PUB802: Reflection

Overall I found this course very informative and educational. While I enjoyed the opportunity to lead the class, and thoroughly enjoyed the other teams’ class lead, I was disappointed that we had to come up with our own syllabus. I struggled to decide what should be removed, replaced, added, or shuffled to the already existing syllabus. The phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” comes to mind, and in an institutional setting I usually come in expecting to be told what I don’t know, and for those gaps to be filled in. When there is so much wiggle room to learn anything we want, I am left wondering if there was something that got missed along the way.

 

I did appreciate the grade contracting. I feel that publicly committing to a grade early on served as a constant reminder to do the best that I could. Likewise, I enjoyed the peer review aspect of the blog posts. While writing an essay with an audience of one has its uses, having the class give feedback and judge each blog post likely changed my writing style as well as my perspective when writing the posts. I was grateful for the feedback that the class gave on mine and Anna’s class lead, and I was happy to be able to provide feedback for the other teams.

 

One of my favorite aspects of the course was the use of Hypothes.is. It generated fantastic discussion with the class, and actually made the readings more enjoyable. I looked forward to finding something to comment on, as well as finding ways that I could reply to my classmates’ comments in a constructive manner. It would have been nice to have an email notification from Hypothes.is of new comments or replies on the articles, but I understand that that is a work in progress. I will definitely keep the app installed, since I have already noticed some articles that have public comments and annotations, and I think it is interesting to see what the public has to say!

 

I would have liked to have a clearer understanding of what assignments and participation were worth, marks-wise. There was a clear distinction that points would be deducted for late blog posts/missed classes/etc, but it was unclear how much each aspect was worth in the first place. Likewise, I would have preferred if the public contribution to knowledge was a little more structured. I struggled to come up with a way in which I could “contribute to knowledge.” I was unsure what would count besides editing a Wikipedia article, as well as what subject matter I was able to talk about.

 

Overall I would say that I enjoyed the course, and it definitely broadened my curiosities! I feel I have a little bit more knowledge about copyright, I am glad I learned about Creative Commons, and I am excited to see where the world of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will take us!

 

Public Posts = Public Conversation, Deal With It

Yes, I believe that audiences should be allowed to interact with a text, but only through the margins, unless it is a defined creative or evolving space like Wikipedia where it is expected that the content may change over time by readers. By allowing comments and interaction with other readers, people can find community, have healthy and friendly debates, and be pushed to think about their views and the views of others. It is a way of extending learning through the discussion of writing and reading.

Granted, not all comments are good comments. Audiences should be limited only in the sense of not being able to troll or spam users (either writers or other people commenting) with unrelated comments or abuse on a text. Plugins like Hypothes.is, it seems, are generally being used by like-minded, curious, and educated people who want to open discussion about different types of thought — the communication appears to be mostly civilized. If authors really were experiencing trolling and spamming through plugins like this, it could be a development of future editions of the plugins to have a scanner that detects fake posts and doesn’t allow them to be posted (again, only with the exception of spam text).

All that being said, I think that writers do not have the right to define who can comment on their text. It may seem at first glance that a simple solution would be to ban all commenting on a text, like Audrey Watter’s post, Un-Annotated. However, by banning all comments and discussion, not only do writers challenge the right to free speech, but drastically cut any chance of their texts building that sense of community, trust, and even following. Posts and articles become “talking at” a person, rather than “talking with” a person. In reading Watter’s post, I immediately felt that she was rude, self-centered, egotistical, and rude, to use polite words. Why would I want to read someone’s article or post when they have such an ego that they don’t think that other people’s comments are valid or important? By making their writing public they are subjecting it to public critique, and people are going to talk about it whether the author likes it or not. If no one is allowed to discuss the piece because the author is too lazy or finds it to difficult to either monitor the comments or relinquish control altogether, they probably shouldn’t be making their writing public.

Not the Publisher’s Problem

Most publishers are not your undergrad’s English Lit prof. They don’t care if a book is understood on a deep, intrinsic, life changing level. They only care if the book sells. There may be small independent publishers that serve a niche need or are publishing passion projects, bu at the end of the day if a book doesn’t sell (for whatever reason) the publisher is going to go out of business.

