A journey from cables to people´s minds

Ok, so here we are, it has been like one of those roller coaster rides where you experience a lot in such a short time and by the end you say: Its that all? After you were (probably) screaming during the ride.

I leave this ride shook but very satisfied with what happened. Suddenly, as everything starts to calm down and I write this, my very last assignment for the term, I realize so much had happened week to week. Yes, I was sitting here, most weeks “rolling the squirrel” (that is how we Mexicans say… Oh forget it!) thinking about what we discussed earlier in the week about the topic. The routine, to read, annotate and write something coherent has been the most enriching exercise for me, it helped me get more disciplined, academically speaking and preview what was coming next. I certainly wrote most of my blogs at this time, 7, 14, 21, (not 28) days ago. But I can say I spent many other days just thinking of what we talked or telling  my wife about those articles that did not make sense to me.

So for knowledge, yes, the internet and DARPA, interesting story, “Its just a Cable” said Juan the first day, “The web is not the Internet” and started to shed light over those tiny details that make the whole thing as fascinating, powerful and dangerous as it is. This is the modern Pandora’s Box, except that we open it regularly without it exploding in our faces… most of the time.

Having references and learning some  tags and categories was very useful, we were building our internal agreements and vocabulary, Never-Betters, Better-Nevers and the other lukewarm water guys helped a lot to understand further topics, but most important, to understand each other in the discussions. Obviously the categories were simplistic and the words changed over time, (early/late adopters for example) but the discourse kept growing over the weeks, we were discussing “What Rachel and Anu” said the other day for example.

More than a study of technology, was a discussion about the human mind, or if you allow me, the human soul. I can say I learned from every reading and from everyone, whether they share my point of view or not, the world is a big place, and it becomes even bigger in cyberspace (finally found a place to use that word). Being the oldest around also helped (yes, older than Juan, if not as smart), as I was raised in a world where computers were just a luxury accessory and you dialed the phone, literally. Where you could create things with 512 Kb of RAM, had to be careful to save an image with 1.3Mb of capacity and the user friendly concept was a work in progress (for computers anyway). I certainly may have seemed alien in many of my opinions during discussions but as much I learned from other views, respected them (mostly) and I can say they changed my own vision.

I am sure this was the plan so the ride was successful, as for my favorite topic… I am still debating. I really enjoyed reading about Copyright from a different perspective, always was glad we did not take it off the syllabus, but Digital Reading was also fascinating. In the end, I can say the one I enjoyed most reading was Interacting and socializing, although this may be because it triggered a lot of things and the focus Trenton and Lena gave to it was great, after all, what is the future of Publishing? We will find out, probably soon. … well, not that soon anyway.

So excuse me for being enthusiast, I could talk about “what I learned” in terms of knowledge, but that is well known and has been discussed already, the most valuable thing is what I learned from my cohort  and Juan, because all of them are exceptional people and I am honored to have been part of this group. It saddens me not to be able to hear your opinions in the same forum although it may be interesting to create a group for that… I can see your faces saying “Are you crazy? Get some sleep!”

Anyway, its been a great ride! Now, let’s get out there.


FIN  WAIT!

Lets go back to the fundamental question:

What happens to publishing in an era where the vast majority of publishing and reading happens on the Internet?

My impression is internet and printed books are seen many times as poles of the same thing, while it is not the case, we love the dialectic discourse and had been trained to look at things this way.

There are reasons why some really BIG corporations and individuals see it as a problem, they were shaken by the advent of the Internet, they were happy curating, editing and printing books, magazines, newspapers and other printed materials, enjoying a great power and misusing it often to shape the world along with their friends, the mass media: TV, Radio, Movies, etc. Then comes this thing, the Internet with the Web and suddenly, everyone is talking, discussing, expressing opinions they did not asked, they did not allowed to ask and actually nobody had a way to ask publicly. When heard, read and discussed, these questions raised more questions, in a snowball effect.

Suddenly everyone was aware of many more things than those that were filtered through the TV screen, newspaper, books or radio, everyone was giving an opinion and not hearing to those “expert” writing books or talking in shows and programs, people started sharing events not sanctioned by the publishers and media and making the whole thing a mess.

It has been some times discussed in class, publisher houses have been progressively absorbed into “Media Groups” as have been the case of film companies, and like Alphabet is starting to understand, these Media Groups, like Bertelsmann and Pearson (Owners of Penguin-Random House), do not like to be under the light, after all, people is happy having those funny “big” companies as referents, while the real BIG ones just watch the game unfold.

In the above example, it would be definitely bad for the business if someone finds use for the fact that Penguin-Random House is actually co-owned by Bertelsmann a German Company that has been around for nearly 200 years (183 to be exact) and which, for example, during World War 2, was a leading supplier to the Wehrmacht and even used Jewish slave labor to increase their profits. But also Pearson plc, the other co-owner, started as a construction and engineering company which among other things, built Tanks for WW1. Nothing farther from “the preservation of culture” unless your idea is to preserve your culture by wiping out the rest, which is a discussion point for later.

Those really BIG companies started to build their empires, way before the publishers we know today, and like them, other BIG players came into scene like CBS (Owner of Simon & Schuster), Viacom, Time Warner, etc. They are not concerned with readability, legibility, privacy respect, ebooks, etc. They just want YOU.

So what the internet has to do with this? Like I said, it came to shake the way we shared and consumed information. But then it derailed somewhere, when America On Line (AOL) came into the picture, it growed exponentially, like them, allowing to merge (buy) with Time Warner while retaining 55% of the shares, they really screwed up so Warner took it back some years later. In the meantime, other companies benefited of the big boom and then, later we had the players we love to hate  (some just love them) Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the other guys who really don’t matter. What does that mean? That the Internet has become another great power source, and just like the other media companies, it has given us more titans that fight among the older ones with no clear victory foreseeable and the only real effect in that they “change people’s lives”.

But wait! Wars and disease also change people’s lives, so don’t be deceived by the kind-related motto, product of years of marketing seen almost everywhere.

The whole point of this picture is to these companies have been there for a while and struggle today for having the big prize: US (as in we, not the country). It has been sad and terrifying to hear many of my classmates to say: I am no one, my data is not important, let them track me if they give me what I want and things like that. It points out that the indoctrination has worked, and so, everyone is jumping freely into the furnace (enter cartoon of people hitting the “I Accept” button and jumping into a fire pit).

