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October 20, 2013

Bryn Geffert: Libraries as publishers

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Bryn Geffert is College Librarian at Amherst.

Imagine a biologist at Amherst who writes a science article. Who paid for her to write that article? Amherst. But who paid Amherst? Students. Alumni and donors. US funds.

Now it’s accepted by Elsevier. The biologist gives it to Elsevier as a gift, in effect. Elsevier charges Amherst $24,000/year for a subscription to this particular journal. It’s Looney Tunes, Bryn says. There isn’t a worse imaginable model.

Since 1986, serial [= journal] prices have increased 400%. Why? Because a few publishers have a monopoly: Wiley, Elsevier, Springer. With increasing prices for serials, libraries have less money for books. In 1986, academic libraries spent 46% of budgets on books. Now it’s down to 22%. And the effect on book publishers is even worse: when they can’t sell books to libraries, they shut down publishing in entire disciplinary fields. The average sales per academic book is now 200 copies. Since 1993, 5 disciplines have lost presses. E.g., the number of presses sserving British Lit have dropped by about half. More and more academic works are going to bad commercial presses — bad in that they don’t improve what they get.

These these are just the problems of wealthy institutions. How about the effect on developing countries? He gives three examples of work of direct relevance to local cultures where the local culture cannot afford to buy the work.

University presses are dying. Money to purchase anything except journals is dying. Academic presses are dying. And we’re paying no attention to the world around us.

Why does Amherst care? Their motto is “terras irradient”: light the world. But nothing in this model supports that model.

What do we have to do? He goes through these quickly because, he says, we are familiar with them:

  1. Open Access policies
  2. Legislation that mandates that federally supported research be Open Access
  3. Go after the monopolies that are violating anti-trust
  4. Libraries have to boycott offenders.

But even so, we need to design a new system.

Amherst is asking what the mission of a university press is. Part of it: make good work even better and make it as widely available as possible.

What is the mission of the academic libraries? Make good info as widely available as possible.

So, combine forces. U of Mich put its press under the library. This inspired Amherst. But Amherst doesn’t have a press. So, they’re creating one.

  • Everything will be online, Open Access (Creative Commons)

  • They will hustle to get manuscripts

  • All will be peer reviewed and rigorously edited

But how will they pay for it? Amherst’s Frost Library is giving two positions to the press. In return, those editors will solicit manuscripts. The President will raise money to endow a chair of the editor of the press. They’ll take some money from the Library to pay freelancers for copy-editing. Some other units at Amherst are kicking in other services, including design and building an online platform.

People say this is too small to make a difference. But other schools are starting to do similar things. This means that Amherst is a recipient of free content from them. Bryn can imagine a time when there’s so much OA content that the savings realized offset the costs of publishing OA content.

The goal is to move away from individual presses looking out for their own interests to one in which there’s free sharing. “I want to see a world in which the students at a university in Nairobi have access to the same information as students at Columbia.”

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[templelib] Rachel Frick. Digital Library Federation

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

[I came in late. Sorry!!]

Rachel Frick is talking about the importance of the Commons. Too often, she says, librarians come into the conversation as if they’re from a bounded place. We keep producing the same solutions to different problems. (She recommends Steven John’s Where Good Ideas Come From. She earlier recommend Networked by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman. [I concur with these recommendations!])

Rachel says she likes SxSW for idea sharing. She was talking with Bonnie Tijerina and they came up with the idea of the Idea Drop house for librarians at SxSW for livestreaming conversations. [I did one last year! It was a very cool venue: an AirBnB residence with librarians and refreshments. What more could you want?] They had 800+ visitors. [*This is even more impressive since the house was not on the main campus of SxSW.]

She worked with DPLA, Europeana and OpenGLAM on “Culture Hack”: use our data! Also meetups at SxSW. Also, LibraryBox: an instant wifi distribution point run on a battery for distribution of library content. They used it to distribute tons of open content at the conference. It was a great way to engage people in conversation about libraries.

Jason Griffey wanted to upgrade the LibraryBoxes. He needed about $3K. He needed to make a case for its need. So what are some non-ilbrary-centric use cases? Health care info in remote areas. Unmonitored conversations. He raised $13K in 4 days on Kickstarter. At the end of 30 days, he’d raised $33K. Because he could reach beyond the library space, and because it spoke to open access to info, it succeeded.

Now is the time for creators and makers, she says. Bess Sadler talks about the hacker epistemology: adopt a problem solving mindset, the truth is what works, solve for interesting. Bethany Nowviskie at Code4Lib a few years ago talked about the creative mindset: meticulous, practical, an impulse to build and maintain, and to suffer fools gladly. Kathy Sierra talks about how you get over The Big Frickin’ Wall between incremental changes and transformation. John Voss, who works for HistoryPin [and organizer of LODLAM], says you get over the wall by connecting what we do to a greater purpose.

“The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” David Lankes, Atlas of New Librarianship. This is how Linked Data will be made real, Rachel says. She cites the LODLAM conference, and DPLA: intracommunity conversation.

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[templelib] Nancy Kranich, Rutgers Univ: “From Collecting to Connecting: Engaging the Academic Community”

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Nancy Kranich at Rutgers School of Info and Library Science (and she’s a former president of the American Library Association) begins by quoting Alfred Lord Whitehead:

“The task of a University is the creation of the future so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue.” What does that mean for libraries?

We need to think about how the library can be a co-creator of the future. We lack a collective narrative. People don’t have any idea what librarians are really about. Wendy Lougee says that we are transitioning from focusing on the products of scholarships to support the processes of scholarship. There’s a paradigm shift underway:

  • Product > Process.
  • Scarcity > Abundance.
  • Outside in > Inside out.
  • Push > Pull.
  • Just in case > Just in time.

