How to Quantify Culture? Counting the Bookstores and Libraries Is a Start

February 7, 2017

The article titled The Best Cities in the World for Book Lovers on Quartz conveys the data collected by the World Cities Culture Forum. That organization works to facilitate research and promote cultural endeavors around the world. And what could be a better measure of a city’s culture than its books? The article explains how the data collection works,

Led by the London mayor’s office and organized by UK consulting company Bop, the forum asks its partner cities to self-report on cultural institutions and consumption, including where people can get books. Over the past two years, 18 cities have reported how many bookstores they have, and 20 have reported on their public libraries. Hong Kong leads the pack with 21 bookshops per 100,000 people, though last time Buenos Aires sent in its count, in 2013, it was the leader, with 25.

New York sits comfortably in sixth place, but London, surprisingly, is near the bottom of the ranking with roughly 360 bookstores. Another measure the WCCF uses is libraries per capita. Edinburgh of all places surges to the top without any competition. New York is the only US city to even make the cut with an embarrassing 2.5 libraries per 100K people. By contrast, Edinburgh has 60.5 per 100K people. What this analysis misses out on is the size and beauty of some of the bookstores and libraries of global cities. To bask in these images, visit Bookshelf Porn or this Mental Floss ranking of the top 7 gorgeous bookstores.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 7, 2017

Bradley Metrock and the Alexa Conference: Alexa As a Game Changer for Search and Publishing

February 2, 2017

Bradley Metrock, Score Publishing, organized The Alexa Conference held in January 2017. More than 60 attendees shared technical and business insights about Amazon’s voice-search enabled device. The conference recognized the opportunity Amazon’s innovative product represents. Keyword search traditionally has been dependent on a keyboard. Alexa changes the nature of information access. An Alexa owner can talk to a device which is about the size of a can of vegetables. Alexa is poised to nudge the world of information access and applications in new directions.

Bradley Metrock, Score Publishing, organized The Alexa Conference in January 2017. An expanded event is in the works.

After hearing a positive review of the conference, its speakers, and the programming event, I spoke with Mr. Metrock. The full text of the interview appears below:

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

Delighted to do it.

What path did you follow to arrive at The Alexa Conference?

A somewhat surprising one. My background is in business, but I’ve always been keenly interested in publishing.  It’s fascinating how the world of publishing has been ripped open by technology, allowing us as a society to shed gatekeepers and hear more stories from more people than we ever would have otherwise. In 2013, when I was in the process of selling a business, I discovered Apple’s iBooks Author software.  I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t talking about it.  It was such a gift: the ability to create next-generation, interactive and multimedia digital books that could be sold on Apple hardware (iPads at first, then later iPhones) all for no cost.  The software was completely free. I formed Score Publishing, published books using iBooks Author, and organized the annual iBooks Author Conference which all sorts of people attend from all over the world.  It’s been fun.

Where does Alexa fit into your interest in publishing books?

I approached Alexa at first from the standpoint of digital content creators: What do they need to get out of this tool?  And out of the Internet of Things, in general?

Do you have an answer to this question about using Alexa as an authoring tool?

No, not yet. My long-term ambition with Alexa is to produce authoring tools for it that allow content creators to leverage their content effectively in an audio-only environment.  Not just audio books, but the creation of voice-enabled applications around published works, from books to white papers and so forth.

What is needed to make it easy for an author or developer to leverage Amazon’s remarkable device and ecosystem?

That’s a good question. The first step toward doing that is learning Alexa myself and incorporating it into what Score Publishing already does.  To that end, we decided to put on the first-ever Alexa Conference. We experienced directly the incredible value in bringing communities of people together on the iBooks Author side of things.  We saw the same exact things with the just-completed Alexa Conference and can’t wait to do it again next January. In fact, we’re already planning it.

What were some of the takeaways for you from The Alexa Conference?

I think Amazon has opened an entirely new world with Alexa that perhaps even they didn’t fully appreciate at first.  Alexa puts voice search in the home. But far from just new ways to buy products or services, Alexa allows every computing interface that exists today to be re-imagined with greater efficiency, while also creating greater accessibility to content than ever before.  My eyes were opened in a big way.

Can you give me an example?

I can try, but it’s hard for me to even begin to explain, being relatively new to the technology and the ideas that Alexa (and IoT in general) bring to the table, but a good place to start is the summary from the first Alexa Conference.  This report gives a taste of the topics and ideas covered.

One of the most interesting events at The Alexa Conference was the programming of an Alexa skill. You called it the Alexathon, right?

Yes, and it was fascinating to watch the participants at work and then experience what they created in less than 24 hours. Developers are red-hot for this technology and are eager to explore its full potential.  They understand these are the early days, just like it was a decade ago with iOS apps for the iPad and iPhone. They see, in my opinion, a combination of opportunity and necessity in being part of it all.

