July 15, 2007 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on July 15, 2007.
Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: email@example.com
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this is the first FYIFrance ejournal issue composed on an iPhone... i hope... if i can get my thumbs to work...
And as you can tell, there are a few bugs in the iPhone, still. Tough making Capital Letters if you have 50+ year-old thumbs, for one thing; also, no accents aigus so far, for another... digital de'ja vu all over again, on that last...
Apple Co.'s new iPhone device is turning the hitech and general digital world upside down:
-- significantly, they dropped the word Computer from the corporate name, this year -- now the fabled Val de Silicone firm designs and sells "consumer electronics devices & services" -- more flexible, more hip, and far more profitable, than the now-old-fashioned "computers" they sold before... the world turns...
The fundamental new marketing idea is to reverse the terms of service, between hitech producers and consumers: where the former once gave orders to the latter, the latter now dictate to the former -- no longer is it producers saying to consumers, "You will use this box, or that system, or this or that format" -- now instead it's the consumers saying to producers, "You will give me the following information which I need..."
Several principal agents have been involved in this paradigm shift:
So it's one-stop shopping, the retailer's dream... This little iPhone thing measures about 2.25 x 4.5 x .5 inches / 6x11x1 cm, a bit larger in area than a credit card, and it weighs about 6 ounces / 174 grams, and it can do all of the above and more.
What this means in digital information generally, then, is "a new boss": to hitech industries formerly organized by form -- firms selling "computers" or "routers" or "software" or "networks" or "text" or "images", or "movies", etc. -- the iPhone says form no longer matters, only function, now the customer just wants the information, and she wants it on her iPhone.
A new bottleneck then, perhaps -- "new boss, same as the old boss" -- just like the "computer", which dictated information delivery formats before it? That certainly is the hope of many Apple stockholders, nowadays: nothing better, to some investors, than owning part of a firm which has a chokehold on its market...
The folks running Apple itself, though, appear to have more foresight: the next iPhone, smaller & cheaper, already has been announced by the rumor-mill, at least -- US$300, available end of this year -- and both devices make plentiful use of competitors' products and services, offering "synchronization" involving Microsoft products, and services relying upon Google, and telephony via AT&T, and so on. The legendary synergies of Silicon Valley seem to be alive and well.
The biggest news, though, is that Apple is not alone, in providing this new one-stop-shopping approach to digital information search & retrieval & use. They may be the first, with their iPhone: it may be the "killer app", of the new phase. But other firms long in cellphones and personal digital assistants / PDAs and, yes, even "computers", have been close to this convergence-point for some time too, and now may follow Apple. Many books have been written about this Media Convergence trend: many conferences held, many websites and blogs have described it --
And all of these, producers and pundits both, are benefiting now from iPhone's masterful "Friday June 29 2007 6pm in your local timezone" sales introduction. Apple hoped to sell as many as 200,000 of the devices that first weekend: the marketing gurus now say over 500,000 in fact were sold, and perhaps as many as 700,000 -- all the retailers were out of stock by Tuesday. So Apple Co. itself is benefiting: with the very healthy profit margins they built into their very high prices, on these initial iPhones, Apple is benefiting very well indeed.
But the stock prices of competitors also have been soaring: since June, and largely attributable to the Apple iPhone "buzz", the stock price of Apple is up 10+% -- but that of Nokia too is up 8%, and Vodafone 6%, and the maker of the Blackberry PDA, Research In Motion, up 28% -- so someone, perhaps just stock market gamblers but they offer some indication, figures the Apple iPhone is part of a wider and growing trend.
If that is the case, then -- if the information paradigm truly is shifting, with iPhone, or even if this simply is a new and powerful trend -- what does all of this mean for libraries? For French libraries, but also for libraries in general -- and particularly for non-US libraries, in any places which do not yet have a lot of Apple iPhones, and even where English is not the major language medium in use...
So much already is in place. Websites have been designed, services implemented, systems and software acquired and installed: but that was for a world of "computers" -- those personalized packages of the old mainframe capacities which formerly sat on everyone's desk and in everyone's lap. If the digital information world now is shifting to handhelds, as hitech headlines proclaim -- "The revolution will be handheld", says MarketWatch, "iPhone may be niche product, but it signals dawn of new era",
-- then how much of that former information world, and investment, and vested interest, now will have to change, in a digital library as elsewhere? And where, exactly, even if we are unlikely ever to know precisely when?
So, a few design considerations:
So users, and librarians, and website designers again need that "white space": traditional anathema to the print publishing industry, made more acceptable by Yahoo and Google in their initial digital information forays although both have strayed since -- now, though, with iPhone and handhelds generally, WhiteSpace is Back -- without it, user thumbs will create chaos in online suggestions by hitting wrong links.
Just try a typical Wikipedia page on a tiny handheld screen for an example: Wikipedia always has encouraged maximum links -- but now a handheld tour through a Wikipedia page generates maximum false drops. Ditto with the digital library website, then: links will have to be set off by WhiteSpace, or at least by other non-link areas, if handheld users are not constantly to hit links unintentionally as they page through on tiny touchscreens.
