Archive for: August, 2011

Around the Web: Patent system as a threat to innovation, Google Master of the Universe, The status of science and more

Aug 31 2011 Published by under around the web

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On the evilness of the emerging ebook app ecosystem

The theme at the upcoming Science Online NYC panel is Enhanced eBooks & BookApps: the Promise and Perils and I guess I'm the perils guy. The purpose of this post is helping me to get some of my thoughts down on pixels and, as a by-product, I guess it's tipping my hand a little bit for the other participants on the panel.

This session and my role as skeptic comes out of the Science Online session on ebooks in North Carolina this past January. I believe I may have refereed to the emerging ebooks app ecosystem as "The Dark Side."

My point was not to explicitly demonize app developers or book authors, just as my somewhat over-the-top title for this post isn't meant to demonize anyone either. My beef isn't with the authors, publishers and developers themselves -- they're are understandably acting in their own self-interest. It's the ecosystem that's arising from that multitude of self-interested actions that I have a problem with, that I'd prefer not to evolve into a tragedy of the commons situation.

My hope was -- and is -- to more-than-gently prod people to think of some of the perhaps hidden downsides of relying on the app model for distributing and monetizing ebooks. In other words, the kinds of marketplaces we see emerging in the iTunes and Android app commercial developer ecosystem and which is epitomized by the app The Elements.

The idea is that apps are easy to monetize because they're tied to the platforms they're explicitly developed for and as such they are extremely difficult to pirate and share illegally. In other words, if you want to read The Elements, you more or less have to buy it for your iPhone or iPad. You can't download it illegally, you can't borrow a copy from a friend or from the library unless your friend or your library are also willing to lend you their device. (Like my library, for example. We have an iPad loaded with The Elements and other apps that we lend out.) (And no offense meant by using The Elements as my example, it's just a good exemplar.)

Which is great. For developers, the sky is the limit creativity-wise and for the owners of the content the business model is very easy to understand. It's just like physical books except there's no pesky first sale rights to ruin it for everyone.

Plus, the people who buy your app don't really own it in any meaningful way. Like I said, they can't easily resell it, lend it, donate it or share it. In fact, it could break and be unusable for the "owners" at any time due to an operating system upgrade or if some online piece stops working.

In the longer term, it's not clear how apps such as The Elements could follow their owners to new platforms or new devices. Certainly the content for something like The Elements could have a very long lifetime, say even fifteen or twenty years. If you bought it today what do you think the likelihood is you'll be able to access it in that time frame. It's like if book publishers could make you use their proprietary glasses to read their books.

We have print books in our library that are hundreds of years old and are just as readable today as they were back then. Similarly, many digitization projects have uploaded public domain (and other) content into the cloud. These books have a long life ahead of them -- many of them exist in stable archives in formats that can be preserved over a very long term. It's hard to see how the apps that are being created in such a rush today will have the opportunity for such a long life.

Will someone be able to read and study The Elements five years from now? Ten? A hundred? Five hundred? And not just the content, of course, but as a artifact in the evolution of books over time.

So, what would I like to see in an ebook ecosystem?

  • Standards-based development, concentrating on HTML5 and browser-based development giving content at least a measure of device-independence.
  • Archivability and preservability, which will be much more practical in a standards-based environment.
  • A business model for library ebook purchasing that's built with library budgets and budget-cycles in mind. I'm not sure we have a definitive example of this yet, nor do I really think it'll be a one-size-fits-all model, but there certainly is a lot of work to do here. We'll probably need a set of business model.
  • A recognition that ebooks need to partake of an open cultural commons in the same way as print books did -- and it fact should be able to partake in such an open cultural commons in ways that print books never could.

And for those of you attending the Science Online NYC session, please don't think of this as me showing all my cards.

Some further comments.

First of all, I have no problems with content creators being fairly rewarded for their efforts. Authors, editors, publishers and production people should get paid. My beef is not with getting paid, it with the apparatus.

Also, I realize that we're in a transition period and that apps will not go away anytime soon. I'm actually OK with that as a way to get people used to paying something for digital content.

