28 December 2009

Elsevier changing practice for reviewers?

I was rather astonished to receive an e-mail message today from Elsevier, telling me that it carries out an annual review of its editors and reviewers - I've reviewed for Elsevier journals for years and this is the first I've heard of it. For the somewhat dubious pleasure of being one of the Elsevier 'team' I would have to pay a registration fee of $109.99 (the attached, somewhat illiterate, letter tells me it is $100.00) and then, if accepted, I would receive the sum of $30.00 per page of every manuscript edited or reviewed. On this basis I think that Elsevier owes me at least $5,000 for past work, but I doubt that I shall ever see a cent.

This is clearly a major change in policy - editors have always received some kind of payment, but reviewers have not; and I suspect that the change is part of Elsevier's response to the open access movement. There will certainly be plenty of people willing to take the money and then be 'too busy' to review for OA journals.

What's the betting that we'll shortly see a price increase in Elsevier journals to pay for the new regime?

27 December 2009


The Washington Post has an article on the reaction of publishers to the e-book phenomenon. Curiously, the article can be downloaded through Calibre (the e-book library software) but does not seem to be on the Website. Even when using the exact title in the Post's search engine, it is not discovered. Odd! However, Calibre gives me the link to the original :-)
However, to the point. The article points out that:
There are now two constituencies: readers (and writers) on the one hand, and the publishing world on the other. And they don't want to hear each other.

Naturally enough, the authors want their books to be read, the readers want books as cheaply as they can get them, and the publishers want to charge as much as they can get away with.

In the print world, this works out to the publisher's advantage - they control the book flow and, to a significant degree, the pricing. In the electronic world, however, the readers know that the marginal cost of another electronic copy of a book is not the $9.99 that Amazon seems to be wanting to establish as the standard unit price, but something closer to the cost of a music track on iTunes.

My guess is that books are very price elastic (lower the price and you sell more), while the publishers want to maintain price in-elasticity in the hope of maximising profits. And yet the odd thing is that a number of examples suggest that if you give away electronic copies, people will want to buy the paper copy in larger numbers than the publishers ever believed possible. When you have a business model that says, If we sell 400 copies at $30.00 we'll make a profit, the possibility of being able to sell many additional electronic copies at $5.00 each, which may lead to the sale of more paper copies, doesn't seem to enter the marketing equation.

The article concludes:
But if the publishers want a role in the e-books business, they'll need to get over it and get on with it, embracing lower-priced e-books with higher author royalties. That seems unlikely. Because it's now clear that publishers just don't want to listen to what their customers are telling them.

and my guess is that it is the small publishing houses that will be the first to "get over it", while the big monoliths will take a lot more time.

25 December 2009

Openness and Google

There's an interesting item on openness on the Google blog - but before everyone gets excited, note that it is about openness in two contexts: open systems and software and openness about the information Google collects about us. It's not about any plans Google may have towards open access to the information it stores. I think we can expect the controversy over Google Book Search to continue as long as Google fails to take my advice (:-) on creating a foundation and making the books openly available.

24 December 2009

A Merry Christmas...

...and a very Happy New Year to all our readers (blog and journal!) - how's this for enjoying a tranquil Christmas Eve?

Sassy takes a nap

23 December 2009

Journal scam

The OA movement has unleashed some... curiosities is perhaps the safest word :-) upon the scholarly publishing scene. But the oddest must be the publisher discovered by Improbable Research, which found that a journal called Psychology had a first issue which consisted of four papers that had already been published elsewhere - without noting the fact.

The same publisher has a journal called Journal of Cancer Therapy, which publishes an
article called “Conformal Microwave Imaging for Breast Cancer Detection”, published in the September 2009 issue with no author listed, is virtually identical to an article published in the April 2003 issue of IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques with authorship credited to Li Dun Li, P.M. Meaney, and K.D. Paulsen.

The name of the publisher is Scientific Research Publishing - which appears to be based in China. So, in addition to scuppering the climate change conference, China seems to be doing something strange to scientific publishing!

21 December 2009

Researcher behaviour

The Research Information Network has just released a very interesting report (prepared by a team from the University of Loughborough and Manchester Metropolitan University) on the publication and communication behaviour of academic researchers. 'Communicating knowledge: how and why researchers publish and disseminate their findings' The report is backed up by technical reports on the methods employed.

The message that comes across strongly is that researcher behaviour has been significantly influenced by the Research Assessment Exercise (soon to be the Research Excellence Framework - a rather less immediately meaningful phrase!). In particular, the report demonstrates changes in the choice of research outlets, with a pronounced swing towards more journal papers, and the researchers themselves comment on the potentially damaging influence of the RAE (mediated by their universities in what is often a confused manner) as they are impelled to submit to higher-ranked journals, forsaking their previous practice of, for example, publishing in conference proceedings or book chapters.

One point noted in the report (although it is not expressed in quite this way!) is the totally stupid practice of Universities, their Faculties and Departments insisting that researchers must get published in a limited list of higher-ranked journals. Sometimes the sources of the ranking are rather curious - does the Financial Times, for example, have the inside track on which journals in business and economics are 'best'? And yet there are business schools that use its ranking as the basis for practice.

The authors do not say it but, reading between the lines, the RAE (and even more so, the yet to happen REF) is past its sell-by date. Massive change in university funding for research has now been accomplished and it is difficult to see what further benefits (i.e., for government policy, not research'excellence') can be achieved.

16 December 2009

Signs of panic?

Today's Guardian has an interesting article on Stephen Covey's digital rights deal with Amazon startles New York publishers. There are two stories: the first is about authors doing deals directly with Amazon for e-book publication of their work, bypassing the traditional print publisher, while the second is about publishers attempting to claim digital rights for their backlist of publications, in spite of the fact that a ruling by the New York courts, upheld on appeal, found that copyright for books that were written before digital publishing existed, remained with the author.

Like anyone else, I have no idea whether or not the e-book is actually going to take over from print. I'm promised a Sony Reader for my birthday, so I'll let you know of my experiences, in due course. I can imagine using it on a journey, and I've been looking at what can be downloaded freely - pretty well all the classics, of course, but a lot more besides. A lot of people are taking advantage of the Gutenberg Project to download thousands of the books there and selling DVDs loaded with them - I have one with about 17,000 works on it, but it is a pretty random, eclectic mix of stuff, thousands of which I shall never look at.

Whether that stuff is on the Reader or not, the fact that it is on my Mac means that there is an immediate store of material for reference, if for nothing else. But I can't see myself forsaking the printed book for ordinary leisure reading - a well printed book, on good paper (such as the Folio Society editions) is still a joy to handle and to read.

07 December 2009

Computers and creativity

There was a rather curious article in yesterday's Observer (the Review section), headed 'Can the art of great writing survive the digital age?' (It has a different title online - which meant that the piece eluded my searching for some time! The author Tim Adams committed the heinous crime of generalising from a single example:
While the American novelist Don DeLillo is unable to work on anything but a manual typewriter, for a new generation of plugged-in readers the digitised word in the only language they know. So should we worry?

So, from a single example, admittedly he mentions one or two other writers who still use either pencil and paper or an old typewriter, he suggests that the whole of creative literature is in peril.

I imagine that for every writer still using a typewriter, there are probably thousands who are using a computer - and getting their work published; and thousands more, tapping away at the keyboard and never getting published.

The piece wanders all over the place, touching on Weizenbaum's Eliza program, the unaccountability of the blog writer to Sherry Turkle's Life on the screen to the point at which one is not quite sure what the overall theme is supposed to be.

I think Mr Adams needs to get a grip: the world is how we make it, computers are tools, not slave-masters, computers are inert, unresponsive, incapable of thought, but we can accomplish much through and with them. If you are a creative writer, you'll make the best use of whatever is the current writing tool - and that is now the word-processor. Don't like it? Then choose another tool and get on with it.

03 December 2009

Murdoch and the Internet

Vanity Fair is not something I read very often, however the November 2009 issue has an interesting article by Michael Wolfe, "Murdoch vs. the Internet" which appears on the US site as "Rupert to Internet: It's War!"

As Wolf says:

The more he can choke off the Internet as a free news medium, the more publishers he can get to join him, the more people he can bring back to his papers. It is not a war he can win in the long term, but a little Murdoch rearguard action might get him to his own retirement. Then it's somebody else's problem.

