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Old 02-22-2007, 12:21 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Tower(s) of e-Babel

How many newpaper reader applications do you need to read newspapers? According to a recent post by Kevin Tofel at JKonTheRun, it's more than you think!

David Rothman has popularized the phrase "Tower of e-Babel" to refer to the nightmarish incompatibility of e-book formats. It is a phrase that captures the frustration of every e-book fan, because nothing seems to be compatible. You can't read an eReader book on a Sony Reader. You can't read a Connect store e-book on a Palm device. The list goes on and on with all the ways you can't read various formats.

But we really might be better off thinking of it as TowerS of e-Babel, especially with electronic newspapers. Consider the Times Reader software that was announced by Microsoft and the New York Times back in April. Against every last bit of logic with regard to satisfying the consumer, we now learn that Microsoft is releasing additional reader software - one application per newspaper. The latest papers to join are the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Forbes, and the Daily Mail tabloid from the UK.

I can't help but wonder if this is a control issue. Newspapers may be trying to keep control of their newspaper and give it a sense of independence by giving it a new container with it's own application instead of just being another bit of content in the same reader software that can display other papers as well. Maybe they are trying to keep the physical paper newspaper paradigm as best they can in an electronic world. They may hope to create the illusion of being a "real" object as opposed to becoming just content.

Sure, they want to control layout and navigation, but isn't this taking it a bit too far? What happens when e-paper becomes cheap and common? Are we going to be bound by a particular New York Times e-paper hardware for that paper? And then have to go pick up our Washington Post e-paper hardware if we want to read the Washington Post? That sounds like a mangled retro-future-tech paradigm if I've ever heard one! With any luck, this silly approach is not in our future.

See Kevin's reaction at JKonTheRun.
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Old 02-22-2007, 12:40 PM   #2
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I guess that page placement would be a strong incentive for the advertisement lobby to pressure the newspapers into such a way as format control. The tiny insignificant ad. next to the title is big money. The reflow necessitated by a reader would wreak havoc to any order of ads. in a page. I could understand the entities responsible for the sale of advertisement to be concerned about such priorities.
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Old 02-22-2007, 01:22 PM   #3
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It is an old story.

Those entities that "get it" will survive, those that don't will go "extinct".

Survival of the fittest all over again.

As I registered for each paper, downloaded the same code over and over again, replied to one verification email after another, configured yet another instance of the same code one more time... I found myself wondering what Microsofty was so blind that they couldn't foresee just how idiotic this was going to make them look?
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Old 02-22-2007, 01:28 PM   #4
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I should think that MacroHard is used to looking idiotic by now.
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Old 02-22-2007, 03:01 PM   #5
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But who will it make look idiotic? Microsoft or the papers? So many people are used to seeing "Microsoft" somewhere on their machines it generally doesn't register anymore unless it is an actual MS product (Microsoft Money, XP, Zune....er, gelatin molds....whatever).

By each paper having it's own branding and it's own container, most people will probably just associate each individually with the paper using it instead of as a collective whole under the Microsoft umbrella. Using DRM as an example, more people are peeved with the companies using it to restrict their products than are with the company supplying the DRM itself.
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Old 02-22-2007, 03:04 PM   #6
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And yet this is nothing more than a reflection of the current trend in DRM and non-DRM schemes in the eBook arena. It is also not too far afield from the old programming code babel of the last 50 years -- Assembler, Macro Assembler, COBOL, FORTRAN, LISP, BASIC, Ada, Snoball, Javilen, FORTH, C, C+, C++, C#, Ruby for Rails, Java, Pascal, Prolog, Pilot, Python, APL, RPG, SPL, ....

Sorry if I didn't mention your fav programming language.
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Old 02-22-2007, 03:28 PM   #7
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I hadn't thought about it, but it would be nice if the world could settle on a single programming language. (sigh)

I s'pose we could all just fall back to Machine Language ... not.
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Old 02-22-2007, 04:25 PM   #8
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The E-Babel tower feeds a lot of people. Each language requires a long learning curve. One has to specialize to be efficient. Just take the UN as an example...

