Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.

al’s horse

Books as Web Objects: Publishers with APIs

I’ve been meaning to write this post about truly connected books for ages. It’s up on O’Reilly Radar:

Ebooks to date have mostly been approached as digital versions of a print books that readers can read on a variety of digital devices, with some thought to enhancing ebooks with a few bells and whistles, like video. While the false battle between ebooks and print books will continue — you can read one on the beach, with no batteries; you can read another at night with no bedside lamp — these battles only scratch the surface of what the move to digital books really means. They continue to ignore the real, though as-yet unknown, value that comes with books being truly digital; not the phony, unconnected digital of our current understanding of “ebooks.”

Of course, thinking of ebooks as just another way to consume a book lets the publishing business ignore the terror of a totally unknown business landscape, and concentrate on one that looks at least similar in structure, if not P&L.

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Access to Public Sector Information

Tracey Lauriault (my co-founder of datalibre.ca, and the tireless editor of) and I have a chapter in a just-released book out of the University of Sydney Press: Access to Public Sector Information : Law, Technology and Policy, edited by Brian Fitzgerald. Ours is chapter 14 in Volume 1: “Data Access in Canada: civicaccess.ca.”

Access to Public Sector Information : Law, Technology and Policy: Volume 1 , , Sydney University Press

On the back of the growing capacity of networked digital information technologies to process and visualise large amounts of information in a timely, efficient and user-driven manner we have seen an increasing demand for better access to and re-use of public sector information (PSI). The story is not a new one. Share knowledge and together we can do great things; limit access and we reduce the potential for opportunity.

The two volumes of this book seek to explain and analyse this global shift in the way we manage public sector information. In doing so they collect and present papers, reports and submissions on the topic by the leading authors and institutions from across the world. These in turn provide people tasked with mapping out and implementing information policy with reference material and practical guidance.

A free online version should be accessible shortly.

Good Links- Weekly: August 28

This weeks’ Good Links wherein Mitch (w / t) Alistair (w / t) and I choose links for each other.

A Textbook Example of What’s Wrong with Education – Edutopia.

“This piece looks at how school textbooks are purchased in the US, and how a strange combination of Gerrymandering, industry consolidation, and book budgets are letting fringe special interest groups redact American history. I came across it in my research into the coming collision of tablet computing, education, and teachers’ unions.” (Alistair for Hugh).

Modernist Cuisine – Book Excerpt.

“I’m a bit of a food nut, and I devoured (pun intended) books like Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. But now Nathan Myhrvold of Microsoft has taken it to a new level entirely. His Modernist Cuisine is a five-volume compendium, a rethinking of L’Escoffier with modern science added in. They recently released this fascinating excerpt which shows the cutaways, high-speed photography, fiber optic cameras, and other techniques they used in the text. Of course, at $500 for the book, this 20-page PDF is probably the closest I’ll get.” (Alistair for Mitch).

Roads Gone Wild – Wired.com.

“I love this kind of story. It appeals to my innate sense that in modern civilization we often break things when we try to fix them. This is about the Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman, who brings safety to the roads by removing all the signs. I’m not quite sure what the wider message is, but I like it.” (Hugh for Alistair).

The Accidental News Explorer – Daylife.

“Mitch and I are both newspaper and magazine junkies. We’re old-media maniacs wired for new media – and we’ve had hours – maybe days – of conversations about what a great news start-up would look like. We still don’t know, but every time a new and innovative take on news creation or consumption crosses my radar, I send it along to Mitch. Forthwith: The Accidental News Explorer app for the iPhone, which curates good content and throws in a dash of serendipity. I haven’t played with this app yet, but I expect Mitch and I will be arguing or complaining about it soon over lunch.” (Hugh for Mitch).

Jurassic Web – Slate.

“This is a very charming and terrifying piece. It’s one of those moments that make you realize, ‘wow, technology has really changed and can we even call this stuff technology anymore?’ The truth of the matter is that we weren’t really doing much of anything with the Web back in 1996… and doesn’t that feel like yesterday?” (Mitch for Alistair).

How Authors Really Make Money: The Rebirth of Seth Godin and Death of Traditional Publishing – Tim Ferriss.

