Cheap Words

The New Yorker • 17 February 2014

Maybe he should have named it Piranha. Check out George Packer's revealing exposé on Amazon as a business concept. There's a good reason Jeff Bezos chose the river with the largest flow volume as the name for his fledgling enterprise in 1994. (The runner-up was, which was probably a bit too transparent.) Bezos focused on books to start with because they were easy to ship and didn't break, but his real goal from the beginning was to gather data on "affluent, educated shoppers, . . . after collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet." Given the company's remarkable success, Packer notes that "the big question is not just whether Amazon is bad for the book industry; it's whether Amazon is bad for books."

This is fascinating (as in train wreck or business case study; you decide). And some of you will remember when we thought we had it in our grasp fifteen years ago:

  • Building Earth's Largest Library: Driving into the Future. Steve Coffman, Searcher, Volume 7, No. 3 • March 1999 (.pdf)
  • The Response to "Building Earth's Largest Library." Steve Coffman, Searcher, Volume 7, No. 7 • July/August 1999 (.pdf)
  • Newsbreak: OCLC Sets New Strategy: Earth's Largest Library in Sight? Barbara Quint, Searcher, Vol. 9 No. 1—January 2001


What Happens with Digital Rights Management in the Real World?

The Guardian • 3 5 February 2014

It's a mess. Check out tech activist Cory Doctorow's diatribe against the problems caused by DRM use in the real world. In Doctorow's opinion, the issue is not technical—it's legal, thanks to questionable decisions made by the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization and subsequent legislation passed in the US, UK, Canada and elsewhere. Read on for more on why these pesky laws should be overturned before they cause any more damage to users' security and individuals' freedom.

I had not thought about this relationship between security and the laws prohibiting circumvention of DRM systems. It's a credible dynamic in the real world where multi-lateral treaties, industry business models and philosophies of intellectual property rights create a whirlpool of unintended consequences. (Michalko)

Carving New Roles in the Library

Research Information • February/March 2014

Jump in. Check out these creative new library ventures showcased at a recent Online Information conference in London. Exploring new revenue models such as renting airspace above buildings and exploiting mobile technology with smartphone apps are just a couple of the ideas that might be worth checking into. The important thing is to meet current challenges head-on through innovation and risk-taking, says Ellyssa Kroski, director of information technology at the New York Law Institute. "Competition is fierce . . . we can't afford to just wait and see with things like social media."

Okay. You know this. It's interesting to have it fed back through a continental filter. However, it bothers me to see small-scale individual library app development featured in this review. I have one word for them—Webscale. Lorcan used it in a library context long ago . . .  (Michalko)

There Is No Demand for Higher Education

Inside Higher Ed • 10 February 2014

It's all about social capital. Educator John Warner takes issue with the premise that large-scale, low-cost credentialing opportunities will solve the "problem" of higher education. "Because the demand isn't for education, per se, it's for what we believe education can provide: a secure, stable life." Warner says it's the connections you make through your educational experience that put you on the path to personal success. Read on for a contrarian's view of new trends in higher education.

It's not so much contrary as it is aggressively blind to the fact that the current costs of an education as the means of acquiring the cohort that leads to social capital that leads to a secure, stable life is unsustainable. Mr. Warner takes a lot of pleasure in tweaking Clay Shirky and the comments are worth your time. (Michalko)

When Everything Becomes a Toaster Less Is More

Game-changer • 12 February 2014

Make it count. When businesses embrace innovation for its own sake, they risk improving themselves "all the way to mediocrity." Innovation strategist Jorge Barba points to the restaurant and tech businesses, which are rife with copycat innovation and feature-itis. The take-away? Simplicity sells and subtraction is key. "Any time you set out to innovate, you shed old skin . . . you don't just pile on the new on top . . . like Hot Cakes." So before you focus on adding more features to your business, make a point of re-evaluating the customer value proposition in existing processes and think about subtraction.

The relevant bit of this article for our community is the exhortations about subtraction. This is product-oriented but easily ports to the service context. Re-establishing your value proposition around a new bundle of services means subtracting some of the current services. Hard. Required. FYI—The original toaster comment was about "value" investing. (Michalko)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, what has OCLC recently released as linked open data?

Get the answer.