OCLC Research  

Above the Fold

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

December 13, 2010
Vol. 3, No. 43
ISSN: 1943-1457

Dear readers,

As you know this newsletter is the product of OCLC Research. As the year draws to an end we've done some looking back at what we think are noteworthy highlights. They're shown off in a quick, clever carousel format on our Web site here. Please take a look. And thanks for reading.

Jim Michalko

In this issue:


The Algorithm Method: Programming Our Lives Away  (External site)

The Globe and Mail   •  November 26, 2010

Buy birdseed, up your credit rating. We know algorithms are used by banks, credit card companies, online dating sites and affinity marketing groups—but did you know that people who buy premium birdseed, carbon monoxide detectors and little felt pads to protect their floors from furniture scratches are the best credit risks? As confidence in their predictive power increases, some critics charge that the "black box" of algorithmic rating is gaining too much power.

Mostly I like what algorithms do for me. They point me to items I like and things I might not otherwise encounter. I hate that they might penalize me for going to the Palo Alto equivalent of the Sharx Pool Bar mentioned in the article (the latter actually looks quite nice). ( Michalko)


Big Scientists Pick Big Science's Biggest Mistakes  (External site)

Discover   •  November 23, 2010

Step one: ask the right questions. Check out these historical examples of scientific misconceptions solicited by Richard Thaler for Edge. The entries run the gamut from medicine to astronomy to neurology to the laws of physics and more. In some cases, such as the long-standing belief that ulcers were linked to stress rather than bacteria, the truth was repeatedly discovered and forgotten. Why is that? This article suggests that factors leading to wide acceptance of wrong conclusions include failure to ask the right question in the first place and lack of a compelling alternative—things we should think about in our own organizational deliberations.

Click on the link at the end of the article to read the original responses. They are more interesting than the summary. For a more agitated and comprehensive view of some of these same "misconceptions" try out Michael Specter's Denialism book. ( Michalko)


Making Room for Reflection Is a Strategic Imperative  (External site)

Harvard Business Review   •  November 24, 2010

Stop doing. Media and business consultant Umair Haque suggests that business's action/reflection ratio is way out of synch, resulting in short-sighted strategies that contributed to the recent economic meltdown. He suggests a self-reflection process that can help organizations step back and contemplate the deeper questions that could lead to improved strategic planning.

Worth scanning. Most of his things are. Most interesting to me is the warning from the HBR editors at the conclusion: "All postings become the property of Harvard Business School." ( Michalko)


Disruption, Aggregation, and Third Parties  (External site)

Scholarly Kitchen   •  November 23, 2010

Aggregators, unite. David Crotty expands on Mark Cuban's recent riff on aggregation as a key component of disruption, and suggests if scholarly publishers fail to band together to offer their content à la carte at reasonable prices, they risk losing control (and profits) to outside aggregators like Amazon or Google. "Thinking this way requires sacrifice, giving up a potential short-term revenue gain for long-term security. It means valuing your content and breaking free from the Web 2.0 'information wants to be free mindset' . . . " Are academic publishers up to the task?

I'm afraid that too many people will offer this as a ready-packaged reason to hold to their current path ignoring the part about aggregation. I also worry that the way we think about successful aggregation is just way too small cf. this university press ebook initiative. ( Michalko)


Is Publishing Doomed? John B. Thompson with Williams Cole  (External site)

The Brooklyn Rail   •  November 2010

Apocalypse not. Cambridge professor John B. Thompson spent five years immersed in the book industry on both sides of the Atlantic and shares his observations on the upheaval underway. This thoughtful commentary ends with Thompson's hopeful suggestion that despite pundits' "apocalyptic" predictions to the contrary, the print book is not going away any time soon.

A more measured discussion than many. In all the steam arising from the ebook emergence I hadn't thought that the rise of "agents" in the publishing industry was the development that had the biggest impact on publishing over the last forty years. ( Michalko)


Reinventing the Book  (External site)

New York Magazine   •  November 21, 2010

A-maze-ing. At the invitation of British boutique publisher Visual Editions, NYU professor Jonathan Safran Foer has created "a delicate object resembling a book." Check out this artful assemblage of paper, words and cut-outs for one man's vision of the "anti-Kindle."

Foer is the kind of writer/dilettante academic who gets a lot of airtime in our cultural news channels. I think he should yield some to others. The Gawker has a particularly snarky view, but then that's their business. ( Michalko)


Above the Fold Quiz:

According to a news item in this week's Above the Fold, how long ago did OCLC and RLG merge?

Click here for the answer.


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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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