“If you think it’s hard to shut-up Hugh and I when we discuss newspapers and magazines, you don’t want to be around us when we talk book publishing. It’s probably annoying to people who are just sitting near-by. While I ranted about Seth Godin‘s recent announcement that he would no longer be publishing books in a traditional fashion (more on that here: You Are Not Seth Godin), Tim Ferriss (the best-selling business book author of The 4-Hour Work Week) wrote this killer (and long) blog post about how books are created and sold. Tim always brings sparks and sharp wit to his content, and this Blog post is no exception.” (Mitch for Hugh).

The Media-Created Found-Foot Frenzie

From the Globe and Mail:

“Gail Anderson, a forensic entomologist from Simon Fraser University, said there has never been any credible indication that the feet could be linked to foul play and are more likely been found because media reports have made people more vigilant about the possibility of finding feet.”

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Speaking of quality newspaper editing, this is, I think, the funniest line in the history of cinema, from Mamet’s State and Main (2000):

Who designed these costumes? It looks like Edith Head puked, and that puke designed these costumes.

Good Links – Weekly: August 14

This weeks’ Good Links wherein Mitch (w / t) Alistair (w / t) and I choose links for each other.

Top Secret America – The Washington Post

Alistair for Hugh: Put on your tinfoil hats: they really are out to get you! This Washington Post piece on Top Secret America includes an interactive exploration of the off-the-books US military spending, showing how much money goes where. Not only is it entertaining fodder for conspiracy theorists, but it’s a great demonstration of how journalism can work well in the digital age: this isn’t something that can be easily vacuumed up via an RSS feed and repurposed by someone else. This is part of a 2-year investigative project by the Post, nicely wrapped in interactive applications and videos.

What They Know – The Wall Street Journal

Alistair for Mitch: As the world agonizes over privacy and anonymity, triggered in part by Google’s CEO’s assertions that we should just get used to no longer being anonymous, the Wall Street Journal put together a great illustration of the most prevalent invasion of privacy, tracking cookies. Cookies are a much-maligned scapegoat for cyber-crime; without them, we wouldn’t have the dynamic web we enjoy today. But when cookies are used to share information across sites, they can be put to all kinds of nefarious uses. This interactive app puts tracking in plain sight. The surprise leader? Dictionary.com, which puts 159 cookies, 23 flash components, 41 beacons, and 11 first-party cookies – 168 of which don’t let visitors opt out – into your web browser. Really? Why do I need over 200 cookies to find out what paranoid means, anyway?

Why Parents Hate Parenting – The Last Psychiatrist

Hugh for Alistair: There’s been much talk about happiness and parenthood of late, with more studies showing that kids (supposedly) make you unhappy. I’ve come across the Last Psychiatrist blog a few times in the past couple of weeks, and each time come away thinking: reading time well spent. Here he cuts apart the premises upon which the happy/unhappy parent paradigm is built. Conclusion: ego overload.”

Fresh Air Remembers Historian Tony Judt – NPR.

Hugh for Mitch: Mitch recently had to cancel a lunch with me because of a funeral. I’ve had two close friends (one real life, one online) die of cancer in the past three months. Death is a fact of our existence that we aren’t good at coping with in Western culture. This is an interview with Tony Judt, the prolific British/Amercian historian, from a few months back, when he was suffering a quick decline from Lou Gehrig’s disease, an affliction to which he succumbed this week. It’s funny, and smart and moving.

The Data Bubble – Doc Seals Weblog.

Mitch for Alistair: It’s sort of freaky that Alistair’s recommended link for me was The Wall Street Journal‘s look at cookies and online privacy, considering I had this Blog post from Doc Searls (co-author of the magnificent business book, The Cluetrain Manifesto) pegged for him. While Doc does his usual role of breaking through the chaff really well, it’s his own thoughts on the subject (and the amazing comments within the Blog post) that really makes this piece shine. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on about this topic, this Blog post made me love Blogs and everything the Internet has done for society even more because of the open conversation.

Books of the world, stand up and be counted! All 129,864,880 of you – Inside Google Books.