And most of all, my own ideas are evolving and changing. There isn't one answer to any of the questions that are floating around the publishing industry.

Some of my older posts which are relevant to this topic:

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Friday Fun: Beloit College Faces Accusations that "Mindset List" Really the Drunken Ravings of Old Man

Aug 26 2011 Published by under friday fun

this is all kinds of funny: Beloit College Faces Accusations that "Mindset List" Really the Drunken Ravings of Old Man.

I tend to find the Beloit College list on the one hand kind of lame and the other kind of irrelevant.

And The Cronk knocks it out of the park:

Beloit, Wis. In a statement that surprised many higher education professionals across the country, Beloit College admitted that their popular "Mindset List," which documents the changing worldviews of entering college freshman each year, may actually be based on the drunken ravings of Marty McCommons, a well-known regular at Suds O' Hanahan's Irish Pub.


McCommons' possible role in the creation of the Mindset List came to light when he released a clandestine recording of an alleged July conversation with McBride and Nief. The recording was aired on NBC Affiliate WMTV in early August, along with an interview of McCommons and his attorney Michael Benzali, who are preparing a lawsuit against Beloit.

In a statement released today, Benzali indicated that he hopes the matter will be settled to the satisfaction of all parties.

"Mr. McCommons, Dr. McBride and Mr. Nief all played a role in higher education history," said Benzali. "While it's true that anyone who's ever had a conversation about college students has the exact same observations that are documented in the annual list, Mr. McCommons' role in inspiring the Mindset List must be acknowledged. We are looking forward to working together to continue producing annoying overgeneralizations about college students together in the future."

In the same spirit, I'm happy to point to Tim Morris's Mindset List, Class of 1915, including among other salient points:

  • The Toledo, St. Louis and Kansas City Railroad has never run in their lifetime.
  • No one has ever been able to sit down comfortably to a meal of meat packed by Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago.
  • Sears, Roebuck has always been a larger retailer than A.T. Stewart and has always employed more workers than the beef-tallow-candle industry.

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So who the heck is still on ScienceBlogs anyways, 2011 edition

Aug 26 2011 Published by under blogging, social media

What with the latest round of departures seemingly immanent with the new "no pseudonymous bloggers" policy, I thought I'd revisit the list I did last year at about this time.

With a few exceptions, I'll call blogs dormant if there hasn't been a post in 2011.

There were three new blogs over the last year, We, Beasties, Art of Science Learning and Dean's Corner, which I've added.

I may have missed a couple of other cases of pseudonymous blogging or maybe a move or something, so please feel free to offer corrections in the comments.

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Reflections on the Harvard Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians

Whoa. Now that was a intellectual reset button hitting if there ever was one.

From July 31 to August 5 I attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians (LIAL) in Boston. It was a one-week, intensive, immersive course not so much on how to be a leader but how to think like a leader and how to understand a little more about the leadership process.

Not solely aimed academic library leadership per se, but more broadly about leadership situated in an academic environment. In other words, it was about people who happen to be librarians leading academic institutions that happen to be libraries.

I was joined by about 100 fellow library leaders and aspiring library leaders. A fantastic class of people willing to explore and willing to stretch and learn.

First of all, the leadership theory that gave shape to the entire week. It was based on our textbook, Reframing Academic Leadership by Lee G. Bolman and Joan V. Gallos.

It really quite a good book with both practical and theoretical approaches to leadership that I find quite interesting. What's really useful is that is situates the challenges of leadership within the unique environment of collegial academic governance, the demands of research/teaching/service and a tenured professoriat/librarian complement. It's well worth reading. And with the incredible opportunity of having Joan Gallos on the faculty, the ideas really came to life during the Institute.

The basic premise is that there are four views or frames of academic leadership.