What was the winning Alexa skill?

The winner was Xander Morrison, the Digital Community Coordinator at Sony Music’s Provident Label Group. It took Morrison just 24 hours to create his Nashville Tour Guide as an Alexa skill.

How does Alexa intersect with publishing?

I think the publishing industry doesn’t really understand the implications of the internet of things on its business. Companies like HarperCollins, whom I invited to be part of The Alexa Conference, sent Jolene Barto to the conference. She described how her company built an Alexa skill for one of the company’s most important markets. Her remarks sparked a lively question-and-answer session. HarperColllins seems to be one of the more proactive publishers in the Alexa space at this time.

Is it game over for Google and the other companies offering Alexa-type products and services?

No. I think it is the dawn of the voice enabled application era. Right now, it looks as if Alexa has a clear lead. But the Internet of Things is a very dynamic technology trend. The winner will probably be the company which creates tools.

What do you mean tools?

Software and system that make it easy for digital content to flow into it and be re-purposed in new and exciting ways.

Is this an opportunity for you and Score Publishing?

Yes. As I mentioned earlier, this is an area I want Score Publishing involved in. We may create some of the tools to help bridge the gap for content creators. Many authors and publishers have no interest in learning how to code. Alexa and the competing products do not make it easy for authors and publishers to get their content into the ecosystem all the same.

Google has a competing product and recently updated it. What’s your view of Google with regard to Alexa?

Google is definitely in the fray with Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana. Also, there are several other less well known competitors. Amazon’s primary advantage is how early Amazon opened up Alexa to third-party development.  Alexa’s other advantages include the sheer marketing reach of Amazon. I learned at the conference that Amazon has done a great job in promoting promoting its hardware, from the Echo, Tap, and Dot. Now the the Amazon Kindle has Alexa baked into the device. Amazon has, in contrast to Apple and Google, demonstrated its willingness to spend significant dollars to advertise both Alexa and Alexa-enabled hardware.

However, Google has something Amazon doesn’t–search data.  And Apple has the dominant mobile device.  So there are advantages these other companies can bring to bear in competing in this space.  I want to point out that Amazon has its shopping data, and its Alexa team will find ways to to leverage its consumer behavior data as Alexa evolves over time.

What are your ideas for The Alexa Conference 2018?

Yes. We will be having another The Alexa Conference in January 2018. The event will be held in Nashville, Tennessee. We want to expand the program. We hope to feature topic and industry-specific sub-tracks as well. If your readers want to sign up, we have Super Early Bird passes available now. There is a limited supply of these. We expect to announce more information in the next month or so.

How can a person inte4reserted in The Alexa Conference and Score Publishing contact you?

We have a number of de-centralized websites such as the iBooks Author Conference, the iBooks Author Universe (a free online learning resource for iBooks Author digital publishing) and now, the Alexa Conference.  Following us on Twitter at @iBAConference and @AlexaConf is a great idea to stay in the know on either technology, and to reach me, people can email me directly at Bradley@AlexaConference.com.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Stephen E. Arnold, February 2, 2017

Rise of Fake News Should Have All of Us Questioning Our Realities

January 31, 2017

The article on NBC titled Five Tips on How to Spot Fake News Online reinforces the catastrophic effects of “fake news,” or news that flat-out delivers false and misleading information. It is important to separate “fake news” from ideologically-slanted news sources and the mess of other issues dragging any semblance of journalistic integrity through the mud, but the article focuses on a key point. The absolute best practice is to take in a variety of news sources. Of course, when it comes to honest-to-goodness “fake news,” we would all be better off never reading it in the first place. The article states,

A growing number of websites are espousing misinformation or flat-out lies, raising concerns that falsehoods are going viral over social media without any mechanism to separate fact from fiction. And there is a legitimate fear that some readers can’t tell the difference. A study released by Stanford University found that 82 percent of middle schoolers couldn’t spot authentic news sources from ads labeled as “sponsored content.” The disconnect between true and false has been a boon for companies trying to turn a quick profit.

So how do we separate fact from fiction? Checking the web address and avoiding .lo and .co.com addresses, researching the author, differentiating between blogging and journalism, and again, relying on a variety of sources such as print, TV, and digital. In a time when even the President-to-be, a man with the best intelligence in the world at his fingerprints, chooses to spread fake news (aka nonsense) via Twitter that he won the popular vote (he did not) we all need to step up and examine the information we consume and allow to shape our worldview.

