Book Experiment #2: Interop

Urs Gasser and I began a research project in 2005 to study Interoperability (Interop, for short). Our gameplan was to answer a straightforward question: do higher levels of interoperability lead to increased innovation? A few years and many case studies later, we had found a general correlation between more interop and more innovation in the context of information technologies.

But we also had discovered a few order things that we had not expected. We found that we were seeing interop stories everywhere we looked. Interop seemed to matter outside of the IT context, too. We also found that people in a wide range of fields had also been thinking about interop: those who care about economics, computer science, systems theory, complexity theory, and so forth. We decided that there might be a book project that could build from the base of our research into those original case studies.

As we began to write up the longer-form argument, we agreed also to experiment with the format of the book, as we had done in the context of Born Digital, Intellectual Property Strategy, and other book projects. The premise here, with Interop, (now, in fact, published as a book, by Basic Books) is to present the book along with a rich set of case studies, available freely online, that have served as the raw data for the analysis and theory we present in the book version. Our early case studies on digital music, digital identity, and mash ups in the social web were the first three. Over the next few years, we worked with a strong team of interns, as always spread across two research centers (the Berkman Center at Harvard in the US and the FIR ate the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland), to produce several more. These new case studies, also published freely online, range more broadly.

Over the next few weeks, we will roll out pointers, from our blogs, to these online case studies about interop. They can be read as standalone pieces or, better yet, as a companion to the Interop book itself. We look forward to your feedback.

Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching: Kick-Off

Today is the kick-off for the brand-new Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching (HILT).  This is an extraordinary day at Harvard, part symposium and part working session to get HILT underway in earnest.  The background: President Drew Faust and two of the university’s most loyal friends, Rita and Gustave Hauser, dreamed up a major new university-wide initiative to focus on the science and practice of learning and teaching.  The Hausers gave $40 million to make the initiative’s launch possible.

The symposium opens with a welcome from President Faust and Erin Driver-Linn, the director of HILT, who describe the ideas behind HILT and its early activities, including a new grant program for novel learning and teaching projects.  The first keynote session is on the science of learning.  The speakers are extraordinary: the moderator is Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard professor of psychology with a deep interest in learning), and the presenters are Carl Wieman (a prof in the past, and now in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and a Nobel Prize winner), Roddy Roediger (one of the giants of understanding learning and measuring learning), and Steve Pinker (Harvard College Professor in psychology and best-selling author, of The Language Instinct and many other wonderful books).  The presenters have been saying much too much to blog here effectively, so I’ll just go with one insight I took away from each speaker’s remarks:

- Banaji: many of our broadly-held myths about learning and teaching are wrong.  Before we lurch ahead with innovative teaching activities, we need to “unlearn” our mistaken assumptions and ground new efforts in the increasingly helpful science of learning.

- Wieman: experimental modes of teaching in science, even by less experienced teachers, are demonstrably more effective at teaching material to undergraduates than the classic lecture format, even when taught by a more senior professor with positive student evaluations;

- Roediger: testing helps with learning.  It’s much better to have students write, present, and take tests than to have them read and re-read material.  Performance (measured, say, as recall a few days later) is greatly improved based on the amount of testing (practicing retrieval of material) done previously.  This dynamic is known as the retrieval practice effect.  (Also: news alert for students: cramming works!  It is possible to improve recall over short periods by intense studying right before an exam.  But that won’t mean you can retrieve the information later; you won’t, unless you’ve been repeatedly tested.)

- Pinker: we know that students may not remember the particular substance that we teach them in universities, but we do expect that they will learn certain analytical skills.  We also hope they might have learned to write.  As wonderful as The Elements of Style is, it should not be the basis for teaching writing today, Pinker argues.  It is a charming book, but it is hard to come away with much useful advice (other than “omit needless words,” which Pinker agrees is highly worthy).  Grammar is in fact cool, Pinker says, involving brain-work.  We should teach writing as “convert[…] a network of ideas into a linear string of words,” which can mean sometimes selecting the passive voice instead of the active, for instance.  “It’s hard to know what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.”  This is the primary contributor both to bad writing and bad teaching.

(I am moderating the second session, soon to begin.)

Book Experiment #1: Intellectual Property Strategy as an iPad App (or, reply to Cody Brown)

With big thanks to MIT Press and a terrific group of colleagues, I’m delighted to report that the iPad app version of my new book, Intellectual Property Strategy, is now approved and available in the App Store.  (To find it, click here or search on “Intellectual Property Strategy” within the App Store on your iPad.)

The book is now available in multiple formats, several of which are conventional and one of which is experimental.  First, Intellectual Property Strategy is available as an ordinary, printed text which can be read without a computing device or electricity.  I would guess that this traditional form of the book may well be the primary way that most readers will interact with it.  The printed book is a wonderful technology, which still works extremely well for most people in most instances.  Second, the book can be read in its Kindle edition, which is little more — at this stage — than a digital form of the printed book.  (As an aside: I’ve been having a great time reading on the Kindle app on my iPad and then sharing little phrases on Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon.com.  These social features are a lot of fun — and represent the best Kindle development to date, in my view.)  Third, on the MIT Press web page for the book, a reader can find a few chapters freely available plus additional resources, which can be accessed for free.  These additional resources take the form of a series of in-depth case studies and videos of Intellectual Property experts, who comment on issues that I address in the book.  There is nothing all that experimental about these first three versions of the book.

The iPad app is the experimental form.   When I was about half-way through the book-writing process (with help from my great editor Marguerite Avery and library colleague June Casey), 21-year-old Cody Brown published a post in TechCrunch.  “Dear Authors,” Cody began, by way of the title, “your next book should be an app, not an iBook.”  I’d had a similar thought: what if we thought about this book as an application, rather than a traditional book.  What could be different?  Around this same time, I also bought NONOBJECT, another iPad app published by MIT Press, and it got me thinking about the possibilities.

