Category Archives: Digital Culture

Inherit the Wind

There has been a conflation of blog posts and news stories that have really set my brain on fire this week, starting with an amazing post and comment discussion over at Walking Paper by Aaron Schmidt.  Then there was a quick email conversation with Michael Porter about the future of libraries if we don’t get ahead of the digital content curve and fast. On top of all that, someone pointed me to the  amazing “future of education” slideshow that I linked to yesterday by Dr. David Wiley. And now David Lee King puts together this amazing post about The New Normal, which links out to yet more stories about how the Music Industry and other once-solvent American institutions are undergoing change so radical as to make what comes out the other side almost unrecognizable.

In the midst of all this, at MPOW we are building a new library. So I’m thinking a LOT about several different time horizons. How do I plan for the realities of opening a new library in 2-3 years, but still allow for what I see as the likely outcomes for collections, services, and such in 5, or 10, or 20 years? This is a non-trivial problem…while no one can really tell whats coming, we have to remember that we are creating the future every day.

I agree with David on most of his points, but some of it bears repeating. Here are the sort of “talking points” that I’ve been rolling around in my head for the last month or so.

  • It isn’t likely that any major national newspaper will still be in print in 5 years.
  • Magazines will almost certainly follow…their collapse may be more slow motion because they have a different advertising base, but it will come.
  • Hardcover books are next to go. They are, in effect, just publicity engines.
  • After that, I’m betting that the slowly-dwindling dead-tree printing that is done becomes, essentially, a beskpoke process where there are paper-fetishists who purchase “books” for their sensory natures. But 99.9% of publications will be digital.

In addition to this 5-10 year spiral, we have the parallel procedures of the major content providers hoping to rent the future to us digitally. Ebook models have been unilaterally horrific, insisting on DRM that only punishes the hopeful consumers of the printed word. Digital video and audio on a consumer level are starting to come around, with the iTunes store being the last major consumer provider of digital audio to go DRM free. Consumer video is slowly moving from a subscription-subsidized with advertising model like cable to a free-streaming, a la carte, advertising based model like Hulu, but even there content creators are still fighting the inevitable by insisting that only they get to decide where media can live.

Content providers have insisted on holding tight to a model of selling their wares where content is scarce, connections are hard, and communication is expensive. We live in a world, however, where content is ubiquitous, connections are trivial, and communication is essentially free. These two worlds cannot coexist, and library vendors from Overdrive to OCLC must change their models. If they don’t, they will die as certainly as newspapers, magazines, the recording industry, television, and printed books.

Where does all of this leave the library? As the analog dies and the digital rises, unless we get in front of the content providers and claim our place at the digital table, we run the risk of being increasingly marginalized. There are places for us in this new world, but we need to make them, to carve them from the bytes. Stewart Brand’s comment that “information wants to be free” has never been more true, but just because it wants to be free doesn’t mean it doesn’t need caretakers.

The title of this post is inspired by a quote from Eric Hoffer, who said: “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” In this brave new world, libraries and librarians must be learners. If not, we run the risk of inheriting not the information-rich digital world of the future, but the wind.

ALA and YouTube followup

My post from last week on the ALA presidential debates and YouTube seems to have struck a cord with some librarians, and I’m somewhat pleased with the results. At the same time, I definitely am guilty of what Karen Schneider says: “…he spent too long explaining how ALA isn’t “getting it” and not enough time talking about what’s right about this project.” This is completely the case. I did pick on the details of the announcement, without clearly saying “BRAVO!” to the ALA and more specifically (again, as Karen pointed out) to the Jim Rettig presidential task force that is continuing to do good things for the ALA. I do think that this is absolutely where the ALA needs to be going. But just because they picked the right destination doesn’t mean that I can’t critique their driving skills. :-)

With that said, I’m overjoyed that the ALA changed the rules to allow for non-member question submission! Thank you, thank you, thank you to whomever took that forward to the powers-that-be, and to all the non-members who might want some clarity on what the ALA is good for: here’s your chance to ask the presidential candidates your questions. Don’t waste the opportunity.

The other part of my suggestion, that anonymous submissions be allowed, wasn’t changed in the submission policies. Karen even says, in her post:

Besides, what would an “anonymous” YouTube film look like? Hand puppets? Mr. Bill? (”Budgets slashed, oooooooooh noooooo!”) Anyone who really had a burning question they couldn’t ask themselves could always find a friend willing to do it. I’ve fronted questions for people in all kinds of situations.

True that people could always find someone to front their question, but why should that be necessary? There are a million ways to do an anonymous question….not all videos have to be talking heads. A voice over a video of book stacks would work just fine, and creating a sock-puppet YouTube account is, needless to say, a trivial matter. Again, I ask: If these videos are being screened before being responded to (which they are) then why does identity matter?

I’ll admit this is a particular obsession of mine, but anonymous speech is important and necessary for the freedom of speech to be a real thing. Any time that I see the capacity for anonymous speech being held back for no particular reason that I can discern, I’m predisposed to push for it.

ALA Presidential Hopefuls and YouTube

So the ALA is taking a hint from the US Presidential elections and taking questions from YouTube…with some caveats. Here’s the email that went out to ALA members:

Members Invited to Submit Questions to ALA Presidential Candidates via YouTube

Do you have a question you’re dying to ask the candidates for ALA President?  If you can’t attend the Presidential Candidates’ Forum at Midwinter, why not submit a question on YouTube?  It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s the new ALA way!