16 November 2009

The apostrophe

Even in the rarefied atmosphere of the academic journal, the apostrophe can still be a problem - check out a few random papers here and there and you'll find instances that have escaped the editorial process. Given that, it's nice to come across a clear guide to what and what not to do: How to use an apostrophe

I once sat down with a couple of Master's students and explained the whole thing to them in a very similar way and they claimed that no one had ever explained the apostrophe before - primary school, secondary school, university degree, and they had remained blissfully ignorant. Could it be that their teachers either didn't know or didn't care?

I'd only disagree with one thing - the author says, 'If in doubt, don't use an apostrophe': I'd prefer him to have said, 'If in doubt - find out!'

02 November 2009

Universities and government

Isn't it wonderful what governments will do to avoid paying properly for higher education? Here's the latest smokescreen to emanate from super-minister Mandelson:

Lord Mandelson will today unveil a major plan for universities designed to aid the country's economic recovery and pave the way for an overhaul of student tuition fees.

The new framework for higher education will set out a 10- to 15-year strategy affecting every aspect of university life, from the quality of teaching to ways of funding research that will force universities to become more competitive.

Over the past 27 years or so we've had initiative after initiative - all designed to accomplish what Mandelson now thinks needs to be accomplished. We've had the Research Assessment Exercise, the Teaching Quality Assessment, the Higher Education Academy, schemes to increase university interaction with local schools, other schemes for adult learners, skills initiatives and more. And now this idiot who probably has no idea of what has been done in the past, wants to revisit it once again! Take the Academy, for example, its brief is:

The Academy's role is to be a nationwide focus for enhancing teaching, learning and students' experiences in higher education. We work with institutions, discipline groups and individual staff within the four countries of the UK.

Of course, there will be no new money for Mandelson's plans; in fact, universities are likely to get less because of the government's inability to regulate the banking business, which has brought about the current financial chaos. Nor will there be any increase in taxation, because next year brings a general election, nor will there be an increase in student fees, for the same reason. So, once again, university staff will be asked to do the impossible and the higher education system in the UK will continue its current decline.

Perhaps Lord Mandelson should read a few university annual reports (and that of the Academy) before jumping into something he evidently knows nothing about.

28 October 2009

...and don't forget the Doctoral Workshop

Anyone supervising doctoral candidates in the broad area covered by ISIC should publicise the Doctoral Workshop at ISIC 2010 - it is a unique opportunity for candidates to meet and be advised by some of the leading researchers in the field and to meet fellow sufferers on the doctoral path :-)


We would like to invite your participation in the Doctoral Workshop held in conjunction with ISIC: the information behaviour conference. During the Workshop, doctoral students will be invited to share their current dissertation work-in-progress with their peers and with an international panel of academic staff.

The Workshop has the following objectives:

1. To provide a setting for mutual feedback on participants' current research, and guidance on future research directions;
2. To develop a supportive community of scholars and a spirit of collaborative research;
3. To contribute to the conference goals through interaction with other researchers and conference events.

ISIC Permanent Committee Involvement

Members of ISIC Permanent Committee and other university researchers will participate as tutors in the Workshop. Details will be announced nearer the date of the Conference.

Criteria for Selection
Participants for the Doctoral Workshop will be selected on the basis of their anticipated contribution to the workshop goals. Emphasis will be placed on forming a diverse group of high quality students.

Between twenty and twenty four applicants will be selected for participation. Student participants typically have settled on thesis directions, usually with a research proposal accepted by their thesis committee or departmental research committee. Further details on workshop activities will be available on the web site at a later date.

How to Apply
To apply as a student participant in the Doctoral Workshop, prepare a submission package consisting of the following:

1. Thesis Summary: Prepare a two-page thesis summary, which outlines the problem being addressed, the proposed work plan and a description of your progress to date. Include in your summary research problems you have met and would like to discuss.
2. Letter of Recommendation from your thesis advisor or principal supervisor. This must include an assessment of the current status of your thesis research, and an expected date for thesis submission.
3. Additional Information on your background and relevant experience. This should include information typically found in a curriculum vitae, plus additional information which may indicate your potential contribution to the Workshop Format.

All submissions must be submitted electronically, as Word documents (preferably), or Adobe Acrobat .pdf files, (if they contain diagrams or other formatting information).

ISIC 2010

Time to remind folks that the Call for Papers for ISIC 2010 needs a response from you by February 1, 2010 - and that's getting close, just three months now to get the paper written! The Conference will take place from 27th September (the Doctoral Workshop) to 2nd October. Check out the Website for further information

Call for Papers

The field of human information behaviour is multi-disciplinary in scope: researchers from information science, information management, psychology, social psychology, sociology, information systems, computer science, and other disciplines all contribute to this field of investigation.

ISIC: the Information Behaviour Conference intends to reflect this interdisciplinary character through attracting papers from researchers in all of these areas. The unifying characteristic, which we see as essential in developing a programme is the relationship between the needs or requirements of the information user, the means for the satisfaction of those needs and the uses to which those means are put in practice organizations or disciplines. Thus, papers that deal solely with technological aspects of system design, for example, will not be appropriate for the conference.

Themes of the conference include the following:

1. Theories and models of information seeking and searching: particular theoretical frameworks that are currently of interest include (but are not restricted to) social network theory, actor network theory, cultural-historical activity theory, genre theory, etc.
2. Research approaches and methodologies, both interpretative and positivist, employing either qualitative or quantitative methods.
3. Information seeking, searching and use in specific contexts, e.g., health care, education, business, industry, the public services and government, the emergency services, etc.
4. Organizational structures and processes and information seeking, searching and use.
5. Information seeking and searching in virtual social networks, including gaming and virtual worlds as arenas for information exchange.
6. Information behaviour in everyday life; in communities both real and virtual, including its role in indigenous communities.
7. Integrating studies on information seeking and interactive retrieval.
8. Information use: the nature of information and how information is used to help solve problems, aid decision making or satisfy an initial need.
9. The mediation of information behaviour: how human or software agents can respond to information needs.
10. The design of information delivery systems to meet information needs generally, or in organizational or disciplinary contexts, including Web 2.0 developments such as blogs, wikis, e-learning platforms and open access information resources.
11. Information seeking and information requirements - integrating information science and information systems.
12. The communication of information to users: relationship between communication theory and information behaviour, including, for example, the relationship of information architectures to information seeking behaviour and the design of information products on sound communication principles; including audio and visual communication media.

Papers that deal with the information behaviour of practitioner groups, such as scientists, engineers, local government works, politicians, and other less-studied (in this context) groups, will be particularly welcome. Also, analytical, rather than descriptive investigations, will be sought, with strong connections to previous work and to theoretical or conceptual frameworks.

For the 2010 Conference we shall be particularly interested in papers in any of these areas that address the connection between information research and information practice.

Paper preparation and submission deadline February 1, 2010 Please, submit a prepared paper in Microsoft Word format (.doc or .rtf files) to: isic2010@um.es

We also invite doctoral students to submit an application for participation in the Doctoral Workshop held in conjunction with the Conference on 28th September. We especially welcome submissions from researchers and doctoral students based in Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

04 October 2009

The death of traditional media

I watched this very interesting talk from Leo Laporte of TWIT (This Week in Tech) and I hope the link below works so that readers of this blog may take a look. Laporte is talking about the death of newspapers and also of the way network programming of TV works in the USA.

This talk, along with reading for review What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis, has firmed up ideas I have been having for some time about the direction in which scholarly publishing is likely to go.

I won't elaborate on that right now, but I hope to be able to get my ideas together in some more coherent form some time soon.

22 September 2009

Academic Journals - the open access publisher

I was asked recently to review a paper for the International Journal of Library and Information Science - and declined, through pressure of work. However, I decided to take a look at the site and found a very odd animal indeed!

The current issue (September, 2009) has two papers, one is entitled:

Spectral sensitivity coefficients (SSCs) of the based materials for photonic devices under optical wavelength and temperature sensing variations in modern optical access networks

This is a predominantly mathematical paper, which appears not to have been copy-edited by any native English speaker and the text is almost completely without paragraphs. Regardless of editorial issues such as these, however, I am bewildered as to what definition of "library and information science" this paper is intended to fit.

The second paper Indian journal of physics: A scientometric analysis is obviously within the usual definition of the field, but again, copy-editing is clearly absent, since occasional sentences are not only ungrammatical but unintelligible.

Others have drawn attention to this publisher of OA journals and, on the basis of this example, they can hardly be said to add to the reputation of open access publication in general.

08 September 2009

More browser wars?

A number of browsers have been releasing updates or even new editions recently and Opera 10 has just been released.