  • Structural. Really about rational analysis, organizing tasks, making rules and enforcing policies. Being efficient. As you can imagine, a big one among academic library leaders.
  • Political. This one is about networking, negotiating, bargaining, advocating, resolving conflicts and allocating resources.
  • Human Resource. The main theme here is organization as family. It's about serving, coaching, caring, attending to people, motivation, relationships, needs, skills.
  • Symbolic. It's about leading by example. The leaser as thinker, artist, "prophet." The core skills are building faith and shared meaning, seeing possibilities, creating a common vision, meaning-making, identity. What we might call "thought leadership."

I found it very revealing to see my own actions and the actions of those around me in light of those different lenses.

The structure of the Institute on a daily basis was quite straightforward. Each day began with a meeting of our small group of eight fellow participants. After that, we did a session, usually a case study, before lunch and one or two after lunch until the late afternoon. Lunches were catered at a nearby campus restaurant. We also had opportunities for campus tours and of the Widener Library.

Some impressions.

  • Teaching 1.0. Trust me on this one. No one was absent-mindedly checking their watches or Facebook during this institute. (Or at least not very much ­čśë

    First of all, it must be said that the faculty for LIAL is absolutely stellar: Joe Zolner, Joan Gallos, Jim Honan, Maureen Sullivan, Chris Dede and Lisa Lahey.

    And each and every one of them delivered a wonderful traditional classroom experience. Like I titled this section: Teaching 1.0. Even the session on Education 2.0 was very Teaching 1.0. Curious, ironic, whatever. It worked. Forceful, dynamic professors, engaged students, terrific case study material, well chosen and well paced interactive and group study elements, immersive self-study and homework. That traditional classroom experience worked in many ways because of all the factors above, but I did find it curiously heartening that even in this hyper-connected Internet age there's still a way to make something so traditional so powerful.

    Even down to feeling like an undergrad again, getting down to a few hours of homework a night, books open, music blaring, drink by my side. In fact, a curious lesson from all this was reminding myself how people study again. It's not staring at one screen, reading one document. It's multi-document, flipping back and forth, quickly switching from one to another: book, binder, photocopies, laptop/tablet screen not in competition with each other but all complimentary. Which is a lesson to be kept in mind when talking about the death of paper textbooks.

    All the faculty were terrific, as I said. But there were also very diverse in their styles. Each unique from Joe Zolner's hilarious ramblings to Joan Gallos' jazzy improvisations to Jim Honan's intensity. I found them inspirational in the sense I could see elements of my own teaching style in each of them and ways to improve what I do. And I imagine most of the other participants had the same experience. In fact, for a while after LIAL I often found myself breaking into Joe Zolner impressions whenever I was explaining things to people.

  • Small Groups FTW! Purposefully selected to maximize different axes of diversity, we spent an hour or so at the start of each day talking about what we'd learned, exploring leadership or professional issues, supporting each other and talking about each others various professional and career choices. In other words, a very supportive and nurturing way to start the day. I found this particular aspect of the institute one of the most powerful as it really focused on our relationships with each other, what we can learn from each other and on the relationships that will carry us forward beyond LIAL.

    In fact, much of the institute was focused on getting us talking with each other. Virtually every session involved sharing and discussing with one of our neighbours (Hi Tracey, Hi Joy!), working on our individual cases with another small group or getting together at one of our self-organized lunchtime Affinity Groups to talk about various professional issues like open access, outreach, IL or international issues.

  • Wet Dog Syndrome. One of the things we were warned about was getting back to our institutions all revved up, eager to get to the leading and changing and transforming and framing everything left right and center. And pissing everyone off all around us with our new-found enthusiasm. The message was definitely to pick our spots and be patient. To look at the long term, to take advantage of and create opportunities for leadership across all the various frames. The best opportunities aren't necessarily the ones that will jump out at you in mid-August. Words to live by.

  • The power of a tech holiday. Looking at my twitter account, it seems that I did not tweet one single time between July 31 and August 9. Not even an RT. I also barely read my email or checked in on Friendfeed. And I totally forgot G+ even existed. I was just too damn busy and too damn engrossed.

    Was my focus perfect? Not quite. But I did manage pretty well and I have to say I found the experience both enriching and enlightening. I did my readings, focused on and participated in class discussions, engaged my classmates at every opportunity.

