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Archive for the ‘publishing’ Category

I used to do government publishing… things like books on actual paper (gasp).

So I laughed when I stumbled across this funny little thing the other day:

New Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge [that’s BOOK, get it?] Device:
THE BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology. No wires. No electric circuits. No batteries. Nothing to be connected or switched on. So easy to use, even a child can operate it. Compact and portable. Can be used anywhere — even sitting in an armchair by the fire — yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc.

It continues on for several paragraphs in this vein, parodying the high tech marketing-speak that was current around the turn of the century.

Funniest bit:

THE BOOK never crashes or requires rebooting, though like other display devices it can become unusable if dropped overboard. The Browse feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an Index feature, which pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

Where did I see this? It wasn’t actually at the link above. It was printed on a bookmark from Book City,  chain of bookstores specializing in used books in Toronto. I haven’t been in any of their outlets in years; I haven’t lived fulltime in the Big Smoke since my high school days. I used to be quite partial to their location in the Annex.

Turns out they have a version of “the bookmark” on their site — it’s actually slightly different that what I quoted above — the copy is a bit tighter, IMO. And it doesn’t mention the bit about being dropped overboard.

Update 9:38 pm: noticed after my original post that folks have posted the B.O.O.K. parody all over the place over the last few years. Like this version, which comes complete with rebuttal:

RE: The new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade-name “BOOK.”

You should be warned that, re: the message quoted above, this BOOK technology has serious shortcomings in user outcomes which, while not apparent from an immediate usability analysis, seriously impair its market desirability. Research shows that prolonged and repeated exposure to this BOOK technology causes users to become contemplative, reflective, and, in severe cases, it can induce bouts of concentration and focused thinking, with common side effects that include swelling of the imaginative and/or analytical portions of the brain. Such swelling can impede market-critical emoto-cognitive functions like the impulse-purchase quadrant of the cerebellum.

In one overlooked period of history, the installed user base of this BOOK technology spread with almost epidemic speed. This period, known in BOOKish techno-jargon as the Renaissance, saw that after the introduction of BOOK there were unpredictable outbursts of individual and collective creativity. But, as the record clearly shows, this BOOK technology has no useful market outcome, in that during the entire period of the Renaissance, historians can find no evidence of a single IPO.

Hah — unpredictable outbusts of individual and collective creativitity? no useful market outcome? Sounds just like the social web!

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Last week I posted on how making it easy for visitors to GoC websites to get at publications made sense both in terms of how people use federal govt sites and in terms of policy requirements.

I poked around a bit and found a variety of approaches to this on a variety of GoC sites. Here’s the catalogue from Agriculture and the order page from the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as one from Environment Canada.

But what about taking it up a level? Every federal department and agency undertakes publishing. Warehousing and order fulfillment for publications is a pretty standardized business. This to me is a situation that cries out for some level of centralization.

The basic pieces are already in place for this – Public Works has a central publishing database which is publicly accessible at publications.gc.ca. It has a well developed order processing functionality and is supported by solid warehousing and fulfillment facilities. (I know this from my day job.)

Right now, publications.gc.ca is mostly aimed at fulfilling orders for priced pubs, but it also works well for free* publications, which are by far the most common type of government publication – again this is something I know well, since I was involved in getting Industry Canada to use PWGSC as its fulfillment provider.

But here’s the rub – there’s no way currently to integrate the publications database from publications.gc.ca with other government sites.

I suppose one solution would be simply to transform the “publications” navigation item on each GoC site into a link to the central catalogue, but while this might be the quickest and most efficient way to handle it, I’m not convinced it’s best in terms of user experience. What if there was other stuff I wanted to accomplish on a departmental website as well as ordering a pub? & If I was a Departmental webmaster, I’d want ways to encourage users to stay on my site.

So what’s a better solution? How about an API that would let departments and agencies display the PWGSC’s catalogue data on their sites? Or a widget? Users would be able to browse, place orders, etc., no matter which GoC site they are on, and the departments and agencies could take advantage of good ol’ economies of scale. All they’d have to do is provide accurate info and a quantity of each publication to this central system to see the benefits.

Actually, I could see the advantage of allowing this to spread beyond federal government sites – booksellers or other sites might be interested also in providing such a service – and that kind of seeding the web would allow PWGSC to really say that it’s getting government publications into citizens’ hands.

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* ok so not really free since at the end of the day it’s taxpayer funded — but at least you don’t have to pay twice for “free” govt pubs. Unlike if you want copies of the GoC’s annual reports — they may be freely available online in XHTML and PDF formats, but if you want a paper copy you need to pony up.

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Zsuzsanna Kilián

Credit: Zsuzsanna Kilián (nkzs on stock.xchng)

When I posted last week about getting government publications online, I had forgotten something key: according to the Government of Canada’s Communications Policy, departments and agencies are required to “maintain a publicly accessible index” of their publications. (If you want the reference, it’s the first item in the list under requirement 27 — sorry that’s not a very good link for it, you’ll have to scroll and scroll to get to it.)

This dovetails nicely with obtaining publications being one of the main reasons that visitors come to federal government websites.

