Category Archives: podcast

siva podcast on the googlization of libraries

We’re just a couple of days away from launching what promises to be one of our most important projects to date, The Googlization of Everything, a weblog where Siva Vaidhyanathan (who’s a fellow here) will publicly develop his new book, a major critical examination of the Google behemoth. As an appetizer, check out this First Monday podcast conversation with Siva on the subject of Google’s book activities (mp3, transcript).
An excerpt:

Q: So what’s the alternative? Who are the major players, what are the major policy points?
SIVA: I think this is an important enough project where we need to have a nationwide effort. We have to have a publicly funded effort. Guided, perhaps led by the Library of Congress, certainly a consortium of public university libraries could do just as well to do it.
We’re willing to do these sorts of big projects in the sciences. Look at how individual states are rallying billions of dollars to fund stem cell research right now. Look at the ways the United States government, the French government, the Japanese government rallied billions of dollars for the Human Genome Project out of concern that all that essential information was going to be privatized and served in an inefficient and unwieldy way.
So those are the models that I would like to see us pursue. What saddens me about Google’s initiative, is that it’s let so many people off the hook. Essentially we’ve seen so many people say, “Great now we don’t have to do the digital library projects we were planning to do.” And many of these libraries involved in the Google project were in the process of producing their own digital libraries. We don’t have to do that any more because Google will do it for us. We don’t have to worry about things like quality because Google will take care of the quantity.
And so what I would like to see? I would like to see all the major public universities, public research universities, in the country gather together and raise the money or persuade Congress to deliver the money to do this sort of thing because it’s in the public interest, not because it’s in Google’s interest. If it really is this important we should be able to mount a public campaign, a set of arguments and convince the people with the purse strings that this should be done right.

bob on the air

Yesterday Bob did a radio interview on “The Speakeasy” on WFMU, almost certainly the most interesting (and one of the few) independent radio stations in the New York area. I highly recommend giving it a listen. It’s always nice to hear Bob tell the story of the Institute and the decades of work, collaboration and experience that led up to where we are today. Things tend to get caught up in the rhythm of the day to day on the blog so here’s a nice antidote — a big picture moment.
You can get the podcast from the Speakeasy archive in either RealAudio or m3u format (which will play on iTunes or whatever your default media player is on your machine). Heads up: there are a few minutes of jazz music before the interview gets started. The whole thing’s about an hour.

iTunes U: more read/write than you’d think

In Ben’s recent post, he noted that Larry Lessig worries about the trend toward a read-only internet, the harbinger of which is iTunes. Apple’s latest (academic) venture is iTunes U, a project begun at Duke and piloted by seven universities — Stanford, it appears, has been most active. iTunes U.jpg Since they are looking for a large scale roll out of iTunes U for 2006-07, and since we have many podcasting faculty here at USC, a group of us met with Apple reps yesterday.
Initially I was very skeptical about Apple’s further insinuation into the academy and yet, what iTunes U offers is a repository for instructors to store podcasts, with several components similar to courseware such as Blackboard. Apple stores the content on its servers but the university retains ownership. The service is fairly customizable–you can store audio, video with audio, slides with audio (aka enhanced podcasts) and text (but only in pdf). Then you populate the class via university course rosters, which are password protected.
There are also open access levels on which the university (or, say, the alumni association) can add podcasts of vodcasts of events. And it is free. At least for now — the rep got a little cagey when asked about how long this would be the case.
The point is to allow students to capture lectures and such on their iPods (or MP3 players) for the purposes of study and review. The rationale is that students are already extremely familiar with the technology so there is less of a learning curve (well, at least privileged students such as those at my institution are familiar).
What seems particularly interesting is that students can then either speed up the talk of the lecture without changing pitch (and lord knows there are some whose speaking I would love to accelerate) or, say, in the case of an ESL student, slow it down for better comprehension. Finally, there is space for students to upload their own work — podcasting has been assigned to some of our students already.
Part of me is concerned at further academic incorporation, but a lot more parts of me are thinking this is not only a chance to help less tech savvy profs employ the technology (the ease of collecting and distributing assets is germane here) while also really pushing the envelope in terms of copyright, educational use, fair use, etc. Apple wants to only use materials that are in the public domain or creative commons initially, but undoubtedly some of the more muddy digital use issues will arise and it would be nice to have academics involved in the process.

