Publishing and content

Google and book publishers prepare to battle

CNet reports on the looming battle between Google and book publishers, who are outraged that the search company intends to scan millions of books and make them available to search online.

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Google + Sun = World Domination?

Google's new partnership with Sun is creating a lot of speculation, in part because the details of the agreement are quite vague. Sun has agreed to download the Google Toolbar with every copy of Sun's Java software. The Google Toolbar is unpopular with a lot of net folks (including me) because it actually inserts links into a Web document where there were none. In other words, the Toolbar changes the meaning of a Web page without the author's permission. And the links, of course, point to Google content.

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Bloggers fight free speech restrictions

In a perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, a Federal campaign reform law has created confusion about whether or not it applies to blogs, which are normally written by just one or perhaps a handful of people.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) officials don't even agree on what is correct. Some commissioners think bloggers and Internet campaigning generally are exempt, and others disagree.

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Google tramples on authors

Google is coming under increasing fire for its controversial book scanning project. The company is scanning hundreds of thousands of books from several major university libraries, with the intention of making the searchable and viewable on the Web. Each viewed page will, of course, have Google ads.

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Massachusetts says "No" to Microsoft

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is considering a move away from Microsoft Office and toward Open Source products like Open Office.

Microsoft's proprietary XML formats that are being used in current and future versions of Office to store Word and Excel documents, among others, are licensed to users. What this means, basically, is that you have the right to open and use your own Word documents only as long as Microsoft allows you to.

The state government of Massachusetts is worried, and rightly so, that public documents may become inaccessible either legally (if in the future the state does not continue to renew MS software licenses) or may become incompatible and therefore unreadable because MS has changed document formats.

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More thinking different

While the music industry plays the fiddle as their 20th century distribution model burns down, some bands are not waiting around. A band called Sexohol from Los Angeles has come up with some pretty interesting ideas.

If you go to their Web site, you can buy an Apple iPod Shuffle for just $10 more than what Apple charges. It comes pre-loaded with an album of songs from the band that you can load right into iTunes (Mac and Windows) or into other digital music systems.

Want to hear what the band sounds like before buying? You can download a free Dashboard widget for Macs that streams one of the band songs right onto your computer. This is especially clever because the widget (just a small piece of software) allows the band to distribute a "click to play" version of their song without actually distributing the song itself (because it is streamed from a server).

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Franchise-free Internet TV

While the 20th century telecom dinosaurs are fighting it out in places like Texas for 20th century legal rights to 20th century content distribution, the 'net is quietly solving the problem.

An Open Source effort (FOSS is becoming the accepted acronym--Free and Open Source Software) is building the 21st century video distribution system, called DTV. Participatory Culture is putting together a seamless, easy to use, end to end video distribution and viewing system that is completely free, requires no franchise fees, and can deliver any quality of video, up to and including HD TV. The software is currently in beta release, but the interface for the Mac version is excellent and easy to use. It supports downloading for later viewing, so you don't have to watch at any particular time. In other words, it is a personal Tivo-style system, but with a much wider range of material from many more sources.

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Blogs--the best is yet to come

There is much conversation in the blogger world about the latest Technorati announcement that the blog-tracking service monitors 14 million blogs, or about double the number tracked at the beginning of the year.

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ISP blocks Web site

Telus, the Canadian phone and ISP giant, has been blocking access to a Telus employee-sponsored Web site. Telus is in negotiations with their employee union, and no Telus customer using the company's Internet access services can view the Web site.

Telus claims that the site is publishing company confidential information and encouraging people to clog support lines with bogus service complaints.

But if those two claims are true, the company could pursue legal remedies. If the company can prove to a judge that confidential information is on the site (which should be trivially easy), a court order could force the shutdown of the site--legally.

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Microsoft works with Communist government

It's hard to believe, but Microsoft's mainland China Web site scolds you if you type the words "freedom" or "democracy," or the phrase "human rights." The U.S. software company hosts a large Web site that provides free blogs to Chinese users, and software on the site monitors everything that is typed in. Offending words and phrases cause a window to pop up with a warning that the posting may be deleted if the user does not remove the "offending" words.

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Downloadable radio

Wired reports that a San Francisco AM radio station is going to an all-podcast format. The station is inviting people to create their own content and send it to the station, which will screen it and then make it available for download.

