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


Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 6: Spring 2006


Trends & Quick Takes

Click Fraud

Charles C. Mann writes “How click fraud could swallow the internet” in the January 2006 Wired Magazine (www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.01/fraud_pr.html). Not only is pay-per-click advertising big business—most of Google’s $6 billion revenue and quite possibly another $2 billion for Yahoo!—but it indirectly supports quite a few web sites, at least as welcome extra revenue. (Walt at random now has Google AdSense; I believe I may reach the $100 minimum for payout within five or ten years.)

But sensible advertisers won’t pay as much as $10 per click-through if they believe they’re being gamed. Click fraud happens; experts disagree as to how much. If it’s 50% and if the ad networks can’t prevent that, it could undermine the whole model. If it’s 10% and most of that’s caught and not billed, it’s probably workable. Estimates vary. One marketing research outfit claims fraudulent clicks are “as much as 29.5%” of total clicks.

The article’s fascinating. Click fraud can be casual (clicking on the ads on your own site) or malicious (setting up automated click-through routines on a competitors ad to drive up the competitor’s costs). There’s a bizarre variant, “impression fraud,” where you repeatedly load a page with a competitor’s ad but never click on it, hoping the network will drop the nonperforming ad. A few defenses are mentioned, but as you’d expect Google and Yahoo! aren’t going to release all of their methods. Interesting stuff—and worth thinking about if you’re planning to run ads on your site. (Not your library’s site, one would hope…)

You Can Never Have Too Much Software?

A December 2005 PC World story details the extent to which name-brand software now comes with “extras”—whether you want them or not. Download AOL’s newest IM and you’ll get AOL Explorer, PlaxoHelper and some mystery programs. Want Yahoo! Messenger? You get the Yahoo! Toolbar and modified settings. Winzip brings along the Google Toolbar (but you’re warned and can avoid it). Toolbars seem to be the most common extra; these programs don’t appear to be adding spyware or adware.

I wonder what those 133,000+ files on my PC are really all about. Have you ever tried to figure out what’s actually on your PC?

Audible: Just Overlook the Evangelism

I have nothing against Audible.com. I don’t use it because it doesn’t suit my current needs. It works great for lots of people and that’s good. “Audible cranks it up” by Paul Keegan in the March 2006 Business 2.0 is a little peculiar—because the guy behind Audible seems to believe it can or should replace reading.

He talks about how “what we now call reading” may be changing in a profound way. As a writer, he “discerned a deeper social problem…Nobody had time to read anymore.” Nobody had time to read anymore. What a breakthrough! Not “some people,” not “my kind of people,” not “those people who should have purchased my brilliant book,” but “nobody.”

There’s the following note: “More than 90 million Americans drive alone to work every day, their eyes occupied but their ears and minds mostly idle.” Maybe we would be better off if people’s minds were involved in driving—and is there much doubt that audiobooks and podcasts take more of your attention than typical radio or CDs? That’s secondary; I’m sure Katz isn’t out to increase traffic accidents.

Later in the article, Katz notes that silent reading is relatively recent. Here’s an interesting statement: “People didn’t want or need text for much of human history, and there was a very rich intellectual life going back to cave days.” How does Katz know this? Through oral history?

I read the article in about four minutes. Business 2.0 articles are, apparently, available via Audible, so I could also have listened to it—in about 20 minutes, most likely. Which is one of several reasons why, although Audible could indeed become a billion dollar business, Katz might be well advised to tone down the overthrow of the printed word. (I now see greater significance in those “Don’t Read” posters: Maybe Audible really means that!)

Will High-Density DVD Succeed?

Ken Belson of the New York Times raises that question indirectly in “Fiddling with format while DVDs burn,” published December 26, 2005. He notes that both Blu-ray and HD-DVD were supposed to be unveiled (that is, players and movies) at the Consumer Electronics Show. That didn’t happen; the first U.S. HD-DVD player might show up in April or May 2006, the first Blu-ray player in June or July. In any case, “there are growing signs…that the battle for supremacy in this multibillion-dollar market may yield a hollow victory.”

Maybe, maybe not. This is another one of those “packaged media are doomed once everyone gets everything online” stories, and as with most such stories it assumes a universality that’s just not there. No, legal downloads haven’t replaced CDs. They’re still less than 10% of the music market—because lots of people want to own their music (and get liner notes and the like). Sure, on-demand HD programming matters—but, as a Blu-ray spokesperson says, “Average folks still want to watch the movie and buy it. It’s presuming a lot to think that they will replace the model they’ve used for decades.” That’s tricky: Most people didn’t buy all that many VHS videocassettes, and the DVD sell-through model is less than a decade old. By and large, we rented our VHS movies. On the other hand, Tom Southwick of Starz doesn’t exactly wow me with his statement:

“What’s happening in the video arena is just like what is happening in the MP3 market. Over time, there’s going to be so much available with cable on-demand and the Internet that having a library of tapes that you buy or borrow will become inconvenient.”

