New York Times will you be my brother on Facebook?

Changes in the Facebook algorithm are about to hit major publishers pretty hard.

Should I be adding major media outlets to my Facebook feed as family members? Changes by Facebook, which are highlighted in this New York Times article, may mean this is coming: The Atlantic can be my twin brother, and Foreign Affairs could be my other sister.

“News content posted by publishers will show up less prominently, resulting in less traffic to companies that have come to rely on Facebook audiences.” — Facebook to Change News Feed to Focus on Friends and Family in New York Times 

After reading this article, I can only think that Facebook wrongly thinks that my family is so interesting (and believe me, I don’t think I’m any better, most of my posts–much like my face–are ones which only a mother could “like”/”love” and my feed will bear that out! BTW I love you mom.) The majority of posts I see there are rehashes of so-called “news” sites I really don’t care about or invitations to participate in games like Candy Crush Saga.

While I love keeping up with friends and family on Facebook, I’ve had to very heavily modify how I organize my Facebook feed to get what I want out of it because the algorithms don’t always do a very good job. Sadly, I’m probably in the top 0.0001% of people who take advantage of any of these features.

It really kills me that although publishers see quite a lot of traffic from social media silos (and particularly Facebook), they’re still losing some sight of the power of owning your own website and posting there directly. Apparently the past history littered with examples like Zynga and social reader tools hasn’t taught them the lesson to continue to iterate on their own platforms. One day the rug will be completely pulled out from underneath them and real trouble will result. They’ll wish they’d put all their work and effort into improving their own product rather than allowing Facebook, Twitter, et al. to siphon off a lot of their resources. If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned from media over the years, it’s that owning your own means of distribution is a major key to success. Sharecropping one’s content out to social platforms is probably not a good idea while under pressure to change for the future.


Psst… With all this in mind, if you’re a family member or close friend who wants to

  • have your own website;
  • own your own personal data (which you can automatically syndicate to most of the common social media sites); and
  • be in better control of your online identity,

I’ll offer to build you a simple one and host it at cost.

 

My 10th Anniversary on Facebook

Apparently, according to Facebook, today is my 10th Anniversary using their service. Mostly I remember that it was pretty lonely for that first year as very few people I knew even had an idea what it was. Fortunately more than 1,300 people I know have joined since and made it a much more enriching experience.

Yesterday I got a thank you from Foursquare for 7 years, and it’s easily been over 8 years on Twitter. Sadly, I miss a lot of the services that started around that time that are no longer with us. Toward that end, I’ll post some thoughts tomorrow about a more pivotal anniversary about which I’m much more excited, and which portends better things for the internet…

Thoughts on “Some academics remain skeptical of Academia.edu” | University Affairs

Replied to Some academics remain skeptical of Academia.edu (University Affairs)
They warn scholars to €œthink twice€ before sharing their work on the popular social network.

This morning I ran across a tweet from colleague Andrew Eckford:

His response was probably innocuous enough, but I thought the article should be put to task a bit more.

“35 million academics, independent scholars and graduate students as users, who collectively have uploaded some eight million texts”

35 million users is an okay number, but their engagement must be spectacularly bad if only 8 million texts are available. How many researchers do you know who’ve published only a quarter of an article anywhere, much less gotten tenure?

“the platform essentially bans access for academics who, for whatever reason, don’t have an Academia.edu account. It also shuts out non-academics.”

They must have changed this, as pretty much anyone with an email address (including non-academics) can create a free account and use the system. I’m fairly certain that the platform was always open to the public from the start, but the article doesn’t seem to question the statement at all. If we want to argue about shutting out non-academics or even academics in poorer countries, let’s instead take a look at “big publishing” and their $30+/paper paywalls and publishing models, shall we?

“I don’t trust academia.edu”

Given his following discussion, I can only imagine what he thinks of big publishers in academia and that debate.

“McGill’s Dr. Sterne calls it “the gamification of research,”

Most research is too expensive to really gamify in such a simple manner. Many researchers are publishing to either get or keep their jobs and don’t have much time, information, or knowledge to try to game their reach in these ways. And if anything, the institutionalization of “publish or perish” has already accomplished far more “gamification”, Academia.edu is just helping to increase the reach of the publication. Given that research shows that most published research isn’t even read, much less cited, how bad can Academia.edu really be? [Cross reference: Reframing What Academic Freedom Means in the Digital Age]

If we look at Twitter and the blogging world as an analogy with Academia.edu and researchers, Twitter had a huge ramp up starting in 2008 and helped bloggers obtain eyeballs/readers, but where is it now? Twitter, even with a reasonable business plan is stagnant with growing grumblings that it may be failing. I suspect that without significant changes that Academia.edu (which is a much smaller niche audience than Twitter) will also eventually fall by the wayside.

The article rails against not knowing what the business model is or what’s happening with the data. I suspect that the platform itself doesn’t have a very solid business plan and they don’t know what to do with the data themselves except tout the numbers. I’d suspect they’re trying to build “critical mass” so that they can cash out by selling to one of the big publishers like Elsevier, who might actually be able to use such data. But this presupposes that they’re generating enough data; my guess is that they’re not. And on that subject, from a journalistic viewpoint, where’s the comparison to the rest of the competition including ResearchGate.net or Mendeley.com, which in fact was purchased by Elsevier? As it stands, this simply looks like a “hit piece” on Academia.edu, and sadly not a very well researched or reasoned one.

In sum, the article sounds to me like a bunch of Luddites running around yelling “fire”, particularly when I’d imagine that most referred to in the piece feed into the more corporate side of publishing in major journals rather than publishing it themselves on their own websites. I’d further suspect they’re probably not even practicing academic samizdat. It feels to me like the author and some of those quoted aren’t actively participating in the social media space to be able to comment on it intelligently. If the paper wants to pick at the academy in this manner, why don’t they write an exposé on the fact that most academics still have websites that look like they’re from 1995 (if, in fact, they have anything beyond their University’s mandated business card placeholder) when there are a wealth of free and simple tools they could use? Let’s at least build a cart before we start whipping the horse.

For academics who really want to spend some time and thought on a potential solution to all of this, I’ll suggest that they start out by owning their own domain and own their own data and work. The movement certainly has an interesting philosophy that’s a great start in fixing the problem; it can be found at http://www.indiewebcamp.com.

Chris Aldrich on VH1’s “Dating Naked”!

Let's get one thing straight: the Chris Aldrich on VH1's upcoming new season of "Dating Naked: Playing for Keeps" is NOT me -- first of all, I'm way better looking.

O

ver the past couple of months leading up to to the launch of VH1’s new season of “Dating Naked: Playing for Keeps” , I’ve been entertained by friends who have seen little snippets and notices about the show and wondering why and how I got involved in front of the camera. Honestly, it’s mostly been the why question. Ego-bruisingly, only one so far has wanted to know if they could get the “unblurred” cut of the show.

Let’s get one thing straight: the Chris Aldrich on VH1’s Dating Naked is NOT me — first of all, I’m way better looking.

Fortunately as we’re getting closer, there’s now “artwork” to support the fact that it’s not me.

The "other" Chris Aldrich
The “other” Chris Aldrich

It would be nice to have some PR on Hollywood’s busiest corner, but the price was too high.

Once the show launches on the 22nd, I almost can’t wait to see what happens to the Google ranking for my searches on my name.  I’m sure I’ll have some further entertainment in relation to my twitter account @chrisaldrich and other parts of my social media presence. I’m almost tempted to make a few changes in the bio sections to increase the ambiguity and cause some trouble.

I’m reminded of Wes Moore’s book “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates“, unfortunately I’m not quite sure that my writing a book about my experience with “The Other Chris Aldrich” would be so uplifting or inspiring to others. I’d also be more worried that I’d have to change the subtitle to “One name, One Fate.”

 

 

BIRS Workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory | Storify Stream

Over the span of the coming week, I'll be updating (and archiving) the stream of information coming out of the BIRS Workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory.