I have something of a soft spot for Opera, since I was using it before Firefox (in its first version as Phoenix) came along. The big thing about Opera is that it has been responsible for just about every innovation in browser technology from its beginning. Tabs, for example, were in Opera long before Firefox, it was first with mouse gestures, personalisation with skins, etc. and much more - so it has a strong record of innovation - and, as someone said recently in a discussion group, is worth supporting just for that reason. The problem for Opera, of course, is that it has never made it as a mass-use browser. In the past month, for example, almost 59% of the hits on the Information Research site come from Internet Explorer, 30% from Firefox, 3.5% from Google Chrome, and only 1.12% from Opera. That the newly introduced Chrome should be used twice as much as long-established Opera, is really rather ridiculous!

I'm using Safari most of the time now, since it seems to give me just about all I need, but I'm tempted once again by Opera, because it really has quite a lot going for it. Notes, for example: you can bring up a sidebar and drag and drop text from Web pages; and the Closed tabs button, which enables you to get back to a site you might have closed accidentally. Another advantage of Chrome is that it is multi-platform - every new version is released simultaneously (or as near as dammit) for pretty well everything - whereas it is taking Google forever to get its Chrome fully operational on the Mac.

I think I'll be trying Opera again, however; and I'm sure that the other browsers will be looking at it very carefully and, once again, stealing all the goodies with never a word of acknowledgement.

Here's the video:

31 August 2009

Murdoch, again

The UK newspapers are stilling giving space to discussion on James Murdoch's lecture, in part knocking it, in part revealing that, surprise, surprise, other media barons agree with some of what he said. In an earlier post I listed the holdings of News Corporation, headed by James's Daddy, Rupert - it consists of about 100 companies. And while James is telling his Edinburgh audience about the evils of the BBC and its 'chilling' hold on news distribution, etc. in the UK, Daddy's annual report for 2008 is on the Web for all to see. What does it tell us?
There is no doubt that asset values are under pressure in some parts of the world and that financial institutions are, quite rightly, re-evaluating risk, but money continues to flow to sound companies and to clever ideas. we are in the fortuitous position of having a group of complementary properties whose global reach and digital potential puts us in a position to flourish while others are floundering.

Not much recognition of damage from the BBC there, then.
Meanwhile, in Australia and the U.K., our newspapers are doing very well in challenging environments. And on the global digital front, Fox Interactive Media saw a five-fold increase in operating income. results like these are the reason that News Corporation can report double digit growth for both revenue and operating income. And they reinforce our drive to take advantage of the opportunities arising in a fast-changing media landscape...

So the shareholders don't need worry too much about the impact of the BBC, then? Seems not:
We are the leading publisher of english-language newspapers throughout the U.K. and Australia...

Sales of our four national papers in the U.K. accounted for approximately one-third of all national newspapers sold last year.

News Limited is Australia’s largest newspaper publisher, with almost 150 titles. last year, we sold more than 12.8 million national, metropolitan and regional newspapers each week in Australia, reaching 9.4 million readers each day. Melbourne grew its circulation to 623,000 copies each week in 2008 – nearly three times the circulation of its rival paper.

I find these statements pretty 'chilling', James!

However, Rupert will do business with the BBC when it suits him - witness the deal between MySpace (a NewsCorp company) and the BBC to deliver video of some BBC programmes through MySpace - so, not a force for evil in the communications world, but a valued business partner!

Clearly all this has an impact on the bottom line and in these hard times, NewsCorp reported income of $32,996,000,000 - or, as near as dammit - £20 billion. And the BBC's income for 2008/2009? £4,606,000,000,
or, about $7.5 billion at today's exchange rate - the World Service alone, uses a very small proportion of that budget to deliver programmes in 32 foreign languages to a worldwide audience of approximately 236 million listeners. Now, exactly what would happen to that one service of the BBC if it was hived off into commercial hands? You know as well as I do, James, that within six months it would be wound up, and 236 million people would be deprived of relatively unbiased news and a whole raft of entertainment and educational programmes. Would Fox TV step up to fill the gap?

Google Books again

The ongoing debate about Google Books made it into the Observer yesterday. It picked up on Robert Darnton's argument that because books are our common heritage, their control ought not to be in the hands of a commercial organization.

Google's response to this really could be pretty straightforward: simply establish a not-for-profit "Google Foundation" and put access to Google Books under the Foundation.

But, you say, Google makes money from ads on the Google Books pages, so how would that work? Well, it could still work, all that would have to happen is for Google to pay into the Google Foundation some proportion of the ad revenue gained from Google Books and everyone would be happy. Since Google's unofficial motto is 'don't do evil' a solution like this would demonstrate, clearly, the desire to do good.

29 August 2009

Join the Pirate Party

Following on the success of Piratpartiet in Sweden (gaining 7% of the vote and returning a member to Brussels in the recent European elections) a sister Pirate Party has been established in the UK.

Naturally, I've joined :-) Why? Well, primarily because of the Party's opposition to the continuing demands of the communications industries to extend copyright far beyond what is sensible. I'm not interested in file-sharing, which is another issue.

When copyright was first established in the UK in the reign of Queen Anne it gave the creator of a work a monopoly to reproduce that work for 14 years. The notion being that this was a reasonable length of time in which the creator could be recompensed for the initial investment and derive some kind of subsequent income.

Now what do we have? As the Guardian report on the establishment of the Party noted:

Copyright for written works now stands at life plus 70 years, and copyright for sound recordings is 50 years after the recording is made, or 50 years after publication. The EU has extended copyright to 95 years for performers and sound recordings.

With the extension of copyright in this way, it is clear that it no longer protects the creator - it protects the publisher (of texts, of music, of recordings). The aim is not to provide the creator with a reward, but to prevent the wider distribution of texts, etc. and to limit the ability of future creators and performers to build readily upon the work of their predecessors. It is no longer possible to 'stand on the shoulders of giants' because the giants are the corporations and they are standing on you.

So - joint the Pirate Party and help to get some sense into the system.

Media baron vs. the BBC

I see that James Murdoch, son of the ageing Rupert, has inveighed against the BBC's 'dominance' of the media scene in the UK. You can be sure that whenever the politicians or the media barons speak out against the Corporation that it is doing something well. Murdoch describes the BBC's 'dominance' as "chilling".

Of course, the real story is that in the present recession, newspapers are suffering from the decline in advertising revenue and see the advertising-free BBC TV and radio as a desirable target for a takeover and conversion to the obscene aims of commercialism. Murdoch, father and son, pander to the lowest audience tastes, delivering dumbed-down output through their world empire. They also want to begin charging for their Web content - a vain hope for most of the trash they delivesr - and see the BBC's Website as an obstacle to this aim. Hence the invective - a copycat of Rupert Murdoch's speech on the same theme at the same venue in 1989.

So James finds the BBC chilling, eh? Well, James, how chilling do you imagine everyone else finds this list of News Corporation's holdings:

In the UK:

The Times
The Sunday Times
The Sun
News of the World
Times Literary Supplement
Times Education Supplement
Times Higher Education Supplement
Page 3.com

In the USA:

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox Espanol 

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 

20th Century Fox International

20th Century Fox Television

Fox Searchlight Pictures 

Fox Studios Australia

Fox Studios LA

Fox Television Studios

Blue Sky Studios
FOX Broadcasting Company 

FOX Sports Australia

FOX Television Stations


FOX Business Network

Fox Movie Channel

FOX News Channel

FOX College Sports

FOX Sports Enterprises

FOX Sports En Espanol

FOX Sports Net 

FOX Soccer Channel

Fox Reality Channel

Fuel TV


National Geographic Channel
United States National Geographic Channel

Stats, Inc.
Sky Italia
Big League 

Inside Out

donna hay

America Marketing 

Smart Source 

The Weekly Standard
New York Post
The Wall Street Journal
Dow Jones

And in Australasia

Daily Telegraph (Australia)

Fiji Times

Gold Coast Bulletin

Herald Sun




Sunday Herald

Sunday Mail

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday Territorian

Sunday Times

The Advertiser

The Australian

The Courier-Mail

The Mercury

The Sunday Mail

The Sunday Telegraph

Weekly Times


HarperCollins Publishers






Fox Interactive Media 




IGN Entertainment 




National Rugby League 



News Digital Media

News Outdoor

Rotten Tomatoes


Spring Widgets



James pretends to be worried about competition in the industry - how about getting your Dad to divest himself of some of this lot and stop buying up every media company he can get his hands on?

24 August 2009

Browser failure

The last post got me thinking about how much real progress in search there has been since the first search engine appeared on the Web. Clearly quite enormous progress has been made in some areas, with Google leading the way in delivering search outputs that respond to the entered search terms. But no one seems to have developed anything that will answer questions.

