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Old 10-26-2006, 04:50 AM   #46
bowerbird
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liberation from heavy markup

tad said:
> possibly the "zen markup language" you were referring to earlier?

as a specific case, yes.

but, more generally, any type of "no-markup" method will do.

so it might be markdown, textile, wiki-markup, restructured text,
bbcode, or any of the variants commonly used in blogging tools and
bulletin-board/forum software, not to mention the brand-spankin' new
crop of wysiwyg web-based editors, like google's baby (a.k.a., writely),
or this spiffy little thing i'm using here now on the "advanced" screen...

for instance, when i make links like these...

http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/
http://www.textism.com/tools/textile/

...there's no reason i should have to "mark them up";
heck, that's why we have computers in the first place!

-bowerbird
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Old 10-26-2006, 10:19 AM   #47
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
Wow! Very intriguing. With respect to the author's viewpoints especially. I wonder how many feel that way, though. I hope many. Transforming society through new ways of making, selling, reading books is an awesome mission.
The idea is not new. This was, before mandatory instruction, the only way to spread information. In the middle ages, troubadours were entertainment for monarchy but educators for the masses. Television today has in this way bypassed the written word, adding speed to the dispersion of information. But for complex concepts, words still have to be written down as a way to slow them to the speed of assimilation by a mind not prepared for the content. If we choose to make the word dependant upon physical means, like paper has been for a long time, or the new electronic readers, we basically submit its power to the owner of such transmission ways. The word is free so should be it's expression. Bowerbird's way is the purest, as free as it was originally created.
What we see here is the rebirth of the original troubadour.
Bowerbird I look forward to reading you again!
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Old 10-26-2006, 01:24 PM   #48
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> http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/8...-three-flavors

the guys over at 37signals have made $437,000 off their .pdf e-book
in the last 8 months, so they decided they can give it away free now.

it's nice to have a following...

-bowerbird

p.s. it appears that my earlier posting of this was moved to be
a new thread, which is ok i guess, except i considered it to be
an excellent (and nicely timely) example of my points above...

the authors of this "book" (which is mostly a collection of entries
from their blog) had considered submitting it to a "real" publisher,
but were turned off by the publication lag they'd have to endure,
as well as onerous terms that would've left them with a pittance.

so they said, "what the hey, we can turn it into a .pdf and sell it
from our website and keep 100% of the proceeds instead of 7%,
and the thing will get out by march 1st instead of sometime this fall,
so we're gonna do it ourselves." and they did. and now it's fall, and
they've already made $400,000+, so they're turning it loose for free,
hoping to generate even more readership, which they will then have
in their following for their _next_ book. i won't pretend these guys
are typical -- they obviously are not -- but their mode of operation is
one that _many_ authors will be emulating (partially) as time goes on.

and these guys had no trouble _finding_ a publisher. for most authors,
that task is extremely difficult -- sometimes verging on impossible --
so obtaining freedom from that necessity will be tremendously liberating.

Last edited by bowerbird; 10-27-2006 at 07:02 AM. Reason: to break out the last paragraph, and correct two (2!) typos!
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Old 10-26-2006, 04:21 PM   #49
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I am not sure what Bowerbird's point is, but the idea that self-publishing - now made cheaper by etext - will "liberate" us is crazy. All kinds of garbage is submitted to publishers today, and they save us the trouble of wading through it by refusing to publish. Self-publishing, however, means that there will be no publisher (or, very likely, editor) and we will all be swimming in the unreadable. I don't look forward to this at all. Self-publishing is a dangerous trap: authors are too often terrible judges of what they write. You all talk about publishers as if all they did was print and bind. Just wait for all that self-published text, you'll live to regret it.
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Old 10-26-2006, 06:41 PM   #50
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radleyp
I am not sure what Bowerbird's point is, but the idea that self-publishing - now made cheaper by etext - will "liberate" us is crazy.
Not at all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by radleyp
All kinds of garbage is submitted to publishers today, and they save us the trouble of wading through it by refusing to publish. Self-publishing, however, means that there will be no publisher (or, very likely, editor) and we will all be swimming in the unreadable.
I completely agree.