Over the span of the coming week, I’ll be updating (and archiving) the stream of information coming out of the BIRS Workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory.

Editor’s note: On 12/12/17 Storify announced they would be shutting down. As a result, I’m changing the embedded version of the original data served by Storify for an HTML copy which can be found below:

BIRS: Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory

A 5 Day workshop on Biology and Information Theory hosted by the Banff International Research Station

  1. Wishing I was at the Gene Regulation and Information Theory meeting starting tomorrow  http://bit.ly/XnHRZs  #ITBio
  2. Mathematical and Statistical Models for Genetic Coding starts today.  http://www.am.hs-mannheim.de/genetic_code_2013.php?id=1  @andreweckford might borrow attendees for BIRS
  3. Mathematical Foundations for Information Theory in Diffusion-Based Molecular Communications  http://bit.ly/1aTVR2c  #ITBio
  4. Bill Bialek giving plenary talk “Information flow & order in real biological networks” at Feb 2014 workshop  http://mnd.ly/19LQH8f  #ITBio
  5. #ITBio http://t.co/Ty8dEIXQUT"/>

    CECAM Workshop: “Entropy in Biomolecular Systems” starts May 14 in Vienna.  http://jhu.md/1faLR8t  #ITBio pic.twitter.com/Ty8dEIXQUT
  6. Last RT: wonder what the weather is going to be like at the end of October for my @BIRS_Math workshop
  7. @JoVanEvery I’m organizing a workshop in Banff in October … hopefully this isn’t a sign of weather to come!
  8. Banff takes its name from the town of Banff, Scotland, not to be confused with Bamff, also Scotland.
  9. Good morning from beautiful Banff. How can you not love the mountains? http://t.co/mxYBNz7yzl

    Good morning from beautiful Banff. How can you not love the mountains? pic.twitter.com/mxYBNz7yzl
  10. “Not an obvious connection between utility and information, just as there is no obvious connection between energy and entropy” @BIRS_Math
  11. Last RT: a lot of discussion of my signal transduction work with Peter Thomas.
  12. Live now: Nicolo Michelusi of @USCViterbi on Stochastic Model for Electron Transfer in Bacterial Cables  http://www.birs.ca/live  #ITBio
  13. Nicolo Michelusi (University of Southern California), A Stochastic Model for Electron Transfer in Bacterial Cables  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410271450-Michelusi.mp4 
  14. Listening to the always awesome @cnmirose talk about the ultimate limits of molecular communication.
  15. “Timing is fundamental … subsumes time-varying concentration channel” @cnmirose @BIRS_Math
  16. Standard opening quote of these talks: “I’m not a biologist, but …” @BIRS_Math
  17. Stefan Moser (ETH Zurich), Capacity Bounds of the Memoryless AIGN Channel – a Toy-Model for Molecular Communicat…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410271610-Moser.mp4 
  18. Weisi Guo (University of Warwick), Communication Envelopes for Molecular Diffusion and Electromagnetic Wave Propag…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410271643-Guo.mp4 
  19. .@ChrisAldrich @andreweckford @Storify @BIRS_Math Sounds like a fascinating workshop on bioinformation theory in Banff.
  20. Toby Berger, winner of the 2002 Shannon award, speaking right now. @BIRS_Math
  21. Naftali Tishby (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Sensing and acting under information constraints – a principled a…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281032-Tishby.mp4 
  22. “…places such as BIRS and the Banff Centre exist to facilitate the exchange and pursuit of knowledge.” S. Sundaram  http://www.birs.ca/testimonials/#testimonial-1454 
  23. We’re going for a hike tomorrow. Many thanks to Lukas at the @ParksCanada info centre in Banff for helpful advice! @BIRS_Math
  24. Alexander Dimitrov (Washington State University), Invariant signal processing in auditory biological systems  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281416-Dimitrov.mp4 
  25. Joel Zylberberg (University of Washington), Communicating with noisy signals: lessons learned from the mammalian v…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281450-Zylberberg.mp4 
  26. Robert Schober (Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg), Intersymbol interference mitigation in diffusive molecular communi…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281549-Schober.mp4 
  27. Rudolf Rabenstein (Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (FAU)), Modelling Molecular Communication Cha…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281627-Rabenstein.mp4 
  28. THis week @BIRS_Math ” Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory ” @thebanffcentre #biology #math @NSF
  29. “Your theory might match the data, but the data might be wrong” – Crick @BIRS_Math
  30. So information theory seems to be a big deal in ecology. @BIRS_Math
  31. Tom Schneider (National Institutes of Health), Three Principles of Biological States: Ecology and Cancer  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410290904-Schneider.mp4 
  32. “In biodiversity, the entropy of an ecosystem is the expected … information we gain about an organism by learning its species” @BIRS_Math
  33. Seriously, I’m blown away by this work in information theory in ecology. Huge body of work; I had no idea. @BIRS_Math
  34. I encourage @BIRS_Math attendees at Biological & Bio-Inspired Information Theory to contribute references here:  http://bit.ly/1jQwObk 
  35. Christoph Adami (Michigan State University), Some Information-Theoretic Musings Concerning the Origin and Evolutio…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410291114-Adami.mp4 
  36. #ITBio http://t.co/VA8komuuSW"/>

    .@ChristophAdami talk Some Information-Theoretic Musings Concerning the Origin of Life @BIRS_Math this morning #ITBio pic.twitter.com/VA8komuuSW
  37. ICYMI @ChristophAdami had great paper: Information-theoretic Considerations on Origin of Life on arXiv  http://bit.ly/1yIhK2Q  @BIRS_Math
  38. Baez has a post on Tishby's talk "Sensing &  Acting Under Information Constraints" http://t.co/t1nPVI1pxa @BIRS_Math http://t.co/dFuiVLFSGC

    Baez has a post on Tishby’s talk “Sensing & Acting Under Information Constraints”  http://bit.ly/1yIDonR  @BIRS_Math pic.twitter.com/dFuiVLFSGC
  39. INFORMATION THEORY is the new central ...

    INFORMATION THEORY is the new central …
  40. I’m listening to a talk on the origin of life at a workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory. …  https://plus.google.com/117562920675666983007/posts/gqFL7XY3quF 
  41. Now accepting applications for the #Research Collaboration Workshop for Women in #MathBio at NIMBioS  http://ow.ly/DzeZ7 
  42. We removed a faulty microphone from our lecture room this morning. We’re now fixing the audio buzz in this week’s videos, and reposting.
  43. Didn’t get enough information theory & biology this week @BIRS_Math? Apply for NIMBioS workshop in April 2015  http://bit.ly/1yIeiWe  #ITBio
  44. Amin Emad (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Applications of Discrete Mathematics in Bioinformatics  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410301329-Emad.mp4 
  45. Paul Bogdan (University of Southern California), Multiscale Analysis Reveals Complex Behavior in Bacteria Populati…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410301401-Bogdan.mp4 
  46. Lubomir Kostal (Institute of Physiology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic), Efficient information transmi…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410301534-Kostal.mp4 
  47. Banff ☀️❄️🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲❤️
  48. @conservativelez I’m a big fan of your dad’s research & was reminded of much of it via a workshop on Biological Information Theory
  49. @conservativelez Though he may not have been able to attend, he can catch most of the talks online if he’d like  https://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170 
  50. Depressed that @BIRS_Math Workshop on Biological & Bio-Inspired Information Theory is over? Relive it here:  http://bit.ly/1rF3G4B  #ITBio
  51. A few thoughts about that workshop while I wait for my flight back to Toronto.
  52. 1/ Everyone I talked to said it was the best workshop they’d ever been to, and they’d like to do a follow-up workshop @BIRS_Math
  53. 2/ There is an amazing diversity of work under the umbrella of “information theory”. @BIRS_Math
  54. 3/ Much of this work is outside the IT mainstream, and an issue is that people use different terms for related concepts. @BIRS_Math
  55. 4/ Some community building is in order. I think this workshop was a good first step. @BIRS_Math
  56. 5/ Many many thanks to @BIRS_Math and huge kudos to @NGhoussoub for excellent service to the Canadian scientific community. BIRS is a gem.
  57. 6/ Also many thanks to the participants for their excellent talks, and to @ChrisAldrich for maintaining a Storify.


