Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 5: May 2008


Pointing with Pride, Part I

Cites & Insights 8:3 (March 2008), the Centenary Issue, included these sentences in the introduction:

You may be expecting a nostalgiafest. Not this time around. Nor will I give you a list of 100 items or even ten lists of ten items each.

“Not this time around” meant exactly that: The 100th issue didn’t include a nostalgiafest. But 100 is a milestone and merits looking back at those issues, pointing out some highlights and encouraging you to check issues you haven’t already read.

Here’s the first installment.

December 2000: Number 1

This 24-page issue is the only one available online that doesn’t have a volume and issue number. The URL for all other issues is a predictable, where M is the volume number and N is the issue number. The inaugural issue is

That inaugural issue had no freestanding essays as such. All the sections were collections of stuff, including one section name that continues: Trends & Quick Takes. Back then, I defined C&I as “Stuff I think is worth writing about that doesn’t appear suitable for a “DisContent” column in EContent, a “PC Monitor” column in Online, or a freelance submission to American Libraries.” I think it’s an interesting issue, perhaps more as an exercise in nostalgia than for any other reason.

Pointing with pride

The Convergence Chronicles discussed “some of the nonsense going around about compressed digital media”—nonsense that’s still with us.

The first item in Trends & Quick Takes was “Free ISPs: Use them while you can.” Hard to argue with that, although the gurus at Wired seem once again to be proclaiming (as some did in 2000) that everything can be free. Remember free dialup? Freewwweb? WorldSpy? Juno? How about free broadband—was there ever such a beast?

The search wars were going strong even back then. I spent a page discussing a PC World  article on “how to stop searching and start finding,” involving objective tests of 20 search engines but metrics for those tests that are at best semi-objective: Looking only at the first ten results for each search and determining “relevance” as well as broken or duplicate links. The writers said relevance wasn’t an issue for directories such as Yahoo! (remember when Yahoo! was primarily a directory?), Open Directory and LookSmart (who?). I was impressed that one of the photo insert examples, with quotations from real users, cited a real search using the user’s favorite search engine—a search that just didn’t work when I tried it. Ah, the names in that article: Lycos, DirectHit, Northern Light, HotBot—and, of course, Alta Vista.

I took offense at the flat statement by Rick Inatome, CEO of ZapMe!, in a FamilyPC article: “The Internet is paid for by banner ads.” Remember ZapMe!? It provided “free” internet access and loaner PCs to schools—in return for “ads, and lots of them.”

General bemusement

I discussed “the etail revolution” in downbeat terms. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I was mostly wrong. Of course, I also thought DigiScents ISmell, a scent peripheral, was a remarkably stupid idea (the coverage begins “Bwahaha. Oh stop it, you can’t be serious! You want me to add a box to my PC so that I can smell stuff on the Web—mostly ads? How much are you planning to pay me to do that?”)—and so did most other people, apparently. Wacom introduced a wonderful 9x12” pressure-sensitive LCD panel and touch screen—for $4,000 and maybe worth it for the right buyers. Bill Howard was perhaps a bit premature in asking, “Is film dead?” in a PC Magazine review of three-megapixel digital cameras—costing $700 to $1,000.

I was still doing PC Values. The December 2000 “Top, Midrange” PC was the Gateway Select 1100: An Athlon-1100 (presumably 1.1GHz), 60GB hard disk, 128MB SDRAM, graphics card with 16MB display RAM, DVD-ROM, home networking and fax/modem support and a 16”-viewable (that is, 17”) CRT. It came with a 3-piece Boston Acoustics speaker system and MS Works. It cost $1,999. That was a 32% improvement in bang for the buck as compared to September 2000. Remember when 128MB SDRAM was plenty and 60GB was a pretty large hard disk?

September 2001: Number 11

One good reason to read Cites & Insights 1:10: It’s only 18 pages long. I opened with a sad Perspective, “Saying farewell to The Industry Standard.” Excerpts:

While TIS was one of too many new-economy magazines, it was different in three ways:

Ø  As a weekly, it offered faster commentary without adopting a straight “newsweekly” approach.

Ø  The writing, reporting, and commentary in TIS had depth and quality that belied its weekly status and seemed fresher and better than most competitors.

Ø  Uniquely, in my experience, TIS covered the dot-com boom without becoming a cheerleader for the “Internet revolution” or buying into the constant stream of hype. Indeed, TIS had a strong record for exposing hype and fraud.

