The Economy of Exclusivity – by “Heather R”

Publish or perish. Academics need to continually publish work to keep their jobs. Universities evaluate their faculty based on how often they publish work and, often more importantly, where they publish that work. In each field there is a hierarchy of journal prestige, which is used by universities to evaluate the work of their faculty. Ideally the university would also review the work itself, but it is much easier to trust the peer review process of prestigious journals. This system can be side stepped of course, like when Grigori Perelmann published his proof of the Poincaré conjecture online and later refused the Field’s Medal. Clearly, prestigious journals are not a necessary component to groundbreaking research. Although it is possible to publish online without dealing with journals, most academics don’t. Most academics use the journals precisely because they are prestigious.

So why are these journals prestigious? In most cases they are very old publications with a history of publishing important research. Assuming that the prestige of the journals is merely a result of reputation within a community, there is no reason why these publications cannot be moved online and made available to the public.

The journals will of course resist this move, because they make a lot of money on subscription fees. If the journals won’t move online and become open access, then perhaps academics should abandon those journals completely.

Of course academics can’t abandon the publication system because they need the recognition of those prestigious journals. There are respectable online journal options, especially for developing fields, but it is more difficult to develop online, open access journals that need to compete with an existing journal. The online journal will always be seen as less valuable because if it is free and open to the public. If the work is worthwhile, then why is it being given away?

The idea that something is more valuable if it is expensive or exclusive is an element of human nature. In 1944, C.S. Lewis delivered a speech to King’s College entitled “The Inner Ring”. The inner ring is that ever elusive group of people that are cooler or smarter or more informed than we are. Some inner rings, like the cool kids at the lunch table, don’t serve any purpose other than to make their member feel superior. Other inner rings, like a group of respected academics, seem more justified. Journal publication is a fine way to increase one’s prestige within the academic community. There is nothing evil about academics pursuing prestige and respect, but the fruits of their work should not be confined to an inner circle. The research published in those journals should be available to everyone. Knowledge should not be confined to an inner circle. Restricting knowledge to those people who have the means to pay for it reinforces economic and intellectual divisions in society.

Social inner circles will never be eradicated. People will never stop trying to distinguish themselves from their peers. This may or may not be a productive element of society, but it’s not going anywhere. We can’t remove social inner circles, but we can eradicate economic inner circles that make information unavailable to those left outside.

Project: FicBound – by “Eric F”

ficbound
While fanfiction has been around for decades, the Internet has provided a new gathering place for fans to share their passion and creativity with others.  As we have seen in class, remix culture is entering into mainstream consciousness and “remix literature” will undoubtedly begin to play a bigger part as well.  However, because fan work violates the current laws protecting copyright and has been subject to cease-and-desist, the fan community has an uneasy relationship with publishers and original copyright owners.

In the past, fans often congregated around centralized archives, such as fanfiction.net.  Currently, much of fan activity has moved to LiveJournal and LiveJournal communities.  While great for authors, allowing them to have better control over their content, it has lead to the decentralization of fanfiction and an increasing difficulty of navigating each community.

Our solution, FicBound, would serve to provide a platform for discovering new fanfiction to those new to the community, as well as provide the community tools for rating and organizing fanfiction.  Structured much like Digg, FicBound would be adapted to the fanfiction community’s needs, thus integrating social as well as publishing and sharing elements.  The content itself would remain on the LiveJournal and archive accounts of the users, thus allowing them to maintain full control.

FicBound hopes to build on Clay Shirky’s insight that “Conversation is king.  Content is just something you talk about.” While recognizing the difficult issues surrounding fanfiction, we nonetheless hope to build an useful platform to facilitate conversations around content for fans.

For those who wish to view our paper in full, please go to: https://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AYPnJLMOxStCZGhwZDJzczRfNDk0YzkzMm5mZjU&hl=en

– Eric and Crystal

Project: Collaborative Education – by “Aditya K”

The internet has made it easier to access, share, and create content. This truism has huge implications for education; with access to the Web, educators and students have escaped the confines of the classroom. The ability to share lesson plans, collaborate on lessons, and peer produce projects is exciting—but with it brings many potential effectiveness issues, infrastructural issues, and copyright issues.