Reframing What Academic Freedom Means in the Digital Age

Creation of a Task Force on Academic Freedom

Not long ago, my alma mater Johns Hopkins University announced the creation of a task force on Academic Freedom.   Since then, I’ve corresponded with the group on a few occasions and in the spirit of my notes to them, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with others in the academy, science writers/communicators, and even the general public who may also find them useful.  Toward that end, below is a slightly modified version of my two main emails to the task force. [They’ve been revised marginally for their appearance and readability in this format and now also include section headings.] While I’m generally writing about Johns Hopkins as an example, I’m sure that the majority of it also applies to the rest of the academy.

On a personal note, the first email has some interesting thoughts and background, while the second email has some stronger broader recommendations.

Jacques-Louis David's  (1787) Oil on canvas entitled "The Death of Socrates"
Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Socrates” (1787, Oil on canvas)

 

My First Thoughts to the Task Force

Matthew Green’s Blog and Questions of National Security

Early in September 2013, there was a rather large PR nightmare created for the university (especially as it regards poor representation within the blogosphere and social media) when interim Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering Andrew Douglas requested to have professor Matthew Green’s web presence modified in relation to an alleged anti-NSA post on it.  Given the increasing level of NSA related privacy news at the time (and since as relates to the ongoing Edward Snowden case), the case was certainly blown out of proportion.  But the Green/NSA story is also one of the most highlighted cases relating to academic freedom in higher education in the last several years, and I’m sure it may be the motivating force behind why the task force was created in the first place.  (If you or the task force is unaware of the issues in that case you can certainly do a quick web search, though one of the foremost followers of the controversy was ArsTechnica which provided this post with most of the pertinent information; alternately take a look at what journalism professor Jay Rosen had to say on the issue in the Guardian.) I’m sure you can find a wealth of additional reportage from the Hopkins Office of News and Information which maintains its daily digests of “Today’s News” from around that time period.

In my mind, much of the issue and the outpouring of poor publicity, which redounded to the university, resulted from the media getting information about the situation via social media before the internal mechanisms of the university had the chance to look at the issue in detail and provide a more timely resolution. [Rumors via social media will certainly confirm Mark Twain’s aphorism that “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”]

While you’re mulling over the issue of academic freedom, I would highly suggest you all closely consider the increased impact of the internet and particularly social media with regard to any policies which are proposed going forward.  As the volunteer creator and initial maintainer of much of Hopkins’ social media presence on both Facebook and Twitter as well as many others for their first five years of existence (JHU was the first university in these areas of social media and most other major institutions followed our early lead), I have a keen insight to how these tools impact higher education.  With easy-to-use blogging platforms and social media (Matthew Green had both a personal blog that was hosted outside the University as well as one that was mirrored through the University as well as a Twitter account), professors now have a much larger megaphone and constituency than they’ve had any time in the preceding 450 years of the academy.  This fact creates unique problems as it relates to the university, its image, how it functions, and how its professoriate interact with relation to academic freedom, which is a far different animal than it had been even 17 years ago at the dawn of the internet age. Things can obviously become sticky and quickly as evinced in the Green/APL situation which was exacerbated by the APL’s single source of income at a time when the NSA and privacy were foremost in the public eye.

What are Some of the Issues for Academic Freedom in the Digital Age?

Consider the following:

  • How should/shouldn’t the university regulate the border of social media and internet presence at  the line between personal/private lives and professional lives?
  • How can the university help to promote/facilitate the use of the internet/social media to increase the academic freedom of its professoriate and simultaneously lower the technological hurdles as well as the generational hurdles faced by the academy? (I suspect that few on the task force have personal blogs or twitter accounts, much less professional blogs hosted by the university beyond their simple “business card” information pages through their respective departments.)
  • How should the university handle issues like the Matthew Green/APL case so that comments via social media don’t gain steam and blow up in the media before the university has a chance to handle them internally? (As I recall, there were about two news cycles of JHU saying “no comment” and resulting bad press which reached the level of national attention prior to a resolution.)
  • How can the university help to diffuse the issues which led up to the Green/APL incident before they happen?
  • What type of press policy can the university create to facilitate/further academic freedom? (Here’s a bad example from professor Jonathan Katz/Washington University with some interesting commentary.)

I hope that the task force is able to spend some time with Dr. Green discussing his case and how it was handled.

Personal Reputation on the Internet in a Connected Age

I also suggest that the students on the task force take a peek into the case file of JHU’s Justin Park from 2007, which has become a textbook-case for expression on the internet/in social media and its consequences (while keeping in mind that it was a social/cultural issue which was the root cause of the incident rather than malice or base racism – this aspect of the case wasn’t/isn’t highlighted in extant internet reportage – Susan Boswell [Long-time Dean of Sudent Life] and Student Activities head Robert Turner can shed more light on the situation). Consider what would the university have done if Justin Park had been a professor instead of a student? What role did communication technology and the internet play in how these situations played out now compared to how they would have been handled when Dr. Grossman was a first year professor just starting out? [Editor’s note: Dr. Grossman is an incredible thought leader, but most of his life and academic work occurred prior to the internet age. Though unconfirmed, I suspect that his internet experience or even experience with email is exceedingly limited.]

Academic Samizdat

In a related issue on academic freedom and internet, I also hope you’re addressing or at least touching on the topic of academic samizdat, so that the university can put forward a clear (and thought-leading) policy on where we stand there as well.  I could certainly make a case that the university come out strongly in favor of professors maintaining the ability to more easily self-publish without detriment to their subsequent publication chances in major journals (and resultant potential detriment to the arc of their careers), but the political ramifications in this changing landscape are certainly subtle given that the university deals with both major sides as the employer of the faculty while simultaneously being one of the major customers of the institutionalized research publishing industry.  As I currently view the situation, self-publishing and the internet will likely win the day over the major publishers which puts the university in the position of pressing the issue in a positive light to its own ends and that of increasing knowledge for the world. I’m sure Dean Winston Tabb [Dean of the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins] and his excellent staff could provide the task force with some useful insight on this topic. Simultaneously, how can the increased areas of academic expression/publication (for example the rapidly growing but still relatively obscure area known as the “Digital Humanities”) be institutionalized such that publication in what have previously been non-traditional areas be included more formally in promotion decisions? If professors can be incentivized to use some of their academic freedom and expanded opportunities to both their and the university’s benefit, then certainly everyone wins. Shouldn’t academic freedom also include the freedom of where/when to publish without detriment to one’s future career – particularly in an increasingly more rapidly shifting landscape of publication choices and outlets?

The Modern Research University is a Content Aggregator and Distributor (and Should Be Thought of as Such)

Taking the topic even further several steps further, given the value of the professoriate and their intellectual creations and content, couldn’t/shouldn’t the university create a customized platform to assist their employees in disseminating and promoting their own work? As an example, consider the volume of work (approximate 16,000-20,000 journal articles/year, as well as thousands of articles written for newspapers (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.), magazines, and other outlets – academic or otherwise) being generated every year by those within the university.  In a time of decreasing cost of content distribution, universities no longer need to rely on major journals, magazines, television stations, cable/satellite television, et al. to distribute their “product”.  To put things in perspective, I can build the infrastructure to start a 24/7 streaming video service equivalent to both a television station and a major newspaper in my garage for the capital cost about $10,000.)  Why not bring it all in-house with the benefit of academic flexibility as an added draw to better support the university and its mission?  (Naturally, this could all be cross-promoted to other outlets after-the-fact for additional publicity.)  At a time when MOOC’s (massively open online courseware) are eroding some of the educational mission within higher education and journals are facing increased financial pressures, perhaps there should be a new model of the university as a massive content/information creation engine and distributor for the betterment of humanity? And isn’t that what Johns Hopkins already is at heart? We’re already one of the largest knowledge creators on the planet, why are we not also simultaneously one of the largest knowledge disseminators – particularly at a time when it is inexpensive to do so, and becoming cheaper by the day?