For example, I tried the following question in Google, Yahoo, Bing, Chrome, Wolfram Alpha, SenseBot, Hakia, Powerset, Deepdyve and Ask.com

"In what sense is a programming language a language?"

I imagine that this is a subject that has been debated now and again and which is a reasonable question to ask. However, neither the standard search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) nor the so-called 'semantic search engines' (Hakia, SenseBot, etc.) came up with any results on their first output page - and if it isn't there, the question would be, Why not?

I see that Powerset has been bought by Microsoft, in the hope of improving Bing, presumably, but it looks as though search still has a long way to go before it is anything more than a method for matching input terms against document terms.

It might be thought that the search topic was in some sense "unfair", but surely it is exactly questions of this kind that present the real challenge for information retrieval research? The straightforward problem of matching terms has probably been cracked and certainly most users of search engines appear to be pretty well satisfied with what they get. However, because the output from search engines is so good today, it raises expectations of how good it can be, and those expectations are probably going to be dashed.

23 August 2009

Browser history

Digg drew my attention to an interesting bit of Web history - Surfing Since 1991: The Evolution of Web Browsers by Paul Lilly. It made me reflect on my own use of browsers over the years. I think that the first one I used was Mosaic - which I guess is true for many people. Mosaic became Netscape, of course, and I used that for quite a while, more or less until it seemed to die quietly away as Microsoft got into the business with Internet Explorer. I used IE but was never a great fan and when Opera came along I switched to that, but not for long, because Phoenix came along in about 2003. Phoenix? - yes, later to be called Firebird and then Firefox - and I've stayed with this browser ever since. I've occasionally taken a look at various versions of Opera and I've toyed recently with Google Chrome and, following a switch to the Mac, Safari but I find that, overall, Firefox gives me what I need. I occasionally use Google Chrome, just to keep an eye on how it is developing, but it doesn't have a fully released Mac version at this point. However, it is fast and, because of the lack of add-ins, doesn't delay launching to check for add-in updates. So, unless something remarkable happens (and, of course, the Web being the kind of animal it is, something will) I'll probably be sticking with the flaming fox.

Is Google evil?

This is the title of a featured article in the current issue of the New Statesman. The concerns dealt with by the article include personal privacy (e.g., the row over Google's cameras patrolling towns and cities), the monopolistic trend of Google's online ad business ("the last time I looked, they were in their own right half the [online advertising] market. Search is traded as a dedicated marketplace, and within that they were almost the market.") and, of course, Google Books ("The endeavour is costing Google hundreds of millions of pounds and has won praise for its scope, but the deal includes clauses that could make it harder for anyone else to do the same.").

The authors conclude:
...on the fast-changing web, predictions about what Google and its peers will do next are often shots in the dark. We know a whole lot less about their plans than they do about us.

Perhaps that should make us feel a little uneasy?

22 August 2009

Basic statistics

An item in yesterday's Guardian newspaper reported the astounding finding that most disposed of book, donated to the Oxfam charity shops, was Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code'. The item also reported on the 81 million world-wide sales of the book - it didn't seem to occur to the writer that the book with most sales in recent times should also be the most-donated book. I shall spare the journalist's blushes by not mentioning her name, but perhaps it would be a good idea to take a short sabbatical for a Statistics 101 refresher!

20 August 2009

Link rot... and how to prevent it.

I really don't know how any of the links that appear in print journals can be taken seriously. As readers of Information Research will know, we ask authors to archive all Web documents to WebCite to avoid "link rot". However, practically no one reads the Instructions for Authors, so, in future, I'll be sending back all papers that do not have WebCite links in them. The urgency with which this needs to be addressed cannot be overstated: I recently edited a paper where a number of links from between 2005 and 2008 had simply disappeared. In one case, an entire chunk of material on a site had disappeared, although the main site was still there. This puts the author in a difficult position. What does s/he do about the material cited in the text, when the evidence for its existence has disappeared? In a limited number of cases one might accept the old link and add a note to the effect that the material is no longer available, but normally, the author is going to be asked to rewrite the text, either locating equivalent material or somehow rewriting in such a way that the the missing material is no longer significant.

So, the message is: whenever you find a Web document which you think you may use, archive it to WebCite immediately - it takes less than a minute and not only do you benefit by being sure that you can find the document again, but everyone who reads your paper will also be able to locate the same document. In my experience of using WebCite only a very small proportion of sites refuse to allow WebCite to archive documents - when this happens I'm tempted to archive it myself! Here's what a correct reference will look like:

  • Lawrence, S. (2001). Online or invisible? Nature, 411(6837). 521. Retrieved 18 August, 2009 from http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/online-nature01/ (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5j7fVIChu)

  • All this fuss about references, you might say. Well, that's another point: authors seem to be under the impression that citations and references only serve to satisfy the reviewers that they've actually done some background work :-) Not so - the purpose of the reference is to enable the reader to discover your sources and check them out for him/herself - there is little that is more frustrating than finding an interesting quotation in a paper and then being unable to find the source because the document has disappeared from the Web. Strike a blow for scholarly communication - USE WEBCITE!

    16 August 2009

    Paying for news

    Big news in recent weeks has been Rupert Murdoch's conversion to paying for online news. Originally, he believed that online news could be paid for by advertising but, buying the Wall Street Journal and being shown the books was his 'on the road to Damascus' moment and he was suddenly converted to the opposite.

    Now RM is a big media baron owning everything from Sky tv to The Sun newspaper - as well as Fox tv, the Times newspaper and dozens of other properties. Probably his aim is to take over the media world in its entirety.

    But will he really get people to pay for news? The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal are specialist business newspapers and subscriptions to their online content is likely to be a business expense rather than a personal expense, but is anyone going to pay for The Sun's content?

    There's no denying that newspapers are in real difficulties - hit, on one hand, by the new technology, which makes the worldwide distribution of news so easy, and on the other hand by the recession, which has cut into their advertising revenue. To a degree, newspaper publishers are in the same fix as scholarly publishers - the technology has made them potentially redundant and they are desperate to find out how to 'monetize' their online activities. What business model will replace the existing one is hard for me to tell - not having the gift of foresight, but I imagine that one consequence, and a very undesirable one, will be to concentrate ownership of the news media in even fewer hands, with fewer journalists, little on-the-ground foreign coverage, and more and more regurgitated wire services content.

    The humanities and open access publishing

    A recent report from the National Humanities Alliance reports that:

    Even learned-society publishers in the humanities and social sciences may be taken aback by just how expensive it is to publish an article in their fields. It cost an average of $9,994 in 2007 to publish an article in one of the eight journals analyzed, compared with an average of $2,670 for STM journal articles.

    Makes me wonder how I manage to publish Information Research on a budget of zero!

    Anonymous posts

    I've removed a couple of anonymous posts from the 'Twitter' posting. I post openly and it seems to me only right that any commentator should do likewise.

    19 July 2009

    Checking out Twitter

    I've stayed away from Twitter, as I stay away from most of these so-called "Web 2.0" developments - they seem to offer huge amounts of scope for maximum time-wasting. However, I'm always curious as to what things like this are used for, so I joined Facebook for a few days, found nothing of interest to me and never used it again. However, you don't have to use Twitter to find out how it is used. And it bears out my worst imaginings.

    Consider Stephen Fry, for example, hugely self-satisfied individual, whose TV appearances become more and more boring - here's something that would fit nicely into Private Eye's "Pseud" column:

    "Just chatted with Clive Anderson in Proms interval. Lebecq sisters caused much delight with a Poulenc piece."

    Or, Britney Spears (who she?):

    "Just had dinner with my boys at the Eiffel Tower. So beautiful! -Britney"

    John Cleese: "I like collective nouns... Like a spread of sticklebacks... an array of objects... or my favorite for politicians - a waste of time."

    Neil Gaiman (surely he should know better?): "Am backstage at the fire festival. Things are flaming and festive."

    These are from the Times Online article on the fifty most popular "celebs" on Twitter. Why on earth would anyone want to know these things?

    Librarians, of course, are eager to get in on the act, as a way of publicising their activities, but I wonder how many people are likely to follow the thoughts of whoever is inputting the information from Little Hicksville Public Library? Perhaps this is all a sign that although technology has not led to the increase in leisure time that was anticipated fifty years ago, it has led to leisure time being incorporated into work time, since most of this stuff will be consumed when people are supposed to be working - just as e-mailing friends, Web searching, Facebook dwelling and even online gaming have been incorporated into work time. Now there's an interesting theory worth exploring - assuming that you could drag people away from their twittering long enough to interview them!