  • What happens at LIAL stays at LIAL. One of the most important things about an intensive workshop like this one is that the participants feel safe. One of the first things we all agreed to (with a mass thumbs up sign) was that we would respect each other's right to explore, share and learn without fearing that our words would come back to haunt us. As a result, I think people were pretty frank and honest about their experiences, both in the classroom and in the various small group settings.

  • Framing what I do. One of the really great aspects of LIAL is that it gets you to really deeply think about what you do. Both what you hope you do well and what you know you can do better.

    Luckily there was something I think I'm doing well that I was able to see in a clearer light. Both in my blogging activities and on campus I now realize what I'm attempting to do is much higher level leadership that I was thinking about before. When I organize tweetups or make sure I attend Departmental or Faculty Council meetings or campus social media working groups, what I'm really doing is exercising political frame leadership on my campus. I'm forging networks, creating alliances, making connections that all benefit the work that I do individually, that my department does and that the whole library does. When I go to Science Online or the CEEA conference, when I sit on ebook conference panels with science writers, when I give presentations on social media to various campus constituencies, I'm being a symbolic leader by making a case for what libraries and librarians can do.

    And here on this blog, when I advocate for librarians to blog in faculty networks, to go to non-librarian conferences, to be stealthy, well, once again what I'm attempting to do is be a symbolic leader. I'm trying to make a case to librarians that we should be more outward-looking. It's actually kind of cool to see myself as a leader in those frames. And it's something that I know is important both for my organization and my profession. I was a nice feeling and we definitely should all get the occasional little ego boost about the work we do.

  • A slight complaint. We were sent the Bolman/Gallos book well in advance of the institute as well as the reading for the first day and a half of the sessions. Which was great. However, when we arrived the first thing they did practically was give us huge binders with the readings and case studies for the next few days.

    There was so much of it that to really absorb the articles and especially some quite long case studies could easily be a couple of hours of readings a night. While it was a bit of a (welcome/deserved) shock to the system to feel like a swamped undergrad again, I do feel that the scale of the readings was a bit counter-productive. Solitary readings I can do anywhere. Exchanging ideas and interacting with so many of the best and brightest of the library field? That's priceless. I could definitely feel both in myself and among the others a bit of a hesitancy to socialize too much in the evenings or even during lunch.

    Thursday evening after the clambake (yes, the closing event is a clambake) was the only time that I think people felt really free to stay out really late since there were no readings due Friday. And maybe a bit the Wednesday evening "beer affinity group" meeting but even that broke up fairly early.

  • And finally. Joe Zolner FTW! As the Educational Chair of LIAL, it was clear that in many ways this was his show. While obviously a truly collaborative effort on the parts of the absolutely stellar staff and all the other faculty, it was pretty clear that it was Joe's really quite amazing leadership on all frames (from structural all the way through to symbolic) that animated the program. He definitely seemed like the type of leader who would rather deflect much the credit onto others, but in the end I think he deserves a lot of the credit for the shape of the program and the family feeling amongst the participants.

    And it was no accident that he was at the front of the class both in the first session of the Institute and the very last. His passion, flair and good humour really set the tone from the very first moment. And his earnestness and profound love of the mission of higher education hit the right note at the end, sending all of us out on a mission to change the world of academic libraries.

Whoa. Long post.

To summarize, LIAL was an amazing experience that many, if not most, academic librarians would benefit from at some point in their career. Leadership isn't just about having a title, it's also about leading by example and definitely it's also about creating the connections and building the context your institution needs to thrive in a challenging world.

And anybody can do that.

Update 2011.08.24: I should have mentioned that the dates for the 2012 edition of LIAL have already been set: August 5-10.

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So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world

Aug 22 2011 Published by under Canada, personal, Politics

It's a very sad day today all across Canada as Jack Layton, leader of the Federal NDP and Leader of the Official Opposition, has died of cancer.

A widely respected career politician -- a rarity these days -- his passion for social justice and commitment to the people of Canada will be greatly missed.