google print on deck at radio open source

Open Source, the excellent public radio program (not to be confused with “Open Source Media”) that taps into the blogosphere to generate its shows, has been chatting with me about putting together an hour on the Google library project. Open Source is a unique hybrid, drawing on the best qualities of the blogosphere — community, transparency, collective wisdom — to produce an otherwise traditional program of smart talk radio. As host Christopher Lydon puts it, the show is “fused at the brain stem with the world wide web.” Or better, it “uses the internet to be a show about the world.”
The Google show is set to air live this evening at 7pm (ET) (they also podcast). It’s been fun working with them behind the scenes, trying to figure out the right guests and questions for the ideal discussion on Google and its bookish ambitions. My exchange has been with Brendan Greeley, the Radio Open Source “blogger-in-chief” (he’s kindly linked to us today on their site). We agreed that the show should avoid getting mired in the usual copyright-focused news peg — publishers vs. Google etc. — and focus instead on the bigger questions. At my suggestion, they’ve invited Siva Vaidhyanathan, who wrote the wonderful piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. that I talked about yesterday (see bigger questions). I’ve also recommended our favorite blogger-librarian, Karen Schneider (who has appeared on the show before), science historian George Dyson, who recently wrote a fascinating essay on Google and artificial intelligence, and a bunch of cybertext studies people: Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, N. Katherine Hayles, Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker. If all goes well, this could end up being a very interesting hour of discussion. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Open Source just got a hold of Nicholas Kristof to do an hour this evening on Genocide in Sudan, so the Google piece will be pushed to next week.

speaking of aggregation, speaking of war…

Speaking of aggregating blog commentary on the Judy Miller intrigue, Open Source’s Monday podcast, “Getting Judith Miller” (listen), aggregates the bloggers themselves in a rigorous discussion of the “inexplicable gaps” in the Times’ self-investigation, placing it in the larger context of the war, the state of journalism, and American democracy in crisis. Guests include Jay Rosen (Press Think), Ariana Huffington (Huffington Post), Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo, TPM Cafe), and Kevin Drum (Political Animal). A great example of the kind of triangulation Bob was talking about earlier, in this case, a radio show, drawing its material and voices from the web like a hurricane pulls its fury from a warm ocean.
(Drawing from the web to discuss the world is what Open Source is all about. Highly recommended.)

an ipod for text

When I ride the subway, I see a mix of paper and plastic. Invariably several passengers are lost in their ipods (there must be a higher ipod-per-square-meter concentration in New York than anywhere else). One or two are playing a video game of some kind. Many just sit quietly with their thoughts. A few are conversing. More than a few are reading. The subway is enormously literate. A book, a magazine, The Times, The Post, The Daily News, AM New York, Metro, or just the ads that blanket the car interior. I may spend a lot of time online at home or at work, but on the subway, out in the city, paper is going strong.
Before long, they’ll be watching television on the subway too, seeing as the latest ipod now plays video. But rewind to Monday, when David Carr wrote in the NY Times about another kind of ipod — one that would totally change the way people read newspapers. He suggests that to bounce back from these troubled times (sagging print circulation, no reliable business model for their websites), newspapers need a new gadget to appear on the market: a light-weight, highly portable device, easy on the eyes, easy on the batteries, that uploads articles from the web so you can read them anywhere. An ipod for text.
This raises an important question: is it all just a matter of the reading device? Once there are sufficient advances in display technology, and a hot new gadget to incorporate them, will we see a rapid, decisive shift away from paper toward portable electronic text, just as we have witnessed a widespread migration to digital music and digital photography? Carr points to a recent study that found that in every age bracket below 65, a majority of reading is already now done online. This is mostly desktop reading, stationary reading. But if the greater part of the population is already sold on web-based reading, perhaps it’s not too techno-deterministic to suppose that an ipod-like device would in fact bring sweeping change for portable reading, at least periodicals.
But the thing is, online reading is quite different from print reading. There’s a lot of hopping around, a lot of digression. Any new hardware that would seek to tempt people to convert from paper would have to be able to surf the web. With mobile web, and wireless networks spreading, people would expect nothing less (even the new Sony PSP portable gaming device has a web browser). But is there a good way to read online text when you’re offline? Should we be concerned with this? Until wi-fi is ubiquitous and we’re online all the time (a frightening thought), the answer is yes.
We’re talking about a device that you plug into your computer that automatically pulls articles from pre-selected sources, presumably via RSS feeds. This is more or less how podcasting works. But for this to have an appeal with text, it will have to go further. What if in addition to uploading new articles in your feed list, it also pulled every document that those articles linked to, so you could click through to referenced sites just as you would if you were online?
It would be a bounded hypertext system. You could do all the hopping around you like within the cosmos of that day’s feeds, and not beyond — you would have the feeling of the network without actually being hooked in. Text does not take up a lot of hard drive space, and with the way flash memory is advancing, building a device with this capacity would not be hard to achieve. Of course, uploading link upon link could lead down an infinite paper trail. So a limit could be imposed, say, a 15-step cap — a limit that few are likely to brush up against.
So where does the money come in? If you want an ipod for text, you’re going to need an itunes for text. The “portable, bounded hypertext RSS reader” (they’d have to come up with a catchier name –the tpod, or some such techno-cuteness) would be keyed in to a subscription service. It would not be publication-specific, because then you’d have to tediously sign up with dozens of sites, and no reasonable person would do this.
So newspapers, magazines, blogs, whoever, will sign licensing agreements with the tpod folks and get their corresponding slice of the profits based on the success of their feeds. There’s a site called KeepMedia that is experimenting with such a model on the web, though not with any specific device in mind (and it only includes mainstream media, no blogs). That would be the next step. Premium papers like the Times or The Washington Post might become the HBOs and Showtimes of this text-ripping scheme — pay a little extra and you get the entire electronic edition uploaded daily to your tpod.
sony librie.jpg As for the device, well, the Sony Librie has had reasonable success in Japan and will soon be released in the States. The Librie is incredibly light and uses an “e-ink” display that is reflective like paper (i.e. it can be read in bright sunlight), and can run through 10,000 page views on four triple-A batteries.
The disadvantages: it’s only black-and-white and has no internet connectivity. It also doesn’t seem to be geared for pulling syndicated text. Bob brought one back from Japan. It’s nice and light, and the e-ink screen is surprisingly sharp. But all in all, it’s not quite there yet.
There’s always the do-it-yourself approach. The Voyager Company in Japan has developed a program called T-Time (the image at the top is from their site) that helps you drag and drop text from the web into an elegant ebook format configureable for a wide range of mobile devices: phones, PDAs, ipods, handheld video games, camcorders, you name it. This demo (in Japanese, but you’ll get the idea) demonstrates how it works.
Presumably, you would also read novels on your text pod. I personally would be loathe to give up paper here, unless it was a novel that had to be read electronically because it was multimedia, or networked, or something like that. But for syndicated text — periodicals, serials, essays — I can definitely see the appeal of this theoretical device. I think it’s something people would use.

