September 18, 2009    |   Vol. 2, No. 32    |   ISSN: 1943-1457
Above the Fold
A weekly newsletter for the changing world of libraries, archives and museums

In this issue:

Economics Is Not Natural Science  (External site)

Edge.org   •   August 11, 2009

Question everything. Media analyst Douglas Rushkoff's insightful essay on the history of markets prompts us to rethink our assumptions about economic forces and our place as nonprofits within them. Rushkoff notes, "We must stop perpetuating the fiction that existence itself is dictated by the immutable laws of economics. These so-called laws are, in actuality, the economic mechanisms of 13th Century monarchs."

This essay left me feeling like I'd just heard an echo from 1999 — The net "offers people the opportunity to build economies based on different rules — commerce that exists outside the economic map we have mistaken for the territory of human interaction." I thought his analysis in the early part of the essay pointing to the ways in which a lot of our internet heroes are tied up with commerce was spot-on. ( Michalko)

Crafting Your Own Innovation Strategy: The Who, What, and How  (External site)

Fast Company   •  August 26, 2009

Try being one thing to one person. Business reinvention specialist Dev Patnaik points out that a scattershot approach to innovation is a recipe for failure. He poses the examples of Target and Apple: Target's ideal customer is a 35-year-old mother of two who's focused on value but mindful of quality as well. By catering to this "persona," the retailer manages to please a wide swath of customers as well. And when Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he killed off the printer, server and game console businesses, paving the way for innovative products like the iPod and the iPhone. The key is to focus on your best customer with your best effort.

A good, quick read that reinforces the salutary effects of focus. The difficulty of doing that in practice within an existing company is formidable. Yes, Steve Jobs did it at Apple and there are other dictatorial business giants that have done it. My favorite, often overlooked, is Lou Gerstner who in the words of Forbes magazine " got IBM to dance." The institutions within which most of us work just don't accommodate that kind of sweeping, decisive leadership. ( Michalko)

Welcome to the Library. Say Goodbye to the Books.  (External site)

The Boston Globe   •   September 4, 2009

The future is now. Cushing Academy is doing away with its 20,000 volume hardcopy collection and building a "learning center" with large flat-screen displays, laptop-friendly carrels and a coffee shop. This will definitely be one experiment to watch.

Of course. This makes sense and the first ones to go are the ones with the money to make it happen. The handwringing is entirely predictable with worry "about an environment where students can no longer browse rows of voluptuous books, replete with glossy photographs, intricate maps, and pages dog-eared by generations of students." Browse, like discovery, happens elsewhere. ( Michalko)

Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck  (External site)

Language Log   •  August 29, 2009

Spelling counts. Berkeley linguistics prof Geoff Nunberg enumerates a multitude of errors embedded in Google Books' metadata tagging — from dates to classifications. They should be fixed, but who's responsible? In the meantime, what can Google do to avoid future tagging mistakes?

If you haven't seen this you should take the time to review it. As John Wilkin says in the comment thread, it is something that "everyone, particularly Google, interested in digital libraries should read." Scroll down and read the significant and wonderfully open response by Jon Orwant, the Googler in charge of GBS metadata. His comment that "when you're dealing with a trillion metadata fields, one-in-a-million errors happen a million times over" should cause any library systems professional to quake at the scale of what they are doing. And if you keep scrolling you'll see various criticisms that OCLC data should be used to improve things. The fact is that OCLC has an agreement with Google to share WorldCat metadata that is used to drive traffic back to libraries, with data coming back to OCLC to synchronize WorldCat with Google Books. It's already in use. ( Michalko)

Got a Burning Question? Ask the Net  (External site)

The New York Times   •  September 3, 2009

Smarter answers. Blogger/journalist David Pogue touts the virtues of Vark.com, which combines social networking with subject matter expertise to provide what he describes as a surprisingly reliable information resource.

Pogue's take on new things is always interesting. In this case I'm glad he wonders about what makes people offer their expertise for free. I haven't tried the service but I'll look for a reason to test it. ( Michalko)

Adding Trust to Wikipedia, and Beyond  (External site)

MIT Technology Review   •  September 4, 2009

Trust, but verify. Researchers at UC Santa Cruz have developed new tool called WikiTrust that uses a color-coded system to help users evaluate the veracity of information on Wikipedia. The system is part of a larger movement to facilitate building trust online, although it's unclear if the average user is motivated to take advantage of them.

Trust is important. In this case the system equates trust with many editorial eyes and little or no change. But given the motivations of wiki authors and editors I wonder whether this is too solipsistic to be a good surrogate. ( Michalko)

Computers Decipher Ancient Texts for a Google-Like Database  (External site)

Wired.com/Reuters   •  September 2, 2009

Beyond keywords. Researchers in Israel have developed software that uses pattern recognition algorithms to identify letters, words and even writing styles in ancient texts. Similar to fingerprint-matching software, the program could be used to drive a search engine for digitized handwritten documents, and because it learns on the go, it is also able to "fill in the blanks" in documents with missing or illegible text. "When enough texts have been digitized, it will manage to combine fragments of books that have been scattered all over the world," predicts Uri Ehrlich, an expert in ancient prayer texts.

A very specialized need built on top of very specialized software that emerged from the law enforcement community. Recently the Council on Library and Information Resources announced that they had received a grant to explore applications for digital humanities research derived from intelligence-gathering communities. Yes, that kind of intelligence gathering. ( Michalko)

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Above the Fold is a Web-based newsletter published by OCLC Research. It has been developed to serve a broad international readership from libraries, archives and museums. News items are supplied weekly under contract by Suzanne Douglas, Ibis Communications Inc. Research items are supplied by staff in OCLC Research. Please send comments and questions about this or other issues to rlg@oclc.org.
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