Harvard and Loeb Digital Library

October 18, 2014

Hungry for a digital version of Fragments of Old Comedy, Volume 1: Diopeithes to Pherecrates? Navigate to this Loeb link. You may want to consider this question from Hacker News’ user Miles:

Why are they charging for access to ebooks, many of which are already in the public domain and available at archive.org?

I assume the answer is “money.” Harvard’s endowment piggy bank contains about $30 billion, according to US News’s 2013 estimate. Latin and Greek readers are flush with cash. Get with the program. Pony up.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2014

Arnold Steps Away from Online Searcher Magazine

October 13, 2014

After several years of writing librarian-centric articles for Online Magazine and Searcher Magazine, I have decided to become an occasional author for Online Searcher. I will try to update the LinkedIn bibliography of my work before the end of the year. Some of my Online Searcher articles are available directly from Information Today. Online Searcher, as you may know, was formed in a crucible of innovation when Information Today merged its two separate publications.

For now, I will continue to provide articles about enterprise search for Information Today and about knowledge management to KMWorld. I have focused more and more on information issues related to law enforcement and intelligence. Although there is a fuzzy boundary between these two domains, I have decided to shift my efforts to operational intelligence and OSINT. I will not be covering these topics in Beyond Search, which focused on the highlights and lowlights of enterprise information systems. Readers active in law enforcement and intelligence will be able to follow my research in my presentations and webinars for those in these specialized communities. Search vendors and those who purvey wild and crazy for fee information services cannot breathe easily. I will be tracking the commercial findability outfits in Beyond Search until the industry changes or I grow tired of writing about jargon, lateral arabesques, and “intelligent” software.

Stephen E Arnold, October 13, 2014

New York Times: All the News that Fewer Staff Can Produce

October 1, 2014

I read “New York Times Plans Cutbacks in Newsroom Staff.” I summarized the Times’s management decisions about online in this post. The Times has been floundering with new media for decades.

Unfortunately the revenue from online does not make up for advertising sales shortfalls, rising costs for paper and ink, and the old school business model that thrived on newspaper warfare.

The write up reports:

The note also said financial results from the company’s third quarter, which ended Sunday, had improved from a difficult second quarter. Digital advertising is likely to show growth of about 16 percent in the third quarter, the best quarterly performance since 2010, and digital subscriptions are expected to increase by more than 40,000, the largest number of quarterly additions since 2012. But the company’s profitability was lower than during the same period last year as costs increased.

So, farewell “real” journalists. Perhaps the Times should buy America Online and snag Ms. Huffington? Is she the future of “real” journalism? Maybe some of those mid tier consultants can come up with new ideas. (Oh, sorry, the mid tier consulting firms are struggling for revenues as well.) Perhaps a failed webmaster, unemployed middle school teacher, or a self anointed poobah will come to the firm’s rescue for less than a single “real” journalist. Well, there’s always selling write ups via Fiverr.com.

Stephen E Arnold, October 1, 2014

Russia Asks Nicely…Then

September 27, 2014

I read “Russia Wants Facebook, Google, Twitter to Comply with Censorship Laws “ The idea that a nation state has laws makes sense to me. In my experience, when one does business in another country, common sense suggests that one follow the laws of the land. In Singapore, it is not a great idea to do spray paint marketing of blank concrete walls or spit gum on the sidewalk in front of a government intelligence facility. In China, it sees prudent to figure out how to work within the guidelines of a country not into the type of public complaining that takes place on talking head television shows. In Russia, I would conclude that a “request” is something to which one would attend.

The question is, “Will Facebook, Google, and Twitter get with the program?”

Another question is, “What was Mr. Putin’s nickname in Grozny?”

The write up states:

President Putin signed a law back in July that obliged all web services that are collecting data on Russian citizens to store said data in local datacenters. Of course this is not exactly good news for the likes of Twitter and Google who are storing data in much more open and democratic countries across Europe.

Okay, here are my answers to the two questions above:

Nope and the butcher of Grozny.

I do not want to predict the possible paths for those who ignore the request.

Stephen E Arnold, September 27, 2014

New York Times Online: An Inside View

September 24, 2014

Check out the presentation “The Surprising Path to a Faster NYTimes.com.”

I was surprised at some of the information in the slide deck. First, I thought the New York Times was first online in the 1970s via LexisNexis.


This is not money. See http://bit.ly/1rus9y8

I thought that was an exclusive deal and reasonably profitable for both LexisNexis and the New York Times. When the newspaper broke off that exclusive to do its own thing, the revenue hit on the New York Times was immediate. In addition, the decision had significant cost implications for the newspaper.

