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Viva The Academic Publisher Boycott!

July 30, 2015

Academic databases provide access to quality research material, which is key for any student, professor, or researcher to succeed in their work.  One major drawback to academic databases is the high cost associated with subscription fees.  Individual researchers cannot justify subscribing to an academic database and purchasing a single article runs high.  This is why they rely on academic libraries to cover the costs.  Due to changing publishing trends, academic publishers are raising subscription fees.

Elsevier is one of the largest and most well-known scientific journal database, but it is also the most notorious for its expensive subscription fee and universities are getting tired of it.  Univers reports that “Dutch Universities Start Their Elsevier Boycott.”  The Netherlands, led by state secretary Sander Dekker, want all scientific content to be free online.  In order to be published, the university or financier pays to be so.  All content by Dutch scientists will hopefully be open access by 2024.

In the meantime, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands has asked all Dutch scientists that work with Elsevier to resign from their positions.  As to be expected, some are willing and others are more reluctant.  The goal is to pressure Elsevier to change its practices.

“In Univers nr. 8, in January, professor Jan Blommaert called the current publishing system ‘completely absurd’. Not only because of the costs for subscription, but also because the journals have a lot of power over the content: ‘A young PhD student who has been able to get an article accepted by a journal may still have to wait 18 months for it to be published, because the editors prefer well-known names. It is not unthinkable that if I would submit a love letter, it would be published sooner than an intelligent scholarly article by a young researcher.’ ”

The Dutch universities are setting a standard that many libraries and universities will also follow, but the hardest part is encouraging more to participate.  Libraries and universities have an obligation to provide needed materials to researchers and a boycott will hinder the step.  Large boycotts, rather than individual, will be more effective and instrumental in changing Elsevier’s practices.

Whitney Grace, July 30, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Real Journalists and Presstitution

July 24, 2015

I read and enjoyed an article for one word: “presstitute.” You can see the word in context in “Are Media Companies One Native Ad Away from Becoming Presstitutes.” Perhaps the word “native” is not clear? Inclusions, inserts, or paid advertorials will make the meaning of native clear.

The idea is that “real” journalists were before the eye opening days of yellow journalism were objective. Messrs. Pulitzer and Hearst were like Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page more than a century ago.

Flash forward to the present and the “real” journalists are struggling to make their well honed business model work in a world of iPhones and Instagram.

Read the original essay. You get some dancing around the May pole, but the article is significant because of the word “presstitute” in my opinion. That’s a business model with legs. No comment about whether the legs are comely, hirsute, appropriate, or inappropriate from me, however.

Stephen E Arnold, July 214, 2015

Scribd Obtains Social Reading

July 22, 2015

Access to books and other literary material has reached an unprecedented high.  People can download and read millions of books with a few simple clicks.  Handheld ebook readers are curtailing the sales of printed book, but they also are increasing sales of digital books.  One of the good things about ebooks is bibliophiles do not have to drive to a bookstore or get waitlisted on the library.  Writers also can directly sell their material to readers and potentially by pass having to pay agents and publishers.

It occurred to someone that bibliophiles would love to have instant access to a huge library of books, similar to how Netflix offers its customers an unending video library.  There is one and it is called Scribed.  Scribd is described as the Netflix of books, because for a simple $8.99 bibliophiles can read and download as many books as they wish.

The digital landscape is still being tested by book platforms and Scribd has increased its offerings.  VentureBeat reports Scribd’s newest business move in: “Scribd Buys Social Reading App Librify.” Librify is a social media reading app, offering users the opportunity to connect with friends and sharing their reading experiences.  It is advertised as a great app for book clubs.

“In a sparse press release, Scribd argues Librify’s “focus on the social reading experience” made the deal worthwhile. The news arrives at a heated time for the publishing industry, as Amazon, Oyster, and others all fight to be the definitive Netflix for books — all while hawking remarkably similar products.”