Librarians have an “edifice complex,” she says; they don’t get outside the building enough. We’re not having the same conversation in the library that we’re having outside the library. E.g., we spend forever on deciding on which Web discovery system to use, but no one uses our Web site. We need to get over this gap. “How do we get people from different disciplines and locations to work with one another…” (citing John Seely Brown.) For this we need a compelling narrative.

Libraries use the word “engage” all the time. We have to engage with particular communities, not just one size fits all. But we don’t know how to. We need to listen. Convene conversations, as they have at Rutgers. Identify shared aspirations. These conversations give the library more authority, and also makes it more accountable.

It’s important to start these conversations with aspirations rather than with problems. If you start at problems, the conversation generally doesn’t get past them.

As an example of the lack of a narrative, Nancy shows a graphic produced by Rutgers that shows undergrad education as a pathway through the campus. No library is in the graphic. So, the library started having kitchen table conversations across the community about their aspirations for under grad education. Themes emerged:

  1. Build informal relationships
  2. Teach critical thinking
  3. Embbrace diversity and inclusion to engage across differences
  4. Engage when and where students convene

These conversations lead to public knowledge. Then they instituted monthly discussions, which lead to “pockets of change” that ripple out.

Turning outward toward the community has been difficult, but an “amazing experience.” They are much more inclusive in public discourse.

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[templelib] Siobhan Reardon: Renewing the Free Library of Philadelphia

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Siobhan A. Reardon is president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. [So awesome!] She came in 5 years ago when the system was facing serious financial cutbacks. She brought in a consulting group to help the library come up with a strategic plan. The consultants took the Library through an extensive and well-structured process. [Siobhan gives us a lot of info; the following is at best an outline.]

They looked at four scenarios for where the economy and the state of tech access might be, from booms in both to busts in each. Since we don’t know what the future will be, how do you create an organization that can shift from one scenario to another?

Key success factors include not only operational effiiciency and marketing, but also the possibility of offering a premium service for a fee. Also, partnerships, virtual presence, facility design, and specialized talent.

Vision: Building an enlightened community devoted to lifelong literacy. Mission: advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity.

This works out to a dozen operational goals, which include focusing on providing especially strong support for: children under 5, new Americans, jobseekers, and small businesses.

Key takeaways from the study: Every project needs an owner.

  • Marketing has to be amplified.
  • Staff training is imperative.
  • The library must have a robust virtual aspect.
  • Each of the 48 neighborhood libraries have to be focused on its community.

They have a set of new potential programs. One is fine-free cards for children. (The library takes in $800,000/year in fines, so this will affect its bottom line.) The most progress has been in reaching jobseekers. They’ve also focused on users with special needs (which includes people with emotional issues and the homeless).

They then went through an organizational restructuring. After studying 14 other libraries, they realized that the Philadelphia Library is not sufficiently focused on customer engagement. Also, they’ve clustered libraries geographically, with shared staff and shared specializations.

Siobhan shows the layout of a re-designed library. Books are on the perimeter, with social space in the middle. Plus quiet rooms. Plus a cafe. She points out that libraries traditionally don’t like food near books, but people take books home and read them while drinking coffee and eating donuts. “Go figure,” she says.

She quickly cycles through photos of other libraries, each of which address some problem or opportunity. Beautiful.

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[templelib] James Neal, Columbia University

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Jim Neal, University Librarian [so cool!] at Columbia Univ., begins by noting that Bill Withers uses “I know” 26 times in “There Ain’t no Sunshine When She’s Gone.” Jim knows 26 things about libraries, he tells us. [Jim speaks quickly. He elaborates each of these. I can’t get it all.]

  1. We must build a national broadband information infrastructure. The library community has to be at the table.

  2. Identity management

  3. Build the digital library

  4. Mine the information

  5. Content mgt gateways for discovery, supporting different types of workflows.

  6. Preserve and archive the content

  7. Integrate Web 3.0: social network, collective intelligence, software as service

  8. Enhance student experience

  9. Support course management systems. “MOOCS cannot be successful without libraries at the table.”

  10. Support faculty

  11. Support Big Science

  12. Transform scholarly publishing

  13. Advance open source, open standards, open archives, open linking, open knowledge, Open Access

  14. Managing repositories. Persistence and version control.

  15. Support policies

  16. Fight the copyright wars. Support Fair Use.

  17. Develop new markets and products. Inculcate a competitive attitude.

  18. Work globally

  19. Respond to user expectations

  20. Accountability and responsibility

  21. Rethink library space planning. Start with the user, not the collection. Create a playground, not a sanctuary.

  22. New collaborations

  23. Develop the library workforce with new recruitment and development strategies

  24. New organizational models that move away from hierarchies, to a loosely coupled organization.

“This is a massive strategic agenda,” Jim acknowledges. Academic libraries have to pursue risk and experimentation at their core. We have to radicalize library sharing, moving beyond Kumbiyah.