We interviewed teachers at Amistad, a New Haven charter school, regarding their thoughts on collaborative education and fair use, and gleaned interesting insights. After examining their comments and doing some research, we broke down collaborative education into three main systems, and analyzed each: An intra-school-network system of sharing lesson plans; a system where teachers sell lesson plans; and a system where teachers share lesson plans freely. Each system had quite a few pros and cons.

Alongside Nick Bramble at the Yale ISP, we submitted these analyses to the FCC. We also worked with Nick to help draft a piece addressing fair use issues in education. With new technologies and no clear rules, fair use in education is a topic that must be addressed and made clearer. With regards to our project, sharing materials and lesson plans online creates a vibrant atmosphere that, unfortunately, is setting itself up for abuse/lawsuits. If educational copyright issues aren’t made clearer, the potential that this peer-to-peer atmosphere creates may be stifled.

To see some of our contributions, check out this document (.doc).

Mellon Forum Project – by “Evin M”

mellon

Yale has always been committed to the open dissemination of knowledge, and the university has used begun to use recent advances in technology to distribute information easily and efficiently — for example, through open courses Yale is freely making many of its classes available online. However, as it stands professors are the primary benefactors of this technology, and students don’t have similar institutional support to share their own important work with the world. To further the goal of dissemination of knowledge as well as to allow students to participate in this global forum, we started a project to record videos of senior presentations in the twelve college’s Mellon Forums and then make them freely available online.

The Mellon Forums provide seniors with an intimate setting to present their thesis work to a group of their peers over dinner and dessert.  These forums are already an important platform for seniors to present their thesis research by giving them time to present and openly share their work with their classmates — otherwise most seniors’ research would be mostly hidden from view. One limitation of this, however, is that by their nature the forums must be small and presentations are given to a very restricted audience despite the fact that many people (friends from other colleges and years, family, and curious outsiders) are particularly interested in the work these students are doing. Putting videos of these presentations online would not only make this knowledge available not only to other students, but also to all the world. Taping a presentation might make it slightly more formal, but it also heightens the energy and impact of the presentation. And further, recording these presentations sends the message to students that yes, their research really is important enough that the university believes it is worth showing to the world.

Check out our site here. We’ll continue updating it!

-Evin, Paul, & Paulo

New Business Models for News – by “Max C”

tweets
“This is a case of something close to what economists call market failure: Something is deemed important, but there isn’t enough of an incentive for the private sector – the market – to provide it on a broadly democratic basis.” —Ralph Whitehead, Jr., The Boston Globe

It’s no secret that journalism has fallen into a bad way. When the President of the United States takes the time to express concern about something, it’s probably worth noting. And while he notes that professional, investigative reporting is “absolutely critical to the health of our democracy,” he seems unsure that it will remain intact in this capricious modern age of new media. Various exciting, promising offshoots of journalism have appeared and begun to flourish thanks to the Internet — such as its citizen and social media derivatives — but as Rupert Murdoch noted at an FTC conference last week, “Good journalism is an expensive commodity.” And it is one that the World Wide Web has left largely without a financial platform to support it.

That’s why the discussion of new, innovative business models for journalism has become essential. And thankfully, that discussion has been happening — and continues to happen every day — in the blogosphere, in the editorial columns of the world, and on fantastic websites like CUNY’s News Innovation resource. But to our knowledge, no one web location has attempted to condense and distill all that discussion and information into an easily digestible, comprehensive format. It is with that in mind that we established this website.

We have set up a repository of lengthy, informative posts on what we think to be the eight main models that are the most discussed and pursued right now. In each analysis, we describe the model and the innovation that led to its birth, businesses and entrepreneurs who have pursued these models (and to what success), the probable future of the model, and the financial role we think the model is most likely to play in the long run. We also have a cache of Supplements, which includes other journalism/business model-related pieces we have written recently from conferences and various assignments.

