December 8th, 2011
even while hundreds of classic texts were becoming available online, free of charge, i found that i was buying more books than ever before. instead of randomly acquiring volumes that i happened to find, i was building comprehensive collections in multiple subject areas: no bookish desire went unfulfilled for long.
from “we’re still in love with books" (the chronicle of higher education)
November 11th, 2011
both craiglist and gmail are wildly successful at what they do, and they’ve both been good at what they do since they first started, so why is gmail forever changing while craigslist stays the same?
— from GOOD magazine, which i am increasingly drawn to after first discovering a copy in susan’s bathroom this summer! i’m not sure i’m satisfied with any of the answers, and maybe the real truth also has something to do with the fact that craigslist is a skeletally-staffed non-profit while gmail is just one arm of a profiteering behemoth; but i do like the suggestion that, despite the seemingly drastic changes to gmail in the new look, aesthetic change, for google designers, is most often about subtle and well-considered shifts rather than complete overhauls. after all, if it isn’t broke, why fix it? good food for thought.
October 4th, 2011
i don’t agree with everything in this piece, on post-artifact books and publishing, but it yields excellent food for thought. warning: set aside a good chunk of time to make it through; this is not your average exercise in linear reading/argumentation.

i don’t agree with everything in this piece, on post-artifact books and publishing, but it yields excellent food for thought. warning: set aside a good chunk of time to make it through; this is not your average exercise in linear reading/argumentation.

October 1st, 2011

(note: not *rare* book; this is the story of a guy who buys books @ $1.25 from the thrift store and sells them for a few bucks + $3.99 shipping on amazon — albeit a guy who has “4.9 stars over the past 12 months (1354 ratings, 100% positive)” on his seller page.) 

a fascinating insight into what intensive bookbuying (and bookselling) can do to one’s valuation and appreciation of books. 

August 25th, 2011

the answer is obvious… once you see it on your screen. if you read one thing today, read this piece. 

July 13th, 2011

a light but insightful piece in wired magazine on how several giant online companies — from apple to zynga — use basic consumer psychology to keep you coming back (and spending more). you might want to kick yourself for falling prey to such textbook ploys; but let’s face it, these companies are raking it in for a reason: millions more like you are doing the same things too.

July 12th, 2011

alberto manguel on “the lie-bree” (listen, you’ll see what i mean). 

July 10th, 2011
something about penguins seems to keep people coming back, seemingly endlessly, for more. maybe it is their ubiquity — for who has not owned an orange paperback (or twenty) in their “currently reading” section? maybe it is their nostalgic status — for who has not visited used bookshops only to be called to by their inviting titles, their slowly-fading spines, or their slightly-torn wrappers? or maybe it is their gentle, unobtrusive form — for who has not admired their bright and noticeable, yet simple and streamlined design, their clean sans serif spine text? no dust jackets or raised embossed text here; the social codes of the humble penguin paperback reign supreme.

something about penguins seems to keep people coming back, seemingly endlessly, for more. maybe it is their ubiquity — for who has not owned an orange paperback (or twenty) in their “currently reading” section? maybe it is their nostalgic status — for who has not visited used bookshops only to be called to by their inviting titles, their slowly-fading spines, or their slightly-torn wrappers? or maybe it is their gentle, unobtrusive form — for who has not admired their bright and noticeable, yet simple and streamlined design, their clean sans serif spine text? no dust jackets or raised embossed text here; the social codes of the humble penguin paperback reign supreme.

(via aveclivres)

June 3rd, 2011

lengthier than most pieces, this techcrunch guest post looks beyond the surface-level hype about groupon and its many competitors (great timing; google offers beta-launched just two days ago in portland, and groupon just filed paperwork in preparation for a $750m ipo) to flesh out the “$10 for $20” model in the context of the consumer and the merchant. groupon’s stratospheric growth has excited many competitors, who’ve jumped into the fray by offering the same 50% deals with little twists (deluxe merchants only, tell three friends and yours is free, acquire points for clicking deal links…) but honestly, the more details that emerge about how offering a coupon sank such-and-such small business, or how the yellow pages is getting into the act alongside livingsocial et al, the more i wonder how long this sort of high-intensity part-pyramid-part-ubiquity-based sales scheme can go on. after all, as the nyt’s david pogue usefully pointed out, $10 off is really not the end of the world.