Yes, we share, we laugh and we give our data “freely” having little space to rationalize it. Events like Cambridge-Analytics are opportunities for that. What happened to that internet that would free us from the BIG ones? That caused them to shake and even be acquired by the new players? Weren’t they supposed to change the world? So many questions but lets back to the first. What happens to publishing?

We now are aware of the potential power a Publisher has, not only in the book industry, but as an expert in making things public, to divulge, to understand what is happening, to get information, setting up strategies, tracking and distilling data, all those skills that will help us not only in the immediate industries, but as a human activity. The conclusion, Publishing is not disappearing, far from it, is outreaching and adapting to other fields, interacting with them and figuring out what to do.. Game publishers, interactive narratives, video game publishers, podcasts, bloggers, social media, social causes, publishers can make a change in many places now, not just the book and magazine industry. The key here is observe, learn and adapt.

Now that I know better, I don’t find a reason for the printed books to disappear like many early adopters suggest. I am contemplating a huge landscape with millions of possibilities, this is what this course has taught me. To think about who are the players, to know what is my role as an individual and as a future publishers and to learn the existing technologies and business (rather difussion) models we have available. It has been really helpful to learn this because even if I decide to set up a Scriptorium where we make books manually old-style, I will be aware and watching what is happening outside and for sure, I will be using what I have learned here to promote these hand made products. It has been helpful to know other’s opinions, we gave the best and we gave it for free, we even hit the I Agree button.

So what is coming next? We will see, now, lets get those tacos!

 

Set them free, the world is your limit!

This week questions are quite interesting, they took me back to square one: our firsts discussions during Pub800 class where we talked about the differences between texts and documents and how Publishing was the process to make these public, resulting also in counter-publics that detached and created further texts of their own.

As we have have learned, Publishing’s ultimate goal, in its aspect of creating, gathering or finding a public for a text, would be that such public shares, experiences and adapt the texts contained in the documents produced. Thus, once published, the text becomes part of the common knowledge domain and its nearly impossible to prevent audiences from interacting, shaping and even limit them to experience it the best way they can, because, in any case, its unimaginable to expect to provide a single experience out of it.

However, the document where such text (or texts) is contained, is usually protected by Copyright laws in order to ensure the author and publisher get proper compensation for their efforts producing it. And thus, is becoming subject of discussion about its integrity and the right of the audience to change it.

When an author wants to publish something, whether to reach a specific/limited audience or looking for more widespread recognition, he or she must be ready for such appropriation by the public, after all, that is the whole point about publishing. Yet, they have also the right (along with the editor and publisher if present) to shape the way it is told and presented,  so that way  reflects the intention and ideas contained withing it, we know this as the moral rights.

Now, considering these two factors, the document becoming public on one side and the author retaining moral rights on the other, seems pretty simple to draw a line where the audience can use and enjoy the text while authors and publishers can enjoy the right to decide upon the possible outcomes and follow up from there on.

Whether as marginalia or annotations, sharing or discussing in real public forums or digital media, or even expanding a text, the public is using their right to experience it, after all, it is what is expected. But the author, as the creator of an idea, and the publisher as the responsible to shaping it for the public, have the right to decide on the following step (if any) of its publishing history. Still, authors should not limit who can talk about them or how they do that, that is practically impossible, although they can give their opinion on the subject and use their moral authority on them.

So certainly, people can create fan fiction, music themes or other derivative works of The Expanse novel series for example, but that does not mean these will become part of the next novel or the “official universe”. They cannot be used to make profit as detachments but they can be shared and discussed of course. No matter how democratic we wish to be, the moral rights for those works simply belong to the Authors and they are the only ones allowed to decide on the next step of this story. The only exception to this rule that comes to my mind, would be an academic text, which contains some erroneous theories or conclusions that would be observed by the community and peer reviewed.

Furthermore, adding some of the topics also reviewed last week, let me bring the example of Role Playing Games to this picture. RPGs are quite fascinating. In their tabletop version, we suddenly have a whole world at our disposal to play in, and tell stories. Storylines and worlds are offered to the audience to freely play with them (literally) and thus, createtheir own versions of them.

Simply speaking, I can read a story written by some author, adapt it or even change it completely to tell a spin-off with my playing group. In practice, every playing session of a RPG will be different, even if the same group of people plays it a second time. This kind of narrative outcome clearly exemplifies these matters, people appropriating a text, using it, adapting it to their interests and then delivering a group experience. When I ran weekly campaigns for war games at our business in Mexico, the results of one week games shaped the way the following week’s story, and thus, the collective experience we had with one particular story-arc, was unique.

Is it possible we can figure out a similar way to use these annotated, non-linear narratives for the next story we plan to publish? Probably yes, and it would be interesting to see what kind of outcomes we get and how are they shared and evolved. We are not limited to fiction of course, think of a travel guide where people contributes their experiences using it, having a second, annotated edition. Or a cookbook where readers suggest substitute ingredients or cooking times based on their location via an app. Possibilities are unlimited and we just now have learned of the many technologies available to make them happen, be it as part of an application, podcast, blog. Anything is possible!

ent-Retaining digital readers

Picture: The Van der Graaf or Tertiary Canon, used for page design creates harmony by its rules -which- lead the textblock to having the same ratio of the page, but it also positions it in perfectly whole units.

Publishers should care about the difficulties created by digital reading, leading to users nowadays to lose attention and becoming distracted while reading online or, being the case, any digital platform.

When you design a book, you ideally set a page size, layout and ortho-typographic characteristics for it. Every publisher worth his/her salt has to guarantee an ideal formatting of their books so they help the reader to get a better understanding of the content.

There is no agreed philosophy on this, some say roman fonts are better for long books, some say grotesques are better, some defend wider margins and white space, while others keep broad columns filled with text. In any of those cases, there is a clear purpose on the Publisher’s part to satisfy the readers needs as per their mission and philosophy.

We all remember “The Crystal Goblet” by Beatrice Warde, taught in our Design class, where you can only delight on the content when you do not nottice the recipient. I also remember seeing a documentary where they said, the cup has to be wide, so the corners of your mouth, which have lots of sensory terminals, could soak in the wine (or water) and you get a much improved sensation while drinking. I found this to be true, but what matters of these couple metaphors, is that, just like Pottery does to your drinking, Editorial Design also have its ways to enhance the readers experience. And its because of their mere existence, that Publishers have the responsibility to apply them to every field they intervene.