There are many reasons why books sell. It’s pretty; it’s unorthadox; it’s a conversation piece; it was recommended by a friend; the person wants to look smart; they need a couple chapters of it for school. So too are there many reasons why eBooks sell. It’s convenient; it’s a space-saver; it’s cheaper. But whatever reason it sells for, the point is that it sells and the publisher makes their money. The publisher doesn’t care if you read the book to the end, or put it down after the second chapter and never pick it up again. Why would they? They already have your money.

Publishers, it is important to remember, will publish via whatever platform is available. Paperback, hardcover, eReader…if scrolls were still used as a way of housing the written word, you could probably find them at Indigo. But so far all we have are eReaders or computers for digital text. Therefor, it is down to the producers of the eReaders to adjust the technology so that there is not a decrease in understanding or retention of content. Publishers can then adjust the way they design an eBook by using the specs required for the unit. Maybe it’s about changing the way the “paper” looks, or adding a layered mechanism that allows a reader to turn a “page”, or incorporating better ways to be able to highlight and make marginal notes. Perhaps publishers and eReader designers can work together more to find solutions to better translate a physical object into a digital rendition.

That being said, companies like Kobo and Amazon’s Kindle are, like publishers, still making money from the sales of their products, so it’s hard to say how much they care either. But they probably should, because any eReader that people actually want to read from, study from or retain what it is they’re reading would probably soar ahead of the “traditional” models. Like the iMacs of the late ‘90s, eReaders are relatively young, so there is likely going to be a drastic shift in how eReaders are designed, which is good news for the people who want to actually understand and remember what it is they are reading.

Tracking for Manuscripts

If tracking were to be used to enhance publishing practice, I would develop a system that allowed unknown/unpublished authors a chance to make their way to the forefront. I would take data from sites like GoodReads, or WhatShouldIReadNext.com, as well as other places for book reviews, such as Amazon. I would (or rather, the technology would) search for phrases like “I liked this book because…” or “the (blank) didn’t resonate with me” — descriptive phrases that gave concrete examples of what worked in the book and what didn’t. This would amass a database of certain ebbs and flows of plot, character, theme, etc. A manuscript could then be scanned into they system and the computer would search for similar ebbs and flows: Are there repeated romance themes in what is supposed to be a horror novel? Is there variety in dialog tags? How many action scenes are there? Which words get repeated the most (e.g. ‘sad’, ‘cried’, ‘whimpered’)? The program could then take that information and find comparable books and give a range of what was most successful and least successful, and why readers liked or disliked it.

This could be used in tandem with software that tracks trends in bestseller book sales. For example, if what is “in” in a particular season is dystopian young adult novels, the public might not notice a quirky, modern day love story about two tennis players. Or the audience might be tiring of the dystopian theme and be ready for it. It would all depend on timing, which a trend tracker would be able to plot. A trend tracker like this would take data from bookstores like Indigo, and (if they could get their hands on the data) Amazon.

This is not to say that the data collected and used to analyze a new manuscript would then make a guaranteed call. But the process could help unknown publishers get their books noticed a little bit more by acquisitions. It is important to note that in this hypothetical situation it would be only new authors that get put through the analyzation. As has been discussed before, a best selling author is more likely to keep producing best sellers, so they already have a better stamp of guarantee on their work, for better or worse.

The technology may always be a little bit flawed, but it just might make task of picking out the best bets in a stack of manuscripts that need more work (or that the world isn’t ready for, or has seen enough of) just a little bit easier.

Reader Data By Readers

#S18W8

To capture the best data about readers’ impressions of books they read, I think it is important to get as much information from the reader themselves. Assumptions should not be made about what attracts each individual to a book, as differences between readers/individuals can be so vast. I might be attracted to a book by its cover, where as another reader would want to read the same book because of the author and couldn’t care less about the cover image.

