People-Powered Publishing Is Changing All the Rules

Personal publishing takes lots of forms … a personal publishing platform (like SB You) is a great way to hone a voice and develop confidence in writing for an audience. I think any sort of personal publishing is a step towards writing with a real purpose.

“Self-publishing used to be synonymous with unprestigious “vanity publishing,” where well-off authors who couldnt get their books into print by traditional means paid small, independent presses to publish them. But with the advent of e-books, social reading sites and simple digital self-publishing software and platforms, all that has changed. An increasing proportion of authors now actively choose to self-publish their work, giving them better control over their books rights, marketing, distribution and pricing.”

via People-Powered Publishing Is Changing All the Rules.

Press Enterprise and Openness?

I and others have been critical about the lack of open and available news in and around Bloomsburg, PA over the last several weeks. It has been widely documented that the Press Enterprise offered two or three days of free digital distribution following the flood — primarily because they couldn’t deliver the physical paper to residents in flooded areas. After those first three days, the Press went back to posting daily stories behind a paywall.

Since the flood that has so devastated Bloomsburg, PA there have been several Facebook pages started to try and organize help and information for the people in town — many of whom have lost everything. Demands to the Press Enterprise to open their flood related information has been met with silence from them. Amazingly there have been so many people who have defended the approach by the Press, saying it is a business and we can’t expect them to give away the paper. That has been a faulty and mismatched argument from the beginning as I haven’t seen anyone demanding that all of the Press be opened, instead the focus has been on flood related images and news.

I haven’t been shy about sharing the numbers of views I’ve received for the 373 photos I posted openly to Flickr in the days following the flood. As a matter of fact, in a presentation I gave at the PA Newspaper Association’s Advertising Conference last week I shared that these photos were viewed 153,650 times from 9/11/2011 through 9/28/2011. What that tells me is that there is a market of need that wasn’t being filled by traditional channels.

Today, my wife shared with me a new page that appears in google search results for an open archive of 30 pictures from the Press Enterprise. The photos are shared in a gallery outside the paywall and are openly available to view and download. Like we have hoped from the beginning, the photos are excellent in that they are taken in the moment by newspaper professionals. Is the Press Enterprise listening to the pleas and (in my opinion) appropriately toned criticism? Perhaps, but either way we now have access to at least 30 images linked from the official newspaper site of the greater Bloomsburg area. I call that progress by any measure.

Talking About the Bloomsburg, PA Flood on DTLT Today

Last week I was lucky enough to catch the University of Mary Washington’s DTLT crew getting set to broadcast episode 40 of their daily web show. I saw in a tweet that they were planning to talk about the stuff I had been doing with social media around the Bloomsburg, PA flood and the apparent lack of news converge. I happened to be home, working in my home office when I replied to the tweet and asked if I could be a part of it. We got hooked up with Skype and the results are below.

I really can’t thank these guys enough for not only having me on, but for taking the time to really think about the things that are happening in Bloomsburg. The fact that they only know about this via the social web is astonishing to me and continues to point towards a need for a more open local news approach.

Bloomsburg Flood Destroys More than 1,000 Homes

I am still waiting to see this news somewhere other than Facebook or behind the paywall at the Press Enterprise. Since I haven’t, I think it is important to help get some of the facts being reported to the open web. The American Red Cross is now reporting that the flood destroyed more than 1,000 homes and did damage to another 2,300 in Columbia County alone. According to Peter Kendron, Press Enterprise writer, in an article published on September 16, 2001, “If those numbers hold up, it means more than 10 percent of the county’s 29,500 households saw some sort of flooding last week.”

What is crazy to me is that if this happened in a larger area and 10 percent of the homes were flooded, in say Philadelphia, don’t you think it would be making news? Remember, percentages are percentages. In my mind part of the reason for this lack of broad awareness lies on what D’Arcy Norman called a “cone of silence” in a post he made this week. My friend and colleague, Ellysa Cahoy, built on that concept when she wrote an excellent post yesterday bringing to light the complexities associated with access to local newspapers. The cone of silence doesn’t seem real to people at the local level because they are both living in the midst of the disaster and there is near pervasive access to the local paper via the little blue boxes selling the physical paper on every corner.

