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Vikas Kamat
 Vikas Kamat is a programmer- entrepreneur living in Birmingham AL. This blog is a complex mix of Indian culture, life in southern USA, computer sciences, and sports. Opinions are his own.
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Why AutoLink is Bad Durable Link to this BLOG
My Two Cents on AutoLinks

Many years ago (in 1999), the CEO of EBSCO was pushing very hard for implementing Reference Linking -- basically if you are reading a research paper, you just click on the reference being cited, and then go to that reference, be it a book or another research paper. "Reference Linking would indeed be the holy-grail of content management", I had thought. His vision was as brilliant as it was complicated to engineer.

Then in 2001 Microsoft released SmartTags -- a diluted reference linking, if I may call it so. In my mind it was an obvious abuse of its monopoly and unjust manipulation of somebody's content. Microsoft withdrew this technology after a furor was raised. The issue has now again surfaced due to Google's AutoLink feature.

The underlying question is this -- whether EBSCO does it or Google. Is inserting links modification of content?
Legally, I believe it constitutes modification of content (I hope so, anyway).
Morally, I believe that it is OK, and in some instances indeed welcome to provide these AutoLinks (as in the case of Reference Linking)

In some cases, the end-user might be willing to pay for the AutoLinks (as in case of EBSCO), and in that situation who is violating whom?

Lessons from Manual Linking

For a moment, consider the problem/anguish if linking on the web. Most people will generalize and say "Linking is Good", whereas there are indeed some types of linking that are bad and unwelcome.

Examples of Unwelcome Links

  • Inline image linking (a.k.a. Bandwidth Stealing) -- This is definitely not OK by me.
  • "Google Bombs" --links created with inappropriate text as in PriceLine is a Fraud or Miserable Failure
  • Links to non-public websites encoding passwords and tokens and hence compromising the security of website.
  • HTML Framing -- Some sites like Sulekha link to external sites, but after including a frame header with an advertisement. I feel this is not OK. I allow HTML framing of our contents only if the frame header does not contain an advertisement.

Going to back to my thoughts on AutoLinks, I'd use the similar criteria, whether or not it results in damage to the content creator. It is definitely not OK for a browser vendor or a toolbar vendor to insert hyperlinks -- because the content creator might have deliberately left out links to improve design, to reduce link fatigue (or to make a statement).

It might be OK for vendors to provide external tools (like a popup window or HTML frame) to show these links when they specifically charge a fee for such a service (not sure how it will work).

If we do not agree that AutoLinking is abuse of someone else's content, consider its ramifications. The web hosting companies will want to modify the contents (remember the Geocities banner ?), so will the Internet traffic boosters like Akamai.

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Last Modified: 4/4/2005 7:31:55 PM
Tags: library


Open Access Movement Durable Link to this BLOG
Open Access Movement

In the library world, a new movement is picking up momentum called Open Access (OA).

Depending on whom you ask you get a different definition of what is OA (some say OA journals are free to readers, some say they are free to libraries, some say free back-files, I am using OA here to include all of them), but the core principles of the movement involves unrestricted access to published research.

This week, a debate on OA is being held in India that will include a librarian, a publisher, and an author. The consumers (users and researchers) are the audience. It is being moderated by a subscription agent. Very interesting.

My take on on OA

I think "Free Beer" journals and "Free Speech" journals will have to co-exist with "Exclusive and Priviledged" journals. The OA movement will be beneficial to cash-starved libraries (especially in poorer countries) in the short term, but is not a viable solution for durable content. The libraries, however, have to find a solution on how to perpetually archive e-journals (see my idea below, as posed to Garfield), because OA publishers might quickly go out of business or change ownerships. I also wonder if paying for one's own articles will result in dilution of scholarship.

The other day, I sought the expert opinion of Dr. Eugene Garfield on the matter. He is the pioneer in the world of scientific information, and a role model for me.

Question Prof. Garfield, What is your stance on Open Access Journals? Do you think it will dilute the quality of scholarship ?

Answer I have tried to avoid public comment on the Open Access issue. But a simple answer to your question is NO!!