I would develop an survey-like app that consists of questions and sliding scales. The data could then be taken from the app and analyzed. The survey would include questions like “Would you recommend the book to a friend?”, “How much did the cover design attract your attention or make you curious about the book?”, “How dynamic did you find the main character,” etc. It would be important to try and find out why the reader was attracted to the book in the first place, what kept them reading, and how satisfied they were with the ending. I would also try to find out why they stopped reading it if the reader did not make it to the end. Bonus questions could include questions about the price point of the book and if they received the book as a gift, borrowed from a library, or bought from a bookstore (and if so, a new or used bookstore).

The use of a sliding scale would be put in place so that unless the user wanted to (by clicking on an ‘add more’ type of button), they would not have to type out the answers, which could be a lengthy process and deter some people from reviewing at all. A tappable sliding scale would save much more time for the user and encourage them to review the book quickly after reading it. Users could also be encouraged to review books by offering a point system with sponsor or partner companies. For example, each review could be worth 5 points, and with 1,000 points the reader could receive a $10 gift card to Indigo.

In addition, after each review the app could generate an “overall rating” score (e.g. “8.5 out of 10”), and then suggest 3-5 books the reader may be interested in, based on their feedback, likes, and dislikes.

By collecting this type of data, publishers (and specifically marketers) could determine better ways to target and market to their audience, as well as determine what elements of a book work for certain readers and does not work for others. The information gathered could help publishers make decisions on which books to take risks on in the future, if similar books are well-received.

The Publishing Process Needs People

#S18W7

To take a more lighthearted approach to the possibility of Artificial Intelligence integrating into publishing, I think it is entirely possible that real books could and would be written entirely through predictive text. It has already been done with “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash,” and while it may serve a more comical use, I would not be surprised to see predictive text used outside of fan fiction. That being said, humans must still play a big role in the production of such a book. From editors, designers, to the person in acquisitions deciding if the result is even worthwhile, humans will remain necessary in the publishing process.

The alarmists of the world may fear that writing with predictive text is a slippery slope leading only to a future that does away with authors altogether, replacing them with computers who can spit out thousands of books by the day, having been written solely with predictive-text-like technology, but that is realistically unlikely. At worst, AI may require copy editors, substantive editors, and designers to up their games and refine their skills. A computer may be able to scan a document and fact check against Google, but real eyes will still be required to ensure that a text flows, is logical, and is even emotional to the correct degrees.

As AI continues to develop, and the machine translation technology behind apps like Google Translate evolves and improves, it is possible that in order to save money, publishers will turn to apps to translate books into other languages. This would save time and money, but it is important to remember that any quality company must not rely on technology when it comes to translation. Eyes of human native speakers (or very experienced human translators) must still have the opportunity to review each document. Failure to do so by relying solely on a computer runs the risk of mistranslations, misunderstandings, and ultimately a bad experience for the reader.

Overall, Artificial Intelligence may speed up some publishing processes (e.g. using voice commands in design projects) , and may provide humerous results for others (e.g. stories resulting from only using predictive text), but the human touch is something that simply cannot be replaced by wires, data, or CPUs.

 

Evolution to a Network

I don’t think that the new internet business models that remove barriers to publishing and content are necessarily detrimental to the publishing business. The only way internet business models would be detrimental would be if publishers refused to evolve and grow with the times and technology, and refused to reevaluate their own positions in the market.

I don’t know what the exact solution is in order for publishers to stay in the game, but perhaps it is their role in the publishing process that needs to change. Publishers, more often than not, have an extensive network of editors, designers, publicists, etc, that authors could tap into to give their own book the edge over the plethora of books that are being independently produced and designed, for instance by the author themselves. Rather than being gatekeepers, publishers could become a network collective, guiding and assisting people who feel they need the extra assistance.

If I were an average Joe (forgetting all my mPub knowledge), I would feel daunted if I wrote a book and tried to publish myself. As Kitterage stated in their article, “There is a massive oversupply of books, and marketing them to increasingly distracted consumers is an incredibly steep hill to climb.” This is obviously not to say that it can’t be done on one’s own — there are thousands of books on the contrary. But if I want to fight through the crowd to make my way to the front row, I would feel foolish if I didn’t ask for some help along the way. I may still want to be a self-publisher, but I would want to find a someone in a network of marketers that know more than I do and can either guide me in the steps to make myself, or make them for me. Perhaps that’s through sponsorship, but without the help of a publishing house (in the sense of them evolving into a network to assist the public) my book wouldn’t necessarily reach as far as it could.