But Publishers don't just sort out the bad. They make a judgement based on whether or not the book will sell well. That's all. The idea that publishers, in general, know good literature from bad is false.

Quote:
Originally Posted by radleyp
I don't look forward to this at all. Self-publishing is a dangerous trap: authors are too often terrible judges of what they write. You all talk about publishers as if all they did was print and bind. Just wait for all that self-published text, you'll live to regret it.
What will happen, as what usually happens in a capitalistic society that allows for innovation, is that many services will arise that will "grade" the self-published eBooks.

Unlike the current publishers, they will not base their rating on how well the book sells but rather on how good the book is.

So we get the same filtering. But now we get filters based, not on the sell-ability of the book, but on how good the book is based on who rates it.
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Old 10-26-2006, 11:01 PM   #51
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Personally, I'm almost afraid to jump into this... but jump I must...

Quote:
Originally Posted by rlauzon
What will happen, as what usually happens in a capitalistic society that allows for innovation, is that many services will arise that will "grade" the self-published eBooks.

Unlike the current publishers, they will not base their rating on how well the book sells but rather on how good the book is.

So we get the same filtering. But now we get filters based, not on the sell-ability of the book, but on how good the book is based on who rates it.
This is exactly right. Books today are too often reviewed by people already on the publisher's payroll (or the bookseller's), or authors swapping good reviews "tit-for-tat" to bolster each other. It's like asking NBC to review "Friends." Or having ABC give "Friends" a good review on condition that NBC gives "Desperate Housewives" a good review. What kind of reliable reviews can you get in that system?

Impartial reviewers, mostly readers themselves, will provide the best source of information about what's worth reading.
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Old 10-27-2006, 04:47 AM   #52
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radleyp
I am not sure what Bowerbird's point is, but the idea that self-publishing - now made cheaper by etext - will "liberate" us is crazy. All kinds of garbage is submitted to publishers today, and they save us the trouble of wading through it by refusing to publish. Self-publishing, however, means that there will be no publisher (or, very likely, editor) and we will all be swimming in the unreadable. I don't look forward to this at all. Self-publishing is a dangerous trap: authors are too often terrible judges of what they write. You all talk about publishers as if all they did was print and bind. Just wait for all that self-published text, you'll live to regret it.
The way I say see it, people will always regard self-published works as unprestigious, simply because everybody can do it. So that balances it out in the end.
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Old 10-27-2006, 05:07 AM   #53
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan
Impartial reviewers, mostly readers themselves, will provide the best source of information about what's worth reading.
Well, they won't be impartial. But their preferences will be pretty clearly stated.

It's sort of like the news aggregation sites out there. There are many, many such sites. But I tend to read Slashdot because they tend to have articles that I find interesting.

eBook review sites will arise that will have a certain bias toward certain kinds of books. People will gravitate toward the sites that have similar tastes in books as they do.
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Old 10-27-2006, 06:47 AM   #54
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collaborative-filtering separates wheat from chaff

radleyp said:
> All kinds of garbage is submitted to publishers today,
> and they save us the trouble of wading through it
> by refusing to publish.

oh good lord.

today, publishing companies are the ones force-feeding us
the garbage of celebrity bios and recent-bestseller clones,
in a feverish search for the blockbuster that's gonna hit big
and make the bottom-line acceptable for this quarter, while
the rest of the front-list tanks so they can use the big losses
to write-off the excess profit from the blockbuster to pad the
salaries of lawyers and accountants who keep them out of jail.

whew! i'm glad i got _that_ out of my system... ;+)

in the past, when publishing houses were run by book-lovers,
yes sir, quality-control was an important role that they filled,
and (as i said up above) they did a good job. when publishing
any title required a huge up-front investment fraught with risk,
those houses were certainly entitled to keep much of the profits.

but that world has now been turned entirely upside-down...

so let's retire those publishers to their yachts in the bahamas.

today's authors can make an e-book available to their readers
-- instantly, worldwide -- with practically zero up-front cost...
so there is no need for deep pockets, and very little "risk" at all.

even more important, the shelfspace in cyberspace is unlimited.
this means there is no requirement to "move the old books out",
which was an important dynamic in the physical-product world,
where production, storage, and distribution were all expensive.