So making a prominent “publications” link that leads to a robust catalogue can serve to kill two birds with one stone — not only are you meeting customer demand, but you can also tell your bosses that you are meeting policy obligations. They should like that very much.

BTW, I do plan on posting up a more fulsome piece on how this might look in an ideal world — stay tuned.

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I’ve been looking at why people bother to visit government websites.

Interestingly, in the case of the federal government in Canada at least, one of the main reasons they visit is to obtain publications. This really appeals to the publisher in me — I used to manage publishing projects – the paper kind, and I still regularly advise on publishing and production. It also serves as a good reminder that web comms doesn’t exist in isolation. Yes there is life outside the interwebs — these days I sometimes forget…

I’ve mentioned this particular research before, and I’m turning to it again. It was a sweeping study released last spring that looks at Canadians’ internet use and expectactions for the GoC’s web presence. Here’s the bit from the phone survey that shows what users tend to do on GoC websites.

Going online to order a publication is #2 in this list

24% of respondents visited GC sites to obtain information, a form or a publication (click image to see full size)

OK, so about 1/4 of telephone respondents recalled going to GoC sites to get a form or a publication – this was more common even than looking for government jobs.

I would have liked to see a bit more fine grained info here – “obtained a publication” could just as easily refer to downloading a PDF as it could to ordering a print copy. But the mechanics of posting PDFs for download is totally different than what’s involved with maintaining an order fulfillment webapp (not to mention bricks and mortar part – warehousing print pubs and doing the pick-and-pack and all that).

But in the online portion of the survey, even more respondents – like 3/4 of them – went to GoC sites to get forms or publications. I imagine that the online respondents would be more web savvy and interested in using their computers to get government info and transact their business with us, so it’s kinda cute that lots of them were interested in old-school content formats like pubs… or maybe that just points to how outmoded government thinking is when it comes to creating and distributing content.

woot

74% of respondents visited GC sites to obtain information, a form or a publication (click image to see full size)

Anyhow, what all this says to me is that government websites must make it easy for visitors to get at publications and forms. I might be biased, but I’d argue for making a “publications” link very prominent in your site’s nav template. And then make your catalogue easy to work with — will blog more about this next week.

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Oi! oi! oi!

Why typewriters beat computers, from the BBC.

Apparently, Brother International Corp sold an incredible 12,000 typewriters in Great Britain last year. Those Brits, so much more punk than us Canucks.

… And the whole crazy British punk scene sure owed a lot to typewriter tech for its aesthetic. Typical example: Jon Savage’s London’s Outrage. (Oddly, my recall of the ultimate zine from that era, Snffin’ Glue, was that it had a very cheap grungy typewriter font look to it as well, but in fact the headlines on the covers were mostly hand drawn. Ahhh if only I could have experienced this stuff first hand, but I digress…)

Anyhow, that BBC piece has a great quote from pulp master Frederick Forsyth, who still writes on a typewriter:

… after 50 years and a dozen novels including The Day of the Jackal, why change now, he asks.

“I have never had an accident where I have pressed a button and accidentally sent seven chapters into cyberspace, never to be seen again. And have you ever tried to hack into my typewriter? It is very secure.”

Take that, cloud computing Web 2.0 types!

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An ATM for Books. This is *exactly* what I think of when I hear the term “print-on-demand.”

This is the Espresso Book Machine, made by OnDemandBooks. According to Time Magazine, one of these sells for around $50K in US dollars. That is cheap cheap cheap as far as printing technology goes.

Most of the commercial printers that I’ve dealt with around town are trying to sell digital short-run printing as print-on-demand, simply because the turnaround time is shorter and the print runs can be smaller than traditional offset. But it’s still about a print run, and it’s still really expensive per copy if you are getting lower than about 200 units.

For government publishers to really take advantage of this machine, however, it would have to be capable of spitting out saddle-stitch booklets (bound with staples) and folded products (such as pamphlets and brochures). A lot of our print publishing is in these formats. Doesn’t look like this thing does that.

Update: The University of Alberta bookstore has one of these. I wonder if I could get travel expenses approved to go check it out?

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For the first time in a while, something to do with the printing and paper industry has caught my attention.

Canadian Geographic’s June 2008 issue (their annual environment issue) has been printed on paper with a significant amount of wheat straw in it.

It’s our message to magazine publishers and pulp-producers alike, that adding agricultural waste to pulp mix can offer farmers a new source of revenue and cut down on the demand of pulp from our boreal forests.

Neat. What’s old is new again — it wasn’t until the 20th century that paper began to be made from trees. It was generally made from stuff like this from antiquity to industrialization.

So how did this come about? Apparently Markets Initiative was a key driver (these are also the people behind the Ancient Forest Friendly papers initiative) — here’s the press release. Turns out that the magazine was printed by Dollco, based right here in Ottawa, on paper sourced from China (apparently no Canadian paper manufacturers can deal with straw in their plants yet). They’re calling the paper the “Wheat Sheet.”

This is a great improvement from yer basic paper stocks (most of which are about 80% or more wood fibre with the rest coming from recycled papers) from a sustainability standpoint. But the paper is not really a sheet made of wheat – while it’s 20% straw and 40% recycled content, it’s still 40% wood pulp. So there’s still a lot of trees in it. Baby steps, folks, baby steps.

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