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The future of television

USA Today has an excellent article that summarizes the current debate moving through the courts about the future of cable television and the future of video programming generally. As usual, the FCC has muddied the waters here, with statements and policy decisions that seem to favor both sides of the argument.

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Befuddled San Francisco officials

The Internet continues to create earthquakes across the entire spectrum of society as established ways of doing things crumble under the unprecedented publishing capabilites of Internet-enabled information tools.

Elected officials, who have enjoyed a close relationship with mainstream media over the decades, are becoming increasing irrational over blogs. While the media has often had an adversarial relationship with elected leaders of one stripe or another, those elected leaders, the media, and political parties all have tended to play by a set of well-understood rules (I'm generalizing here--there are obvious exceptions).

But blogs have changed all that. Bloggers, publishing their own commentary for a worldwide audience (albeit often a small one), don't have to play by traditional rules. The blogosphere is creating an entirely new set of rules, and some politicians don't like it.

San Francisco leaders have introduced city legislation that would require bloggers to register with the city if they write about politics and candidates. What on earth are they thinking? Do they really think they can stifle criticism of city leaders and policies with this kind of heavy-handed approach?

To illustrate just how absurd this is, a transnational fight over publishing is brewing. Excerpts from a secret government hearing in Canada that allegedly is investigating fraud on the part of government officials has been published on a U.S. Web site, and Canadian leaders are seething because they can't do anything about it.

It's not at all clear who, if anyone, has committed a crime. The ban forbids publication. So the Canadian that passed the documents on may not have broken the law, and the American blog is not subject to Canadian law at all.

Ethics and the lack of them certainly play a role here, but it's always been difficult to legislate moral or ethical behavior.

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NC paper blogs--will it work?

A North Carolina paper has jumped feet first into blogging the news, with 11 news feeds written by reporters and staffers on the paper. The Greenboro News and Record thinks that the paper has no choice but to do this. I agree, as I wrote recently about this issue.

I've always thought the Web has great potential for newspapers, but they have to begin to see their role for what it really is--editing and writing, not printing black marks on paper. The Web is pure writing, and it frees newspapers to do that really well. Combined with the growing viability of advertising on the Web, newspapers can have a future.

But the most interesting thing in the article was that a newspaper is blogging. From the article:

Night cops reporter Eric Townsend, a 26-year-old who also contributes to a blog about traffic, said he's happy to post to the blog, but he thinks declining newspaper readership among the young is more a symptom of a decline in civic engagement than anything else. "Young people don't have a sense of involvement, a sense of community," he said. "It doesn't matter how many 'young' stories we do. I don't think blogs are the answer either."

What I see in under 30 people is an unhealthy attachment to their devices--their cellphones, their music players, their Gameboys--that keeps them tuned out and turned off from the world around them. Next time you walk down a town street, look at how many young people have on earphones--earphones that are blocking out the real world in favor of a world that they can manipulate.

Is this phenomenon important? It's too early to tell. But I do notice, as do many of my colleagues, the absence of young people at town meetings convened to talk about the future of the community. The ones that do show up are bright and engaged, and have typically have a lot to contribute.

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Newspapers are in a death spiral

CNet has an article about the future of newspapers. It says that some papers, like the New York Times, have more people reading the paper online than on paper. But the papers are mad because they are giving away the content for free. They want to start charging for online subscriptions (note that a few papers, like the Wall Street Journal, have been doing this for years).

The papers have it wrong in several ways. In the first place, it's ads that cover most of the cost of newspapers, not subscriptions. An online edition has essentially zero distribution costs, compared to the massive expense required to print news on paper and distribute those paper copies. With the boom in online advertising, it seems like better ad management might actually make online newspapers profitable. But you'd have to let go of the idea that "real" news is better on paper.

The other problem most papers have is that their capacity to generate original news is extremely limited. Many mid-size local papers simply fill their pages with AP reprints, and sprinkle in a few local articles along the way. I'd like to see a paper embrace the blogging model, where you simply turn reporters loose with a well-designed blog framework. If you did so, you could fire most of the editors, who have a limited function in an online edition. The original purpose of editors was to decide what "fit," literally, in the paper. You don't need editors in the same way because you don't have limits in online publishing. Editors could still fill a vital function by keeping reporters focused and by identifying important stories, but my guess is most mid-size city papers could get by with just a couple of editors--and could cut costs substantially.

But I think some papers would rather go out of business first. Blogging is a tool, not a medium, and it's a tool that would work well for newspapers

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