Well, a fair amount is different.  In the iPad app version, a reader can use a series of cool navigation features that Aaron Zinman, the creative app developer who built it, dreamed up and coded into the app.  The book has many more links than a first-generation iBook/eBook.  The links take you to three types of places: 1) within the book itself, to the glossary and back, for instance; 2) with the extended-play version of the book, such as the case studies, which don’t appear in the printed book; and 3) out to the open web, where I link out to web sites and other resources.  If a reader follows a link out to the open web, then they are free to keep going, much as a web surfer would.  I hope they’d return to my primary text, but even if they don’t, this is a risk worth running, in my view.

What’s most “different” about the iPad app version of the book is that it has embedded in it a series of videos.  I interviewed a group of scholars who know a great deal about IP — much more than me, in the aggregate, and individually, too — and recorded the interviews on video.  With the help of colleagues, I’ve included snippets of these videos into the text of the book.  That way, a reader can hear from scholars other than me about the issues I’m taking up in the text as they are reading through it.  These video snippets can also lead the reader to the longer forms of the interviews, as long as 30 minutes, if they’d like.

Back to Cody Brown’s TechCrunch piece.  This iPad app takes the book form from A -> C, not A -> M, much less A -> Z.  There’s much more that one could do, with non-linear pathways through the text, the gamelike qualities that Cody suggests, the ability to edit the primary text.  These are still possible, left on the table for another experiment.  I look forward to working on some of these next-stage experiments in future projects.

A special note to libraries, and especially those interested in digital preservation: this iPad app version of the book leads to a curious question about preservation.  Libraries are great at preserving the physical forms of books.  Libraries are beginning to get smart about preserving simple digital formats — flat html files, for instance, and audio and video files.  But an iPad app?  In its integrated form, the iPad app is a tricky thing to preserve, I’d guess.  If Cody Brown’s challenge (and other similar thinking) leads to more experimentation, our preservation activities will have to get creative very quickly or we will lose the record of these early efforts.  Puts me in mind of the challenge to librarians posed by Nicholson Baker in his controversial book, Doublefold, along similar lines — only more than a decade ago.  How might we, as libraries, partner with Apple, for instance, to ensure that there’s a preservation process for these books?  Or with Internet Archive, which has done such an amazing job with the open web itself?

Also: I call this post “Book Experiment #1,” not because others haven’t experimented already in much more profound ways, but only because I’ve planned out two more posts to come — Book Experiments #2 and #3, to come shortly on this blog.

Bibliotheca Class Final Projects Presentations

We had a final session of our Bibliotheca class today at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, which I am co-teaching with Jeffrey Schnapp. We used the time to explore the final projects of each of the students, some alone and some in groups.  As a group, they are terrific, ranging from proposals to redesign and reuse particular library spaces (the Ashland (MA) Public Library, to expose more knowledge about the Nyanza Superfund site in the town, as well as familiar Harvard spaces, including the Loeb Library and the Lamont Library) to proposals for how RFIDs and wayfinding on mobile devices can improve the learning experience in and around libraries.

Two take-aways from today:

1) Process/Pedagogy: I’ve loved the porousness of this class.  One of the expert reviewers today of the student projects was Kelly Miller, director of teaching and learning services for the 26,000-student-serving libraries at UCLA and recent CLIR fellow.  Kelly read an earlier blog post I wrote about the class, said she’s be willing to visit, and flew across the country to participate in class.  Others came from various corners of the Harvard Library staff, including my own home (the Harvard Law School Library — especially Jeff Goldenson, who jumped into the class with both feet, including co-producing a final presentation with a student in the class).  The conversation has been richer for the diverse participation and willingness of the students to engage with an expansive group of experts who have come in and out of the classroom space and time.  Ann Whiteside and her team at the Loeb Library have been very generous with their space and their insights, as well; it’s been fun to be teaching in an embedded way in the physical space of a forward-looking library.

2) Substance: The projects have mostly touched on the connection between the physical and virtual, one way or another.  (To be clear: some wonderful and promising projects, including proposals for new types of carrels and text-based explication of the meaning of libraries from hundreds of years ago in Europe, didn’t take up the virtual much at all.)  One of the things the students helped me to see, in new and dynamic ways, is the connectivity, not the separateness, of the two.  It’s crucial, I believe, to see the virtual and the physical as deeply and meaningfully connected.  Several projects considered how the physical might be integrated into the virtual; others went the other way around, and looked at how the virtual experience might connect into the physical in libraries.  We’ve come a long way, I think, in libraries in a short time in this way.  There’s no good case being made for seeing digital libraries as separate from the physical.  Our users do not distinguish much between these environments, and we as those who work in, and design, libraries, shouldn’t either.  Strength and insight comes from deep integration between the two.

I was equally struck by what a nice job the students did in doing homework about the background of the communities involved.  One project considers the public library concept in particular developing countries contexts in Africa; others considered towns and cities in the United States and elsewhere around the world.  The ideas by these design and architecture (and other graduate) students were well-grounded in not just the philosophy and history behind libraries, but also the important community contexts for which they’ve been designing.  It’s very heartening, and speaks well of the GSD’s training program.

William Rawn Associates, Architects come to Bibliotheca Class (as do David Lamberth, Matthew Sheehy, and Michael Barker)

We are just thrilled to have William Rawn and his colleague Cliff Gayley of William Rawn Associates in our Bibliotheca class (which I’m co-teaching with Jeffrey Schnapp) at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design this morning.  They’ve designed the Cambridge Public Library’s main building, as well as the Rochester Public Library.  They are also discussing two branch library designs: Mattapan Branch and the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library.  (These live-blog notes of class are bound to be rough.  The conversation brings together practitioners from design, architecture, and library sciences with faculty and students.)