[Email closing formalities removed]

 

Expanded Thoughts on Proactive Academic Freedom

Reframing What Academic Freedom Means in the Digital Age

[Second email opening removed]

Upon continued thought and reading on the topic of academic freedom as well as the associated areas of technology, I might presuppose (as most probably do) that the committee will be looking more directly at the concept of preventing the university from impeding the freedom of its faculty and what happens in those situations where action ought to be taken for the benefit of the wider community (censure, probation, warnings, etc.).  If it hasn’t been brought up as a point yet, I think one of the most positive things the university could do to improve not only academic freedom, but the university’s position in relation to its competitive peers, is to look at the opposite side of the proverbial coin and actually find a way for the university to PROACTIVELY help promote the voices of its faculty and assist them in broadening their reach.

I touched upon the concept tangentially in my first email (see above), but thought it deserved some additional emphasis, examples to consider, and some possible recommendations. Over the coming decades, the aging professoriate will slowly retire to be replaced with younger faculty who grew up completely within the internet age and who are far more savvy about it as well as the concepts of Web 2.0, the social web and social media. More will be literate in how to shoot and edit short videos and how to post them online to garner attention, readership, and acceptance for their ideas and viewpoints.

The recent PBS Frontline documentary “Generation Like” features a handful of pre-teens and teens who are internet sensations and garnering hundreds of thousands to millions of views of their content online.  But imagine for a minute: a savvy professoriate that could do something similar with their academic thought and engaging hundreds, thousands, or millions on behalf of Johns Hopkins?  Or consider the agency being portrayed in the documentary [about 30 minutes into the documentary] that helps these internet sensations and what would happen if that type of functionality was taken on by the Provost’s office?

I could presuppose that with a cross-collaboration of the Provost’s office, the Sheridan Libraries, the Film & Media Studies Department, the Digital Media Center, and the Communications Office as an institution we should be able to help better train faculty who are not already using these tools to improve their web presences and reach.

What “Reach” Do Academics Really Have?

I’ve always been struck by my conversations with many professors about the reach of their academic work. I can cite the particular experience of Dr. P.M. Forni, in the Department of Romance Languages at Krieger, when he told me that he’s written dozens of academic papers and journal articles, most of which have “at most a [collective] readership of at most 11 people on the planet” – primarily because academic specialties have become so niche. He was completely dumbfounded on the expanded reach he had in not only writing a main-stream book on the topic of civility, which was heavily influenced by his academic research and background, but in the even more drastically expanded reach provided to him by appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show shortly after its release. Certainly his experience is not a common one, but there is a vast area in between that is being lost, not only by individual professors, but by the university by extension.  Since you’re likely aware of the general numbers of people reading academic papers, I won’t bore you, but for the benefit of those on the committee I’ll quote a recent article from Pacific Standard Magazine and provide an additional reference from Physics World, 2007:

A study at Indiana University found that ‘as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.’ That same study concluded that ‘some 90% of papers that have been published in academic journals are never cited.’ That is, nine out of 10 academic papers—which both often take years to research, compile, submit, and get published, and are a major component by which a scholar’s output is measured—contribute little to the academic conversation.

Some Examples of Increased Reach in the Academy

To provide some examples and simple statistics on where something like this might go, allow me to present the following brief references:

As a first example, written by an academic about academia, I suggest you take a look at  a recent blog post “Why academics should blog and an update on readership” by Artem Kaznatcheev, a researcher in computer science and psychology at McGill University, posting on a shared blog named “Theory, Evolution, and Games Group”. He provides a clear and interesting motivation in the first major portion of his essay, and then unwittingly (for my example), he shows some basic statistics indicating a general minimum readership of 2,000 people which occasionally goes as high as 8,000.  (Knowing how his platform operates and provides base-line statistics that he’s using, it’s likely that his readership is actually possibly higher.) If one skims through the blog, it’s obvious that he’s not providing infotainment type of material like one would find on TMZ, Buzzfeed, or major media outlets, but genuine academic thought – AND MANAGING TO REACH A SIZEABLE AUDIENCE! I would posit that even better, that his blog enriching not only himself and his fellow academy colleagues, but a reasonable number of people outside of the academy and therefore the world.

Another example of an even more technical academic blog can be found in that of Dr. Terrence Tao, a Fields Medal winner (the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel prize), and mathematics professor at UCLA. You’ll note that it’s far more technical and rigorous than Dr. Kaznatcheev’s, and though I don’t have direct statistics to back it up, I can posit based on the number of comments his blog has that his active readership is even much higher. Dr. Tao uses his blog to not only expound upon his own work, but uses it to post content for classes, to post portions of a book in process, and to promote the general mathematics research community. (I note that the post he made on 3/19, already within a day has 11 comments by people who’ve read it close enough to suggest typography changes as well as sparked some actual conversation on a topic that requires an education to at least the level of a master’s degree in mathematics.

Business Insider recently featured a list of 50 scientists to follow on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, and blogs amongst others). While there are a handful of celebrities and science journalists, many of those featured are professors or academics of one sort or another and quite a few of them are Ph.D. candidates (the beginning of the upcoming generation of tech-savvy future faculty I mentioned). Why aren’t there any JHU professors amongst those on this list?

As another clear example, consider the recent online video produced by NPR’s “Science Friday” show featuring research about Water flowing uphill via the Leidenfrost Effect. It is not only generally interesting research work, but this particular research is not only a great advertisement for the University of Bath, it’s a great teaching tool for students, and it features the research itself as well as the involvement of undergraduates in the research. Though I’ll admit that producing these types of vignettes is not necessarily simple, imagine the potential effect on the awareness of the university’s output if we could do this with even 10% of the academic research paper output? Imagine these types of videos as inspiring tools to assist in gaining research funding from government agencies or as fundraising tools for Alumni and Development relations? And how much better that they could be easily shared and spread organically on the web, not necessarily by the JHU Corporate Umbrella, but by its faculty, students, alumni, and friends.

How Does the Academy Begin Accomplishing All of This?

To begin, I’ll mention that Keswick’s new video lab or the Digital Media Center at Homewood and a few others like them are a great start, but they are just the tip of the iceberg (and somewhat unfortunate that faculty from any division will have to travel to use the Keswick facility, if they’re even notionally aware of it and its capabilities).

I recall Mary Spiro, a communications specialist/writer with the Institute of NanoBioTechnology, doing a test-pilot Intersession program in January about 4 years ago in which she helped teach a small group of researchers how to shoot and edit their own films about their research or even tours through their lab. Something like this program could be improved, amplified, and rolled out on a much larger basis. It could also be integrated or dovetailed, in part, with the Digital Media Center and the Film and Media Studies program at Krieger to assist researchers in their work.

The Sheridan Libraries provide teaching/training on using academic tools like bibliographic programs Mendeley.com, RefWorks, Zotero, but they could extend them to social media, blogging, or tools like FigShare, GitHub, and others.

Individual departments or divisions could adopt and easily maintain free content management platforms like WordPress and Drupal (I might even specifically look at their pre-configured product for academia known as OpenScholar, for example take a look at Harvard’s version.) This would make it much easier for even non-technicalminded faculty to more easily come up to speed by removing the initial trouble of starting a blog. It also has the side benefit of allowing the university to assist in ongoing maintenance, backup, data maintenance, hosting, as well as look/feel, branding as well as web optimization. (As a simple example, and not meant to embarrass them, but despite the fact that the JHU Math Department may have been one of the first departments in the university to be on the web, it’s a travesty that their website looks almost exactly as it did 20 years ago, and has less content on it than Terrence Tao’s personal blog which he maintains as a one man operation. I’m sure that some of the issue is political in the way the web has grown up over time at Hopkins, but the lion’s share is technology and management based.)

