Jason Ellis, now a prof at CUNY, made this video last spring to provide a detailed look at Voyager’s early efforts with electronic books.
A couple of weeks ago, I alluded to a new institutional partnership that’s been in the works for some time. Well I’m thrilled to officially announce that the we are joining forces with the NYU Division of Libraries!
From Carol A. Mandel, dean of the NYU Libraries. “IFB is a thought leader in the future of scholarly communication. We will work together to develop new software and new options that faculty can use to publish, review, share, and collaborate at NYU and in the larger academic community.”
Read the full press release: NYU Libraries & Institute for the Future of the Book Announce Partnership to Develop Tools for Digital Scholarly Research
A basic breakdown of what this means:
-? NYU is now our technical home. All IFB sites are running out of there with IT support from the NYU Libraries’ top-notch team.
-? Bob, Dan and I will serve as visiting scholars at NYU.
-? With recently secured NEH digital humanities start-up funding (along with other monies yet to be raised), we will work with the NYU digital library team, headed by James Bullen, to develop social networking tools and infrastructure for MediaCommons. This will serve as applied research for digital tools and frameworks that NYU is presently developing.
-? We will work with NYU librarians, with the digital library team, and with Monica McCormick, the Libraries’ program officer for digital scholarly publishing, to create forums for collaboration and to develop specific projects and digital initiatives with NYU faculty, and possibly NYU Press.
Needless to say, we’re tremendously excited about this partnership. Things are still being set up but expect more news in the weeks and months ahead.
Web developers can use the Books Viewability API to quickly find out a book’s viewability on Google Book Search and, in an automated fashion, embed a link to that book in Google Book Search on their own sites.
As an example of the API in use, check out the Deschutes Public Library in Oregon, which has added a link to “Preview this book at Google” next to the listings in their library catalog. This enables Deschutes readers to preview a book immediately via Google Book Search so that they can then make a better decision about whether they’d like to buy the book, borrow it from a library or whether this book wasn’t really the book they were looking for.
The GBS API is a big step forward, but there are some technical limitations. Google data loads after the rest of the page, and may not be instant. Because the data loads in your web browser, with no data “passing through” LibraryThing servers, we can’t sort or search by it, and all-library searching is impossible. You can get something like this if you create a Google Books account, which is, of course, the whole point.
(via Peter Brantley)
If you haven’t already, check out Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s excellent Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on privacy and surveillance: a review of several new books treating various aspects of the topic, but a great all-around thought piece. A taste:
Certainly the Stasi in East Germany exploited the controlling power generated from public knowledge of constant surveillance and the potential for brutal punishment for thought crimes. But that is not our environment in the United States. Basically, the Panopticon must be visible and ubiquitous, or it cannot influence behavior as Bentham and Foucault assumed it would.
…what we have at work in America today is the opposite of a Panopticon: what has been called a “Nonopticon” (for lack of a better word). The Nonopticon describes a state of being watched without knowing it, or at least the extent of it. The most pervasive surveillance does not reveal itself or remains completely clandestine (barring leaks to The New York Times). We don’t know all the ways we are being recorded or profiled. We are not supposed to understand that we are the product of marketers as much as we are the market. And we are not supposed to consider the extent to which the state tracks our behavior and considers us all suspects in crimes yet to be imagined, let alone committed.
In fact, companies like ChoicePoint, Facebook, Google, and Amazon.com want us to relax and be ourselves. They have an interest in exploiting niches that our consumer choices generate. They are devoted to tracking our eccentricities because they understand that the ways we set ourselves apart from the mass are the things about which we are most passionate. Our passions, predilections, fancies, and fetishes are what we are likely to spend our surplus cash on.
And so these concerns extend to the realm of online reading. With networked texts, a book (or whatever other document form) may be reading you while you’re reading it. This creates a major ethical quandary for libraries of course, who, to take advantage of social networking, collaborative filtering and other powerful affordances of digital technologies must radically revise their traditional stance on privacy: i.e. retain as little user data as possible.
digitalculturebooks, a collaborative imprint of the University of Michigan press and library, publishes an annual anthology of the year’s best technology writing. The nominating process is open to the public and they’re giving people until January 31st to suggest exemplary articles on “any and every technology topic–biotech, information technology, gadgetry, tech policy, Silicon Valley, and software engineering” etc.