But, for this crucial function, if those rickety thumbs hit those links, during a scroll/stroll through a page, the page suddenly disappears and the session is transported somewhere else. The iPhone currently offers no "stop" button and this presumably will be added soon, but even with that the trouble presented by unintended links, during every crucial scroll/stroll around an expanded Webpage, is going to be a major usage concern of the Handheld Age.
One workaround, then, in addition to reducing if not really minimizing the number of links, is columnar page arrangement: if Webpage text boxes are designed in vertical columns, like a newspaper, or in horizontal boxes, handheld scrolling becomes more manageable -- lots easier keeping track of where one scrolls, if you're just going "up & down" or "right & left", than if you are wandering off "diagonal".
But the iPhone currently connects to AT&T's very slow EDGE network, only, a system 10-15 times slower than the standard DSL connection in the US, so images portrayed thereon take a very long time to load. And iPhone like all cellphones takes time to search for an initial WiFi connection -- in places populated by multiple WiFi networks it may search among many, offering the users an often-confusing array of choices among networks, most of which have membership requirements and fees -- so by the time one actually gets connected, even before the download-time question arises, user-impatience already is a problem.
For the Web is an immediate gratification medium, unlike telephony: like radio and TV before it, any Web service knows, including any digital library, that to an impatient channel-surfing user the competitor service is just a click away.
Those gorgeous but enormous webpages presenting digitized manuscript illuminations, for example, now must be scrolled through by the thumbs: this is a new way of looking at them, one generally the reverse of the traditional procedure -- in the past the eye has seen "the whole" initially, and then focused down to the detail -- but now "the whole" is presented too small really to be seen, so that having focused down whatever detail then pops up is the first image really seen.
This removes the overall orientation offered by that first glimpse of "the whole", as when an illuminated and enlarged initial guides the eye to the beginning of a text: now, on the iPhone anyway, all that is too tiny and therefore is useless for orientation -- the detail which pops up in the current iPhone "enlarging" process is selected at random and rarely is helpful, it might emerge in the middle of the screen or anywhere else on the page, so the organizing effect of the overall page design is lost. Like opening a printed book to a random page, without benefit of table of contents or index or even title page...
Scrolling around gets the reader where she wants to be eventually, but the process might be helped by thumbnails: if there were some way to insert a thumbnail enlargement, for instance, perhaps showing a table of page contents or an initial organizing image, so that clicking on the thumbnail might take the user to the text's beginning, say, or to some notable detail... the way the table of contents in a pdf works... These Handheld Age pages are going to need some sort of organizing help.
Many websites now are designed to rely heavily upon such addon features, none of which will be available for now, at least, to the iPhone generation. I wonder how users will cope? Various industries doubtless are busy solving such problems, but in the meantime there may be a flood of frustrated users and missed Website connections.
The standard Webpage text now, however, tends to be free-floating: one excellent example of text which is not is that of Wikipedia -- there the articles all are presented in a standard format which relies upon borderlines and boxes to add readability and uniformity, control, to the encyclopedia's pages. So those are page design features well worth study, by any digital library which wants its own online presentations to be read well by handheld readers now.
But synchronization means more: it means inter-operability -- William Gibson's "Matrix" (Neuromancer, 1984) just got "tighter" -- if all these devices can tie themselves into one another, updating each other's Contacts lists, and Favorites files, and Text versions, and Photos and Music and Artwork and... Some order in the information overload chaos may emerge from all of this after all: perhaps "synchronization" is going to be the key to that.
And consider, just as the files on different devices, the iPhone and a pc or mac, can be synchronized, so also the information on the Internet can be synchronized with those same files: stockholders' prices and other data already can be updated continuously, either online on the Internet or via downloads to users' "computers" -- now to users' iPhones, too -- so also news reports, and weather, and other information. Now Google "Docs & Spreadsheets", as well, can carry information from users' devices to the Internet for transportation to wherever the user happens to be.
Increasingly, then, information is not "in" any one device or even several: information simply is "out there, somewhere" -- available to users via an increasing infinity of different devices -- all of them, increasingly, "synchronized" for many purposes. If anything ever falls out of date, then, in such a tightly-knit information world, it won't be the information itself: a thought filled with immense possibilities, but also a little scary... some of us *enjoy* being "out-of-synch"... and sometimes it is a very good thing, that some of us are...
This is marketing, merely: Apple has iPods to sell, still, and laptops -- so these iPhones are designed to fit in-between the two, in a pricing approach which thus dictates capacities, "computers" to a marketer being simply a "packaging" problem -- so that the one product of the firm will not cannibalize the sales of the others.
