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Printing Press 2.0

Posted on 3 February 2009 at 9:44 pm in Coursework.

There are few analogies more overplayed than the “internet-is-the-new-printing-press” metaphor. But there is a reason for its popularity.

A slim recap of the history: the advent of the printing press is widely credited as one of the most profound shifts in all history, not just the history of information.  Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, developed a movable type press that within a generation or two had largely replaced the centuries old tradition of hand-scribed codices.

The earliest books, or incunabula, were designed to look like handwritten books: typefaces resembled the calligraphic curves of monks and scriveners, and featured large, hand-colored “rubricated” letters to signal paragraph shifts. In time printers began to shift away from the traditions of hand-written books — traditions simply uneccessary in printed books — and started to develop simpler, easier to read typefaces and layouts. This made printing less expensive, more replicable, and soon presses existed in every major European city. In addition to German printers, the Venetian and Parisian press had substantial influences (the term italic is derived from an obvious source … Italy).

Books and other printed materials exploded in production and popularity, and literacy began to rise as a result. The course of history, faith (the press played a major role in the Reformation) and industry all changed, and centuries later the notions of the free press and pamphleteers would be essential to the birth of democracy. A direct line can be drawn.

It is quite obvious — more now than ever — that the internet is not merely a medium for words or even just information. It is a mechanism for communication, for commerce, distribution — there is at least some form of every intellectual human activity represented in online technology. Just as the domino effect of the printing press altered world history, so to has the internet.

Self-publishing

We each have a Johannes Gutenberg waiting at the tips of our fingers. Anyone can create a blog or simple webpage using free, online tools with little to no knowledge or undertstanding of HTML or programming language. Because of cloud computing, a computerless person can sign-up for a blog at an internet terminal in the San Francisco Public Library, then post and publish from a beachside internet café while traveling in Koh Lanta. A password is all they would need to pack.

For the initiate blogger, there are a few competing services that offer one-click publishing. Here are three of the most popular:

  • Google’s blogger — free and easy-to-use, blogger offers a couple dozen templates (although html savvy users can design their own or tweak the basic models). Anyone with a google account (such as gmail) already has a blogger login.
  • San Francisco-based LiveJournal operates on a platform called “Movable Type” (a tip of the cap, of course, to Herr Gutenberg and his movable type printing press). LiveJournal stands out for its excellent friends or “flist”  feature that promotes community blogging. A user can cultivate a group of friends, and by clicking on their “friends” button, read an automated RSS feed of all of their friends’ blogs from within their own blog’s template.
  • WordPress differs from these two competitors in that, like the Firefox internet browser, it is developed with Open Source, not proprietary, software. The WordPress user has two options: using WordPress.com to host their blog and accept some limitations on the software and usage, or go to WordPress.org and download the software and host it via a third party. The differences are explained here.

The Pinakes is part of an educational project and therefore hosted by the San José State’s School of Library and Information Science. It was designed using WordPress.org technology.

Using the downloadable WordPress service confers some definite advantages over the WordPress.com offerings: hundreds more highly customizable templates, plugins and extensions that allow for a more powerful, robust website or blog. For instance, The Pinakes makes use of the Sun City theme, not available on WordPress.com.

I chose Sun City because the distinctive header echoes the transitional arc of civilization I hope to invoke in the blog — discussing “papyrus to pdf”. I also appreciate the dark contrasting colors and bold design.  Hundreds of templates are free to browse at WordPress.org’s theme directory. Once a theme is downloaded from WordPress and uploaded to your server, you can switch one in and another out with a few simple clicks — though some themes support features that others don’t, so be wary if you’re trying this yourself.

Take a look at what The Pinakes might look like under different skins: Less is Less, Random Background, or WordPress Classic.

Buzz

Publishing? Via blogger, LiveJournal or Wordpress it is relatively easy. Gutenberg’s ghost is satisfied. The true challenge in blogging is dissemination. Sure — anyone can look at your blog, but will they? Amidst the clutter and noise of five million blogs (Farkas, pg. 11) and assorted websites, who will read your offerings? The majority of search engine queries are one word long. Is there any one word that will lead a reader to your blog off of a search engine? Unlikely.

So the real trick isn’t getting “published”. It’s getting noticed. Every blog has its own target audience — not everyone is angling for thousands of readers — but even then your niché can be hard to find. If search engines aren’t the answer, promotion is. A push. Developing buzz. To experiment with the “buzz” tools of the day, I’ve installed the Sociable Plugin. This is a tool that creates a set of buttons at the bottom of each post’s page that allows a reader to import that post or page into facebook, delicious or other networking websites seamlessly (for instance, anything I post on facebook is immediately exposed to 209 other people.  What happens if 2-3 of them post it as well?). The so-called “viral marketing” that can result from an endless chain of individuals forwarding a link (at no cost to the original source) is the holy grail of online promotions.

To install Sociable, I downloaded the plugin from the WordPress site and, much like the templates, uploaded it through SJSU’s Senna server. Now my task is to write posts that inspire you to share them.

Reference: Farkas, M.G. (2007). Social software in libraries. Medford: Information Today, Inc.

Welcome to The Pinakes

Posted on 30 January 2009 at 12:07 am in Musings.

Welcome to The Pinakes, a discussion of library technology, new and old, and how the two might meet. Your host is a second-year Masters Candidate in Library and Information Science with a passion for history, rare books and modern technology.

This site is named for the first known library catalog. The pinakes was the work of Callimachus of Cyrene, a scholar, poet and librarian of the third century BCE.  Callimachus oversaw the famed Great Library of Alexandria at a time it housed all the known knowledge of the world. He is considered by many to be the father of bibliography.

The original pinakes was an index of all the world’s information, divided into eleven categories. I will use this blog as a tool for discovering, describing and indexing the latest tools for information-sharing — how many categories of technology will we discover? From papyrus to codex to pdf — it’s all information.

Your comments, thoughts and feedback are very welcome here.

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