mint jelly

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Disinitermediation Era and the ELO

This is the beginning of The Disintermediation Era, according to Tara Hunt at horsepigcow.com. If your job is based on managing a false scarcity of information, she writes, you’re screwed. Originally, the role of middle man was to facilitate, to introduce and provide, but today “these middle-men are our modern villains — using every desperate trick in the book to hold onto customers while we find creative ways to go around them, go straight to the source and sometimes just do it ourselves.”

We’ve all been wondering what the future will look like, some for longer than others. Michael Hart, former editor and founder of Project Gutenburg has been trying to digitize books since the early 1970’s. The goal is to have digitized 10 million eBooks translated into 100 different languages, one billion ebooks, by 2030.

Hart sound remarkably relaxed for someone who’s been at it for almost four decades:

Well, from 1971 to 1988-89 no one paid any attention so it was just me with tilting at windmills, but I knew eBooks and eLibraries should be two of the great wonders of an entirely new world, so I was never tempted to give up–never. I just had to wait for the world to catch up.

Believe it or not people were still saying eBooks were never going to make it just a few years ago. Look for a quote in the Wall St. Journal: “Ebooks are never going to make it.” Before that the NY Times: look for: “twitchy” screen. However now that it’s obvious they are moving eBooks on their own, but I can’t tell how serious they are. They may just be following the rule of simple reporting: “Follow The Money.” If eBooks fall flat will they all just move on and pretend there was never any interest?

The first goal of PG was just to prove eBooks feasible. My own estimations were that it would take about 10,000, and that seems to have proved correct as Google called me in to advise them ASAP after we hit 10,000, and we went to do just that on December 14, 2003: and they announced they had invented eBooks and eLibraries December 14, 2004. However, they did the opposite, or rather exact opposite of what I said they should do and look what happened. Most of the big legal fray is because they were more money oriented, and as such may have intentionally played the copyright cards that got them in the big legal hassles. If they had started out by emphasizing the public domain it probably would have worked out a lot better for them in the press as the good will they would have built up would have gone a long way.

Personally, I am OK with nearly any eBook format that is compact and search quote friendly.

I am very down with Gutenburg’s goals, and very attuned to Hart’s fears and projections:

The laws will be tested as it becomes more and more obvious that there is no longer any copyright expiration…ever…permanent copyright!

It will cost more than Iraq, more than Wall St. Each 20 years of copyright extension removes a million public domain books, not to mention newspapers, magazines, music, movies, etc., etc., etc. If you count a lifetime of access to one of those million books worth $.01, then think how much it costs 300 million people to lose a million books each, as public domain, for their entire lifetimes.

The powers that be don’t want a very literate well educated public. Did you ever watch Roots? Remember the slave who went to Harvard Law School??

I’m afraid that the following catch phrase will take on ever more meaning:

“The Information Age: For Whom? Only Those Who Can Pay For It?”

The goal of Project Gutenberg has always been to create “An Information Age” not as something on the order of “The Digital Divide,” but something greater in terms of bringing literacy and education to the masses free of all charge and in a way the vast majority can access instantly.

Be sure to read the whole article, especially if, like me, you’ve become a bit obsessed with the question of who owns what pieces of information (publishers? google? authors/musicians/artists?), what happens between creator and audience, and what happens to the creation once it’s out in the world for a while. How can people get paid for their work, and how can they share, gain, or provide some sort of larger benefit through their work?

The answer (or beginnings of an answer) whether this is something we feel as a fluttering in our bellies or as an ache in our bones, exists somewhere near social publishing and crowd-sourcing.

At the same time, formally untapped audiences and contributors previously denied access to publishing’s pipeline aren’t just “seizing the tools of production” they’re also reclaiming public speech and communication — the means by which they can create and promote work (which up until recently was dominated by highly groomed and targeted messages, bought and paid for by corporate gatekeepers. Knowing this, marketers have been trying for years to blend their bottom-line messages in info-tainment, edu-tainment, or playing ventriloquist through media channels huge and tiny). There’s no more bulk rate for junk mail and another rate for a civilian’s greeting cards, there’s the broadcast potential of the internet.


I probably shouldn’t write while listening to relatively obscure older punk rock (operation ivy and fifteen) that’s triggering a simultaneous offline conversation about what it meant to rely on one’s social circle and geo-location to find new ideas and culture (for example, being 14 years old in 1989, finding via mixtape and word-of-mouth)... if I can get out of my own way for a sec, I’m trying to eventually point you to Poetryspeaks.

Via Publishers Weekly, I’ve finally checked out Poetryspeaks.com and it sounds like a boon for poets, publishers, and poetry lovers. I think poets will also have a better shot at selling their works when audiences can buy as few or as many as they’d like from a variety of poets. I can see people being very interested in buying poetry “mixtapes.”

The Web site features three different sections—PS Voices, SpokenWord and YourMic—designed to create an online community that will let poets manage their own information page and provide a channel for published and unpublished poets to download material and to sell both print and digital works. “We want to bring poetry to as broad a group of consumers as possible,” said Raccah.

Sites like this, where you can find many poets rather than just an individual poet’s site, will start to serve the whole ecology better. I’ll be able to find poets through serendipity and browsing as well as search,. Meanwhile, more poets and the users benefit from the latest technological innovations that allow them more easily handle things like ecommerce and multimedia and on-demand print distribution.

I have just begun to read and think about contributions to The Electronic Literature Organization but I am their huckleberry, for whatever they want of me. I love a good mission statement, “To facilitate and promote the writing, publishing, and reading of literature in electronic media.”

Man, Joy Division is so good. Sorry… still with the music playing in the background here. I can’t really write and listen to music at the same time. Apologies for the stilted/patched nature of this post.

And for anyone interested, I uploaded some photos from the Intro to Electronics class at NYC Resistor. Out of nowhere my friend Kosta was there, and I got to hang with Kio and look at her fully functioning board when I got confused. It was so fun, I’ll have to play with the kit Raphael let us take home to practice with, and ask again about taking an old power plug apart before I blow up the house.

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