In order to survive (and have any chance of thriving) publishers will need to reduce their costs so that they can compete with the individuals who are going elsewhere. Perhaps by having pick-and-choose professional service packages, they may be able to better cater to each individual author’s needs, and allow themselves time to reestablish their footing in the publishing game.

#S18W6

Copyright Check Ins

It seems as though there is no easy answer when it comes to copyright law. Some believe that copyright on a creation should run indefinitely, with no need to renew. Some believe that a creation’s copyright should be renewed every 5 years, to ensure that creators do not abandon their work and make it seemingly impossible for others to legally use the work (as creators cannot be contacted to give permission).

Currently, copyright law in Canada extends to life of the author plus 50 years after his or her death. Many problems arise when creators go missing, leaving orphan works behind. Individuals who want to use these orphan creations in other formats often fear persecution should they be caught using the material without permission.

While I see no problem with copyright extending to life plus 50 years after death, there needs to be a more evolved process for avoiding orphan works. While copyright need not be renewed periodically, creators should be required to “check in” with their works, acknowledging that, yes, they are still claiming the work as theirs and require requests for permission to use the material, and update their contact information if need be so people interested in using the material can reach the creator and ask for permissions. These check ins could be reflected in the cost of of registering a copyright. Currently, filing an application for copyright registration for a work or other subject-matter in Canada via the CIPO website is $50 CDN. Filing an application by fax or mail is $65 CDN.” If a creator signed a contract to check in with their work on a yearly basis, the registration fee could be decreased, perhaps to only $25. If a creator only signed on to check in with their work every 5 or 10 years, the cost of registration would increase. If a check in was missed, a penalty fee would be charged to the creator. By having a monetary incentive, creators would likely be more motivated to not leave their works behind. Other creators who may want to use copyrighted material would no longer have to abandon projects because of M.I.A. copyright owners, or live in fear of getting sued for using orphan works.

 

–Jesse Savage

So Long, Facebook

Out of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, if one had to disappear, I think it would most likely be Facebook. Google, Amazon, and Apple are – in and of themselves – unique services that have dominated to such a degree that they face little competition.

Google dominates the search engine market with 64.5% of the US market share. In contrast, Bing (and Yahoo – powered by Bing), comes in at only 32.6%. While the debate between Google and Bing users is strong, there is no denying that Google, for whatever reasons (popularity, design, verbage, etc), is the primary search engine used by most individuals. Add all of Google’s branches, including branded tools such as Google Drive, or sites Google is parent to such as YouTube, and Google probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Likewise, Amazon has dominated the online shopping market. With over 65 million Prime members worldwide (not counting other non-Prime members who use the site), there are few better places to get good deals and fast delivery, even if there are arguments against Amazon highlighting its own products on the results page. It is now the “largest e-commerce company by revenue in the United States, as of 2017.” While traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart or Target have online shopping and delivery options, they do not have the same impression of being a one-stop-shopping center the way that Amazon does, especially in the US where food and grocery delivery is an option. While the success and longevity of Amazon’s new ‘cashier-free’ brick-and-mortar store remains to be seen, Amazon itself is probably also not going anywhere any time soon.

Now, quick! Think of a phone. What brand was it? Chances are good it was an iPhone. Like Google vs. Bing, the battle between Apple and Android / Apple and PC loyalists rages on. Google may be imitating Apple with Play Store and Play Music’s ever expanding collections of apps, music, and podcasts, but Apple still reigns supreme in the hardware department. With steady market growth over the last five years, Apple has made both marketing and planned obsolescence work in their favour. With new phones coming out every year (from all companies), Apple rarely has to worry about users diverging from the brand.

