The Circle’s a must for Google, Facebook users

Anyone who uses Google, Twitter or Facebook – and that’s practically everybody – needs to read The Circle by Dave Eggers. Fiction, but a chilling possible look into our future. Good book.

Actually, I am quoting somebody else to give my own views on The Circle, Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel. It is 1984 updated, with a Google-like company playing Big Brother’s role.

I thought it would be apt to use social media to review a book about social media. So here you see what others have been saying about the book on Twitter, Google Plus and in newspaper reviews.

Eggers was asked in a brief interview with McSweeney’s, a magazine he cofounded: “Is this book about Google or Facebook or any particular company?”

Continue reading “The Circle’s a must for Google, Facebook users”

Free because we blog, tweet, in an attention economy

Singapore’s Straits Times and Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post are the only English language newspapers I know that do not allow their stories to be read online for free.

Even the Financial Times allows some of its stories to be read for free.

Not the Straits Times. All you can read for free on its website are wire stories, letters to the editor, readers’ comments — and, yes, its blogs. Just don’t expect to see the newspaper’s regular columnists there. You can read Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman for free, but you have to pay to read Andy Ho and Sumiko Tan.

It just goes to show the amazing strength of the Straits Times that, while virtually everyone else is giving away original content for free, it can still charge for what it has to offer.

Digital cheap

Newspapers can allow free online access because the digital medium is so cheap, says Chris Anderson in his book, Free. It’s fascinating reading. The Wired magazine editor says why readers must pay to read his magazine but enjoy free access to the website:

“In print, I operate by the rules of scarcity, since each page is expensive and I have a limited number of them… Not only are our pages expensive, they are also unchangeable. Once the presses run, our mistakes and errors of judgment are preserved for posterity (or at least until they are recycled)…

“Online, however, pages are infinite and indefinitely changeable. It’s an abundance economy and invites a totally different management approach. On our Web site we have dozens of bloggers, many of them amateurs, who write what they want, without editing…

“Standards such as accuracy and fairness apply across the board, but in print we have to get everything right before publication, at great expense, while online we can correct as we go.”

The website costs only a fraction of the magazine business:

“We pay dollars to print, bind and mail a magazine to you… but just microcents to show it to you on our Web site. That’s why we can treat it as free, because on a user-by-user basis, it is, in fact, too cheap to meter.

“Overall, our server and bandwidth bill amounts to several thousand dollars a month. But that’s to reach millions of readers.”

Newspaper publishers are beginning to ask what’s the point of reaching millions of readers when advertisers are willing to pay for only a certain target audience.

Attention economy

But money alone no longer makes the world go round, as even businesses acknowledge. Why else do they make such a fuss about brand recognition?

Welcome to the attention economy. Another reason to read Free, especially if you are a blogger or interested in the media.

Anderson explains the new economy in terms any blogger or user of Facebook, Twitter or MySpace will understand:

Continue reading “Free because we blog, tweet, in an attention economy”

Hart of Gutenberg

One of the Guardian blogs recently carried the rumour that Google might buy the Opera browser. It duly noted that both Google and Opera denied any such deal, but still it ran the story. Anything that Google does is news, even when it is only copying others.

Reams have been written about Google and Yahoo’s grand plans to digitise entire libraries, but they are not likely to allow whole books to be downloaded for free. One can already do that — download the classics for free — from Project Gutenberg, the great online free library.  The Wall Street Journal caught up with the man who made it possible — Michael Hart. Unlike Project Gutenberg, however, the Wall Street Journal doesn’t give away anything for free. So thanks to Anil Dash who posted a link to the interview.

Hart, who started Project Gutenberg way back in  1971 creating electronic books for storage in bulky university computers, feels shabbily treated by Google. They approached him before going public with their project last year, he said, but then “they sort of talked us out the door”. “It’s not that we don’t want to work with them. Google didn’t want to have anything to do with us,” he said.

Project Gutenberg is different from what Google is doing, he added. “From the consumer’s point of view, if you’re trying to get a quotation from a book, you could get the book from Project Gutenberg and cut and paste, say, the whole “Hamlet” soliloquy. On Google, you can’t. Also, ours is totally non-commercial. You won’t find advertising on any of our pages.” 

Hart feels overshadowed by Google. “Google certainly got a billion dollars worth of publicity last December(when it announced its plans to digitise books). I think we should have at least been mentioned. If you watched the whole media explosion, Project Gutenberg wasn’t even mentioned. Anybody watching that would think that Google had just invented e-books.”

It’s all so true. But people know where to go for free books.

“In a typical week, there are at least a million downloads,” he said. “We get a lot of Thackeray downloads, a lot of James Joyce, a lot of Dickens. Pride and Prejudice is always up there. Sherlock Holmes is always up there.”

As for his favourite authors, “Alice in Wonderland was a family classic for us, and my dad was a Shakespeare professor. I do love Shakespeare.”

Enough quoted from the Wall Street Journal interview. The picture incidentally is from Hart’s own home page.