SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION ISSUES
A NEWSLETTER FOR THE UIUC COMMUNITY
Issue No. 49
August 13, 2003
Paula Kaufman, University Librarian
FREE ACCESS DEMANDED FOR TAX-FUNDED RESEARCH
Why is it, a growing number of people are asking, that anyone can download medical nonsense from the Web for free, but citizens must pay to see the results of carefully conducted biomedical research that was financed by their taxes? The Public Library of Science (PLoS) aims to change that. The organization, founded by a Nobel Prize-winning biologist and two colleagues, is plotting the overthrow of the system by which scientific results are made known to the world—a $9 billion publishing juggernaut with subscription charges that range into thousands of dollars per year. In its place the organization is constructing a system that would put scientific findings on the Web—for free. Scientists and budget-squeezed librarians have long railed against publishers' stranglehold on scientific literature, to little avail. But with surprising political acumen, PLoS has begun to make "open access" scientific publication an issue for everyday citizens, emphasizing that taxpayers fund the lion's share of biomedical research and deserve access to the results. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19104-2003Aug4.html
DRUG COMPANIES COMPLAIN ABOUT JOURNAL PRICES
Content buyers in the pharmaceutical industry, which is often criticized for its own pricing policies, are experiencing a taste of that same medicine. Frustrated information professionals are railing against huge price increases on industry listservs and discussion groups. In one example, the American Medical Association increased the price of a customer's global e-journals license by 900%. An irony is that many of those same publishers also earn substantial advertising revenue from the pharmaceutical companies that are now being hit with price increases. Some pharmaceutical companies are simply trying on other types of pricing plans, such as concurrent user licenses, that usually carry a much lower price tag for content that's not in constant use. Meanwhile, the backlash against high journal prices has become more visible in the public eye. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is proceeding with plans for a free open-access journal, and a bill to exempt federally-funded medical research from copyright protection has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in order to make medical research more available to the consumers whose taxes pay for it. Outsell has always asserted that content customers are willing to pay for the content they use, and the market will find the right price if publishers are flexible and offer a variety of packages and options for people with different needs and use habits. Ultimately, the public debate is healthy, because many people who have never thought about what goes into the creation of the content they consume will start to understand that not everything can be free. Markets for anything, including content, are most efficient when the parties exchange as much as possible about each other's goals and needs. Many Scientific, Technical and Medical (STM) publishers haven't gotten that message yet. Outsell's e-briefs, August 8, 2003
BMJ.COM WON’T BE FREE AFTER 2004
From 2005, some users will have to pay for some content now available for free.
Almost 10 years after it began, the BMJ’s experiment of allowing free access to everything on its website will come to an end. The BMJ Publishing Group board has decided that, from January 2005, visitors to bmj.com should pay for access. The resulting revenue should not only defray the website's current costs but also allow BMJ to fund further developments. Exactly which content will be behind access controls, for how long, and for whom has yet to be decided. BMJ intends to make access from the World Bank's list of 120 low and lower middle income countries free. Access to student bmj.com will remain free. The model BMJ is currently finalizing for bmj.com is likely to make all content free for a week or two after publication. Most of it will then be behind access controls for a year or more. Content that BMJ intends keeping free throughout this period includes abstracts of articles, rapid responses, and the Editor's Choice column. All of BMJ Careers (Career Focus, recruitment and of course advertisements, and career services) will remain free. BMJ also intends to continue making the full text versions of its original research articles freely available on bmj.com and PubMed Central from the day of publication. The abridged versions of these articles ("paper short") are likely to be behind access controls. The board's decision to introduce access controls was precipitated by anxiety over falling library subscriptions to the paper journal. In common with many scientific journals, numbers of subscribers have been falling steadily over the past decade, but the BMJ's rate of decline has increased recently. Its current total is 9% lower than the same time last year, whereas the publishing group's 26 specialist journals, 25 of which have access controls, have experienced falls of only 4%. Access controls have given these journals the possibility of selling electronic subscriptions—an opportunity lost to bmj.com because of its free status. The full piece contains very interesting revenue data. Open Access News 8/3/03 http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/327/7409/241
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS EXPERIMENTS WITH OPEN ACCESS