podcast: discussing neil postman’s “building a bridge to the 18th century”

book_building_a_bridge.jpg (Annotated audio recordings of this discussion appear further down.)
On the dedication page of “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century,” Neil Postman quotes the poet Randall Jarrell:

Soon we shall know everything the 18th century didn’t know, and nothing it did, and it will be hard to live with us.

Though often failing to provide satisfying answers, Postman asks the kind of first-order questions one hears all too infrequently at a time when technology’s impact on our social, political and intellectual lives grows ever more profound. Postman has been accused of deep reactionism toward technology, and indeed, his hostility toward computers and telecommunications betrays an elitism that discredits some of his larger, and quite compelling observations.
In spite of this, Postman’s diagnosis is persuasive: that the idea of technological progress bequeathed by the Enlightenment has detached from reason and become a runaway train, that we are unquestioningly embracing new technologies that unleash massive change on our family and communal life, our democracy, and our capacity to think critically. We have stopped asking the single most important question that should be applied to all new technological innovations: does this technology solve a problem? If so, then at what cost? To whose benefit? And at whose expense?
Postman portrays the contemporary West as a culture without a narrative, littered with the shards of broken ideologies – depressed, unmotivated, and therefore uncritical of the new technologies that are foisted upon it by a rapacious capitalist system. The culprit, as he sees it, is postmodernism, which he lambasts (rather simplistically) as a corrosive intellectual trend, picking at the corpse of the Enlightenment, and instilling torpor and malaise at all levels of culture through its distrust of language and dogged refusal to accept one truth over another. This kind of thinking, Postman argues, is seductive, but it starves humans of their inspiration and sense of purpose.
To be saved, he goes on, and to build a better future, we would do well to look back to the philosophes of 18th century Europe, who, in the face of surging industrialization, defined a new idea of universal rational humanism – one that allowed for various interpretations within its fold, was rigorously suspicious of religious or any other kind of dogma, and yet gave the world a sense of moral uplift and progress. Postman does not suggest that we copy the 18th century, but rather give it careful study in order to draw inspiration for a new positive narrative, and for a reinvigoration of our critical outlook. This, Postman insists, offers us the best chance of surviving our future.
Postman’s note of alarm, if at times shrill, is nonetheless a refreshing antidote to the techno-optimism that pervades contemporary culture. And his recognition of our “crisis in narrative” – a formulation borrowed from Vaclav Havel – is dead on.
September 19: Bob, Dan, Kim, and Ben discuss Postman’s book at our new Brooklyn office (special prize if you pick out the sound of the ice cream truck passing by).
1. Bob’s preface – thoughts about how we do business at the institute (1:56) (download)