“A new report from Verto Analytics claims that a huge swath of the PC market is eager to switch to a Mac PC (desktop or laptop), with 21 percent of laptop owners and 25 percent of desktop owners supposedly willing to make the jump. At the same time, Verto claims that 98 percent of current Mac owners are happy with their systems, with just 2 percent planning to switch to a Microsoft-based PC over the same time frame.

So, Apple probably isn’t going anywhere either.

Which leaves us with Facebook. Let me first point out that Facebook has some tricky data to interpret. According to Statistia, “As of…2017, Facebook had 2.07 billion monthly active users…logged in to Facebook during the last 30 days.”  This number does not take into account duplicate or fake accounts, or abandoned accounts linked to non-Facebook sites where users simply use Facebook as a login tool (e.g. Goodreads). Facebook is notorious for making actually deleting an account incredibly difficult. During a 14 day time period after requesting account deletion, users must take care to delete all Facebook apps on their phone, not “like” any post on any website that links through Facebook, or log on to any site that uses Facebook Connect. If any of these actions take place, the request to delete will be declined. All this to say, it is difficult to truly believe if those “2.07 billion monthly active users” is truly an accurate number.

Many people who do use Facebook now use it as a way to stay connected with business networks, upcoming events (as a meetup tool), and, let’s be honest, memes. Sites like LinkedIn, Meetup, or Google Hangouts are beginning to, or have the capacity to develop ways in which Facebook is no longer necessary for those uses. As online privacy becomes more and more of a grey area (with Facebook often being in the spotlight), fewer and fewer people will want to mix business with their personal lives online, as it’s so easy to do with Facebook. While Facebook does have the “Messenger” app going for it, there is no shortage of other apps that may take its place. WhatsApp is growing in popularity as a free messaging service, and with apps like Voxer which allows options for real-time voice recording, message saving, and group chats (as well as all the traditional text messaging options), Messenger just can’t hold its own if Facebook declines.

It will probably be some time before Facebook does officially decline. Old habits die hard, and Facebook is just that: a habit. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was not already an app (probably from Apple or Google, that you could probably one day purchase on Amazon) that allows users to log into most sites without Facebook Connect. Many sites already even have Google as a login option. It may sound harsh, but unless Facebook wants to go the way of MySpace, it better start offering something that no other site/company/operation has.

 

 

Jesse Savage

 

A New Something – Gopnik’s Never-Better-Wasers

I wish that I could call myself a Never-Better. I do not deny that there have been leaps in information technology in recent history. While I believe we are on the brink of something, I can not confidently declare that that something is a “new utopia,” as Gopnik describes. Unless an awful lot changes, I do not think it is realistic to assume that all information will be free (although I admit I am still holding out for those cookies that bake themselves…). There is currently an ocean of free resources online (whether or not they have been put out there legally), but that ocean may not always be as fruitful. If a Google/Facebook/Amazon regime is truly in our future, it seems unlikely that anything would be free at that point.

However, I don’t know that I am a Better-Never, either. I am glad the internet happened. I am glad that I am able to watch movies and listen to music from my phone. I am glad that I can research options for the best daycare for my dog, and read real user testimonials that inform my decision. I grew up during the dawn of Google. I remember when I had to (or perhaps, got to) look things up at the library, or in an encyclopedia, and I remember that for all their use and glory, sometimes those resources just didn’t provide what I was looking for. Imagine how different university would be without Google, or YouTube, or Thesaurus.com. Both teachers and students have, in a way, become habitually reliant on the internet for free resources. Social media may often times be distracting, but sites like Facebook can also provide networking opportunities to assist in research, job searches, etc. Despite the potential nostalgia “simpler times” my bring, there are so many more ways to learn and connect with people now that the internet as an information and communication platform exists and has developed to what it is today, with whatever faults it may include.

Maybe all that means I’m an Ever-Waser. Every age has its technological leap. From architecture, to medicine, to how things are made, something big is always happening on what ends up being a global scale. For better or worse, the world of technology is always evolving, and now seems to be the Internet’s turn. No one can say where it will end up for certain, or what collateral damage might occur in the crossfire. Whether it’s a “new utopia” or something far more dark and unpropitious, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who things that we are not on the brink of another technological revolution.

 

 

— Jesse Savage