Oxford University Press has announced that one of its high-impact journals is making an experimental conversion to open access. Oxford University Press (OUP) is initiating an Open Access experiment with one of its flagship journals, Nucleic Acids Research (NAR), recently listed by ISI as one of the top ten 'hottest' journals of the decade in biology and biochemistry. This initiative is in response to calls from the academic community to make research freely available online without the barrier of a subscription to access. NAR will adopt an author-funded publishing model for a key section of the journal (the annual Database Issue published in January 2004), with these papers being freely available online from the moment they are published. If successful, the rest of the journal would gradually move to an open access model over a transitional period of 4-5 years, at which point all research published in NAR would be funded in such a way. Open Access News 8/7/03
80% OF STUDENTS WHO DOWNLOAD MUSIC DON”T THINK ABOUT COPYRIGHT
A new report says a growing majority of people who download music files aren't concerned whether the works are copyrighted. The people who seem to care the least about copyright, according to the report, are students. The report describes the findings of a study conducted this spring by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which analyzes the role of the Internet in American society and culture. The report says that 67 percent of file-sharers who were surveyed weren't concerned about copyright. That figure is up from the Pew project's 2001 study, in which 61 percent of file-sharers said they didn't care if the music they downloaded was copyrighted. Among both college and high-school students, apathy was even more pronounced. Four out of five students said they were not worried about copyright. http://chronicle.com/daily/2003/08/2003080101t.htm
CONDITIONAL EC CLEARANCE TO C&C ACQUISITION AND MERGER
In early August the European Commission gave "conditional clearance" to the Candover and Cinden purchase of BertelsmannSpringer and its merger with Kluwer Academic Publishers. The EC's press release mentions two objections to the acquisition. First, it would create a monopoly in French medical publishing. C&C met this objection by divesting BertelsmannSpringer's French subsidiary, Groupe Impact Médicine. Second, the journal market prevents true competition. There are many "must have" journals and "[u]niversities depend on the information provided in such journals and cannot afford to cancel subscriptions without loosing [sic] access to the most recent issues discussed in the academic community. A further feature of the market is considerable annual price rises for more than a decade." However, the EC dismissed this objection in light of "the heterogeneity of journals and books published in different scientific disciplines and the heterogeneous nature of these books and journals even if published within a discipline". News coverage. (Note: The U.S. Justice Department has still not ruled on the acquisition and merger.) Open Access News 8/3/03 http://europa.eu.int/rapid/start/cgi/guesten.ksh?p_action.gettxt=gt&doc=IP/03/1130|0|RAPID&lg=EN
PROFILE OF DSPACE
“In DSpace, Ideas Are Forever” presents a profile of DSpace and the larger open-access movement. Excerpts: "[J]ust as e-mail dealt a blow to snail mail, digital archives are retooling scholarly exchange. A number of universities, from the California Institute of Technology to M.I.T., are creating 'institutional repositories' designed to harness their own intellectual output. M.I.T.'s archive, perhaps the most ambitious, is called DSpace....Institutional repositories are novel in that much of their content sidesteps academic publishers, which have come under attack from the so-called open-access movement. Some scholars complain that journals delay publication of research and limit the audience because of their soaring costs. The Association of Research Libraries says library costs on journals rose 210 percent from 1986 to 2001—an average year's subscription might cost $5,000, with some as high as $15,000. Open Access News 8/3/03 http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/03/edlife/03EDTECH.html
TWO NEW BILLS INTRODUCED TO FIGHT PATRIOT ACT
Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have introduced the "Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act." Also, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has introduced the "Library, Bookseller, and Personal Records Privacy Act." Both would restore some protections of civil liberties weakened by the USA PATRIOT Act. The Murkowski-Wyden proposal would return the standards for the FBI to search libraries to those that applied pre-Patriot Act. Also, it would toughen the requirements for the FBI to get a National Security Letter, which the FBI is more likely to use to go into libraries by clarifying that a library shall not be treated as a "wire or electronic communication service provider." Feingold’s bill also would restore a pre-Patriot Act requirement that the FBI make a factual, individualized showing that the records sought pertain to a suspected terrorist or spy and that the FBI could not obtain library records concerning individuals who are not suspected terrorists. Feingold’s bill would allow National Security Letters to be used at libraries, but would require an individualized showing by the FBI of how the records of Internet usage pertain to a suspected terrorist or spy. http://libraryjournal.reviewsnews.com/index.asp?layout=article&articleid=CA314847&display=breakingNews
SUPPORT FOR UCITA PULLED
On Aug. 1, 2003, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL; http://www.nccusl.org) discharged the standby committee of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). Lobbying by library and other groups (including many state attorneys general) had been so effective that no state has adopted UCITA in the last legislative term. In fact, four states (Vermont, Iowa, North Carolina, and West Virginia) have passed anti-UCITA legislation—called “bomb shelter” legislation—to prevent vendors from applying the law of Maryland and Virginia (the only two states to adopt UCITA) in their states. UCITA was the first uniform law governing information contracts. It adopts accepted and familiar principles of commercial contract law, and provides fundamental rules for licensing contracts between users and vendors.