Netflix has its own rivals: Hulu, Amazon Prime, Vimeo, and YouTube, but it offers something different by creating new and original shows.  Scribd might be following a similar business move, by offering an original service its rivals do not have.  Will it also offer Scribd only books?

Whitney Grace, July 22, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Amazon: A Hungry Female Tarantula Amidst Digital Bananas

July 17, 2015

I read “The Book World Need Not Fear Amazon.” The essay tips its fedora to Amazon’s 20th year in business. I am reminded: “It [Amazon] kick started the ebook revolution.” Revolutions are good, aren’t they?

The main idea is that publishers are not too thrilled to find the Amazon tarantula in their now mostly empty book stores. The revenue from backlists is no longer the olive groves they once were.

The write up states:

Some publishers believe that, essentially, Bezos’s company despises them: they are unnecessary intermediaries between authors and the reading public. And then there are the working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, and the company’s tax avoidance … The news that the European commission is investigating Amazon’s business practices – among which is the stipulation that rivals should never receive more favorable terms – has brought cheer.

But the kicker is this statement:

Perhaps Amazon will destroy literary culture. Or perhaps in 20 years’ time we’ll find it hard to remember, as we do with Microsoft, why we were so afraid of it.

Fascinating. The problem is not what Amazon has done. The problem is what book publishers were unable to do. The emergence of a digital book powerhouse comes as a result of publishers who were content and still are thrilled to operate with water wheels and oxen as sources of power.

The Amazon plugs in to a market that no longer reads by candlelight. The fear is warranted, but I don’t have too much sympathy for those who are increasingly disintermediated and marginalized.

Stephen E Arnold, July 17, 2015

Search the Snowden Documents

July 16, 2015

This cat has long since forgotten what the inside of the bag looked like. Have you perused the documents that were released by Edward Snowden, beginning in 2013? A website simply titled “Snowden Doc Search” will let you do just that through a user-friendly search system. The project’s Description page states:

“The search is based upon the most complete archive of Snowden documents to date. It is meant to encourage users to explore the documents through its extensive filtering capabilities. While users are able to search specifically by title, description, document, document date, and release date, categories also allow filtering by agency, codeword, document topic, countries mentioned, SIGADS, classification, and countries shared with. Results contain not only full document text, pdf, and description, but also links to relevant articles and basic document data, such as codewords used and countries mentioned within the document.”

The result of teamwork between the Courage Foundation and Transparency Toolkit, the searchable site is built upon the document/ news story archive maintained by the Edward Snowden Defense Fund. The sites Description page also supplies links to the raw dataset and to Transparency Toolkit’s Github page, for anyone who would care to take a look. Just remember, “going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit.” (Chrome)

Cynthia Murrell, July 16 , 2015

Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Pew, Pew, Phew: Bad News for Real Publishers

July 15, 2015

I am not a real publisher. I am mostly retired. I live in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. Google thinks I am in Greenspring, Kentucky. The mail person thinks I live in Louisville. The newspapers to which I subscribe think I am Tyson Arnold. Tyson, as you may recall, was one of my prized boxers.

Publishers, in short, don’t know that my dog reads their dead tree outputs. Ah, the life away from the hustle, bustle, tweets, and Facebook posts of the major metropolitan areas.

But apparently, even here, where the AR 15s lay waste to the squirrels, news comes via means other than printed publications. Bummer.

Navigate to “New Pew Data: More Americans Are Getting News on Facebook and Twitter.” I like the sonance of the “new pew” juxtaposition. But, to business. The write up reports:

Facebook and Twitter users across all demographics are increasingly using the social networks as news sources, though they are seeking out different types of news content on each platform…

The article points to a Pew research report, which I don’t think I will scrutinize. (I have a juicy new document from Recorded Future and a couple of European Community reports about the Dark Web.)

You, gentle reader, should plan to scrutinize the data in the study. For me, the report is old news.