The Provost’s office in conjunction with IT and the Sheridan Libraries could invest some time and energy in to compiling resources and vetting them for ease-of-use, best practices, and use cases and then providing summaries of these tools to the faculty so that each faculty member need not re-invent the wheel each time, but to get up and running more quickly.  This type of resource needs to be better advertised and made idiot-proof (for lack of better terminology) to ease faculty access and adoption. Online resources like the Chronicle of Education’s ProfHacker blog can be mined for interesting tools and use cases, for example.

I know portions of these types of initiatives are already brewing in small individual pockets around the university, but they need to be brought together and better empowered as a group instead of as individuals working separately in a vacuum.  In interacting with people across the institution, this technology area seems to be one of those that has been left behind in the “One Hopkins” initiative.  One of the largest hurdles is the teaching old dogs new tricks to put it colloquially, but the hurdles for understanding and comprehending these new digital tools is coming down drastically by the day. As part of the social contract in the university’s granting and promoting academic freedom, the faculty should be better encouraged (thought certainly not forced) to exercise it.  I’m sure there are mandatory annual seminars on topics like sexual harassment, should there not be mandatory technology trainings as well?

To briefly recap, it would be phenomenal to see the committee make not only their base recommendations on what most consider academic freedom, but to further make a group of strong recommendations about the University proactively teaching, training, and providing a broader array of tools to encourage the active expression of the academic freedom that is provided within Hopkins’ [or even all of the Academy’s] mighty walls.

[Email closing removed]

I certainly welcome any thoughts or comments others may have on these topics. Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

 

Rap Genius, a Textual Annotation Browser for Education, Digital Humanities, Science, and Publishing

Since the beginning of January, I’ve come back to regularly browsing and using the website Rap GeniusI’m sure that some of the education uses including poetry and annotations of classics had existed the last time I had visited, but I was very interested in seeing some of the scientific journal article uses which I hadn’t seen before. Very quickly browsing around opened up a wealth of ideas for using the platform within the digital humanities as well as for a variety of educational uses.

Rap Genius logo

Overview of Rap Genius

Briefly, the Rap Genius website was originally set up as an innovative lyrics service to allow users to not only upload song lyrics, but to mark them up with annotations as to the meanings of words, phrases, and provide information about the pop-culture references within the lyrics themselves.  (It’s not too terribly different from Google’s now-defunct Sidewicki or the impressive Highbrow, textual annotation browser, but has some subtle differences as well as improvements.)

Users can use not only text, but photos, video, and even audio to supplement the listings. Built-in functionality includes the ability to link the works to popular social media audio services SoundCloud, and Spotify as well as YouTube. Alternately one might think of it as VH1’s “Pop-up Video”, but for text on the Internet. Ultimately the site expanded to include the topics of rock, poetry, and news.  The rock section is fairly straightforward following the format of the rap section while the poetry section includes not only works of poetry (from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to the King James version of The Bible), but also plays (the works of William Shakespeare) and complete novels (like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.) News includes articles as well as cultural touchstones like the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner Speech and the recent State of the Union. Ultimately all of the channels within Rap Genius platform share the same types of functionality, but are applied to slightly different categories to help differentiate the content and make things easier to find.  Eventually there may be a specific “Education Genius” (or other) landing page(s) to split out the content in the future depending on user needs.

On even its first blush, I can see this type of website functionality being used in a variety of educational settings including Open Access Journals, classroom use, for close readings, for MOOCs, publishing in general, and even for maintaining simple-to-use websites for classes. The best part is that the ecosystem is very actively growing and expanding with a recent release of an iPhone app and an announcement of a major deal with Universal to license music lyrics.

General Education Use

To begin with, Rap Genius’ YouTube channel includes an excellent short video on how Poetry Genius might be used in a classroom setting for facilitating close-readings. In addition to the ability to make annotations, the site can be used to maintain a class specific website (no need to use other blogging platforms like WordPress or Blogger for things like this anymore) along with nice additions like maintaining a class roster built right in.  Once material begins to be posted, students and teachers alike are given a broad set of tools to add content, make annotations, ask questions, and provide answers in an almost real-time setting.

Screen capture from Poetry Genius featuring The Great Gatsby

MOOC Use Cases

Given the rapid growth of the MOOC-revolution (massively open online courseware) over the past several years, one of the remaining difficulties in administering such a class can hinge not only on being able to easily provide audio visual content to students, but allow them a means of easily interacting with it and each other in the learning process.  Poetry Genius (aka Education Genius) has a very interesting view into solving both of these problems, and, in fact, I can easily see the current version of the platform being used to replace competing platforms like Coursera, EdX, Udacity and others in a whole cloth fashion.

Currently most MOOC’s provide some type of simple topic-based threaded fora in which students post comments and questions as well as answers.  In many MOOCs this format becomes ungainly because of the size of the class (10,000+ students) and the quality of the content which is being placed into it. Many students simply eschew the fora because the time commitment per amount of knowledge/value gained is simply not worth their while. Within the Poetry Genius platform, students can comment directly on the material or ask questions, or even propose improvements, and the administrators (the professor or teaching assistants in this case) can accept, reject or send feedback request to students to amend their work and add it to the larger annotated work.  Fellow classmates can also vote up or down individual comments.

As I was noticing the interesting educational-related functionality of the Rap Genius platform, I ran across what is presumably the first MOOC attempting to integrate the platform into its pedagogical structure. Dr. Laura Nasrallah’s HarvardX course “Early Christianity: The Letters of Paul,” which started in January, asks students to also create Poetry Genius accounts to read and comment on the biblical texts which are a part of the course. The difficult portion of attempting to use Poetry Genius for this course is the thousands of “me-too” posters who are simply making what one might consider to be “throw-away” commentary rather than the intended “close reading” commentary for a more academic environment. (This type of posting is also seen in many of the fora-based online courses.) Not enough students are contributing substantial material, and when they are, it needs to be better and more quickly edited and curated into the main post to provide greater value to students as they’re reading along. Thus when 20,000 students jump into the fray, there’s too much initial chaos and the value that is being extracted out of it upon initial use is fairly limited – particularly if one is browsing through dozens of useless comments. It’s not until after-the-fact – once comments have been accepted/curated – that the real value will emerge. The course staff is going to have to spend more time doing this function in real time to provide greater value to the students in the class, particularly given the high number of people without intense scholarly training just jumping into the system and filling it with generally useless commentary. In internet parlance, the Poetry Genius site is experiencing the “Robert Scoble Effect” which changes the experience on it. (By way of explanation, Robert Scoble is a technology journalist/pundit/early-adopter with a massive follower base.  His power-user approach and his large following can drastically change his experience with web-based technology compared to the  common everyday user. It can also often bring down new services as was common in the early days of the social media movement.)

Typically with the average poem or rap song, the commentary grows slowly/organically and is edited along the way. In a MOOC setting with potentially hundreds of thousands of students, the commentary is like a massive fire-hose which makes it seemingly useless without immediate real-time editing. Poetry Genius may need a slightly different model for using their platform in larger MOOC-style courses versus the smaller classroom settings seen in high school or college (10-100 students). In the particular case for “The Letters of Paul,” if the course staff had gone into the platform first and seeded some of the readings with their own sample commentary to act as a model of what is expected, then the students would be a bit more accepting of what is expected. I understand Dr. Nasrallah and her teaching assistants are in the system and annotating as well, but it should also be more obvious which annotations are hers (or those of teaching assistants) to help better guide the “discussion” and act as a model. Certainly the materials generated on Poetry Genius will be much more useful for future students who take the course in future iterations. Naturally, Poetry Genius exists for the primary use of annotation, while I’m sure that the creators will be tweaking classroom-specific use as the platform grows and user needs/requirements change.