Question: This question I ask as an entrepreneur. I wish to build a electronic-content caching/archiving product that can be used in each library to serve as an 'escrow', should the e-publisher go out of business... like a electronic "Local Holdings". Does this idea have any mustard?

Answer Who is going to guarantee that you don't go out of business?!

My Philosophical Take on OA

Gandhi said that the purpose of satyagraha (resistance or activism) is only to bring in the desired change and not to engage in everlasting conflict. Once OA activists convince the publishers of the wrong they are engaged in, the publishers have a responsibility to change. We are already seeing this change happen. Today American Physical Society actually lowered the subscription , and many publishers are bound to listen to the demands of the industry.

So the OA initiative is already successful.

But OA activists are not satisfied. They want to go all the way and make research available truly without barriers. That means free to the reader. Not a red cent is necessary to read premier research articles. They are encouraged by strong emergence of Google, who need a lot of free content they can index.

Makes me want to ponder over Garfield's quip, What happens when this super library (Google) goes out of business?

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Friday, May 7, 2004
Last Modified: 5/10/2004 4:17:04 PM
Tags: library


Librarians and Programmers Durable Link to this BLOG
Librarians and Programmers

Dave Winer says he likes making software for librarians (link)

I like making software for users of libraries. I do it for a living.

I work a lot with librarians as well as geeks. Someone(probably a librarian) somewhere thought, since both librarians and programmers work with information, they must be related, and must work together. But as my notes based on working with  either, tell you, they are quite different groups that quite don't get along.

  • Librarians are typically female, typically are well read, have good English language skills, and typically underpaid. The programmers are typically male, typically have poor writing skills, spell poorly, and are overpaid.
  • There is a tremendous collide of nomenclature. What the humans call a book, the librarians call a monograph. What we call a periodical, they call a serial or a title. A database system for a geek means a relational database management system, for a librarian it means a collection of citations. I am not talking about some individual making a mistake, I am talking about two large white-collar, vertical industries. For a geek, Oracle is a database. For a librarian, ProQuest is a database.
  • Librarians are nit-pickers. They get very frustrated (who doesn't?) because the programmers won't listen to them. Unfortunately what librarians don't get is that some of the programmers have sound mathematical foundations in their brain, and can organize the information much better for easy retrieval, than the librarians can. The librarians refuse to accept that programmers get organization of information. Just look at the LCC Classification System, which is like holy grail for librarians. Medicine is not under Science, and Military and Naval Science are in the same hierarchical level as Music. Categories E and F (History of America) are actually same! How can a programmer respect these?
  • Librarians feel threatened by systems like Google. Their gut feelings are right. Do you know how many people walk to a library and use Google? And you know what, Google is pretty darn good at finding what a user (patron) want whereas a library is not. Just consider how painful it is for a patron to access the electronic versions of a licensed journals-- first you have to register your IP, then you have to get a login and password -- a different one for each of the e-journals the library has subscriptions, it is a nightmare. No wonder library usage is declining worldwide.

This is not a criticism of librarians as a profession. If you are offended, please read some jokes ridiculing the programmers. IMO a librarian's job is more honorable than a programmer's, and I say that just because of my upbringing as a Hindu which gives a lot of credit to the knowledge professions like teachers, gurus, sages, and librarians ;-- ).

See Also:
• My Romance with Libraries
• More Blog Entries on Libraries

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Thursday, October 16, 2003
Last Modified: 10/20/2003
Tags: library


Turmoil in the Periodicals Industry Durable Link to this BLOG
Turmoil in the Serials Industry

Add the business of Periodicals (industry magazines, and journals) to the list of industries decaying with trouble.

Financial mismanagement and emerging technological innovations are the root causes for this turmoil.

Periodicals, unlike most things we buy --  need to be pre-purchased (see Know Your Library). That is, you pay for subscription for a whole year much before the issue actually arrives. This works great for the vendor, but bad for the consumer. Take the case of now bankrupt RoweCom. Thousands of libraries, especially academic and public libraries (many of them were million dollar accounts) used to buy their subscriptions through this company, which took the money, but did not deliver the merchandise. Oops.