    12 June 2009

    Bentham follow-up

    Happily, the editor of The Open Access Information Science Journal, Bambang Parmanto, of the University of Pittsburgh has resigned - I wonder how long it will take the other Editorial Board members to do so? Tellingly, Dr. Parmato commented that he never saw the hoax manuscript and an Editorial Board member of another Bentham journal, who has also resigned, said that in his time on the Board he had never received a paper for review. Peter Suber comments: "In April, Marie-Paule Pileni, editor in chief of Bentham's Open Chemical Physics Journal, resigned when the journal published a 9/11 conspiracy-theory paper without her knowledge or approval."

    It's a strange scholarly publishing activity where editors don't see what is to be published and where board members don't get papers to review. One wonders whether the term 'scholarly' should be used at all!

    Dr Parmanto also commented, in respect of the author pays business model: "I see that [Bentham would] have the incentive to maintain the credibility of the journal, but I also see the potential for abuse."


    10 June 2009

    Author pays, publisher profits & science loses?

    Peter Suber reports on the successful submission of a hoax paper to the Bentham Science, The Open Information Science Journal, which claims to have peer-review. Last year Bentham Science announced about 200 new OA journals, all using author charges and, of course, the aim is to maximise profits. It does make one wonder, however, how far other more reputable publishers may be prepared to go in maximising profits and raises a question about the whole idea of OA based on author charging.

    Readers of this blog will be well aware of my feelings on the subject: money spent to support corporate shareholders and executive bonuses should be spent, instead, on establishing really open journals, like Information Research. No money changes hands in any direction as far as publication or access are concerned: strict and strong peer review is applied because I don't need to fill pages. The only thing that counts is the quality of the content.

    Any other process is flawed: author charging will encourage corruption, and 'toll access' puts money in the wrong place. Some day the policy makers are going to understand this, it's just a pity that it is a long time coming!

    When this particular journal was announced several friends of mine and I were approached to be members of the Editorial Board - we conferred and we all declined. I trust that those who accepted the invitation will now resign - although I must admit that the names of only six of the Board members are known to me.

    22 May 2009

    The missing link and open access

    The Guardian newspaper had a number of items on the discovery of Ida - the 'missing link' in the evolution of primates. An interesting piece from one of them was this:
    There will be some raised eyebrows in the scientific establishment that Hurum did not opt to publish the scientific description of Ida in either Science or Nature, widely regarded as the two most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Instead he and his team chose for PLoS ONE, an online open-access journal that does not charge people to read its papers.
    Hurum said the main reason was to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to read the paper. "I'm paid by the tax payers of Norway to do this research. I'm not paid by Nature or Science and still they charge money for other people to read my scientific results," he says. "This fossil really is part of our history, truly a fossil that's a world heritage. A find like this is something for all human kind."

    Now, wouldn't it be a good idea for all scientists to take note of Jørn Hurum's stand?
    Here's the paper.

    11 May 2009

    Jargon and the Local Government Association

    Finally, someone in local government (no such wisdom in central government yet!) has decided that the unthinking use of jargon is not a good idea. The Local Government Association has come up with a list of words that it thinks ought not to be used.

    Wonderful! Among the words are some of my pet hates, such as 'stakeholder' - which actually means someone who holds the money for parties to a wager - the LGA suggests 'other organizations' will do, but I think that there are alternatives, depending upon what is actually meant - assuming, of course, that the writer has something particular in mind when using the term. 'Typology' gets kicked out, with the comment, 'Why use at all?' - but 'classification' will serve just as well.

    'Why use at all?' is attached to many terms, e.g., Mainstreaming, Management capacity, Network model, Overarching, Pathfinder, Peer challenge, Performance Network, Pooled risk and more. No doubt the managers in local government are now desperately trying to find copy-editors to peruse their texts to eliminate these and other words.

    But what happens if nothing is left? :-)

    30 April 2009

    Web services

    A couple of services have been drawn to my attention recently that may be of interest to readers of the Weblog and Information Research.

    The first is, in effect, a public archive of writings on anything imaginable, from scientific papers to cookery books - it's called Scribd (presumably intended to be pronounced 'scribed'). I haven't explored it to any very great extent at present, but one of the features is that you can point friends and colleagues to documents that you have placed on Scribd - enabling a modest kind of collaboration.

    The other is Mendeley a system to "Manage, share and discover research papers". The aim of this system is ambitious and has behind it, apparently some of the people who established Skype - which implies serious money. Mendeley comes in two forms, a desktop system for bibliography management, and a Web system for finding papers, organising your own, and discovering potential collaborators. I shall keep an eye on this one - it has things in common with Zotero, but a whole lot more besides.

    18 April 2009

    Journal price increases

    Bill Hooker has a blog called Open Reading Frame, which has an item on increases in journal prices. He shows that, in dollar prices:
    From 1990 to 2008, total price increases ranged from 238% (astronomy) to 537% (general science); that's 3.7 and 8.3 times the increase in the CPI [consumer price index], respectively.

    Would the publishers care to tell us how this is the case?

    I thought of drawing a graph to show the difference between Information Research and other 'Platinum track' journals and the priced publications but, on reflection, I felt that a graph showing an annual zero percent increase from a base of zero would not be particularly interesting! (Later - in a comment, Bill Hooker points out that the flat line is interesting evidence that some publishing models can keep costs down. I'm happy to be able to support that!)

    10 April 2009

    The behaviour/practice debate - Reijo's reply

    Tom´s reply to my comment is very sophisticated and it elaborates well the complex relationships between behaviour and practice, as well as their constituents. Given the complexity of these issues, my comment below should not be seen as ”a final word” about this theme. I hope that our dialogue will serve as an introduction to a broader discussion about the key concepts used in our field.

    As our dialogue indicates, we emphasize the need to clarify the meaning of the concepts of information behaviour and information practice. Studies focusing on the definition of the above concepts would scrutinize their semantic similarities and differences. Conceptual analyses are helpful in that they can indicate how the concepts overlap or converge, for example.

    On the other hand, purely semantic analyses or the scrutiny of definitions may not lead us very far, after all. Therefore, it is equally important to reflect the discursive nature of concepts by investigating their origin and legitimacy. I have discussed this topic in more detail in an article entitled ”Information behaviour and information practice: reviewing the 'umbrella concepts' of information-seeking studies” (Library Quarterly, vol. 77, no. 2, 2007). I concluded that the above ”umbrella concepts” cannot be conceived of as semantically neutral constructs because ultimately, the definition of concepts draws on various discourses. Discourses are ideological in that they win over the speaking subjects by formulating a positive associative content for concepts so that they can legitimize themselves. From this perspective, information behaviour and information practice are not ”ideologically innocent”; both concepts incorporate the discursive power to name and legitimize.

    Interestingly, one of Tom´s comments is very indicative of this issue. He suggests that ”the generic concept is behaviour – hence, for example, the ‘behavioural sciences’ – we do not speak of the ‘action sciences’ or the ‘practice sciences’: the others are elements of behaviour – actions, activities – or a mode of behaviour – practice”. Later on, Tom writes: ”In my understanding the common phenomenon is human behaviour which is composed of cognitive, physical and social actions, which constitute activities”. Obviously, the assumption that behaviour is a more generic (or common) category than action or practice suggests the existence of a discursive formation that legitimizes behaviour as generic. However, this may not be a value-neutral postulate because all classifications imply values of some kinds. Therefore, classifications tend to be sites of discursive struggles. In the above case, the relationship between generic (behaviour) and specific (practice) is constructed and legitimized within the discourse on behaviour. We may think that in a similar vein, information practice can be constructed as a more specific category than information behavior. Tom´s comment provides support to this assumption: (information) practice is conceived of as an element or mode of (information) behaviour. The power to name of this kind may reflect the view that the concept of information behaviour is fairly well established in information studies, while the concept of information practice is perceived as its challenger.

    Tom provides useful clarifications to the issue of behaviourism. I will not comment on it here because as a whole, behaviourism seems to be a secondary theme with regard to the characterization of information behaviour. Instead of behaviourism, it might be more fruitful to shift attention to behavioural sciences and reflect in greater depth on how to characterize the attribute ”behavioural” related to information. However, thinking Tom´s reply, I found more interesting his critique towards the practice theories. Tom writes: ”The difficulty that practice theorists have is that by deliberately opposing the concept of behaviour, they lose all possibility of developing a distinctive, coherent theory”. Again, we may identify a site of discursive struggle here. However, as to the development of the theory projects of Bourdieu and Giddens, for example, it seems to me that they have not primarily been driven by the motive of ”deliberately opposing the concept of behaviour”. Rather, Bourdieu and Giddens were interested in renewing sociological theory by proposing conceptions such as habitus and structuration.