The New York Times needed to hire people who allegedly create an online system. The newspaper had to license software, write code, hire consultants, maintain computers not designed to set type and organize circulation. The New York Times had to learn on the fly about converting content for online content processing. Learning that one does not know anything after thinking one knew everything is a very, very inefficient way to get into the online business. In short, the blow off of the LexisNexis deal added significant initial and then ever increasing on-going costs to the New York Times Co. I don’t think anyone at the New York Times has ever sat down to figure out the cost of that decision to become the Natty Bumpo of the newspaper publishing world.

I had heard that the newspaper raked in the 1970s seven figures a year while LexisNexis did the heavy lifting. Yep, that included figuring out how to put the newspaper content on tape into a suitable form for LexisNexis’ mainframe system. Figuring this out inside the New York Times in the early 1990s made this sound: Crackle, crackle, whoosh. That is the sound of a big company burning money not for a few months but for DECADES, folks. DECADES.


Photo from US Fish and Wildlife.

When the newspaper decided that it could do an online service itself and presumably make more money, the newspaper embarked on the technical path discussed in the slide deck. Few recall that the fellow who set up the journal Online worked on the online version of the newspaper. I recall speaking to that person shortly after he and the newspaper parted ways. He did not seem happy with budgets, technology, or vision. But, hey, that was decades ago.


How some information companies solve common problems with new tools. Image thanks to Enlgishrussia.com at http://bit.ly/1ps0MPF.

In the slide deck, we get an insider’s view of trying to deal with the problem of technical decisions made decades ago. What’s interesting is that the cost of the little adventure by the newspaper does not reflect the lost revenue from the LexisNexis exclusive. The presentation does illustrate quite effectively how effort cannot redress technical decisions made in the past.

This is an infrastructure investment problem. Unlike a physical manufacturing facility, an information centric business is difficult to re-engineer. There is the money problem. It costs a lot to rip and replace or put up a new information facility and then cut it over when it is revved and ready. But information centric businesses have another problem. Most succeed by virtue of luck. The foundation technology is woven into the success of the business, but in ways that are often non replicable.

The New York Times killed off the LexisNexis money flow. Then it had to figure out how to replicate that LexisNexis money flow and generate a bigger profit. What happened? The New York Times spent more money creating the various iterations of the Times Online, lost the LexisNexis money, and became snared in the black hole of trying to figure out how to make online information generate lots of dough. I am suggesting that the New York Times may be kidding itself with the new iteration of the Times Online service.

Read more

Government Web Site Reliability

August 21, 2014

I read “IT Outages Are an Ongoing Problem for the US Government.” I was surprised if the information is accurate. The article reports:

When outages occur, 48% of the workers said they do what they can via telephone, while 33% use personal devices and another 24% try to find a workaround, such a Google Apps. When asked to grade their IT department, only 15% of the field workers gave it an “A”; 49% gave it a “B”; and 27% gave it a “C.” When asked what caused the most recent outages, the IT professionals said 45% were due to a network or server outage; 20% cited Internet connectivity loss; 13% blamed natural disaster; 7% said a specific application stopped working, and 6% pointed to human error.

With the new push to improve government Web sites, perhaps the core infrastructure needs attention as well? Is it possible that good enough is comparable to the US broadband capability, the educational system, or airline on time performance? And search results? Nah, USA.gov’s search results are good enough for some.

Stephen E Arnold, August 21, 2014

Paying for Online: How Would This Work?

August 17, 2014

I read “The Internet’s Original Sin.” Talk about an interesting idea. Quite an insight: Pay for online access. So original. I believe the write up is confident in this radical concept.

Here is a passage I noted. The author recounts his experience at Tripod.com. He recalls:

At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad. It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.

Intentions that were good. Hmmm. Flash forward a lifetime in the zippy world of the Internet. I learn:

I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the web. The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services. Through successive rounds of innovation and investor story time, we’ve trained Internet users to expect that everything they say and do online will be aggregated into profiles (which they cannot review, challenge, or change) that shape both what ads and what content they see.

So what’s the fix?

One simple way forward is to charge for services and protect users’ privacy…Users will pay for services that they love.


I recall that the for fee online services charged their users for information. This worked reasonably well, but the number of customers was modest. Dialog Information Services was the Big Dog. LexisNexis had the law firms whose employees would spend when clients paid the bill. SDC Orbit survived with some must have specialty files. Similarly there was success in a few other commercial shops.

But these services reached only those who met certain criteria:

  1. Money to spend
  2. Interest/motivation to learn the ins and outs of the systems
  3. Expertise to figure out what the systems were outputting.

Consumer services did come along, but these did not capture the markets which the innovators sought. Remember CompuServe? The Source? Prodigy? Dialcom?

