Archive for December, 2008

Penguin US iphone app, and some thoughts on ebooks for iPhone

December 27th, 2008

Penguin recently put out an iPhone app. It’s one part browser, one part ereader. It’s a reasonable start, but it feels rough around the edges. While I may try a later version, I’m deleting this app for now. I’d rather see publishers using existing ereaders and browsers, rather than building their own—especially for title sales, which they say is coming.

While I’m sure that the Penguin2.0 team is doing the best with what they have, they would do well to focus on getting in the flow, rather than trying to be a destination. Get listed by existing mobile ereader software: treat iPhone’s Stanza, Ereader, and BookZ and other ereaders as intermediate consumers.

On to the details. The Penguin US app presents an array of options:

In fact, this page presents Penguin’s mobile site in their custom browser. (Note: to keep entry point URIs short, choose m, rather than mobile, for the subdomain.) Italics indicate suggestions from W3C mobile web best practices.

“Special Interest” may be an industry term, but I doubt it’s meaningful to most consumers (clarity). (It ranges from “African American” to “Short Reads”, and includes, for instance, “Current Affairs” and “Parenting”, BTW.)

Loading is v-e-r-y slow, even on wireless, going to subscreens… (Use the network sparingly.)

It’s slow going back home, too. (Are they providing caching information?) (Note 3 ways to get home from this screen: Besides the breadcrumb labeled ‘home’, and the global navigation in the lower left, the penguin icon in the upper right links to home. Cute, however provide only minimal navigation at the top of the page.)

Limit scrolling to one direction. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of whitespace in the margins.

This is the Classics page (scrolled overfar). The books themselves are at the bottom of this page (clarity, central meaning). I felt a bit disoriented at first, because news about classic titles is at the top of the page (e.g. Benjamin Button, a new production of All My Sons).

Podcasts sound great (capabilities). However, they do tie up the device (deficiencies).

The blog is not optimized for mobile viewing. For instance, there are missing plugins(deficiencies).

I’m sad that the Penguin Mobile ‘about’ page is just half a line overfull. (A pet peeve, clearly!) Perhaps the designers forgot about the service bar? Or tested in Safari (whose back button is smaller than the Penguin global navigation)? (testing)

It’s not all bad: Excerpts are always available, even without an internet connection. And I find this next screen charming: well-done!

In listing excerpts, they do keep with the color theme!

Excerpts start with a cover image and book information, pulled straight from a catalog, I presume. (limited, suitable) Tweaking formatting could make this more compact, with a more prominent title to next to, rather than below the cover image:

Scroll down to get to the first chapter:

It will be interesting to see how other publishers respond to the iPhone as an ebook platform. The Stanza free ereader for iPhone, for instance, currently has two publisher listings at the top of its online catalog: “Free Harlequin Love Stories” (4 novellas) as well as “Random House Free Library” (currently 9 recent titles, ranging from backlist massmarkets to summer and fall hardcover releases). Pan Macmillan (UK) is offering titles for purchase.

App name: Penguin US [appstore]
Maker: Penguin Group USA, web2.0
Cost: free
Quirks: Pages behave as fixed-width when zooming. Odd handling of double taps. Full-width is not used for excerpts in landscape mode.
Features: Free excerpts. Easy access to Penguin podcasts.

Posted in books and reading, iOS: iPad, iPhone, etc., reviews | Comments (0)

Bibliometrics with Google Scholar

December 22nd, 2008

New to me:
Software aimed at individual scholars whose work is referenced outside of ISI-listed sources.

“Publish or Perish is a software program that retrieves and analyzes academic citations. It uses Google Scholar to obtain the raw citations, then analyzes these and presents the following statistics:

  • Total number of papers
  • Total number of citations
  • Average number of citations per paper
  • Average number of citations per author
  • Average number of papers per author
  • Average number of citations per year
  • Hirsch’s h-index and related parameters
  • Egghe’s g-index
  • The contemporary h-index
  • The age-weighted citation rate
  • Two variations of individual h-indices
  • An analysis of the number of authors per paper.”

Free for personal non-profit use; Linux and Windows versions

I’d be very curious to hear about research comparing it to other methods. The author is professor of management and marketing at The University of Melbourne.

