In 3d

A couple of short posts from Wellington-based artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith has me revisiting my skepticism about 3d printing. I guess somewhere in the past I put it in the too hard to conceptualize basket and have only now come to to rethink that.

Ghosts in the form of gifts provides some lovely examples of using printing to recreate lost objects using images and information.

It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up is a short review of an article by the same name, and touches on the potential tension between people creating objects and the owners of the intellectual property behind the objects.

Someone may have mentioned it at NDF recently. We’re heading towards a world where copying things won’t just be copying a bit of music or some digital tv shows, but you’ll be able to make a 3d model of sculpture, objet d’art, or any kind of object.

And the tools for making them will only get better. Take this Te Papa record of a taha huahua (calabash). There are enough  images of it for someone, anywhere, to recreate it. What IP owners and guardians of cultural taonga will make of it remains to be seen, but right now it’s inevitability is fairly compelling.

For more on re-use, appropriation, creativity, and intellectual property, try this New York Times article, Apropos Appropriation.

Newspapers on speed

In case you haven’t heard and/or noticed, Papers Past has recently been updated with new titles and all existing titles have been fully digitised and are now searchable. What’s more, it’s also heaps (heaps I say) faster.

Included in the new titles is NZ Truth up to 1930, making it the most recent newspaper they have. Tacky as it seems, it’s one of those muck-raking papers that broke news in spite of itself. And as a muck-raker it’ll provide a rich source for social history.

The new titles are:
Ashburton Guardian
Ellesmere Guardian
Kai Tiaki: the Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand
North Otago Times
NZ Truth
Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle
Oxford Observer
Poverty Bay Herald
Victoria Times
Waikato Times

There’s more information at the National Library website. A wonderful resource just got even better.

Show me the money

Two recent posts from different sides of the Atlantic with slightly different takes on what investment in digital publishing at the moment means.

Raising a few questions about ebooks and the economics behind it, Evan Schnittman on Why Ebooks Must Fail (warning: copy-editing nightmare ahead). What’s interesting is the suggestion – contrary to a lot of hopes – that ebooks, done well, might prove more expensive to produce than print.

On a more positive note, Richard Padley (director of UK-based publishing software company, Semantico) says Now is the time to invest in online publishing (no surprises there given it’s his business he wants publishers to invest in).

Do experts need a defence?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about crowdsourcing and experts for a while, so long in fact that I now feel inadequate to the task. Suffice then, to note a few things down.

Crowdsourcing is a fairly recently coined term and has opened up huge debates about the power and value in letting the crowd create new digital reference points. It’s also fundamentally challenged the role of experts in mediating information and knowledge. In short, it’s the Wikipedia model v. the Encyclopædia Brittanica model (though it’s maybe ironic that the Wikipedia entry for crowdsourcing is flagged as needing improvement, pointing to both the strength and weakness of the concept).

The term came up in a conversation I had recently with my Dad. He worked for years as an academic and editor – in short, an expert – and like me wants to know if the two approaches to knowledge, information, publishing, etc., can co-exist. Derek Powazek, speaking at Webstock ’09, said yes they can: the crowd can provide things while the experts can judge them. Similar in thought might be Jason Epstein’s optimism that, while Big Publishing may be failing thanks to the internet, good editors will never die. Further, it may be the nature of the internet – its sprawling uncontrolled and rapid growth – that’s making a decent editor more necessary than ever.

National Radio ran a Windows on the World piece about a month ago about transient lunar phenomenon (TLPs) and whether their existence (if they exist) is caused by gas escaping from underground cavities on the moon’s surface. Ergo, is the moon as dead as we think? It’s more complicated than I could summarise but one of the points made against the existence of TLPs is that much of the evidence comes from amateur photographers who tend to focus on common lunar features. This gives rise to observational bias and provides plenty of possible evidence at a handful of well-photographsed sites but none across the entire rest of the moon’s surface. That’s not to say amateur astro-photographers don’t have their place (check out what the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory is doing to harness their work, blogged about by Best-of-3 here), but perhaps the democratic nature of the crowd has a tendency toward a homogenised majority view.

One last example – again I haven’t got a reference for it and the details are hazy – is a study that compared the collection of a major US public library with that of a large US university library. The former, developed over time by generalist librarians, had a scope that was vast and comprehensive. The latter, determined by the interests of specialised and disparate academics, was patchy in scope but incredibly detailed in its depth, far more so than the public library’s collection.

If generalist librarians represent the crowd and academics are our experts then they’re creating very different views of the world. Academics look at the things that the rest of us don’t. To the cynics, yes, some of those things will be a waste of effort, but some of them might change the way the rest of us view something with effects far beyond the original question. We, the crowd, might even learn something.

Love lost on ebooks

Pan Macmillan continue to talk up their ebook efforts, this time the epublication, sans-DRM, of a sort-of-but-not-quite first draft of a recently published print title, Cliffhanger. Cliffhanger: The Other Text is “a carefully selected blend of several early drafts”. Presumably not as carefully selected as the draft that eventually made the grade for the print edition? The blog post states it’s their

“most experimental special edition so far, revealing an alternative ending, a missing love scene, and other small changes not yet changed… [huh?] character names, details of plot, and so on.”

Later in the post we learn it’s not just any love scene but a lesbian one, so at the very least it should get a few males in the 15 to 24 year-old age bracket reading it.

But the underlying concern is that if the print edition is worth selling for £14.99 but the e-dition is only worth giving away, are ebooks still just a marketing gimmick? Or worse, are marketing departments still inventing gimmicks – like lost lesbian love scenes – to get ebooks into our hearts and minds when really we’d still just like a paperback?

Ebooks on the line at NZETC

The latest additions from NZETC include another haul of new nineteenth-century material as well as some new(er) texts from OUP, Random House and VUP.

It’s an interesting route for the publishers and NZETC to take, especially for the titles only a few years old. Most of the e-ditions note that the publishers have given permission for inclusion in the collections (‘Digitisation authorised by…’ seems to be the lingo). Even Margaret Scott is given the chance to authorise her book’s inclusion.

Of note is the lack of an authority statement for the Brasch book, and one wonders if the VUP authors know their works are now online and freely available. Presumably these are out-of-print and unlikely to reprint so the authors aren’t losing any possible royalties. Free availability might even enhance reputations and increase sales of future books. Let’s hope the authors agree.