Librarians, consumer groups, writers, trade groups and others have denounced UCITA, arguing:
— UCITA applied to information products, such as software, databases, CD-ROMs, and anything else invented and sold under a license — even books that come with a floppy diskette, CD-ROM, or software program under license.
— It specifically supported the validity of “shrink-wrap” and “click-on” licenses, even when consumers could not learn the terms and conditions except when actually opening and/or loading the software.
— Default license provisions allowed vendors to change the terms and conditions of licenses at any time, simply by posting the changes on their Web sites or sending an e-mail, without insuring customer discovery.
— Vendors could shield themselves from liability for known defective software programs by selling them “as is.”
— Vendors, in a dispute with a license site, could remotely turn off the software and disable a customer’s system under the “self-help” provisions—without permission of a court and without incurring liability for foreseeable harm.
— It prohibited reverse-engineering of software programs, e.g., to detect security holes or defects in the software.
— Vendors could restrict consumer lawsuits to a particular state, county, or country.
— Newspapers and magazines were barred from reviewing or criticizing a software program without the software publisher’s permission.
— Software purchasers could not give purchased software away, donate it to a library or charity, or otherwise dispose of software or other information products.
— UCITA created more rights for the vendor than currently available under copyright law by:  preempting fair use provisions, which provide for inter-library loans, archiving, and preservation; and  preempting “first sale” privileges, which enable libraries to lend information products, as well as donate, transfer, or resell a product when the library no longer needs it.
TECH GROUP ASKS FIRMS TO OFFER ANTI-COPYING TOOLS
A group of technologists representing Hollywood studios, computer firms and the electronics industry is calling upon companies to offer solutions for deterring consumers from making analog-to-digital copies of movies. In a July 30 letter finalized at a same-day meeting of the Analog Reconversion Discussion Group (ARDG), the three co-chairmen of the group—representing Philips Electronics, Microsoft and Warner Brothers—issued the request jointly with a list of 46 questions. The questions are dubbed a list of "attributes" and "criteria" against which potential anti-piracy technologies will be measured. The criteria fall into 11 categories, including the capabilities of the proposed anti-piracy scheme, its ability to withstand hacking attacks, and its impact on consumer privacy, computer performance and non-copyrighted material. Uncertainty lingers about the ultimate purpose of the call for information by the ARDG, which is a subgroup of a longstanding consortium of movie and technology companies called the Copy Protection Technical Working Group (CPTWG). "I really see only two different technologies: either video or audio watermarking or a rights signaling scheme like CGMS-A," which is short for copy-generation management system-analog, said Jim Burger, an attorney representing computer companies that helped create the group. Movie studios favor both technologies, but technology companies oppose them because they believe they require a congressional or regulatory mandate. Expressions of interest by technology companies that purport to meet the criteria are due by Sept. 22, and full submissions are due Oct. 8. ARDG members will examine respondents in 90-minute sessions during an October meeting of the ARDG. The meetings are closed to press. http://nationaljournal.com/pubs/techdaily/
GPO CLOSES FIVE BOOKSTORES
The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) announced that it is phasing out its 13 remaining brick-and-mortar bookstore operations outside Washington, DC, an action that will significantly reduce costs. On Aug. 1, GPO bookstores in Los Angeles; Denver; Pueblo, Colo.; Detroit; and Milwaukee closed their doors to the public, the latest in a series of changes marking the GPO’s transformation into a primarily electronic information disseminating agency. The GPO Access site offers more than 250,000 titles free of charge, with public retrievals exceeding 32 million every month. According to the GPO, the service has become one of the principal tools for providing public access to official U.S. government information. In addition, the GPO is actively transitioning its Federal Depository Library Program, which serves 1,200 libraries nationwide, to a predominately electronic basis. GPO also offers an online bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov). Its catalog includes all titles available for sale and can be searched by publication title, subject, or keywords. http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/wnd030804.shtml