The 2007 collection is being edited by Clive Thompson. Last year’s was Steven Levy. When complete, the collection is published as a trade paperback and put in its entirety online in clean, fully searchable HTML editions, so head over and help build what will become a terrific open access resource.
LibraryThing now interfaces with the British Library and loads of other UK sources:
The BL is a catch in more than one way. It’s huge, of course. But, unlike some other sources, BL data isn’t normally available to the public. To get it, our friends at Talis, the UK-based library software company, have granted us special access to their Talis Base product, an elephantine mass of book data. In the case of the BL, that’s some twelve million unique records, two copies Gutenberg Bibles and two copies of the Magna Carta.
Chatting with someone from Random House’s digital division on the day of the Kindle release, I suggested that dramatic price cuts on e-editions -? in other words, finally acknowledging that digital copies aren’t worth as much (especially when they come corseted in DRM) as physical hard copies -? might be the crucial adjustment needed to at last blow open the digital book market. It seemed like a no-brainer to me that Amazon was charging way too much for its e-books (not to mention the Kindle itself). But upon closer inspection, it clearly doesn’t add up that way. Tim O’Reilly explains why:
…the idea that there’s sufficient unmet demand to justify radical price cuts is totally wrongheaded. Unlike music, which is quickly consumed (a song takes 3 to 4 minutes to listen to, and price elasticity does have an impact on whether you try a new song or listen to an old one again), many types of books require a substantial time commitment, and having more books available more cheaply doesn’t mean any more books read. Regular readers already often have huge piles of unread books, as we end up buying more than we have time for. Time, not price, is the limiting factor.
Even assuming the rosiest of scenarios, Kindle readers are going to be a subset of an already limited audience for books. Unless some hitherto untapped reader demographic comes out of the woodwork, gets excited about e-books, buys Kindles, and then significantly surpasses the average human capacity for book consumption, I fail to see how enough books could be sold to recoup costs and still keep prices low. And without lower prices, I don’t see a huge number of people going the Kindle route in the first place. And there’s the rub.
Even if you were to go as far as selling books like songs on iTunes at 99 cents a pop, it seems highly unlikely that people would be induced to buy a significantly greater number of books than they already are. There’s only so much a person can read. The iPod solved a problem for music listeners: carrying around all that music to play on your Disc or Walkman was a major pain. So a hard drive with earphones made a great deal of sense. It shouldn’t be assumed that readers have the same problem (spine-crushing textbook-stuffed backpacks notwithstanding). Do we really need an iPod for books?
UPDATE: Through subsequent discussion both here and off the blog, I’ve since come around 360 back to my original hunch. See comment.
We might, maybe (putting aside for the moment objections to the ultra-proprietary nature of the Kindle), if Amazon were to abandon the per copy idea altogether and go for a subscription model. (I’m just thinking out loud here -? tell me how you’d adjust this.) Let’s say 40 bucks a month for full online access to the entire Amazon digital library, along with every major newspaper, magazine and blog. You’d have the basic cable option: all books accessible and searchable in full, as well as popular feedback functions like reviews and Listmania. If you want to mark a book up, share notes with other readers, clip quotes, save an offline copy, you could go “premium” for a buck or two per title (not unlike the current Upgrade option, although cheaper). Certain blockbuster titles or fancy multimedia pieces (once the Kindle’s screen improves) might be premium access only -? like HBO or Showtime. Amazon could market other services such as book groups, networked classroom editions, book disaggregation for custom assembled print-on-demand editions or course packs.
This approach reconceives books as services, or channels, rather than as objects. The Kindle would be a gateway into a vast library that you can roam about freely, with access not only to books but to all the useful contextual material contributed by readers. Piracy isn’t a problem since the system is totally locked down and you can only access it on a Kindle through Amazon’s Whispernet. Revenues could be shared with publishers proportionately to traffic on individual titles. DRM and all the other insults that go hand in hand with trying to manage digital media like physical objects simply melt away.
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On a related note, Nick Carr talks about how the Kindle, despite its many flaws, suggests a post-Web2.0 paradigm for hardware:
If the Kindle is flawed as a window onto literature, it offers a pretty clear view onto the future of appliances. It shows that we’re rapidly approaching the time when centrally stored and managed software and data are seamlessly integrated into consumer appliances – all sorts of appliances.