As a contrast to the HarvardX class, and for an additional example, one can also take a peek at Cathy Davidson’s Rap Genius presence for her Coursera class “The History and Future (Mostly) of Higher Education.”

Open Access Journal Use

In my mind, this type of platform can easily and usefully be used for publishing open access journal articles. In fact, one could use the platform to self-publish journal articles and leave them open to ongoing peer review. Sadly at present, there seems to be only a small handful of examples on the site, including a PLOS ONE article, which will give a reasonable example of some of the functionality which is possible.  Any author could annotate and footnote their own article as well as include a wealth of photos, graphs, and tables giving a much more multimedia view into their own work.  Following this any academic with an account could also annotate the text with questions, problems, suggestions and all of these can be voted up or down as well as be remedied within the text itself. Other articles can also have the ability to directly cross-reference specific sections of previously posted articles.

Individual labs or groups with “journal clubs” could certainly join in the larger public commentary and annotation on a particular article, but higher level administrative accounts within the system can also create a proverbial clean slate on an article and allow members to privately post up their thoughts and commentaries which are then closed to the group and not visible to the broader public. (This type of functionality can be useful for Mrs. Smith’s 10th grade class annotating The Great Gatsby so that they’re not too heavily influenced by the hundreds or possibly thousands of prior comments within a given text as they do their own personal close readings.) One may note that some of this type of functionality can already be seen in competitive services like Mendeley, but the Rap Genius platform seems to take the presentation and annotation functionalities to the next level. For those with an interest in these types of uses, I recommend Mendeley’s own group: Reinventing the Scientific Paper.

A Rap Genius representative indicated they were pursuing potential opportunities with JSTOR that might potentially expand on these types of opportunities.

Publishing

Like many social media related sites including platforms like WordPress, Tumblr, and Twitter, Rap Genius gives it’s users the ability to self-publish almost any type of content. I can see some excellent cross-promotional opportunities with large MOOC-type classes and the site. For example, professors/teachers who have written their own custom textbooks for MOOCs (eg. Keith Devlin’s Introduction to Mathematical Thinking course at Stanford via Coursera) could post up the entire text on the Poetry Genius site and use it not only to correct mistakes/typos and make improvements over time, but they can use it to discover things which aren’t clear to students who can make comments, ask questions, etc. There’s also the possibility that advanced students can actively help make portions clear themselves when there are 10,000+ students and just 1-2 professors along with 1-2 teaching assistants. Certainly either within or without the MOOC movement, this type of annotation set up may work well to allow authors to tentatively publish, edit, and modify their textbooks, novels, articles, journal articles, monographs, or even Ph.D. theses. I’m particularly reminded of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s open writing/editing of her book Planned Obsolescence via Media Commons. Academics could certainly look at the Rap Genius platform as a simpler more user-friendly version of this type of process.

Other Uses

I’m personally interested in being able to annotate science and math related articles and have passed along some tips for the Rap Genius team to include functionality like mathjax to be able to utilize Tex/LaTeX related functionality for typesetting mathematics via the web in the future.

Naturally, there are a myriad of other functionalities that can be built into this type of platform – I’m personally waiting for a way to annotate episodes of “The Simpsons”, so I can explain all of the film references and in-jokes to friends who laugh at their jokes, but never seem to know why – but I can’t write all of them here myself.

Interested users can easily sign up for a general Rap Genius account and dig right into the interface.  Those interested in education-specific functionality can request to be granted an “Educator Account” within the Rap Genius system to play around with the additional functionality available to educators. Every page in the system has an “Education” link at the top for further information and details. There’s also an Educator’s Forum [requires free login] for discussions relating specifically to educational use of the site.

Are there particular (off-label) applications you think you might be able to use the Rap Genius platform for? Please add your comments and thoughts below.

Robert Greenberg’s Music Curriculum

The Learning Company Improves My Commute

For quite a while, primarily because of lengthy commute times in Los Angeles, I’ve been regularly listening to audio lectures from The Learning Company in their Great Courses series.  Last fall I came across a four volume collection entitled How to Listen to and Understand Great Music taught by the dynamic and engaging professor Robert Greenberg.  I was immediately entranced and have vowed to work my way through his entire opus of lectures.  At the time I wasn’t quite sure how many there actually were, though I was aware of at least four others I’d come across on library shelves, and I prayed that there would be one or two more to carry me through a couple of years.  If I needed to, I was fully prepared to listen to everything two or three times to really soak it all in the way I’ve done with repeated viewings of television shows like The West Wing.

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, Third Edition

When I was partway through the series, I made an update to my Goodreads.com reading list with a short snippet about my progress. This progress update fed through to Twitter whereupon I was pleasantly surprised to receive an encouraging comment by Professor Greenberg, who apparently takes the time to search social media for mentions of his work and to respond to students.  A brief correspondence with him revealed that he’s recorded far more lectures than I could have dreamed – an astounding 26!

Robert Greenberg’s Curriculum Recommendation

Of course with such a fantastic and tremendously large list of what is sure to be brilliant material, the real question becomes: “How do I create a curriculum to wend my way through it all in the most logical manner!”

Robert Greenberg to the rescue!

Via a most helpful Twitter conversation, Professor Greenberg recommended a curriculum for plowing through his material.  For posterity, I’ll repeat it below for those who are interested in charting his recommended course of courses:

  1. How to Listen to & Understand Great Music
  2. The Fundamentals of Music
  3. How to Listen to Opera
  4. Bach & the High Baroque
  5. The Concerto
  6. The Symphony
  7. Great Masters: Haydn
  8. Great Masters: Mozart
  9. Operas of Mozart
  10. Chamber Music of Mozart
  11. Great Masters: Beethoven
  12. Symphonies of Beethoven
  13. Piano Sonatas of Beethoven
  14. Piano Sonatas of Beethoven
  15. Great Masters: Schumanns
  16. Great Masters: Liszt
  17. Great Masters: Brahms
  18. Music of Richard Wagner
  19. Life & Music of Verdi
  20. Great Masters: Tchaikovsky
  21. Great Masters: Mahler
  22. Great Masters: Stravinsky
  23. Great Masters: Shostakovich
  24. The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
  25. The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works (October 2013)
  26. Concert Masterworks

Given the magnitude of his opus, this obviously may not be everything, but will provide the tyro as well as the expert a clearer path through some fascinating work. I’ve presently worked my way through 3 of his courses (72 lectures comprising  54 hours of material), so I’ve only barely scratched the surface, but I couldn’t be more enticed and satisfied with what I’ve consumed so far.  His engaging lecturing style, the melodic quality of his voice (not too far from that of renowned announcer and voice artist Casey Casem – though with out the “big bottom” common to radio personalities of this type), and the dynamic range of his emotion make these series more entertaining that most of what is on television these days (and keep in mind I consume a lot of television). Even better, I’m always learning something while I’m listening.  I would dare to say that even if he “phoned in” the remaining lectures, they’d still be at an absurdly high quality level, and I would still want to devour them all.

Follow Robert Greenberg

Robert Greenberg Headshot: Graying Hair, wearing glasses, a slight smirk, black suit and tie with teal colored shirtFor others who are (or are soon sure to become) fans of Robert Greenberg, you can find him easily on Twitter and Facebook.
Happy listening!

Response to “Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal”

Replied to Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal by Adeline Koh (ProfHacker | The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Below is my response to Adeline Koh‘s article “Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal” which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Prof Hacker Blog on August 29, 2012.

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Adeline, Path might be a reasonable tool for accomplishing what you’d like, but it’s original design is as a very small and incredibly personal social networking tool and therefore not the best thing for your particular use case here. Toward that end, it’s personalization ability to limit who sees what is highly unlikely to change as they limit your “friends” to less than your Dunbar number in the first place. Their presupposition is that you’re only sharing things with your VERY closest friends.