now, production is ~free, storage is ~free, distribution is ~free.
given all that, it's hard to see how we can _fail_ to make money.

the only problem that still remains is that, since the size of the
haystack will steadily increase, it might be hard to find needles.

but here again, many-to-many communication saves the day...

how? with collaborative-filtering, that's how.

maybe you've seen it being used over on amazon.com, with their
"people who bought this book also bought this other book" thing.

yeah, well forget that ass-hat implementation, which is the kind of
"collaborative-filtering" that only a capitalist businessman can love.
a money-grubber like that is only interested in _making_the_sale_,
so of course the variable measured will be the purchase behavior.

but i suppose you've _bought_ books you didn't end up enjoying, eh?
sure you have. the important question is not "did you buy this book?"
the answer we _need_ is "after reading it, did you _enjoy_ this book?"

based on your answer to _that_ question (over a hundred or so books),
a collaborative-filtering system with data from a few thousand people
could deliver books that you would _love_ -- day after day after day --
to your e-mailbox, enough to bury you in books for the rest of your life.

it's just a statistical procedure that compares your ratings profile to
those of other people; and when it finds similarities, then it looks for
highly-rated items from them that you haven't yet seen (i.e., rated).

(likewise, it is able to warn you off any material they have rated low.
in the long run, this might prove to be more worthwhile, since it will
save you money from any purchases that you'll later come to regret.)

it doesn't take a very big "sample size" for most statistics to work;
national polls often have no more than a few hundred respondents.

my guesstimate would be that a well-done system could predict your
rating for a specific book within two-tenths of a point on a 1-10 scale.

against such precision, old-fashioned "word of mouth from friends"
will seem positively _primitive_ in comparison. your current friends
are likely to have encountered much the same content as you, while
"strangers" who live in other corners of the globe are likely to have
experienced a wide spectrum that's completely different from yours;
the "secret sauce" is material that you wouldn't have found otherwise.

further, if the system contained ratings from a few _million_ people --
perhaps like the 20 million who visited youtube in the past 3 months --
you'd have enough reading material to last you _dozens_ of lifetimes,
all of 'em books that you'd happily rate as 9.8 or higher on a 1-10 scale,
books that you will remember for the rest of your life as your "favorites".

and one of 'em might be a book that only 241 people on the whole planet
would love as much as you. everybody else might totally _hate_ the book.
but what do you care? you don't have to interact with those people, right?

and moreover, since our collaborative-filtering system would _know_ that
they'd hate that book, it wouldn't even bother to inform them about it, so
they won't have to "wade through it", so they won't object in the slightest.

this is why any "measures of quality" will come to be seen as superfluous.

by any "objective" scale, a book this unpopular has to be a "bad" book.
but since the 6 billion people who'd detest it don't have to mess with it,
what'll it hurt to keep it around so its 241 fans can enjoy it to the fullest?

likewise songs. likewise videos. likewise photos. likewise digital art.

no "wading through low-quality garbage" to find stuff you really love;
collaborative-filtering will deliver tons of it right to your screen, daily.

but hey, the fun doesn't stop there! no sir, we're just getting _started_...

because let's say i'm the author of that book that only a mere 241 people
in the whole world rated as a "10". on the one hand, you might think that
i must be an terrible author, to write a tract garnering such few admirers,
spread far-and-wide all around the 7 continents. (1 fan from antarctica!)

but from my perspective, what the collaborative-filtering system has done
is _remarkable_, as it has introduced me to 241 people who love my work!
241 people spanning across all 7 continents. (did i mention antarctica?)
how would i have ever found those people myself? it would be impossible!

and they loved it so much, they took advantage of global communications
and contacted me, and each other, and now we are one big happy family!
we have a listserve where we constantly have loads of fun with each other.
indeed, one of my jewish fans fell in love with one of my palestinian fans,
and they're getting married in february! over half of us (127) are going!
(including the guy from antarctica! we look forward to the f-t-f with him!)

meanwhile, all of this love has inspired me so much as a writer that i have
already finished another book, and am halfway done on the one after that!

yeah, i'm just making all this up, but do you see where i'm going with this?

cory doctorow put it this way: "content isn't king, communication is king;
the main reason we absorb content is so we can talk about it with friends."

in the beginning, we'll think of this collaborative-filtering system as
a useful tool that delivers _high-quality_content_ to our doors, and
yes, we'll continue to appreciate that aspect of it for a long time, but
very soon as well, we'll realize that it is actually much more valuable
as a mechanism bringing _high-quality_friendships_ into our lives...

and that, my friends, is quite a double-barreled shot into the future.

