Archive for: May, 2015

Reading Diary: The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age by Astra Taylor

I am not trying to deny the transformative nature of the Internet, but rather that we've lived with it long enough to ask tough questions.
...
I've tried to avoid the Manichean view of technology, which assumes either that the Internet will save us or that it is leading us astray, that it is making us stupid or making us smart, that things are black or white. The truth is subtler: technology alone cannot deliver the cultural transformation we have been waiting for; instead, we need to first understand and then address the underlying social and economic forces that shape it. Only then can we make good on the unprecedented opportunity the Internet offers and begin to make the ideal of a more inclusive and equitable culture a reality. If we want the Internet to truly be a people's platform, we will have to work to make it so. (p. 8, 10)

Astra Taylor's The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age is easily one of the best Web culture books I have ever read, if not the best. It takes the onrushing revolution in art and culture and journalism head on. Of the books I've read recently it compares and contrasts very nicely with Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow. Like Doctorow's very fine book it's about what may be the central artistic/commercial tension in the Internet age: consumers of information (art, scholarship, journalism, etc.) want it to be free but the creators and distributors of that information (artists, scholars, publishers, writers, etc.) want the information to be expensive.

As the original quote from Stuart Brand goes, "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other" with Brand's follow up, "Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. ...That tension will not go away."

And what's interesting of course, is just how ingrained this tension is. While looking for a link to the publisher's page I started typing into my search window "astra taylor the people's..." and what should the type ahead show me? Yep, you guessed it: "astra taylor the people's platform pdf." It's ironic that a book that makes the case for financially supporting creating expression in the Internet age is, well, a book that a lot people on the web don't seem to want to pay for.

Paying for culture is a hard case to make sometimes, in a world where it seems more normal to pay for the gadgets that deliver the culture and rely on the creators of that culture to trade their work for "exposure." The commonly accepted devil's bargain is that at some point in the hopefully not-too-far-distant-future they will be able to trade that exposure for something that will pay the bills.

Which is all a bit odd for me, given my current vantage point. I'm writing this in Paris. Where there's a book store on every block and a record store on every other block. And this is only a very slight exaggeration for effect. The French are very protective of their culture, to an extent that seems a bit unhinged to we ruthless count-every-penny North Americans. Amazon and it's ilk discounting books is actually a controversy in France. Bande dessinées are expensive. Print books are expensive, CDs and records are expensive. Yet the shops are crowded and people seem to be willing to trade some cash for knowing that the arts are taken care of. If Silicon Valley disruptors are storming the cultural Bastille, the French are having nothing of it. Even Uber has to play by the rules, no race to the bottom here. Or at least a much slower race.

Astra Taylor might find her ideas have more resonance in Europe than in the land of disruption and discounting and dog eat dog.

[W]e should strive to cultivate the cultural commons as a vibrant and sustainable sphere, on ethat exists for its own sake, not to be eploited by old-media oligarchs, new media moguls, insatiable shareholders, for-profit pirates, or data-miners and advertisers. (p. 176)

This book makes the case -- that a truly democratic culture is worth directly supporting in the online world in the exact same way as the offline world. And it is worth supporting culture both by the everyday choices of the average cultural consumer as well as through the levers of various government agencies. In other words, a sustainable model for cultural support. Culture is a commons, one that needs to be supported. The new "tragedy of the commons" is not one of enclosure but of under-investment. A commons shouldn't be built on exploiting free labour on social media sites where the users are actually the "product" for advertisers or laying waste to the environment to mine precious metals to manufacture gadgets. We have to build in equity. We need free culture in the sense of a public library, not corporatized "free culture" like YouTube videos or Google Books or Facebook or Twitter.

(Fear not, Taylor does mention her support of a sustainable, open scientific commons.)

Appropriately, the conclusion of Taylor's book is subtitled "In Defense of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sustainable Culture."

And the first paragraph of that chapter reads,

It may seem counterintuitive at a time of information overload, viral media, aggregation, and instant commenting to worry about our cultural supply. But we are at the risk of starving in the midst of plenty. A decade ago few would have thought a book like In Defense of Food was necessary. Food, after all, had never been cheaper or more abundant; what could be wrong with the picture? A similar shift of perception needs to happen in the cultural realm. Culture, even if it is immaterial, has material conditions, and free culture, like cheap food, incurs hidden costs. (p. 214)

Techno Uber Optimists beware. Taylor isn't afraid of saying bad things about the Internet (or good things, for that matter). She doesn't treat is like some sort of anthropomorphized overly sensitive person who can't deal with any even mild criticism. She treats gurus and pundits of all stripes with the same critical respect. She asks the tough questions and reasons carefully to work towards some answers, or at least ideas that might lead to some answers.