    I agree with Tom´s view that the current practice theories are far from coherent. On the other hand, this criticism may be applicable to the theories of behaviour as well. Which of them would be most relevant for the development of the models of information behaviour? There may be no obvious candidates. Tom asks a similar question: ”if we are to adopt ‘practice’ in place of ‘behaviour’ – which theory of practice will we use, and how will we use it to explore what I call ‘information behaviour?

    I employed Schatzki´s practice theory and in my view it provides a useful framework for the conceptualization of everyday information practices. However, in my view, we should not substitute practice for behaviour in the above context. Both information behaviour and information practice can be constructed as equally legitimate, without attempting to reduce one to another. In fact, Tom provides constructive examples of how to define practice in its own right as customary or habitual activity. On the other hand, he writes: ”I do not view behaviour and practice as being in opposition, but neither do I view them as having equal theoretical status”. This suggests that in the end, behaviour should be given a privileged status over practice because the former is the generic and common phenomenon. Interestingly, in this way we are back with questions of power to name.

    Tom concludes his reply with a request: ”if we are to use practice as an analytical concept we need to define it rigorously – not for all time, of course, but at least for the purposes of any given investigation”. This suggestion is highly relevant and it might be broadened to include information behaviour, too. Thus, researchers should not take any umbrella concepts as given. To this end, they should generate a self-reflexive and critical attitude to the definition and justification of concepts. This attitude is highly desirable, independent whether researchers prefer information behaviour or information practice as an umbrella concept that reflects best their meta-theoretical and methodological commitments.

    07 April 2009

    The behaviour/practice debate - reply to Reijo

    Reijo’s response is helpful in moving the debate on and we begin to converge, I think. However, there are one or two places where I think that further clarification is necessary. First, Reijo notes, “the exact definition of the concepts of behaviour, action, activity and practice is very difficult, due to their generic nature.” However, to my understanding, these concepts are not generic. The generic concept is behaviour – hence, for example, the ‘behavioural sciences’ – we do not speak of the ‘action sciences’ or the ‘practice sciences’: the others are elements of behaviour – actions, activities – or a mode of behaviour – practice. Our behaviour in the world is composed of cognitive, physical and social activities, which, in terms of activity theory, are composed of actions. The lack of consensus to which Reijo refers seems to me to have more to do with ideological differences, fads and fashions, to which the human and social sciences are prone, rather than because of any intrinsic semantic problems.

    Reijo also notes, “I do not focus on the limitations of behaviourism to undermine the credibility of the concept of ”information behaviour”, but, in his book, it is these limitations that are put forward as the main reason for rejecting the concept of behaviour in favour of practice. The section on pages 21 to 23 is concerned essentially with this argument, and my point was that this is a rather laboured argument because behaviourism does not have the strength of support it did in, say, the 1950s.

    In referring to my comment about “triggers”, when I draw attention to the pervasive nature of behaviourist ideas, Reijo comments: “However, I would like to understand the ”triggers” here more broadly, not merely as stimuli since this view reminds us of the behaviourist approach. For example, consumption issues (as triggers of information seeking) are not reducible to immediate stimuli experienced and reacted to in the supermarket. The triggering factors may also incorporate values, interests and norms that orient habitual ways to prefer individual products, for example.” There is a problem here: I am no behaviourist (in spite of the fact that some commentators (not Reijo) appear to align me with that school) but “stimulus” is much more widely understood within behaviourism than Reijo suggests. For example, within behaviourist learning theory, values and social norms, play a key role – there is no suggestion within behaviourism that the individual is some kind of isolated organism, unaffected by the surrounding society. Rather, it is understood that learning is a social process as much as it is a cognitive process. What Reijo calls “triggering factors” would be understood in behaviourism as stimuli and values and other elements would be understood to be part of those stimuli. However, I drew attention to the statement, to point out that, whatever one’s position vis-à-vis behaviourism, the fact is that the concepts have become deeply embedded in our discourse.

    Again, Rejio comments, “Behaviour draws more strongly on the tradition of psychology (or social psychology) while the conceptualizations of practice draw more on sociology (Bourdieu, Giddens) and social philosophy (Schutz, Schatzki, Wittgenstein). From this perspective, information behaviour and information practice complement each other.” This may be the opinion of the practice theorists mentioned by the Reijo in his text, but I think it would be rejected by many sociologists, political scientists and social anthropologists today, who do not limit their understanding of ‘behaviour’ to the psychological use of the term. The sociological literature is full of references to behaviour, without limiting the concept to a psychological context. Indeed, sociology could not study social behaviour as a purely psychological phenomenon without being charged with reductionism. This leads me to the belief that the practice theorists themselves are setting up the straw man argument, simply to bolster their own positions – and, given the era in which practice theory emerged (Bourdieu’s Outline of a theory of practice was published in 1972), it was, perhaps, understandable, since Bourdieu, Schutz, Schatzki and others were reacting against what had been until then, a prevailing orthodoxy.

    The difficulty that practice theorists have is that by deliberately opposing the concept of behaviour, they lose all possibility of developing a distinctive, coherent theory. As Reijo notes, practice theory has its own problems of confusing and conflicting definitions and, rather than clarifying, its application appears to further confuse. Quite significant differences exist among the main protagonists of practice theory – perhaps Bourdieu can be credited with its invention, and he wrote of social practices and from his early work on a theory of practice derived his possibly better-known concepts of habitus and social capital. Giddens also sees society as being the result of structured practices, while both Bourdieu and Foucault are also interested in the embodiment of practice – that is, how the body is used in the performance of a practice and how the practice shapes the use of the body. Needless to say, there are other practice theorists who would hold different views of what ‘practice’ may be.

    This leaves us with a problem – if we are to adopt ‘practice’ in place of ‘behaviour’ – which theory of practice will we use, and how will we use it to explore what I call ‘information behaviour? We cannot tell this from Reijo’s work at this stage of its development, since his empirical work was conducted within the framework of phenomenological sociology – a move I’m very happy to see – and use of the term ‘practice’ does not seem to perform any analytical purpose. As Reijo notes, his results provide further support for previous work – virtually all of which was carried out as explorations of information behaviour.

    Reijo concludes that, “To clarify the meaning of key concepts, it is important to continue the analysis of conceptual issues by scrutinizing how information behaviour and information practice are related and how they may be understood as diverse (complementary) aspects of a common phenomenon.” Clearly, I have ideas on how that might be achieved. However, although I would conceive of the concepts as related, I would not see them as aspects of a common phenomenon.

    In my understanding the common phenomenon is human behaviour, which is composed of cognitive, physical and social actions, which constitute activities. For example, “information searching” is an activity which includes a variety of actions to accomplish the task or operation – actions such as logging on to a computer, launching a Web browser, entering a search term and so on. Before the introduction of the Web, the actions would have been different: visiting the library, locating an abstracting journal, searching the subject index, noting item numbers on paper, searching for those item numbers, recording potentially relevant items, and so on. Bourdieu sees things similarly when he talks of the ‘elementary units of behaviour... in the unity of an organized activity’. In fact, examining some representations of practice theory, there is a very close resemblance to activity theory. Of course, Bourdieu could not acknowledge this as he was presenting an anti-Marxist view of relationships in society.

    I would define a practice, on the other hand, as a customary activity and, in Bourdieu and others this formulation is limited to socially determined and/or socially sanctioned activities – where the social aspect may be explicit (as in legally sanctioned activity) or implicit, as in social mores.

    In other writings on practice theory, practices are seen as characteristic routines and habits. I would associate routines with work tasks, and habits with personally constructed behaviour. On this definition, work practices would be associated with routines and everyday practices with habits.

    Reijo notes: “However, as I suggest in Fig. 3.3. (p. 65), practices may also incorporate non-routine elements (actions). Practices are not necessarily composed of frozen habits since habituated actions evolve, too. From this perspective, defining practice as habituated behaviour may narrow its meaning.

    I do not see this as a significant issue: like all aspects of human behaviour routines and habits are malleable, the adoption of the terms does not imply that the actions incorporated are never subject to change. Circumstances alter cases, as the saying goes and there are many City of London bankers and traders whose eating and drinking ‘habits’ will have changed significantly in recent months.