•       Questions should be submitted as videos and posted to YouTube
•       Maximum running time is 90 seconds
•       ALA members or groups of members may submit questions using your true name(s) (anonymous submissions will not be considered)
•       Video submissions must be tagged as ALAelection09 in order to be identified as questions for the ALA Presidential Candidates
•       Submissions accepted from Dec. 8 through Jan. 16

Six questions will be selected by a jury of past ALA presidents and presented to the candidates.  Candidates’ responses will be posted to YouTube and AL Focus prior to the opening of the ALA Election on Mar. 17.  The candidates for ALA President for the 2009 election are Kent Oliver and Roberta Stevens.  Questions will also be posed to any petition candidates.

For more details, go to http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/governance/alaelection/index.cfm

ALA is trying to get social media, but failing in significant ways. Why is it that only ALA Members can submit questions? The ONLY way that ALA is going to pull in the next generation of librarians is to show them that there is a benefit to joining…and withholding participation is so completely the wrong way to do it. The ALA should allow non-members to ask questions, in the same way they should start pushing conference content to non-members in a more robust way. Inviting virtual participation is a huge step…don’t screw up by limiting your audience, ALA. Change this requirement.

I also have a significant personal issue with requiring names to be attached to questions. The questions are being vetted anyway…what’s the harm in allowing anonymous questions? For a profession that holds privacy as high holy writ, to then disallow anonymous speech seems a bit hypocritical. The US Supreme Court has held that the right to free speech and the right to anonymous speech are the same…that “identification requirements burden speech”, as Talley v. California is sometimes expressed. I would love to see the ALA Board reconsider this requirement as well.

Stranger Than We Know

My article Stranger Than We Know was just published by NetConnect! I’m really very happy with the way that this turned out. One of my favorite articles that I’ve written…all about mobile technology, and speculation on where it’s going over the next 5-10 years.  Here’s the intro, go take a look if this seems interesting. And leave some comments, since I’d love to hear what others think, and if I’m on or off track on this stuff.

Arthur C. Clarke once famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic. The technology that is now a routine part of our lives would have been nearly unfathomable just a decade ago. Moore’s Law has ensured that the two-ton mainframe computer that once took up an entire room and nearly a city block’s worth of cooling now comfortably fits in your hand and weighs only ounces. It is difficult to put the truly amazing nature of this shrinkage into perspective, but consider this: you have in your mobile phone more computing power than existed on the entire planet just 60 years ago.

These new devices are changing the way we interact with information. Their capabilities are even changing how we conceive of information and information exchange, adding significant facets such as location and social awareness to our information objects. The physicist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “[T]he Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” So while librarians are aware that the next five to ten years will bring radical changes to books, publishing, and the way we work with the public, we must remember: the future isn’t just stranger than we know—it is stranger than we can know it.

Let’s see how close we can get to knowing the unknowable.

Jailbroked!

Jailbroked! Jailbroked 2

So I took the plunge and decided to Jailbreak my iPhone 3G, just out of curiousity as much as anything. I wanted to see what apps were available outside the app store, as well as see what customizations were out there for the phone. What I’ve found is that I haven’t found a lot of apps that I would consider truly worth Jailbreaking. There are two or three real standouts that I’m playing with, but mostly the apps on the App Store are pretty amazing on their own.

The three things that I am having some fun with that aren’t available via Apple: Qik, Tunewiki, and Winterboard. Qik everyone is probably familiar with, and I think will eventually make its way thru the actual Apple vetting process. The camera on the iPhone will only do around 15 frames per second in ideal conditions, and streaming live to the net you are looking at only 6-8 even on wifi. But I’m going to take my phone with me Internet Librarian and play with the live streaming some, if the Jailbreak lasts that long.

Tunewiki is an amazing app that will, I think, never make it to the app store. It takes your music, and in realtime finds and displays lyrics for the song…timed to the song itself. I have no idea how it works, and its awesome.

Winterboard is a theming app for the iPhone which gives you control over certain visual aspects of the display, as well as reskinning the whole thing if you download appropriate skins.

All in all the phone has been running well since the Jailbreak, although I would say it is slightly less stable…I’ve had to reboot it a couple of times to get it unfrozen after an install or the first launch of a new program. With that said, it’s neat to have a no-longer black box phone…like they say, it’s not really yours if you can’t open it up.

Amazon buys Shelfari

So in a pretty convoluted story with a straightforward beginning, Amazon has announced that it will be purchasing the social book network Shelfari. Just last month, Amazon also purchased AbeBooks…which is a minority investor in LibraryThing.

*boggle*

So Amazon buys a competitor to a service that they, in effect, already own part of. I can see them wanting Shelfari for the interface, especially as part of a “next generation” Kindle device. But Shelfari doesn’t have much else for Amazon to want, honestly…Shelfari relies on the Amazon book data to begin with, so they don’t have any data that will improve Amazon in any way (except the little bit of social data that can be scraped from the site).

There’s a long discussion about this over on LibraryThing, where Tim is talking the thing out in his open and transparent style. I don’t think this is going to hurt LibraryThing at all…they have better book data, for one, and Amazon now has to fit Shelfari into its systems, which will take a looooong time.

Has anyone seen a value given for the Shelfari acquisition? I’m curious what Amazon paid for them.

Here’s hoping this doesn’t cause Tim too many sleepless nights.

iPhone template for WP




iPhone template for WP

Originally uploaded by griffey.

Just added the WPTouch template to Pattern Recognition, and Brand New World…very, very nice implementation, and really easy to use. Now checking out BlipIT, from the same group…blip.tv mobile!

Anyway, those of you with iPhones/iPod Touch…check it out, and let me know what you think. I also added an iPhone favicon, so if you add me to your homepage you should get a custom icon for both blogs. I’ll be doing this for LITABlog soon, I think.