Blogging goes retro, gets physical

April 20th, 2007 by Bill

I chuckled on hearing a story on NPR this week about a publishing company from Iceland — yes, ICELAND! — that plans to launch free daily newspapers in 10 US cities. Apart from the Iceland connection, nothing unusual about that. The rub is that the newspaper content will largely come from selected web bloggers. Its a sort of vanity press — on paper — for the digerati. The publisher will pay the bloggers for their content, but obviously at a lower rate than, say, the NY Times pays Tom Friedman.

The really interesting thing to me is that the whole idea turns on its head the notion that news in physical form is a dinosaur and that everything good is going digital. Not so, it seems; people still like to hold a newspaper, or book, in their hands. Another thought of possible interest to bloggers whose content might be selected for print publication (“Anablogs”?): the Pulitzer Prize awards for journalism haven’t (yet) favored digital journalists. If ya wanna be famous, ya gotta be in print!

NYT Gets It

April 13th, 2007 by Claes-Fredrik

“Until now, in most parts of the world, Web surfing has been separate from everyday activities like riding the train, watching television and driving. But the new technology may erode that distinction.

““You’ve picked up this product, and you don’t want to go back to your PC,” said Tim Kindberg, a senior research at the Bristol, England, lab of Hewlett-Packard. “Or you’re outside this building, and you want more information. We call it the ‘physical hyperlink.’ ””

So read some quotes from, well, let’s try what we’re calling the Exbiblio Eureka: 6 words in sequence are a URL (in this case 8 works slightly better):

A a search on Google reveals that the article appeared in

The New York Times
The Orlando Sentinel
The Denver Post
Debit Card News
Signal Lake

What’s so exciting about Exbiblio and the oPen™, is that you don’t need the bar codes. You can do the same thing without them, using the Eureka and a great capturing device.

The Future of books…

December 8th, 2006 by Hugh

Here’s a small anecdote from the world of book publishing that I hope wll give encouragement to Exbiblio.

Earlier this week, I attended an event in London held by Puffin, the children’s book publisher, owned by Penguin. I was chatting to one of their senior managers who told me that when her seven-year-old son finished reading a book, he always went straight to his computer to see if there was any web-related material. She admitted that publishing companies were not always the first to embrace new technology, but in the case of children’s books, they had to be at the forefront, because that was what the audience expected. Exbiblio currently sees college students as a key market for its technology to link the paper world to digital… perhaps that even that group is too old? Anyway, I take this as a sign that the world is changing, and it’s changing in the right direction for Exbiblio.

Giving Away eBooks

December 7th, 2006 by Hugh

One of the big problems for Exbiblio is that book publishers don’t want to give their content away on the web. This makes it hard to link an in-copyright paper text to its digital equivalent. Now here’s some encouraging news (discovered via Scoble). Joe Wikert of Wily books says that giving away content on the net helps build an audience. In fact, it does no harm to sales, and probably helps them.

Microsoft Book Search

December 6th, 2006 by Hugh

Here’s the biggest piece of news for a while on the printed word / digital convergence theme: Microsoft is to launch its ‘search inside books’ service this Thursday, in beta. The BBC reports that the digital archive will include out-of-copyright texts from the British Library, The University of California, and the University of Toronto. Later, Microsoft intends to integrate the service into its main search engine. Naturally developments like this greatly help Exbiblio, which wants to link printed texts to their digital equivalents.

King Content’s Queen

November 9th, 2006 by Hugh

If content is king, then its queen is making money.

So says Scott Kessler of Standard and Poor’s Equity Research. Suddenly it seems that everybody is talking about the merger between online sales and off line content. Most agree that the old media still has the best content, but the computer is now so central to people’s lives, that the money is moving online.

The biggest driver is undoubtedly Google which wants to diversify away from its reliance on a single revenue stream – online advertising. It’s partnering with newspapers and now it’s looking at radio too.

Scott Kessler writes:

In our opinion, the faster traditional media firms work toward partnerships focused on making money from content, the sooner they will be able to reap the benefits.

It’s helpful to Exbiblio that analysts are starting to think aloud in this way. The more people start to talk about an idea, the more easy it becomes to sell a concept. Exbiblio is offering a way for traditional media firms to plug into online methods of making revenue – and it’s starting to look as if that’s going to be a good message to be putting out in 2007.

Google Ads on Newspapers

November 6th, 2006 by Hugh

Google – by far the biggest broker of advertising on the net – is expanding its Adsense program into print, heralding the merger of online / offline advertising.