For more functionality in the vein you’re looking at, you might consider some of the Google tools which will allow you much more granularity in terms of sharing, tracking, and geotagging. First I’d recommend using Google Latitude which will use your cell phone GPS to constantly track your location at all times if you wish of the ability to turn it on and off at will. This will allow you to go back and see exactly where you were on any given day you were sending them data. (It’s also been useful a few times when I’ve lost/left my phone while out of the house or in others’ cars and I can log in online to see exactly where my phone is right now.) Latitude will also allow you to share your physical location with others you designate as well as to export portions of data sets for later use/sharing.)

Unbeknownst to many, most cell phones and increasingly many cameras will utilize GPS chips or wifi to geolocate your photo and include it in the EXIF data imbedded into the “digital fingerprint” of your photo (along with the resolution, date, time, what type of camera took the photo, etc.) For this reason, many privacy experts suggest you remove/edit your exif data prior to posting your photos to public facing social media sites as it can reveal the location of your personal home, office, etc which you may not mean to share with the world.) There are a number of tools you can find online for viewing or editing your exif data.

You can then upload those photos to Google Plus which will allow you to limit your sharing of posts to whichever groups of people you’d prefer with a high degree of granularity, including using email addresses for people who aren’t already on the service. (They actually have a clever back up option that, if selected, will allow your phone to automatically upload all your photos to G+ in the background and making them private to you only for sharing at a later date if you choose.) I’m sure that with very little work, you can find some online tools (including even Google Maps perhaps) that will allow you to upload photos and have them appear on mapping software. (Think about the recent upgrade in Craigslist that takes posting data and maps it out onto the Openstreetmap.org platform).

Finally, as part of Google’s Data Liberation initiative you can go in and export all of your data for nearly all of their services including Latitude and from Picasa for photos.I think that playing around with these interlocking Google tools will give you exactly the type of functionality (and perhaps a little more than) you’re looking for.

Their user interface may not be quite as beautiful and slick as Path and may take half an hour of playing with to explore and configure your workflow exactly the way you want to use it, but I think it will give you a better data set with a higher degree of sharing granularity. (Alternately, you could always develop your own “app” for doing this as there are enough open API’s for many of these functions from a variety of service providers, but that’s another story for another time.)

Failings and Opportunities of the Publishing Industry in the Digital Age

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times printed a story about the future of reading entitled "Book publishers see their role as gatekeepers shrink." The article covers most of the story fairly well, but leaves out some fundamental pieces of the business ...

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times printed a story about the future of reading entitled “Book publishers see their role as gatekeepers shrink.” 

The article covers most of the story fairly well, but leaves out some fundamental pieces of the business picture.  It discusses a few particular cases of some very well known authors in the publishing world including the likes of Stephen King, Seth Godin, Paulo Coehlo, Greg Bear, and Neal Stephenson and how new digital publishing platforms are slowly changing the publishing business.

Indeed, many authors are bypassing traditional publishing routes and self-publishing their works directly online, and many are taking a much larger slice of the financial rewards in doing so.

The article, however, completely fails to mention or address how new online methods will be handling editorial and publicity functions differently than they’re handled now, and the future of the publishing business both now and in the future relies on both significantly.

It is interesting, and not somewhat ironic to note that, even in the case of this particular article, as the newspaper business in which it finds its outlet, has changed possibly more drastically than the book publishing business. If reading the article online, one is forced to click through four different pages on which a minimum of five different (and in my opinion, terrifically) intrusive ads appear per page. Without getting into the details of the subject of advertising, even more interesting, is that many of these ads are served up by Google Ads based on keywords, so three just on the first page were specifically publishing related.

Two of the ads were soliciting people to self-publish their own work. One touts how easy it is to publish, while the other glosses over the publicity portion with a glib statement offering an additional “555 Book Promotion Tips”! (I’m personally wondering if there can possibly be so many book promotion tips?)

Google_ads
Google_children

Following the link in the third ad on the first page to its advertised site one discovers it states:

Learning how to publish a children’s book is no child’s play.

From manuscript editing to book illustration, distribution and marketing – a host of critical decisions can make or break your publishing venture.

Fortunately, you can skip the baby steps and focus on what authors like you do best-crafting the best children’s book possible for young inquisitive minds. Leave the rest to us.

Count on the collective publishing and book marketing expertise of a children book publisher with over thirteen years’ experience. We have helped over 20,000 independent authors fulfill their dream of publication.

Take advantage of our extensive network of over 25,000 online bookstores and retailers that include such names Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders, among thousands of others.

Tell us about your Children’s book project and we will send you a Free Children’s Book Publishing Guide to start you off on your publishing adventure!

 

Although I find the portion about “baby steps” particularly entertaining, the first thing I’ll note is that the typical person is likely more readily equipped with the ability to distribute and market a children’s book than they might be at crafting one. Sadly however, there are very few who are capable of any of these tasks at a particularly high level, which is why there are relatively few new childrens’ books on the market each year and the majority of sales are older tried-and-true titles.

I hope the average reader sees the above come-on as the twenty-first century equivalent of the snake oil salesman who is tempting the typical wanna-be-author to call about their so-called “Free” Children’s Book Publishing Guide. I’m sure recipients of the guide end up paying the publisher to get their book out the door and more likely than not, it doesn’t end up in main stream brick-and-mortar establishments like Barnes & Noble or Borders, but only sells a handful of copies in easy to reach online venues like Amazon. I might suggest that the majority of sales will come directly from the author and his or her friends and family. I would further argue that neither now nor in the immediate or even distant future that many aspiring authors will be self-publishing much of anything and managing to make even a modest living by doing so.

Now of course all of the above begs the question of why exactly is it that people need/want a traditional publisher? What role or function do publishers actually perform for the business and why might they be around in the coming future?

The typical publishing houses perform three primary functions: filtering/editing material, distributing material, and promoting material. The current significant threat to the publishing business from online retailers like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and even the recently launched Google Books is the distribution platforms themselves.  It certainly doesn’t take much to strike low cost deals with online retailers to distribute books, and even less so when they’re distributing them as e-books which cuts out the most significant cost in the business — that of the paper to print them on. This leaves traditional publishing houses with two remaining functions: filtering/editing material and the promotion/publicity function.

The Los Angeles Times article certainly doesn’t state it, but everyone you meet on the street could tell you that writers like Stephen King don’t really need any more publicity than what they’ve got already. Their fan followings are so significantly large that they only need to tell two people online that they’ve got a new book and they’ll sell thousands of copies of any book they release. In fact, I might wager that Stephen King could release ten horrific (don’t mistake this for horror) novels before their low quality would likely begin to significantly erode his sales numbers.  If he’s releasing them on Amazon.com and keeping 70% of the income compared to the average 6-18% most writers are receiving, he’s in phenomenally good shape. (I’m sure given his status and track record in the publishing business, he’s receiving a much larger portion of his book sales from his publisher than 18% by the way; I’d also be willing to bet if he approached Amazon directly, he could get a better distribution deal than the currently offered 70/30 split.)

What will eventually sway the majority of the industry is when completely unknown new writers can publish into these electronic platforms and receive the marketing push they need to become the next Stephen King or Neal Stephenson. At the moment, none of the major e-book publishing platforms are giving much, if any, of this type of publicity to any of their new authors, and many aren’t even giving it to the major writers. Thus, currently, even the major writers are relying primarily on their traditional publishers for publicity to push their sales.

I will admit that when 80% of all readers are online and consuming their reading material in e-book format and utilizing the full support of social media and cross-collateralization of the best portion of their word-of-mouth, that perhaps authors won’t need as much PR help. But until that day platforms will significantly need to ramp it up. Financially one wonders what a platform like Amazon.com will charge for a front and center advertisement for a new best-seller to push sales? Will they be looking for a 50/50 split on those sales? Exclusivity in their channel? This is where the business will become even more dicey. Suddenly authors who think they’re shedding the chains of their current publishers will be shackling themselves with newer and more significant manacles and leg irons.