This is a great book, read it, argue with it, agree with it violently and disagree with it just as violently but give it's arguments a fair hearing. Recommended for all libraries and anyone interested in the future of culture.

Our communications system is at a crossroads, one way leading to an increasingly corporatized and commercialized world where we are treated as targeted customers, the other to a true cultural commons where we are nurtured as citizens and creators. To create a media environment where democracy can thrive, we need to devise progressive policy that takes into account the entire context in which art, journalism, and information are created, distributed and, preserved, online and off. We need strategies and policies for an age of abundance, not scarcity, and to invent new ways of sustaining and managing the Internet to put people before profit. Only then will a revolution worth cheering be upon us. (p. 232)

Taylor, Astra. The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2014. 288pp. ISBN-13: 978-1250062598

No responses yet

Friday Fun: Last person to understand iTunes dies

May 22 2015 Published by under friday fun

I consider myself a fairly technically adept person, even at the advanced age of 52. But yesterday I was listening to an album on my laptop using iTunes -- something I actually fairly rarely do, as I mostly only use iTunes on shuffle on my phone -- and after I tried to figure out how to get to the shuffle play setting back for my whole music library.

Well, there must have been a way, but the five or six things I tried just didn't work; I seemed only to be able to shuffle the album. In disgust, I shut down iTunes and then restarted it. Once restarted it was trivial to get back to library-level shuffle.

But I curse iTunes for being so counter-intuitive. Never mind the frustration whenever I refresh the music on my phone and have to figure out how to do that all over again.

Which brings me to News Biscuit's hilarious Last person to understand iTunes dies.

Patrick Wilbert, believed to be the last person in the world who understands how iTunes works, passed away yesterday, aged 39, after a stress-related illness. Wilbert had dedicated the last 14 years of his life working out how to get music on and off his iPod via iTunes. He was successful with nearly every version of the app, and there is evidence that he was even able to use iTunes with the Windows operating system.

It's very funny. You should read the whole thing.

"It’s thought he even knew the difference between synching and backing up, but was never able to put it into words."

*snort*

2 responses so far

Elsevier's new sharing policy: A step in the wrong direction

Elsevier has released a new scholarly article sharing policy which is definitely more disappointing than really any cause for cheer.

Basically the crux is that the only place that authors are allowed to have the final publication version of an article in a non-open access Elsevier publication is on the Elsevier website itself. Of course, after any embargo period has elapse or if the author has paid an author processing charge and published in a hybrid or gold open access journal, they are allowed to post the article on their own webpage or institutional repository.

During the time that the article is most important for scholars to access, it's Elsevier only. Which is not a surprising policy in many ways for a publisher to have, after all they want to maximize their subscription fees as well as APCs not to mention traffic to their sites.

But an issue that I (and many others) have with this new policy is that it may very well be in direct contravention to what authors are required to do to meet various institution and national open access policies. Canada's new policy requires open access to the final version within 12 months of publication, much shorter than many journal's embargo period.

As such, this policy is potentially setting authors against their funders. And will no doubt cause many authors to either ignore the policy or put pressure on the government to water down the requirements.

The requirement for a CC-BY-NC-ND license is also much too restrictive, forcing authors to adopt a licence that isn't the generally accepted (particularly in STEM fields) open access license of CC-BY.

And I could go on. The policy is very long and very detailed, more than probably most people want to wade through. This length and complexity is an issue too. Pressed for time in a publish or perish world, it's tempting to skip to the end and just forget about sharing -- because it's just easier to do nothing and leave the article as is on the Elsevier site! The pain and anguish involved in sharing are a disincentive.

There is a way to fix this, and it's not even hard. The policy does mention the physics/math/CS/etc preprint server arXiv by name (and RePEC for economics): "Preprints may be shared, and on arXiv and RePEC they may be refreshed with accepted manuscripts." It's easy. Allow all scholars the courtesy and convenience that those that use arXiv & RePEC have. Allow preprints posted to a disciplinary or institutional repository to be refreshed with accepted versions upon publication. If that isn't a deal breaker in some fields, why is it a deal breaker in all the rest?

As is my habit, I've collected a fair bit of recent commentary on this new Elsevier policy. Many of the authors below go into far more detail than I have here about the various issues.

I'm including a bit on the STM principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks, which were the basis for the new Elsevier policy. STM is a STEM publisher industry group. I've also included a couple of recent ones on Elsevier that aren't specifically about this issue for some wider context.

