Sunday, 25 January 2009

Info Online - The Trouble with Books: finding their place in a post web 2.0 world (Dr Sherman Young)

Dr Sherman Young was an excellent presenter, and the concepts and issues he discussed stayed with me right through the conference. The title of his book alone is enough to command attention - "The book is dead: Long live the book".

Dr Young's key point is that we need to disassociate the concept of the book - something that requires a significant investment of time and thought by the author, editor/publisher and reader - from the print, paper and glue that is its origin. The rest of this post is based on the notes I took throughout his presentation.

Dr Sherman Young by neerav bhatt

A History of the World and the Internet in 4 1/2 slides each.
Dr Young started by giving an overview of the development of media and communication, from oral culture to the internet. He notes that upheaval that each development - written word, the printing press, the radio - caused, and the naysayers (starting with Plato!). He goes on to outline the development of the internet and the changes it is bringing to our research, reading and literacy culture. Then he played Apple's "Knowledge Navigator" vision from 1987 - which is the next step from Web 2.0 into the semantic web.

Where do books fit in a post Web 2.o world?
Now on to the meat of Dr Young's talk: What of books in this new world?
In the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock: "The Trouble with Harry"
....Harry's dead. So are books. Books don't seem to have a place. In the world of the Knowledge Navigator, books are props that line the dusty shelves of the academic's study.

In our world:

  • Content in books is hidden from the basic google search.
  • Iphone: millions of videos and music on your phone - but not many books!!! (Unless you like Harlequin Romance, which IS available on Iphone. Yeesh!)
Dr Young contends that book culture and print culture getting confused. And as Jeff Jarvis said, "Print is where books go to die".

A book's core attributes.
But if it is not "a printed object", what is a book? Dr Young explains the core attributes of a "book":
  • Time. Books take time to write and time to read. It is a "premium of time" that must be committed by authors, publishers and readers
  • Deeper content - the result of all that time.
  • Not required to react to current events - more reflective, thorough approach.
  • And then the reader must create the world themselves by engaging with the book. Unlike a movie where everything is created and visualised for you, there is a space that must be negotiated by the reader to be meaningful.
Essentially, it's like cooking and eating a Casserole compared to a Big Mac.

But the book is not dead yet - it's just resting.

The future:
Gam3r Th3ory - each chapter discussed and reviewed online before publishing
Wikibooks at Yale - read AND contribute to free scholarly works from Yale.
Yale Books unbound - read and add comments to published works which are now freely available online. This is based on "CommentPress" software that (I think) was developed by the Institute of the Future of the Book.

So how can we encourage "real books" - long form text?
  • ebooks. 68000 at MQ in 2007. Interstingly though, several of the papers from the conference focused on the difficulty in building awareness of e-books among academics and students. So this particular solution has a way to go.
  • Google books. Puts books back in the online conversation with higher, more effective result rankings.
Dr Youn'g final point was that we are experience a time of creative destruction. We need to navigate this time and ensure that books survive with the videos and blogs etc. But librarians need to support authors and publishers trying to work out new publishing, copyright and distribution models.

Books should be part of the online world, not separate. This is our challenge: to make sure that we continue to value books.

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it"
- ALan Kay

My thoughts.
This is an amazing vision which publishers really need to explore. In fact, we are already poking around the of the potential modifications of the new CCH Intelliconnect platform (coming this year) will be to allow comments and annotations to our online books and commentary. But thoroughly integrating our publications into the stream of the internet will be a much bigger challenge.