I wonder why they just don't use HTML for crying out loud!...
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Old 02-23-2007, 09:58 AM   #9
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It is completely ridiculous. It's as if they were making an effort to kill the e-movement. What they will end up doing, is performing hara-kiri. I'm currently testing OpenOffice 2.1 as an alternative to MS Office. So far, I'm quite impressed. MS may yet lose another customer. The bad part is that I'm becoming an anti-MS advocate and encourage friends and acquaintances to go MS-free for browsing (I use Firefox) and email (Thunderbird).

IMO MS is coding itself out of business.
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Old 02-23-2007, 10:21 AM   #10
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I'd like to see MS fail too, but that's highly unprobable. Take the e-book for instance. It's been in this 'floating state' for a long time, surviving to and from every format up to date. None of them have provided the explosion of popularity we dream of, but all have survived, and some like PDF have even brought profits to the owner, even if not to their trusting users. We must see codes as works of art just like the information they carry. Being partial to our media which is litterature we tend to forget how beautiful in it's way, the labor of programmers can be. The formats still exits even if they rely on less riches. MS might, as other multinationals, shoot themselves in the foot, but having millions of them...
I'll just go back to Mac. I've always been a 'graphics first' kind of renaissance man.
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Old 02-23-2007, 10:54 AM   #11
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But we should all remember that Microsoft and Intel are often very large components of retirement invesetment funds, even if we don't think about it that way very much! ;-)

So personally, I would much rather see Linux and OSX grow in success without ruining MS!
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Old 02-23-2007, 12:00 PM   #12
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No, this won't ruin MS... when this scheme fails, they'll just abandon it and move on to the next scheme. It is a shame, though, that they will probably suffer no ill effects from convincing the newspapers to go with such a ridiculous idea in the first place.

But when it fails, someone will eventually come along and show the newspapers where they went wrong with individual readers, and convince them to get on board with a standardized format that can be read by anyone, globally, thereby expanding their markets.

This will turn out to be another example of wrong thinking serving to delay the development of e-media.
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Old 02-23-2007, 05:21 PM   #13
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It was Intel and Microsoft that brought the microcomputing world out of the ebabel that existed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Then it was a world where each manufacturer created their own operating system and even the ones that used the "standard" CP/M required a unique version for each system that you had to recompile for your unique hardware.

For those of you too young to remember there were (among those I remember): CP/M, CP/M-86, MCP/M, Tandy DOS, Apple ][ DOS, Apple 3, Apple Lisa,, Commodore (PET), Ohio Scientific, KIM, AIM, VIC, VIC-20, Commodore(VIC)-64, Amigia, ORIC, SuperBrain (no joke), Coleco Vision, Sinclair BOS, Atari, HP DOS, Acorn (Atom & BBC), Sony, Panasonic, Amstrad, and NeXT. And I have mosty likely left over 80% of those that existed unlisted. On top of these are the game systems that also did some computing functions and the dedicated word processors like the Wang, Exxon WP, and the Sinclair Spectrum.

The only real survivors were MS/PC-DOS and Windows along with the Apple Mac operating systems. Once the field had been narrowed to two it was possible to invest in developing applications without having to dedicate large resources to provide support to a great number of platforms.

Between the programming languages and operating systems, computing was a true tower of babel.
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Old 02-24-2007, 10:20 AM   #14
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I'm with you on operating systems, but I don't see the problem with programming languages. Different languages work well for different tasks, and as long as the end-user doesn't see a difference, what's the problem? C has lasted longer than any of the operating systems, and has been around longer than any ebook format other than plain text.
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Old 02-24-2007, 02:55 PM   #15
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That's true, neko, and I was actually thinking about that as I wrote my earlier comment, but I was thinking it would be nice if I didn't need to be an expert in multiple languages to be market competitive, that's all.
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