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Above the Fold

A weekly newsletter for the changing world of libraries, archives and museums

February 5, 2010
Vol. 3, No. 5
ISSN: 1943-1457

In this issue:


The Age of the Informavore  (External site)

Edge   •  October 27, 2009

Survival of the very best. German journalist Frank Schirrmacher takes a Darwinian approach to the question of information overload and attention deficits. Click through for a thought-provoking interview that connects 19th century philosophy to the impact of 21st century technologies: Taylorism (multitasking), Marxism (free content and copyright) and Darwinism (search algorithm and information foraging). "The Darwinian perspective is the most interesting," says Schirrmacher,"—information being an advantage for the informavores and software that codes it with cues from foraging habits of the prehistoric man."

This is a long, dense, and challenging article. It is worth the effort. It is long-form reading that is about, among lots of other things, attention deficits. Some of this article slips into the kind of visionary geek vocabulary gumbo that invites dismissal. But a lot isn't dismissible, for instance, "In Europe, and in America too—and it's not by chance—we have a crisis of all the systems that somehow are linked to either thinking or to knowledge." That's just one of many phrases here from which you could generate a very-interesting discussion that won't be resolved for a very long time. Don't skip the commentary. There're substantive, and perhaps more interesting, thoughts there. One of my favorites—"When you are an informavore drowning in digital data, analog looks good." ( Michalko)


What You Need, When You Need It: How Context-Aware Machines Will Change How We Access Information  (External site)

Wikinomics   •  January 21, 2010

Sense and respond. Blogger Naumi Haque says all of us emit "exhaust data"—"the incidental, or ambient data that is created as a by-product of simply carrying on with our daily lives." It's this lifestream of information that can be mined to create personalized context for every technological contact. Read on for a quick overview of context-rich products and services under development.

Context-aware data is a good thing to Haque. As he says, "The good news is that the tools to sense and record context—rich user profiles, presence awareness, geolocation data, status updates, and lifestreaming information—are exploding all around us." However, adding this context-aware data to all the other data points about an individual may be the evolutionary path that Schirrmacher (see previous) thinks will reveal free will as an illusion. The Internet will have free will but the individual won't; i.e. if the Internet generates the same choices and behavioral impulses as the individual does, do you have free will? ( Michalko)


How to Create New Reading Experiences Profitably  (External site)

Booksahead.com   •  January 5, 2010

The incredible, expanding book. Writer Mitch Ratcliffe says the most pressing issue facing publishers is not digitizing text or DRM. It's how to impose traditional bibliographic practices, such as indexing and pagination, on future metabooks that include readers' notes, annotations, and other social media augmentation. But managing multiple versions and formats could open the door for a new business model: "The interaction of all the different 'versions' of a book is what publishers can facilitate for enhanced revenues."

The e-book doesn't exist yet. This seems to be the emerging common view from the publishing industry. The book industry will thrive, according to Ratcliffe, because of authority, trust, quality, service to readers, curation and preservation. Doesn't that sound familiar? Doesn't that sound scary to hear an authority in the book industry claim those as its distinguishing competencies? ( Michalko)


With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don't Need to Sell  (External site)

The New York Times   •  January 22, 2010

Some "bestsellers" are giveaways. A handful of large publishers, including Random House and Scholastic, are offering free e-books to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other e-retailers in an effort to build recognition for new or lesser known authors. The tactic has come under fire from some publishers, who argue "free is not a business model," while others suggest the free downloads may trigger an uptick in sales. Either way, it's another strategy to watch as publishers grapple with how to squeeze profits out of the nascent e-book market.

The business model for e-books doesn't exist yet either. See above. ( Michalko)


Is It Still Disruption When You've Done It Yourself?  (External site)

The Scholarly Kitchen   •  January 21, 2010

Rosy outlook. Blogger Kent Anderson optimistically opines that the reason scientific publishers will successfully head off any upstart efforts to rewrite the rules, is that they have all been exposed to Clayton Christensen's thinking and absorbed the lessons of disruptive innovation. "Basically, I think publishers have been disrupting themselves, making it less likely that disruptors from below could sneak in and surprise them." Really?

This is an interesting rebuttal to an earlier compelling blog post about disruption and scholarly publishing which I regard as a must-read— Why hasn't Scientific Publishing been disrupted already? The claim here that disruption "is about blowing apart the provider side, not the consumable or the customer landscape" doesn't seem right to me. Even less right than to assert that publishers have been disrupting themselves. Much more likely that we're in a consolidated industry that changes at a Vatican-like pace. ( Michalko)


World Wide Mush  (External site)

The Wall Street Journal   •  January 8, 2010

Collective mediocrity? Online pioneer Jaron Lanier castigates the move toward open source, noting that some of today's most sophisticated technologies—such as Google's page rank or Apple's iPhone—resulted from proprietary development. He compares the current fascination with collectivism to experiments in communal living and food co-ops 40 years ago. "Digital collectivism might seem participatory and democratic, but it's painting us into a corner from which we will have to concoct an awkward escape." Lanier's argument is one-sided, but as we increasingly create, support and embrace collaborative communities, it's worth remembering they're not a panacea for every problem.

Lanier's essay is largely a recantation of the beliefs he held as a youth. The recantation is underpinned by a lot of experience. And I think he's got a genuine point when he argues that "the dominant dogma in the online culture of the moment that collectives make the best stuff" hasn't yet been proven. You are not a gadget. Indeed. ( Michalko)


Touchscreen Merges the Real and Digital Worlds  (External site)

New Scientist Post  •  January 22, 2010

Check it out. Scientists at Microsoft Research and UC-Berkeley have taken the wraps off Pictionaire, a touchscreen table about 1.8 meters long. This is just one example of futuristic gear that may be finding its way into our budget requests in the next few years.

This reminds me a bit of the prescient XFR: Experiments in the Future of Reading that came out of Xerox PARC in 2001. You should check it out. There aren't any good overviews of it left on the current PARC site. A nice reprise, however, exists here on the Web site of my acquaintance, Matt Gorbet, an innovative interactive designer. ( 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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