Cliff starts with the premise that physical space in libraries remains important, even in a digital era.  The theme of democracy is important to them.  They cite the grandeur of the Boston and New York Publics; the loveliness, but aloofness and apartness, of the H. H. Richardson libraries; and the classic American image of the Carnegie libraries as antecedents.

In working on the Cambridge Public Library project, they give great credit to Susan Flannery, the Cambridge city librarian, for teaching them and providing inspiration for the design. The space, Susan told the architects, is that the library must be clearly a “library” as soon as you walk in, with books as an organizing force in what you see as soon as you walk in.  She wanted to make the library a “town common.”  They have circulated 1,000,000 books in two years.  In a city of 100,000 people, that means 5 books a year.  The insights from visionary librarians are crucial to successful design, they argued.  They also described the helpfulness of the 50 meetings that they conducted in Cambridge, which was especially extensive as such processes go.  An open structure, with reading spaces along the first floor, were important aspects of the design.

In describing the Mattapan branch library of Boston, Bill Rawn echoed the democratic themes they hit earlier in the conversation.  He called the building “an outpost of learning and opportunity in Mattapan.”  The size is about 20,000 square feet.  The kids and young adults in the building are behind glass that allows for visibility and openness, but also allows them to make some noise.  The young adult section was designed to be the biggest of the 26 branch libraries in Boston.  “Robust technology and fun furniture” with “very flexible” spaces including “lots of seating” in the young adult areas were important.  With leaner staffing in public libraries, the circulation desk needed to allow for good sight lines throughout the building.  They’ve also designed a teleconferencing room into the Mattapan branch.

They also described the Rochester Public Library, embedded in the heart of the city as a “civic space,” and the East Boston branch library (smaller than Mattapan: 14,000 – 15,000 square feet), near Logan Airport.  In both of these instances, they talked about the importance of the discussion as to where the site would be.  Boston Public Librarian Amy Ryan’s vision for the public library spaces were very open and transparent, with noisier areas behind glass for kids and others who wish to be less contemplative while there.

Gayley and Rawn described a series of principles that they brought to each of these designs.  Democratic access to information; openness and transparency; the story of immigrants and libraries as places of opportunity (now, expressed in part through access to technology); and the importance of local politics all popped up as key themes throughout the session.  I wish I had caught them all verbatim as they went by; I’ll try to get the slides and post them somewhere, if we can.

Rawn: “we think architecture students are not taught to listen as well as they might be.”  The projects tend to come out of the student’s head — which is great for training in design.  Listening is about hearing from the users (library patrons) as well as the representatives of the clients (the librarians and politicians, in public library projects).

Schnapp: the iterative, consultative process is new to our era.  The big New York and Boston Public Libraries, for instance, were about patrician donors and design processes that were closed.  The Cambridge Public Library process couldn’t be more different than the patrician approach.  (Bill Rawn mentioned how much he loves the interior of the NYPL main building, even though it is antithetical to his approach and ideals in many respects.)

Schnapp also asks about the natural light that appears to be an emphasis across all the examples they showed.  We had a good back-and-forth about the value of natural light today to patrons in these spaces, but also the challenges associated with using natural light while reading materials through technological devices.

I happen to love the new Cambridge Public Library’s main branch.  It’s one of my favorite public spaces in the world.  We’re lucky to have it in our backyard.

* * *

The second half of class, we have three Harvard insiders with us: Prof. David Lamberth (former chair of the Library Implementation Work Group, charged with redesigning the library system at Harvard); Mike Barker (my completely amazing former colleague at HLS Library, now in the central Harvard Library office); and Matthew Sheehy (head of access services and our off-site depository).  They are teeing up the hard problems of space in the Harvard Library transition.

They put on the table a big idea.  Think about the collection as one collection at Harvard and the physical spaces as one physical space, in principle contiguous.  When you bring back a book, for instance, it just goes where it goes, with barcode and associated RFID and stays where it is returned.  Instead, focus our efforts on building perfect shelves for those things that need to be curated in that fashion.  Focus our organizational conceptual efforts on building perfect Shakespeare shelves, and move other materials around, and quit investing in getting everything to its current shelves.  There would have to be lots of digital investment: scanning of tables of contents, development of online finding systems (like StackView/ShelfLife); and other innovations that would make everything findable.  How much of this material do we really need to have, on campus, in a local library, for our current constituencies?  One effect would be to free up a lot of space into the libraries, which might attract faculty into the renovated, freed-up spaces.

A clarification from Lamberth: the “perfect shelves” should not be fixed.  They should be ad hoc and recreated quickly on the fly.  Various things will be more popular at certain moments, causing some issues of priority; but these are practical issues, not that difficult to solve (other than the politics).  He’s not against classification.  It’s just that bar codes would, in his design, replace the old “shelf lists.”  Mike Barker clarifies that students make “perfect shelves” all the time: it’s what they do in carrels, he says.

A great question from the audience: if that idea is right, then you are rejecting the idea of buying to collect and moving to just-in-time, not just-in-case, right?  Lamberth: it depends.  Collection development used to be done by faculty members in consultation with bibliographers, Lamberth said, in a way that is no longer true.  The buying decisions today are made by librarians on their own.  The obscure materials we need to invest in and collect for the long term; the things sold in Amazon we should not.  (One bibliographer: much of what Lamberth says is true, but we need to avoid having every academic library buying the same materials.  There are still may materials that are not as available as we’d like, or kept in as good conditions that we could here, even imperfectly.)

David W.: wouldn’t we want to make digital versions of those privileged perfect shelves?  The problem is mostly one of expense.  We can’t spend so much on the present at the expense of one century or two centuries from now, says Lamberth.

