Tag Archives: google

An interlude for gratitude

I went to see an old friend for lunch today.

Jeremy Lyon is the guy who founded Futurismic, back in the day. He was also the first person (other than me) who was willing to publish my writing back in 2006, when he took me on as the site’s daily blogoid.

Six and a half years… it seems a lifetime ago, but at the same time, like just yesterday.

It felt like the perfect moment to finally meet Jeremy in person. We’ve not been in touch much since he handed over Futurismic to me; at the time, he’d just landed a gig in UI at Palm and had his second child, so he’s been all colours of busy. Long story short, he’s now involved with UI development for Android, posted over here in London for a year, so he invited me to lunch at Google’s L4 building near Victoria Station[1], and I got to thank him for setting me on what was, with hindsight, the long and winding path that got me to where I am right now.

So: thanks again, Jeremy, for taking a shot on a guy whose ambitions and ideas far outstripped his native talent at the time[2].

Like Jeremy, you may be wondering what’s happening with Futurismic. Right now? Nothing much. But I have plans. Plans, I tell you. The ‘zine shall rise again, phoenix-like, transformed and transcendent, like itself but much much moreso…

… just as soon as I can suss a way to fund it, or find a hidden three hours in the day that I was heretofore unaware of. :)

(But seriously, stuff’s gonna happen. Watch this space.)


1 – Thanks to the plague I picked up from being coughed all over on a train last week, I was unable to avail myself of the plentiful catering options, though I can inform you that I had a Granny Smith apple, and it was very nice.

2 – Before you accuse me of false modesty, have a trawl through the earliest posts on this very site. I learned in public, and am proud to have done so.

Publishing, promotion and print-on-demand

It’s been a lively week in the publishing world – or so it seems to someone who was away from his RSS feeds for a week.

Genre mags are giving it away for free

I’m very pleased to see that Fantasy & Science Fiction are experimenting with publishing full stories from their back-catalogue on their website. It’s a great way to raise the profile of the writers, and to drive traffic to their own site by providing uniquely valuable content with no strings attached.

They’re some way from the mass of content that Subterranean are giving away, but it’s a good start. I think the recent overseas postal rate hike is making a lot of the small press mags look seriously at new options before they discover a hard place to hem them in between the rock at their back.

For example, I will not be renewing my sub to Locus in paper format; not because the magazine is no good, but because the airmail price increase means that I might as well stick to getting the news from their website – meaning that I get it when it’s still relevant. Hard choices, sure, but it’s a changing world. Better to jump before the chasm gets too wide.

Talking of giving away content, Gareth L. Powell’s story “The Last Reef” is available to read in full on the TTA Press website, as is a teaser for his forthcoming “Ack-Ack Macaque” (at the bottom of the same page, as a downloadable image of the mag layout for the start of the story). We’re looking at ways of expanding the amount of content that the TTA Press site carries over the coming months; more news on that when I have it in a definite format.

The Waterstones cash-for-promo leak

Of course, there are other options for promoting writers – but as the recent alleged leaked memo from Waterstones confirms, they’re strictly for publishers who have a lot of cash to splash around. As someone who gets to see some of the machinations of the music industry, those figures aren’t even slightly surprising. The record companies, music press and brick-and-mortar stores work in very similar ways to the bublishing industry, and that’s a large part of why they’re in such a mire of quicksand at present.

As I’ve said before, this is something the genre publishers should learn from sooner rather than later. Being smaller, they have the ability to change more quickly, being less caught up with the train-wrecking momentum of the big boys.

Harry Haxxor and the Pilfered Plot

The saturation of blather about the forthcoming final installment of [popular children's fantasy series that I can't be bothered to name-check] is reaching ridiculous proportions. I was more than a trifle suspicious when I saw the news that OMGHAX PL0+ SU|/||/|4RY G4N|<3d FRUM W3BSIT3ZORZ!!!1!!1, and Bruce Schneier also seems to be less than convinced that this is anything more than a publicity stunt.

The question of which side of the fence the stunt has come from will likely never be made apparent – at least not with the same degree of headline-grabbing fervour as the original story.

OUP just wishes Google would ask first

On the subject of the pilfering (or not) of licenced content, an executive of the Oxford University Press has gone on the record as saying that all publishers really want is the opportunity to give permission for their work to be digitised by Google, rather than the opportunity to refuse the permission already assumed.

I need to research this matter more thoroughly, so I’m not going to call one way or the other on the veracity of the claims until I know the facts of the matter. But there are hints that publishers are starting to wake up to the usefulness of the digitisation projects, even though they don’t want to go back on their earlier statements of outrage.

Espresso Print-on-Demand Machine goes live in New York

If nothing else, digital copies of public domain material could become far more useful and accessible in the next few years, once a few more libraries and bookstores follow the New York Public Library’s lead, and install Espresso Book Machines to print titles on demand for customers. Until we reach a point that the vast majority of readers are prepared for reading in electronic formats at all times, these devices are as close as the publishing industry can get to the just-in-time customer-satisfying power of downloaded music – and as such represent a wise step forwards in trying to adapt to a changing business landscape.

Books in libraries, books in shops

Some folk don’t like the Dewey Decimal system*. It doesn’t work well with the more casual library user, so the argument goes, because the granularity of information it provides isn’t intuitive to people who don’t have that sort of mind-set.