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Computational Thinking: quoting Jeannette Wing

December 13th, 2008

Karin Dalziel’s Why every Library Science student should learn programming reminds me that I’ve been thinking about, and meaning to write about, algorithmic (or computational) thinking.

What is computational thinking? It includes

  • Thinking Recursively
  • Thinking Abstractly
  • Thinking Ahead (caching, pre-fetching…)
  • Thinking Procedurally
  • Thinking Logically
  • Thinking Concurrently

That’s from Jeannette Wing slide 21 [PDF]; subsequent slides give examples. Or, if you prefer podcasts, she chatted about computation thinking with Jon Udell.

I would like to find examples of where librarians and archivists use computational thinking, especially outside the digital realm. It’s hard to argue that programming per se is needed for school media specialists or archivists. Some digital librarians and LIS educators also argue that, for digital librarians, managing programmers and interfacing with users are more pertinent skills than programming per se.

So I’d like to shift the debate. Instead of “should all LIS students learn to program”, I’d like to ask, what can LIS learn from computer science? Programming is only a very small part of computer science; as Jeannette M. Wing writes* [PDF]

Computer science is not computer programming. Thinking like a computer scientist means more than being able to program a computer. It requires thinking at multiple levels of abstraction


Having to solve a particular problem, we might ask: How difficult is it to solve? and What’s the best way to solve it? Computer science rests on solid theoretical underpinnings to answer such questions precisely.

Can LIS benefit from considering problems in this way? As a librarian or information professional, have you ever considered a problem from this angle? How did it turn out?

* Jeannette M. Wing Computational Thinking [postprint, PDF] (2006 March). Communications of the ACM, Vol 49, No 3, 33-35.

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Better Than Free: Kevin Kelly’s manifesto

December 6th, 2008
Better than Free: ChangeThis issue 53.01

Better than Free: ChangeThis issue 53.01

Wired’s Kevin Kelly looks at the internet as a copy machine. That makes it a harbringer of change:

the previous round of wealth in this economy was built on selling precious copies, so the free flow of free copies tends to undermine the established order. If reproductions of our best efforts are free, how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?

Making money with free copies seems absurd. But it isn’t, because some things can’t be copied–such as trust. “When anyone buys a version of something they could get for free, what are they purchasing?” Kelly gives 8 answers:

  1. immediacy
  2. personalization
  3. interpretation
  4. authenticity
  5. accessibility
  6. embodiment
  7. patronage
  8. findability

These cannot be copied; they are ‘generative’:

In a real sense, these are eight things that are better than free. Eight uncopyable values. I call them “generatives.” A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing cannot be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold.
[Kelly, page 4 ChangeThis 53.01 PDF]

About advertising, Kelly remarks:

Careful readers will note one conspicuous absence so far. I have said nothing about advertising. Ads are widely regarded as the solution, almost the only solution, to the paradox of the free. Most of the suggested solutions I’ve seen for overcoming the free involve some measure of advertising. I think ads are only one of the paths that attention takes, and in the long-run, they will only be part of the new ways money is made selling the free.
[Kelly, page 9 ChangeThis 53.01 PDF]

Why I care

First, I’m fascinated by the evolution of publishing and how it relates to the communication of ideas. Kelly’s argument presents a rationale for free publishing. The interests of the players, the possibilities for commodification, and cheap distribution will drive the shifts ahead. ‘Free’ is one way for for readers, authors, and publishers to interact. Authors and musicians want an audience or, perhaps, compensation (depending on their needs); readers want content (or perhaps content of guaranteed quality); publishers want sales or, perhaps, wide distribution (depending on their for-profit-status and long-term goals). Whatever is ahead, it will be interesting to watch “the new ways money is made selling the free”.

Second, I recently read that “Google sees advertising as a form of information in and of itself.” Search engine-based advertising is Google’s best-known commodification. (I also read, recently, BTW, a humorous argument about how much their search engine sucked, because webmasters needed to supply keywords and use AdSense to actually have their pages found. Can’t find it again though. Alas.) In my view, Google’s great strengths are its massive diversification and its attention to usability. The movement towards enterprise Gmail and GoogleDocs, for instance, might be cast in terms of ‘selling the free’. It’s certainly diversification.

Third, I’m watching friends succeed (and get income) while giving away their work. It’s very gratifying.

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