    With this model there is no opposition of practice and behaviour: behaviour is the totality of human activity in society, while, on the individual level, practices are aggregations of routines and/or habits towards the accomplishment of some goal. Social practices, on the other hand are discussed in terms of how the structures of society result from practice. If we wish to incorporate the notion of social determination or sanction, we are probably looking at a higher level of aggregation with the aim of understanding how our relationships with information are constructed in society and what role they play in society. Some practice theory at this level is concerned with power distributions and there might be fruitful areas to explore in the relationship of information and power.

    It will be obvious that I do not view behaviour and practice as being in opposition, but neither do I view them as having equal theoretical status. If we are to use practice as an analytical concept we need to define it rigorously – not for all time, of course, but at least for the purposes of any given investigation. If we wish to emphasise the social dimension of practice, it would give rise to different questions than if we chose to explore routines or habits and, as I hinted in my review, by introducing practice as an analytical concept we can begin to ask interesting questions, such as: How does habitual behaviour in respect of information develop? What role does information play in the development of work routines? How do changes in habitual information seeking occur? And so on. However, those questions cannot arise if we simply propose that the word practice should replace the word behaviour in our discourse.

    I shall now give Reijo the last word: we publicized the discussion in the hope that others might join in and comment. But that appears to have been a vain hope, but I imagine that someone is making a note of the URL for future reference in a paper ☺

    05 April 2009

    OA and copyright

    There's a bit of a buzz in the OA world about a video journal, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, leaving the OA domain and becoming a subscription journal. The reason, essentially, was that the editors couldn't find a business model to allow them to continue as purely OA - although individuals can get a one-day free subscription.

    In his blog Common Knowledge, John Wilibanks suggests that
    If you don't use a permissive copyright license you are not an Open Access publisher. JoVE was never OA. They simply weren't charging for their publications. JoVE was shareware, and the bill's come due.

    Now, by permissive he appears to mean that the user can use the content in any way s/he wishes, but quotes in support of this proposition the Budapest Open Access Initiative statement that
    The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

    However, giving the author these rights, does not imply that the user should have the total right to do whatever s/he wishes with the content. If the author retains copyright, as Information Research authors do, it is up to the author to determine what should be done with his or her work. A journal publisher cannot allow the author to retain copyright and then encourage infringement of this copyright by suggesting that users of the material may do whatever they wish with it. (Slightly revised 17 Apr 2009)

    03 April 2009

    The electronic textbook

    Peter Suber reports a paper in Nature - accessible only to subscribers - on the potential of the electronic open access text-book. I'm surprised that this has not developed sooner - I was forecasting back in 1995 that one of the first things to go open access would be the text book. And it hasn't happened.

    I still find it curious: most text book authors decide to write a new one because they find the existing ones imperfect, from their point of view. They trial material with their own students (often mentioning this in a dedication) and then try to sell it in a market already packed with text books. I put the search terms "statistical" and "introduction" into Amazon.com and it came up with 8,393 results Who actually needs another introduction to statistics?

    So, instead of chopping down the trees - when, given the odds, it is likely that only your own students are going to benefit, why not create an open access text and invite others of like mind to contribute? Build in links to Websites and OA journals and you'll have a richer resource for your students (and more easily kept up-to-date) than any print on paper version.

    Come to think of it - and putting my money where my mouth is - if there is anyone out there who would like to collaborate on an "introduction to modern information management", please get in touch. I'll be happy to create a site at InformationR.net and take it from there.

    29 March 2009

    The behaviour/practice debate: Reijo's response

    Tom has written a thoughtful review about my book entitled Everyday Information Practices: A Social Phenomenological Perspective (Scarecrow Press, 2008). In particular, he raises well-founded questions about the conceptual and terminological issues regarding the relationship between information behaviour and information practice.

    As Chapter 2 of my book suggests, the exact definition of the concepts of behaviour, action, activity and practice is very difficult, due to their generic nature. Hence, no wonder that there is no consensus among philosophers, psychologists and sociologists about how to specify them. Probably, these terms will remain semantically open in the future, too. This will not make it easier for us how to select and justify ”umbrella terms” such as information behaviour/ human information behaviour and information practice.

    One of the main critical points in the book review concerns the ”straw man” argument by which I prefer ”practice” to ”behaviour”. In this context, Tom comments on the ”straw man” argument concerning behaviourism. While characterizing behaviourism, I drew on George Graham´s article published in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I found it easy to agree with Graham in that the behaviourist approach seems to hopelessly restrictive.

    Since ”behaviourism” seems to be a ”dead horse” in the pychological discourse, I do not focus on the limitations of behaviourism to undermine the credibility of the concept of ”information behaviour”. As Tom rightly points out, Schutz criticized behaviourism but employed the concept of ”behaviour” in a broad sense. In my view, Schutz´s way to approach the concept of behaviour comes close to Tom´s definition: ”'Human behaviour' ... is about how people act in the world, and it is well understood that a person's actions have both cognitive and social dimensions”.

    Further, while commenting on the stimulus – response mechanism, Tom refers to a quotation taken out from page 142 of my book: ”Overall, the findings confirm the results of earlier studies suggesting that health and consumption related issues tend to trigger most processes of problem-specific information seeking in everyday contexts”. However, I would like to understand the ”triggers” here more broadly, not merely as stimuli since this view reminds us of the behaviourist approach. For example, consumption issues (as triggers of information seeking) are not reducible to immediate stimuli experienced and reacted to in the supermarket. The triggering factors may also incorporate values, interests and norms that orient habitual ways to prefer individual products, for example.

    Thus, it seems to me that in the book review, the role given to the ”straw man” argument related to behaviourism is more central than it may deserve. Overall, I´m less interested in refuting ”information behaviour” by drawing on arguments such as the limitations of behaviourism. The gist of my critical notions is that so far we lack detailed discussion about how to define ”behaviour” in the context of seeking, retrieving, using, sharing, organizing and managing of information. However, my main interest lies in the positive characterization of information practices composed of specific information actions. Therefore, I would not define information practice as ”a mode of behaviour” as Tom suggests ; -) Information practice may be understood in its own right, as summarized in the model of everyday information practices, presented on page 65 of my book.

    However, Tom´s questions about how to relate ”habituated behaviour” and ”information practice” and how modes of information behaviour become habituated and why, are highly relevant. Interestingly, we face here the question about ”action” because it seems to be a constituent of behaviour and as well as practice. Tom wrote: ”'Human behaviour' on the other hand, is pretty unequivocal: it is about how people act in the world, and it is well understood that a person's actions have both cognitive and social dimensions”. If we replace ”human behaviour” with ”information practice”, the end result might be quite same, at least in the empirical world of everyday life.

    Tom illuminates the nature of habituated behaviour by taking an example of a person calling in on the newsagent for his copy of The Times. In the light of this example Tom wonders why ”the author does not address this possibility in the empirical chapters and I suspect that this is because instances of information behaviour of various kinds play such a small part in the everyday world of the individual that there is little occasion for how they are performed to become habituated”. Again, this is a good point. On the other hand, my book offers examples of habituated information practices such as the deeply ingrained habit to read morning newspaper while having breakfast (p. 102). Tom is right in that I have not explored how such ways to seek information became habituated (unfortunately, my empirical data were insufficient for this purpose since I concentrated on current habits). Overall, Tom´s idea that practice may be defined as "habituated behaviour" captures very well the fact that practices are constituted by relatively established and sometimes even routine actions. However, as I suggest in Fig. 3.3. (p. 65), practices may also incorporate non-routine elements (actions). Practices are not not necessarily composed of frozen habits since habituated actions evolve, too. From this perspective, defining practice as habituated behaviour may narrow its meaning.

    All in all, Tom´s review captures very well the main points of my book. I learned a lot while scrutinizing the review. We define and interpret the main ”umbrella concepts” somewhat differently but this may enrich discussion in our field and keep it alive. Information behaviour and information practice are closely related. They incorporate common elements such as "action" but still they are not reducible to each other. Behaviour draws more strongly on the tradition of psychology (or social psychology) while the conceptualizations of practice draw more on sociology (Bourdieu, Giddens) and social philosophy (Schutz, Schatzki, Wittgenstein). From this perspective, information behaviour and information practice complement each other.

    To clarify the meaning of key concepts, it is important to continue the analysis of conceptual issues by scrutinizing how information behaviour and information practice are related and how they may be understood as diverse (complementary) aspects of a common phenomenon. Given the myriad of approaches to behaviour and practice in psychology, sociology and philosophy, I´m somewhat sceptical about the possibility to find a rigorous definition of these concepts. Probably, this state of affairs will be reflected in the attempts to define information behaviour and information practice as well. Nevertheless, we should go on, step by step to explore these exciting concepts and try to identify their similarities and differences. Apparently, such endeavour would help us to clarify the self-portrait of information research, too.