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY GOES BEGGING
For the first time, neighborhood branches of the New York Public Library are putting out donation boxes, in a desperate effort to offset budget cuts that mean 3,000 fewer books a year for each branch, reduced hours of operation and interminable waits for best sellers. Sixty-seven of the 85 branch libraries are open only five days a week, something that hasn't happened since the city's fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Public funding has been eliminated for the popular summer reading program, potentially shutting out about 100,000 youngsters, many of them latchkey kids. Massive staff reductions through attrition - 10% of all full-time positions and 20% of hourly workers - and a system wide hiring freeze have forced librarians to do jobs normally performed by clerks and student pages. Essential functions, from answering student queries to ensuring that rare books are properly preserved, fall through the cracks. Still reeling from $16.4 million in city budget cuts this fiscal year, the public library system - the largest and arguably best in the world - faces a $4million shortfall next year that could result in more curtailed hours and staff layoffs, reduced access to electronic databases and elimination of library renovations. Donation boxes will be in all Manhattan libraries by September, library officials said. No one knows how much they will yield. But they are part of an unprecedented emergency plea for funds from private corporations, foundations, philanthropists and ordinary citizens. The three-year campaign aims to raise $4 million a year for the Manhattan branch libraries, normally funded by the city, plus $2 million a year for the system's four research libraries, where funding comes from a complex array of sources, most of it private. The consequences of the fiscal shortfall are visible everywhere. Empty shelves at the Mid-Manhattan branch, the system's largest, signal a roughly 30% cut in the number of books it can buy, said library supervisor Elena Bivona. "I can't remember ever seeing so many books on reserve," she said. Peter Scott’s Library Blog 8/3/03 http://nydailynews.com/front/story/104404p-94461c.html
FIRST AMENDMENT SUPPORT RETURNING TO PRE-9/11 LEVELS
Last year, in the annual "State of the First Amendment" survey, which is conducted by the First Amendment Center in collaboration with American Journalism Review, 41 percent of Americans surveyed strongly agreed that the First Amendment went too far in the rights it guarantees. This year, that number fell to 19 percent. The change indicates that Americans' support for their First Amendment freedoms, which was shaken by the events of 9/11, appears to be returning to pre-9/11 levels, according to Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center. Other key survey findings:
—60 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed indicated overall support for First Amendment freedoms.
—67 percent of those surveyed did not believe that, as part of the war on terrorism, law enforcement agencies should be allowed to monitor what books or other materials patrons check out of libraries.
—Almost eight in 10 respondents said owners exert substantial influence over news organizations' newsgathering and reporting decisions.
—52 percent said media ownership by fewer corporations has meant a decreased number of viewpoints available to the public, while 53 percent said the quality of information also has suffered.
—48 percent said they believe Americans have too little access to information about the federal government's efforts to combat terrorism, up from 40 percent last year.
The survey appears in the August 1 issue of AJR, and the Discover Times Channel will air multiple 60-second commentaries that discuss the survey results. The First Amendment Center commissioned the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut to conduct the State of the First Amendment survey. Copies of all of the annual State of the First Amendment surveys, along with commentaries by Paulson and an annual analysis by the University of Connecticut, are available at www.firstamendmentcenter.org. http://news.bookweb.org/1687.html
NEED STOCK PHOTOS?
