Millions Terrified by One Long Unbroken String of English Words

March 9, 2010

Courtesy of Bob McArthur I learned that in today’s online the Onion you’ll find the headline “Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text.”

Can you blame them?

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                                                                                                                               From the Onion

Boston resident Charlyne Thomson said, “Why won’t it just tell me what it’s about?” There are no bullet points, no highlighted parts. I’ve looked everywhere—there’s nothing here but words.” 500 of them in fact!

Detroit local Janet Landsman said, “I’m sure if it’s important enough, they’ll let us know some other way. After all, it can’t be that serious. If there were anything worthwhile buried deep in that block of impenetrable English, it would at least have an accompanying photo of a celebrity or a large humorous title containing a pop culture reference.”  

Added Landsman, “Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even have a point.”

In humour lies truth.

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The Future of Publishing and the Accuracy of Information

August 4, 2009

One of the continuing controversies we all face as the Web becomes our primary tool for news, knowledge, reference…indeed for all forms of information, is determining the quality of the information published on the Web. The topic arises frequently in articles and blog entries. Much of the controversy has been associated with Wikipedia. Wikipedia has certainly suffered a number of embarrassing gaffes, but a study released by the journal Nature in late 2005 claimed that Wikipedia is essentially as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. In reviewing 42 articles on the same topics from each source it found an average 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia. (The original article in Nature is available only to subscribers or for a $32 purchase, however the link to Nature provided here does offer some free material on the subsequent controversy). The respected technology writer Nicholas Carr later criticized the study, concluding his detailed analysis with:

If you were to state the conclusion of the Nature survey accurately, then, the most you could say is something like this: “If you only look at scientific topics, if you ignore the structure and clarity of the writing, and if you treat all inaccuracies as equivalent, then you would still find that Wikipedia has about 32% more errors and omissions than Encyclopedia Britannica.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement….The open source model is not a democratic model. It is the combination of community and hierarchy that makes it work. Community without hierarchy means mediocrity.

It’s worth noting here that Wikipedia continues to take new steps and implement new procedures to improve the accuracy of its content. This blog entry is not intended to suggest the Wikipedia is fatally flawed: I think it’s a great resource and a publishing miracle. I raised the Wikipedia versus Britannica story because it well-illustrates the main point of this entry.

The broader controversy over information quality on the Web has myriad ramifications. Without exploring them all in this entry, I stand by the statement that the value of the proliferation of new and original voices on the Web is seriously marred if the accuracy of what is represented as fact remains suspect and undependable.

This leads me to recommend a very fine site I discovered the other day while researching this issue. The Virtual Chase: Teaching Legal Professionals How To Do Research, has an excellent section called “Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet.” Chapters include “Why Information Quality Matters,” “How to Evaluate Information,” and my favorite feature, a checklist for evaluating the quality of information found on the Web.

While the site is targeted at the legal profession, and therefore not relevant in all of its aspects to each of us, what better profession to turn to than one where a false fact can mean in some circumstances the death of a client or in others the loss of a $5 million lawsuit!

I’ll be continuing to cover this topic. I hope this entry provides a suitable introduction.

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Calligraphy and the Future of Publishing, Part II

April 9, 2009

Last night I wrote to the calligrapher featured in my previous entry:

Dear Mr. Karimaei,

PLEASE do let me know if I’ve posted it incorrectly!

Today I received the response from Mr. Karimaei:

“I write another two your name’s script in two style of Persian Calligraphy that you can replace in the previous script because these have better quality.”

Joy!

Here they are:

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And #2:

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Beautiful, no?

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Calligraphy and the Future of Publishing

April 7, 2009

Last Saturday I had the unexpected pleasure of attending a festival in Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver welcoming in the Iranian New Year, sponsored by the Canadian Iranian Foundation. My friend Jill and I wandered through the damp ground to booths and stalls, stopping briefly to meet Massoud Karimaei, a master calligrapher. I watched him work his art and then engaged his attention. He offered to render “Thad McIlroy” in Farsi calligraphic script. The result is just below (I sure hope I haven’t got it upside down!).

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Such a beautiful image! As the printed word undergoes so many dramatic changes, there is something deeply heartening in observing an artist practicing his written craft.

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Good News for the Future of Publishing

January 16, 2009

I subscribe to Bob Sacks’ exhausting three times per day newsletter. As I’ve previously noted, Bob is one of the great veterans of magazine publishing and of publishing in general. He’s on our side. I recommend that you subscribe.

Many of his newsletters are simply reposts of articles of interest, but once a week or so he posts readers’ comments (anonymously). Because of the frequency of his newsletter I’ll admit that I often fall behind, but tonight I’m thinking about a recent issue where he noted one reader’s criticism (not verbatim): “I’m sick of reading all this bad news. Isn’t there anything positive to report?” Bob’s comment as I recall was essentially: “Send me some good news and I’ll be glad to post it.”

So it got me thinking about where are the rays of sunshine in the otherwise gloomy publishing landscape. Let me note a few:

1. eBooks are taking off. This may not be, in the short term, great economic news for book publishers, but I think it’s very good news. OK, some business models will require adjustment, but if we’re attracting (or retaining) a generation of readers with the Kindle, Sony Reader et al., then I’d say this weighs in strongly on the positive side.

2. Likewise digital magazine services are creating thousands of digital magazine editions for publishers who previously dealt only in print. I was initially skeptical of this technology (as I was of eBooks), but now see the many possibilities these digital magazines offer to augment the efforts of numerous print publishers. I’ll be going into ever-greater depth on this subject in my article on The Future of Magazines, but note that this has clearly become a very positive technological and business option for all kinds of magazine publishers.

3. Apparently the downward trend in reading has reversed. After a very depressing report several years ago from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA (noted extensively in my article on The Future of Book Publishing), a very recently-released report “Reading on the Rise, the National Endowment for the Arts‘…documents a significant turning point in recent American cultural history. For the first time in over a quarter-century, our survey shows that literary reading has risen among adult Americans.”

4. Please, please, look into the progress that Quark and Adobe are making with their competing product offerings. Each have become so sophisticated and powerful that the press has been doing justice to neither. From my perspective, designers and publishers now have access to technology for a few thousand dollars that would previously have cost them $100,000 or more (of course both companies offer server-based versions at significantly higher prices, but they’re for high-volume publishers). The financial analysts have downgraded Adobe’s share price figuring that a few thousand is too much to pay for their current offering (Quark remains a private company). I say to the financial press: You’ve no idea that the ROI on these offerings can be measured in weeks, not years, and that the published output will be a thousand times better than the outdated high-priced products they replace. They are both fine “Hall of Fame” candidates in my Future of Publishing showcase.

I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ve got a few more, but will save them for a later blog.

Cheer up! As Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said nearly a half-century ago, when faced with a great political defeat: “This too shall surely pass.”

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