Several studies, some of which we reviewed last week  (here is another, just for completion purposes), point out that reading online hinders the optimal comprehension (i.e. to grasp the nature, significance, or meaning of… something) of the content. Yet, these platforms are common among all of us, whether for reading books, or to learn other contents, not available elsewhere.

So why would a digital publisher should not care about their readers fully comprehending the contents they publish and thus, provide the optimal format for this? The only reasons I can think of, is the ignorance of these format conventions, or the ways to code or implement them in their products.

Beyond these formal rules, there are other factors that keep readers distracted from the text, these have more to do with the multi-task and all encompassing lifestyles we are continually being suggested, it has nothing to do with the comfortability of reading on one or other platform. People have always been able to drink something while reading, but now they also need to be checking the screen of their phones at all times, the result (I soaked my book while drinkng my tea and checcking phone”. Before this, the -dial- phone also ringed some times, or night came and people could not read, there was hardly a time when you could do nothing else but reading (except an IELTS certification exam of course), but since books have existed, people have taken measures to provide an optimal reading, from creating spaces dedicated to the activity, to the lecterns, reading lamps, seats and many other gadgets. It was even a ritualized activity! And they have also invented a bunch of reasons why they don’t read.

Nowadays, most people believe it is a “democratic” privilege to be able to read on the go, while on the bus or train, from the screen of a reader, tablet or smartphone. It is also believed, everything on the screen is something to be readable, while it is not, sometimes it is not even legible. This is where publishers of all kinds have messed up with the act of reading on their part.

Lets consider the famous “accessibility” feature of digital texts, an elegant name for “zoom in/out” in most cases. Does this help people read better? From the designer point of view, it is an aberration, because the screen size limits the column width, and with this, all the careful work usually done on a printed book is thrown in favor of bigger letters and shorter lines. The mere fact to be scrolling down to reach the next line is a distraction. When people had “accessibility” problems with printed books, they bought a magnifying glass,there are some like a sheet you put on top of the book and you have your accessibility, you don’t mess with the layout, period. This may be a rudimentary example, but it shows how these technologies are not necessarily new.

So yes, it is not only their responsibility but also their fault things are screwed up like this.

So what can be done? From the design POV, first and foremost would be to learn the basic -and advanced- principles of formatting texts, including the editing canon, even if you are not going to do the formatting, you will at least know how it would look like. Then, learn how they can be implemented in digital works.

Primitive digital books in PDF preserved page format, today we have CSS to do that online. For all the myriad of possible digital texts, we have to learn how to control the text flow on a screen, and what are the best results that can be achieved with them.

Text now interacts with video, hyperlinks, buttons, menus, etc. The digital reading age is in fact too young and ever changing, but most of the basic obstacles have been overcome, so it is a matter of putting some interest to the task, not just writing a long column for a blog or leaving the available space after that huge banner in your website. Ebooks need a major set of rules, and it  will just take a successful publisher to find the ideal format, at least for one of the many platforms out there. Its a worthy excercise, an ongoing one I insist, contrary to the centennial rules of book publishing, we are living the age where these matters are about to emerge.

Final note: And fear not because we are human beings, capable of adapting to new standards, given enough time, so even if no one achieves a successful result, we will deal with reading on five or six different ways anyway

Oh! and just a final note: That Van der Graaf thing, was not exclusive to
Europe…

 

Just Ask them….

We live immersed in a world of tracking, measuring and analytics. Whether you have a Facebook, Google or similar account, or even if you play the game of hide an seek from the zillions of data collecting bots lurking in cyberspace, chances are you are being tracked at least for a good part of your day.

Like it or not, we are being tracked. the heinous world depicted by Orwell in 1984 is becoming a reality, and just like in Huxley’s Brave New World, people around us embrace the surveillance and think its for the best, be it security, having a deal or giving businesses the information they need to deliver “exactly” what they need.

Publishing books is a different matter though, first, because the historic evolution of the field has lead to an interesting mix of romantic feel about the touch, smell and feel of the pages and a yearn of the old printing techniques with the excitement of high-tech printing and the and virtual almost eternal lasting of e-books.

Also, the publishing industry has problems collecting or processing information about readers tastes and reasons to purchase. A novel for example has the challenge to be discovered first and then tell the person who came across it, about the benefits of reading the content compared to the thousands of titles around, some of which have huge media support and placement.

 For centuries, Publishers had relied in their instincts and experience to predict the most successful route for a book to reach its audience, but what is this “instinct and experience” (also called “gut”) but a very complex collection of processed data turned into information by years of practice in the gestalt consciousness of the profession as well as in the individual life story? How is it possible to fuel this “gut” with the type of data the digital gathering systems generate?

 When publishing a book, my major interest is Who and Where is its public? and how to deliver it to the them? I mean, not only how to make them aware of its existence, but also the best way for them to consume it. If there is a community with similar interests, a social club, Facebook page or forum? Do they read printed materials or digital, audiobooks, other?. Thus, I need to establish contact with them, or guide the writer to do it. This is where I find useful that data, to know what they like, what they think, how they read or consume knowledge and entertainment so I can create real expectations and prepare for a big show.

 It is agreed, Word of Mouth is the most successful way to promote a book, because it relies on a social web with heavily established bonds and protocols, in fact, it could be assumed that most of the other marketing channels aim towards positioning a book in the word of mouth channel at some point.

 So talking to the readers is key. Publishing is about establishing relations, closing writers and audiences, editors and Publics. You cannot lurk in the shadows with a dataset, measuring people from the distance and expecting to surprise them with a product their Gaussian distribution tells me they would like, but of which they have never heard of. As in all great businesses, direct communication is key, and thus, a simple prompt sample or question can work wonders compared to the most detailed dataset. Because in essence, we are getting the specific data we want to know.

 How to find the right audience… well that is another matter.

The Engineers A.I. driven future of Publishing

Potentially, AIs can be used to cover, more or less successfully, all of the wide range of activities leading to the selection, creation and distribution of books and other printed materials, from manuscript draft, to substantive and copy editing, to layout and cover design, printing (or encoding for e-books) and even distribution of the published works.