Adsense allows advertisers place small ads which crop up on the side of Google searches. Website owners can also place Google’s code on their sites and receive Adsense ads which fit the context of their content. The more popular key-words cost more per click. It’s also possible to advertise on specific sites that are members of the Google Adsense program. For advertisers large and small it’s very easy just to write a few lines of copy and become an international advertiser.

Next month Google will start a trial with 100 newspapers. The New York Times quotes Google on the commercial logic:

Tom Phillips, who runs Google’s print operations, said the company was attracted by the $48 billion spent every year in the United States on newspaper advertising. Google, nonetheless, is trying to position itself as a friend of the newspapers.

“Print adds value the Internet doesn’t have,” he said. Mr. Phillips, the former publisher of Spy Magazine, was hired by Google earlier this year. “It is a different browse-able reading medium.”

Exbiblio’s vision foresees a time when it will be possible to integrate an online / offline service like this even further, so that readers equipped with a portable scanner will be able carry out the equivalent of a “click through” from print to online. This would make the paper experience even more like advertising on the net.

Online Offline Reading

October 27th, 2006 by Hugh

Exbiblio aims to add a digital dimension to print. As you read a book with your oPen scanner in your hand, you will be able to capture lines of text that you want to remember. Later on, these will be loaded onto your computer where you can do digital things with them – like emailing or blogging them. Perhaps one day people will embed links into books so that you can go to an audio-video experience on the net.

But does this take some of the pleasure out of reading? A much discussed blog post by Nostrich describes the difference between the experience of reading a book and reading something online:

Traditionally, reading a book – or any printed word, for that matter – is a rather involved process. As you read, you are listening to the words in your mind. The book remains static in your hands; on your lap; on the desk; forcing you to move your eyes to each consecutive word. Knowing the arduous process the book has been through – editing, proof-reading, typesetting, etc. – instills a sense of trust in the words before you; someone put a hell of a lot of work into making this book, just for you. The cost of books also instills pride of ownership.

But now, with the popularity increase of digital media, all this goes out the window. I don’t own the words I read online, I’m merely a guest; it’s impersonal. When reading words published online, my eyes remain static as each line scrolls past my eyes. Online publications are ephemeral.

It would be a shame if the experience of reading a book became filled up with digital clutter of the ephemeral kind. In many ways reading a book in an antidote to our addiction to the always-on Internet. It’s a much calmer mental experience.

Exbiblio would argue that the oPen is mainly an off-line tool that only connects later on to the digital world. But future generations of portable scanners might well be integrated into mobile phones. There’s already a mouse that will read colored bar codes.

It’s pretty much inevitable that the habits we pick up while reading online will start to invade traditional literature. It’s happening already and language is constantly evolving. Over here in Europe we are ahead of America as we send SMS text messages back and forth many times a day with phrases like “C U 2morrow”, a trend which hasn’t caught on quite so much in the States. Many Britains under 30 do not use capital letters in emails. It will be very hard for even the most traditional authors to ignore the digital dynamics of language.

What’s the Exbiblio oPen for?

September 20th, 2006 by Hugh

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog while I’ve been here at the Exbiblio office. I can report that I’m collecting lots of material to write up later. I’ve also been helping Ariel with a big rewrite of the copy on the Exbiblio website. I’m looking for examples of uses for Exbiblio’s first product, the oPen, which is due out next Spring.

Let me recap. Despite its name, the oPen is not really a pen at all. We hope to give you some pictures soon. It’s a sleek and flat little rectangle that will easily slip into a shirt pocket. It’s a text scanner with big aspirations. Let me numerate a few. I would be glad for more examples.