Charging for information, in my experience, trims the number of people using a service significantly. My rule of thumb is that only three to five percent of a free service’s users will pay for the service. Those who have to use the for fee service look for ways of reducing the cost of online access.

I am confident that the whiz kids at the Atlantic have better data. Their approach might be able to show the old, panting dogs like Cambridge Scientific (Dialog), Reed Elsevier (LexisNexis), Dow Jones (Factiva), and Ebsco (bunches of confusingly named services) how to make online information generate substantial dough. Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg have a formula, but the general population is not too keen on these services.

Good enough is the cultural hook today. If one has to pay for “better”, I think there will be quite a few innovators who go back to business models that produce substantial revenue.

Like it or not, advertising is the go to solution. Oh, don’t forget to subscribe to the Atlantic in hard copy. You don’t get the good stuff for free. What’s ad supported are analyses that call for Google to walk away from $60-$65 billion in revenue this year.

I bet that is an idea that Messrs Brin and Page will embrace.

Stephen E Arnold, August 17, 2014

Amazon: Online Sales and Fine French Whine

May 28, 2014

I read “Amazon’s Hit List: Which Books Are Screwed, and By How Much.” Interesting analysis. The main point of the article is that allegedly Amazon is taking action to alert Hachette to real capitalism. Now I know that the French have different views about capitalism. If the recent election in France is an indicator, there will be some excitement about Amazon’s behavior in the near future.

I did notice a couple of statements in the write up that made it to my “save for later” file. Here are three of the ones with checkmarks next to them:

First, the story says: “The two most [Hachette] recent releases (Instinct and The Closer), both of which came out May 6th, have had their availability pushed back one to three weeks for no reason other than Amazon’s abstinence. If you order them today from BN.com, they’ll ship within 24 hours.” Foot dragging may not be such a big deal. I want longer for some Amazon orders than I did in the past. Amazon is getting larger and with bulk, movement may be less sprightly.

Second, the article reports, “…Half of Hachette’s marquee titles coming out in the next few months are altogether unavailable.” This may be a discontinuity in product flow.

Third, the article regurgitates one of those online truisms which are often wrong; for example:

just to go to Barnes & Noble or, better yet, your local independent bookseller for these titles. Better yet, go to them for all of your book needs until this anti-consumer muscle-flexing subsides. Amazon has every right to fight dirty. And you have every right to show them the consequences.

My view is that Hachette faces a start choice with regard to Amazon. I also think that certain French regulatory officials will take an interest in this dust up. If I were an Amazonian and visiting France, I would be on my best behavior. The French companies and French authorities often enjoy a different relationship than their American counterparts.

Amazon may find that red tape in France is one of the smaller challenges the company will encounter if this dispute develops legs.

Stephen E Arnold, May 28, 2014

EUFeeds Seems to Be a Goner

January 30, 2014

I liked scanning the headlines from major European newspapers. Click on a flag and the EUFeeds’ screen would display the publication title and current headlines from hundreds of news publications in Europe. Well, that was last week. This week the site displays:


Videotwitter disappeared earlier this year. You may want to give The Big Project a whirl if you want access to news from different countries. You can find The Big Project news page at http://bit.ly/1b8vqYd.

Stephen E Arnold, January 29, 2014

Yale on Free Expression: A Quote to Note

January 18, 2014

Years ago I gave a lecture at Yale. My subject was Google. I ran through the basic points in The Google Legacy and Google Version 2.0. The audience reacted as if I had dissected a dead frog. I received a smattering of polite applause and headed out for a talk in New York City. So much for Yale and the idea that Google was more than a Web search company.

I just read “Yale Students Made a Better Version of Their Course Catalogue. Then Yale Shut It Down.” A couple of students put up a Web page that allowed students to pinpoint classes and compare student ratings of professors. Sounds like an app to me.

Information? Who said it was supposed to be free? Image source: http://1.usa.gov/1dFIhW9

But Yale perceived the Web page differently. Here’s the quote:

‘Yale’s policy on free expression and free speech entitles no one to appropriate a Yale resource and use it as their [sic] own ,’ the statement read. It further stated its main priority at this time was supporting its own resources, ‘not others created independently and without the university’s cooperation or permission,’ and that ‘all the information on the website remains available to students on the Yale site.’

I assume the Washington Post is semi-accurate, just like an Amazon recommendation.

What did the future bonesmen learn? A nuance of academic freedom in Yale Land has been broadcast in an analogue transmission.

Will these two free thinkers demonstrate digital initiative in the future? Is Yale turning out well-trained online researchers for the next-generation information highway?

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2014

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