The problem with “Web 2.0,” as a concept, is that it constrains innovation by perpetuating the assumption that the web is accessed through computing devices, whether PCs or smartphones or game consoles. As broadband, storage, and computing get ever cheaper, that assumption will be rendered obsolete. The internet won’t be so much a destination as a feature, incorporated into all sorts of different goods in all sorts of different ways. The next great wave in internet innovation, in other words, won’t be about creating sites on the World Wide Web; it will be about figuring out creative ways to deploy the capabilities of the World Wide Computer through both traditional and new physical products, with, from the user’s point of view, “no computer or special software required.”
That the Kindle even suggests these ideas signals a major advance over its competitors -? the doomed Sony Reader and the parade of failed devices that came before. What Amazon ought to be shooting for, however, (and almost is) is not an iPod for reading -? a digital knapsack stuffed with individual e-books -? but rather an interface to a networked library.
“Vista de la Biblioteca Vasconcelos” by Eneas, on Flickr
A lovely meditation at BLDG Blog on the architecture of storage facilities for unwanted books. Speaks volumes (as it were) to the anxiety of obsolescence that keeps librarians up at night -? the thought of libraries themselves becoming tombs.
…a relatively random piece of 100-year old legislation – dealing with copyright law, of all things – has begun to exhibit architectural effects.
These architectural effects include the production of huge warehouses in the damp commuter belts of outer London. These aren’t libraries, of course; they’re stockpiles. Text bunkers.
…Perhaps it will take some future moment of cultural archaeology to break into these places, spelunking back into the literate past, to find well-tempered rooms still humming at 50ºF, humidity-free, where the past is refrigerated and Shakespeare’s name can still be recognized on the spines of books.
Walt Whitman’s poem “Sparkles from the Wheel” beautifully captures the pleasure and exhilaration of watching work in progress:
WHERE the city’s ceaseless crowd moves on, the live-long day,
Withdrawn, I join a group of children watching – ?I pause aside with them.
By the curb, toward the edge of the flagging,
A knife-grinder works at his wheel, sharpening a great knife;
Bending over, he carefully holds it to the stone – ?by foot and knee,
With measur’d tread, he turns rapidly – ?As he presses with light but firm hand,
Forth issue, then, in copious golden jets,
Sparkles from the wheel.
The scene, and all its belongings – ?how they seize and affect me!
The sad, sharp-chinn’d old man, with worn clothes, and broad shoulder-band of leather;
Myself, effusing and fluid – ?a phantom curiously floating – ?now here absorb’d and arrested;
The group, (an unminded point, set in a vast surrounding;)
The attentive, quiet children – ?the loud, proud, restive base of the streets;
The low, hoarse purr of the whirling stone – ?the light-press’d blade,
Diffusing, dropping, sideways-darting, in tiny showers of gold,
Sparkles from the wheel.
I was reminded of this the other day while reading a brief report in Library Journal on Siva’s recent cross-blog argument with Michigan University Librarian Paul Courant about Google book digitization contracts. These sorts of exchanges are not new in themselves, but blogs have made it possible for them to occur much more spontaneously and, in Siva’s case, to put them visibly in the context of a larger intellectual project. It’s a nice snapshot of the sort of moment that can happen along the way when the writing process is made more transparent -? seeing an argument crystallize or a position get clarified. And there’s a special kind of pleasure and exhilaration that comes from reading this way, seeing Siva sharpening his knife -? or argument -? and the rhetorical sparks that fly off the screen. Here’s that Library Journal bit:
Discussion of Google Scan Plan Heats Up on Blogs:
Now this is why we love the Blogosphere. In launching his blog, University of Michigan’s (UM) dean of libraries Paul Courant recently offered a spirited defense of UM’s somewhat controversial scan plan with Google. That post drew quite a few comments, and a direct response from Siva Vaidhyanathan the author, blogger, and University of Virginia professor currently writing the Googlization of Everything online at the Institute for the Future of the Book; that of course drew a response from Courant. The result? A lively and illuminating dialog on Google’s book scanning efforts.
Whip-smart law blogger Frank Pasquale works through his evolving views on digital library projects and search engines, proposing a compelling strategy for wringing some public good from the tangle of lawsuits surrounding Google Book Search. It hinges on a more expansive (though absolutely legally precedented) interpretation of fair use that takes the public interest and not just market factors into account. Recommended reading. (Thanks, Siva!)