At its peak, the magazine had 200,000 circulation—and it was profitable after less than two years. Last year, it set a record for the publishing industry with 7,558 advertising pages… TIS ran conferences; it published a monthly supplement Grok (but not for long); and one weekly issue reached 300 pages. Expanding rapidly, TIS leased enough office space in San Francisco for the 400 to 600 people the company expected to need.

A cynic could suggest that the company heads failed to read their own coverage closely enough. When this year’s slump set in, ad pages—which had grown 133% last year over 1999—dropped 75%; ad revenue dropped to $40 million (estimated). Meanwhile, $60 million in signed leases had to be paid. Under those conditions, the company’s efforts to get a short-term loan (while seeking a buyer) yielded unacceptable terms. The August 23 issue I received a few days ago is the last issue—unless a buyer does come along, and it’s tough to find buyers for magazines that aren’t publishing…

In more than one story, editor-in-chief Jonathan Weber said something like this: “I think we had a great magazine and had great people here and I’m very sorry we won’t be able to keep doing it. I’m very proud of what we accomplished here. I have no regrets.”

Weber has much to be proud of. The Industry Standard had three great years. I’ll miss it. So, I believe, will others trying to cope with relentless “Internet revolution” hype without ignoring what’s actually going on.

Technically, The Industry Standard has returned as a website. It’s not the same thing—not even close

There’s snarky commentary on FamilyPC’s list of “100 products you’ll love,” including products that didn’t conceivably belong in a PC magazine (breadmakers, knife sharpeners, choppers) and a $1,044 15” LCD TV/display that “won’t bust your budget.” John Dvorak thought every informational web site should have one and only one subject so we could browse “the web by subject the same way you can browse a library.” He also wanted separate internets for email and for the web—and wanted Microsoft to “cut back on browser features, please!” I was amused by a helpful PC Magazine reference to an earlier article, particularly given the article’s title:

“(“Enter URLs with Fewer Keystrokes,” stories/solutions/0,8224,2690501,00.html)” Italics in the original.

Let’s stop with the September 2001 Top Midrange PC configuration—and in some ways, I’m surprised at how little it had changed: Gateway Performance 1600: Pentium 4-1600 (1.6GHz), 128MB SDRAM, 40GB 7200rpm hard disk, graphics card with 64MB RAM, CD/RW drive—and otherwise the same configuration as in December 2000, but for $1,499.

May 2002: Number 21

Remember COWLZ? The lead essay in this issue was a call for participation in the Coalition/Consortium of Online and Web-based Library-related Zines / Newsletters. At the time, it seemed like a growing field that could benefit from some organization. So much for good intentions. Nothing came of it except a dark archive that may or may not still exist. The field turned out to be shrinking rather than growing.

Looking back at Copyright Currents, the good news is that CBDTPA never became law (but there are always new threats of extreme copyright protection). “Quiet notes in a quiet time” was the heading for an Ebooks/Etext update—and it continues to be a “quiet time,” even with Kindle.

DataPlay, that quarter-size CD replacement with DRM built in, a sure-fire medium because the major labels wanted DRM so badly—was still “almost here,” a status that continued until it faded away entirely.

February 2003: Number 31

The lead essay is “Copy protection and next-generation audio.” I start by discussing DVD-Audio and SACD, both of which provide substantially higher resolution than CD—and come with strong DRM.

For [most] consumers, the sales pitch is mostly surround sound, laced with a promise of even better sound than CD’s “perfect sound forever.” Given SACD-based and DVD-Audio based surround-sound systems that cost $500 or less including receiver and speakers, it’s fair to say that “better sound” is mostly theoretical in those cases.

For the industry there are two other sales pitches, both more important:

Ø  A new audio medium offers the chance to sell people the same music yet again, if you can convince them the new medium is better.

Ø  Unlike CD Audio, an inherently unprotected medium, both SACD and DVD-Audio are inherently copy-proof or at least copy-resistant, and there’s no nasty old standard getting in the way of making them even more so. More to the point, at least with DVD-Audio, watermarking may provide another level of copy protection.

The problems with both media, in brief:

Ø  There are two of them. Yes, Sony’s the primary force behind one (SACD) while a so-called standards body (really an industry cartel) is behind the other (DVD-Audio or DVD-A).

Ø  In times when money doesn’t flow like water, and with advantages that are nowhere near as clear as those of CD over LP or DVD over VHS, people aren’t flocking to the new media—a situation not helped by the presence of two media.

Ø  While record stores are ever so eager to stock copy-protected media, they’re not eager to stock multiple formats.