As a part of the Texas Center for Educational Technology's Web Library, Free Media is a storehouse of stock photos provided under a Creative Commons license primarily for educational purposes. They currently have over 400 high-quality images in a variety of categories, waiting for your reuse. http://www.creativecommons.org/weblog/archive/2003/07/#3781
TWO LIBRARY TEST PROJECTS MAKING PROGRESS
NewspaperDirect—which offers print-on-demand editions of dozens of newspapers to hotels, cruise ships, retail outlets and corporations—is currently testing an on-site cost-recovery pilot at the Vancouver (British Columbia) Public Library. Each edition of a newspaper printed on demand costs 80 cents to $1.10 (depending the number of copies printed per month), with a minimum monthly charge of $110. Technical support and newspaper-roster updates are included, with additional charges for a company-supplied printer (if needed), setup and training. The pilot puts recent newspaper content into patrons' hands quickly and can be cheaper than newspaper subscriptions, says a library spokesperson. Meanwhile, things are moving forward in the promise of seamless interlibrary loan and circulation transactions for multiple library systems, with the deployment of the NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol (NCIP), the successor to the Standard Interchange Protocols developed by 3M for self-checkout stations. (American Libraries Online Jun-Jul 2003) ShelfLife, No. 118 (August 7, 2003) 2003) http://www.ala.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Products_and_Publications/Periodicals/American_Libraries/Technically_Speaking/2003_columns2/June_July_2003__Newspapers-on-Demand_@_Your_Library.htm
THE PROMISE OF THE SEMANTIC WEB
"The aim of the Semantic Web efforts is to be able to find and access Web sites and Web resources not by keywords, as Google does today, but by descriptions of their contents and capabilities," says University of Southern California computer scientist Jerry Hobbs. This kind of search is impossible today, but several maturing technologies are bringing scientists one step closer to realizing their goal. The Web ontology language (OWL)
will help search engines discern whether content on two different Web sites is the same, even if it's described using different terminology or meta-language. The DARPA agent markup language (DAML) will enable search engines to switch from Boolean searches to natural language. And the resource description framework (RDF) will help integrate and aggregate applications to make the Web more like a library catalog. And while the realistic timetable for human-language Web searching has been pushed back to 2010, scientists remain cautiously optimistic that the Semantic Web will meet their expectations. "Of course, hype always outruns reality in these things," says Hobbs. "But in this case, I think reality will plug along and catch up." (TechNewsWorld 28 Jul 2003) ShelfLife, No. 118 (August 7, 2003) http://www.technewsworld.com/perl/story/31199.html
WHEN DIGITIZING CONTENT, ALWAYS KEEP THE ORIGINALS
While archivists continue to seek the Holy Grail of digital preservation—emulation software capable of mimicking every type of application ever written for every format and making it run in the current format—they're currently making do with less permanent solutions, such as copying, migration and even cold storage. A prime example is the Canadian Broadcast Corp.'s massive project to stabilize its film, videotape and audio holdings. Old-format video material has been cleaned and transferred to digital Beta tape, but CBC has resisted transferring its film holdings to
Beta because film's life expectancy exceeds that of the tape. Instead, the CBC film is kept in cold storage vaults and monitored for signs of deterioration. The secret to keeping one's future options open is to keep all the originals, says Carole Moore, chief librarian of the University of Toronto's Robarts Library: "Experience has proven that the older the document, the easier it is to preserve it. A book from the 19th century is going to last longer than a current one because it was printed on acid-free paper. A film from the 20th century is going to last longer than a video from today. Even when we scan or copy analog materials to make them available digitally, it is our policy to keep the originals." In the end, those originals can prove invaluable as a benchmark against which all future digital copies can be measured. (Toronto Star 28 Jul 2003) ShelfLife, No. 118 (August 7, 2003) http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1059387196997&call_pageid=968350072197&col=969048863851
RIAA ENCOUNTERS ROADBLOCK
In what the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has deemed a "minor procedural issue," a federal judge ruled that some of the RIAA's subpoenas are invalid because they were issued from the wrong jurisdiction. Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently received subpoenas requesting the identities of students suspected of illegally trading copyrighted material, but the schools noted that the subpoenas were issued from Washington, D.C., and should not be valid in Massachusetts. Judge Joseph L. Tauro agreed and threw out those subpoenas. The RIAA said the ruling does not change the "undeniable fact" that Internet service providers, in this case the universities in question, are legally required to reveal the identities of suspected copyright violators. BBC, 11 August 2003 Edupage, August 11, 2003 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3140933.stm
ISPS CONTEST RIAA SUBPOENAS