His family released A letter to Canadians which, while very focused on Canada and Canadian politics, is also very relevant beyond our borders.

To young Canadians:...As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one - a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world's environment...


My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.

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Friday Fun: Noir Week at

Aug 19 2011 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

All week I've been planning to feature's Noir Week series here today. Somehow it's fitting that my slightly dark mood right now is matched by the subject matter of the Friday Fun.

From the introductory post:

Welcome to Noir Week at! Join us as we escape from the sweltering dog days of summer into the cool, shadowy underworld of back alleys, jazz joints, hardboiled hooligans and tough-talking femme fatales; a world filled with violence, glamour, and intrigue, where the color scheme is black and white and the rules are anything but....

This week, we're making the most of our "And related subjects" tagline and branching out into new territory: in addition to our regular content, we've got posts on some of our favorite classic noir movies, writers, iconic characters and actors. Less a genre than a style, noir continues to be an iconic and influential force in fiction, film, and fashion and we're taking a detour all the way down to its shady, whiskey-soaked roots -- so grab your fedora, slip your pearl-handled pistol into your purse, and brush off your best Bogart impression: it's going to be a wild ride.

Here's a smattering of posts so far:

And don't forget to checkout the Index post. There's tons of great stuff on noir and especially the fantastic & science fictional noir.

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Friday No Fun: Pseudonymous blogging no longer allowed at ScienceBlogs?

Aug 19 2011 Published by under blogging, personal

According to DrugMonkey's recent post, ScienceBlogs' new overlords The National Geogrpaphic Society will no longer allow pseudonymous to continue blogging here.

I have just been informed that ScienceBlogs will no longer be hosting anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers. In case you are interested, despite extensive communication from many of us as to why we blog under pseudonyms, I have not been given any rationale or reason for this move. Particularly, no rationale or reason that responds to the many valid points raised by the pseudonymous folks.

This is, as they say, not unexpected. It is pretty clear that when corporate flacks ask you for your opinion in response to their reflexive stance they are not in fact going to be influenced. So I do hope none of my colleagues are surprised by this. Disappointed, as am I, but not surprised.

This is very problematic for me. The ability to speak freely and without fear of reprisal is the foundation and necessity of pseudonymous blogging. These bloggers work long and hard to establish the credibility and reliability of their online identities and shouldn't be punished or banished because of it.

Check out this wiki page, Who is harmed by a "Real Names" policy? for more elaborate reasoning on the issue. There's also been tons of posts on the Google+ real names policy, this one for example.

What does this mean for me?

I'm not sure. I'm certainly not going to act rashly but frankly amongst all the turmoil here over the last year or so, this is the first time I'm actually seriously considering whether or not I belong here.

I see three possibilities.

  • Suck it up and continue blogging here. It's at least marginally useful for my career to blog here and I think somewhat useful for librarianship as a whole to have a librarian presence here. These are not inconsiderable factors but not automatically more important than principle.
  • Return to my old location at Blogger (or perhaps a new indie location at WordPress, say). This is probably the most likely alternative to staying put.
  • Moving to another network. There are currently no offers on the table from other networks nor do I intend to seek any out at this point. This may be the least likely alternative but I have to say I don't have much of sense of what that likelihood actually is.

I considered a blogging hiatus until I figure this out but I do have a couple of things in the pipeline for the next week or so so I'm just going to continue as normal for now.

I appreciate any feedback from my readers.

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Google Cult Books I'd like to read

The New York Review of Books has a great group review of some recentish books on everyone's favourite Internet behemoth: Google.

And they all look pretty interesting! (And I may have featured a couple of these before.)

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy (ISBN-13: 978-1416596585)

In barely a decade Google has made itself a global brand bigger than Coca-Cola or GE; it has created more wealth faster than any company in history; it dominates the information economy. How did that happen? It happened more or less in plain sight. Google has many secrets but the main ingredients of its success have not been secret at all, and the business story has already provided grist for dozens of books. Steven Levy's new account, In the Plex, is the most authoritative to date and in many ways the most entertaining. Levy has covered personal computing for almost thirty years, for Newsweek and Wired and in six previous books, and has visited Google's headquarters periodically since 1999, talking with its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and, as much as has been possible for a journalist, observing the company from the inside.

