Monday, December 29, 2008

Uproar in Australia Over Plan to Block Web Sites

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- A proposed Internet filter dubbed the ''Great Aussie Firewall'' is promising to make Australia one of the strictest Internet regulators among democratic countries.

Consumers, civil-rights activists, engineers, Internet providers and politicians from opposition parties are among the critics of a mandatory Internet filter that would block at least 1,300 Web sites prohibited by the government -- mostly child pornography, excessive violence, instructions in crime or drug use and advocacy of terrorism.

Hundreds protested in state capitals earlier this month.

''This is obviously censorship,'' said Justin Pearson Smith, 29, organizer of protests in Melbourne and an officer of one of a dozen Facebook groups against the filter.

The list of prohibited sites, which the government isn't making public, is arbitrary and not subject to legal scrutiny, Smith said, leaving it to the government or lawmakers to pursue their own online agendas.

''I think the money would be better spent in investing in law enforcement and targeting producers of child porn,'' he said.

Internet providers say a filter could slow browsing speeds, and many question whether it would achieve its intended goals. Illegal material such as child pornography is often traded on peer-to-peer networks or chats, which would not be covered by the filter.

''People don't openly post child porn, the same way you can't walk into a store in Sydney and buy a machine gun,'' said Geordie Guy, spokesman for Electronic Frontiers Australia, an Internet advocacy organization. ''A filter of this nature only blocks material on public Web sites. But illicit material ... is traded on the black market, through secret channels.''

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy proposed the filter earlier this year, following up on a promise of the year-old Labor Party government to make the Internet cleaner and safer.

''This is not an argument about free speech,'' he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ''We have laws about the sort of material that is acceptable across all mediums and the Internet is no different. Currently, some material is banned and we are simply seeking to use technology to ensure those bans are working.''

Jim Wallace, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, welcomed the proposed filter as ''an important safeguard for families worried about their children inadvertently coming across this material on the Net.''

Conroy's office said a peer-to-peer filter could be considered. Most of today's filters are unable to do that, though companies are developing the technology.

The plan, which would have to be approved by Parliament, has two tiers. A mandatory filter would block sites on an existing blacklist determined by the Australian Communications Media Authority. An optional filter would block adult content.

The latter could use keywords to determine which sites to block, a technology that critics say is problematic.

''Filtering technology is not capable of realizing that when we say breasts we're talking about breast cancer, or when we type in sex we may be looking for sexual education,'' Guy said. ''The filter will accidentally block things it's not meant to block.''

A laboratory test of six filters for the Australian Communications Media Authority found they missed 3 percent to 12 percent of material they should have barred and wrongly blocked access to 1 percent to 8 percent of Web sites. The most accurate filters slowed browsing speeds up to 86 percent.

The government has invited Internet providers to participate in a live test expected to be completed by the end of June.

The country's largest Internet provider, Telstra BigPond, has declined, but others will take part. Provider iiNet signed on to prove the filter won't work. Managing director Michael Malone said he would collect data to show the government ''how stupid it is.''

The government has allocated 45 million Australian dollars ($30.7 million) for the filter, the largest part of a four-year, AU$128.5 million ($89 million) cybersafety plan, which also includes funding for investigating online child abuse, education and research.

One of the world's largest child-advocacy groups questions such an allocation of money.

''The filter may not be able to in fact protect children from the core elements of the Internet that they are actually experiencing danger in,'' said Holly Doel-Mackaway, an adviser with Save the Children. ''The filter should be one small part of an overall comprehensive program to educate children and families about using the Internet.''

Australia's proposal is less severe than controls in Egypt and Iran, where bloggers have been imprisoned; in North Korea, where there is virtually no Internet access; or in China, which has a pervasive filtering system.

Internet providers in the West have blocked content at times. In early December, several British providers blocked a Wikipedia entry about heavy metal band Scorpion. The entry included its 1976 ''Virgin Killer'' album cover, which has an image of a naked underage girl. The Internet Watch Foundation warned providers the image might be illegal.

Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom have filters, but they are voluntary.

In the United States, Pennsylvania briefly imposed requirements for service providers to block child-pornography sites, but a federal court struck down the law because the filters also blocked legitimate sites.

In Australia, a political party named the Australian Sex Party was launched last month in large part to fight the filter, which it believes could block legal pornography, sex education, abortion information and off-color language.

But ethics professor Clive Hamilton, in a column on the popular Australian Web site, scoffed at what he called ''Net libertarians,'' who believe freedom of speech is more important than limiting what children can access online.

''The Internet has dramatically changed what children can see,'' said the professor at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, noting that ''a few extra clicks of a mouse'' could open sites with photos or videos of extreme or violent sex. ''Opponents of ISP filters simply refuse to acknowledge or trivialize the extent of the social problem.''

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cheney claims power to decide his public records

WASHINGTON — Dick Cheney's lawyers are asserting that the vice president alone has the authority to determine which records, if any, from his tenure will be handed over to the National Archives when he leaves office in January.

That claim is in federal court documents asking that a lawsuit over the records be dismissed. Cheney leaves office Jan. 20, potentially taking with him millions of records that might otherwise become public record.

"The vice president alone may determine what constitutes vice presidential records or personal records, how his records will be created, maintained, managed and disposed, and are all actions that are committed to his discretion by law," according to a court filing by Cheney's office with the U.S. District Court on Dec. 8.

Cheney is being sued by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group that is trying to ensure that no presidential records are destroyed or handled in a way that makes them unavailable to the public.

The 1978 Presidential Records Act requires all presidential and vice presidential records to be transferred to the National Archives immediately upon the end of the president's last term of office and gives the archivist responsibility to preserve and control access to presidential records. The law ended the tradition of private ownership of presidential papers, opening White House records to the public and historians.

But the law carves out exceptions for personal or purely partisan records.

National Archives officials have said records of Cheney's dealings with the Republican National Committee would not require preservation under the law. As of November, it had not made a final determination on the status of Cheney's records produced when he acts as president of the Senate, which he says are exempt.

But the law is unclear on how disagreements will be decided about the preservation of disputed records, said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists.

"Decisions that are made in the next couple of weeks may prove irrevocable. If records are held from the archivist now they may never be recovered," Aftergood said.

A judge in September ordered Cheney to preserve all his records while the suit continued.


Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s Nobel lecture

Posted in books | Sunday, December 14th, 2008 | Trackback

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio
was recently awarded the Nobel prize for literature. His lecturevideo) which is rich reading for bibliophiles generally, has a special mention of libraries. [thanks Kári]

Culture, as I have said, belongs to us all, to all humankind. But in order for this to be true, everyone must be given equal access to culture. The book, however old-fashioned it may be, is the ideal tool. It is practical, easy to handle, economical. It does not require any particular technological prowess, and keeps well in any climate. Its only flaw—and this is where I would like to address publishers in particular—is that in a great number of countries it is still very difficult to gain access to books. In Mauritius the price of a novel or a collection of poetry is equivalent to a sizeable portion of the family budget. In Africa, Southeast Asia, Mexico, or the South Sea Islands, books remain an inaccessible luxury. And yet remedies to this situation do exist. Joint publication with the developing countries, the establishment of funds for lending libraries and bookmobiles, and, overall, greater attention to requests from and works in so-called minority languages—which are often clearly in the majority—would enable literature to continue to be this wonderful tool for self-knowledge, for the discovery of others, and for listening to the concert of humankind, in all the rich variety of its themes and modulations.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Future of the Internet III

Janna Anderson Lee Rainie

A survey of internet leaders, activists and analysts shows they expect major tech advances as the phone becomes a primary device for online access, voice-recognition improves, artificial and virtual reality become more embedded in everyday life, and the architecture of the internet itself improves.