  • If it lives up to its promise, the oPen will be the most compact and reliable text scanner to date. So if you are reading a book, it will be no trouble to highlight a paragraph and save it. There’s no need to deface your book with a note or underline, or turn the corner of the page, or stick a post-it note inside. You’ve captured the text and can keep it on your computer. This is its most simple function. It’s a little underrated in the great Exibiblio “vision” but for my money, this is its most easy-to-understand and useful function.
  • If you want to add a few thoughts about what you just read, you can mutter them into the oPen. It save the sound file linked to the quotation you have chosen.
  • If the book you are reading is out of copyright, there’s a good chance that a digital copy of it exists on the web somewhere. Once your quotation is saved on your computer, the Exbiblio system will find the context for you. You will be able to expand your quotation to look at the whole page, chapter, or book. If you know that a digital copy exists, all you have to do is scan a few words because the Exbiblio system will find the rest for you.
  • Once you have a collection of quotations on your computer, you can search them, tag them, and sift them – do all the things that you like to do on computers.
  • You can, of course, share your quotations by emailing them and blogging them.
  • The Exbiblio system will be great for cross-referencing. Suppose you are reading a biography of a British Prime Minister that quotes a few lines of a famous speech, “We shall fight them on the beaches.” The Exbiblio system will find the rest of that speech for you. Similarly, citations of other reference books and sources can lead you to the original text. There’s no need for a researcher keep going back to the library to look up every cross-reference.
  • It will also work as a bar code scanner – so you can can catalogue your book or cd collection, or if you work in business you can use it to keep track of inventory.
  • If you are reading a poster or a notice on a wall, the Exbiblio pen could lead you to more information on the web about an event – see MyTago and Smartpox

These are just a few possible uses. I’m starting to think that I would be happy to fork out a few quid (I’m English) for one of these. Let your imagination take free reign. I’d be glad to have any more examples.

Some Notes on Diigo

September 15th, 2006 by Hugh

diigoOne of the underrated uses of running a corporate blog, is that it’s a wonderful market research tool. Comments and in-coming links point out trends and similar products, and help fill out the universe of the world in which you are operating. You learn how other people treading down the same path as you are fairing, and you receive feedback on your own ideas. You might even meet up with some fellow travellers on the way.

Since starting to write for this blog, I’ve been amazed about how many people are trying to make web pages more like paper. A smaller group is trying to make paper more like web pages – and I think we can all agree that the latter is the bigger challenge.

Our thanks are due once again to Francisco Soto, a frequent visitor to this blog, who first pointed out Hyperwords. Now, in the comments to that post, he’s drawn our attention to Diigo, a social bookmarking and annotation tool.

Diigo is a tool to make web pages more paper-like. It does this by means of “sticky notes” on which you can jot down your thoughts about a particular paragraph of text on the web. The notes overlay the web page. You can also share those thoughts with other users, if you wish. Like Hyperwords, it comes as an extension to your web browser.

The tool seems to work very efficiently to me. First you highlight some text, and Diigo underlines it. You write your note in a pop-up form. When you return to the web page, your text will still be underlined and you can see your note by hovering your mouse over the top. Elsewhere, you can go to a social bookmark page somewhat like and read what others have been saying about the text. You can do other things too, like blog or email the paragraph.

Diigo seem to be very concerned about clutter. People tend to write up lots of vacuous thoughts about stuff, like “interesting”. It doesn’t really enlighten anyone much. Of course the vast majority of web pages don’t have anything written about them at all – that’s another problem.

This idea has a history. In 1999, Third Voice launched a browser plug-in that allowed users to add sticky notes to web pages. Surprisingly, many web publishers and hosts hated it because they said it made their pages look like they were covered in graffiti. Some 400 of them launched a campaign called “Say No to TV”.

The timing was unfortunate. Third Voice closed its doors in the downturn of 2001 when it couldn’t get financing. Wired News gave its verdict:

Despite its opponents’ claims that people used the software to post lewd or libelous comments, Third Voice didn’t go down in a lawsuit. The company’s conundrum was much more banal: Third Voice couldn’t generate enough advertising revenue to raise consumers’ awareness of its free service, and it couldn’t generate enough consumer awareness to raise the advertising revenue it needed to stay in business.

Now, in this age of Web 2.0, social bookmarking and user generated commentary is all the rage. Diigo isn’t the only one that’s adding notes to webpages. Stickis by Activeweave is doing something similar.

There is a problem for companies operating in this space. Techcrunch expresses it thus:

Many of the bookmarking sites are starting to blur together for me… there are multiple companies already attacking the space with vigor. Good luck to all. It’s going to be a long, hard fight. With perhaps as much as a $30 million payout at the end of the day.

I’ve got used to using and now that it’s owned by Yahoo, it can afford to add more and more useful features. It would be hard for me to break the habit and swap to a new service now. But there are lots of people who are yet to discover the delights of social bookmarking.

However, if you put the idea of post-it notes on a web page together with Microsoft Vista’s new paper-like visual abilities, I think you can discern a trend which leads to web pages looking and behaving more and more like real paper. To close the loop, you need to make paper behave more like web pages.