He cites Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1. Brooks comes down from the mountain with three tablets:

Jim gives us his own five lost commandments:

  1. Value libraries.

  2. Preserve our freedoms.

  3. Embrace your human objectives.

  4. Advance the revolution.

  5. Care about each other.

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October 16, 2013

[berkman] Zeynep Tufecki on the boom-and-bust cycle of social-media-fueled protests (with live reporting)

Zeynep Tufecki [twitter:zeynep] is giving a Berkman Tuesday Lunch talk titled “Gezi Park Protests & the Boom-Bust Cycle of Social Media Fueled Protest.” She says that surveillance and social media + protest are two of her topics, so swhen protests broke out in her home country of Turkey, she felt she really had to study it. She is today presenting issues she is still working through.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

She says that on the positive side of the role of social media on politics, we see lower coordination costs, the ability to shape the narrative, and an ability to overcome internal prejudice. On the negative: slacktivism, surveilliance, and propaganda. For her the lower costs cause the boom-bust cycle in social media-fueled activism. There are many questions she says, including why most of these social-media fueled protests fizzle out.

People usually argue about the wrong questions, Zeynep says. Instead, she suggests that we stop looking so much at the outputs of social media-fueled protests and instead at their capacity-building. Also, stop using offline or online as the important differentiation, and instead look at them in terms of what they signal.

She gives some background on Gezi, Turkey. The media focused on Taksim Square in Istanbul, but the action was actually in Gezi park. Prime Minister Erdogan wanted to turn the park into a developed area with housing, a shopping mall, and an old Ottoman barracks. This was an unpopular plan, and was taken as a symbol for wider discontent. Neighborhood people held a small protest. Maybe 30 people. But it was met with overwhelming force, which raised fear of the gov’t become authoritarian. People took to the streets. Turkish media are owned by large corporate conglomerates in cahoots with the gov’t. CNN locally was running shows about penguins, while CNN International was covering the protests. “So people got upset and took to Twitter and to the streets” (including an image of penguins in gas masks).


via Turkish Press Review Blog

After multiday clashes in the area, “coordinated and spread almost solely on social media,” Gezi Park was Occupied. (Zeynep stresses that Turkey, unlike, other countries nearby, has a popularly-elected gov’t.) Zeynep joined in, packing an audio recorder, a bike helmet, and a tear gas mask. And sun protector lotion because statistically, she says, she felt most threatened by the Sun.

A single party had been in power in Turkey for 11 years. The country was polarized, but with an ineffective opposition. There are barriers to creating new parties (you have to get 10% to get any seats), which means the country is locked into an ineffective opposition.

At first the occupation was like a fair: clean, kitchens that were feeding 10K people, and like a carnival in the evenings because of the visitors. Occasionally, you’d get tear gassed. “Woodstock meets the Paris Commune.” She shows a picture of a Sufi whirler wearing a gas mask. People were finding politics.

There was “one no, many yes-es,” [an anti-globalization meme] which Zeynep argues is an Internet phenomenon. Turks who normally would never talk with one another found each other in the park.

There’s the free-rider question. Even if the protest itself were a festival, the costs would be real: Five people died, thousands were injured by tear gas cannisters which can be lethal.

The protestors’ main grievances were: growing authoritarianism, media censoprship, and police brutality. (Source: Zeynep formally interviewed 130 people.)

The Net’s role was to break the censorship, create a new narrative, and to coordinate. She looks at each of these:

The media censorship was incredible. CNN Turkey showed a soccer match as protestors were being chased down the city’s main street. Protestors used Twitter in part because there were too many family members on Facebook. “Ironically, Twitter became more essential because it was more public.” Twitter’s blue bird became the symbol of freedom, in part because people trusted Twitter not to turn over names. Also: lots of penguins.

Real-time coordination: Overall, the Net worked. People coordinated in real time via Twitter. Local businesses turned on open Wifi. People would text to others who then tweeted.

People learned new literacies, especially who to trust. One Twitter stream only tweeted citizen journalism if it came with a photo, to increase credibility.

Counter narrative: Very youth and humor oriented. People came because it was a great place to be, even with the tear gassings. People felt fairly confident that they wouldn’t get shot at, similar to Western Europe or the US.

Leadership: There were 130 organizations, but no central leadership. Much of it was ad hoc, which worked because of social media.

After a few weeks, the protest was brutally dispersed, and then it moved to local parks and neighborhoods. When it broke up, the govt mostly decided to treat the protestors the way GW Bush treated the anti-Iraq War protests: not as a threat, but more like merely a focus group.

Capacity building: Look at capacity, not outcomes. E.g., look at literacy, not GDP (Amatyra Sen). Internet’s capacity-building renders other forms of capacity-building less useful.

The online and offline are one ecology. (She’s looking here at post-citizen protests, i.e., protests were the participants are already recognized as citizens).

The Net lowers the barriers for the resources necessary for protest. No one planned the Gezi protests. They just arose.

So what do protest do? They grab attention, promote social interaction, reveal info, and signal capacity. Her thesis: Internet protests don’t signal the same way as pre-Internet. The Net gains attention without media mediating. Media dependency brings distortion, censorship, and counter propaganda — but also dominance, focus, and singular narrative. Media attention pre-Net often signaled elite dissent. With the Net, movements can get attention on their own terms, but can’t get a singular or dominant narrative. “Since there is no single elite voice, there is no reliable way to signal elite dissent.” Now you can’t get away from polarized narratives.

For social interaction capacity, it’s a big win for the movements. It’s much easier to find people like you on the Net. “The Internet is a homophily machine.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t work just for the movements you like. e.g., the anti-vaccine movement. It’s a win for social movements, but there will be many more movements.

Info revelation. Pluralistic ignorance = you think you’re the only one who is thinking something. The Net gets us past that, e.g., Facebook pages. But, then there are bandwagon/cascade effects.