They disagree about whether this will lead to more social tolerance, more forgiving human relations, or better home lives.

Here are the key findings on the survey of experts by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that asked respondents to assess predictions about technology and its roles in the year 2020:

  • The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020.
  • The transparency of people and organizations will increase, but that will not necessarily yield more personal integrity, social tolerance, or forgiveness.
  • Voice recognition and touch user-interfaces with the internet will be more prevalent and accepted by 2020.
  • Those working to enforce intellectual property law and copyright protection will remain in a continuing arms race, with the crackers who will find ways to copy and share content without payment.
  • The divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations.
  • Next-generation engineering of the network to improve the current internet architecture is more likely than an effort to rebuild the architecture from scratch.

    More predictions about the evolution of mobile communications can be found here

    More elaborations about the evolution of social tolerance can be found here

    More elaborations about the evolution of intellectual property law and copyright protection can be found here

    More elaborations about the evolution of privacy, transparency, integrity and forgiveness can be found here

    More elaborations about the evolution of augmented reality and virtual reality can be found here

    More elaborations about the evolution of the internet's user interface can be found here

    More elaborations about the evolution of the internet's architecture can be found here

    More elaborations about the evolution of the internet's impact on work and leisure can be found here

    View PDF of Report

    Other Internet Evolution Resources

    MemoMemo | Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services

    MemoReport | Digital Footprints

    MemoMemo | Wireless Internet Access

    MemoMemo | Riding the Waves of "Web 2.0"

    MemoReport | The Future of the Internet II

  • Top 10 US out of print books of 2007

    We spend a lot of time looking at demand trends for out-of-print books. Per our research, the following are the top 10 most sought-after out-of-print books in America in 2007:
    1. Once a Runner (1978) by John L. Parker, Jr.
      The cult classic distance running novel; the long-awaited sequel, Again to Carthage, was released in November
    2. Football Scouting Methods (1962) by Steve Belichick
      Legendary college football scout’s playbook, used by coaches and players to develop winning game plans
    3. Sex (1992) by Madonna
      The pop icon’s controversial book of erotic photos
    4. Promise Me Tomorrow (1984) by Nora Roberts
      An early novel that the bestselling romance novelist refuses to reprint, describing it as “mediocre”
    5. The Lion’s Paw (1946) by Robb White
      A children’s adventure story about two orphans who travel around Florida in a boat
    6. The Principles of Knitting (1988) by June Hemmons Hiatt
      An indispensable resource on hand knitting
    7. Raven: The Untold Story of the Reverend Jim Jones and His People (1982) by Tim Reiterman
      Chronicles the inner workings which allowed the Peoples Temple to flourish
    8. Aran Knitting (1997) by Alice Starmore
      History and how-to about the Irish knitting technique
    9. One Way Up (1964) by John F. Straubel
      The story of of helicopters and vertically rising aircraft
    10. Dear and Glorious Physician (1959) by Taylor Caldwell
      A novel based on the life of Saint Luke

    People of the Screen, Christine Rosen

    he book is modernity’s quintessential technology—“a means of transportation through the space of experience, at the speed of a turning page,” as the poet Joseph Brodsky put it. But now that the rustle of the book’s turning page competes with the flicker of the screen’s twitching pixel, we must consider the possibility that the book may not be around much longer. If it isn’t—if we choose to replace the book—what will become of reading and the print culture it fostered? And what does it tell us about ourselves that we may soon retire this most remarkable, five-hundred-year-old technology?

    We have already taken the first steps on our journey to a new form of literacy—“digital literacy.” The fact that we must now distinguish among different types of literacy hints at how far we have moved away from traditional notions of reading. The screen mediates everything from our most private communications to our enjoyment of writing, drama, and games. It is the busiest port of entry for popular culture and requires navigation skills different from those that helped us master print literacy.

    Enthusiasts and self-appointed experts assure us that this new digital literacy represents an advance for mankind; the book is evolving, progressing, improving, they argue, and every improvement demands an uneasy period of adjustment. Sophisticated forms of collaborative “information foraging” will replace solitary deep reading; the connected screen will replace the disconnected book. Perhaps, eons from now, our love affair with the printed word will be remembered as but a brief episode in our cultural maturation, and the book as a once-beloved technology we’ve outgrown.

    But if enthusiasm for the new digital literacy runs high, it also runs to feverish extremes. Digital literacy’s boosters are not unlike the people who were swept up in the multiculturalism fad of the 1980s and 1990s. Intent on encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, they initially argued for supplementing the canon so that it acknowledged the intellectual contributions of women and minorities. But like multiculturalism, which soon changed its focus from broadening the canon to eviscerating it by purging the contributions of “dead white males,” digital literacy’s advocates increasingly speak of replacing, rather than supplementing, print literacy. What is “reading” anyway, they ask, in a multimedia world like ours? We are increasingly distractible, impatient, and convenience-obsessed—and the paper book just can’t keep up. Shouldn’t we simply acknowledge that we are becoming people of the screen, not people of the book?

    To Read or Not to Read

    Every technology is both an expression of a culture and a potential transformer of it. In bestowing the power of uniformity, preservation, and replication, the printing press inaugurated an era of scholarly revision of existing knowledge. From scroll, to codex, to movable type, to digitization, reading has evolved and the culture has changed with it. In A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel reminds us that the silent reading we take for granted didn’t become the norm in the West until the tenth century. Far from the quiet contemplation we imagine, monasteries were actually “communities of mumblers,” as critic Ivan Illich once described, where devotional reading was constant and aloud.

    Just as our styles of reading have changed, so too have our reasons for reading and the amount of time we devote to it. “Read in order to live,” Flaubert wrote. Critic Harold Bloom views reading from the other end of the human lifespan. “One of the uses of reading is to prepare ourselves for change,” he argues in How to Read and Why, “and the final change alas is universal.” But however much we read and for whatever reasons, literacy has long been prized as a marker of civilization and a measure of a society’s success. Literacy is now nearly universal in the United States and the rest of the developed world—a remarkable historical achievement, and yet one that has sparked more complacency than comment.

    That may be changing. In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published a report, To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, which provided ample evidence of the decline of reading for pleasure, particularly among the young. To wit: Nearly half of Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure; Americans ages 15 to 24 spend only between 7 and 10 minutes per day reading voluntarily; and two thirds of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all. As Sunil Iyengar, director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis and the lead author of the report, told me, “We can no longer take the presence of books in the home for granted. Reading on one’s own—not in a required sense, but doing it because you want to read—that skill has to be cultivated at an early age.” The NEA report also found that regular reading is strongly correlated with civic engagement, patronage of the arts, and charity work. People who read regularly for pleasure are more likely to be employed, and more likely to vote, exercise, visit museums, and volunteer in their communities; in short, they are more engaged citizens.

    Not everyone endorses this claim for reading’s value. Bloom, for instance, is not persuaded by claims that reading encourages civic engagement. “You cannot directly improve anyone else’s life by reading better or more deeply,” he argues. “I remain skeptical of the traditional social hope that care for others may be stimulated by the growth of individual imagination, and I am wary of any arguments whatsoever that connect the pleasures of solitary reading to the public good.”