Chelsea Kerwin, January 31, 2017

Where to Sell Cyber-Centric Software and Services

January 20, 2017

The Lost Angeles Times published “A Look at the 17 Agencies That Make Up the U.S. Intelligence Community.” My hunch is that the “real” journalists thought that the list would be “real” news. I scanned the information and noted:

  • No useful urls were provided
  • Where to track funding and new project announcements was not included
  • Specific information about the objectives of each entity was omitted
  • The sub entities associated with the principal intelligence entity; for example, Strategic Capabilities Office.

What is the list? Well, if a small outfit in Orange County wants to sell its products and services to the US government’s “intelligence’ entities, the list provides a starting point for research.

The article could have been become a useful way to stimulate outfits not participating in these agencies’ projects to get the ball rolling. The write up contains one useful thing—a list of agencies which blurs the role of the Department of Defense and omits some interesting entities:

Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
Army Military Intelligence
Central Intelligence Agency
Coast Guard Intelligence
Defense Intelligence Agency
Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Security Intelligence
Energy Department, Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence and Analysis
Marine Corp Intelligence
National Geospatial Intelligence Agency
National Reconnaissance Office
National Security Agency
Office of Naval Intelligence
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
State Department, Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Treasury Department, Office of Intelligence and Analysis

My hunch is that the “real” newspaper is revealing the vapidity of its editorial method. But, hey, I live in rural Kentucky and don’t understand the ways of the big city folks.

Stephen E Arnold, January 20, 2017

About Twitter: Kill It, Kill It Now

January 14, 2017

I am not sure what to make of “It’s Time to Kill Twitter, Before It Kills Us.”  I understand how drone swarms can kill. I grasp the notion of fungibles doing bad in airport baggage claim. But I had not considered the idea that sending short digital messages would kill “us.”

The write up explained to me:

The best thing you might say about Twitter is that it’s become the new micro press release—a way for the famous and powerful to promote, with as little effort as possible, their next project, product or random thought.

Twitter, therefore, can trigger people to do bad things. Therefore, kill Twitter.

The logic is obviously rock solid for some folks.

The write up continued:

From its founding, Twitter never had a purpose.

Okay, new media have no purpose. Interesting notion, particularly when viewed in the context of the tradition of communication methods.

But Twitter might be tough to kill. The write up pointed out:

Twitter might prove harder to get rid of than raccoons at a campsite. The company is still worth nearly $12 billion. It still has around 300 million monthly users. And it still has Trump, so if anyone tried to shutter it, he’d probably step in and classify Twitter as essential to our national security and install Ivanka to run it.

Fascinating. The question is, “Is the write up humorous like the Beyond Search weekly video news program, or is the write up making clear that certain types of communication must be stopped?”

News week or news weak?

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2017

Chinese Censorship Agency Declares All News Online Must Be Verified

January 12, 2017

The heavy hand of Chinese censorship has just gotten heavier. The South China Morning Post reports, “All News Stories Must Be Verified, China’s Internet Censor Decrees as it Tightens Grip on Online Media.” The censorship agency now warns websites not to publish news without “proper verification.” Of course, to hear the government tell it, they just wants to cut down on fake news and false information. Reporter Choi Chi-yuk  writes:

The instruction, issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China, came only a few days after Xu Lin, formerly the deputy head of the organisation, replaced his boss, Lu Wei, as the top gatekeeper of Chinese internet affairs. Xu is regarded as one of President Xi Jinping’s key supporters.

The cyberspace watchdog said online media could not report any news taken from social media websites without approval. ‘All websites should bear the key responsibility to further streamline the course of reporting and publishing of news, and set up a sound internal monitoring mechanism among all mobile news portals [and the social media chat websites] Weibo or WeChat,’ Xinhua reported the directive as saying. ‘It is forbidden to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts,’ it said.

We’re told the central agency has directed regional offices to aggressively monitor content and “severely” punish those who post what they consider false news. They also insist that sources be named within posts. Apparently, several popular news portals have been rebuked under the policy, including Sina.com, Ifeng.com, Caijing.com.cn, Qq.com and 163.com.

Cynthia Murrell, January 12, 2017

Quote to Note: Professional Publishers Wonder What Is Going On

January 6, 2017

Ah, professional publishers, the show dogs of the information world. Show dogs are expensive. Grooming, brushing, vet bills, gourmet dog food. What happens when the folks who love dogs don’t go to the show? Even worse what happens when no one buys expensive puppies? Crisis? Yep.

I read “Scientists in Germany, Peru and Taiwan to Lose Access to Elsevier Journals.” The passage I highlighted in greed green was:

Universities regularly complain about the rising costs of academic journals, and sometimes threaten to cancel their subscriptions. But negotiators usually strike a deal to avoid cutting researchers off.

And the quote to note:

“Publishers must understand that the route to open-access publishing at an affordable price is irreversible.”