Signaling: Protests as “stotting.” (“Stotting” = animals jumping up in the bush.) One explanation: it signals how strong you are and thus how fast you can run. Before the Net, because there wasn’t an easy way to organize, if you got a million people to DC, you’re signaling that you have an infrastructural capacity far beyond those million. Now, getting lots of people in the street doesn’t signal the threats that modern govts care about. Even when there are costs, those costs don’t signal the capacity to hurt the govt in ways the govt cares about. So, slacktivism is a bad argument; it’s not the cost of typing that’s being signalled.

Network internalities for social media-fueled protests are weaker. The Left doesn’t celebrate building network internalities because the Left sidesteps important tensions (leadership, representation, delegation). “Side stepping those tensions means that after the street protests, things are more unclear for the Left.” The Left is unable to negotiate, which is why so many movements are stuck at no. The Net allows them to sidestep developing ways to negotiate, etc. The Right, on the other hand (e;g., Tea Party) is comfortable challenging primaries.

To sum up: Look at the building of capacities, not how many people show up. This explains why there’s a repeated cycle where the protests are unable to engage in effective negotiation, representation, pressure, and delegation.

Q&A

Q: What other than Twitter is being used?

A: In Gezi, people knew how to post to Twitter by texting. And Twitter gained the users’ trust. Facebook was important for longer conversations. People collected photos on Tumblr. A lot of blogging, etc. But Twitter was how protesters talked with one another. Turkey isn’t a client state and didn’t need to appeal to America. And hashtags were dropped, so analytics miss just how big it was.

Q: [me] Is the Left stuck forever not being able to get past protests to actual change?

A: In Google Egypt Wael Ghonim was identified as a leader, and he was picked up for questioning. But he couldn’t have coerced a change even if he’d wanted to. I’m not saying this is great. At Gezi, the govt said “Let’s negotiate.” But who do you send? They sent people from the traditional NGOs, but they had no representational capacity. They listend to the Prime Minister. But they weren’t empowered to negotiate. The govt was genuinely frustrated that they couldn’t find a negotiating partner. So after the negotiations, there were some demands, they came back to the park. It’s 3 or 4am. They’re trying to explain what happened. People were confused. There was no way to deal with it. The next day, the protestors formed little forums, but how do you decide which to listen to? Some people were ready to accept it an go. People wanted consensus. But consensus has meant “a lot of social pressure.” That doesn’t work in the modern city. So where do we go with this? It can’t just be technology. There has to be a recognition among Left movements that if you can’t ever delegate or negotiate, then you’re stuck at No. The Right isn’t like this. The Right is using social media to make really significant strides. They’ve blocked the President’s agenda. They’re getting elected in Europe. They Left is unable to get together enough to address the 30-40% unemplyment in Spain. The big visible protests are Left wing. The big visible gains are Right wing.

Q: You said there were about 150 social groups involved in the movement. What was the relation between how they organize this protest and …?

The 150 groups didn’t represent the people on the ground. The groups formed the leadership because they were there, but people on the ground didn’t think of themselves as being there as members of those groups. The traditional NGOs had no capacity to lead, and didn’t understand that.

Q: I was a protestor in Ankara. I was tear gassed three times. Tastes good. How can we orient this approach to be an alternative to the traditional opposition structure? The classic opposition parties in Turkey do not represent the young people, the democratic-based people.

A: We have a huge crisis in opposition representation. The classic opposition parties do not represent the young generation. The young are big on pluralism, for example. There’s no party that represents the live-and-let-live ethic among the protestors. E.g., the young have no polarization around the head scarf issue: “They should if they want to, and not if they don’t want to.” That’s not represented in Parliament. The electoral system blocks the formation of new parties because of the 10% barrier. But, also, the young have a cultural allergy to representation because in traditional politics they see corruption, not representation.

Q: But there’s a trend in the Turkish community to do something. We have to find an alternative.

A: What motivates the existing govt is people losing office.

Q: How many companies offer Internet facilities in Turkey?

A: The backbone goes through one and then it’s sold to companies that can sell access. Great for surveillance. But it’s not the same concern as elsewhere, which is why people felt safe tweeting. Turkey is probably more wired than the US, which isn’t saying so much. Smartphones are necessary just to coordinate meeting up. Much lateness.

Q: In India, we have two successful models. The protests against the rape case were done through FB. An anti-corruption movement was able to organize millions of people throughout the country. But how do you coalesce these energies, give it a shape? But a word of caution: Panic about people from the northeast of India spread throughout the country thanks to social media, leading to killings.

The biggest case of non-state terrorism happened in Pakistan because of a video. Is the Internet good or bad? Yes.

Q: Is protest never effective?

A: Numbers still matter. But it depends on what it’s signaling, which also depends on context. If it signals than we’re here and we’re going to challenge you in your weak point, then yes…

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October 10, 2013

[2b2k] Erik Martin on Reddit and journalism

Erik Martin is giving a talk at the Nieman Foundation. He’s the general manager of Reddit.com. (Disclosure: We’re friendly.) He tells us that Reddit gets 5 billion page views per month, and 70 million unique visitors.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Erik gives us a tour and some background. Every morning he clicks on the “Random” button and visits the subreddits (= topically-based pages within the site) the button gives him. He does so now, hitting subreddits such as bitch, i’m a bus, ukele, battlestations (office desks), and what’s this plant. Reddit, he says, is like a giant message board. You can create a board (subreddit) about anything. There are over 100,000 that get at least a post a day, and 6,000 that have substantial activity. All the subreddits are created by users, who also can create the page design. All the posts are voted up or down by users. Users also set the rules for subreddits. For example, at the Coversong subreddit, users have apparently decided all posts have to be videos.

Now he’s interviewed by Justin Ellis.