    Whether one agrees with the NEA or with Bloom, no one can deny that our new communications technologies have irrevocably altered the reading culture. In 2005, Northwestern University sociologists Wendy Griswold, Terry McDonnell, and Nathan Wright identified the emergence of a new “reading class,” one “restricted in size but disproportionate in influence.” Their research , conducted largely in the 1990s, found that the heaviest readers were also the heaviest users of the Internet, a result that many enthusiasts of digital literacy took as evidence that print literacy and screen literacy might be complementary capacities instead of just competitors for precious time.

    But the Northwestern sociologists also predicted, “as Internet use moves into less-advantaged segments of the population, the picture may change. For these groups, it may be that leisure time is more limited, the reading habit is less firmly established, and the competition between going online and reading is more intense.” This prediction is now coming to pass: A University of Michigan study published in the Harvard Educational Review in 2008 reported that the Web is now the primary source of reading material for low-income high school students in Detroit. And yet, the study notes, “only reading novels on a regular basis outside of school is shown to have a positive relationship to academic achievement.”

    Despite the attention once paid to the so-called digital divide, the real gap isn’t between households with computers and households without them; it is the one developing between, on the one hand, households where parents teach their children the old-fashioned skill of reading and instill in them a love of books, and, on the other hand, households where parents don’t. As Griswold and her colleagues suggested, it remains an open question whether the new “reading class” will “have both power and prestige associated with an increasingly rare form of cultural capital,” or whether the pursuit of reading will become merely “an increasingly arcane hobby.”

    There is another aspect of reading not captured in these studies, but just as crucial to our long-term cultural health. For centuries, print literacy has been one of the building blocks in the formation of the modern sense of self. By contrast, screen reading, a historically recent arrival, encourages a different kind of self-conception, one based on interaction and dependent on the feedback of others. It rewards participation and performance, not contemplation. It is, to borrow a characterization from sociologist David Riesman, a kind of literacy more comfortable for the “outer-directed” personality who takes his cues from others and constantly reinvents himself than for the “inner-directed” personality whose values are less flexible but also less susceptible to outside pressures. How does a culture of digitally literate, outer-directed personalities “read”?

    Promiscuous, Diverse, and Volatile

    The NEA’s study was not without its critics, many of whom focused on the report’s definition of reading as limited to print content. Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005), was miffed that the report didn’t include screen reading in its analysis. “I challenge the NEA to track the economic status of obsessive novel readers and obsessive computer programmers over the next ten years,” he wrote in the London Guardian. “Which group will have more professional success in this climate?” he asked. This question is obtuse and misguided, although not surprising coming from a reflexive techno-utopian like Johnson. Most of the people immersed in screen worlds are not programmers. They are consumers who are reading on the screen, but also buying, blogging, surfing, and playing games. How can we differentiate among these many activities, not all of which might contribute to the success Johnson prizes?

    Johnson would have done better to compare obsessive novel writers and obsessive computer programmers (I would guess that Danielle Steele’s paychecks measure up to those earned by the programmers of Grand Theft Auto). More importantly, although computer programmers undoubtedly enjoy great success “in this climate,” as Johnson notes, he entirely misses the point: that “this climate” itself is what the NEA report is challenging. Johnson’s dismissive response is akin to praising people who react to global warming by becoming nudists.

    Besides, the NEA was well aware of the difficulties involved in measuring screen and print reading. As Iyengar told me, “In terms of working definitions of reading—reading on computers or online—these pose challenges to survey methodologists.” But he recognizes the need for such data. “For the future, we need better ways to get at the question of reading on the screen versus not. We have a massive amount of data on reading in the traditional sense. I think the jury is out on whether or not those same benefits transfer to screen reading.”

    But the jury is nearing a verdict. While the testimonials of digital literacy enthusiasts are replete with abstract paeans to the possibilities presented by screen reading, the experience of those who do it for a living paints a very different picture. Just as Griswold and her colleagues suggested the impending rise of a “reading class,” British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield argues that the time we spend in front of the computer and television is creating a two-class society: people of the screen and people of the book. The former, according to new neurological research, are exposing themselves to excessive amounts of dopamine, the natural chemical neurotransmitter produced by the brain. This in turn can lead to the suppression of activity in the prefrontal cortex, which controls functions such as measuring risk and considering the consequences of one’s actions.

    Writing in The New Republic in 2005, Johns Hopkins University historian David A. Bell described the often arduous process of reading a scholarly book in digital rather than print format: “I scroll back and forth, search for keywords, and interrupt myself even more often than usual to refill my coffee cup, check my e-mail, check the news, rearrange files in my desk drawer. Eventually I get through the book, and am glad to have done so. But a week later I find it remarkably hard to remember what I have read.”

    As he tried to train himself to screen-read—and mastering such reading does require new skills—Bell made an important observation, one often overlooked in the debate over digital texts: the computer screen was not intended to replace the book. Screen reading allows you to read in a “strategic, targeted manner,” searching for particular pieces of information, he notes. And although this style of reading is admittedly empowering, Bell cautions, “You are the master, not some dead author. And that is precisely where the greatest dangers lie, because when reading, you should not be the master”; you should be the student. “Surrendering to the organizing logic of a book is, after all, the way one learns,” he observes.

    How strategic and targeted are we when we read on the screen? In a commissioned report published by the British Library in January 2008 (the cover of which features a rather alarming picture of a young boy with a maniacal expression staring at a screen image of Darth Vader), researchers found that everyone, teachers and students alike, “exhibits a bouncing/flicking behavior, which sees them searching horizontally rather than vertically....Users are promiscuous, diverse, and volatile.” As for the kind of reading the study participants were doing online, it was qualitatively different from traditional literacy. “It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense, indeed there are signs that new forms of ‛reading’ are emerging as users ‛power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages, and abstracts going for quick wins.” As the report’s authors concluded, with a baffling ingenuousness, “It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”

    That is precisely what Jakob Nielsen, a former software engineer and a widely respected expert on Web page usability, found in his research on screen reading. Rather than reading deliberately, when we scan the screen in search of content our eyes follow an F-shaped pattern, quickly darting across text in search of the central nugget of information we seek. “‛Reading’ is not even the right word” to describe this activity, Nielsen pointedly says.

    Evidently not. In a spate of recent stories about changes in literacy, writers have taken to using scare quotes to signal the now-liminal status of the printed word. Last year, when the New York Times interviewed the chief executive of Scholastic Publishing, he was remarkably unworried about the effects of screen time on traditional reading skills. “We’ll see more about the impact of technology and the interaction between graphics and words,” he said, but since reading is “visualizing in your mind, there could easily be a rebirth of intellectual activity, whether you call it ‛reading’ or not.”

    “I think we have to ask ourselves, ‛What exactly is reading?’” said Jack Martin, assistant director for young adult programs at the New York Public Library, in another Times story. “Reading is no longer just in the traditional sense of reading words in English or another language on paper.” As the Times went on to report, rather uncritically, “Spurred by arguments that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print, libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, while schools are exploring how to incorporate video games into the classroom.” The MacArthur Foundation is pouring money into an effort to use video games to promote learning in public schools in New York. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, in ten or twenty years, video games are creating fictional universes which are every bit as complex as the world of fiction of Dickens or Dostoevsky,” said Jay Parini, a writer who teaches English at Middlebury College. Little Dorrit, meet Dora the Explorer!