In addition, though, one constant of digital information has been disguised costs: the axiom runs, "no matter what they advertise, the thing always will end up costing more" -- in the iPhone's case at least $60 per month for at least two years = $1440, to AT&T for their tediously-slow and unreliable EDGE network, plus $200 or $300 for a "cellphone signal booster" from the local electronics store, plus whatever addons the very many Apple Developers all working madly now to get to market succeed in selling -- so at $2500+ the iPhone handheld "experience" is not for the faint of heart or the slim of pocketbook.
But the Nano-iPhone is on its way already, promising far lower costs for the users and far greater economies of scale for the producers: if you think 30+% profit margin at $500 each for 700,000 iPhones is impressive, think of 10% margins at $50 each for 2 billion -- the world uses nearly 3 billion cellphones alone now, plus a lot of "computers" and music players and calendars and atlases, clocks, cameras, Internet devices, and the iPhone is all of those, so what happens if they all suddenly "switch"?
It is much easier, to search and retrieve and use information, on an iPhone, than it has been on the multiple devices all of us had to acquire, and acquire proficiency in, before now. Joggers in urban neighborhoods recently set out on Sundays carrying a half dozen electronic toys, radio plus iPod plus pager plus cellphone or PDA at least, even stopping in mid-run at an Internet cafe to do some serious searching on one of the big screens in there: but now all that's needed is an iPhone -- it's getting easier, and it's getting cheaper, which means the volumes will increase.
The biggest already-pending question, then, is whether the current Google paradigm will "scale up", to such a significant dataflow increase: already there are sceptics in Europe, where some fear "The Scarlet Pimpernel" will trump Victor Hugo's "Ninety-Three" among the 23,400,000 items currently found in a Google Search on "French revolution" -- and blandly keeping the search and ranking algorithms a commercial proprietary secret, in such an internationally-suspicious situation, is one aspect of the paradigm which scales-up very poorly. So if the already - soaring data volumes now take off to far higher levels, thanks to the iPhone or other killer app innovations, how to retrieve and rank things then?
Ours is not the first information-overloaded era, embedded metadata efforts now need concentrated attention: indexing has been the solution used in the past, and it can be useful again -- not just indexing but a full structured system of embedded indexing data, user-invisible but spyder-friendly, and Web-interoperable. Many standards for such exist, already, such as Library of Congress and Dublin Core --
-- such standards can be horribly complex in structure, & horribly bureaucratic in administration -- and perhaps they haven't really been necessary so far in the recent information retrieval era so completely dominated, and in fact handled very well, by Google.
But once InfoOverload II hits, and per the iPhone sales-explosion that may be soon, Web search & retrieval is going to need the additional help which indexing provides, its tags and AACR-style "cataloging rules", and for those "23,4000,000 items retrieved" what used to be called some form of "bibliographic control". Please!, anyway... we're already drowning, here...
So iPhone's biggest problem will be us thumb-challenged Boomers: many of us ages 60+, already our thumbs don't work any more -- I can barely squeeze mine over to touch my thumbs to little fingers, now, let alone teach them to type on these tiny things at anything approaching speedtype speeds, fancy new touchscreen or not...
And I'm a few years shy of Bill Clinton and his generation... and if our parents were The Greatest Generation we are The Biggest Generation, at least, and The Biggest Spenders, and so a not-unimportant demographic to the folks in Marketing... So I expect keyboard-equipped "computers", and keyboard-add-ons for handhelds, will be with us for a while longer, if only to accommodate the thumb-challenged elders in our Ageing Societies, in the US and Europe and Japan. And we even still read "books", by cracky...
But the youngsters, too, are wading in heavily on this iPhone thing: the Handheld Era is more theirs than ours, already -- and they are Global, per BusinessWeek and Time and many others the latest Youth Generation, fully digitally-equipped, is to be found now in Urumchi and Dagoucun as well as in Soho and the Ginza.
The big firms such as Nokia long have recognized this, and have been "dumping" their cellphones in remote markets, at cost and well below, for years. Friends just returned from Cambodia confirm: there may not be much to eat, currently, in southeast Asian rice paddy cultures, and there may be disease and other trauma, and little educational opportunity yet, but the kids there do have cellphones.
If those become true iPhones, then, a Grameen Bank or better could leverage such kids and economies into the 21st century very rapidly: the digital channel can bring them the information and education and commercial opportunity they need, in addition to the InfoTainment.
Once that InfoOverload II flood begins, though, I just hope the information networks will be able to handle the flow -- plus the vast increase in, and far greater complexities of, Globalized search & retrieval.
Jack Kessler, email@example.com
http://www.macbidouille.com (in French!)
http://www.hardmac.com (same en anglais)
-- and re. this list, the 21st c. reference desk looks a lot different from that of the 20th, doesn't it -- not so many ISBNs, for one thing -- I hope the newer information is as reliable, tho.
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic | journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, | personal experiment, in the creation of large- | scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. / \ Any material written by me which appears in ----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for // \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me --------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at http://firstname.lastname@example.org/ (BIBLIO-FR archive), or http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html (PACS-L archive), or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/ or http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at email@example.com . Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.
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