(side note: google offers sold 1700+ coupons on its first day, and 95 coupons the second. oops.)

May 25th, 2011

in the world of collaborative everything, what does the future hold for the record of our collaborative vocabulary?

April 14th, 2011
digitization is only the latest in a long history of managing day-to-day affairs at libraries that is potentially destructive toward books.

from http://eightvo.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/book-destruction-pt-1-of-5a fine thoughtpiece by brooke palmieri, current bookseller, former colleague, always bibliophile. 

i remember seeing an exhibit at penn which talked of librarians being a source of damage to books. oh, yes indeed!

must. read. the rest of this blog…

March 15th, 2011

on #hashtags

it occurred to me as i tagged my last post that twitter and tumblr have been very liberating ways in which to write. my blogger practice of applying tags to posts required me to pre-construct my universe of possible tags, so that i could pick and choose from a set of defined categories but was always momentarily consumed by helpless frustration when i needed to implement a new one and didn’t want to go back and retro-tag.

the twitter-borne hashtag, by contrast, was fungible and malleable, both in purpose and in form. it allowed you to compress whatever you were thinking, or thinking about, into one or a few words — “#fail”, “#sxsw”, “awesomething”, and “#thingsidontcareabout” come to mind. you could be ironic, or form a community, or construct a category on the go, participate in a meme, simply by using (or, quite often, creating) a hashtag. the means of communication bends to your will, to your structures, even to your feelings.

the fact that these hashtags, unless they ride a wave into popularity and become trends, disappear with the flow of your tweets means that although you’ve made them up and used them, you don’t have to keep doing so. their usefulness is in their ephemerality and the ability to generate/use only what you need in the immediate 140-character countdown situation. (ubersocial, and perhaps other clients too, track what you’ve used before, and suggest options as you type.) 

i find that my use of tumblr hashtags mirrors this — i *think* i could get access to a full dropdown list, but don’t quite know how to view it; the web app auto-completes for me but but don’t quite know how to employ it seamlessly so i don’t end up with two hashtags, one incomplete (“callig”) and one complete (“calligraphy”), after i select from the menu. it also enables me to write more freely, to make up portmanteau tags on the fly (e.g., “thoughtpieces”), and to take my posts in different directions (both in terms of material and reactions to that material), without having to adhere to the limits of a formal set of predetermined tags. i mean, it’s not there’s a sidebar full of hashtags to click on and read all related posts, is there? i think tumblr (and twitter) are encouraging a very different, more discontinuous and fragmented, reading ecosystem here.

this might be analogous to the difference between searching using library of congress subject headings and searching using keywords.

March 14th, 2011

time travel

watching movies at home already allowed the viewer a lot of control over media: one could rewind, pause, fast-forward at will, and control the speed (and duration) of the media consumption experience — no need to be a slave to cinema timings, and if you missed a scene or a line of dialogue you could easily manipulate the reel and catch up on what you missed.

the advent of TV shows on DVD, and the DVR box, has put even more power in the hands of the viewer. now, even if you’re watching the latest season of something, you don’t have to be present and/or attentive when the show is being telecast live — you can simply record and preserve it for later viewing. and what’s even more important, you don’t have to wait an entire week for the next installment. 

i watched most of “friends”, “sex and the city”, and “grey’s anatomy” at this new, recording-enabled faster pace, which i think made for better connections to the characters (since i remembered more details and spent my time with them in longer spells rather than 30- or 60-minute bursts). doing the same thing with “24”, though, made for a pretty intense viewing experience; while i didn’t have to wait 7 days between episodes to follow jack bauer’s latest antics, the instant gratification also meant cumulative stress, sort of like being part of a CTU operation in real-time. and the time element of the show itself (“the following takes place between 8:00am and 9:00am”) was also a mind-twister, since i’d often watch these “daytime” episodes at night, and since the commercial breaks forcibly deprived me of 3-5 minutes at a time of the characters’ lives… without any actual commercials. 