    The new caveats about “reading” are part of a broader argument that advocates of digital literacy promote: digital literacy, unlike traditional print literacy, they argue, is not “passive.” The screen invites the player of a video game to put himself at the center of the action, and so it must follow that “games are teaching critical thinking skills and a sense of yourself as an agent having to make choices and live with those choices,” says James Paul Gee, one of the chief cheerleaders of video games as learning tools. As Gee told the Times, “You can’t screw up a Dostoevsky book, but you can screw up a game.”

    Parini’s and Gee’s statements suffer from a profound misunderstanding of the reading experience and evince an astonishing level of hubris. The reason you can’t “screw up” a Dostoevsky novel is that you must first submit yourself to the process of reading it—which means accepting, at some level, the author’s authority to tell you the story. You enter the author’s world on his terms, and in so doing get away from yourself. Yes, you are powerless to change the narrative or the characters, but you become more open to the experiences of others and, importantly, open to the notion that you are not always in control. In the process, you might even become more attuned to the complexities of family life, the vicissitudes of social institutions, and the lasting truths of human nature. The screen, by contrast, tends in the opposite direction. Instead of a reader, you become a user; instead of submitting to an author, you become the master. The screen promotes invulnerability. Whatever setbacks occur (as in a video game) are temporary, fixable, and ultimately overcome. We expect to master the game and move on to the next challenge. This is a lesson in trial and error, and often an entertaining one at that, but it is not a lesson in richer human understanding.

    My Own Digital Dickens

    In a.d. 1000, the Grand Vizier of Persia, an avid reader, faced a peculiar logistical challenge when he traveled. Unwilling to leave behind his precious collection of 117,000 books, as historian Alberto Manguel tells us, he hit upon a unique strategy for transporting them: four hundred camels trained to walk in an alphabetically-ordered caravan behind him on his journey.

    Amazon founder Jeff BezosWhat the Grand Vizier needed was a Kindle. Since its much-hyped launch in 2007, Amazon’s portable electronic reader (if it is the “reader,” what does that make you?) has received outsized media attention. In a characteristically enthusiastic article about the device in Newsweek, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was quoted as saying, “This is the most important thing we’ve ever done....It’s so ambitious to take something as highly evolved as the book and improve on it. And maybe even change the way people read.” The market for e-books, although growing rapidly, is still less than 1 percent of the total publishing business: perhaps 400 million paper books will be sold in the United States in 2008, and Amazon expects to sell 380,000 Kindles in 2008, resulting in an unknown number of book downloads.

    Much has been written about the Kindle’s various features: wireless service that allows for rapid delivery of e-texts; the ability to search the Web; a service called “NowNow” that performs real-time searches (using human beings!) to answer questions; a dedicated “Search Wikipedia” function. These features are remarkable—and remarkably distracting.

    The screensaver on the Kindle I used featured literary personages of British descent: Oscar Wilde tricked out in fur-trimmed velvet, for example, and the ghostly visage of Virginia Woolf. Another more self-serving screensaver popped up later with a definition of “kindle” and the cloying explanatory sentence—By reading to me at bedtime when I was a child, my parents kindled my lifelong love for reading—in a weird evocation of childhood nostalgia for the very printed page the e-book’s pushers mean to supplant. (Kindle users have already figured out how to hack the Kindle screensaver function to use images other than the default ones, of course.)

    A friend of mine who was an early Kindle user noted how much he enjoys the fact that the Kindle delivers the day’s newspapers to his device overnight, so he can read them first thing in the morning. He uses his Kindle for work travel a lot as well, and as one of those people who always ambitiously packed too many books for long plane flights, now enjoys the convenience of being able to bring dozens of books stored on one device. The Kindle also appeals to people who deal with a lot of paper in their jobs; publishers such as Random House are now distributing e-readers to editors to read manuscripts.

    When Amazon sent me a Kindle to try, I had been reading a worn copy of Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby—a Penguin classic edition from the 1970s, with its distinctive orange paperback spine (and a list price of $3.95). Dickens seemed a good choice to read on the Kindle—after all, he was one of the great serial novelists, and the Kindle seems to lend itself to serial reading. Dickens’s adoption of monthly serialization—approximately thirty-two pages per month, sold in cheap editions for a shilling apiece (at a time when most Victorian novels were several volumes long and a great deal more expensive) represented a gutsy experiment in marketing and mass publishing—not unlike the Kindle. And his novels are all still in print.

    The Kindle and other similar devices, such as Sony’s e-Reader, train users to read on screens intended to replicate the readability of paper and minimize eye strain; unlike bright computer monitors, the screens on these e-books are dull gray with black lettering, using a sophisticated “E Ink” display developed by M.I.T.’s Media Lab. Although mildly disorienting at first, I quickly adjusted to the Kindle’s screen and mastered the scroll and page-turn buttons. Nevertheless, my eyes were restless and jumped around as they do when I try to read for a sustained time on the computer. Distractions abounded. I looked up Dickens on Wikipedia, then jumped straight down the Internet rabbit hole following a link about a Dickens short story, “Mugby Junction.” Twenty minutes later I still hadn’t returned to my reading of Nickleby on the Kindle. I found that despite the ability to change the font size and scroll up and down the screen, reading was much slower on the Kindle than in book form. I’d want it on a long trip, but not for everyday use.

    There are practical concerns as well: Despite Kindle’s emphasis on accessibility—get any book, anywhere, instantly—this is true only if you can afford to own the device that allows you to read it. You can’t share the books you’ve read on your Kindle unless you hand the device over to a friend to borrow. There are other drawbacks to the Kindle, more emotional than practical. Unlike a regular book, where the weight of the book transfers from your right hand to your left as you progress, with the Kindle you have no sense of where you are in the book by its feel. It doesn’t smell like a book. Nor does the clean, digital Kindle bear the impressions of previous readers, the smudges and folds and scribbles and forgotten treasures tucked amid the pages—markings of the man-made artifact. The printed book is the “transformation of the intangible into the tangibility of things,” as Hannah Arendt put it; it is imagined and lived action and speech turned into palpable remembrance. Such feelings of partiality to the printed book are impossible to quantify, and might well strike the critic as foolish attachment to an outmoded medium, as rank sentimental preference for the durable over the delible and digital. To be sure, “I just like the feel of it” is hardly firm intellectual footing from which to launch a defense of the paper book. But it is at least worth noting that these tactile experiences have no counterpart when reading on the screen, and worth recalling that for all our enthusiasm about the aesthetics of our technologies—our sleek iPhones and iPods—we are quick to discount the same kind of appreciation for printed words on paper.

    Kids and Kindles

    It is also worth questioning what role the Kindle will play in the lives of younger readers. If there is such a thing as a culture of reading, it begins in the home. Regardless of their parents’ educational background or income level, children raised in homes with books become more proficient readers. Does this apply to the Kindle? Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies (1994), describes how our screen technologies exert a “conditioning impact” on all of us who use them; that is, “they make it harder, once we do turn from the screen, to engage the single-focus requirement of reading.” This seems a particular danger for children. We already know that electronic books marketed for children, far from being helpful in teaching literacy, can hamper it. Researchers at Temple University’s Infant Laboratory and the Erikson Institute in Chicago who studied electronic books aimed at children described a “slightly coercive parent-child interaction as opposed to talking about the story,” and concluded, “We shouldn’t use e-books to replace traditional books.” Anyone who has read a book to a toddler knows that one experience with an e-reader would yield more interest in the buttons and the scroll wheel than the story itself.

