Printing The Web
13 Nov 2005, 9:24:23 am
I, long ago, heard the statement: If I invested in the paper industry the first time I heard the term 'paperless office,' I'd be rich now.. People go back and forth between citing the internet as the death-blow to books, to saying that the internet is the saviour of publishing.
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Two interesting business ideas have popped up to fit the gaps between internet and offline: BlogBinders and WikiBooks.
BlogBinders is little more than a conversion interface designed to take a blog-entry database and convert it to a press-ready PDF. While this sounds simple (people have been doing this, by hand, at LuLu for a while), but the mechanism is the interesting part. There's a lot of hoopla over the simplicity of taking Old Media (music, movies, print) and making it a digital commodity -- MP3s can be made in seconds, Google is scanning books at an amazing rate, movies show up on Torrents before they're in theatres. However, here's an example of moving the data, quickly and simply, back into hard-copy format. Digital Convergence isn't limited to putting offline data online -- it's about the two becoming inseparable. MP3s aren't only downloaded and played on the PC -- they're burned to CD. Online animators are making their money selling DVDs of their works, despite the interactivity of their websites. Giving online diarists seamless paper archiving of their writing, bound for permanent storage, is an ideal application of convergence.
Now, WikiBooks is dedicated to community-creation of textbooks, specific to its application. The books that are available on the site are mostly still in development (most are quite barren), but the 'comprehensive' books do seem to be quite detailed. However, the textbook comparison begins to fall apart here. Actually producing a book from the WikiBooks system would appear to be difficult: Wikis are constantly updateable, and tracking hard-copy revisions would be near impossible. It does not appear that hard-copy output is in the plans, anyway. The organized structure of Wiki data wouldn't be too difficult to convert to PDF format (no more difficult than the Wiki output software itself), but I could not find any direct link to such an animal. These 'books' are little more than collaboratively-written websites, organized within the Wiki structure. Textbooks are, however, quite necessary: how do you take your book to the library? Or to a friend's house to study? How do you highlight passages for easy location later? Instructors actually wishing to teach from a WikiBook (if they can find enough credibility in the text) will have to resort to printing out pages for themselves and the students at a far higher cost than owning a printed book (on a per-page basis). Paperless classrooms don't exist yet, despite the laptop-for-every-student push in education today. Wikipedia is considering hard-copy versions of the encyclopedia for underwired countries; applying this to the textbook Wikispace, and collecting a printing service fee for each copy, could be a significant source of revenue. For as easy as it is to digitize the data and place it online, it should be equally as simple to produce a realworld version of the same information. This back-and-forth motivates use of the technology, just as easy photo-printing has expanded digital camera use. Wikimedia should look at how the data can be 'locked' online, then written to paper, as a way to ensure the information's usefulness to the world at large. If books of compiled blog entries can sell, actual viable knowledge should be a golden egg for the online world.
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