February 24th, 2011

the universe is expanding

the idea that google, and the wayback machine — and all those other search engines that pride themselves on being current with the internet — have to crawl endlessly, and more and more often, to pick up on all the many many changes in the architecture and content of the web is really fascinating.

we all know, of course, that the internet is growing at a frenetic pace; people are uploading and sharing millions of videos, billions of photos, and trillions of bytes of text as

  • more and more people gain access to the web (thus making a good case for higher and more frequent use: if your grandmother suddenly got internet access, wouldn’t you want to send her more photos of yourself?)
  • it becomes *easier* to create, share, and access content (both in terms of hardware: smartphones, laptops, the ipad, even cheap digital cameras and ripped CDs and USB everything… and software: instagram, facebook, picasa, flickr, twittr, tumblr…)  
  • the residence paradigm for content shifts from the personal storage device (floppy disk, hard drive, external drive) to the cloud (dropbox, google docs/picasa, mobileme, plus the abovenamed services…)

to cycle back for a sec, take, also, a non-search-engine example as food for thought: the library of congress has committed to archiving all public tweets. but the vast growth from the number of tweets back in 2007 to the number of tweets today means that they’d have to keep looking, keep chasing, keep downloading, faster and faster and faster…

of course, not everyone is publicly harrowed about the rapid pace of change: google’s web crawlers, at least, operate on a somewhat secret, presumably steady schedule; their domination of the search market means that web-content-makers will wait patiently until the next time the spiders visit — and they’re presumably doing a good enough job that websearchers out there still come back to google for their search work.

but as the amount of *new* searchable content out there, and even the *types* of searchable content (just think about all the ephemeral/immediate-access-required genres — news stories, local businesses, deals, images, flight itineraries, tweets, books/articles — that google has added to its search results over the years…) grow exponentially, google has to keep up somehow, no? (of course, there is some outdated stuff out there; just search for google maps images of places before and after natural disasters… but more often than not, google, or its competitors, are on top of things. and, as i just commented, they’re even adding new kinds of things! (see: digitization.)) 

to move from “how much” to “what”: machines don’t think about what to archive; they want it all. there’s no difference, in a sense, between the hashtag #jan25 (demarcating tweets about the recent egyptian revolution) and the hashtag #fail (which might commemorate any number of ironic goofups, big and small, in the lives of regular people). everyone [who wants to be found and recorded] is found and recorded, and this makes the internet a very public, very democratic space.

but then there’s the rather more complicated question of indexing, of making *sense* of all that data, of making it accessible: first, either parsing the new stuff into known categories, or rearranging everything in new ways — and then guaranteeing that the content is quickly and equitably reachable. (think back to analog: what’s the point of hoarding boxes of papers if no-one knows what’s in any given box, and if finding something in a given box means having to look through every box?)

and that begs the question: who’s organizing it all? who thinks up, and designs, and pays for, storage, and curation, and assurance of access in perpetuity? into whose hands should we entrust the responsibility for our collective information legacy? sure, it’s usually corporations that can throw good money at these sorts of problems — one google engineer i talked to recently commented that the google search engine backend has had to be entirely rebuilt twice during his time at the company, because it was really hard to keep using an outdated product (or is google search more a service?) in entirely new circumstances… but the monopoly google’s own innovative nature has allowed it to gain is also unnerving to advocates of disinterested parties being the gatekeepers to the world’s information. google is, after all — in the words of another employee i talked to recently — a very large and very profitable advertising company.     

sometimes the density and complexity of the information/data/knowledge soup we’re swimming in (not to mention the size of the soup bowl) feels very overwhelming.

and that’s why this blog.