JE: How did you get to Reddit?

EM: He worked for Mammoth Records. It got bought by Disney. Then hecame a documentary filmmaker. Then marketing films and distributing them online. He read Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham) [great book]. He then read about Paul Graham’s Y Combinator incubator. He applied to do a documentary about it, but was rejected. Still, he was hooked. Reddit came out of the first round of projects. He saw Reddit and loved the unpredictability of it. “Every link as a rabbit hole you might go down.” He got to know the cofounders and said “IU want to find a way to work with Reddit because that’s what I’m doing with all my time.” Alexis Ohanian asked him to work on a TV pilot that was going to incorporate Reddit into a news show. But it didn’t work; the Internet part was an add-on. Then he got hired as a community manager at Reddit.

JE: Reddit has a lot of geography. What does it mean to be a community manager?

EM: He looked at it as being the manager of a band. He’d promote promising items. He’d try to keep things functioning. And he tried to make sure that the community didn’t get taken advantage of, e.g., when people didn’t link back to Reddit.

JE: When you create a subreddit and a crowd shows up, how does that happen?

EM: Sometimes it’s obvious why. But others we can’t figure it out. One of our most popular subreddits is Explain Like I’m Five. That one you know what you’re going to get. Same for Ask Me Anything. Those explode when hot topics arise.

JE: How does this community stay together so long?

EM: Some of it is the customization of subreddits.

JE: Because anyone can create a subreddit, Reddit has gotten into trouble from time to time. There have been some very creepy subreddits. What’s the guiding principle for what is allowable?

EM: Our philosophy is that it’s a site that has 5B page views, and we have 35 employees [so we can’t moderate everything]. If you’re going to function you have to have some rules, but they have to be relatively finite, relatively easy to understand, and relatively self-enforceable. So, we have six rules. We have added one or two throughout the years. We try to keep them simple. No spam. You can’t try to break the site. You can’t try to cheat. You can’t put people’s personal info up. You can’t have anything illegal. We added that you can’t have material that sexualizes minors. If we had one that said “Don’t be a jerk,” it wouldn’t be enfrceable. No one would agree about how it applies. So there’s tons of stuff on the site that we find horrible and offensive, but the site works best when we keep it open and governed by those simple rules.

JE: What responsibility do you think you have if you see something that you personally feel is wrong?

EM: What I find offensive is different from others around the world or other positions. People don’t come here because they think we have the best judgment about what’s offensive. Plus, you have all the context. E.g., people complain about the PicsOfDeadChildren subreddit. That’s obviously very offensive. But what if it were called “Child Autopsy Photos” and it put itself forward as presenting medical training photos. Or a subreddit about death. Or a subreddit about combat video. It’s beyond offensive. It’s people being killed. It gets very tricky.

JE: There have been 3 major stories illustrative of Reddit and citizen journalism: The Aurora movie theater shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the shooting at the Navy Yard in DC. In the first, there was first person reporting. With the second, there was that but also the spreading of info from elsewhere and then the misidentification of one of the suspects in the bombing. With the third, someone created a subreddit to investigate what was happening, but you guys shut that down. What have you learned?

EM: In those three situations, the response of the community was the same as what you’d see offline: People trying to figure out what went on. Telling their story. Making jokes. Speculating about all kinds of things. Trying to make sense of what happened. Later on they were trying to help in some way. With Boston, it was different because the authorities wanted help from the public: they said if you have photos, upload them, etc. There was a subreddit where people were trying to identify the bombers, and that got a lot of attention. The actual subreddit where the Brown Univ. student was misidentified by name was actually the normal Boston subreddit, and it was removed after about an hour. That wasn’t good enough. That led to horrible consequences for that family.

So, what have we learned? We learned that people want to share, to talk, to help, to be a part of these huge events any way they can. We learned people can be callous and cavalier by mentioning people’s name. The vast majority were careful and thoughtful, but some were not. The Navy Yard subreddit was a joke. It had six posts, most from journalists satirizing the Boston bombing subreddit. It went against our rules and we shut it down after an hour.

JE: But you apologized after the Boston bombings…

EM: Absolutely. We do post-mortems and followsup. We did one when President Obama came on. So, yes, we apologized and talked aout what we can do better. And we also talked about the amazing things people did: people bringing their pets to parks in case people needed cute animal therapy, the sending of pizzas to EMTs and the police… We are an open source site in policy as well as code.

JE: Is it enough to do a post mortem? Newspapers issue corrections.

EM: There are thousands of subreddts, so there isn’t a way to reach everyone. We’re a platform, not a newspaper. We’re like Twitter or Youtube or WordPress. We don’t have a position on the veracity of one thing or another. I hope people learn to be more empathetic nandlearn that what you say on line has repercussions. But I don’t think we’re like a publication, and we’re not an editorial team.

JE: How do you see the role of journalism on Reddit? Why are people doing self-reporting?

EM: They want to be part of the story. They don’t want to be passie about what’s happening in the world. Even if
it’s uploading a meme. They’ve seen something start and then get big in a single day. Of course they want to share what’s happening in their neighborhood or share their thoughts about what’s going on in their govt Redditors vote 20M time a day.

JE: What’s the relation of journalisms and Reddit?

EM: We’re agnostic about what you’re linking to. But original reporting is more important than ever because people can find an audience. What’s happening on Reddit and what’s happening in the mainstream media happen to be in different hemispheres now but ultimately it’s the same thing. I hope people doing reporting will be active in a comment thread on Reddit or elsewhere.

