The Bionic Book Worm

The Independent • 25 September 2012

Required reading. Man Booker prize judge Sir Peter Stothard describes his heroic effort to read 145 candidate works in seven months as "an unnatural act," and takes on book-blogging as a potential negative for the literary world: "People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we'll be worse off." Check out this brief profile of a "bionic book worm" and take a peek at this year's Man Booker candidate shortlist.

Sir Peter's approach and values should do much to balance the opinions of the book bloggers. Both have their place. (Erway)

A Tablet Still Is Not a Book . . . Not Yet

UX Magazine • 26 September 2012

And the winner is . . . There have been numerous blogs on the virtues of paper over e-ink and vice versa, but Dan Turner's essay goes beyond conventional wisdom to issues like repetitive stress injury, eye strain and sleep disturbance. Check out his thoughts on why your iPad is keeping you awake.

The question of whether an e-book is a book has been posed a few times in Above the Fold, and as in this case the question can sometimes be muddled: are we talking about the content or the container? As comments on this post noted, some e-book-reading problems on the iPad can be solved with a dedicated e-Reader device. Deeper questions about what constitutes the experience of a book will linger. (Washburn)

Readability of Wikipedia

First Monday • 3 September 2012

Keep it simple. Wikipedia has become the "go-to" resource for a large percent of the U.S. population, but its readability score is "difficult" based on the Flesch reading ease standard. Meanwhile Simple English Wikipedia, designed to address this issue by adhering to a restricted Basic English 850-word pool, is edging up in difficulty since its inception in 2003, dropping in readability from "easy" or "very easy" to "standard." The result for students, immigrants and special needs readers is increased difficulty in understanding the basic information conveyed in both versions, and a situation that's only getting worse.

You can add this to the pile of criticism leveled against Wikipedia, and those closest to it will certainly pile on (citing well known gender and other biases as problems, along with the erosion of the editing pool). And yet, Wikipedia articles receive a lot of love: they are highly ranked by search engines; snippets from pages are incorporated into Google's Knowledge Graph, and are pulled in by services like Facebook, filling in missing content. Wikipedia already assigns behind-the-scenes ranks for pages by importance (of topic) and quality (of articles)—I'd bank on additional community initiatives or tools to help editors make text more—rather than less—readable. (Proffitt)

Frictionless Sharing's Dirty Little Secret

The Kernel Magazine • 4 September 2012

Sharing is caring. Writer George Osborn takes on practitioners of "frictionless sharing" like Facebook and Spotify, noting that automating the process of gathering and disseminating information about people's online habits directly contradicts the traditional concept of sharing: "Because 'sharing', in actual human society, is almost entirely based around careful selection and curation of certain things to fit into certain contexts." A recent New York Times survey confirmed that about 94% of respondents only shared information they considered useful to others—yet frictionless sharing operates like an open firehose. Read on for more about what Osborn calls "one of the more dishonest commercial trends of the social web."

This timely diatribe against the strategy of some social websites like Facebook and Quora to force their users to "share everything"—from what you're reading to the music you stream and everything in between—illustrates the importance of managing your privacy. In an earlier era, this was relatively straightforward and simple. Just keep your stereo down and your neighbors wouldn't know about your fondness for Wayne Newton. But now we are required to constantly consider how our actions are tracked, noted, shared, and distributed, and the potential consequences of each. If this makes your head hurt there is still one bastion of privacy left in this over-sharing world: your local library. (Tennant)

Deconstructing Recommender Systems

IEEE Spectrum • October 2012

Take a number. Software experts Joseph Konstan and John Riedl deconstruct the complex algorithms that underpin recommender marketing systems. This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in what an Amazon customer looks like (one long, evolving number) and how that number allows it to target its next pitch—it's not as simple as you might think.

This article is definitely for the geek in you. It's not terribly complicated, but as the blurb says, it's not as simple as you might think. My favorite recommender is LibraryThing's UnSuggester. You can give it a title and will suggest books you don't want to read. Warning: Terry Pratchett fans will be told to avoid the Bible! (Levan)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, community engagement by libraries drives the need for new skills, more responsive organizational structures, and what?

Get the answer.