This poses two immediate problems. The first is that news doesn’t move across the open web in a way that stories can be picked up and shared in ways that builds awareness to the intensity of the damage — remember that 10 percent of the homes were flooded. When local news doesn’t get picked up and shared it doesn’t provide strong returns via google and other search engines so non-local news agencies can’t report on the tragedy as widely as they should. When that happens everyone loses — relief organizations are slower to respond, national media is under represented, and philanthropic organizations never get involved. The other issue is one that Ellysa identifies in her post — access to long-term historical information is lost. That means the history of our town is limited to first hand reports and memories by citizens. The problem dramatically impacts historians, scholars, and future generations … according to Ellysa who is a Library Research faculty member at The Pennsylvania State Unviersity,

What this tells me is that a researcher studying the recent Bloomsburg flood (and wanting access to local news coverage) would have to travel to Bloomsburg to access the articles. It’s a similar story for any other news events occurring in Bloomsburg, including the 1972 flood. We can’t depend on local news institutions to look any farther than their print subscription proceeds … They’ve already proven that they are myopic and doomed to eventual obsolescence. It’s just a matter of time for that.

Let me remind everyone that we aren’t talking about free access to today’s news. Reporting news costs money and if local papers want to sell that news on a daily basis, they should. We are talking about searchable, open, linkable archives of yesterday and back that are openly accessible online. For the sake of broad awareness and access to historical archives this should be happening. I pulled some more facts from the Press Enterprise article that I’d like to share from the Red Cross reporting. I certainly hope the Press allows me to share this more broadly:

  • 976 single-family homes destroyed, along with 190 apartments
  • 801 homes, including 676 single-family homes, 10 mobile homes and 115 apartments had major damage, which means they will not be habitable until they are repaired
  • About 301 single-family homes had minor damage. Those homes are habitable, but need repair. They might have minor roof or structural damage, broken windows, some roofing or siding missing and up to 3 feet of water in the home.
  • 1,012 single-family homes and 20 apartments were affected. Such homes have nuisance damage but are habitable without repair. Examples of damage to affected homes include shingles or siding missing, debris around the home, 6 inches to 1 foot of water in the home, and mobile home skirting damaged or missing.

West Main Street

I am a subscriber to the Online Edition of the Press Enterprise, and you can become one for $2.50 a week. If you would like to view or republish an archive of photos showing the damage from the flood, you can access my growing set of associated photos at Flickr.

They’ve Had Enough

I know my friends in Bloomsburg, PA aren’t going to give up. What I really hope is that the town finds ways to come together to fix what the root cause of the problem is — there just may not be a way to do that. In a lot of ways even this video can’t tell the story of what is happening in Bloomsburg, but at the moment it is one of the few I have seen.

This morning, while I was in an active online debate with folks about the need for open access to Bloomsburg Flood news at the Press Enterprise, I got an email from a producer at AccuWeather asking if she could use some of the Creative Commons marked photos I had posted from last weekend. These are the same photos that have gotten over 75,000 views in the last few days. While the Press has decided to close access, AccuWeather decided that they would seek assets from wherever they could on the open web — and all they had to do was ask and give attribution.

Up until today I hadn’t seen a professionally produced piece focusing on the stories of the people in Bloomsburg. And this one is built on the back of open content. This is why we need to find a way to make the news of this event open — so others with a much wider audience than any of ours individually can share them. Sure, I love they used my pictures … but what I am most happy about is that they are using them to expose what has happened and have now built an open resource for someone else to use in the future to learn about these events. That is why open needs to win and this is why I’ve had enough of closed news ecosystems.

Simple Repositories

Say the word repository and watch any ed tech geek roll their eyes. Why? We’ve been there … and not just once, but over and over again. Structured places to put things by a large community is tricky and very complicated business … at least that’s what everyone tells me. I’ve honestly not seen a repository that really seems to work. I guess there are lots of reasons for that and if you asked one of us who has been involved in a repository project we’d rattle of a dozen or more reasons for you — people don’t want to share, meta data is hard, the environments are overkill, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying they aren’t useful when you have very clearly defined goals and data. They get messy so quickly when you start to think about them in a general sense. With that in mind, I have an ultra simplistic thought that I want to throw out into the wild to see if I get a “you are crazy” style response.

For the past week or so a few of us in ETS have been taking part in a little experiment in multi-author activity blogging within the Blogs at Penn State to see if we could replicate the joy in sharing things quickly across the web into our own space. The idea is to do simple push button publishing, but instead of dumping it directly into Twitter or Facebook, we’d drop it into a common and simple blog right here in our own environment. We have been calling it, “Stuff” for no real reason. All it is a blog with a nice little push button bookmarklet that Brad Kozlek threw together for us. As you hit a site you highlight the text you want and press your “Stuff It” bookmarklet to post it. No different than the things lots of people do everyday with fb, tumblr, twitter, etc.