-bowerbird
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Old 10-27-2006, 10:02 AM   #55
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rlauzon
Not at all.



I completely agree.

But Publishers don't just sort out the bad. They make a judgement based on whether or not the book will sell well. That's all. The idea that publishers, in general, know good literature from bad is false.



What will happen, as what usually happens in a capitalistic society that allows for innovation, is that many services will arise that will "grade" the self-published eBooks.

Unlike the current publishers, they will not base their rating on how well the book sells but rather on how good the book is.

So we get the same filtering. But now we get filters based, not on the sell-ability of the book, but on how good the book is based on who rates it.
Total total totally agree.
Yes there is a lot of garbage out there, but I'm a reader enough to figure out what is.
What I look for usually is a writer's writer. Just like a musician's musician. The top in the field. The one you look up to, who will teach you, not the master chef who follows the capitalistic prechewed recipe.
I believe a "career" author does have a certain knowlege about how to find the hints that denotes a good text. The writer Coop is a good idea.
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Old 10-27-2006, 11:52 AM   #56
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I realize that in this debate I am a tiny minority of one, but I am quite resolved to remain so.

What you all - especially Bowerbird - want is some majority rating system, like what is used by Zagat for restaurants (I stopped trusting the reviews when I went to one too many poor restaurants), where what I look for is a publisher (Farrar, Straus; Pantheon; the old New Directions) and a reviewer whose taste I trust and I use them as guides. Self-publishing has been around a long time, and I am yet to read even one self-published book (given or lent to me by its author) that showed me that the publisher made a mistake. Good books have a way of getting out: Nabokov's Lolita was turned down by one American publisher after another, but there is generally always one (here, Putnam, which I know you will all denigrate, because it publishes only what sells, as if that were some kind of evil) who will "discover" the obvious.

You will not convince me, nor I you, but time will certainly tell.
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Old 10-27-2006, 12:34 PM   #57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radleyp
Good books have a way of getting out: Nabokov's Lolita was turned down by one American publisher after another, but there is generally always one ... who will "discover" the obvious.
All they're saying is that today Nabocov could have published Lolita himself on the Web, missed all that futzing around with publisher after publisher, kept almost all the profits himself, and with some sort of way to match people with books they'll like, he'd have sold quite a few copies.

You don't have to be convinced, but it doesn't hurt to recognize when the other perspective has a point, even if you don't find it compelling. I find that, if nothing else, it gives me a better rounded perspective on my own opinions to have considered opposing ones. Besides, if my position can't handle frank examination of opposing evidence without falling apart, then I didn't have a very well thought out opinion in the first place, and I clearly need a new one!

Please note: That last paragraph is intended as a general observation, and should not be constued as implying that either position in the discussion is wrong. If I wanted to say that, I'd just flat out say it -- being a Texan, and all.
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Old 10-27-2006, 12:45 PM   #58
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radleyp said:
> What you all - especially Bowerbird - want is some majority rating system

um, did you read my long message on a collaborative-filtering system?

a "majority rating system" is the _exact_opposite_ of what i'm talking about.

such a system ignores what "everyone else" thinks and finds the people whose
ratings profile highly correlates with yours, not matter how rare they might be.
it finds that guy in antarctica who is one of the 241 people in the world like you
on that one particular book. how else are you _ever_ going to find that guy?


