New algorithms

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) is currently hosting "The eBook Renaissance Part II: Challenges and Opportunites", a two-day meeting sponsored in part by Bowker, Project Muse and the Copyright Clearance Center. The first day started with a keynote presentation from Nick Monfort, Associate Professor of Digital Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Monfort's talk, "Electronic literature's units and bindings", started with a consideration of five revolutions (after or perhaps instead of eBooks) in the way we read and write. He included:

  • Blogs (The Atlantic was a cited example)
  • Google News (the algorithm is the story)
  • Wikipedia
  • Audiobooks, though not yet fully 'digital', a form of time shifting
  • 'Electronic literature', existing alongside other digital offers, like games

He positioned 'electronic literature' as an emerging form. Much of the second half of Monfort's presentation was dedicated to providing examples of this kind of work. Well beyond eBooks, none of it commits easily to a description in a blog post, but I'll keep thinking about how to explain it.

After Monfort spoke, I moderated a panel, "Publisher perspectives on managing eBook growth", that included Ken Brooks (Cengage Learning), Isabella Steel (HarperCollins) and Adam Witwer (O'Reilly Media). The three different types of publishers were able to explain in some detail how creation, management and dissemination of digital content varies greatly across different businesses.

Brooks, in particular, pointed out that "publishing is a collection of diverse businesses that were (once) bound together by a common format – a book." Digital content unlocks that format, and the panelists showed how differenty they are responding to several degrees of freedom.

At the end of the day, Richard Nash presented "Culture is the algorithm", an overview of the approach Small Demons is taking to improve discovery of published works. Introducing his talk, Nash offered his idea that "the novel is the algorithm", a simple and powerful restatement of how we might distinguish between a story and the means we use to deliver it.

In that sense, Nash closed the talk that Monfort started earlier in the day. The way we read and write is changing, delivering components (characters, places and story) in new and different ways. Let's be open to discovering the new algorithms and not adhere to just the ones we already know.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.