For publishers, the Pew data in the study are a knife to the heart. I saw knives plunged into these outfits’ torso years ago.

Everyone seems to recognize that “real publishers” may be facing some challenges when they try to pump up those revenues. The only outfits who seem to be unaware of their plight are—wait for it—the publishers themselves.

Okay, back to more substantive stuff, not “the real world impact of journalism.”

Stephen E Arnold, July 15, 2015

Page Load Speed: Let Us Blame Those in Suits

July 14, 2015

I read “News Sites Are Fatter and Slower Than Ever.” Well, I am not sure about “ever.” I recall when sites simply did not work. Those sites never worked. You can check out the turtles if you can grab a peak at a crawler’s log file. Look for nifty codes like 2000, 4, or 12. Your mileage may vary, but the log file tells the tale.

The write up aims at news sites. My hunch is that the definition of a news site is one of those toip one percent things: The user is looking for information from a big name and generally clueless outfit like The Daily Whatever or a mash up of content from hither and yon.

Enter latency, lousy code, crazy ads from half baked ad servers, and other assorted craziness.

The write up acknowledges that different sites deliver different response times. Okay.

If you are interested in data, the article presents an interesting chart. You can see home page load times with and without ads. There’s a chart which shows page load times via different mobile connections.

The main point, in my opinion, is a good one:

Since its initial release 22 years ago, the Hyper Text Markup Language  (HTML) has gone through many iterations that make web sites richer and smarter than ever. But this evolution also came with loads of complexity and a surfeit of questionable features. It’s time to swing the pendulum back toward efficiency and simplicity. Users are asking for it and will punish those who don’t listen.

My hunch is that speed is a harsh task master. In our work, we have found that with many points in a process, resources are often constrained or poorly engineered. As a result, each new layer of digital plaster contributes to the sluggishness of a system.

Unless one has sufficient resources (money and expertise and time), lousy performance is the new norm. The Google rails and cajoles because slow downs end up costing my favorite search engine big bucks.

Most news sites do not get the message and probably never will. The focus is on another annoying overlay, pop up, or inline video.

Click away, gentle reader, click away. Many folks see the browser as the new Windows 3.11. Maybe browsers are the new Windows 3.11?

Stephen E Arnold, July 14, 2015

Elsevier and Its Business Model May Be Ageing Fast

July 13, 2015

If you need to conduct research and are not attached to a university or academic library, then you are going to get hit with huge subscription fees to have access to quality material.  This is especially true for the scientific community, but on the Internet if there is a will there most certainly is a way.  Material often locked behind a subscription service can be found if you dig around the Internet long enough, mostly from foreign countries, but the material is often pirated.  Gizmodo shares in the article, “Academic Publishing Giant Fights To Keep Science Paywalled” that Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers, is angry about its content being stolen and shared on third party sites.  Elsevier recently filed a complaint with the New York District Court against Library Genesis and

“The sites, which are both popular in developing countries like India and Indonesia, are a treasure trove of free pdf copies of research papers that typically cost an arm and a leg without a university library subscription. Most of the content on Libgen and SciHub was probably uploaded using borrowed or stolen student or faculty university credentials. Elsevier is hoping to shut both sites down and receive compensation for its losses, which could run in the millions.”

Gizmodo acknowledges Elsevier has a right to complain, but they also flip the argument in the other direction by pointing out that access to quality scientific research material is expensive.  The article brings up Netflix’s entertainment offerings, with Netflix users pay a flat fee every month and have access to thousands of titles.  Netflix remains popular because it remains cheap and the company openly acknowledges that it sets its prices to be competitive against piracy sites.

Publishers and authors should be compensated for their work and it is well known that academics do not rake in millions, but access to academic works should be less expensive.  Following Netflix’s model or having a subscription service like Amazon Prime might be a better business model to follow.