JE: But you are creating content in some way, e.g., the Ask Me Anything’s where anyone can come in answer questions from the community. It’s very much like what media companies do.

EM: And in other Reddits people share recipes or workout routines. It’s like what you get in the media. It’s communicating, it’s story telling.

JE: How do you make money? You have ads and Reddit gold memberships.

EN: We don’t need to make a lot of money. We’re very lean. Our NY office is in a coworking space. We basically have ads for big movies, mobile phones, etc. We also have ads from mom and pop companies. Reddit Gold is a premium membership, $24.99/year. You get some extra features but most people do it to support the site. We have a secret Santa program (Reddit Gifts) that has an e-commerce site to help those exchanges and to make money.

JE: Reddit was purchased by Conde Nast and then spun off in 2011. How is it different?

EM: We started in 2005. Bought by Conde Nast in 2006. I started in 2008. Reddit was basically neglected by Conde: we were growing but there was a hiring freeze. OTOH, no one told us what to do. An example of how it made a difference: Before we were spun out, our ad operations was done through Conde, which is great for major magazines, not for a weird site where all you need is $5 to run an ad. So it didn’t make sense for us. We wanted an ad server that was fast and open source, which now we have.

Q&A

Q: Any trends in the type of content being produced? Trending toward the absurd? Or what?

A: It gets harder and harder to think about overall trends because the site is becoming more fractious and disparate each day. I think people are really motivated by the unexpected. Our audience is increasingly cynical. We also have an audience that is increasingly idealistic. You see trends were people are more connected across national and geographical boundaries; if there’s a discussion on healthcare the top comments will be from people around the globe. And it’s always been possible to have the serious next to the ridiculous; the last remaining bulkheads are being whittled away.

Q: Can you remain content agnostic?

A: No, it’s not possible. We’re not content agnostic towards spam or personal information. We try to be as close to agnosstic as we can.

Q: How much does porn account for your content?

A: About 85% of the subreddits are safe for work. (The Trees subreddit is not because you could get in trouble looking at pictures of weed.) Porn is maybe 5-10%. Our biggest subreddits are the video subreddits, As Reddit, etc.

Q: Terrorists radicalize by looking at pictures of dead babies. Have you had to hand over who your users are to agencies trying to track people on Reddit trying to radicalize people?

A: User privacy is core but we comply with what we have to comply with.

Q: [me] Reddit used to have a strong culture. People knew the same references, were playing the same games, had the same general politics, etc. But that shared culture seems to be weakening as Reddit becomes more popular. Does this concern you??

A: Yes, there is a certain sense of shared community that’s being fractured. But it’s being migrated down the subreddits the way you’re more loyal to community or borough.

Q: [me] Can you say more about IAMA’s, which at their best are a quite remarkable journalist form of collaborative interview?

A: The exciting thing for me is to see that format seep into other subreddits. We actively are trying to encourage that. E.g., mayoral candidates should do AMAs in their city’s subreddit. Or scifi authors are doing them in the sf subreddits. It goes back to that idea of so much of the word being predictable. If you waatch watch an interview on even some of the great programs — Charlie Rose, for example — even if they’re really good, you know what to expect. With the Reddit AMA’s not only do you not know what sort of questions are going to be asked, since you can answer a question at any length, it ends up taking this unexpected terms. If you look at the calendar of upcoming IAMA’s, you don’t even know which ones are going to be popular, outside of a Bill Gates or Tom Hanks, but if you look at the top AMAs for a week it will be a celebrity, subway driver, person with a weird disease, and way down the list will be someone with a household name. It’s unpredictable, and it’s unpredictable to the person being interviewed. It’s very different from what you get on a press junket where people go into robot mode. The AMA format can be more fun for them the standard press interview.

Q: Tumbler did a lot of active outreach to media. You don’t go out to, say, Newsweek and ask if they want a subreddit.

A: Yes. It’s difficult for us to do. Tech News Today is a great subreddit. They don’t directly flog their content. PBS has done one. But it’s hard.

Q: A newspaper could have its own subreddit where their folks are doing AMA’s etc.

A: Yes. But curating and cultivating a subreddit is a lot of work. It’s hard enough getting journalists to participate in comments on their own site.

Q: Companies you wouldn’t expect have made editorial plays. E.g., Twitter has being hiring editorial staff. Why are they doing that?

A: We’ve done some of that to prime the pump. E.g., Adam Savage’s publicist would probably say no to a request for an AMA at a site that looks like it’s from the 1990s [like ours], but if I go out with a camera and ask him to respond to the top ten questions, they might say yes. But then they see that the AMA works. So we only do editorial work for pump priming.

Q: What’s up with the design?

A: Look at the big sites. Minimal but flexible platforms. When you start doing a more professional and complex design, you suddenly needing 10x more people, and then you need 10x the money…But subreddits can monkey with the CSS. They can even change the Gold button, our “buy” button. Rich text works.

Q: For a traditional news org, the misidentification of the Boston Bomber would have been very expensive. Who owns the error from a legal perspective, in the US and elsewhere?

A: In the US, platforms are not responsible for what people say. The person who says it is responsible. I don’t know if Reddit could exist as a Canadian company. People give us a non-exclusive contract to display their words.

Q: But because you have some rules, doesn’t that make you responsible?

A: The more you monitor, the more responsible you are. But everything on the site is determined by human behavior. We are a platform for people discussing things. We’re not a publication. We don’t have editorial control.

Q: Is one of your 35 people a lawyer?

A: No.

Q: So when you get subpoenas…?

A: We’ve had to learn more than we want. We also have very good lawyers we consult with when we need to.