Professional publishers will not understand. Libraries pay to get the Elsevier journals. Keep in mind that universities pay faculty who write these articles. Then there may be more fees for the lucky authors.

Researchers then recycle the information contained in for fee versions of the academics’ work. When the money is not there, tenure goes to the dogs.

The researchers will get their scholarly canines from the pound. RIFed publisher staff can work at Uber.

Woof.

Stephen E Arnold, January 6, 2017

 

Shorter Content Means Death for Scientific Articles

December 26, 2016

The digital age is a culture that subsists on digesting quick bits of information before moving onto the next.  Scientific journals are hardly the herald of popular trends, but in order to maintain relevancy with audiences the journals are pushing for shorter articles.  The shorter articles, however, presents a problem for the authors says Ars Technica in the, “Scientific Publishers Are Killing Research Papers.”

Shorter articles are also pushed because scientific journals have limited pages to print.  The journals are also pressured to include results and conclusions over methods to keep the articles short.  The methods, in fact, are usually published in another publication labeled supplementary information:

Supplementary information doesn’t come in the print version of journals, so good luck understanding a paper if you like reading the hard copy. Neither is it attached to the paper if you download it for reading later—supplementary information is typically a separate download, sometimes much larger than the paper itself, and often paywalled. So if you want to download a study’s methods, you have to be on a campus with access to the journal, use your institutional proxy, or jump through whatever hoops are required.

The lack of methodical information can hurt researchers who rely on the extra facts to see if it is relevant to their own work.  The shortened articles also reference the supplementary materials and without them it can be hard to understand the published results.  The shorter scientific articles may be better for general interest, but if they lack significant information than how can general audiences understand them?

In short, the supplementary material should be included online and should be easily accessed.

Whitney Grace, December 26, 2016

Oh, Canada: Censorship Means If It Is Not Indexed, Information Does Not Exist

December 8, 2016

I read “Activists Back Google’s Appeal against Canadian Order to Censor Search Results.” The write up appears in a “real” journalistic endeavor, a newspaper in fact. (Note that newspapers are facing an ad revenue Armageddon if the information in “By 2020 More Money Will Be Spent on Online Ads Than on Radio or Newspapers” is accurate.)

The point of the “real” journalistic endeavor’s write up is to point out that censorship could get a bit of a turbo boost. I highlighted this passage:

In an appeal heard on Tuesday [December 6, 2016] in the supreme court of Canada, Google Inc took aim at a 2015 court decision that sought to censor search results beyond Canada’s borders.

If the appeal goes south, a government could instruct the Google and presumably any other indexing outfit to delete pointers to content. If one cannot find online information, that information may cease to be findable. Ergo. The information does not exist for one of the search savvy wizards holding a mobile phone or struggling to locate a US government document.

The “real” journalistic endeavor offers:

A court order to remove worldwide search results could threaten free expression if it catches on globally – where it would then be subject to wildly divergent standards on freedom of speech.

It is apparently okay for a “real” journalistic endeavor to prevent information from appearing in its information flows as long as the newspaper is doing the deciding. But when a third party like a mere government makes the decision, the omission is a very bad thing.

I don’t have a dog in this fight because I live in rural Kentucky, am an actual addled goose (honk!), and find that so many folks are now realizing the implications of indexing digital content. Let’s see. Online Web indexes have been around and free for 20, maybe 30 years.

There is nothing like the howls of an animal caught in a trap. The animal wandered into or was lured into the trap. Let’s howl.

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2016

Europe and Disinformation: Denmark? Denmark.

December 7, 2016

If you want to catch up on what “Europe” is doing about disinformation, you will want to read “European Union Efforts to Counter Disinformation.” After you have worked through the short document, do a couple of queries on Bing, Google, Inxight, and Yandex for Copenhagen protests. With a bit of work, you will locate a December 4, 2016, write up from the estimable Express newspaper Web site. The story is “WAR ON DENMARK’S STREETS: Migrant Chaos Sparks Clashes between Police and Protestors.” Disinformation, misinformation, and reformation of information are different facets of this issue. However, a growing problem is the absence of information. Locating semi accurate “factoids” is a tough job. “Real” journalists prefer to recycle old information or just take what pops into their mobile phone’s browser. Hey, finding out things is really hard. People are really busy with the Facebook thing. Are you planning a holiday in Denmark where a policeman was shot in the head on December 6, 2016? No quotes because the source is the outstanding Associated Press. That outfit does not want people like me to recycle their factoids. Hey, where’s the story about the car burnings which have been increasing this year? Oh, never mind. If the information is not in Google, it does not exist. Convenient? You bet.

Stephen E Arnold, December 7, 2016

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