There are limitations, but they are easy to overcome. The first is that you have to ask to join and one of us needs to add you. We’ve already talked about how to overcome that … and it is easy. Comments are a little limiting in that there isn’t any layered social opportunity with them — no rating and threading is a problem we’ll also address.

These things aside, I see lots of potential. Here is the crazy idea — why not just launch a blog that has features like this as a repository? Have something to share, use the bookmarklet to post it quickly. There is plenty of meta data for the built in search to pull from — post title, body, tags, and categories would provide a great context for searches. In this scenario I am thinking it is 100% open with a CC attribution license on it so all content that goes in is sharable. If you wanted to provide something, just go and log in with your account once to add yourself as a member to the environment and you are good to go.

It gets even more interesting for another reason … not only could you contribute content to this blog/repository space directly, but using tag aggregation within Blogs at PSU you could contribute to the repository by posting at your own PSU blog using a shared tag. That way one could make decisions about how content flows into the space. The past week or so working with the Stuff space I am seeing an even more powerful role for our publishing platform — a platform that can actually host applications on top of it. Adding a simple self registration options provides us with a whole new piece of software that isn’t really a whole new environment to manage. So that’s it … call me crazy, but would an environment like this give us something important?

Open Design Questions without Answers

I am beginning to think that “May is Think Open Month” for me … obviously thinking about openness is something that has been in the middle of my head for the last several weeks. The trip to the Berkman@10 event pushed me very hard to evaluate the things I feel are important to me as I do my work — as an administrator, teacher, and person. I have be reevaluating many of the descions I’ve made over the last few years in my work and I think for the most part I’ve been consistent in my push for openness … I’m not always able to be moving in that direction, but for the most part I have spent the last few years thinking very critically about the interplay between identity, community, and deisgn as it realtes to openness. The events of the last month have only served to push me further down the path to look even more critically at how I can impact change at my Institution and beyond to embrace a collective voice as it relates to moving to a more open perspective.

I’m not thinking about open courseware, open (unfiltered) ranting, or other more disruptive concepts … no, I am thinking more about how openness should be built into the design process. Not really instructional design per say, but design in general … in my mind learning design is looking at the notion of building learning opportunities in a more broad sense than more strict instructional systems design. I am interested in what happens when we (designers) give up a majority of the control and let our communities come in and particpate in a more holistic sense. Would chaos emerge if we didn’t control the learning design process, just enabled it through new governance models (unfortunate term as it feels very controlling), new methodologies for encouraging open participation, and open access to tools? I am thinking seriously about what it would look like to convince a department that we should embark on a new approach to knowledge capture … a wikipedia approach that places the emphasis on the community to create the reification of knowledge as they see fit. What would that look like?

I am seriously considering proposing to teach a new course this Fall (I know it sounds crazy) with a focus on exploring open design … maybe doing it in the context of creating discipline specific knowledge by the community. I don’t know what College this works in, but clearly the College of Education or the College of Information Sciences and Technology would be prime targets for this. This is not fully baked (as I thought of it about an hour ago as I mowed the lawn), but my goal would be to turn over the design of the articulation of knowledge to the community. Let the students work to determine what we should capture and how to do it — furthermore, let them explore how to encourage a larger community involvement in that task as well. I see a wiki sitting in the middle with a discipline specific outline in it … each major item in the outline is an article stub that teams of students would work to complete. I wonder if they could create articles that could stand up to the scrutiny of a group of faculty reviewers? I wonder if the illustration of a project like this would tip the scales towards a more bottom up curricular knowledge creation perspective? I wonder if it would produce any interesting outcomes?

Lots of questions, but as with most new half-baked concepts questions often are the only things to guide us. I have no idea if any of this would work, but after reading about some great examples of faculty pushing students to craft complete knowledge destined for wikipedia, I am fairly certain the mechanics could work. So at the end of the day I am interested in seeing if a few of my questions could be answered:

  • Can you ask a loosely joined group to work together in a distributed way to construct a concrete example of expressed discipline specific material?
  • Would the work of a small class encourage participation from outside the class?
  • Could the resulting articles be valuable enough that they could form the basis for some other curricular activities? In other words, would they hold up to the standard set forth by more traditional eLearning content creation approaches?
  • Would Colleges or Departments invest the time of the expertise at the top (faculty) to form some sort of domain specific governance (oversight) committee to help ensure quality content from the community?
  • Would studnets participating in a course like this gain enough through the creation of small pieces of content? In other words, the course would have to be about open design, not a specific curricular goal.

With my las bullet I think I captured what I really want — I want to spend 15 weeks with a small group of smart students investigating what open design means and how we could all learn to apply what we learn to novel challenges. Should I do it? Who wants to help?