Saturday, May 24, 2014

QotD: "You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you" - Bob Dylan's 73rd birthday

2014.05.24 DylanThe poster of the psychedelic Dylan by the famed designer Milton Glaser is the inspiration for the tribute dodo on Bob Dylan's 73rd birthday.
"You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal"
   - Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone"

Monday, May 19, 2014

Of Innovation, transformation, and steering the Grey Lady into the digital age (lessons from the NY Times for GLAMs?)

While much of the popular media world was focused on the drama occurring in the upper echelons of the New York Times with the ouster of Jill Abramson as Executive Editor, the real bombshell about the Times (rather than from the Times) was the leaking of Innovation (dated 24 March 2014), an honest and cutting look into the struggle for the true soul of the newspaper written by key staffers, including A.G. Sulzberger, son of the owner/publisher Arthur Sulzberger.

The report, first leaked by BuzzFeed on 15 May 2015 ("Exclusive: New York Times Internal Report Painted Dire Digital Picture") tore through the social media world. In my own small(ish) world of GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums), the report exploded with "likes" and Tweets. There were also plenty of "Uh, oh, we're in the same boat" comments from my colleagues, which, broadly speaking, I would agree with.

Now the report itself is fascinating, both for what it actually says and what you can read between the lines. Clearly written for an inside audience (full of journalism lingo like "the Newsroom" and "the Masthead" used as personal nouns almost!; and telling Timesian metaphors such as "Church and State" to describe the separation of the capital "J" journalism side of the house with the Mammon-esque business side). There's also a rehashing of the bible of disruptors, Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (1997) that clearly gives the impression the report is pointed directly at the heart of a entreched oligarchy.

There are also interesting asides in praise of some of the operations that seem like bones being thrown to the Old Guard to distract them while they're being scourged by facts, statistics, and hard-edged examples of just what a wrong path the Times is on in maintaining a print, page one focus with their staffing, content, marketing, and technology.

To return to my GLAM world, I think that museums, libraries and archives all fact much different problems (in the detail) than newspapers. The problem, at its core, is the transition from analog, place/time-based repositories to digital, unmoored interactive resources. I'll narrow down my GLAM comments to just the "L" (since that's where I spend most of my time).

Libraries are in a particular difficult situation when looked at through the lens of the Innovation. Libraries have rich, deep content they need to surface in new ways, but because they are not owners of new content, are at the full mercy of intellectual property owners (e.g. publishers) on how that content can be distributed electronically (or NOT distributed in most cases). In looking at the three "How to Get There" step of the report ("De-emphasize print", "Assess digital needs", and "Explore more serious steps"), the first is hardest. If print is the only way our content providers will sell content and digital is how our users increasingly want content, there is quite a conundrum indeed. The report ends rather abruptly. I would have like a grand closing statement, but we're left to "explore more serious steps" (which sounds somewhat ominous!).

The official response from the Times to the leaking of the report:
"We are extremely proud of the Innovation report," a spokesperson for the Times told Mashable earlier this week. "It is a candid assessment of our digital transformation with insightful recommendations, many of which we have embraced and are working to implement."
In thinking of the other two steps, libraries are stuck right in the sights of Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma. How do you build the "new" library that will work in a rapidly changing environment without marginalizing current operations and alienating key happy customers? Sorry, no real answers to this question at the moment, but plenty to ponder.

A few other stats from the newspaper world that may or may not be congruent with the GLAM world. The first is the real soul of newspapers, which is advertising. The freefall of ad revenue, the historic (or at least 100+ year history) primary source of income for newspaper is astounding.

This chart, from "And Now Let Us Gasp In Astonishment At What Just Happened To The Newspaper Business" by Henry Blodget (15 September 2012) shows just how much money newspapers have lost from the shift of ad dollars to other media (if anyone is looking for the killer of their local paper, BTW, I think your chief suspect is none other than Craigslist).

Likewise, demographics are pointing a dagger at the print newspaper. In a Adults' Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014 (reported on by Business Insider "Most-missed media - top five mentions among all adults: 2013"), shows that only 2% of adults would "miss" reading a newspaper (as opposed to 42% who would "miss" watching TV. But the trenchant statistic for newspapers is that while 9% of the 75+ audience would miss the paper, 0% of the 16-34 year old demographic would. That's zero, as in none. The Innovation report also highlights a variation of this stat in that it has 1.25m print subscribers but 30m web readers (and similarly high numbers for other "online" access - I'll also note the 760k digital subscribers here). Likewise, another statistic in the report shows that in 2013, the Times had a revenue split of 43/52/5 (ads, subscribers, other), vs 51/43/6 in 2009.

Overall, the Innovation report is a bold statement of speaking truth to authority (the drama at the Masthead and participation of the Publisher's son in the report add to the intrigue of course!). It also holds up an example of how an industry, or more specifically an especially valuable property in an otherwise, is doomed too strong a word? industry, could chart a way forward with some hope of success.

Does it hold lessons for the GLAM and specifically the library-world? Possibly. For many of us, especially those that work in marquee institutions, we're used to getting our pick of quality talent, but as noted "our storied brand is less a draw among the digital natives. They are drawn to opportunities to create something, experiment and solve problems, and re-think how news is made -- without the guardrails and bureaucracy of legacy organizations" (p. 91).

Some suggested reading:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

And a happy Vesak, or birthday to Siddhārtha Gautama | Gautama Buddha | Shakyamuni | or, the Englightened One

2014.02.08-IMG_8921And a happy Vesak (aka Fódàn or  वैशाख | Vaiśākha |  |  | 석가탄신일| 灌仏会 | Phật Đản or Buddha's Birthday). As with so many things, if you try to find the date of the day, you will have a hard time ... various Buddhist regions celebrate on different days, but it's roughly the first week of the first full moon in May ... this year, Indian and Nepalese are celebrating today, 14 May.

The Buddha here is from the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, Little India, Singapore with the Buddha in the bhumisparsha-mudra position (Buddha at the moment of victory). Here is Buddha at the moment of enlightenment, touching the earth (not the sky) to show that enlightenment encompasses all things (rocks, dirt, concrete) and is of the earth, not apart from it.

More posts about Buddha. And some Flickr photos.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Presentation at the #IMLSFocus meeting at New York Public Library, "A National Digital Platform: Tools for Innovation"

2014-04-29 09.31.26I had the privilege of being invited to the IMLS Focus Meeting at the New York Public Library (29 April 2014). The gathering of around forty or so people brought out many great ideas. The format was interesting with short panels on a variety of topics and then open discussion.

The webcast is now online.

I participated in "TOOLS: Encouraging Innovation" that was moderated by Mary Lee Kennedy, Chief Library Officer, New York Public Library -- @NYPL. The other participants were:

  • Ben Vershbow, Manager, NYPL Labs -- @subsublibrary / @NYPL_Lab
  • Tom Scheinfeldt , Associate Professor of Digital Media / Director of Digital Humanities at University of Connecticut -- @foundhistory / @UConn
At the meeting, we spoke without slides, but I fiddled with the talk a bit and added some slides, I think this represents what I said (but you can look at the webcast to get the live version!).