    Meanwhile, older children and teens who are coming of age surrounded by cell phones, video games, iPods, instant messaging, text messaging, and Facebook have finely honed digital literacy skills, but often lack the ability to concentrate that is the first requirement of traditional literacy. This poses challenges not just to the act of reading but also to the cultural institutions that support it, particularly libraries. The New York Times recently carried a story about the disruptive behavior of younger patrons in the British Library Reading Room. Older researchers—and by old they meant over thirty—lamented the boisterous atmosphere in the library and found the constant giggling, texting, and iPod use distracting. A library spokesman was not sympathetic to the neo-geezers’ concerns, saying, “The library has changed and evolved, and people use it in different ways. They have a different way of doing their research. They are using their computers and checking things on the Web, not just taking notes on notepads.” In today’s landscape of digital literacy, the old print battles—like the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week,” held each year since 1982—seem downright quaint, like the righteous crusade of a few fusty tenders of the Dewey Decimal system. Students today are far more likely to protest a ban on wireless Internet access than book censorship.

    Not every librarian is pleased with these changes. Some chafe at their new titles of “media and information specialist” and “librarian-technologist.” One librarian at a private school in McLean, Virginia, described in the Washington Post a general impatience among kids toward books, and an unwillingness to grapple with difficult texts. “How long is it?” has replaced “Will I like it?” he says, when he tries to entice a student to read a book. For an increasing number of librarians, their primary responsibility is teaching computer research skills to young people who need to extract information, like little miners. But these kids are not like real miners, who dig deeply; they are more like ’49ers panning for gold. To be sure, a few will strike a vein, stumbling across a novel or a poem so engrossing that they seek more. But most merely sift through the silty top layers, grab what is shiny and close at hand, and declare themselves rich.

    The Kindle will only serve to worsen that concentration deficit, for when you use a Kindle, you are not merely a reader—you are also a consumer. Indeed, everything about the device is intended to keep you in a posture of consumption. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has admitted, the Kindle “isn’t a device, it’s a service.”

    In this sense it is a metaphor for the experience of reading in the twenty-first century. Like so many things we idolize today, it is extraordinarily convenient, technologically sophisticated, consumption-oriented, sterile, and distracting. The Kindle also encourages a kind of utopianism about instant gratification, and a confusion of needs and wants. Do we really need Dickens on demand? Part of the gratification for first readers of Dickens was rooted in the very anticipation they felt waiting for the next installment of his serialized novels—as illustrated by the story of Americans lining up at the docks in New York to learn the fate of Little Nell. The wait served a purpose: in the interval between finishing one installment and getting the next, readers had time to think about the characters and ponder their motives and actions. They had time to connect to the story.

    We are so eager to explore what these new devices do—particularly what they do better than the printed book—that we ignore the more rudimentary but important human questions: the tactile pleasures of the printed page versus the screen; the new risks of distraction posed by a device with a wireless Internet connection; the difference between reading a book in two-page spreads and reading a story on one flashing screen-display after another. Kindle and other e-readers are marvelous technologies of convenience, but they are no replacement for the book.

    The Book Is Dead. Long Live the Book!

    A parallel debate about the meaning of texts and the future of reading is going on with regard to the efforts of Google (and others) to digitize the world’s libraries (a debate wherein, oddly, the word “bibliophile” is often hurled as an epithet but the word “technophile” is rarely uttered). John Updike’s cri de coeur at the 2006 BookExpo called on booksellers to “defend your lonely forts” against these and other challenges to the book, reminding his listeners, “For some of us, books are intrinsic to our human identity.”

    Perhaps the most excitable dispatch from this front came from former Wired magazine editor Kevin Kelly in a 2006 article in the New York Times Magazine. This ode to gigajoy included the obligatory prediction that paper books would be replaced with handheld devices. “Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums,” Kelly writes, the universal digital library that Google is bringing into the world “will encourage the creation of virtual ‛bookshelves’—a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books, that form a library shelf’s worth of specialized information.” Kelly anticipates the day when authors will “write books to be read as snippets or to be remixed as pages.” But what would a mash-up of George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the latest best-selling mystery look like? There are some extraordinary lines in Eliot’s novel. Writing of Lydgate and Rosamond, for example, Eliot says, “He once called her his basil plant; and when she asked for an explanation, said that basil was a plant which had flourished wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains.” But devoid of the complicated context of the rest of the novel, how can we understand why this observation is poignant, apt, and true?

    Kelly’s hope for the book is to turn it into a kind of digital Frankenstein monster, a contextless “text” that is no more than the sum of its scattered and remixed parts: “What counts are the ways in which these common copies of a creative work can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, enlivened by other media and sewn together into the universal library,” he writes. And he is confident that “in the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail.” Perhaps it will, but Kelly might want to include in his own future e-book another snippet from Eliot’s masterpiece, one which might serve as a warning for us all: “We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement.”

    If reading has a history, it might also have an end. It is far too soon to tell when that end might come, and how the shift from print literacy to digital literacy will transform the “reading brain” and the culture that has so long supported it. Echoes will linger, as they do today from the distant past: audio books are merely a more individualistic and technologically sophisticated version of the old practice of reading aloud. But we are coming to see the book as a hindrance, a retrograde technology that doesn’t suit the times. Its inanimacy now renders it less compelling than the eye-catching screen. It doesn’t actively do anything for us. In our eagerness to upgrade or replace the book, we try to make reading easier, more convenient, more entertaining—forgetting that reading is also supposed to encourage us to challenge ourselves and to search for deeper meaning.

    In a 1988 essay in the Times Literary Supplement, the critic George Steiner wrote,

    I would not be surprised if that which lies ahead for classical modes of reading resembles the monasticism from which those modes sprung. I sometimes dream of houses of reading—a Hebrew phrase—in which those passionate to learn how to read well would find the necessary guidance, silence, and complicity of disciplined companionship.

    To those raised to crave the stimulation of the screen, Steiner’s houses of reading probably sound like claustrophobic prisons. For those raised in the tradition of print literacy, they may seem like serene enclaves, havens of learning and contentment, temples to the many and subtle pleasures of the word on the page. In truth, though, what Steiner’s vision most suggests is something sadder and much more mundane: depressing and dwindling gated communities, ramshackle and creaking with neglect, forgotten in the shadow of shining skyscrapers. Such is the end of the tragedy we are now witness to: Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. The paper book, the tool that built modernity, is to be phased out in favor of fractured, unfixed information. All in the name of progress.

    Christine Rosen is a senior editor of The New Atlantis and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

    China defends censoring websites that break rules

    China defended Tuesday the blocking of websites it said violated Chinese law and urged Internet companies to respect its legal system.

    "The Chinese government conducts necessary management over the Internet. It is the same with other nations," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists.

    "You cannot deny, some websites actually contain content that violates China's laws."

    Liu cited websites that maintain that Taiwan is an independent nation separate from China, a view that violates China's anti-secession law, he said.

    "I hope that websites can practise self-restraint and not do things that violate China's law," he said.

    Liu was responding to questions on why websites belonging to the BBC, the Voice of America and Reporters Without Borders appeared to be blocked in China after they were made accessible during the Beijing Olympics.

    Liu did not answer those questions, nor would he comment on the legal process leading up to the blocking of any particular website.

    China exercises strict control over the Internet, blocking sites linked to Chinese dissidents, the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, the Tibetan government-in-exile and those with information on the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

    Its system of Internet censorship has become known as the "Great Firewall of China" due to the large number of websites that are inaccessible from inside the country.