Ø  There haven’t been many DVD-Audio releases (maybe 300 by the end of 2002, many from minor labels) and not loads of SACD either (but more than 650, many from major labels).

Ø  People who think 128K MP3 is “CD-quality” are never going to hear sonic improvement from either medium, although they might convince themselves that they can.

Ø  Surround sound may be neat, but most surround-sound receivers can produce pleasant effects from ordinary stereo CDs. Unless you really want to be sitting in the middle of an orchestra or band (as one label masters its DVD-Audio releases), discrete surround sound may not be a big selling point for most consumers.

Ø  Savvy consumers (both of you!) don’t appreciate the built-in copy protection.

I discuss dropping CD sales (yes, that started that long ago; yes, CDs are still the bulk of recorded music sales), the views of consulting groups that DRM wouldn’t work in the long run—and the assurance of various voices that DRM was clearly going to be the future.

Maybe not. SACD continues to play a role in classical music. DRM never did catch on for consumer sound media—DataPlay was a bust, DVD-A and SACD not big, and Sony’s hamhanded attempts at DRM-laden pseudoCDs were disastrous—and it looks as though downloadable music is (finally) moving away from DRM. Of course, some legal-download sites such as emusic have always offered straight MP3s without DRM.

I thought “gadget fatigue” might be setting in way back in February 2003. Silly me. There are a couple of pieces related to forecasts. Better you should download the issue and read them yourself!

October 2003: Number 41

This 20-page issue has six or 41 essays, depending on how you look at it. It was the first “hundredth issue”—I’d done 59 editions of “Trailing Edge Notes” and “Crawford’s Corner” in Library Hi Tech News, and although Cites & Insights was already starting to veer from the original model, it was (and is) a continuation.

Issue 41 was the first logical stopping point for something I still viewed as an experiment. Instead of stopping, I did 41 mini-perspectives. Quite a few of those brief essays still work today. For example:

3. Big News: People Still Read Print

Ah, those baby boomers. This fall’s Pew Internet study says that the “older tech elite” (ages 42-62, which covers a lot more than the baby boom) “are fond of technologies yet fall back on more traditional ways and means of doing things.” That’s from an AP story on the report, but the plaintive “yet” fits my image of most Pew Internet reports. While 44% of this group gets online news on a typical day, 60% read a newspaper. “By contrast,” 39% of the “younger tech elite” get online news and 42% read a newspaper. Note that newspaper readership among the technologically elite of the next generation is still higher than online news usage.

Sigh. John Horrigan of Pew thinks it’s “social conditioning”—you know, we used to use card catalogs and “relied on stacks of books in the library.” “For young folks, pretty much everything is done electronically.” And the study to demonstrate this is?

Some technologically knowledgeable old fogies would say we read print newspapers and use books because they work, and that we use online sources because they work for different purposes. But “social conditioning” is how you put it when you’re selling the Wonders of Internet Life.

It took a few more years for Pew Internet’s bias to become crystal-clear, but there were hints in 2003.

I think you’ll find the set of 41 interesting from a 2008 perspective—including a report on the death of physical media that had 19% of home video revenue and 33% of music sales shifting to download sales by 2008. That turns out to be more than two times high for music and maybe ten times high for video. Wired called Dell “the Wal-Mart of hardware”—and probably meant it as a compliment. We read of the wonders of the anacubis viewer for Google searches, visualizing search results to make relationships immediately apparent. Used anacubis much lately?

Mid-June 2004: Number 51

All copyright, all the time. I devoted this entire issue to “catching up with copyright,” almost all of it in a Copyright Currents with sections on Big Media and peer to peer, DMCA fallout, DMCRA, database protection, saving the public domain and miscellany. All still worth reading, if plaintively, given that DMCRA hasn’t gone anywhere—but at least we still don’t have the level of database protection (copyrighting facts) that was being proposed.

The final piece was a Copyright Perspective: “True piracy and other thoughts.” It was one of the pieces that got me labeled both a copyright hardliner and anti-copyright. Here ‘tis:

I read the news today, oh boy, about three cases where people were either arrested or chased out of a theater after diligent ushers spotted them using a camcorder to record a current motion picture.

I’ve been critical of Big Media and what I regard as extreme copyright legislation (at their behest) and practice, unbalancing U.S. copyright toward rightsholders at the expense of citizen rights. I’ve also been critical of the term “piracy” as used for most peer-to-peer file sharing and casual CD-R burning. I will continue to be critical in both areas.