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards (ISBN-13: 978-0547416991)

Google's first marketing hire lasted a matter of months in 1999; his experience included Miller Beer and Tropicana and his proposal involved focus groups and television commercials. When Doug Edwards interviewed for a job as marketing manager later that year, he understood that the key word was "viral." Edwards lasted quite a bit longer, and now he's the first Google insider to have published his memoir of the experience. He was, as he says proudly in his subtitle to I'm Feeling Lucky, Google employee number 59. He provides two other indicators of how early that was: so early that he nabbed the e-mail address; and so early that Google's entire server hardware lived in a rented "cage."

The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan (ISBN-13: 978-0520258822)

In The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry), a book that can be read as a sober and admonitory companion, Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media scholar at the University of Virginia, puts it this way: "We are not Google's customers: we are its product. We--our fancies, fetishes, predilections, and preferences--are what Google sells to advertisers."


The company always says users can "opt out" of many of its forms of data collection, which is true, up to a point, for savvy computer users; and the company speaks of privacy in terms of "trade-offs," to which Vaidhyanathan objects:

Privacy is not something that can be counted, divided, or "traded." It is not a substance or collection of data points. It's just a word that we clumsily use to stand in for a wide array of values and practices that influence how we manage our reputations in various contexts. There is no formula for assessing it: I can't give Google three of my privacy points in exchange for 10 percent better service.

Search & Destroy: Why You Can't Trust Google Inc. by Scott Cleland with Ira Brodsky (ISBN-13: 978-0980038323)

So is Google evil? The question is out there now; it nags, even as we blithely rely on the company for answers--which now also means maps, translations, street views, calendars, video, financial data, and pointers to goods and services. The strong version of the case against Google is laid out starkly in Search & Destroy, by a self-described "Google critic" named Scott Cleland. He wields a blunt club; the book might as well been have been titled Google: Threat or Menace?! "There is evidence that Google is not all puppy dogs and rainbows," he writes.

Google's corporate mascot is a replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton on display outside the corporate headquarters. With its powerful jaws and teeth, T-Rex was a terrifying predator. And check out the B-52 bomber chair in Google Chairman Eric Schmidt's office. The B-52 was a long range bomber designed to deliver nuclear weapons.

(Quotes from the NYRB article)

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ScienceOnline NYC: Enhanced eBooks & BookApps: the Promise and Perils

I'll be speaking at the upcoming Science Online NYC event on September 20th.

Enhanced eBooks & BookApps: the Promise and Perils
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM (ET)
New York, NY

Weiss 305
Rockefeller University
E66th and York Ave.
New York, NY

Enhanced ebooks and tablet apps clearly offer new ways to present material and engage readers. Yet some of the software restrictions and rights deals that these ebooks, apps and their platforms use can make them unfriendly to librarians, archivists, and future users. How can authors, designers, and publishers best exploit these new opportunities while avoiding their current and potential downsides?

Some questions that the panel will discuss include: How do we develop AppBooks or enhanced eBooks that make the most of the technology without locking the contents in proprietary formats that may be hard to crack open in 5 or 50 years? How can we reconcile the desires and agendas of authors, app developers, publishers, librarians, archivists, and readers?

September's panel includes representatives from all these groups and promises a lively discussion around one of the hotter topics from the ScienceOnline e-book session last January.

David Dobbs, moderator (As well as an author, blogger, and ebook experimentalist).
John Dupuis
Evan Ratliff, co-founder and editor, The Atavist.
Amanda Moon, senior editor, FSG/Scientific American Books.
Carl Zimmer, author, journalist, and blogger.

This can be thought of as a kind of sequel to the ScienceOnline 2011 ebooks session.

It's a free event. The tickets are going fast, get them while they're hot!

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