Q: The site in 5 years?

A: I don’t know. The users have better ideas than we do. All we try to do is take ideas they develop and help make them happen. So, in 5 years I think Reddit will be in more countries, more cross-country conversation. We have great engineers so we’ll be doing more interesting things. In 5 years I hope there will be 1,000 Reddit apps, using Reddit in novel ways that I couldn’t come up with. I never imagined that Reddit would be useful for live events. People are using our “edit” button 50/hour for this, which is not what the button is intended for, and Reddit’s not even very good at. People have created a site that reorganizes Reddit in chronological order and they can do that because we’re open source and don’t send lawyers after them. If we evolve in 5 yrs it will be because people in the community take it in those new directions.

Q: Venture capitalists?

A: Y-Combinator’s original investment was $20K. We were self-sustaining until Conde Nast bought us. We also had a very small angel round in the past year, around $1M. Very small. We’ve never spent a lot of money so we’ve never had to raise a lot. We’re close to break even now.

Q: Have any news events truly originated with Reddit?

A: As far as I know, one of the first reports on the Aurora story was from someone at the theater, before there was anything known to the media. The biggest story where Reddit was involved in the story was probably the SOPA/PIPA blackouts. Someone started to go after GoDaddy: “I’m moving 75 domains from GoDaddy” and it grew, and the next day GoDaddy flipped its position. Also, someone went after Paul Ryan and he ended up changing his mind.

Q: How can I troll Reddit for news stories?

A: When a new Android comes out, reporters go to Reddit to see what’s new in that version. I don’t know why more reporters don’t go to the relevant subreddits and ask for help on a story.

Q: We reporters are competitive.

A: In the sports world, you routinely see stories getting updated based upon information at Reddit.

Q: News orgs are trying to figure out how to engage with their audiences via social media. Advice?

A: Popular Science killed comments. Fine. You don’t have to have comments. But if you have them, you should pay attention to them. E.g., Roger Ebert would edit your comment as an admin, which is a terrible practice, but people didn’t mind because he was doing so to respond to their comments. I don’t understand why in general comments in 2013 are not all threaded and vote-able. Most are still in reverse chron, highlighting the latest. And most seem to be trying to hide their comments.

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June 20, 2013

[lodlam] Topics for Day 2

Here are the sessions people are proposing for the second day of the LODLAM conference in Montreal:


  • Getty Vocabulary goes open


  • Linked data on mobiles, wearable devices


  • Do cool things with the data sets that you have on your laptop – let’s build stuff!


  • Your tools and solutions


  • NLP for linked open data for libraries, archives, and museums. Data extraction, taxonomy alignment, context extraction, etc.


  • World War I in LOD


  • LOD and accessibility & assistive devices


  • The Pundit software package


  • the KARMA mapping tool


  • Tools and techniques for generating concordances between people


  • Why Schema.org?


  • Copying and synching linked data


  • FRBR and other standards [couldn't hear]


  • How to create a new generation of LOD professionals. Getting students involved in projects.


  • The future of LODLAM


  • Normalizing ata models and licensing models


The official list is here.

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June 19, 2013

[lodlam] Bibframe update

Kevin Ford from the Library of Congress is talking about BIBFRAME, which he describes as a replacement for MARC and a rethinking of the entire ecosystem.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

(If a response isn’t labeled “Kevin,” then it wasn’t Kevin. Also, this is much compressed, incomplete, and choppy. Also, I haven’t re-read it.)


Q: From the Bibframe mailing list it seems like there isn’t agreement about what Bibframe is trying to achieve.


Kevin: Sometimes people see it narrowly.


Q: It’s not clear how Bibframes gets to where it replaces MARC.


Kevin: We’re not holding back some plan or roadmap that we’ve mapped out perfectly with milestones and target dates. We’re taking it as it comes.


Q: There’s a perception on the part of vendors and customers of vendors that this is a new data specification that vendors will have to support, and that that’s its main function, and possibly that’s pushing the knowledge representation in a direction that’s favorable to the vendors — a direction that’s too simple.


Q: Is there an agreement about the end point?


Kevin: There’s agreement that it needs to do what MARC does but better. We’re doing data representation, not predicting the systems built on top of it.


Q: What are the functional requirements that Bibframe’s trying to meet with this new model? What are your metrics? And who are you trying to satisfy?


Kevin: It’s not vendor focused. We hope systems will be built that expose the data as linked data.


Q: Bibframe let’ you associate a record with a particular work, which is a huge advance.


Q: Bibframe used to talk about roundtripping from MARC to Bibframe to MARC. But Bibframe is now adding info, so I don’t see how roundtripping is possible.


Kevin: Not losslessly.


Q: Bibframe is intended for libraries, but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem that Bibframe is intended for use outside of libraries. There doesn’t seem to be any thought about how other ontologies might be overlaid. And that was a problem with MARC: it was too library-centric. Why not investigate mapping it into other vocabularies?


Kevin: Nothing stops you from including other namespaces. As for mapping to other vocabularies, we’re working on a 40 year time scale and can’t know that other vocabularies will be around.


Q: We need some community-building to make that happen. We need to be careful not to build an ontological silo.


Q: The naming of this data set is unfortunate: Why” bib”, which has a connotation of books, when really it should be about any kind of information-bearing object. Why not call it “InfoFrame”? Who uses “bibliographic” other than libraries? Why limit yourself?


Kevin: I cannot begin to tell you how much time was spent on what this thing should be called. It went through a couple of different names. It’s not an ideal name, but I hope that the “bib” association falls by the wayside.


