Tim O’Reilly has decided that bloggers need a Code of Conduct

April 18, 2007

Tim O’Reilly, almost always a provocative, innovative thinker about all things Web, has decided that bloggers need a Code of Conduct.

A colleague and I were discussing blogs and Web site feedback generally on Friday night at dinner. Last year I held some early enthusiasm over the prospect of allowing just about anyone to say just about anything on each and every topic on this Web site. Now I’m hesitating.

I have added the standard commenting feature to The Future of Publishing blog. This works the way it does on most blogs, except that I review first-time posters before allowing their comments to appear, just to keep the yahoos out.

It had been my plan to have a similar commenting mechanism throughout the site, encouraging folks to comment on any of my conclusions and allegations, and generally to contribute ideas and commentary to the debate on the future of publishing.

I haven’t bothered to do this yet, and I’m not in a hurry. The reason is that I’ve now been watching the types of comments that flow into the average blog, and find them ranging between the annoying and the banal. They are about as close to “conversation” as one can find on the Web, which is to say poorly-considered, lacking insight, ungrammatical — generally of no interest whatsoever.

I attend a lot of conferences, and often moderate sessions where the audience is invited to participate and comment. My experience has been consistent: if the audience really knows the topic under discussion, they often offer insightful and challenging commentary. If they don’t know the topic well, they natter, causing only boredom and annoyance.

It’s only human.

As are the responses on blogs.

I don’t think that Mr. Reilly’s Code of Conduct has much value as it fails to address the most fundamental issue of blogs and their respondents: neither have anything interesting to say.

I think I’m happier with my (just dubbed) “pull blog” approach. If I find something interesting on the Web I point to it, and explain why I think it’s interesting. I don’t invite the world to come and junk up my site at will: this is not community, this is not dialog. It is one person standing in a room and announcing e=mc2, and 100 others, who don’t understand physics, loudly tossing out their opinions, ignoring both the original speaker and one another.

This site has a two-part hierarchy. The top level is my essays on aspects of the future of publishing. Some will enjoy these essays and find them insightful or useful; others will avoid them. The next level is where I connect to a very broad world of reporting and commentary on various aspects of the future of publishing. The material is so rich and diverse, I don’t see how anyone (obviously anyone who is interested in the future of publishing) would fail to find value in most of these links.

What this site probably won’t have is level three, the comments from the public section. If you’d like to contribute to this site, and I AM very interested in hearing from those who are very interested, please write to me at thad@thefutureofpublishing.com.

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Not All Newspapers Are Suffering

April 7, 2007

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) self-refers as the “Gold Standard in Media Audits” and is the place to go if you want to find out current U.S. newspaper circulation figures. Unfortunately, you have to be a member — they’re not giving this sensitive information away — and so it’s difficult to get up-to-the-minute data. You can find out the “Top 200 Newspapers by Largest Reported Circulation” (http://www.accessabc.com/reader/top150.htm), but not what those circulation figures actually are, and how they’re trending.

But the ongoing decline in newspaper circulation in North America is not a well-kept secret, and if the ABC won’t spill the beans, others will.

According to a February article in Media Life Magazine, “in the U.S., the circulation of paid-for papers dropped 4 percent from 2001 to 2005, hitting 53.3 million. It also dropped 2.3 percent in 2005 compared to the year earlier.”

A May 2005 article in The Washington Post reported that “circulation at 814 of the nation’s largest daily newspapers declined 1.9 percent over the six months ended March 31 compared with the same period last year…The decline continued a 20-year trend in the newspaper industry as people increasingly turn to other media such as the Internet and 24-hour cable news networks for information.”

In the midst of this gloom, the February 17th issue of The Economist reported that in India there are some 300 big newspapers, and they experienced a 12.9% increase in circulation last year. Competition is fierce, and profits substantial.

The article also made reference to a key factor that may explain this bright news: Internet access is available to only 1.2% of Indians over the age of 12.

I remember years ago at a DRUPA trade show in Germany (DRUPA focuses on the printing business) meeting Naresh Khanna, the editor of Indian Printer & Publisher magazine. That year everyone was speculating about the possible impact of the Internet, but Naresh said to me: “Oh, we don’t care very much about the Internet in India. We’re just excited that we’ll soon have color pictures in our newspapers.”

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The PDF ISO Standard

April 3, 2007

Much is being made of Adobe Systems recent announcement that “it intends to release the full Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.7 specification to AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association, for the purpose of publication by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)”.

The main hubbub surrounds the contention of several bloggers that this represents another attack by Adobe on Microsoft and its recently-released XPS format, “the PDF killer.” Quite probably so. It’s a subject worth examining, although not superficially.

For today I’d like to consider what it means to become an ISO standard. I think of this as the equivalent of getting a lifetime achievement award from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (The Oscars). It means you were pretty good, but you’re now almost dead.

As of December 31, 2005, there were 15,649 published ISO standards, with 1,240 released in that year alone. Under the heading of electronics, information technology and telecommunications, there were 2,447 published standards. How many does your organization conform to? If this impresses you, remember to celebrate World Standards Day on October 14! And for even more fun, there’s the new iso memory game. I hear it’s fun for the whole family! (Update July, 2009…I can’t find it on the site any more.)

You can’t read the published standards on the ISO site without giving them a chunk of cash first. That says something in itself; I’m just not sure what. But you can see listings of the bodies buried in the ISO graveyard. For example ISO 12639:2004 is the TIFF/IT standard, once used widely in the prepress industry, but no longer a player. You can however download it for 176 Swiss francs, 8700 Yugoslav dinars, or about $140 Yankee dollars.

ISO 6804:1991 covers “rubber hoses and hose assemblies for washing-machines and dishwashers — Specification for inlet hoses”: yours for 48 Swiss francs!

I could go on (and am tempted to do so).

At the same time, there are certain relevant standards that have crept into ISO: as Adobe mentions in its press release, all of the PDF sibling are now ISO standards (PDF/X, PDF-X1, etc.). The OpenDocument Format is a standard. And so on.

So what is the significance of becoming an ISO standard when your standard is one that people actually use? Historically, none; more recently, some.

As the publishing industry has evolved into an ever-more-complex microsystem, more and more organizations (and indeed states, countries, etc.) are choosing to endorse standards that have been accepted and published by ISO.

Will more organizations use PDF if it’s an ISO standard? Probably not. That is, unless Microsoft gains real traction with XPS. There are some very high-stakes games being played against the Microsoft/Windows juggernaut, and standards have become a key weapon in the game. Adobe has played a major trump card. Microsoft: your move.

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