An organization representing Internet service providers (ISPs) will send a letter this week to the recording industry, expressing the group's concern over the ongoing subpoenas from the recording industry. The letter from NetCoalition, which represents more than 100 ISPs, requests a meeting with representatives of the recording industry to discuss how the group determines which individuals to pursue as violators and how it maintains accurate information in the subpoenas. According to the letter, NetCoalition fears that the goal of the subpoenas is to make ISPs legally accountable for the actions of their users, something the recording industry "has not yet been able to accomplish in Congress" but that it is trying to accomplish in the courts. An attorney from the recording industry association said the purpose of the subpoenas is simply to force ISPs to comply with the law. New York Times, 11 August 2003 (registration req'd) Edupage, August 11, 2003
WORLD’S LARGEST DIGITAL LIBRARY OF BIOMEDICAL LITERATURE
Tehran Times reports that Iran's Pasteur Institute has launched the world's largest digital library of biomedical literature. The library contains about 5 million documents, totaling 60 million pages. The documents are a mix of Iranian publications and texts from the general internet. Open Access News 8/11/03
WEB SERVICES GROUP ISSUES GUIDELINES
A vendor-backed standards group has released guidelines designed to help developers build software that complies with early Web services specifications. The Web services Interoperability organization (WS-I) was created last year at the behest of Microsoft and IBM to ensure that a series of Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based standards, called Web services, will allow software from different providers to work together as advertised. The WS-I has about 150 members, including information technology (IT) companies and their corporate customers. Web services standards are designed to allow disparate systems share information. But differences in how IT providers write products from specifications—which are the software equivalent of building blueprints—can create conflicts and incompatible software. With that in mind, the WS-I has finalized its first guidelines for how software providers should create products from Web services specifications to ensure interoperability. From a software provider's perspective, the interoperability tests will allow companies to focus on building marketable products rather than sort out technical glitches, he said. Several IT companies are expected to release software that is compatible with the WS-I guidelines over the next few months.
The initial "Basic Profile" from the WS-I addresses the first Web services standards to take hold in the marketplace. These include the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) 1.1, Web Services Description Language (WSDL) 1.1, Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) 2.0, and XML document formats, or schema. In about two months, the WS-I will make available testing software and sample applications that will certify compliance. At around the same time, it will introduce a logo program that will allow companies to claim they have passed the certification tests done by the WS-I.
The logo program and the certification process are self-enforcing, which means that the WS-I will not independently verify or police whether companies' products adequately adhere to guidelines. http://news.com.com/2100-1013-5062521.html
IS GOOGLE THE NEXT LEXISNEXIS?
Outsell, Inc. comments that Google is behaving more and more like a traditional online information service, minus the price tag. It announced this week that its Google News services, which collects and sorts news from over 4,000 publications on the Web, will now offer an alerting service. Google Alerts allows users to establish up to fifty alerts per e-mail address. Google News is not the perfect news aggregation; there are important sources that its spiders do not reach, and it only goes back 30 days. Elsewhere, premium services are succeeding. The New York Times announced this week that 20,000 users had signed up to pay $19.95 per year for its alerting services (compared to the 500,000 who used it when it was free). The vast majority of users, who just want to keep up with events regardless of the specific news source, will continue to be well served by services like Google and Yahoo!, who provide "pretty good" coverage and simple, free access. There will always be a niche for fee-based services for those who demand specific premium sources, but the alternatives are getting better all the time. Outsell's e-briefs, August 8, 2003
DISPUTE EXPOSES POWER STRUGGLE BEHIND WEB LOGS
As commercial interests have increasingly dominated the Internet, Web logs have come to represent a stronghold of individual expression and pure democracy for millions of bloggers. So it should come as little surprise that a technology behind blogs—online chronicles of personal, creative and organizational life—has manifested the kind of bitter fight for control that is inevitable in any truly democratic institution. The conflict centers on something called Really Simple Syndication (RSS), a technology widely used to syndicate blogs and other Web content. The dispute pits Harvard Law School fellow Dave Winer, the blogging pioneer who is the key gatekeeper of RSS, against advocates of a different format. The most notable of these advocates are Blogger owner Google and Sam Ruby, an influential IBM developer who is now shepherding an RSS alternative through its early stages of development. The dispute offers a glimpse into the byzantine and highly politicized world of industry standards, where individuals without legal authority over a protocol may nonetheless exercise control over it and where, consequently, personal attacks can become the norm. Despite the apparent pettiness of developers' sniping, their arguments over digital minutia may carry enormous consequences, and corporate interests remain poised to capitalize on the conflicts if they are not resolved.
The scholarly communications are also on line at http://www.library.uiuc.edu/administration/news.htm