So how do I feel about those devil studios urging ushers to spot camcorders in movie theaters and prevent them from being used, even charging people with crimes for using them?

More power to the studios. I hope they succeed.

Just as I cheer when those devils at RIAA manage to locate and shut down factories that demonstrably produce nothing but bootleg CDs and DVDs. Good for them.

There is such a thing as media piracy—the illicit mass redistribution of copyrighted materials for commercial profit, at the expense of creators and rightsholders. It does constitute a worldwide market running to billions of dollars. For software producers, motion picture companies, music publishers and, to some degree, book publishers, it’s a problem.

I can see no legitimate reason to have a camcorder when going to the movies, and certainly no legitimate reason to use one. When you buy a movie ticket, you’re buying the right to see one performance of one movie (unless it’s a double feature). You are not buying permanent rights to that movie. The same goes for live performances, most of which legitimately forbid the use of camcorders or other recording equipment. (Yes, there are exceptions, mostly pop and rock bands, and that’s great as well. For example, the Grateful Dead had an alternative business model that served them very well.)

Balanced, Not Weak

I believe in balanced copyright as a way to encourage creators and distributors—and, with balance, to encourage new partially derivative creations and assure a healthy flow of material to the public domain. Balanced copyright is not really weak copyright, certainly not where it comes to commercial exploitation without permission.

I was an annoying purist in my youth. I had one of the larger record collections in the co-op I lived in and kept the records in pristine condition. I would not, under any circumstances, loan those records to others (both because of probable damage and because I knew they were going to make cassettes from them) or dub cassette copies for others.

I’m also a science fiction reader with some sense of history. When someone says copyright should only last five or ten years, I remember Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. While Asimov was paid by Astounding for the serial publication of the stories that made up the books (at the absurdly low rates that the S.F. magazines have always paid), he made nothing from the first book publication because Gnome Press had persistent money problems and dealt with them partly by failing to pay royalties.

See Chapter 53 of I, Asimov for some details. “He [Martin Greenberg, head of Gnome] had an unalterable aversion to paying royalties and, in point of fact, never did. At least he never paid me.” Oddly, the Foundation trilogy was turned down by Doubleday (because it was old material), which published most of Asimov’s other book-length fiction and which—11 years later—bought the rights back from Gnome, then published new editions that were enormously profitable for Asimov and Doubleday. With a ten-year copyright, one of the landmark works in science fiction would have earned almost nothing for its creator. With a 28-year or 56-year copyright term, of course, Asimov did pretty well.

“Live with It” is Not an Answer

I am appalled by people who scan contemporary books and release the scanned versions to the internet. That’s copyright infringement of a sort that’s unfair to the creator and damages everyone involved. I’m no friend of most informal music downloading, either, even as I believe the RIAA has gone overboard in trying to shut it down.

Copyright infringement is not theft, but it is a crime. Blatant copyright infringement of currently available works is unethical as far as I’m concerned. The ethical issues get cloudier for works that are not available for purchase or where “purchase” has morphed into highly restrictive licensing.

I’ve heard the argument that, since digital transmission makes it easy to pass around perfect copies of anything that can be digitized, copyright is outmoded and people need to find other ways to earn a living. That’s excusing unethical behavior on the basis of technological imperatives. Telling me to “live with it” because that’s the way things are is a sneering, me-first response. It makes me want to scream. It does not, however, make me want to “put ‘em all in jail” or lock up creations with digital restrictions management so tight that everything becomes pay-per-use.

I believe most people understand that balanced copyright involves ethics as well as enforceability. Most people who find a book they consider worthwhile (and want to read more than once) will buy it even if photocopying it or downloading a scanned copy would be cheaper. There’s increasingly strong evidence that, at least for most adults, casual downloading to experiment with new music—ethically questionable though it may be—does not actually eliminate CD purchasing. I believe most U.S. adults, given the choice of a $20 DVD that clearly comes from the motion picture company or a $10 DVD with photocopied cover art sold by a street peddler will pay for the legitimate copy. In short, I believe that most people will behave ethically if ethical behavior is feasible.

Rights for Creators and Citizens

I also believe in the first sale doctrine and fair use. Once you’ve purchased a legitimate reproduction of a creation, you should be able to do pretty much anything you want with it—with a few exceptions such as making multiple copies for sale to others and, for some creations, carrying out public performances. (The latter is tricky, to be sure.) You should be able to lend it (as long as you can’t use it simultaneously), sell it (as long as you don’t also keep it), give it away (as long as you don’t also keep it), and copy portions of it for use in an assemblage. You should be able to use limited portions of it as inspiration or as the basis for a new creative work. You should be able to use it in the manner you see fit with those minimal restrictions noted. And, as long as it’s a mass-produced copy, you should be able to mock it, alter it, or destroy it as you choose: Moral rights should be limited to originals and limited-run artistic works.