One possible future, that is likely to happen is the “engineers” approach to implement AIs in Publishing. Engineers are problem solvers and optimize things, so its natural the whole process will be driven, like many other fields in technology, by this vision.

The process would take several specialized AIs to do the task, but they will no doubt accomplish “something”. What makes the difference, is the approach we take to use them, and I mean WE, because as future professionals,  decision makers and leaders of this industry, we must be very wary of how we want this to happen.

I have also included “The Boss” perspective to these outcomes (find them in red) about the possible appeal of these technologies to these people to show how these technologies appear and shape the decisions of the managerial level and their impact on the workforce.

 Scenario I -The engineers’ approach-

This process would evolve systematically, starting with the manuscript selection as a Machine Learning project called “Gutemberg” (named un- creatively after a long struggle with Copyright holders… engineers after all). “Gut” starts learning from the actions of a human editor, then, combining the data gathered from the choices of several editors, it would gather enough information to start making its own choices, those being probably corrected again by those editors, who would think its wonderful to have some time to do anything else or just to increase their “productivity”, focusing on “editing” twenty, books instead of ten at a time.

What about the boss? The boss is happy to have invested in this promising technology that may save a lot to the Company in unnecessary human and material resources. It is a very competed world and the ones with the best tools will win the battle (or so the Boss thinks).

With the new data set input, “Gut” would optimize and start making more accurate decisions, “productivity” would increase to 50 books per editor, then 100, the process being refined successively on each iteration. Finally, the “editor” would only have to assign parameters to filter those manuscripts the AI had selected and focus on making “high level” choices.

At this point, The Boss is considering reducing the workforce in the editorial level, the savings are huge and they will allow for investment on other projects. After all, mandate states the company must give voice to as many people as possible. The dream of “serving the community” seems to be fulfilling.

 A side effect is, with each successive iteration, the “editor(s)” doing the job become experts on data selection, no more reading required, no need to understand, the primary requirement being competence in evaluating the numbers. Not far from today, this “editor” will become effectively a data analyst with publishing insights. The same process would apply to substantive and copy editing, probably discarding the job position of the later before anyone else.

On the Big office: The Boss is very happy to have saved so much in “not always reliable” workforce. Some new positions had to be created of course, like the AI Tech Specialist, who monitors and maintains the correct working of the AI, its a major expense but “Gut” can do the work of dozens of people in the same amount of time, not even that, they had already developed version  26.11 which even has a simulated but stimulating sense of humor module to allow “meetings” with it more pleasant.

In essence, this Boss has a five figure salary and his troubles had been reduced to dealing with his “chief editors”, a big name for people evaluating the numbers and reading the one page, bullet point prompts the AI deliver to them so they -at least- are informed what a book is about and the major points of the plot.

Design and layouts seem also simple to create artificially, just provide a set of proven templates, use machine learning to teach the AI how to correct widows, hyphens and the like, and don’t worry about the rest, by the moment this occurs, people had already re-learned to read based on those (horrible) screen readers with accessibility, zoom in/out and convenient storage capacity.

Printed books don’t do better. Even today, publishers had sacrificed all the use and meaning of margins and blanks to maximize the use of space and increase their profit margin, which is no surprise, but is deplorable, since even a set of margins as short as half an inch each on a 5×8” book means only 70% of the page is used for text, add “leading” to the equation and that usage may drop to as low as 50%.

 For the boss, one of the happiest things brought by AI, this is a different one called “Minuzio” in honor to the famous Italian typographer and printer. He finally got rid of those pesky freelancers who tried over and over to get a cover done, when all that was need was”more red”. Fortunately, “Minuzio” is very obliging so you only have to tell it what style you want and it will deliver tens or hundreds of options, all appealing and optimized for visual impact.

On the accounting, financing and administrative departments, editors would have long been relieved of this pain of doing numbers and dealing with P&Ls. Why bother? The new system linked to “Gutemberg”, called “MIDAS” has the particularity of analyzing the market trends and predict, with 95% accuracy, the best possible date within a time-frame for a new product to be released, also to organize and track orders and deliver prompt shipping to points of sale, not to mention, handle the e-commerce site where e-books are ordered or track sales across Amazon and other regional platforms. Additionally, it can also do your tax reports.

MIDAS has saved the boss the pains of dealing with faulty logistics, the AI is everything they promised, and more. He saves time, money and resources, and now only decides on the best course of action for the Company to invest. The logistics feature means each book may have as few as a few as a couple dozen copies in print and probably double that number on e-book sales, but they are a steady market and return rates are fewer than 5%!

 The end result: The Boss only has to deal with AIs, they work 24/7, meaning no more delays, no more missing deadlines, everything just a stream of finished works. With so many projects managed by “Gutemberg” and designed by “Minuzio”, sales are like a videogame where you invest your resources on one or other project. If only writers could write faster, but then, that will be solved when they release “Cervantes” the Writing Author AI everyone is expecting. Then, books will be a matter of inputting a number of parameters and drag a project into the publishing console to produce.

 5 years later: The advancement on AIs systems allow the total disposal of unnecessary personnel, at most, a company now haw a CEO, one Executive Editor and Executive Manager which are required to maintain a certain level of humanity behind the scenes of an otherwise automated process.

 After a hard struggle, Open Access supporters finally release “improved” versions (mostly copies and rip offs) of the different AIs with various, sometimes flamboyant names, some of these specialize in certain genres, others try to emulate the protocols of Gutemberg or Minuzio. Many are free but mediocre, most are paid per upgrade or feature.

Whatever the angle, this leads to the sudden burst of “single man/woman” publishers managing hundreds of projects at a time which seem to be good at becoming celebrities and influencers. Self publishing is possible but if you want to “write” something that does not stall in the dozen sales mark, you need those guys to become your “Publishers”.

Grant systems for publishing, where applicable, collapse under the pressure of tens of thousands of applications, sometimes, the grant is as low as to barely cover the domain cost site or, the price of a cup of “Hyper Cetacean milk coffee”, it uses no cetacean milk by the way, just a brand, it has no sugar and no actual coffee, just the flavor. Its very popular by then.

 Widespread publishing is a reality, anyone can write or give an idea to a “Cervantes” replica, had the book written, then process it and publish “a book”. Mission accomplished, everyone can publish now. With so many works and everyone writing, nobody reads each other.

