November 16, 2007

Update on eBooks and Cool Tools

Everybody's talking about the same things:

  • Collaborating on a data analysis project: students do the math with the Google Docs spreadsheet program is by Sandra Porter on Discovering Biology in a Digital World. The idea is to use the Google Docs Spreadsheets application for a whole class to participate collaboratively is some data analysis.
    Here's what we did:

    1. Before class, I set up the table for data entry.
    2. All my students went to and signed up for a gmail account (if they didn't already have one).
    3. I clicked the Share tab and entered a list of my students' gmail addresses.
    4. Then, I clicked Invite Collaborators to send an e-mail to the students.
    5. The students clicked the link in their e-mail to access the spread-sheet.
    6. They entered their results in the spread sheet, simultaneously, as they worked on identifying their bacteria via blastn. This went on during and between class periods.
    7. Then in the next class, I used the Sort function to sort data, show them what happened, and discuss some of the issues related to data analysis and bioinformatics, for example...

  • Kindling eBooks by Peter Brantley on O'Reilly Radar. It's about the new Amazon Kindling ebook reader. Read the whole thing, it's well worth it.
    I think, on reflection, that the comparison between audio (and video?) and book acquisition is less apt than it might seem at first glance. Given the extant media packaging within each sector, there was innately a higher barrier to the goal of acquisition and use in the music -- compared to the book -- industry, with the possible exception of a few select publishing markets. With growing digital options, the "LP album" as a compilation of tracks quickly became an obviously inefficient, undesirable bundling of content, screaming for disaggregation; perhaps the closest counterpart in the publishing industry, reference works including cookbooks, travel lit, dictionaries, and encyclopedias, have similarly and thoroughly escaped their legacy bounds; in these cases the conversion to print was not merely literal, but transformative.

    In contrast, when one considers long form narratives, whether fiction or non-fiction, there is less of an impetus to migrate from print use except for the possible advantage of portability and more extensive support for visually handicapped readers; on the flip side, there exist some non-trivial barriers (drm, format wars, etc.) to electronic access. Exceptions to this equation tend to be concentrated in areas where consumption modes are inherently mass-market, and where volume exists in transactions; Harlequin may well be the single most successful ebook publisher in the market today. Replicating their striking success through niche markets, or across smaller-impact imprints, is likely to prove difficult.

  • publishing after publishers by ben vershbow on if:book. If everyone is a content creator and can distribute their content with no barriers on the what's a publisher for, again?
    Eisler's right, though, that publishers need to start thinking hard about what they have to offer beyond distribution or else go the way of the dodo. But it won't just be the agents that replace them but a melange of evolved Web impresarios: bloggers, curators, list-server editors, social bookmarkers and other online tastemakers. But writers too will have to change to survive. The digital medium will provide more maneuverability and more potential reach, but less shelter and less of the hand-holding, buffering and insulation from their public that publishers traditionally provided when once upon a time they managed the production and distribution chain. In many cases, writers will have to work harder at being impresarios, developing public personae and maintaining a more direct communication with readers. They'll have to learn how to write all over again.

  • Pearson in Custom Textbook Test by Michael Cairns on PersonaNonData. Aha! Maybe a publisher can help us aggregate all the good stuff from all the little bits and pieces floating around out there.
    Custom publishing has been part of the fabric of academic publishing for many years but this appears to be a twist on an old play. With easier rights clearance via CCC perhaps this program will expand rapidly particularly in disciplines where the content changes frequently due to world events. The Australian equivalent of CCC (CAL) was barnstorming the US a number of years ago selling the concept of an on-line rights clearance and custom publishing solution that enabled the creation of textbooks from multiple sources all with rights appropriately cleared, a index and toc created, pages reformatted and sequential page numbering. It was an interesting proposal which was tried and tested in Australia but didn't get any traction here. Interestingly, CCC didn't take the bait either.

  • Publishing in Real Time: Wrox Stays Current with Near-Time via Wiley's Wrox Press uses wiki for new series of free online books by Peter Suber on Open Access News. And what the heck is a book anyways?
    Wrox Press, like many other digital companies, recognized that there are two main platforms driving the Web 2.0 movement: blogs and wikis. Through the company's new ASP3wiki, publishers can now discuss Beginning Active Server Pages 3.0 in a forum, thus opening up communication and engaging community members. "This is an important relationship and initiative for Wrox because it's our first venture into the world of wikis," says Joe Wikert, VP and executive publisher of Wrox. "Wrox has been firmly built upon community principles, hence our commitment to the extremely popular p2p forum on We believe wikis represent an interesting way for us to encourage and enable even more community participation with our content."

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