Intellectual Property Strategy: Book Launch

I’m excited to be launching a new book, Intellectual Property Strategy, tonight at Harvard Law School.  (If you’re in Cambridge, MA, USA, please feel free to come by Austin Hall East at HLS at 6:00 pm this evening for the event and a reception thereafter or tune into the webcast.)

The discussion tonight will cover two bases: first, the substance of the book and second, the format of this book, and possibly others, into the future.

On the substance of this book, I will make a few claims.  The basic claim is extremely simple: organizations should see intellectual property as a core asset class rather than as a sword and a shield, as the traditional mantra would have it.  I argue also that IP strategies should be flexible; geared toward creating freedom of action; and inclined toward openness where possible, at least in the information technology field.  These basic claims are geared both toward for-profit and non-profit firms.  There’s a chapter in the book devoted to the special case of the non-profit, which often needs an IP strategy just as much as for-profit firms do.  The flexible use of IP can support the missions of non-profits in important, distinct ways.

- The smartphone OS wars are the most obvious example of how IP matters.  It’s big business for huge firms.  The acquisition by Google of Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion (thanks, SJ, for the typo-catching) in cash in August, 2012.  The hundreds of millions of dollars paid to Intellectual Ventures as licenses stand for another example of the growing importance in commerce of this field of law.  The multi-billion-dollar markets for the licensing of trademarks and patents in a broad range of fields is yet another.  These examples make the case for treating IP as an asset class.  And the work on IP strategy should be seen as core to the work of the organization, not something to be left only to lawyers outside the firm.

- There is a strong connection between our work in youth and media and the matter of intellectual property strategy.  We know that youth attitudes toward intellectual property are shifting rapidly over time.  The recent passage of the America Invents Act of 2011 points to the dynamism of the space.  These changes demonstrate the need for flexibility in IP strategy over time.

- The use of IP in libraries and museums is a third important case.  I’ve been working actively in the field of libraries, including service as director of the HLS Library and chairing the work to develop a Digital Public Library of America, over the past several years.  In the case of libraries, the question of how much to digitize of our collections is an important problem.  My view is that the digitization, contextualization, and free distribution of our library holdings is a way to use IP as a way to fulfill the specific mission of a non-profit that is devoted to access to knowledge.

I especially am grateful to colleagues Terry Fisher, Eric von Hippel, Lawrence Lessig, Phil Malone, Jonathan Zittrain, who will respond to the book and presentation.  Also, the book project would be nowhere near as much fun, or as good, without the partnership of June Casey, my colleague in the Harvard Law School Library, who has been nothing short of extraordinary.  And Michelle Pearse, Amar Ashar, and their teams have been wonderful in setting up this event.  It’s an amazing group of colleagues!

On the topic of the format, I am excited to talk about multiple versions of the book.  1) There is, of course, the traditional form of the book that someone can touch, pick up, and read in the ordinary way.  There’s also the digital form of that same book, which can be rendered on a Kindle or an iPad, which gives more or less the same experience.  2) There’s a form of the book that is like an Extended Play album, or a DVD that has “extras” at the end.  On the MIT Press web site, one can access video interviews and a series of case studies, for instance, which expand on the argument of the book.  See, for instance, the videos here on the MIT Press web site.

And 3), most experimentally, I have been working with a great team on a distinct version of the book that functions as an iPad application.  The idea is to embed these case studies and videos directly into the text of the main form of the book.  The iPad app version allows for many different ways through the text; connections to the open web; and loads of fun and interesting embedded links.  The idea is to rethink the format of the eBook from the ground up, to add in born-digital elements by design rather than the equivalent of putting up a PDF into an e-reader format.  It’s still in beta mode, but we will demo it tonight.

This short book is part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series.  It’s been fun to work with Margy Avery and her team at MIT Press on this experimental project.

Please join us if you are free!

Bibliotheca Class, and Learning and Teaching at Harvard

I’m having a huge amount of fun teaching a class at the Harvard Graduate School of Design with my friend Jeffrey Schnapp on the history, present, and future of libraries, called Bibliotheca.  The students are fantastic: twenty or so, mostly studying design and architecture, though there are graduate students in other fields.  We’re holding the class in an open, spacious basement room of the GSD’s Loeb Library, thanks to our collaborator Ann Whiteside, the library’s director.  Ann and her team are thinking collaboratively and creatively about how to use library space.  Opening up this big room, laden with visual materials, to us as an active teaching space is just one example of that.

Today, class opened with one student showing the photos he’d taken of a tour of the Harvard Depository, a huge facility about 25 miles off campus to provide storage and now access to books that don’t fit on campus.  A group of students from our class, plus a few others who heard about the trip and hitched a ride, piled into a bus we rented and spent a day last week on a spontaneous field trip.  The crew wants to go back with a video-camera.  The idea is to produce something, as part of the class, that we can publish openly about what we’re learning.  The photos prompt a series of questions about the organization of physical materials that tie straight into where we’re going with the class later.  It was an impromptu start to the class, unplanned, but opened new avenue.

After reflections on the HD visit, we welcome David Weinberger, author of Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.  We’re talking about how the design of physical libraries and the design of virtual spaces for knowledge and information relate to one another.  The topics are free-ranging and deep, with David — he’s a ph.d. in philosophy by training — and the students pushing one another about the role of libraries, the need for librarians in the future, the timeline for coming to a largely digital experience v. our current hybrid experience, and so forth.

A few choice quotes from David W., plucked out of context: “I like the Library of Congress!” says David.  And: “we need a paper back-up: everyone realizes that.”  (But students push back: is the physical only important as a “back-up” to the digital?  And concerns about the stability of the digital as a format: does that argue in favor of the physical as a resource for redundancy, or as something that ought to be in the physical spaces that we call libraries.)  And, again from David: “there are huge values associated with local libraries.  I just don’t pretend know what the future of libraries is going to be.”