10 years after total implementation of AI in Publishing: With so many published failures with “Cervantes” and its clones, people starts working back to actually write something appealing to humans, technically, the AIs works are brilliant, but for some reason people do not like the ending, or the story, it was too good, to sad, too real. Something was lacking. Perhaps some lack of perfection?

15 years after total implementation. Book publishing could be considered at its peak since the invention of writing. Almost every person in the planet has “writen” a book at some point or turned his live experiences into one, AIs registering the travels or daily experiences of people can now turn them into movies, blogs and of course, books.

30 years after total implementation of AIs in Publishing: No one reads any longer, the new ODID (organic data and information input device) works marvels to provide people with the knowledge and experience they need. Books are obsolete and reading is a skill that must be taught separately, because not even ODID can “install” such a complex process in one’s brain. Besides, nobody cares about this elaborated system of symbols, meanings and references required to provide basic understanding of topics or evoking an elemental imagery in the mind. Those who read are either those old enough to have been taught to, or learn it out of pure historical interests.

 50 years later… internet unplugged…

 27,000 years later… On its way to a red star, (formerly AC +79 3888), a primitive space artifact is discovered, there is great expectation as it may be the one sent by the former inhabitants of planet Earth, thousands of cycles ago. Within it, comes a rich description of a world the meta-humans do not know about. When the “Archorologist” finds some unusual markings on it, it uses the primitive code of a techosentient being trapped on a terminal to scan the drawings, the holo-projector replies: I REGAYOV.

 

Sorry about the length of this work, I was driven by the topic.

 

 

Leave the middleman alone…

The readings reviewed last week make it appear open access is winning (or should win) the battle versus the mainstream publishing industry and remove barriers to access content and publishing platforms (not only related to books, but also to media, videogames, video, art, etc) in order to make them accessible to “consumers”, under the banner of freedom and the promise to reach widespread audiences.

The middleman, as publishers (of all sorts) are commonly referred, is often seen as an evil and abusive factor in the chain of production, an obstruction, an elitist judge who filter and decides who and what gets published and who/what gets not. But we have to be careful with this assumption. The fact that an author is rejected by one or more Publishers (as it happened to many great authors published today) does not mean it is a bad job (enter J.K. Rowling), but it also does not mean the middleman is wrong.

The thing is, you don’t need to beat the middleman in order to propose your own model.

For the revolutionary inclined, it seems that justice is finally being made by the availability of free -or very accessible- publishing tools and platforms for people who wish to share and create communities with common shared goals and, thus, picturing a world where every effort is aimed towards the advancement of the human race, whatever that means to each advocate of this movement.

While I love the idea of being able to, for example: write a book, code a videogame or film a video over the same topic and share them with people who may get interested in it, then create a community and develop it further. I am always suspicious about what is behind the veil of generosity that most of the platforms available get in return, in other words “What’s the catch?”. I mean, after all, examples abound about technology companies offering free services which later turned into beasts which, despite still offering their services for “free”, profit with items of more value than one could ever have imagined, name Facebook for example.

However, free/acessible publishing and content services do not seem to be trying to become the IT giant. As far as we can see, they even seem too disorganized or focused towards different and some times contradictory goals. Thus, even if an “Uber of publishing” becomes a reality, it looks like it would be a little more of a nuisance to established publishers role, yet, it can become a serious threat to the existence of published works themselves.

Why?

Because facilitating widespread publishing would definitely increase the offer for works and while this seems to be a good thing, the fact is the industry and its open access counterpart is not lacking titles but rather suffering from an oversupply of them. In contrast, lack of interest and a change in the way people consume information, has made the whole industry more elitist, less original and oriented towards specific topics.

For example, there is a lot of Harry Potter fan- fiction (love it or hate it), but as we reviewed last term, everything counts, thus, if such fan-fiction were to become a canonic part of this story, we would have to resort to some kind of “multiverse”, like those used by comic book publishers to accommodate the whole spectrum.

In essence, after some iterations, “Harry Potter” would lose its meaning, its purpose, its identity, all the values associated and given to it by its author. On the opposite side, even if all fan-fiction strictly adhered to a set of rules, respecting the base form of the novels, then each fan-work would be constrained and limited by those rules.

What publishers had to offer then? Order. The publishing, design and distribution services can surely be replaced and even automated. Someday, an AI will be capable to write you a book based on a plot, characters and story-line you provide. However, what Publishers do and have been doing for centuries is a most valuable thing: to offer order in terms of curating potentially successful stories based on their knowledge of the readers (or market if you wish), on the editing process where a writer turns an idea into a successful story, or even a great story into a widespread success, the distribution planning, the events or media to close writers and readers and finally, protecting the integrity of those works by applying IP laws.

Those services, proper of the middleman, are now being devalued in favor of an apparently egalitarian discourse that in fact, proposes to crate an “Uber of publishing” or similar, forgetting that “Uber” is a company that actually profits from the effort and resources of others without risking or offering any securities to them.

We have to be careful what we wish for.

Just a dreadful experiment….

Is Amazon evolving? Becoming the next Walmart? Turning into the ultimate supplier of the basic level of human needs? Or is it devolving? Departing from the virtual world to become in touch with their customers? Those are heavy loaded questions, many of which are made by economists, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and this week, Publishing Students.

The issue is not the brick-and-mortar, you can ignore that, that is just marketing, the real deal here is, again, mining for information.

Lets start small and check the following infographics about Maslow’s Hierarchy of human needs and how the internet address the problem:

As you can see, all levels of this pyramid are covered somehow by social media, except, for obvious reasons, the base, the Physiological level.

For now, we have this sort of experiment with food, Amazon is putting into practice in its brand new brick-and-mortar store, Amazon Go. At first I was wondering: Is this the first step to cover the food needs  of the human being? Will they start metrics as to how much watermelon, burritos and water bottles you consume? The first option seemed unlikely, but the second, you can bet they will.

Apparently, most of what you can find in such place is food, fruit, wraps, beverages, lunches and the like. Items that you won’t find convenient to order online for “immediate delivery next day”. So unless you are talking about a rare food from the other side of the world, its not a great idea. But the fact that people can go, pick their stuff, avoid the cashier and walk out with the empowering sensation that no one put them a barrier or customs is interesting and scary.