The last piece of the business that needs to be subsumed is the editorial portion of the manufacturing process.  Agents and editors serve a significant role in that they filter out thousands and thousands of terrifically unreadable books. In fact, one might argue that even now they’re letting far too many marginal books through the system and into the market.

If we consider the millions of books housed in the Library of Congress and their general circulation, one might realize that only one tenth of a percent or less of books are receiving all the attention. Certainly classics like William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens are more widely read than the millions of nearly unknown writers who take up just as much shelf space in that esteemed library.

Most houses publish on the order of ten to a hundred titles per year, but they rely heavily on only one or two of them being major hits to cover not only the cost of the total failures, but to provide the company with some semblance of profit.  (This model is not unlike the same way that the feature film business works in Hollywood; if you throw enough spaghetti, something is bound to stick.)

The question then becomes: “how does the e-publishing business accomplish this editing and publicity in a better and less expensive way?” This question needs to be looked at from a pre-publication as well as a post-publication perspective.

From the pre-publication viewpoint the Los Angeles Times article interestingly mentions that many authors appreciate having a “conversation” with their readers and allowing it to inform their work. However, creators of the stature of Stephen King cannot possibly take in and consume criticism from their thousands of fans in any reasonable way not to mention the detriment to their output if they were forced to read and deal with all that criticism and feedback.  Even smaller stature authors often find it overwhelming to take in criticism from their agents, editors, and even a small handful of close friends, family, and colleagues.  Taking a quick look at the acknowledgement portions of a few dozen books generally reveals fewer than 10 people being thanked much less hundreds of names from their general reading public – people they neither know well, much less trust implicitly.

From the post-publication perspective, both printing on demand and e-book formats excise one of the largest costs of the supply chain management portions of the publishing world, but staff costs and salary are certainly very close in line after them.  One might argue that social media is the answer here and we can rely on services like LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to supply this editorial/publicity process and eventually broad sampling and positive and negative reviews will win the day to cross good, but unknown writers into the popular consciousness. This may sound reasonable on the surface, but take a look at similar large recommendation services in the social media space like Yelp. These services already have hundreds of thousands of users, but they’re not nearly as useful as they need to be from a recommendation perspective and they’re not terrifically reliable in that they’re very often easily gamed. (Consider the number of positive reviews that appear on Yelp that are most likely written by the proprietors of the establishments themselves.) This outlet for editorial certainly has the potential to improve in the coming years, but it will still be quite some time before it has the possibility of totally ousting the current editorial and filtering regime.

From a mathematical and game theoretical perspective one must also consider how many people are going to subject themselves (willingly and for free) to some really bad reading material and then bother to write either a good or bad review of their experience. This particularly when the vast majority of readers are more than content to ride the coattails of the “suckers” who do the majority of the review work.

There are certainly a number of other factors at play in the publishing business as it changes form, but those discussed above are certainly significant in its continuing evolution.  Given the state of technology and its speed, if people feel that the tradition publishing world will collapse, then we should take its evolution to the nth degree. Using an argument like this, then even platforms like Amazon and Google Books will eventually need to narrow their financial split with authors down to infinitesimal margins as authors should be able to control every portion of their work without any interlopers taking any portion of their proceeds. We’ll leave the discussion of whether all of this might fit into the concept of the tragedy of the commons for a future date.

New Measures of Scholarly Impact | Inside Higher Ed

Read New Measures of Scholarly Impact (insidehighered.com)
Data analytics are changing the ways to judge the influence of papers and journals.

This article from earlier in the month has some potentially profound affects on the research and scientific communities. Some of the work and research being done here will also have significant affect on social media communities in the future as well.

The base question is are citations the best indicator of impact, or are there other better emerging methods of indicating the impact of scholarly work?

Information Flow in Hollywood is Changing Rapidly as Alyssa Milano’s Representation Drops the Ball

There are many in the industry who have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but generally they shy away from using them, particularly when it relates to their daily workflow.  Naturally there are instances when representatives and business affairs executives will post the occasional congratulatory emails, but typically nothing relevant or revealing is ever said.

But tonight Twitter began to change the landscape of how Hollywood, and in particular the representation segment, does its day-to-day business.

It began with the news that Alyssa Milano’s ABC series ROMANTICALLY CHALLENGED, which premiered on April 19th earlier this year, had been cancelled. Michael Ausiello of the Ausiello Files for Entertainment Weekly broke the story online at 7:44 pm (Pacific) and tweeted out the news. Alyssa Milano saw the news on Twitter about an hour later, and at 8:45 pm, she tweeted out her disappointment to the world.

Her agent/manager is going to have a fire to put out tomorrow, if it doesn’t burn itself into oblivion tonight!  If anything, her agent typically could have or should have been amongst one of the first to know, generally being informed by the studio executive in charge of the project or potentially by the producer of the show who would also have been in that first round to know about the cancellation. And following the news from the network, Alyssa should have been notified immediately.

Typically this type of news is treated like pure commodity within the representation world. If a competing agent, particularly one who wanted a client like Alyssa, to move to their agency, they would dig up the early news, call her at home, break the bad news early and fault the current representative for dropping the ball and not doing their job.  Further, the agent would likely put together a group of several new scripts (which the servicing agent either wouldn’t have access to or wouldn’t have sent her) and have them sent over to her for her immediate consideration.  Suddenly there’s an unhappy client who is seriously considering taking their business across the street.

The major difference here is that it isn’t a competing agent breaking the bad news, but the broader internet! Despite the brevity of the less than 140 characters Ms. Milano had, it’s quite obvious that she’s both shocked and a bit upset at the news.  We cannot imagine that she’s happy with the source of the news; it’s very likely that her representation got an upset call this evening which they’re currently scurrying to verify and then put out the subsequent fire.

Beyond this frayed relationship, there is also the subsequent strain on the relationships between representation and the overseeing studio executive(s), studio/network chief, and potentially further between the Agency and the Network over what is certain to be one of the more expensive television talent deals in the business right now.

We’re sure there will be a few more agents, managers, and attorneys who sign up for Twitter accounts tomorrow and begin monitoring their clients’ brands more closely on the real-time web.

[As a small caveat to all of this, keep in mind that the show was picked up in early August last year and only aired four episodes premiering in April of this year, so from a technical point of view, the show’s cancellation isn’t a major surprise simply given the timing of the pick-up and the premiere, the promotional push behind the show, or the show’s ratings. Nevertheless, this is sure to have an effect on the flow of business.]

Twitter Changes Rules on Users. No Auto-Follow. | Kyle Lacy

Replied to Twitter Changes Rules on Users. No Auto-Follow. by Kyle Lacy (kylelacy.com)
(hat tip to ZDNEt and Chris McEvoy for the lead) From ZDNet: “With no notice, Twitter yesterday “pulled the rug out from under its developers” one developer says, by discouraging auto-following and imposing 1,000 person-per-day following limits.” Now… this is not news to me because of the “pulling the rug out from under its developers” thing or the 1,000 person-per-day following limit… The news to me as a Twitter user… I don’t really remember getting a message or alert that the new limits were going to be enacted. I use Twitter on a daily basis. It seems fairly odd that I would not know about the change.

I’m personally glad they’d be implementing something like this and wish they had done it about a month ago. Eventually without any controls the site would have become a waste land. In the spirit of using it as the tool it has become, they needed to implement changes like this as the site scaled up to more and more people. It’s very similar to the changes they instituted in the fall of 2008 when they created a cap of being able to follow more than 2000 people when your own number of followers wasn’t commensurate with that number. As a game theorist, I’m sure that people will somehow find some other way to artificially game the system.

As a separate note, who really wants to waste the time building thousands and thousands of followers when none of them are really going to ever pay attention to you? Yes, it’s great to have a high number, but really what is your ultimate reach? How many people are you engaging?