As usual, if I've missed anything significant please add it in the comments. If this issue continues to have legs, I'll probably update this post at some point.

Update 2015.05.28. This story does seem to have legs, so I've added a bunch of items.

2 responses so far

Reading Diary: Love in the Time of Climate Change by Brian Adams

May 19 2015 Published by under book review, environment, reading diary, Uncategorized

A bit unusually for me, I'm reviewing a novel as part of my Reading Diary series. Usually the closest I'll get to a novel is a fictionalized science graphic novel of some sort, kind of like the Survive! series or Lauren Ispsum.

But no, this ain't one of those. It's a good old fashioned novel.

OK, it's a climate change fiction novel that's kind of like an Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell romantic comedy but starring Seth Rogan and Jennifer Lawrence. Set on a community college campus, it has a bit of a feel of The Absent-Minded Professor or even The Nutty Professor for the cli-fi set.

So what have we got? Basically, our hero Casey, is a professor at a small community college and not only is he obsessed with The Issue to the point where he calls his affliction OCD for Obsessive Climate Disorder, but he's also socially awkward, nerdy, immature and extremely lovelorn. And a pothead.

The novel is about his adventures during the fall 2012 term during which he is teaching a climate change course as well as getting more than slightly obsessed with a breathtakingly beautify school teacher named Samantha who is taking his class for professional development credits.

We get to learn about the dangers of climate change and the folly of the political/denialist set through Casey's classroom activities and through his advising of the campus anti-climate change club. These parts are very effective as we see issues such as fossil fuel divestment campaigns not just through a theoretical lens but also through the eyes of people learning about the issues and trying to make things better.

Casey's obsession with his student Samantha is a bit jarring at times, in a way that a post-adolescent frat boy crush is a bit embarrassing in a grown man. And it's never completely clear to me what she sees in him. Beautiful woman falls for goofy yet charming loser because of the power of his obsessions seems more like a teen-aged fantasy scenario rather than a fully-realized adult story. At times Samantha seems more like a prop than anything, a way for Casey to establish his "good guy" credibility by the constant obsessing over how he can't approach her while she's still a student. No surprising spoiler here, but it all turns out OK in the end for Casey and Samantha.

All that being said, the Casey/Samantha relationship isn't a deal-breaker for me. It did provide some nice comic relief what with Casey's constant romantic pratfalls and it seemed less jarring as I got further into the book.

This is a charming little book, a bit silly but entertaining in its goofiness. A recommended light read that many public libraries might find useful to add to their collections and even perhaps some academic libraries with leisure reading collections.

Adams, Brian. Love in the Time of Climate Change. : Green Writers Press, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0996087209

(Review copy provided by author.)

No responses yet

Reading Diary: Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman

What is digital governance in the first place?
Digital governance is a discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards. A digital governance framework, when effectively designed and implemented, helps to streamline digital development and dampen debates around digital channel “ownership.”
-- From the Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design website.

Universities
Intellectual autonomy and stubbornness of staff
-- From the index, Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, p. 229

Time to take a little medicine! All those digital projects, all those digital projects teams, all those digital projects strategies. Libraries, academic libraries, we know them well, don't we.

Chaos is a good word. Lots of stakeholders, limited resources, competing priorities. Governance is a good word too, for libraries, as it tends to imply less a top-down, less hierarchical, more collegial way of making decisions. And when it comes to deciding how an organization should make decisions about their digital presence, finding a way to makes those decisions more effectively is very important.

Which is exactly what Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman is about -- how to set up internal structures that will help organizations make decisions about digital strategies, policies and standards. Note that the book isn't about what decisions to make or even really how to organize the decision-making process. It's about what structures can facilitate and inform and govern a decision-making process that results in strategies, policies and standards.

It's that twice-removed aspect that is both the book's greatest strength and the source of some frustrations as well.

It's a strength because it provides a level of abstraction between the content of the decisions and the process of deciding that can take a bit of heat out of the whole thing. Frustrating because the occasional lack of grounding in reality of all the talk of policies and whatnot make it hard to see how it all ties back to reality. The endless talk of process this and committee that is sometimes like grasping at smoke. There are fairly detailed case studies at the end, but perhaps some of that content should have been distributed a little better up front -- or at least some more real world examples.

Building a governance structure where none existed before or overlaying one on an existing chaotic situation are challenging tasks to say the least. Basically it requires defining the appropriate structures and then figuring out how to overlay those bureaucratic structures on an organization that needs it but may not realize or recognize it needs it.