Whitney Grace, July 13, 2015
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Misinformation and Truth: An Issue in Play

July 6, 2015

Navigate to “Italian Newspaper Creates Fake Restaurant to Prove TripAdvisor Sucks.” The story tells the story of a real journalistic operation which created a non existent restaurant. Then the real journalists contributed reviews of the vaporous eatery. TripAdvisor’s algorithms sucked in the content and, according to the write up,

declared La Scaletta the best restaurant in the town, beating out another highly-regarded restaurant with over 300 reviews (most of them positive).

Ah, real journalism, truth, and the manipulation of socially-anchored systems.

Now direct your attention to “Fact Verification As Easy as Spellcheck?” The point of this article is that figuring what’s accurate and inaccurate is non trivial. The write up reports:

Researchers at Indiana University decided to try a different approach to the problem.  Instead of trying to build complex logic into a program, researchers proposed something simpler.  Why not try measure the likelihood of a statement being true by analyzing the proximity of its terms and the specificity of its connectors?

The procedure involves a knowledge graph. Is this the same, much loved graph approach built with the most frequently used mathematical methods? No information to answer that question is in my files, gentle reader.

My radar is directed at Bloomington, Indiana. Perhaps more information will become available on software’s ability to figure out if the Italian restaurant is real or the confection of real journalists. Note: The GOOG seems to be laboring in this vineyard was well. See this Bezos story.

What if—just hypothetical, of course—the “truth” methods can be spoofed by procedures more sophisticated that cooking up some half cooked tortellini? Those common numerical methods are pliable, based on my team’s research. Really flexible when it comes to what’s “truth.”

Stephen E Arnold, July 6, 2015

Google: Is This an X Lab for Real Journalists

June 23, 2015

I have a colleague who retired. The newspaper for which he worked continued to make like interesting for those over the age of 55. I assume that other real journalists have discovered that the appetite for those born after 1950 is changing. Bring on the younger journalism grads. YouTube savvy? Great. A high traffic blog about veganism? Come on down. A Web site which is magnet for python programmers? Hey, want to work for us?

When I read “Introducing the News Lab,” I had two different thoughts:

  1. What a great idea
  2. Quite a pool of unemployed, under employed, and want to be professionals to tap
  3. How many publishers are like hungry bass in a big lake at a fishing tournament?
  4. How many journalists know how to make Google’s system sing and dance like a top billing at a vaudeville show?

According to the write up:

It’s hard to think of a more important source of information in the world than quality journalism. At its best, news communicates truth to power, keeps societies free and open, and leads to more informed decision-making by people and leaders. In the past decade, better technology and an open Internet have led to a revolution in how news is created, distributed, and consumed. And given Google’s mission to ensure quality information is accessible and useful everywhere, we want to help ensure that innovation in news leads to a more informed, more democratic world.

There you go. What about the right to be forgotten, filtering, predictive search results, and ads? Once again I am mashing up the math club’s manifesto with reality.

The idea is that the journalists embracing the GOOG will use the GOOG to produce content. I learned:

There’s a revolution in data journalism happening in newsrooms today, as more data sets and more tools for analysis are allowing journalists to create insights that were never before possible. To help journalists use our data to offer a unique window to the world, last week we announced an update to our Google Trends platform. The new Google Trends provides journalists with deeper, broader, and real-time data, and incorporates feedback we collected from newsrooms and data journalists around the world. We’re also helping newsrooms around the world tell stories using data, with a daily feed of curated Google Trends based on the headlines of the day, and through partnerships with newsrooms on specific data experiments.

The attentive reader will notice that I have removed the numerous links in the article. Clicking around in the middle of an important article is not something I do nor encourage.

Will the News Lab deliver the benefits journalists expect and the benefit some folks need? Will Google “put wood behind” this initiative or will it suffer the same fate as Web Accelerator? Will the service generate more magnetism than the many news efforts nosing into the datasphere? Will publishers jump with glee because Google empowers new content?

No answers yet.

Stephen E Arnold, June 23, 2015

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