Technological Problems

The widespread availability of electronic journals and willingness of consumers to pay for them is the silver lining in the aftermath of the content and technology driven dot-com bust. But numerous problems are arising -- the publishers are twisting the arms of the buyers into signing these so-called Publisher Agreements before they can subscribe to electronic journals. Some agreements go as far as to limit an electronic-subscription to be read by only one individual (since when a magazine that my wife subscribes cannot be read by me?!)

There's also the problem of archiving. Let us say I subscribe to electronic version of TIME magazine for the year 2003. Then  let's say in year 2028, I wanted to read an old issue. Where am I going to find it? If it was a paper subscription, it would be in my basement.... The most agitating part for me is that these licensing agreements will not allow customers to cache and save the contents, even if they have a subscription.

I foresee a transformation brewing.

Of course, you know what Dave Winer would say. He'd say "Give every researcher and every writer a weblog, and let us dispose off the periodicals business." ;-- )

Actually that suggestion is not far fetched. All that is necessary for websites to reach the respect and prestige the print publications enjoy, is rigourous peer-review, and maturity that comes with time.

See Also: More Entries on Libraries

Links: RoweCom FAQ

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Last Modified: 4/22/2003
Tags: library


The Problem with OpenURLs Durable Link to this BLOG
The Problem with OpenURLs

The OpenURL standard was established to enable http-linking, even when accurate URL was unavailable.

It is a pretty cool initiative, allowing libraries, and writers to place links to other people's work just based on the meta-data. I have no doubt that this is the way to go even for non-bibliographic linking. IMO one day all the search engines will provide efficient ways to deconstruct OpenURLs to take the user to the most precise content item. However, the purpose of this blog entry is to pin-point some of the holes in its specification.

  • No author predicate: This omission is unpardonable. When I first read the specification in year 2000 I wrote to Prof. Herbert Van de Sompel, but apparently the spec. was frozen by then. In the last three years nothing has been done. The standard tries to normalize the author names by defining five tags aulast,aufirst,auinit,auinit1, and auinitm which are quite useless from software implementation point of view. They are certainly limiting  from a researcher's point of usability. Consider these:
    • While referencing a fellow researcher's work the burden of deciphering which is the first name, which is the last name, did the researcher change the name after her marriage/divorce is just too painful for the author.
    • What about the all those people who have only one name?! How insensitive is that?

  • No authentication predicates: I agree with the standard that GET is easier to implement that POST, but they completely forgot to add authentication predicates! Instead they advocate Cookie-pushing. Most OpenURL implementers have used their own authentication (like token,password,ipnumber) predicates, thus defeating the very purpose of standardization.

  • Nightmare of the atitle predicate: I want to meet the programmer who has implemented this predicate. It is extremely difficult when it is easy, and quite impossible in most mathematical and scientific content. I mean, how will you URL-encode equations?
  • No affiliation predicates: "I want Thomas Smith of Harward, not Thomas Smith of Stanford." -- can't do that.

So, here's wishing for a review, and wide-spread deployment of the standard.

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Last Modified: 2/25/2003
Tags: library


Vikas on Libraries Durable Link to this BLOG
Vikas on Libraries

I have written an evaluation guide to buying e-journals management systems, and comparing EBSCOhost EJS service plans. It includes many definitions of what is required of a sophisticated electronic journals management system. Read it here.

• My other blogs on Libraries
• Library Costs in a Real World

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Thursday, January 9, 2003
Last Modified: 2/25/2003
Tags: library


Learn Your Library Durable Link to this BLOG
Things You Do Not Know About Your Library
(Rather, things I didn't know about the libraries)

  1. A monograph is really a book
  2. .
  3. What we call as journals, the librarians refer to as titles.
  4. Books are sold upon their publication, whereas the periodicals are sold before their publication
  5. .
  6. Most libraries have bigger annual budgets for periodicals than for books.
  7. Libraries pay a different (typically higher) price for aquisitions than individuals and departments would, for the same item
  8. .
  9. The library business is dominated by a few large and influential companies (no wonder startups like ebrary have a hard time competing).
  10. The best way to support a library is to use it (Library visitations are on a sharp decline all over the world).
  11. The librarians (altruists), are in a constant battle with the publishers (capitalists) to represent the best interests of the the knowledge-seekers
  12. .
  13. The shopping list of libraries (this is especially true of corporate libraries) is a closely guarded secret, because it reveals the focus of research activity in the organization

Update Jan 13, 2003 -- Karen Gorss Benko, a catalog librarian writes that Video and Sound recordings are also referred to as monographs. Thank you Karen!