    The Evolution of Search

    A look at the History, Vision, Innovators, and Future of Information Accessibility

    1. Foundations

    A. The Beginning - In the Pre-WWII era, information sharing was in its relative infancy compared to today. Without the help of more modern electronics, we had reached the upper limit in efficiency of how and where information was stored and shared. The organization and cataloging of information within libraries and archives had been well perfected, but the retrieval and dissemination of that information was being hindered by technology.

    B. The Vision - In the burgeoning world of scientific advancement that characterized the United States during and after WWII, astute observers like Vannaver Bush began to realize the need for a better system of information sharing. In an article published in The Atlantic Monthly, Bush observed that:

    “The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record.”

    Vannaver Bush also noted that an additional obstacle to overcome was the inefficiency of current data organization. He posited that the most efficient way to share information would be to structure it in a way similar to how our brains process data, via association.

    C. The Game Changer - As the field of computer science advanced in the decades after Vannaver Bush’s insights, his notion of a better way to retrieve and organize information
    began to come to fruition. The earliest pioneer of this new type of associative data retrieval was Gerard Salton, A Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University. Salton developed the first information retrieval system called SMART (System for the Manipulation and Retrieval of Text).
    Salton and others continued to expand the knowledge base of information retrieval systems through the 70’s and 80’s, developing the theoretical groundwork for more sophisticated information retrieval systems and ultimately Search Engines.

    2. Connecting the Dots

    A. The Beginning - As computers began to expand human’s ability to store and analyze data, they did little to help us share data, collaborate, or communicate more effectively.

    B. The Vision - During the same time that those in the field of computer science began to see a need for better information retrieval systems, others saw the importance of
    being able to share and collaborate on information across distances and between computers. J.C.R. Licklider of Bolt, Beranek and Newman was the first to conceptualize the idea of a worldwide computer network, in his memos discussing the “Intergalactic Computer Network.”

    C. The Game Changer - The first of these widespread networks was developed by the United States Department of Defense under the acronym ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). ARPANET initially consisted of major research universities in the United States. During the 1970’s and early 80’s, the network expanded and branched out, eventually evolving and forming the first basis of what would become today’s Internet.

    3. The Early Internet

    A. The Beginning - The early Internet looked nothing like it does today. In order to share files or information, it was necessary to use FTP (file transfer protocol), so anyone wanting to make their data available and open on the Internet served their information via a public anonymous FTP. The problem was, there was no way to know what was available unless you knew where to look.

    B. The Vision - As the number of computers connecting to the Internet continued to expand during the early 1990’s, it was becoming apparent to many that there was a disconnect between the amount of information available, and one’s ability to access that information. A tool was needed to make the Internet more accessible to users.

    C. The Game Changer - This tool became first real search engine, dubbed “ARCHIE” and was developed by Alan Emtage, a student at McGill University in Montreal. ARCHIE downloaded directory listing of the files available on various public FTP sites and created a searchable database, making it possible to search the Internet for the first time. A year later,another student, Mark McCahill of the University of Minnesota, took this idea one step further and created the tool “Gopher” which was actually able to index(download) plain text documents. Later, two new tools named Veronica and Jughead made it possible to search the plain text documents indexed by gopher, allowing for the first time the ability to quickly find contextual information on the Internet.

    4. Bring it to the Masses

    A. The Beginning - The network of computers that made up the early Internet was only accessible to a small portion of technological elite, based mostly at universities and research facilities. Although home computer ownership rates were soaring, and the technology was there, the early Internet was almost completely inaccessible to the average user.

    B. The Vision - Tim Berners Lee is widely known as the father of the World Wide Web. During the 1980’s Berners Lee was working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and at the time, the largest Internet Node in Europe. During his time at CERN, he saw a great need for a better, more efficient way for researchers to share and collaborate on research. In his words:

    “I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and - ta-da!- the World Wide Web”

    C. The Game Changer - With the goal of creating a tool that would make the Internet a more creative and accessible place, Berners Lee developed the world’s first web browser
    and editor, improving upon the clunky and difficult FTP based model by using hypertext (links) to allow users to point-and-click their way across the Internet. On August 1st, 1991, the first website went online;, a guide to what Berners Lee dubbed “The World Wide Web.”

    5. A Glut of Information

    A. The Beginning - Before the web became the multi-billion page monstrosity that it is today, there was originally disagreement on the best ways to organize all available web sites and information. During these early years, directories and search engines battled for supremacy of web search. Tim Berners Lee, the father of the World Wide Web was also responsible for the first web directory called the WWW Virtual Library. Other popular web directories that popped up during the early years of the Internet included the EINet Galaxy web directory in 1994, and the Yahoo! directory, also in 1994.

    B. The Vision - As the number of pages on the World Wide Web continued to expand, shrewd observers realized that while directories were great, it was quickly becoming an impossible task to manually organize all of the information available online. It was clear a better solution was needed. In response to the need for a more thorough way to catalog or index the growing Internet, the first tools, known as “Spiders,” were created to navigate or “Crawl” around the Internet to find and index new websites and web pages.

    C. The Game Changer - The first web crawler, or spiders, was developed in 1993 by Matthew Gray. It was known as the “World Wide Web Wanderer”. The World Wide Web Wanderer and other primitive spiders gathered a great deal of information available on the early World Wide Web, for the first time making the full breadth and depth of the Internet accessible, and setting the groundwork for modern search engines.

    6. Search Engines Get Smarter

    A. The Beginning - As web crawling spiders continued to gain intelligence and proficiency at navigating and indexing the Internet, new tools were needed for organizing the data that was being accumulated. Early search engines were able to help users find some of what they were looking for, but were incredibly simplistic. The search algorithms that were used to deliver search results from the data crawled by the spiders simply matched the search terms being searched for, and returned the result to the user in the order that they had originally been crawled. It was clear there was a better way.

    B. The Vision - In February 1993 six Stanford University students began working on a new generation of search engine with a new solution for dealing with the increasingly large amounts of data of the growing Internet. Their idea was to apply statistical analysis of word relationships to make searching more accurate and efficient. This idea eventually became the Excite search engine. These initial steps by Excite and others spurred a competitive revolution and over the next few years many new competitors entered the search engine game.

    C. The Game Changer - On July 20th, 1994 the Lycos search engine went public, introducing to the world the next great advancement in search engine technology. Lycos was the first search engine that not only fully indexed the content on web sites but also ranked them according to more sophisticated word relationship algorithms. Lycos was also a leader in the extent of its index. It quickly became the search engine with the largest index, with more than 60 million documents by November 1996.

    7. Spammers and Manipulators

    A. The Beginning - During the mid and late 90’s there was a virtual free-for-all of new search engines coming to market, each with slightly different offerings, but none that stood out significantly more than others in terms of their technology or ability to serve relevant results. It was during this time that spammers and scammers began to realize the profit potentials of manipulating the search engines for their own benefit.

    B. The Vision - Most search engines during this period used algorithms that relied heavily on the content of the pages it crawled to determine what the pages were about, and how they should be ranked in the search results. This led to manipulative tactics by those looking to improve their rankings in the search engines. Webmasters would simply add keywords to the titles, content, and meta tags of their sites and trick the search engines into ranking their site for highly trafficked keywords.

    C. The Game Changer - While universally panned as a problem, spammers and manipulators played a vital role in helping to encourage search engines to become more sophisticated. The techniques used to manipulate the search engines became a rubric for solving problems and led directly to a fairer, more efficient, and ultimately more successful generation of search engines, the biggest of which today has become synonymous with search itself.