Tapes? In 2006? The first sentence may be right. What’s happening in the music market is that some people are choosing to download, while others are sticking with packaged media. That’s likely to be what happens with video as well. But the reporter doesn’t want messy endings. He concludes (after the Blu-ray quote): “But even average folks may learn fast when they have cheaper and more convenient options.” (This assumes that downloaded movies are cheaper. So far, the first plans for downloads you can keep are more expensive than most DVDs!)

People like options. Most of us like multiple options. We have different tastes and use different options for different purposes. At our house, we have a 2-movie Netflix subscription, because we only want to see most movies once—but we also buy a few movies and TV shows, where we believe we’ll want to see them more often or where we want the extras. Why be stuck with a single model?

Keeping the Public in Publishing?

That’s the title on a January 3, 2006 post at Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog, partly a commentary on an odd article by John Sutherland in the Guardian, “Ivory towers will fall to digital land grab.” Dempsey’s commentary is sensible and penetrating. He notes that consumers are likely to become more aware of the issues of shifting from traditional models (books) to digital models (ebooks) and that libraries need to consider their responsibility to the cultural and scholarly record in an age where digital publishing is, if not universal, certainly important.

Dempsey’s piece is worth reading. I’m not sure I can say the same for Sutherland’s rant. Sutherland has convinced himself that the Google Library Project and Open Content Alliance are both part of a rush to “propertise” the public domain—“that deposit of printed material that currently (but not for much longer, alas) you, I, and nobody own. It will be the biggest privatisation in history, and the most profitable. Once the public domain is propertised, it will remain proprietary material forever.”

Say what? In the case of the Open Content Alliance, the commitments are up front. The digitized public domain materials will be freely downloadable—and the books that have been digitized will be just as much in the public domain after being scanned as they were beforehand. That’s true of GBS, to be sure: A public domain book that Google has scanned is still a public domain book, whether Google makes the scanned version freely available or not.

There’s much odd about Sutherland’s essay (some of which Dempsey comments on). He says “universities are organized around their accumulated knowledge base” and goes on,

Universities currently have ownership of their knowledge base. They distribute it free of charge. Lectures, courses, and seminars are “given” and “taken”; books are “borrowed” and “returned.” The knowledge base is added to and refreshed, in the form of new books for the library and so on, but it is essentially a university-owned asset.

He believes Bill Gates’ notion of a tablet device to replace textbooks means “students will be billed for learning material as they are now billed for mobile phone calls,” that much of the time “they will be buying what was once public domain material,” that universities will cease to be repositories of learning—a tall order for a proposed textbook replacement. Of course, I wasn’t aware that most universities distributed their lectures, courses, or even library privileges “free of charge.” Maybe universities in the UK are entirely free to students and others, but that’s certainly not true around here, even for public universities.

Speaking of Distributing Free of Charge…

A March 16, 2006 item in the Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the Alliance for Lifelong Learning Inc. (AllLearn) is shutting down. What’s AllLearn? A nonprofit venture begun by Oxford, Stanford and Yale in September 2000 to provide online noncredit courses. At first, courses were only offered to alumni from those universities; in 2002, AllLearn opened up to the public as a whole.

During its existence, AllLearn attracted 11,000 students from more than 70 countries—but attracting students was a persistent problem. Alumni apparently expected TV-quality lectures prepared just for the online courses; they weren’t satisfied with the taped lectures they got. Another marketing issue was that courses were noncredit; people are more inclined to pay for online courses that can lead to a degree.

For Fiscal 2005, AllLearn had $2.5 million revenue and $3.28 million in expenses. The final courses ended in December 2005.

People Who Liked…

“Similicio.us” tries to do for websites what Netflix does for movies: That is, “people who liked X also liked Y.” Some of the results are bemusing—the #1 “similar site” for Cites & Insights is (drum roll) en.wikipedia.org. So people who like this ejournal also like Wikipedia? Tied for second: blyberg.net and maisonbisson.com. Then come Ariadne, D-Lib, and eprints.rclis.org.

But that was on March 9. What happens fifteen days later? Blyberg.net moves up to tie Wikipedia, D-Lib ties maisonbisson, and infotangle.blogsome.com moves up to tie eprints and Ariadne. Then there’s Walt at random, where the four-way tie for “most similar” consists of the ALA TechSource blog, Feelgoodlibrarian, Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog, and Information wants to be free—and that hasn’t changed. These tools are fun, if not perhaps entirely convincing.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 6, Whole Issue 76, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

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