> what I look for is a publisher (Farrar, Straus; Pantheon; the old New Directions)
> and a reviewer whose taste I trust and I use them as guides.

exactly. that's what the collaborative-filtering system does, except it does it
by analyzing _many_millions_ of ratings from other people, which means that
(a) it has a better chance of finding someone whose taste is like yours, and
(b) it does all the work for you so you can just sit back and glean its results.

so, better quality of results (including pointers to lots of material that you'd
never ever encounter otherwise), and with absolutely no work on your part.
tell me what's not to like about that?

and please don't think i'm trying to "convince" you. this system will emerge
whether you "agree" with me or not, and will prove itself to millions of people
with extremely specific ratings (within two-tenths of a point on a 1-10 scale)
that prove to be uncannily accurate in predicting our own reactions to content.
and, like any iterative process, when it _is_ wrong, that info will make it smarter.

the end result will be that tomorrow's people will spend _zero_ time _searching_
for high-quality content -- material that _they_ consider to be "high-quality",
even if very few other people in the world agree with them -- yet they will be
_inundated_ and _overwhelmed_ with it, with most of it being offered for free.

and in _that_ kind of world, publishers who put d.r.m. on their celebrity bios
and clones of last year's bestsellers, and charge high prices for that rubbish,
will be reduced to laughing-stock status. might as well be tower records...

-bowerbird
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Old 10-27-2006, 01:09 PM   #59
NatCh
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bowerbird
...with absolutely no work on your part.
Well, I'd have to rate the books I read for it to have something to match with other folks' ratings, right? Or am I missing something?
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Old 10-27-2006, 02:11 PM   #60
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natch said:
> Well, I'd have to rate the books I read for it to
> have something to match with other folks' ratings,
> right? Or am I missing something?

yes, right. but that's not "work", it's _fun_. :+)

i'm totally serious. i've written the program that
collects such ratings, and it's lots of fun to run.

being reminded of books that you've read, and
tasked with giving each one an overall reaction,
is a pleasant thing (even if it's not all that easy).

the rating scale runs the full width of your screen,
from "1.00" on the one side to "9.99" on the other;
you just click at the appropriate spot in the middle.
(a rating-scale this fine-grained helps to avoid ties.)

your ratings are then ordered, so you see the list of
books (or songs or films or whatever) and can drag
each of them up or down in the list if you want to...

it's so entertaining, in fact, that i'm gonna release this
rating-program just for the fun-value, as soon as i can
find the time to put together an impressive list of books.

so if anyone has some pointers to lists of books, tell me!
i want my list to be composed of a wide variety of books.

i also want it to be an extensive list, with _lots_ of books,
because one part of it will be to formulate a ratings profile
after having obtained judgments from a subset of the list.

then, as the task continues with the rest of the books,
using your preliminary ratings profile, when the program
puts up a book-name to get your rating of it, it will also
display its _prediction_ as to what your rating will be...

when you realize that these predictions are _accurate_
-- and that they get even _more_ accurate as you give
more and more ratings to the program -- you will be
convinced and amazed that this shit really _does_ work.

and given this excellent performance in predicting your
ratings on the books that you've already read, you will
have great confidence in its predictions for the books
that you haven't yet read, and will take them seriously.

***

i forgot up above to say (clearly) that when you get your list
of recommendations from the system, including its prediction
of the rating that you'll assign to each book after you read it,
those predictions will be uniquely tailored for you personally.

so, for the very same book, it might predict that i'll rate it as
an 8.42 (since that's how people with ratings similar to mine
have rated that book), while it predicts that _you_ will rate it
as a 4.21 (because that's how people with ratings like yours
have rated that particular book). so it will _recommend_ that
i will _like_ the book, and predict that you will _not_ enjoy it.

this was probably obvious to you, but i wanted to stress it,
because when we look at amazon's recommendation system,
we see it doesn't custom-tailor suggestions to each person.
it can't, because it doesn't know anything about _your_ taste.

when it says "people who bought book x also bought book y",
it's talking about those other people and not about _you_, so
it presents that exact same little factoid to every one of us...

and although we are tempted to infer that this means that
book x and book y are "similar", the _basis_ of the similarity
might be totally bogus. maybe the reason people are buying
both of these books is because they're both being advertised,
heavily, and the buyers are sheep doing what they've been told.

and maybe every person who loves book x also hates book y,
while everyone who loves book y hates book x, we don't know.
and amazon doesn't care, because they got your money for both.

if any particular variation of a "collaborative-filtering" system
gives the same output to _everyone_, then it's _not_ gonna do
a good job of pulling the needles out of the haystack, because
there is too much variation in human taste for one size to fit all.

-bowerbird
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