And Welchman does a terrific job of going through how to define those processes and even how to talk about implementing them. She's very deliberate and patient, setting everything out in words and charts, step by step, how to figure out who defines, who has input, who has final authority. And the things we're talking about deciding about (see how circular and vague and smokey this gets...)?

Digital strategies, digital policies, digital standards. And not in any concrete way, of course, but as those higher-level abstractions that will be different for every industry or sector and which will be different for each organization within those industries.

And yes, higher education is one of the sectors that get a case study at the end. The example is a university's central web team in charge of managing and integrating the school's web presence across all the various units. (The case studies are anonymized versions of experiences in her own consulting practice.)

Governance can be a good word for higher education, of course. But the challenge in the modern higher education landscape is distinguishing between governance and "governance" or governance-washing. Setting up a digital governance strategy for institutions that are as decentralized and multi-faceted as universities is doubly challenging. What's being governed in digital strategy anyways? Just marketing and communication? Data and scholarship resources? MOOCs and online education? Faculty and departmental web-presences? To what degree is the marketing and communications tail wagging the educational and research mission dog? Someone has to keep an eye on what universities are really for -- teaching and research. And not marketing. We don't have universities so we can market them -- as the tail sometimes seems to think.

Welchman trods this fine line not always successfully in the higher ed case study. Too much emphasis on top down from the senior admin and provost and not enough grassroots bottom up from faculty, staff and -- yes -- students. For governance to be legitimate in a higher education environment, the decision-making needs to flow upward, not downward, as inconvenient and frustrating as that can seem sometimes on the inside. The digital part of the university serves the teaching and research mission of the university, not the other way around. Autonomy and stubbornness are virtues, not inconveniences to getting input on long, tortuous processes.

Overall, this is a very good book, if a little dry and disruption business web hallelujah jargony at times. The digital/web teams are perhaps too often portrayed as the misunderstood heroes of the various tales rather than part of complex organizational ecosystems where heroes and villains don't really exist. References to "disruption" and "digital natives" and "digital campus" don't necessarily inspire complete confidence, but there is also an incredible amount of wisdom here when it comes to creating collegial governance. Your mileage may vary, but it's hard to imagine that anyone involved in digital projects at any level won't find something here to help them navigate creating better processes at their institutions.

This book belongs in any library/information science, technology or business library collection in academia. Probably only quite large public library systems would find an audience for this book, but branches in technology hub neighbourhoods should probably put a copy in their window display. Also, buy a copy for everyone on your digital team, up and down the hierarchy all the way to the CIO.

Welchman, Lisa. Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, 2015. 248pp. ISBN-13: 978-1933820880

No responses yet

Friday Fun: Ten Simple Rules to Win a Nobel Prize

May 01 2015 Published by under culture of science, friday fun

Being a librarian and not really being eligible for any Nobel Prizes, this probably isn't the most practical advice I've ever highlighted here on the blog. But some of you readers out there are scientists, though, right? Right?

On the other hand, I see no reason why librarians can't be eligible for the Ig Nobel Prizes, a prize I aspire to winning one day for the team. In that case, this fine article, Ten Simple Rules to Win a Nobel Prize by Nobel laureate Richard J. Roberts probably does contain a few valuable lessons towards that particular goal.

Here's a taste, but please do read the whole article. The suggestions are all on the light-hearted side, but still valuable.

Ten Simple Rules to Win a Nobel Prize

1. Never Start Your Career by Aiming for a Nobel Prize

Don’t even hope for it or think about it. Just focus on doing the very best science that you can. Ask good questions, use innovative methods to answer them, and look for those unexpected results that may reveal some unexpected aspect of nature. If you are successful in your research career, then you will make lots of discoveries and have a very happy life. If you are lucky, you will make a big discovery that may even bag you a prize or two. But only if you are extraordinarily lucky will you stand any chance of winning a Nobel Prize. They are very elusive.

 

9. Always Be Nice to Swedish Scientists

Several laureates had their prize severely delayed by picking a fight with the wrong person, someone who was either already a Nobel Committee member or became one subsequent to the fight. Some individuals may even have lost out altogether, although one would need to search the archives (only available 50 years after the award) to find them. This is usually an easy rule to follow as in my experience the Swedes are very nice people, good scientists, easy to collaborate with, and extremely amiable drinking partners.

It is never too early to get started on this. Then, should your name magically appear on the candidates’ list and you have to wait for it to reach the top, you may still be around to cash in. Peyton Rous had to wait from 1911 until 1966 for the Medicine Prize, just four years before his death.

One response so far