Oh, and if you’re a creator, you should be able to give away as many of your rights as you choose. The concept that it’s unconstitutional to give away your work—and also require that someone who uses your work in other work must also give away the new work—is simply ludicrous. Right now, I retain some rights in Cites & Insights, but I reduce the full range of copyright by permitting both derivation (not stated in the current license) and reproduction as long as it’s not for sale. Those are my rights as the creator and copyright holder. If I changed the license to the “No rights reserved” dedication to the public domain (which I don’t plan to do), that would be my right as copyright holder.

I believe in balanced copyright. If that sometimes results in coverage that seems to say “a curse on both your houses,” that’s because sometimes neither extreme makes much sense.

Spring 2005: Number 61

The first 20 pages included five essays, the longest ©4: Locking Down Technology. It was mostly about the proposed Broadcast Flag with some coverage of the Grokster story. The Broadcast Flag was and is a terrible idea, and its fate may still not be entirely settled. This piece still offers useful background.

In the products section, I spotted another stinky peripheral to provide smell-o-vision with your PC—and the SCOTTeVest Classic, “geek chic” at its best: A $130 equipment vest with 30 interior pockets.

January 2006: Number 71

The longest section, oddly enough, was a followup: “OCA and GLP redux.” A lot was (and is) happening with the Open Content Alliance and Google Library Project—so much that after devoting 16 pages of the December 2005 issue to the projects, it made sense to add more than seven pages here.

That issue was the first time I remember noting a one-terabyte personal computer, a $5,000 Dell gaming PC with two 500GB hard disks. I was more than a little skeptical of Nicholas Negroponte’s “$100 laptop” then, partly because of Negroponte, partly because the original business plan required third-world governments to pay $500 million to $1 billion before production would begin. (I’m still skeptical of OLPC’s grand design and its benefits.)

Trends & Quick Takes had loads of interesting stuff—a power-generating backpack, the Gartner Hype Cycle, futurists’ picks for technologies better suited to The Jetsons than to the real world (smart refrigerators, networked homes…), and an assertion from a hotshot at Amp’d that we’d all be using wireless entertainment devices for everything, including as alarm clocks. Remember Amp’d?

September 2006: Number 81

The publication moved to—and the long essay beginning with that change told the COWLZ story, from enthusiastic beginning to dreary end. “COWLZ was an interesting attempt to improve the visibility and long-term survival of an unusual group of library-related publications. It failed.”

Apart from that sad story, this was a “miscellaneous” issue—five other sections, most composed of bits and pieces. I discussed my dislike of manifestos and my problems with the gatekeeper/A-list controversy, the “thick head” of the so-called long tail, a number of generation generalizations—and did one of the last The Library Stuff sections before it became Making it Work.

I found it remarkable that a stereo dealer selling components mostly in the middle-high-end range ($6,500 to $14,000) had its own exclusive line of speaker cables and interconnects—with speaker cables starting at $25,000 and interconnects starting at $7.000. A magazine editor called $45,000 a “relatively sane price” for a pair of speakers; some letter writers disagreed. Business 2.0 didn’t consider Bill Gates very important any more—less important than Jack Ma and Brian McAndrews, for example—because he’s become more interested in saving third-world lives by the millions than in gaining more wealth by the billions. One big difference between Bill Gates and Business 2.0: the latter never did turn a profit. It shut down in late 2007.

Mid-June 2007: Number 91

Surely you have a copy of this one—or did you leave it behind at the 2007 ALA Annual Conference? The longest issue of Cites & Insights so far, all on one theme: Conferences and speaking.

That’s right: “Cites on a plane 2: This time it’s for keeps.” Entirely devoted to conferences and speaking. Roughly a third new material, the rest drawn from a variety of old sources (Cites & Insights but also Walt at random, EContent and American Libraries).

Some issues are timeless. This is one of them. It would be absurd to try to summarize it—but if you’re a speaker or if you’re just attending conferences, you might enjoy downloading and reading it. With thanks to Ken Nordine, how are things at your conference?

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 5, Whole Issue 102, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

Opinions herein may not represent those of PALINET or YBP Library Services.

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