I am really not impressed by the acclaimed visual camera system that recognizes what you pick and put on your bag, so they know exactly what you bought and just charge your card. One of my peers (a very clever one) told us the other day she would love to go to that store and start putting things in other people’s bags, just to check how clever the system is and… have fun. Lovely! I want to go too!

But the camera recognition system has been around for years and is in a state far more advanced and is used for more important stuff than saving you the cashier check-out. Face recognition can be used by police to know if suspects are circulating, a single police car can scan dozens of plates at a time and compare them to a database for criminals, stolen property, etc. Hey! there is a shopping mall near here in Burnaby that have cars scanning your plates to know if you have been parked for more than the time limit allowed.

So the interesting thing to me about this experiment by Amazon, is what people do with this system and how they manage acquisition of goods, so they learn how to better sell you… anything.

I don’t think this experiment is deign to consider it an evolution or devolution, in my opinion it is neither of those, nor is the opening chapter of the future of retail stores. I have heard opinions about it being a showroom for things people will buy online anyway for a lower price, or “they are trying to become the ultimate supplier of everything”, or, “they want to change our shopping Behavior”.

I don’t doubt many people will see the benefits of a cashier free, pick-up system. To me, it appears to be a grocery store catering to busy people who do not have much lunchtime, but I don’t see them buying other stuff you can find at Walmart or Superstore.

It also cannot be considered an evolution or devolution, because there is no such thing as an evolution curve for brick-and-mortar stores pointing to a digital stage, much less for grocery stores, which is what those Amazon premises are. There is no law that dictates a physical store must evolve by turning into digital or vice-versa. The fact they opened that store, seems to obey other goals, they do not aspire to become the next premier Cantaloupe, Watermelon and Pineapple salad suppliers.

Since, the automatic checkout can be carried by other, more efficient and proven ways, such as using a Radio Frequency IDentification label (RFID), in my opinion, its just an experiment to test a new tracking and checkout system that can be either implemented in their own stores, or sold to other retailers (with Amazon providing the logistical platform of course), or as a new method to gather information that not even Google can obtain. Imagine the possibilities once they know your grocery purchasing habits? Scary.

Last but not least, its not even an original idea, since 2016, Ali-Baba has Hema Supermarket, a store that does exactly the same, and much more, while maintaining job positions for people which, although not having the best jobs, generate income for families instead of pouring every penny of the process into Amazon’s purses.

So, all in all, just an unethical, covert experiment, with no permission from their experimental subjects/customers (who even pay them to be studied). Personally, hope it fails, simply because of the dreadful implications related to privacy, but who knows what people are giving in exchange in order to save the cashier and that sense of fulfillment that walking away without checking out.

Thanks for your time!

Diskcopy a: b:


Many years ago, a typical “gamer” collection would look like this…

The central issue around Copyright is not the tone of the laws that are devised to protect it or  if they are tweaked in favor of some companies or individuals, it is that the users of a copyrighted work, must understand the effort and merit of the author and somehow compensate its creator in a useful way.

Also, remember that copyright is not an issue of the digital realm, it is a human issue that has aggravated due to the existence of technology and the web.

When I was in high school, long before internet, students were taught to use “diskcopy”, to backup a 330Kb, 5 1/4″ diskette. You had to insert your original floppy disk in drive “a” and then the destination one in other drive, usually labelled “b” then write this sentence in the console:

diskcopy a: b:

After a series of thud, thud, funny sounds, you will eventually get a copy of the first disk. If you wanted to protect it from being written again (not copied), you had to put a small label (masking tape also worked) on a small notch at the side of the floppy disk.

This was the way to copy anything in the era of floppy drives. I remember hordes of games, software and even homework circulating around, nobody cared or taught us about copyright infringement, we were teen criminals!  On those days, copying software was as simple as going to the computer lab with a copy of the original software and write that famous sentence on the screen. Thus, one of my first businesses in school was to sell floppies to my colleagues, who usually forgot their class-required diskette at home or who maybe wanted to make… more copies.

This example, has much in common with what is happening today. Downloadable content is available everywhere in the web, free, trial and licensed. Among the sites that offer “free” stuff, people has devised new ways to amortize or return an investment, be it a small banner ad, or some quiz, perhaps just all your personal information submitted to Facebook, who knows? (I am sure some of the guys behind this probably were part of the diskcopy fever 30 years ago).

The fact is that nothing is free on the web, whether they share your information, or they add you to their mailing list, or install some “who knows what” software or applet in your device, (something they have found profitable). You are paying a cost for what you use. You are turned into merchandise and inserted in the block.

Today, after learning of the virtues of Copyright my view has changed and it is important to me to have a clear view of the Copyright issue, all I know is I support the idea of authors and creatives being fairly compensated for their work, as well as the company that publish them having revenues out of their venture.

I also understand, today Copyright is not preserved in the good will, but in the courts, whether they are fair or not it is a war of perception with tints in black and white only with the tone set by the amount of money you can understand. Seems that if your work is good enough, someone will try to steal it or hop into the same train claiming their own work is innovating or even improving yours. This applies to individuals and companies equally, just like the diskcopy fever 30 years ago, when things are easily available, its easy to forget the effort and creativity put into it. Also, make no mistake, improving something is never the same as to create it.

Copyright laws tone may be oppressive and unfair, apparently devised to make companies to squeeze consumers of every penny in exchange for their products, but we have to consider they are also the result of a historic process in consumers’ habits that has lead or at least justified in the eyes of lawmakers, for intellectual rights protections to become so strict, the result of a starving audience that wish more and more -free- stuff and had lost perspective as to the cost and effort to develop any of the commodities we have today.

Systems like Blockchain are emerging to offer new solutions to this issue, basically, once you get a product or work protected by it, then no matter who shares it, a record in the chain will be kept thus, rising their initial coin offering. And this is a very reasonable way to achieve the goal of Copyright I mentioned at the start. However, this technology alone will not solve anything, because the problem resides in how we educate ourselves and future generations about this matter and how we treat creators about this.

I did also copied a couple games myself by the way, but only one worked, seems that after many copies, something was missing and the space-shooter either did not run or had awful graphics with asterisks showing all around the screen. Perhaps that experience changed my mind or perhaps I realized there were other ways to get things.