    8. Google’s Brilliance

    A. The Beginning - Search engines before Google focused on using the content of the pages they indexed as the best way to determine what the page was about. As discussed, this method was very prone to manipulation because the variables used in ranking could all be easily manipulated by the webmasters themselves. These inherent problems led to the emergence of an entirely new model for search engines, a model that relied on impartial outside sources to help determine what a site was about, and how it should rank in the search results.

    B. The Vision - In January of 1996, Larry Page, a PH.D. student at Stanford University chose his dissertation theme on web-based search engines. His idea was to try to understand the web in terms of its linking structure, or how each page on the Internet linked to other pages on the Internet. For this project, originally named “Backrub,” he partnered with another Stanford PH.D. student named Sergey Brin. Together they began to develop an entirely new search engine technology. Like current search engine technologies, Brin and Page’s new search engine ranked search results based on the content of the pages it indexed, but also took it one step further. Backrub took into consideration the number, quality, and context of the links pointing to each website as it tried to determine where a web site should rank in the search results.

    C. The Game Changer - On September 7, 1998 Larry Page and Sergey Brin officially incorporated their new search engine under the now ubiquitous name Google Inc. Over the next few years Google’s popularity began to soar. It became clear that the search results delivered by Google were superior in quality to competitors, leading to the failure of many search engines with inferior technology that had enjoyed success in the earlier days of the Internet.

    9. Social Media, Bookmarking

    A. The Beginning - Over the past 15 years search engines have become increasingly more proficient at understanding and organizing the information of the Internet. Their ability to deliver relevant results to searchers is nothing short of remarkable. Despite this, many users still craved a more personalized feel to discovering and understanding content on the Internet.

    B. The Vision - While the sophistication and ability of computers to organize and serve up relevant data continues to grow exponentially, there may always be a need for human edited, or handpicked content. Our personal preferences may be able to be tracked, mirrored, or simulated by computers, but only human beings can say for sure which content they find the most relevant and/or interesting (we built ChunkIt! to address this problem - to make it as easy a possible for people to decide which search results are truly relevant for them).

    Although there is incredible diversity within our species, the need for and popularity of person-to-person information sharing has shown we think alike in ways computers may never understand. This idea is one of the core concepts behind what many consider Web 2.0. This more recent vision for the future of the Internet is concerned with the facilitation of information sharing and collaboration between people in a more intimate way. These new types of interactions should be complimentary to search, assisting people in not only finding what they’re looking for, but in helping them to discover new and interesting content.

    C. The Game Changer - In the world of Social Media, there are a few new ideas that have really broken the mold, paving the way for two brand new types of interaction among web users. The first,, became one of the first “social voting sites,” allowing users to submit and vote on content. The site grew quickly since its launch in 2004, and currently brings in over 250 million users per year. The skyrocketing of and similar sites has proven the great need that exists for users to share content in ways that were formerly unavailable. A second, and equally important idea for the dissemination of human selected content, is the concept of social bookmarking., the most popular of such sites, allows users to search within content which has been tagged and bookmarked by their peers. No information exists within the Delicious index that hasn’t been chosen, reviewed, or tagged by a member of the Delicious community. These two examples serve as archetypes for how social media is influencing search- and as any Digg or Delicious user may tell you, these sites can serve as invaluable resources for discovering the best of the web.

    10. Enhancing the Offering

    A. The Paradigm - There is no doubt that the Internet has made huge strides in efficiency, usability, and its ability to organize information. There are now a great number of quality resources and tools to find what you are looking for, share your opinions, and interact with others. While having a large variety of resources available online is a good thing, there is often a disconnect or gap in how resources fit together, interact, and enhance each other.

    B. The Vision - This need for cohesion between resources has led to the development of meta-resources, i.e. (tools, websites, or programs that help to enhance the user experience for the user in multiple ways, across websites, or between websites.) Many times these come in the form of new innovative technologies such as RSS, Podcasting, Content Aggregation tools and sites, Comparison Shopping tools and Sites, tools for automating processes, and tools for enhancing the user experience.

    C. The Game Changer - In the world of search, one of these tools is changing the way we use search engines all together. By taking an already great resource like Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine and making it more accessible to users, the browser add-on called Chunkit! has enhanced an already excellent resource. ChunkIt! searches within the pages of your engine’s results to find your search terms in context. You can then preview the resulting multicolored “chunks” for relevance without clicking on the actual page. Tools like this, and others, add another layer of usability and accessibility to the plethora of resources already available online.


    A. The Beginning - Until now, search has been all about accurately matching what you type as your search query to the content available on the Internet. This idea was the basis for the original search engines, and continues to be the concept we all understand search to be. But search can be so much more. While we may sometimes know what we are looking for, we often don’t have enough information to properly find the information we seek, or perhaps we only begin with a concept, and need to be led to more concrete definitions or ideas. Search as it stand today is robotic and one dimensional, and most certainly still in its infancy.

    B. The Vision - If you’re a Star-Trek fan, you’re likely quite familiar with the future of search. The computer on the USS Enterprise is perhaps one of the best known and most easy to relate to examples of the direction search is moving in. Members of the Enterprise ask the computer any question, phrased in any way, and the computer will linguistically understand both the intent of the question, and its main message. Searchers of the future will make queries that result not only in the information they asked for, but also in content that is related in any possible fashion; semantically, conceptually, etc. People will use search as a guide to their understanding in a way that is not even fully conceptualized, but promises to be a mix of advanced artificial intelligence, incredible computational understand of human language, and the integration of huge amounts of human behavioral data that will inform these advanced systems about what is most relevant.

    C. The Game Changer - Every major search engine considers the above to be its end goal. Companies like Google and Yahoo are pouring large amounts of monetary and intellectual resources into the technologies that will be the platform for the search of the future. From the research and development being done at the GooglePlex on items like speech recognition and linguistics, it is apparent that we are trending toward ever more sophisticated implementations of what was once a very simple concept. As we move toward the future, those changing the game will be the developers of new technology that harness the vast quantities of information online, and seek to understand that information as fully as possible, coupled with the goal of understanding the way in which we seek that information.


    9. The Search - Authoritative Biography of Google by John Battelle

    21 Sites To Find Out What’s Hot Online

    Is it important for you to stay informed of daily news? Do you try to always be up-to-date with what people are talking about throughout the world?

    If “yes” is the answer to both of the questions, then today’s post on how to spot internet hot trends is right for you!

    Use meme trackers to spot daily hot trends:

    • Google Blogsearch that was turned into a meme tracker only a few months ago tracks memes throughout all topics and naturally has the biggest index to check.
    • Megite separates memes into categories (technology, entertainment, business, science, etc) and often publishes completely irrelevant memes in each.
    • Techmeme is the most popular technology meme tracker which is known to be the fastest to catch hot tech news.

    Use blog search engines to spot daily hot trends:

    • Technorati Popular gives the list of top searches and top blogs (that have become hot in the past 48 hours).
    • BlogPulse key phrases allows for a “trend this” option that graphically represents the hot trend history.

    Use search engines to spot daily hot trends:

    • Yahoo Buzz. Besides giving a list of the most popular terms, the service reveals the daily buzz score (i.e. ”the percentage of Yahoo! users searching for that subject multiplied by a constant to make the number easier to read“) and the move (i.e. how fast this has become popular).
    • Google hottest trends gives a huge list of the most popular search terms. The best thing about the service is that it is constantly updated throughout the day.
    • MSN A-list lists daily popular headlines, top videos and movies and even most searched people and sport stories.
    • hot searches shows you its “hot searches” of the previous day. They also add their own commentary to each search term explaining what the buzz is about.
    • Top updates you on the most popular terms in general search, news search and even on most searched movies (past week). It will also show you top advancing searches (those that are the fastest to get popular).