We hope that you learn as much reading all of this information as we did in compiling it. Many thanks!

-Jakob Dorof, Sam Duboff, and Max Cutler

Website: New Business Models for Journalism

High School Education Project – by “Anna L”

Alex and I went to Hillhouse High School to teach students who were in an educational law class. We designed the lesson to be discussion oriented, and we tried to focus on issues we have looked at over the course of the semester that affect them—like Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and fair use. It went really well, and we think that they came out of the class with a better understanding of important issues they might not have considered before. It was also a very eye-opening experience for Alex and me. We had to simplify what we had planned to say, because they had less background knowledge than we had expected. Most of the students had never used Wikipedia, and only some of them had a Facebook account.

Moving Beyond the Story, News’ Value in Data – by “Max C”

Linear story replaced with database

The age of the linear news story must end if existing news organizations hope to survive in the digital age. For as long as print news publications have been around, the story has been the atomic unit of news coverage. A reporter collects information, attends events, does research, and produces a textual article that consumers read passively. But the consumption patterns of the modern digital citizen have outpaced such linear representations, and old media organizations must adapt to this changing reality.

“Old media” news organizations are now struggling to find new sources of revenue to buoy their ancient production models as advertising prove insufficient. Numerous new business models, such as paywalls or non-profit news organizations, and new content strategies, such as hyperlocal coverage or citizen journalism, have been proposed. As Dan Conover explains in his blog post “The Imagination Gap,” the problem with these approaches is that they are limited by the imagination of people from the old system. The merits of each new business model or strategy have been debated elsewhere, but Conover posits that the solution is a fundamental shift in what news organizations produce.

News, in the form of prose about current events, is now ubiquitous on the internet: between traditional news outlets, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and others, there will never be a shortage of discussion about news. There is no paucity of facts or information on the internet, often captured in stories or comment threads or wikis. What’s missing, and what is potentially most valuable, are structured, easily accessible databases. News organizations can create considerable value by not only collecting facts into stories, but creating databases that allow searching, aggregation, cross-referencing, and other data mining techniques so that people can draw their own conclusions and use the data for their own purposes.

Newspaper websites have had a difficult job monetizing their archives online, despite the fact that there is clearly an enormous wealth of information contained within them. The problem is that, without having them in a structured format, actually extracting or finding information contained within the archives is nearly impossible. Metadata is just as important, if not more important, than the story itself. Give away the story for free–the facts are ubiquitous– but sell the structured data that people can actually use in more meaningful ways.

To affect such change, new standardized data formats and tools must be developed and adopted so that information from multiple sources can be combined and cross-referenced. The principles of open access come into play, where the creation of data silos must be avoided at all costs. That is not to say that access must be free, but if a consumer has access to multiple databases, he or she must be able to mash them together in any way imaginable.

Projects such as DocumentCloud are making important first steps towards this goal. Sites such as EveryBlock aggregate information and present it in an easily accessible manner. Even some of the large newspapers have been experimenting with opening their stores of data: the New York Times and the Guardian have created  publicly-accessible APIs. Standards for news story markup have been proposed, such as hNews, which are relatively easy to integrate into existing systems and site designs. More such efforts will, and must, continue to come; the question is whether they will be by existing news organizations or start-ups.

***

Newspapers have been lamenting the fact that people will not pay for their content, and are seeking ways to “fix” that problem. What they see as a problem with consumers is actually a problem with the product they are producing; consumers simply want information, in the format of their choosing, and will take it from whatever source is most convenient and accessible. Reporters are already skilled at collecting such information, so it is a matter of adjusting workflows and creating the requisite technical tools and systems.

When the only means of acquiring data was a sheet of paper, linear stories were an acceptable way of conveying information. If news organizations ignore the revolutionary abilities of the internet and computer software to store and present structured information, they do so at their own peril.