    The behaviour/practice debate

    The current issue of Information Research carries by review of Reijo Savolainen's new book on everyday information seeking. Before publication, I sent the review to Reijo and asked if he would like to respond. He did so, but did not wish to publish the response formally in the journal. I suggested, therefore, that we might be able to generate some debate, if the response and my reply were to be published on this Weblog.

    So - if this is a topic of interest to you, please read the review and then Reijo's response. You can comment on the response (or the original review) by clicking on "Comment".

    I shall publish Reijo's response as a normal Weblog entry and wait a few days before publishing my response.

    17 March 2009

    iMAC experience

    For a company with an enviable record in the design of technology, Apple can certainly make mistakes. A lot of users have never been happy with the so-called 'Mighty Mouse', which seems to function rather erratically at times. Certainly, the one I have is no where near as positive in use as the Logitech wireless mouse I was using with my PC - in fact, as it will work just as well with the iMac. I may well switch.

    Imperfect as it may be, the mouse is at least ergonomic - the same cannot be said for the keyboard, which is a design disaster. The keyboard measures just 28 x 17.5 cms - the num pad has gone, the arrow keys have been minimised and incorporated into the space normally occupied by other keys on the main board, the main navigation keys, such as Home and End, Page up and Page down have gone, there is no Delete key - instead one must use other key combinations to achieve the same result. Also, because of the small width of the keyboard, ones hands are brought together in the centre of one's body, instead of being spaced apart at about shoulder width, as the best ergonomic keyboards are.

    In this respect, if in no other, Apple lags way behind Microsoft. I've been using one of the Msoft ergonomic keyboards for some years - in fact, I think it was the first one they introduced and one can now get several, not only from Msoft but from other makers - some of whom, unfortunately, don't operate in the UK. But wouldn't it be ironic if I had to attach a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard to the iMac and thereby destroy the beautiful unity of design?!

    I figure that one of these days we are going to see a class action brought against Apple as a result of the all the RSI cases their keyboards must be generating.

    16 March 2009

    New issue of Information Research

    Volume 14 No. 1 is now available at the site. Here's the editorial:


    With this issue, we are back to a normal scale of operations, although 'normal' now means quite a load of work in managing the whole process. We now mount papers on the site as soon as they are ready, but wait until the due date of an issue before publicising. This is also the first issue of our fourteenth year of publication, but I think we'll hold off any celebration until the fifteenth - perhaps a special issue on scholarly communication might be appropriate for Volume 14 No. 1 in March, 2010. In fact, take that as an announcement: papers are invited for a special issue on scholarly communication to be published in March 2010. That means we shall need submissions in, let's say, July, August and September to get through the refereeing and copy-editing process. All aspects of scholarly communication will be welcomed, from the use of electronic communication in scientific collaboratories to institutional archives, open access publishing, and aspects of traditional print publication. Start writing now!

    Regular readers will spot some design changes with this issue: the contents page, this editorial and some of the book reviews have all been redesigned, using div tags and style sheets instead of tables. The style sheets are based on those presented by Charles Wyke-Smith in his book reviewed in this issue and the new design should result in these pages loading a little faster than previously.
    In this issue

    All of the papers in this issue have been on the Website since editing was completed, so some of them already have a significant number of hits. I think this benefits authors, since they have the benefit of early 'publication', while the journal retains the regularity of a publication programme with quarterly 'issues'. I'll be interested to hear from authors as to the benefits, or otherwise, of this approach.

    The papers cover a wide variety of topics and we have authors from Portugal and Chile, Iceland, France, Finland, South Africa, Taiwan, and Canada and the USA. The topics are truly diverse. Three deal with information behaviour: Palsdottir reports on a study of health-related information behaviour, while Savolainen is concerned with the nature of information use, and Meyer reports on information sharing in a cross-cultural context. One, by Bo-Christer Björk and his colleagues, covers journal publising and the share taken by open access publishing, concluding that 4.6% of the 2006 output was immediately available, with an additional 3.5% after one year, and 11.3% in repositories or on home pages. The remaining four papers deal with evaluating shared virtual work space, the use of intelligent agents in environmental scanning, the relationship between innovation and IT capability in the financial service sector, and the evolution of comparison metrics for indexing languages. In other words we seem to have something here for pretty well everyone.

    Those whose interests aren't catered for by the papers might well find something of value in the book reviews. We have ten on this occasion, three of which deal with various aspects of Google and its service. We also review books on public library management in times of change, a guide to reference sources, a festschrift for Professor Peter Brophy, information architecture, and designing Web pages with Cascading Style Sheets - the latter has led to a new design for the book reviews and may influence other parts of the journal.

    I noted in the last editorial that this journal is a collaborative effort and could not be published without considerable efforts by a large number of people, so I would once again like to thank the Associate Editors, the referees and the copy-editors for their efforts, as well as our colleagues at Lund who keep the server running!"

    15 March 2009


    One of the reasons I've been quiet on the Weblog is that I've been in the process of switching from PC to iMac. I've been thinking of this for a long time and using an iMac briefly recently, decided I had to make the effort. I had become fed up with getting that 'Sorry this application has to close, would you like to tell Microsoft?' message and I seemed to spend more time waiting for the machine to boot up or applications to open (or re-open) that I decided the switch was necessary.

    However, it takes time, including putting VMFusion on to the iMac so that I can run Windows. Now, why would I want to do that, given the problems? Well, it is essentially only for one program - Homesite, my HTML editor, which isn't available for the Mac. The last version, 5.5, was put out about 8 years ago and I think that Adobe has probably abandoned its development. In the software industry, 8 years is a long time to go without a new version.

    I've been using it since it was shareware produced by Nick Bradbury - he and his program were bought by Allaire, which was bought by Macromedia, which was bought by Adobe, which will be bought by... who knows? I find that blogs and discussion groups devoted to Web design on the Mac all have individuals who have been using Homesite as long as I have and who bewail the fact that nothing for the Mac is anything like as good. I can testify to this - I've tried out just about every freeware, shareware and priced html editor for the Mac and not one of them is anywhere near as good.

    Why Homesite hasn't been ported to the Mac is a mystery - perhaps Bradbury's latest development, TopStyle, which is an xhtml, html and css editor, which looks very much like Homesite, will make the transition.

    08 March 2009

    "Knowledge" exchange

    A rather comic announcement in Peter Suber's Open Access Forum, to the effect that:
    Knowledge & Library Services at Harvard Business School and the Library at Copenhagen Business School are launching an international network of professionals interested in understanding the changing role of information (both tacit and explicit)– its creation, management, dissemination and use – in scholarly research, higher education and business practice.

    "Knowledge & Library Services" eh? I wonder if they realise how pretentious that sounds? :-) But of course not, Harvard's stock in trade is pretension. At least the Copenhagen Business School is more honest, simply acknowledging that it has a library! Do either of them understand the impossibility of "exchanging" tacit knowledge, which is fundamentally unknowable? See Polanyi for an extensive treatment of the subject.

    What this boils down to, presumably, is an attempt to exchange information - and the topics chosen are "Scholarly Communications and Open Access, Research Metrics, Cyberinfrastructure and Information Behavior". Well, that's fine - but yeas of observation of discussion lists leads me to conclude that the venture is doomed to failure. Outside of a very limited number of fields, however noble the intentions, discussion lists degrade to forums for the exchange of conference announcements, publication announcements and job opportunities - so good luck, guys!

    27 February 2009

    Open Access - a Netherlands' perspective

    Wouter Gerritsma's blog, WoW! Wouter on the Web carries a YouTube video in which a number of senior scholarly figures from the Netherlands make statements about the virtues of Open Access. As Wouter says, it's a pretty boring video (spoken in Dutch with English sub-titles) but, from my point of view, the worst thing about it is the lack of vision in the statements. Here, OA is viewed simply as consisting of open archives (or repositories), and these are the kind of people who are actually involved in making decisions about the future of scholarly communication. Not a word about free, OA journals when, for a country the size of the Netherlands, creating a pool of such journals would be very much cheaper than funding repositories.

    When are the so-called 'leaders' of the academic and research communities going to understand what is at stake here? To remain in the grasp of the commercial world, with ever-rising 'author charges' or denial of archiving rights, or to break free and begin to take advantage of what the technology now offers?