    Use social media sites to spot daily hot trends:

    Use Twitter tools to spot daily hot trends:

    • Tweet Meme, as the domain name suggests, tracks and displays Twitter memes in a handy threaded style.
    • Twit Scoop shows “what’s hot right now” in the form of a tag cloud and the “Hot trends” list.
    • TwittUrly displays hottest memes in a Digg-like style (where Tweets = Votes).

    Use ecommerce sites to spot daily hot trends:

    • Amazon tag cloud shows which tags Amazon customers use to classify products.
    • EBay pulse displays popular eBay searches.

    Have I missed anything? Please add your method of spotting popular internet trends!

    Reverend Pulls Books On Obama From Library

    Father At Blue Springs Parish Concerned About Abortion Issue

    BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. -- A reverend at a Blue Springs parish and school has removed two books about President-elect Barack Obama from the Catholic school's library.

    The Rev. Ron Elliott at St. John LaLande School said someone complained about the content of the books, and he wanted to review them.

    In a phone interview, the reverend told KMBC he was concerned about Obama's position on abortion.

    "I am very pro-life," Elliott told KMBC's Maria Antonia. "Because of his stance on certain issues, I was asked to look into that matter."

    Elliott said the books he pulled were printed shortly before Obama was elected president.

    Elliott said he has read the books and didn't find anything wrong with them. He said he will put the books back on the shelf in February or March, "after the dust kind of settles."

    St. John LaLande School has an early childhood center and also teaches students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    New Pew Report Shows Adults Are Gamers Too

    December 8th, 2008

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project published a report yesterday about Adults and Video Games which states that over half of American adults play video games of some kind. Here are some of their key findings:

    • 53% of American adults aged 18 and older play video games
    • Adults prefer computers as their gaming device while young adults prefer consoles
    • 4 out of 5 young adults play video games
    • 81% of respondents 18-29 years old play games
    • 23% of respondents 65 years old and older report playing games
    • Men are slightly more likely to play digital games than women
    • Urbanites are slightly more likely to play digital games than rural-dwellers
    • 57% of respondents with at least some college education play games
    • 51% of high school graduates play games

    Women Librarians Who Settled the Wild West

    ILLINOIS STYLE: Librarians helped tame Wild West

    URBANA, Ill. - A timid, hair-wrapped-in-a-bun, pince-nez-wearing spinster.

    Is that the image you have of a librarian from 100 years ago?

    Try this one on instead:

    Gun-toting, horseback-riding, walk-2-miles-to-work-in-a-blizzard type of woman.
    Those were the kind of librarians who settled the West.

    Around the turn of the 20th century, graduates of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science (then called the Illinois Library School) headed to places like Texas, North Dakota, Idaho and Oregon.

    Lisa Renee Kemplin, senior library specialist at the University of Illinois, looks through Ida Kidder's 1908 letter from Salem, Ore., at the Archives Research Center in Urbana. The letter and other documents catalog UI librarians' trips to the West 100 years ago.

    "These women had such a spirit of adventure," said Betsy Hearne, professor emeritus with the library school. "They were determined to be where the action was."

    Hearne shared stories about the early graduates of the library school for a short video broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Using information gathered in Liz Cardman's 1996 doctoral dissertation, "Interior Landscapes: Personal Perspectives on Professional Lives: The First Generation of Librarians at the Illinois Library School, 1893-1907," Hearne, who is also a storyteller, spoke about graduates establishing libraries in places where, in some cases, they were the only librarian within a 130-mile radius or the only single female in town.

    Not only were the graduates going to new places, they were entering into a totally new profession: librarianship, Cardman said.

    "They were pioneers in both senses of the word," she said.

    At a time when there were no phones or nearby libraries, the women corresponded with the library school's leaders about the places and people they encountered and the challenges they faced in their jobs. A former graduate assistant who worked in the University Archives, Cardman said she was interested in women's history and the early history of the library profession, and she also was familiar with the "richness" of the UI Archives and the many letters and photographs saved from this time.

    Until the latter part of the 19th century, libraries were primarily private places, she said. But thanks to Melvil Dewey and Andrew Carnegie, in the late 1800s and early 1900s "public libraries were just exploding and they needed librarians," Cardman said.

    The idea was, "you can't have a democracy without access to information," Hearne said.

    At the time, the only careers open to women were either teaching or nursing. Social work, along with librarianship, were emerging fields.

    The Illinois Library School "seeded the West with librarians," Hearne said.

    New librarians received support from the then-head of the library school, Katharine Sharp and her predecessor, Frances Simpson.

    Sharp was "the one who lit the fires under them," Cardman said. She helped graduates see themselves as pioneers, as missionaries. "She really instilled in them an incredible zeal to go out and spread the benefits of libraries."

    Hearne read stories of graduates who would, after a fire, start a new library in a gym; who walked through 8- to 10-foot snow drifts to get to the library; and who brought books to World War I soldiers recuperating in hospitals.

    "The librarian was a kind of apostle for culture. They were missionaries for literacy, knowledge and culture," Hearne said.

    George Bush library: Rooms available

    Posted December 9, 2008 9:00 AM
    by Mark Silva

    Every once in a while, someone has a little fun at the expense of, well, the president of the United States. And every once in a while, some of that fun comes around in the form of, what else, email.

    We found this missive, having a little fun with the building of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, Texas, somewhat entertaining. To paraphrase Dr. Strangelove, our source is the Internet.

    Suspend your partisan ties for the moment, and take a virtual tour through the library that the retiring president is planning at the alma mater of the outgoing First Lady, Southern Methodist University. And, when you're finished, design your own room.

    There is...

    "The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.

    "The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.

    "The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.

    "The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.

    "The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.

    "The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.

    "The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling.

    "The Tax Cut Room, with entry only to the wealthy.

    "The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.

    "The Iraq War Room. (After you complete your first visit, they make you to go back for several more visits.)

    "The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.

    "The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.

    "The Supreme Court Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.

    The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.

    "The Decider Room, complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.''

    Okay, like we said, a little fun here, that's all.

    If you'd like, you can add your own room to the design.

    National Archivist Allen Weinstein Resigns

    National Archivist Allen Weinstein Resigns: On December 7, historian Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, submitted his resignation to the president, effective December 19, 2008. Professor Weinstein, who has Parkinson's disease, cited health reasons for his decision.
    Deputy Archivist of the United States, Adrienne Thomas, will serve as Acting Archivist until a new Archivist is appointed, in accordance with the National Archives governing statute, 44 USC 2103(c).

    Best Books For A Transformative New Year

    Listen Now [6 min 44 sec]

    Fresh Air from WHYY, December 8, 2008 · Allow me to begin by stating the obvious: there's something different in the air this 2008 holiday season — and it's not just the Scrooge-like damper on spending cast by the financial crisis. The holidays this year also serve as prelude to the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president. This is such a milestone that most people I know are still walking around saying, "I can't believe it really happened." So this year, I'm recommending some terrific books that can help anyone, whatever his or her politics, gain a deeper understanding of what we've had to come through as a country —what we're still struggling through — to reach this moment.

    And, yes, in recognition of the fact that many of us are humming "We Ain't Got a Barrel of Money" more often than we're singing "Santa Clause Is Coming To Town," almost all the gift books I'm recommending are paperbacks.