After David W. leaves us after the first two hours of class and we take a break, a group of students will present on their review of Louis Kahn’s iconic library at the Phillips Exeter Academy.  I know that library well, but only from the perspective of a learner: I spent many happy (and some stressed-out) hours there as a high school student.  I’m excited to hear what students of design make of it.  This is a design principle of the class: students work in teams, of their own forming, to present excavations of library design projects throughout the term and then develop a final project, also team-based, at the end of the semester.

What this class has me thinking this morning about is not just the substance — the future of libraries, the organization of knowledge, how we store and provide it and think about it — but also about the possibilities for teaching and learning.  Yesterday, Harvard announced a landmark new gift: $40 million to catalyze innovations in learning and teaching from Rita and Gustave Hauser.  If we have the chance to spend those resources, and ideally more, that it catalyzes from other donors, over the next decade to improve our learning and teaching, how might we go about that?  There are many, many worthy places to focus and many great things going on here at Harvard to build upon.

Technology should surely be part of that focus, but not the starting point.  In my view, the starting point should be our pedagogical goals, which vary by discipline.

What’s so rich about this experience for me (and perhaps for the students?) of this class is the chance to spend several hours a week with Jeffrey Schnapp and great students and library staff from Harvard and a broad array of guests who have meandered through our shared exploration.  Our guests have been great experts in the history and design of libraries, some from the Harvard faculty and others from elsewhere: Matthew Battles, Greg Nagy, Ann Blair, Katherine Park to name just some of those who have already been with us.  We’re tying our themes and our exploration into the reform of the Harvard Library system that we’re a few years into, and which has scared up a huge number of interesting problems that we can take up.  Several librarians are coming to all classes, and we’re opening up some classes to a much larger group of librarians.  It’s been great to learn from their perspectives and incredible knowledge.  The class feels porous and connected.

There are challenges with the Bibliotheca style of teaching.  It’s intense and time-consuming for the teachers; it has two faculty members involved, which means it is expensive on a per-student-unit-of-credit basis; it has great support and involvement from lots of community members who are volunteering their time; the students are (or seem) dug-in and helping to co-produce the class and its outputs.  It’s tied into hard problems that we face on our own campus, and might even help us solve (address, at least?) some of them.  But it’s a ton of fun and makes me so grateful to be at a place that supports, and even privileges, this kind of approach to teaching and learning.

(P.S.: BTW, David has a new book coming out in January: Too Big to Know.  I’ve pre-ordered it already; you should too!  Plus, I read a late-stage draft, and it’s totally wonderful, building out the Everything is Miscellaneous argument, and many other strands, in fascinating ways.)

Hard Questions for #iLaw2011's Freedom of Information/Arab Spring Sessions

We’ve revived the iLaw program after a five-year hiatus. This year, it’s an experiment in teaching at Harvard Law School: part class (for about 125 students) and part conference (with friends from around the world here for the week). And JZ has taken the baton from Terry Fisher as our iLaw Chair.  An exciting day.

I’ve been preparing for two sessions on Day 1: “Freedom of Expression and Online Liberty” and then a case study on the Arab Spring (which will feature, among others, our colleague Nagla Rizk of the American University in Cairo). I’ve been thinking about some of the hard questions that I’m hoping we’ll take up during those sessions.

- What effect does a total shutdown of the network have on protests? I’ve been enjoying reading and thinking about this article on SSRN.  The author, Navid Hassanpour, argues (from the abstract): “I argue that … sudden interruption of mass communication accelerates revolutionary mobilization and proliferates decentralized contention.”

- We’ve assigned two chapters from Yochai Benkler’s landmark book, the Wealth of Networks (the introduction and the first 22 pages of chapter 7, which you can read freely online).  I am trying to figure out how well Yochai’s theoretical from a few years ago is holding up.  So far, so well, I think.  The examples in the second chapter that we assigned – Sinclair Broadcasting and Diebold – feel distant from the Arab Spring and Wikileaks examples that are front-of-mind today.  But the essential teachings seem to be holding up very well.  How might we add to the wiki, as it were, of WoN, knowing what we now know?  (Another way to look at this question, riffing off of something Yochai hits in his own lecture: what was the role of Al-Jazeera and other big media outlets, in combination with the amateur media and organizers?)

- We have gotten very good at studying some aspects of the Internet, as a network and as a social/political/cultural space.  We can show what the network of bloggers or Twitterers look like in a given linguistic culture.  We can show what web sites are censored where around the world (see the ONI).  We can survey and interview people about their online (and offline) behaviors.  But lots of things move very fast online and in digital culture, and it’s hard to keep up, in terms of developing good methods and deploying them.  What are the things that we’d like to be able to know about that we haven’t learned yet how to study?  Plainly, activity within closed networks like Facebook is a problem: lots is happening there, and surveys of users can help, but we can’t do much in terms of getting at Facebook usage patterns through technology (and there are privacy problems associated with doing so, even if we could).  Mobile is another: our testing of Internet filtering, for instance, is mostly limited to the standard web-browsing/http get request type of activity.  What else do we want/need to know empirically, to understand politics, activism, and democracy in a networked world?

- How much did the demographic element — a large youth population in several Middle East/North African cultures — matter, if at all, with respect to the Arab Spring?  How important were the skills, among elite youth primarily, to use social media as part of its organizing?

- How did the online organizing of the Arab Spring mesh with the offline activism in the streets?

- How much did the regional element matter, i.e., the domino quality to the uprisings?  Does this have anything to do with use of the digital networks, shared language, and social/cultural solidarity that crossed geo-political boundaries?