Q: The library ecosystem includes articles, licenses, and many other things that weren’t part of MARC. Is Bibframe aiming at representing all of that?


Kevin: Yes, it’s in scope. Certainly data about journal articles.


Kevin: Yes, Bibframe lets you define your own fields, as in MARC.


Q: We’re going from cataloging to catalinking: from records about resources to links related to topics, etc.


A: We need services that will link resources to other resources. Bibframe doesn’t do that, but it’s more amenable to it than MARC.


Kevin: [Sorry, but I missed the beginning of this.] When it comes to subject headings, we expect you to resolve that URI. If people are doing that every single time, then it’s a candidate for being included. That lookup could be a query into your local system. I’ve assumed you’ll have to have a local copy of it.


Q: Versioning? Why did you ignore the work of the British Library?


Kevin: We didn’t ignore it at all. We need to attend to what’s achievable by the smallest institutions as well as the largest.


Q: For a small institution, is it practical to move away from MARC?


Kevin: Not for some. Some still use card catalogs. I expect some of the first systems will be an outward layer around legacy systems.


Q: We need a larger discussion about provenance and about trust on the semantic web. Libraries should be better participants in that discussion; it’s a deeply important space for us.


Q: This conversation makes me cynical about our profession’s involvement. We need be talking with users. We need community involvement. We’re worried about the longevity of FOAF? It’ll outlast Bibframe because people actually use it. Let’s keep turning inward until we’re completely irrelevant.


Q: Yeah, the idea that there has to be one namespace seems so counter to the principles of linked data.


Q: Do we have anyone outside of the library community here?


A: I’m mainly a web developer. There’s a really big gulf. The Web will win when it comes to how libraries operate. Whether Bibframe will be a part of it remains to be seen. In the web community, everything seems exciting, but I feel so much angst in the library community.

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[lodlam] Focus on helping users

Corey Harper [twitter:chrpr] starts a session by giving a terrific presentation of the problem: Linked data discussions and apps have focused too much on resources instead of on topics, narratives, etc. — what users are using resources to explore. We are not extracting all the value from librarians’ controlled vocabulary.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Some notes from the open discussion. Very sketchy, much choppier than in life, and highly incomplete.

Why not use Solr, i.e., an indexer of SQL databases? In part because Solr doesn’t know enough about the context, so a search for “silver” comes back with all sorts of hits without recognizing that some refer to the mineral, some to geo places with “silver” in the name, etc. E.g., if you say “john constable artist birthdate,” linked data can get you the answer. [I typed that into Google. It came back with the answer in big letters.]

Linked data can do the sort of thing that reference librarians do: Here’s what you’re looking for, but have you also seen this and this and that?

How do we evaluate the user interfaces we come up with? How do we know if it’s helped someone find something, put something into context, tell a story…?

We have two weird paradigms in the library community: Lucene-based indexes of metadata (e.g., Blacklight) vs. exhibit makers (e.g., Omeka). How to bring those together so exhibits are made through an index, and the flow through them is itself indexed and made findable and re-usable. (And then there’s the walking through a room and discovering relationships among things.)

How do we preserve the value of the subject classifications? [Here's one idea: Stacklife :) ]

It’s important to keep one of the core functions of catalog: to identify and create identities for resources. A lot of our examples are facts, but in the Humanities what’s our role in maintaining identities around which we can hang relationships and maintain the disagreements among people. How do you help people navigate that problem space?

The Web’s taught us that the only way to find things is through search, but let’s remember the “link” in “linked data”: the ability to find the relationship between things you’ve found. E.g., the Google Knowledge Graph and Google fact panel are doing this to some degree. We’ve lost that, thanks to computers.

People want to have debates and find conflicting information. It’s hard how to bring this into a search interface.

The Digital Mellini project digitized a specialized manuscript and opened up. Once something is digitized, there are pieces you cannot see with the human eye — e.g., marginal notes.

Other examples of the sort of thing that Corey is talking about:

  • Linking Lives. EACCPF (corporations persons and families).

  • SNACs [??] (“Facebook for dead people”) mines finding aids to find social relationships.

  • LinkSailor (RIP) traversed a many OWL sameAs relationships.

  • CultureSampo (Finnish)

  • Tim Sherratt‘s group has something coming out soon

People think that museum web sites are boring. At LODLAM we’re a bunch of data geeks and are the wrong people to be talking about user interfaces. Response: We should take the Apple route and give people what they don’t know they want. We should also be testing our models against how people think about the world.

“I have a lot of data. It’s very sparse and sometimes very concentrated. It’s hard to know what users want from it. I don’t know what’s going to be important to you. So we generate video games, using geodata to create the playing field.” That’s not a retrieval engine, but it’s a way to make use of the factoids.

Read “The Lean Startup.” The Minimum Viable Product is an important idea. Don’t underrate the role of the product owner in shaping a great project. (Me:) Having strong, usable, graphs that take advantage of what libraries know would be helpful.

Who are our clients? Users? Scholars? Developers? A: All of them. Response: Then we’ll fail. Response: Catalogs were designed to manage collections, not for the general public. People have been forced to learn how to use them; you have to understand the collection’s abstraction. And that’s not sustainable.

Our library wants to build the graph. We build simple interfaces to demonstrate the power, but our value is in building the graph.

We don’t want to deliver linked data to users. We want to build the layer between the linked data and the apps. If we do it well, users won’t know or care that there’s linked data underneath it.

We tend to focus on what we think our users should want. It’s an “eat your broccoli” approach to search. E.g., users want social networks, but many scholars resist it because it seems too non-rigorous.

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