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Nov 07, 2007: Publishing house as open platform?

Another inspiration courtesy of DUX...

Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware, gave yesterday's excellent afternoon keynote. Adam used the term "ecology" quite liberally, suggesting that designers of all sorts move away from designing products and services and think more holistically, designing comprehensive ecologies, platforms (and, dare I say it, experiences).

I love talks like Adam's. For one reason, I already agree— in fact, I consider myself to be something of an "infrastructuralist"— and I see the things I've helped build— Argus Associates, the IA Institute, and now Rosenfeld Media, as essentially infrastructures or platforms for smart people to use to shape, sell, and share their ideas and expertise. But Adam makes this case for holistic platform design so much better than I ever could hope to. He also uses great visual examples, an ability that, sadly, will be forever beyond my grasp.

Adam's best example of systematic design is Nike+. Nike combines running shoes with an accompanying web site and your iPod to flesh out an elegantly-designed ecology for its keystone species (and target audience), runners.

But, as Adam points out, the design is flawed: Nike+ is a closed platform, its continued existence subject to the whims of the company's future business decisions. It would be much more likely to survive and improve if it was opened up to other players (e.g., Facebook, the Roomba, and recently Apple with its iPhone).

In all my mumbo-jumbo about being an infrastructuralist, it never occurred to me to consider opening up the Rosenfeld Media publishing platform. Maybe I've been too down in the weeds (hey, we're hoping to get our first book to the printer next week!), but that's no excuse. But what exactly would it mean for a publishing house to work as an open platform?

It's arguable that vanity presses already are open platforms. We could say the same thing about print-on-demand service provider LuLu.com. We could even claim that the Internet is an open publishing platform. But none of those examples do what traditional publishers do: offer the added value of true editorial services, such as review and selection.

Is there an example of a traditional publisher that offers an open platform which includes the editorial component? If not, can you imagine one?

I think this could be fun...

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Comment: Peter (Nov 8, 2007)

I *can* think of translation as a service, some kind of translation platform. But that's different.

Publishing.. mmm... no, I can't think of that as a platform actually, not the way you want to do it (provide value tru selection, editing, brand, quality).

Comment: Rich Wiggins (Nov 8, 2007)

This is something I've thought about a lot -- though I haven't reached any grand conclusions.

In 1994 when I was about 3/4 done with "The Internet for Everyone: A Guide for Users and Providers" I went to Washington DC to attend a meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information. I flew into Dulles (mistake) and rented a car (mistake) and checked into a hotel in Fairfax (mistake) and left my rental car keys at a pay phone before I went to my room (huge mistake!).

When I woke up I found that the rental car was still there but the trunk was empty, devoid of my laptop, which had the entire manuscript of my book in progress.

I was terrified. I was afraid I'd lost not only all of the words, but the value of the words.

Turns out I was wrong on both counts. I spent several nervous days not knowing if my backup back in East Lansing was intact -- it was. Silly me, I was afraid my words would appear on the Net somewhere -- of course, they did not. The thief sold the laptop at street price. The contents were worthless to the buyer.

Here at the Nielsen-Norman tour in Barcelona, one of the speakers has a device sold by Dish TV that captures a program in high res quality so you can watch it on the plane or abroad. He also has a Slingbox, which lets you watch your home cable channels over broadband anywhere on Earth.

NBC brags that Jay Leno and other shows are available in "full video" (like "full text"?) but if I try to access it from Spain they deny me.

The term "value added" is tired, but that's the question here. Does NBC lose "value added" if I watch a day-old Leno show in Barcelona? Does Nielsen-Norman lose value-added if they publish freely the slides from an all day seminar? Does Rosenfeld Media lose value added if the full text of a book is open and online?

When does value obtain? Circa 1997 thousands of people bought Java books, non programmers caught up in the hype. They never broke the spine. "Letters I've written, never meaning to send" maps to "Books I have purchased, never meaning to read."

When does value obtain? When can a publisher, or an event organizer, or a TV network, or a record company, or a movie company, capture the value of produced goods? What is the balancing point between sharing freely and charging?

I dunno.

Comment: Clayton (Nov 8, 2007)

Hi Lou

I enjoyed checking out your blog. I'm a recent grad in Silicon Valley, and I've just started a company that is mapping the blogosphere to our world. Here is an example of a blogger in Georgia who's plugged in: http://www.verveearth.com/landing/#type=user&id=772. It can be fun to explore different localities.

It's an easy process to get on board, and I can be reached at clayton@verveearth.com for questions or feedback. If you resonate with the vision of painting a global canvas of voices, please give VerveEarth a mention.

Cheers! -Clayton

Comment: indi young (Nov 9, 2007)

The end of Rich's comment brings three things to mind for me. First, the phrase "Free Your Information" started by the EFF. Second, old-style television and radio networks used to distribute programs for free, shored up by a load of paid advertising. I don't know all the reasons why this is changing to for-pay content, but the same battle is playing out in the boardrooms of many newspapers. Third, at Adaptive Path, we always lean toward publishing the information freely. Sure, we have a few really inexpensive reports for sale, but mostly we try to get the information out there because it's an investment in our field that we hope will pay in the advancement of design. Same could be said for why a person spends her valuable time uploading photographs of spaghetti squash in various stages of preparation to Wikipedia. It's to let others know what she knows.

So there is some underlying current of altruism or "let's get smart together" or mental evolution that is going on. Hopefully it will lead us back towards a life as citizens (of various groups) rather than consumers.

As far as publishing books for practitioners to learn things, Lou intends to publish more than just atoms. He means to shift what publishing used to represent into a more electronic sphere. There are several ways to add value. There is value in linking that practitioner in with all the others, via topical blog/book/article/practitioner indexes, etc. Is a publisher "neutral" enough to serve as a hub for all this delicious info? Maybe. Maybe not. It may just turn out to be an easy place to turn if you're a practitioner in search of edification.

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