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Friday, January 25, 2002
Last Modified: 3/30/2003
Tags: library


Libraries, Knowledge, and Freedom Durable Link to this BLOG
Random Notes on Libraries, Knowledge, and Freedom

I have had a long romance with the libraries. In the rural town of Honavar (map - topics - pictures) in India where I grew up, there was a library ("Ravindra Vachanalaya") in the attic of a temple, where my friend Gopalkrishna Bhat and I had read each and every book by the time we were in the fourth grade! (that was in year 1977. In today's Honavar there is not even one library, although the population has multiplied several times over. What a shame.). The various public libraries in Karnataka were a good place to go and read Cricket analysis, and job opportunities, but they were never awe inspiring.

Libraries are a luxury in India, and my parents have had to build a collection on their own for their research work.

My first culture shock after coming to America was when I entered the Noble Library at the Arizona State University. I'd never seen anything quite like it! It was not just the size of the library and the number of books; it was the quiet surroundings, the incredible collection of maps and periodicals; the lack of red tape; the services (from photocopying, to database searches, to inter-library-loans, to personal computing facilities). I spent a lot of time in the libraries of ASU and UAB, and ignored my studies. ;-- )

Many people point to the Brooklyn Bridge, The Golden Gate Bridge, and (what was) WTC as the symbols of American greatness and might. I must point to the Public Libraries spread all over of America to describe why America is a great nation.

As I immerse myself in the admiration of American Libraries, often I am reminded of Tagore's Where knowledge is free song we used to sing in RSS, that was supposed to be the Song of India.

In the year 2000, at the invitation of the Directorate of Public Libraries, I had an opportunity to address some of the librarians in Bangalore and I realized the conditions under which they have had to operate -- general lack of funds, too much Government interference, lack of patronage from citizens, and general apathy towards libraries in India.

Problems facing Libraries in India -- topic of a future blog.

Tomorrow: Things You Didn't Know About Libraries


• American Library Association
• The Biggest Library of 'em all
• A Site for the Proposed Kamat Library

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Thursday, January 24, 2002
Last Modified: 1/23/2003
Tags: library


E-Books are Dead Durable Link to this BLOG
E-Books are Dead. Admit it!

A recent issue of Newsweek has a feature (linkrot detected) on Questia (a company that provides electronic books and reference contents) about how well its business model is, and how good it is doing. The story is misguiding, lacks the depth required for business reporting, and is full of bullshit.

My common sense tells me that no university student is going to cough up $20.00 a month for library access. Especially for a library that is way smaller than the free one that the university provides. Would you? would anyone?

Why Newsweek decided to provide publicity to this dying dot-com is beyond me, but e-books IMHO are a solution in search of a problem. There's definite value in electronic books, but only if being electronic is of significant value to the reader. Have you noticed that most e-books actually are dumb pages not even utilizing elementary technologies such as hyperlinking, reference linking, and even color ?!

It would have made much more sense for Newsweek to cover the thriving electronic journals business (called e-journals) that has revolutionized the way researchers and scholars access and use electronic content. It is only in the area of e-journals that the dream of a wall-less library has come true.

Links to Electronic Journals Systems
(Libraries Without Walls)

• EBSCO Online
• Science Direct
• Ideal Library
• CatchWord

They are not free, not even affordable. ha ha. Now tell me who has a better business model.

But this model works agaist the spreading of content.

I remain upbeat about the role of libraries to bridge the educational and social gaps of the world. It is the Publisher-Library nexus that needs re-engineering.

I think libraries are doing a great job of distributing knowledge despite the restrictions of the publishers, who by definition are in the business of charging for that knowledge -- so the restrictions are understandable. But when a company like Questia comes along, whose interests are they representing? Questia is not a publisher, but they want to charge you money for access to content. IMHO that is an inherently flawed business model.

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Last Modified: 1/29/2003
Tags: library

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