As with other one-time high-tech leaders (IBM, Microsoft, Google) Amazon’s dominant market share suddenly seems too much. In letters to the Justice Department, the authors’ and retailers’ groups claim that Amazon is squeezing publishers, punishing writers, driving bookstores out of business—and violating antitrust laws. They want Justice to investigate. Is there anything to their arguments?
The TeleRead Take: Nope! Well, actually, this article is a lot better than the usual “Woe is us! Deliver us from Amazon!” piece. The author is cognizant of his own prejudices, for one thing, and does his best to separate them out from the rest of his arguments. And he does look askance at some of Amazon’s adversaries’ more ridiculous claims, such as that Amazon is “[impeding] the free flow of ideas in our society.” He acknowledges that modern anti-trust law is meant to protect consumers, not other businesses, but suggests that Amazon “delisting books” from publishers during negotiations (as, he says, Amazon did with Hachette) should be worthy of having the Justice Department take a closer look at it.
The thing is, he oversimplifies what happened with Hachette. Amazon didn’t “delist” the books; it just stopped ordering so many of them in advance, because that was a co-op benefit and since Hachette’s contract had expired it wasn’t paying co-op fees anymore. That didn’t make it impossible to get the books; it just meant that they would have to wait until Hachette’s inefficient warehouse shipping could get more of them to Amazon. But then, both sides can probably argue the matter until they’re blue in the face. They certainly did while the Hachette contract dispute was going on.
In the end, Passive Guy probably says it best: “PG suggests this [anti-trust concern] is a legal veneer for I’m afraid and I want the government to protect me.”
The word-processing keyboard was designed to be just that – a device that would strip away the distractions that had come to accompany writing on a computer – fonts, colors, layout. Instead, says one of the AlphaSmart inventors Ketan Kothari, students should be able to “focus on the words.” So should writers, of course, which goes a long way in explaining why this remains such a beloved product in certain circles.
The TeleRead Take: An interesting write-up of the history of this device. I hadn’t realized there was quite so much to it.
There’s a library-shaped hole in the Internet (The Boston Globe)
Librarians understand the context in which books make sense, how they go together, what are the canonical readings, and what are the dissenting works worth reading. Library information systems may not know as much about users’ behavior as Amazon does, but even highly anonymized usage records can say a lot about what a community values: which works people are reading, which ones they like or think are important, and even the relations they see among the works. In essence, the library can hold a mirror up to the community, allowing it to get a clearer and stronger sense of itself.
That means libraries should seize the initiative to fill that hole in the Internet with everything they know and are allowed to make public.
The TeleRead Take: David Weinberger suggests libraries need to open up their information to software developers via APIs so that they can make better tools to help the Internet make sense of what they do. It’s an interesting point. On the other hand, it seems like there’s a little bit of “If you build it, they will come” thinking here. Just because libraries have lots of data that could be useful doesn’t necessarily mean anybody actually wants it. They’d have to know they needed it to want it. Whereas most people just seem to want to know stuff about “movies, […] the world’s roadways, song lyrics, or Pokemon characters”.
[Freelance writer Olga Lexell] added that most of the accounts that were reusing her tweets without accreditation were “spam accounts that repost tons of other people’s jokes every day.” This also isn’t the first time Twitter has complied with a request like this: Lexell tells The Verge that she’s filed similar requests for other jokes. Twitter staffers typically remove the offending tweets “within a few days” without asking Lexell any follow-up questions.
The TeleRead Take: Seriously? If your stupid 140-character joke is that important to you, maybe you should consider just not tweeting it in the first place? I’m not entirely sure what’s more lame here: that she would take the time and effort to search Twitter for people reposting her joke, or that Twitter would take the time and effort to zot those tweets once she found them. Sheesh. There are more important things in the world to worry about. (Yes, I know, under copyright law, she probably is entitled, and they probably are required to follow through. But still, it just seems so asinine.)
Technology Is Magic, Just Ask The Washington Post (TechCrunch)
Not everyone can or should be an engineer. And as Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Our collective network of pocket supercomputers, communicating almost instantaneously across the globe, comes pretty close to “sufficiently advanced” on its good days.
But “technology is magic” is a dangerous meme. It makes non-engineers begin to believe that technology really can do anything its wizard-engineers desire. It causes them to not understand that they don’t understand. And so it leads to Very Serious People making risibly embarrassing–and potentially dangerous–mistakes.
The TeleRead Take: This particular case of fluffy magical thinking has to do with the idea that software developers should build law-enforcement backdoors into their software. Honest to goodness experts—legends, even—in the info security field have spoken up in chorus that this is an extremely bad idea, but a Washington Post editorial says the software companies should just do it anyway. As TechCrunch’s Jon Evans notes:
But that kind of engineering analysis doesn’t mean anything to people who don’t understand technology, who think that it’s magic. Magic, after all, has no limitations–and to the Washington Post’s editorial board, there is apparently no meaningful distinction between technology and magic.