For example: Shareware software was a model used by many authors and publishers, they provided you with a sample of the game or software (you still paid for the floppy sample) and if you really liked the product, you could mail $20 dollars (check) to them in a self stamped envelope to get the full product. It was not a bad idea, unfortunately, it did not lasted enough, probably because someone got the full version and just made copies of it. To my surprise, one of those games is still around in Steam, although I do not get why today you need 2GB of RAM when my good ol’ computer had something like 512Kb, or 1/2 Mb (1 GB = 1,000 Mb = 1,000,000 Kb), which is A LOT less memory.

In any case, in this world full of quick challenges, it is our responsibility to find new ways to promote and protect the contents we publish. I do not dare to say this or that method will solve the matter, but I am clear we have to be very clear and knowledgeable on what those laws state and how can we use them or -if possible- change them for the benefit of authors and readers/users.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Teletype from the future… (Part I: “Connect-U”)

By: Octavio W


As year 2052 closes, I cannot help think how the world has changed in the past 30 years. I write this teletype as I look into a promising future, full of challenges and adventures for our race, the moon base thrives with miners and visitors, the first O’Neil Cylinder in Lagrange Point 1 (L1) is closing completion -the Council advisor announced it may be finished two years before expected, by 2055- and another one is being started in L2 by the end of this year. Seems the Amazon region is recovering well and cleanup of debris and plastic garbage patch in the Pacific ocean is finally reduced to one half in diameter what it was 30 years ago. The huge sun-sail satellites warm the northern territories in America, Asia and Europe and the south of Australia, the global warming seems to cede, last week, polar bear and seals population in the north reached levels close to those in the 19th century.

All these marvels are proof of the human spirit and the new social organizations we achieved nearly two decades ago. But this new age of progress was costly, you have been taught about the AI wars and the dark times before them. Sages still wonder how corporations were allowed to become so powerful as to even have their own local armies.

Today historians debate if these corporations, and their minion companies ever realized the dark path they were walking. No doubt they were perceived as harmless businesses that only wanted to thrive in a world where the next innovation awaited dormant to take over their place. That their desperation for survival made them dig their own grave (and that of millions) was perhaps ironic, but probably also a sign of the change that was so needed.

Take Connect-U Corporation for example, it started as a small enterprise called “Facebook” in the early 2,000s, they later acquired (some say fused with) former tech-giant “Apple”, specialized in electronic connection devices and creation of illusionary lifestyles and other aggregated value expertise. Both firms held very innocent names for sure: but at its peak, this corporation held the personal information, habits, contacts and other intimate details of nearly 5 billion people, the irony was that they were enticed into feeding this information themselves,the illusion of a community and connectivity with everyone, everywhere,the desperate living conditions lead to the need to be seen, heard, opinionate no matter how irrelevant the topic was, “give a like”, “exist by being shared”, conceptions now senseless.

I have to clarify that at that moment, people thought the internet to be a collection of servers and terminals linked physically or remotely (e.g. by satellite), not aware of the collection centrals that directed all such “traffic” through their own proprietary network infrastructure, to store and process such data away from inquisitive eyes, “Backups to prevent great loses to our users” they said, yet, those underground complexes were humming with the sound of mega-servers processing Yottabytes of information.

That would have been wonderful had the scope of their creators not been so lame and limited: targeted advertising, economy of attention, lifestyle suggestions and finally: brainwashing and control of the daily routines and activities. People rushed to a suggested restaurant or store to get a “discount” or “freebie” and earn “likes”, these becoming the currency of recognition and loyalty among our grandparents and some of our older parents, they attended “work”, listened/watched to their rigorous quote of advertisements, lived, commuted for months or years within their living quarters, some having “luxury” spaces of some 100 square feet with digital windows, food processing units and other commodities.

Connect-U turned billions into subjects, monitored by means of personal, portable or semi-portable (fashioned) aware-terminals that were no more than primitive synapses to the centralized network they were creating unbenknowst to governments and society. People were asked to change and update the terminals every year or two, paying for them at first, then getting one for free as long as they maintained their loyalty rating in acceptable levels (standard loyalty levels allowed for a small “smart-terminal”, higher levels could expect interactive suits or even augmented reality implants for free).

Competition had no chance in market terms of course, yet, some people still remembered a life without the rushed and fulfilled existence the corporation offered. There is always a nostalgic or rebel fraction in every society that yearn the customs of the past, and thus, those Artists and Tinkerers, created systems and local networks of limited capability but long reach. Connect-U of course tried to “buy” or integrate these into their own network, creating small companies that offered these people “solutions to their communication needs”. Still, the artists resisted, their spirits fulfilled by other, more creative interests, while the tinkerers devised, kept and maintained tools like this HR-teletype I am writing now.

Not long after, Connect-U saw no profit in capturing these audiences, neither for their money, nor for their attention span. I have to add that some of these Artists and Tinkerers were actually forced to play its game, as a Connect-U Citizenship (the pompous name given to membership), was required as proof of identity for several jobs and positions.  In some countries, even medical systems preferred the history that Connect-U had to offer against the AI processed data of “Infinite-X” the other huge data corporation of the time. (Ref: formerly Alpha-Zon Technologies). Yet, the allure of augmented reality did not catch many of these brave humans. On the contrary, it was common that some Citizens, were more interested in the manual proficiency of an Artist tangible stuff that were not equaled even by the super-sophisticated sense-feeling of their terminals and many became free of them by following the ways of an Artist or Tinkerer.

When in 2027, governments were proposed to handle democracy as a matter of social-network value, the tide started turning against the Corporation, they were simply too ambitious or to arrogant to see the magnitude of what they were asking. For all the world of bliss they and other Corporations offered, social conditions around the globe were by no means egalitarian, developing countries struggled to reach the commodity levels of rich ones. Connect-U thought it would be easier to get into those “markets” as they would be willing to accept the “free connection” benefits in exchange for their attention, nothing far from true.