- What, if anything, does the Wikileaks story have to do with the Arab Spring story?  Larry Lessig pulls them quickly together; Nagla Rizk and Lina Attalah balk at this characterization.  We’ll dig in this afternoon.

- [Student-suggested topic #1, via Twitter:] What’s the effect of the US State Department’s Internet Freedom strategy?

- [Student-suggested topic #2, via Twitter:] Does the distribution/democratization of channels of discourse undercut rather than support dissent, organizing, etc.?

There’s much more to unpack, but these are some of the things in my mind…

Future of Law Libraries: The Future is Now?

A group of us is gathered today at Harvard Law School for a conversation about the future of legal information, libraries, and the law itself.  It’s a fun and diverse group — about 150 strong — in Austin Hall’s north classroom.  The wiki for the conference has the schedule, the participants, and a lot of great suggested readings in a wide range of formats.  I’m intending to live-blog here, with the usual typos and caveats and imperfections, as much of the day as I can.

Robert Berring is the opening keynote speaker.  He started with references to John William Wallace, and an article on Wallace by Femi Cadmus (now of Yale, about to go to Cornell to be the law librarian there) that appeared in GreenBag.  Berring also recalls the work of the late Morris Cohen, who was the law librarian of both Yale and Harvard.  Forty years ago, Cohen called upon the profession to step back and to reflect on where we stand.  One of the books that Berring has recently read: Keith Richards’ autobiography.  Richards cared about the quality of the music.  And from there, to Confucius: the understanding at a deeper level of an entire way of life.  We need to work toward something that we’ve been working on all along, Berring said.  Librarians have always been, and are today, the great translators of legal information.  The big change of the recent decades: the culture of the book is not the culture that we live in today.  Books, now, have to justify their existence: they make sense and work for certain purposes, but now have to prove that they are the right format.  Librarians, too, will persist: we will justify our existence, too.  What we’ve been about: providing access to legitimate, stable information to the people who need it, as the translators.  Provocative closing thoughts: the legal education field is on the verge of enormous change, and librarians will need to be there to hold people’s hands as casebooks disappear, as the format of all these bits of information change, as the profession changes.

Carl Malamud and Joe Hodnicki lead the first session.  Carl cites Robert Byrd as his primary source for law and legal information.  As Byrd did, Carl re-tells the story of the Twelve Tables, a core element of the Constitution of ancient Rome.  The key part of the story: a demand for the codification of the law.  The beginning of written law, Malamud said, stemmed from this process, and represent the true formation of the republic.  The writing-down of the law and its safekeeping, Carl says, has become the job of the people.  Law libraries risk becoming a 7-11; instead, we should be the keepers of the Twelve Tables.  Our law libraries are not active in maintaining the corpus of American legal information, Malamud says.  Why have we not scanned the 25 million pages of Supreme Court briefs?  Why do we have $0.08 per page access to legal materials and state-level copyright over law?

Joe Hodnicki responds to Carl by describing a cultural divide between the legal documentation community and the law library community.  Print is just a technical accident that we’ve lived with for several hundred years, whereas text is not.  Text is enduring, Hodnicki tells us.  He points to the duopoly of Lexis and West, with their huge corpuses of text.  Print, today, is sold at a price that will price itself out of the marketplace, Hodnicki claims.  Fastcase is different, Joe says (looking directly at CEO Ed Walters).

Richard Danner starts up the Open Access session.  He provides us an update on our collective progress on implementing the Durham Statement.  He emphasizes that most scholars would publish in a law journal even if it were not in print.  (68%; whereas 32% said that print was still important to them)  Law journal editors expressed concern about the 32% that they would fear, in a competitive environment, they would lose.  Who will drive the movement toward electronic publishing for legal scholarship, Danner asks, given that student editors are in place only for a few years?  Even if they are committed to developing an open scholarly information environment, they often only get to that perspective late in their year or so in leadership.  Deans have not been strong leaders so far, even though in the long term they (and their schools) would benefit.  The law reviews of a few stop schools (Harvard and Yale, e.g.) could tip over to open access, and that might do it — but these top journals are today still making some money from print subscriptions.  Prof. Danner ends by pointing to cross-tabs that show that those who are younger are less likely to worry about publishing in print, which may be good news for open access for law scholarship in the future.

June Liebert responds to Dick Danner’s opening about open access with a peek where are are today.  It costs law schools $25,000 to $100,000 per article (cites to Prof. Richard Neumann).  She’s got an amazing set of five practical ideas for what we can do and can control as law librarians and law faculty: 1) new library publishing paradigm; 2) build institutional repositories; 3) focus on born digital documents first; 4) stop subsidizing journals in print — buy or print only where it makes economic sense; and, 5) faculty partner in the scholarship lifecycle.

Robert Darnton — eminent scholar and teacher of history and Harvard university professor and Librarian — kicks off the last pre-lunch session with a description of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).  Prof. Darnton tees up and debunks a series of myths about the DPLA: it’s *not* 1) utopia; 2) intended only to serve college professors; 3) cooked up at Harvard and elitist; 4) a threat to public libraries, not a complement; and 5) an anti-Google Books Search effort.  The DPLA is rather meant as a broad-based, open process and platform that will serve public libraries, academics, and individuals alike.

Siva Vaidhyanathan of Virginia responds to Bob by describing his idea for a Human Knowledge Project.  Side note: With my DPLA hat on, I am of a mind that the DPLA is one part of the Human Knowledge Project (HKP); if we were to stitch together, at the layer of open linked data, all the national and regional efforts like Europeana, we would have built just such a project.  The dream, Siva, says, is to provide universal, comprehensive access to knowledge.  Siva says that the Human Knowledge Project is a 50-year project, whereas the DPLA is a 10-year project.  To make the HKP happen, we need to coordinate and to compete; we need interoperability and open linked data; we need to emphasize search standards within and across these systems; we need to get serious about governance; we need global copyright reform.  The HKP ideals are high and broad and important and long-term — as well as achievable, Siva argues.  Very inspiring.

