something that leads me to an understanding of the subject. My belief is that Wikipedia’s methodology pushes in the other direction, as it discourages commentary and encourages strings of documentable statements. Instead of essays, you get big long sets of sentences and paragraphs with little coherence or narrative flow.

But there you go: I’ve used two paragraphs and not really gotten at what I mean to say.

Then I read Tim Spalding’s post today at Thingology: “Wikimania 2008 (Alexandria, Egypt).” And this comment on an article that requires more than a factual paragraph (in this case, “Alexander the Great”):

It’s lumpy, unbalanced, poorly written and poorly sourced—a bright fourteen year-old child sitting next to you on a bus, telling you everything he knows.* Parts are good. Parts are bad. Parts are just off somehow—their correction requiring un-Wikipedia-esque virtues like restraint, proportionality and style.

“A bright fourteen-year-old child sitting next to you on a bus, telling you everything he knows.” That’s just about perfect.

I’ll add to “restraint, proportionality and style,” one more virtue that may be covered in “style”: narrative coherence.

An encyclopedia article on Alexander the Great should be a story. It should have voice, coherence, style, narrative flow. When I’m done reading it, I should understand something about Alexander the Great. I don’t believe you can get there from a series of factual sentences and paragraphs–and I believe it’s a lot harder when commentary is disallowed and writers are anonymous.

This doesn’t suggest that Wikipedia’s useless–and I’d guess the vast majority of its uses are for quick lookups anyway, where the lack of narrative coherence doesn’t much matter. It does suggest that Wikipedia has real limits and that, in some ways, it will never be as good as traditional encyclopedias, even if it may exceed them in other ways.

Thanks, Tim. I’ll use that elsewhere, and try to remember to give you credit.

Gmail space: Wrong, wrong, wrong

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Back on April 30, 2008, I wrote a speculative post: When will Gmail hit seven gigabytes?

As in, when will the space allotted to each Gmail account reach 7,000,000,000 characters (yes, I know that’s not really seven gigabytes, and I explore that in the post).

Here’s what I predicted:

The Fourth of July, give or take a week.

Actually, if they’re adding space at a steady rate–which is a huge “if”–then it should be either July 4 or July 5, 2008.

I also promised that, if I was wrong, I would double my monthly contribution to Gmail.

I was wrong. And, as a result, I’ll send Google $0, which is twice the usual $0 that I’d send them.

“Give or take a week” ain’t going to do it. Right now, the magic number is at something over 6,893 megabytes. It might (or might not) reach 6.9 gigabytes (let’s just use “disk gigabytes” as our measure, shall we?) within a week.

The lesson here? Google’s magic number doesn’t grow at a constant rate. It’s been growing more slowly over the last nine weeks than it was during the period I observed it. It could start growing more rapidly. Since my insider’s knowledge of the Gmail magic number is precisely the same as my insider’s knowledge of anything else at Google–that is,

Just because I live in Mountain View (where the Googleverse is located) doesn’t mean I know anything about Google’s inner workings.

Oh, and as for Google somehow duping librarians…sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Sure, Google’s librarian-outreach project stalled pretty rapidly–but I still don’t see that Google duped Michigan, UC, Harvard, or anyone else. I still see Google Book Search as increasing demand for library books by providing expanded search capabilities…and I wish Open Content Alliance (by which I mean the Internet Archive) would get their act together on providing a suitable complement, particularly now that Microsoft’s dropped Live Books (which I thought was a superior product to Google Book Search, at least in terms of usability of the public-domain results).

And with that, enjoy the long weekend. Oh, and if you’re one of my two readers anxiously following the “will he or won’t he?” story…more about that later, but the short answer is “Probably.” And a couple of thoughtful remarks at Anaheim have a lot to do with that short answer.

Farewell, ExLibris: It was a good ride

Friday, April 25th, 2008

I missed it by a week, but Marylaine Block has announced that she’s formally ending ExLibris. That announcement comes as #309–which includes a list of “my favorite ExLibris pieces.”

For years, I checked every Thursday afternoon to see what Block had to say this week. ExLibris was a founding member of the failed COWLZ initiative–indeed, Marylaine Block probably started the whole notion. ExLibris wasn’t always weekly (there were 309 issues over nine years), but it was fairly regular until the last year or so.

Back in the day, there were the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues, Current Cites, Library Juice (as a periodical), ExLibris, NewBreed Librarian and Cites & Insights. Now…hmm, maybe there’s something about “Cites,” since Current Cites and Cites & Insights are the sole survivors. (Or maybe there’s something about California, or a monthly schedule…)

Marylaine Block provided a real service. I was honored to be one of the 29 “gurus” she interviewed.

Thanks, Marylaine.

Chris Anderson redefines “media”!

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I wouldn’t have read this Wired article at all, except that Peter Suber quoted a chunk of it…including portions of these two paragraphs.

The most common of the economies built around free is the three-party system. Here a third party pays to participate in a market created by a free exchange between the first two parties. Sound complicated? You’re probably experiencing it right now. It’s the basis of virtually all media. [Emphasis added.]

In the traditional media model, a publisher provides a product free (or nearly free) to consumers, and advertisers pay to ride along. Radio is “free to air,” and so is much of television. Likewise, newspaper and magazine publishers don’t charge readers anything close to the actual cost of creating, printing, and distributing their products. They’re not selling papers and magazines to readers, they’re selling readers to advertisers. It’s a three-way market.

Virtually all media. Isn’t that interesting? So, just to make it clear:

  • Media: Commercial broadcast TV and radio. Most magazines and newspapers. Portions of the web.
  • Not media: Books. Sound recordings. DVDs. Movies in general. Premium cable (HBO, Showtime, etc.) Other portions of the web.

OK, so he said virtually all Hmm. Let’s see what the government figures are for 2002 (they’ve changed since then, to be sure–but not enough to throw the percentages off all that much):

  • Broadcast TV and radio, magazines, newspapers: $134 billion.
  • Books, motion pictures and sound recordings: $106 billion.

I’m not sure that I can come up with any usage of “virtually all” that would fit $134 out of $240. Maybe my command of the English language is lacking. Or maybe my command of absurd generalizations is insufficient for me ever to get a job with Wired. I can live with that.

Update: For some reason, I missed the Statistical Abstract when I was at the Census Bureau’s website. StatAbs has more recent figures–for 2005.

  • Newspapers, periodicals, broadcasting: $149 billion
  • Books, motion pictures, sound recordings: $120 billion

The percentages haven’t changed significantly: just under 45% of “the media” are paid for.