Mitch for Hugh: This story will either make you marvel at technology or leave you shaking your head and paranoid about the coming singularity. In this Blog post from the Google Books people, they attempt to define what, exactly, a ‘book’ is (a topic near and dear to Hugh’s heart – if you’ve ever listened to our audio Podcast, Media Hacks), how to count/track the amount of books and – on top of that – how many books Google believes have been in the world (and – if you know anything about Google – it’s an exact number). A pretty fascinating read about books, publishing and the future.

HTML5 Audio Tag Mess

Good news: in the new HTML5 spec, you don’t need Flash or another plugin to play audio files from standards compliant browsers. Instead, you can put your audio link between <audio> tags, and all should be well.

New releases of Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera all support the audio tag.

Bad news: Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera all support the tag, but they don’t all support the same codecs – or kinds of audio files. Here, from HTM5 Doctor, is a list of current support:

HTML5 browser codec support

Man.

You can solve the problem by offering all the codecs between the tags, so:


<audio>
<source src="librivox.ogg" />
<source src="librivox.mp3" />
<source src="librivox.wav" />
</audio>

Anyone have a better explanation for such a jumble?

Links – Tony Judt and Parenting

Weekly links.

Remembering Tony Judt,
NPR

* audio
* transcript

Hugh for Mitch: Mitch recently had to cancel a lunch with me because of a funeral. I’ve had two close friends (one real life, one online) die of cancer in the past three months. Death is a fact of our existence that we aren’t good at coping with in Western culture. This is an interview with Tony Judt, the prolific British/Amercian historian, from a few months back, when he was suffering a quick decline from Lou Gehrig’s disease, an affliction to which he succumbed this week. It’s funny, and smart and moving.

Why Parents Hate Parenting
The Last Psychiatrist

http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/07/why_parents_hate_parenting.html

Hugh for Alistair: There’s been much talk about happiness and parenthood of late, with more studies showing that kids (supposedly) make you unhappy. I’ve come across the Last Psychiatrist blog a few times in the past couple of weeks, and each time come away thinking: reading time well spent. Here he cuts apart the premises upon which the happy/unhappy parent paradigm is built. Conclusion: ego overload.

Advertisements in Books

Over on a publishing email list there has been some chatter today about advertising in ebooks.

While I’m not crazy about being sold washing detergent with my War and Peace, I see no reason not to have ads in some ebooks, and I would rate the odds of it happening at 100% …

As with online book reviews that link to an online retailer (with affiliate fees), there is no reason an ebook about, say, rugby shouldn’t link to somewhere where I can buy tickets for the World Cup. If it’s a proper ebook – I mean, not just a book I can read on a digital device, but a proper ebook that is cloud-based and dynamically updated – then the link/interaction will point to 2011 tickets today, and in 4 years it will point to 2015 World Cup tickets. If I am reading about knitting I may well want to buy needles, and there’s no reason an ebook that makes me want to buy knitting needles shouldn’t help me do that (and make some money for the publisher, as well as the needle-maker, in the mean time).

As my friend Alistair Croll says: Buying a book is an expression of serious interest in a certain topic, and there is all sorts of valuable business to be done when people have expressed clear interest in a topic.

Certainly the level of engagement, and value of the average eyeball reading a book far outweighs the value of an average eyeball on a webpage. Digital books will and should allow any number of commercially valuable interactions – not just display ads. Or perhaps not display ads at all.

Doing this in a way that does not distract from the book itself will be the trick, but good design, and the powerful nature of new reading platforms means that doing this right is easily imaginable. If I can toggle night-reading on my Kobo for iPad, I can toggle ads.So ads needn’t distract from reading – they could be just another layer to which a book is connected.

LibriVox Turns Five

On August 10, 2005 I put up a website, called it LibriVox, and posted the following:

LibriVox is a hope, an experiment, and a question: can the net harness a bunch of volunteers to help bring books in the public domain to life through podcasting?

LibriVox is an open source audio-literary attempt to harness the power of the many to record and disseminate, in podcast form, books from the public domain. It works like this: a book is chosen, then *you*, the volunteers, read and record one or more chapters. We liberate the audio files through this webblog/podcast every week (?).

Five years later, it seems as if the answer is: yes. [more…]