For the lunchtime keynote, Michelle Wu, Georgetown’s new law library director and professor, is making the case for Building a Collaborative Digital Collection, a Necessary Evolution in Libraries (forthcoming, Law Library Journal).  She says that Section 108 and a format-shifting argument make possible her proposal for shared print and scanned resources.  Librarians are adaptive, she says, and critical of existing products that are available.  If we can do it better, we need to get off the sidelines and drive information policy.  Librarians should be fighting for copyright reform, in particualar, Wu says.

After an un-conference break, we’ve re-convened to talk about hacking the casebook.  Our great colleague Jonathan Zittrain (JZ to those in the know) is in New Hampshire on vacation (his “first in ten years” as he reports), so I play a video presentation that he precorded.  Watch it here: available online here.  JZ’s talk, as you’ll see, is about the “hack the casebook” project to reconcieve and rebuild the law school teaching casebook from the ground up.  It’s built off of the H20 project and will be the torts casebook that JZ will teach from this fall.

John Mayer, Executive Director of CALI, responds, by talking about the eLangdell project.  John recalls a 2006 speech that he gave at Nova Southeastern Law School called “rip, mix, learn” on similar topics.  Law students spend about $1,000 per year on their books.  One of the tricks associated with this project is that faculty actually don’t agree on (at least) four things: definition of a casebook; definition of a chapter; copyright issues; and quality assurance.

Kathleen Price, professor emeritus of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and long-time leader of the law library field, leads the final session.  Professor Price urges the law librarian community to take pleasure in the service we provide and the partnership between librarians, faculty, and students of law.  The law library profession is in fact a young profession: it goes back not even a full century, Price argues, dating back to just pre-WWII.  This first group, Price says, were the Brahmins.  Post-WWII, a new group entered the profession: outsiders who were teachers, who created teaching materials and bibliographic materials, and those who made foreign, comparative, and international law at LC something we could work with.  The group that entered the profession in the mid-1970s was also a crew of “outsiders,” including women who were excluded from the important law firms of the day (“we already have our woman…”).  This group also became very successful teachers — the generation of Bob Berring, Kathie Price herself, and others fall in this group.  Rising tenure standards have caused the law librarians since this generation to turn to scholarship of novel sorts (blogs, tweets, creation of institutional repositories) as well as fundraising and business responsibilities that are increasingly significant.  Who will replace those who are now coming up to retirement?  Three possible models: 1) faculty (or firm) services types; 2) the new technology librarians; and 3) foreign comparative and international law library specialists.  We are in a moment of flux in the field, Price says, as more and more people are interested in East Asia and African law, especially, as well as Latin American and Eastern European law.  These positions, Price notes, are all public services librarians.  We have to look to whether we can give up certain kinds of cataloging, especially if we can move metadata to the cloud and do it only once. Price concludes by asking a series of very hard questions about the future of the AALL as the primary source of continuing education for our field; the kinds of skills needed for future hires; and the kinds of teaching that make sense for law librarians.

Sarah Glassmeyer, faculty services librarian and assistant professor of law at Valparaiso University School of Law, responds to Prof. Price.  We need to work with people who are “not like us” — she cites both Carl Malamud and, well, me (a non-librarian).  Meg Kribble also gets a nice shout-out as a future law library leader.  Tom Bruce (not a lawyer or a librarian) gets a shout-out as a good mentor.  Glassmeyer worries about the generations connecting as well as they might.  Please, she says, let’s share stories across the generations — through informal mentoring, the “boomer librarians” have a lot to pass on, and the Gen X librarians need to step up (and be supported in doing so) as well.

Ron Wheeler, professor and director of the Law Library at the University of San Francisco School of Law, is the last speaker of the day.  Wheeler feels like he has one foot in two different generations.  In thinking about the future, he thought about the skills and attributes he is looking for in his new recruits.  People skills is the first thing.  It means interacting with patrons, not sitting at the reference desk.  The second is teaching innovation: more inventive, clever, interesting, and passionate about things like legal research.  The third is teamwork: not just those who tolerate teamwork, but those who thrive on teamwork and collaboration.  A fourth: people not afraid to lead.  We need to try new services and projects, and we need people who can run with them — even if they fail.  Not just managers; do-ers, too.  And networkers: those who can work with those outside their immediate network.  He wants also, to see those who are focused on sustaining a profession, not mailing it in.  Personality types: able to embrace change, those with flexibility and adaptability, people bored with the status quo.  He is eager to see those who have a passion for doing things that are non-traditional library work.  We should teach in new programs as they develop, help to solve problems for law schools and universities as they seek to innovate at the institutional level.  Technology skills — the skills that June Liebert has — in a broad range of types.  And — second to last — it’s diversity, racial and gender and lots of other kinds of diversity.  Finally: he wants people who will show up every day and work really, really hard.

Weblogs@Harvard after Eight Years

More often that you might think, we get asked about how the Weblogs@Harvard project (the server on which this blog appears) got started and why we at the Berkman Center maintain it.  I got several questions about it in the context of an event this week, in fact, eight years or so into the project.  I thought I’d write it up briefly as a first-person account, as a way to have some place to point people to when they ask.  It also seems to me to be a useful, if odd, bit of history to record about the use of social media in an academic community.  There are no doubt other ways to tell the story, but this is a blogs server after all, so I’ll lean into the medium as a way to deliver this message.

