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.