The experimental implementation was a total failure, the corrupt politicians and dominant classes of these countries became an example of what was to come in other societies. The privileged became dormant, addicted almost instantly to the Connect-U system, not being educated or trained in the culture or other uses to “expand their reality” they became subject consumers of everything they could afford, addicts, even pouring public resources into it to keep consuming for -virtual- “existence currency”. Its worth adding that these 3 or 4 years saw a tremendous increase in social-network celebrities from these countries. Such conditions, similar to that in France 250 years before led to a social collapse and the start of several movements demanding better conditions. Nobody cared about the marvelous interface offered. At some point, Connect-U used its security forces to repress protests, killing protesters as example and labeling them as terrorists, all under the cape of the local government. Revolutions threatened to engulf all of the developing countries in question, had not been for an unexpected leap in human achievement that offered a new dream.

On Apr. 9 -2032, the first, non-government, non-corporate, community-founded Space Colony was launched. It was not one of those experiments to test rocket capabilities, such technology was well developed by 2025. But this one was different, it aimed not to take tourists to space, or offer 1 year living experience on the moon, it was aimed towards constructing a space colony at Lagrange Point 3, -one of those spots in space where gravity pull is equalized- where people would be free of the chains of Corporations.

When the magnitude of the project was announced, even the second site underground mega-server collapsed. Mankind had a new project, not one that aimed inwards, but outwards. Connect-U tried to offer their subjects the best virtual-reality experience of colonizing not space, but entire planets, fantasy worlds, whatever they wanted. It was to no avail, sure, they were prepared for such an eventuality, yet, one single announcement of the Space Wonder was enough to crush the technology giant: Besides the initial announcement and sporadic news, they will not broadcast or inform of any of their activities through Connect-U or Infinite-X, the technology they will be using will be based on OS Teletypes.

Some sages claim that the company lost almost 700 million subjects the first day, over the following weeks citizenship would be reduced to a mere 500 million -out of the 5 billion- and by the time they reached 50 million some years later, they shut their service. Ten years after the announcement of the first SW launch, Connect-U president declared the company-owned city of San Jose would live the dream of being the first of the company assets to close its doors to outsiders in order for their most loyal subjects to enter “Caer Ibormeth”. Here, as in other Caers,  their citizen-subjects live permanently and surgically connected, sustained by machines in a never-ending dream state of joy, connected to the U1 Server, living experiences they never had and none  they will ever live. One Teletype from a surveyor scout who entered Caer Nyx two years ago, depicts an horrendous image of the interior, where the subjects dream submerged in life keeping pods, life being slowly extracted from their bodies, the report could not continue as the Teletype was damaged by an attack from one of the robotic security sentries that guard the complex and keep the installations working.

But before we finish this story (because I still have to tell you about the destiny of the other Mega-Corporation, Infinite-X ), you will naturally ask: How do people started living without the centralized, technological social network again? Well, you know we still have such social-networks, small communities with simple systems that communicate to each other via non-centralized, universal protocols, the result of the Tinkerers ingenuity, you can still share a picture, an important moment, a work of your own creation in your guild.

At some point, everyone looked to space, to the new home of humanity and understood that human interaction could not be turned into a merchandise, that the human mind is not for sale. Our generation cannot be enticed with crumbles of illusory happiness, also, the shadow of Connect-U and the stories about the deplorable state of their last loyal subjects inside Dream-Cities is looming over everyone and preventing anyone to commodify human interaction again. International laws prevent a network to have over 1,000,000 members yet, most are inhabited probably by less than half, also, any kind of marketing or proselytism is banned, not by laws only but by the network members (these still exist on other channels of course). Nationality is not an issue to belong to a guild, clubs and societies of interact-networks allow for expanded communication and self regulation, devices are truly individualized now, most kids learn to build their own device at early ages, when we reach adulthood we already have our own version of interactive terminal, we still love communicating, sharing, aspiring… Dreaming alive.

To be Continued… (Maybe)

Conspiracy Theories and the ability to adapt to Change

I like conspiracy theories, some of them at least. I do not believe in the majority of them though,  but they help me dimension the amount of change (or stagnation) we had experienced as society. “The man never landed in the moon” some say, yet others state firmly that “a scientific calculator of our days has more processing capacity than the computers that guided man during this epic voyage”. Still, a cautious third group asks: “Then why there are not already cities over the surface of the moon?” Fair question too.

Changes that had taken place in technology, economics and society during the last hundred years have been so rushed that our conception of “change” seems to have been warped; we forget our own limits as a species to adapt to new standards. It is difficult to conceive so many generations living together and trying to survive tide after tide of market pressures, fashions or work/living styles literally throwing new technologies, methods, laws, foods, etc. With the Internet is the same, we have learned to operate it, access it, and navigate it, yet, for all its power, we, as society, still do not know how to use it.

For ages, mankind survived using simple tools and complex technologies. It is hard to conceive people writing on Papyrus over millennia, carefully choosing (editing) the words that would be written in the treasured substrate. In an internet-connected world, such a task is no more wonder, information abounds and our new problem is how to distill it in order to get what we really need, even if that means ceding our privileges to AIs or mega-corporations to lead our thinking and behavior.

In The New Yorker’s “How the Internet gets inside us”, Adam Gopnik defines three types of change adopters: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers. At first it seems comfortable to be able to identify within (just) one of these schools, when reality is far more complex as Gopnik himself elaborates in his essay (he later revealed later to be switching among these “moods” in an interview published in the Montreal Gazette two months after the first article was published). So the whole subject would not be as which ideology appeals to one but rather how we can assimilate change or how much do we really need this change to happen as individuals and how much we are demanded to implement it in our society.

Some nations, like the Chinese, tended to have an historical perspective where change effects occur along centuries, while western civilizations have spent the last 500 years rushing towards an unknown and uncertain future nobody knows where it leads but everyone is certain we must rush forward as fast as we can.

And this is where those conspiracy theories come into play, they rebel against the prodigious wonders claimed by the Never-Bettters (must be Aliens!), the memory of a perfect world of the Better-Nevers (Kennedy!), and the apparent wisdom and neutrality of the Ever-Wasers. These theories remind us there are voices, that still pinpoint the map of the ever changing internet world, whatever it is, whatever the masses ascertain to be true. Flat earth can be refuted easily, the reply: Photoshop! What an ingenious answer!

Sometimes I really wish there was an Ice wall at the end of the world, at others I just see the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope, millions of years into the past. If the Universe were actually a Hologram, I could not care less, everything out there seems so far as to ever reach it or conceive it anyway. Mythology has not abandoned us, we are recreating it through the web, the internet has just not found time to settle in, after all, we are humans.

OW