Early History

The story starts in the winter of 2002.  I was executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School (we have since become a university-wide center, but we were at HLS officially then).  It was cold, as it is in New England winters, and I was sitting in what will probably be my favorite all-time workspace, a gray, woodframe building on Massachusetts Avenue, in the northwest corner of the Harvard campus.  An email blinked across the screen, one of very many that day.  A trusted friend connected me to a man named Dave Winer.  I really really needed to meet Dave, the friend said.  And soon.  He made the virtual introduction to Dave, and we agreed to talk.

Within a few days, Dave was now on my actual doorstep, knocking on the locked door of the woodframe building.  Why was it locked?  It was locked because it was winter break at Harvard, a day or two before New Year’s, if I have it right.  Dave was in a hurry.  He had big ideas.  I sensed that I didn’t want to miss them.  There he was, ready to rock, he said, and what he wanted to work on would be transformative.

The basic idea was that we should encourage Harvard’s academics to start blogging.  He had a simple idea: let’s put up a blogs server (he happened to own a company that made one, as it turned out) and invite anyone in the community to start blogging.

It wasn’t long before we had appointed Dave to be a Berkman fellow.  It was very shortly thereafter that we had that blog server up and running.  Dave wrote about on his own blog, Scripting News, as did the Harvard house organ, the Gazette.  The launch was covered by the Harvard Crimson, too.

The community took things from there.  To where, we did not know, but it was fast and furious.  Dave taught everyone who would listen about what makes a weblog a weblog, which is still a useful post.  Dave and friends established an active blogging discussion group around the service; for about six years, this group met on most Thursdays in the Berkman Center’s space, but was otherwise independent of the Center.  Dave had lots of help; I recall much effort by Wendy Koslow, J, and many others.  Many people dug in; we argued about whether it was a good idea or not; and the community grew out of the conversation.  Much credit during this period goes to those who attended and coordinated the Thursday Blogs Group.  Dave also hosted what I think of as the first “unconference” in the form of “BloggerCon.”  The BloggerCon attendees, too, deserve much credit for the conversation that they kicked off and then sustained over several years.

As a brief technical overview: The system we used initially was called Manila, a platform developed by UserLand Software (which Dave owned; he let us use it for free).  Our deployment was successful: about 500 people, including faculty, students, fellows, staff, and alumni, created blogs in the first two years alone, mostly, I think, because Dave was out there talking people into it.  In 2006, we transitioned away from Manila, which had served us very well, to the evolving WordPress MU platform.  We made use of the transition to close down old and abandoned blogs.  That transition was difficult and complex, but provided us with a newer, more stable and flexible blogging platform on a more powerful server.

Today, we still offer free weblogs to any member of the Harvard community. We allow registration to anyone with an email address ending in harvard.edu, hbs.edu, or radcliffe.edu.

Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

One of the most common questions we get about the blogs server project relates to the legal work we’ve done to manage the way the service operates, so here are a few thoughts on that front.  We use the classic combo of a terms of service and privacy policy that a few of us worked on in consultation with the community by the Berkman Center’s Clinical Program in Cyberlaw.  Prof. Phil Malone and generations of HLS clinical students have developed and maintained them, building on our informal first drafts.  These terms of service and privacy policy have been copied by many others, with permission — but we strongly encourage anyone to use, rip, mix, burn them in any way that helps your own project.  I can say that they’ve held up remarkably well over time, with only occasional needs for updates.  The call for dispute resolution has been minimal.  So, we welcome others to use our policies, but recommend that you customize them to suit your unique needs and run them by your general counsel’s office first. If you do use our policies, we request (but do not insist on) a link back to W@HLS as a courtesy.

We have always supported the use of RSS to syndicate content on our blogs server. In fact, the Berkman Center, on behalf of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, is the copyright holder (as a light-handed “Trustee”) of the RSS 2.0 specification. Through the use of RSS, content on our blogs server is syndicated all over the web, as well as being used in other sites around Harvard that support RSS, such as the Harvard course management platform, iSites.  Please find some further technical notes below from my friends in the technical side of our house.

Academic Implications

The context in which we most often get questions about this service is from people interested in whether it’s been a good idea or not from an academic perspective.  My answer is: yes, absolutely, for us, anyway.  The benefits have been many.

The most immediate was that our in-person conversations were enhanced by the discussions that had occurred online in between our f2f meetings.  We’d often be in a meeting of fellows or faculty, or in a class, and someone would mention the blog post of another colleague from the intervening week, and how someone else had responded.  It helped to establish a common language and served as a sustaining force for the conversation that helped a highly distributed community to thrive.

On an experimental front, I think this project helped us in our desire to push forward the use of social media in academic life in ways that helps to build communities around ideas.  Even when people in our community moved off to other blogs platforms or universities or the Dreaded Private Sector, the links that we built with one another on this server have persisted.  Students have used this server as they began their important public careers; I recall Ory Okolloh starting her first blog in a class I was teaching at Harvard Law School well before the fabulously-successful Ushahidi project got going and her many other good works around the world.  I think some skeptics about blogs (you know who you are!) got more interested in them through the early instantiation of this project and became champions of this and other important online media.  The start of podcasting can be traced in part to the syndication of audio recordings that Chris Lydon, Dave Winer, and Bob Doyle (the Wikipedia entry on the history of podcasting has more).  To this day, students, faculty, fellows, staff and alumni of Harvard cut their teeth on this blogs platform.  A few of us have used it continuously since its launch.

Has W@HLS transformed the academy?  Of course not.  But eight years after its launch, it’s still a worthy experiment.  Few such experiments are.  This community and this technology are still changing and growing in important ways.  I’m grateful to all those who helped get it started; have maintained it (Hal Roberts, Sebastian Diaz, and their teams leap to mind); and gotten into social media in the academic world by using it.