Hence the decision of a public library in Arizona to do away with Dewey and replace it with a broader topic-based cataloguing system, more akin to that of bookshops. And cue debate by bookworms and library types over the rights and wrongs of the decision.**

What this highlights is that we have access to too much information for any single linear cataloguing system to handle sufficiently. Neither Dewey nor  subject sections can handle both topical cross-referencing and precise atomised location of knowledge. for example.

Which, as far as I’m concerned, is another argument in favour of the Google Books project. Once books are detached from their physicality, the inherent problems of finding something on a shelf becomes irrelevant. With a decent search engine, you can locate exactly what you want, or browse more broadly – whichever suits you best.

And despite childish pseudo-protests from publishers who seem to have misunderstood the entire issue, more institutions are opening up to the idea. The Big Ten US universities (which are actually twelve in number, for some reason) will be letting the Google people get their mitts on significant chunks of their library collections, with the intent of creating “a shared digital repository that faculty, students and the public can access quickly.”

As I’ve said before, I don’t think the death of the physical book is incredibly close, but it can be seen on the horizon. The problem isn’t dead-tree technology, it’s the distribution mechanism. We’re now very accustomed to getting the information we want as soon as we need it, and libraries cannot always meet those demands.

Nor can bookstores, for various reasons – many of them profit based, which has led to the pseudo-monoculture of big-chain bookstore shelves. It’s a situation that has encouraged the MD of Edinburgh’s Birlinn Press to buy up a series of indie bookstores in an attempt to revive the industry, a quixotic move that (much as I’d love to see it work) doesn’t seem likely to succeed.

The future of books is in digital catalogues and print-on-demand technology. There’ll still be a need for libraries with good stock, and for shops with full shelves to browse. But until libraries and shops can cater to every possible customer’s every possible request – quickly, cheaply and efficiently – they’re going to lose users to services like Amazon and Abe. Sad, perhaps, but also true.

[* Not me - I love Dewey, being a natural born sucker for taxonomic systems. The proprietary nature of it frustrates me, though, and is a major source of its bugs and inability to move with the times ... but that's a whole different rant.]

[** Much of the debate seems to miss the point that the really important function of Dewey is to allow the library staff to quickly locate a book on the customer's behalf - a task that becomes exponentially harder with loose-category shelving. But that is yet another different rant.]

Fan-fic and profit; Google and the public domain

Those who were interested by the conversation between myself and A. R. Yngve on fan-fic may want to take a look at a post on Scalzi’s Whatever that shares some data from an exhaustive trawl through the licence terms of FanLib, a new start-up that has some very bizarre (and potentially exploitative) attitudes to ‘fan-created content’:

“…the company pitches the FanLib fanfic experience to content creators, and in doing so reveals that they don’t actually understand how fan fiction works in the slightest, they’re under the mistaken impression that they’re going to be able to control how stories get written, and that most fanfic writers will be pleased to have their work subsequently hijacked by others.

For example, on page 3 of the .pdf file, in the “Managed and Moderated to the Max” heading, FanLib touts to media folks “a customized environment YOU control,” in which “players must ‘stay within the lines’” with “restrictive terms-of-service,” a “profanity filter” and “full monitoring & management of submissions.” And here’s the kicker: “Completed work is just 1st draft to be polished by the pros.” “

With that sort of situation, I can totally understand (and indeed support) authors being against fan-fic – and I expect the fan-ficcers themselves won’t be too keen either. With the amount of negative attention FanLib has accrued in the last week or so, I can’t see it being a project that gets very far without collapsing into nothingness … or being sued into a radioactive puddle of legalese.

***

Related to that is the news that Google have responded to accusations that they have set up exclusivity deals with the institutions whose book collections they have scanned by allowing the public to see the contracts they use – now that is transparency.

Cory Doctorow isn’t entirely satisfied, however, and points out that Google are still betting on a different kind of exclusivity – i. e. themselves as the exclusive gateway to material that is meant to be public domain:

“I’m still disappointed that Google puts restrictive notices on their public domain works (these aren’t licenses, just “polite notices”) that tell what you’re not allowed to do with these books. I know they’re worried about their competitors getting ahold of those documents, but that’s the deal with the public domain: it doesn’t belong to you, period, it belongs to all of us. Just because you scan a public domain book, it doesn’t confer the right to control it to you.”

I can’t see Google holding a virtual monopoly on that material forever – if only because some hacktivist type is bound to find a way to scrape the content and set it free. But this does highlight one of the thornier issues around public domain materials, in that the delivery system may not be as free as the material it contains. This particular debate is going to be around for a good few years yet, methinks.

Still stalking Sterling – what is a spime?

Those of you who play the “VCTB Bruce Sterling drinking game” had best steel yourselves to down your beer in one.

This time round we have the inimitable Sterling on video at the Google campus, pitching a collaboration to a dissappointingly empty and unresponsive room. He’s talking about two concepts he mentions a lot these days: ‘spimes‘ and ‘the Internet of Things‘.

And this isn’t just some blind fanboy linkage, oh no. This is worth watching for sf writers, readers and critics - because not only is the concept of the Internet of Things definitely sf-nal, but also because Sterling talks about how difficult it is for an sf writer to imagine interfaces for the ideas they create. It ties together design, technology and fiction in one pitch. The other guy doing the presentation is a rather dull speaker, so you may wish to skip through him to Sterling’s ‘Q&A’* at the end, but if you have the time I’d recommend you watch it all.

[* Actually less of a Q&A than a pitch extension, as only two people have questions - not that Sterling's going to let that stop him putting out the message.]