2. Ben’s first impressions – childhood under threat… Dan’s first impressions into discussion – a Clinton-era book, sets up a rather straw man caricature with the postmodernists, but society’s need for a narrative is compelling – why the Christian right has done so well… Postman seems to be assuming that progress is a law, that there is a directed narrative to history – problems with how he treats evolution. (6:43) (download)

3. Bob: Postman is much better at identifying problems than at coming up with solutions. Which is what makes him compelling. His stance is courageous. People assume with technology that just because something can be done it should be done. This is a tremendous problem – an affliction. If you could go back in time and be the inventor of the automobile, would you do it? People get angry at the responsibility this question imputes to them. How can we put these big questions at the center of our work? (13:34) (download)

4. Another big question… “An electronic community is only a simulation of a real community”? Flickr, Friendster, Howard Dean campaign? What is the vehicle for talking about this? What format is best for engaging these questions? Looking for new forms that illuminate or activate the questions. (15:43) (download)

5. Where/who are the public intellectuals today? [The ice cream truck passes by.] Strange bifurcation of the intellectual elite – many of the best-educated people most able to deal with abstraction make their living producing popular media that controls society. (10:07) (download)

6. Is capitalism the problem? Postman’s bias: written language will never be surpassed in its power to deal with abstract thought and cultivation of ideas. But we are arguably past the primacy of print. What is our attitude toward this? (9:39) (download)

7. What opportunities for reflection do different media afford? Films on DVD can be read and reread like a book – the viewer controls, rather than being controlled – a possibility for reflection not available in broadcast. What is the proper venue for discussing this? Capitalism is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. How do we create, if not a mass agitation, then at least a mass discussion? Tie it to the larger pressing problems of the world and how they will be better addressed by certain forms of discourse and reflection. Averting ecological catastrophe as one possible narrative – an inspiring motivator that will get people moving. How do find our way back into history? (10:09) (download)

8. What should we read next as counterpoint/antidote to Postman? The Matrix – are we headed that way? (12:33) (download)

9. How do we organize new kinds of debates about technology and society? Other issues to be addressed – class, race and gender inequality. (11:26) (download)

the database of intentions

Interesting edition of Open Source last week on “Google Sociology” with David Weinberger and John Battelle, author of the just-published “The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture”. Listen here.
Weinberger has some interesting things to say about Google (and the other search engines) as “publishers.” I have some thoughts on that too. More to come later.
Battelle has done a great deal of thinking on search from a variety of angles: the technology of search, the economics of search, and the more esoteric dimensions of a “search” culture. He touches briefly on this last point, laying out a construct that is probably treated more extensively in his book: the “database of intentions.” By this he means the archive, or “artifact,” of the world’s search queries. A picture of the collective consciousness formed by the questions everyone is asking. Even now, when logged in to Google, a history of all your search query strings is kept – your own database of intentions. The potential value of this database is still being determined, but obvious uses are targeted advertising, and more relevant search results based on analysis of search histories.
As regards the collective database of intentions, Battelle speculates that future advances in artificial intelligence will likely draw on this enormous crop of information about how humans think and seek.

recommended podcast: “information as news”

Katrina blew through the news business just as furiously as it tore through the Gulf Coast. For a good discussion of this, I highly recommend last night’s podcast of Open Source, a great new program on public radio that is of, by and through the web, generating story ideas and discussion on its blog. The show operates in an exciting border zone, dealing with general interest stories while always keeping an eye on the changing communication practices that are affecting/chanelling them. Last night’s show – “Craigslist and Information as News” – deals with citizen coverage of Katrina and the big changes underfoot for professional journalism.
Host Christopher Lydon speaks, with the breathless excitement of a man watching his profession change before his eyes, about “changing terms of authority in the news business” after Hurricane Katrina. He has on as guests Craig Newmark of craigslist (New Orleans site), editor Jon Donley, and media critic/blogger/citizen journalism guru Jeff Jarvis. From the intro:

The best reporting in the world — no hyperbole, the best reporting in the world — this week came from the web division of the New Orleans Times Picayune, Information — missing person reports, safe and alive person reports — became news. And it became a source, even, for rescue teams, more accurate than anything else they had to go on.
Craigslist, after Katrina, became a forum for finding the missing and housing the saved, and what you find on Craigslist are stories as compelling as anything on CNN. Maybe what communities want in a time of crisis is good information, and maybe detailed, accurate information makes the best story. Craig and Jeff helped invent two new ways of collecting and distributing information; Jon is perfecting it right now in the Crescent City.