June 30, 2006

Plan less and communicate more

Some vaguely related ideas:

  • "Plan less and communicate more." This is the main message of The Waning Importance of Categorization by Espen Andersen is Ubiquity v7i19. The better and more accurate searching is, they less we need to make sure things are properly categorized. As a result, those that spend their time making sure things and information is properly categorized will become less important than those that make sure search is fast and effective. Also if we communicate more and get better information faster, we have to spend less time making sure that we know in advance what we want -- we can get it exactly when we want it.
    I am impressed with the thickness and size of the industries' blinkers. Only in the last months, I have I have met young journalists who do not read blogs or even know what they are, music industry executives who think the "copying problem" may be solved (here in Europe) because now customers can pay with their cell phones, textbook publishers who insist that highschoolers prefer paper textbooks, and publishing executives who wonder what kind of cookbooks they will produce in the future. (Answer: Those that can compete with standing in front of your fridge, entering its contents into Google, and picking one of the recipes that pop up. Search for "scallops wild mushrooms pepper" in Google, and see what I mean...)


    When I was young and wanted to go to town with friends, we had to agree to a time and place to meet beforehand. Today's kids go to town without dates, either by themselves or in small groups, and figure out what to do by rapidly communicating through text messaging or chat groups. Incidentally, lest you think this change is confined to the teens, notice what people do the next time you host a dinner party: Rather than ask for detailed directions up front, they will drive as close to your house as they can and then call on their cell phones, requesting guidance in real time. In short, ubiquitous, inexpensive and simple mobile telephone leads us to communicate rather than plan.
    Now, Anderson has some things totally wrong here, perhaps because he sees the world a bit too much through the blinkers of a business man rather than a consumer of culture. For example, people want a lot more out of cookbooks than simple recipes. They want ideas, techniques, inspiration, a window into another culture. Cookbooks will change, they won't disappear, in the face of easier ways to get simple recipes. Similarly, his "how to get to my friends house" bit is a bit silly. It may work when you only invite one person to your house, but what it you've invited ten? It seems to me to be rather inefficient to have ten people constantly calling your house, interupting each other on your call waiting, as they circle your neighbourhood trying to find your house. It seems to me an old fashioned map (or new fashioned GPS system) is far better than the silly anecdote he mentions.

  • The ubiquitous Scott McLemee has an article in a recent InsideHigherEd about university presses. He's reporting from the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses, gauging their reactions to the changing scholarly communications landscape. Blogs, wikis, open access, the list goes on. Those presses must be frantically trying to figure out what their best plans are going forward...right?
    Indeed, if you hang around younger scholars long enough, it is a matter of time before someone begins pointing out that the old model might be jettisoned entirely. Why spend two years waiting for your monograph to appear from Miskatonic University Press when it might be made available in a fraction of that time through some combination of new media, peer review, and print-on-demand? No one broached such utopian ideas at AAUP (where, of course, they would be viewed as dystopian). But they certainly do get mooted. Sometimes synergy is not your friend.


    For the longer term, the intent is clearly to shore up the role of the university press’s established standards in an environment that seems increasingly prone to blowing them away.

    “University presses,” the AAUP plan stresses, “are well positioned to be among the leaders in the academic community who help universities through a confusing and expensive new world. They can enhance the ability of scholars to research, add value to, and share their work with the broadest possible audiences, and they can help to develop intellectual property policies and behaviors sensible to all.”
    There's a distinct "deer in headlights" feel to the article.

  • In closing, a quote from Jacob Nielson, usability guru, on something we should remember as we hurtle into the reality 2.0. Neilson, talking about using blogs to create a conversation with users/customers/patrons:
    That will work only for the people who are most fanatic, who are engaged so much that they will go and check out these blogs all the time. There are definitely some people who do that -- they are a small fraction. A much larger part of the population is not into that so much. The Internet is not that important to them. It's a support tool for them. Bloggers tend to be all one extreme edge. It's really dangerous to design for a technical elite. We have to design for a broad majority of users.
    We have to build our systems, design our services, build our collections for all our users, no matter their level of technical knowledge or comfort level. That's the challenge, especially with limited resources, of stradling the edge, trying not to jump past your community and waste your time on things that won't be used, and also trying not to be left behind, in the dust, and losing a whole generation.

Update: Fixed a typo.

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