Friday, December 24, 2010
Apple is among those who have an interest in shaping that change and they have been overtly busy with the iBooks.app for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch as well as the iBookstore that supports that app. Apple has also been busy in the background. Among the many things that Apple is doing that are just out of view for most of the general public is what I believe can only be characterized as a concerted effort to influence the evolution of version three of the EPUB standard.
Although Apple claims to follow the EPUB standard, they have recently introduced features supported in the iBooks app that do not conform to the current standard. Conforming EPUB files play just fine in iBooks but these new, super, EPUBs do things in iBooks that haven't been possible before, especially on mobile devices.
It has been pointed out that Apple isn't currently sharing how-to information on these techniques with medium to small publishers and self-publishers. I suspect that there's more that's not being shared. It may well be that Apple isn't yet sharing the tools to easily implement these features except with the chosen few. Why do I think that? Here is why:
Apple developers have access to tools and documentation that others do not. One of the tools recently released to Apple developers is the iAd Producer application. It looks like this:
Might there be a similar tool that is only available to the larger publishers? I don't know for sure but confirmation of the existence of such a tool would be unsurprising to me. It would be trivial. I think, to adapt what we see as iAd developer to an application that could be called iBook Developer. Nowadays, web and mobile technology are all converging toward HTML 5.
So, why is Apple out in front on this? Alan Kay, former Apple Fellow, said it this way in 1971: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." By putting out living examples of EPUB that human readers respond positively to, Apple is inventing the future. It is, thereby, also influencing the development of this key standard. Those who are working on the standard simply cannot ignore these events.
Apple is engaged in a very smart campaign that will benefit all those who create and read digital books as well as benefit Apple. Yet another example of "doing well by doing good."
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Of course you can also download the eBook in ePub and other formats for reading on mobile and other devices, Here's a screenshot:
Read more about this at The Open Library Blog.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
The following screen shot illustrates this feature:
I believe that this is easily implemented in the Pages application (part of Apple's iWork suite of applications c. $77 education price) and will attempt to test that in the coming days.
Here are three iTunes U sites that were ready with ePubs at launch:
- Connexions - Open Textbooks
- The Open University - OpenLearn Course Material
- Oxford - Shakespeare's First Folio
What is currently supported:
For content providers:
˜ Uploading ePub files to a hosted iTunes U site
˜ Adding ePub via RSS to a feed-based iTunes U site
NOTE: The latter option is the most commonly used method in the University System of Georgia. Content is uploaded to the USG Podcasting Server which generates an RSS feed that can be used to populate a collection (aka course or channel) in iTunes U. This method enables faculty to disseminate content in other venues.
Here is an examples page showing the various options for sharing an entire channel or a single episode (aka lecture, lesson or item).
˜ Downloading ePub files from iTunes U to an iTunes client on Mac and PC
˜ Syncing downloaded ePub files from iTunes to iBooks on an iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad
˜ Downloading ePub files, over the air, from iTunes U to iBooks on an iPad
˜ Downloading ePub files, over the air, from iTunes U to iBooks on an iPod touch or iPhone (this will come later with iOS 4.2)
Friday, October 29, 2010
This is a very significant development as I argued back in April 2010 that it would be. Support for ePub in iTunes U provides faculty with an excellent vehicle for disseminating instructional materials in the form of ePub documents. These can range in size from 300-400 page textbooks to much smaller documents such as handouts or even syllabi.
We should also expect to see an upsurge in interest in applications that facilitate the creation of ePub documents and there are already many options to choose from. Apple's pages application added support for ePub as reported here back in August 2010. Pages and the iWork suite of which it is a part will undoubtedly become must have software.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
This is also a good example of screencasting using the terrific ScreenFlow application from Telestream. The slideshow was captured on the presenter's MacOS X 10.6.x MacBook Pro laptop and the presenter audio and video were captured by a Canon DV cam and wireless mic (thanks to Blake Bridges of the Georgia Digital Innovation Group).
Monday, September 27, 2010
However, easy as it is to include audio and video in an ePub using Pages, we still have to exercise care in preparing these media files for our eBooks. It's is quite easy to create a video file that won't play back properly or at all and we don't want to inflict that kind of experience on our readers.
Obviously, Flash is out so we are talking about files that are in an MPEG-4 or QuickTime container. But that's not all. We also have to make sure that the CODEC used for the video track is H.264 and the CODEC used for the audio track is AAC. In addition to that, we must take care to keep the data rate, expressed in bits per second, below certain threshold values. Here, for example, are the technical specifications for the iPad. Read the sections on "Audio playback" and "TV and video" to get the general idea. No need to study or memorize these, just get the flavor and we'll move on.
These specifications are all aimed at accommodating the requirements of the firmware chips in most mobile devices that decompress and display video. Using dedicated and specialized firmware is far more efficient than decompressing video in software. This yields superior performance and a good video experience.
So, with all of these specifications, it should be easy to get things wrong, right? No, that's not the case. There are lots of virtually foolproof ways to make sure that the audio and video you include in an ePub file will play back properly in iBooks on an iOS device, currently the only venue where this kind of media can be played back in an ePub file.
There are two general scenarios that will determine how best to proceed: whether we are creating the media from scratch or repurposing extant media. Let's examine both cases.
Creating and exporting media from scratch. This is easiest scenario but has the most variations. If you are creating video with or without an audio track, always export using the iPhone preset (480x360 ). This will usually keep the data rate below one megabit per second which will perform very well on any iOS device. There are many applications that create video. Similarly, audio-only applications have iPhone presets. Here's a screencast medley of popular MacOS X apps that export video and audio that will be playable in the iBooks app on iOS devices.
Repurposing extant media. There are several good approaches to this task depending upon the characteristics of the source video. The general goal is to convert the source file into a 480x360 H.264/AAC file in an MPEG-4 or QuickTime container. Source files can be almost anything (Flash, DVD, Windows Media, AVI and so on) but you may need to extend your MacOS X system with extra QuickTime components in order to handle all of these. Here is a short list of the most important QuickTime components to add:
• Perian (free) Formats supported: AVI, DIVX, FLV, MKV, GVI, VP6, and VFW
• Flip4Mac WMV ($29) Formats supported: Windows Media video and audio
Here is a list of applications that are useful in repurposing non-MPEG-4 files to the proper iPhone specs:
Handbrake 0.9.4 (free) Converts DVDs to MPEG-4, including iPhone output.
Miro Video Converter 2.2 (free) Converts almost anything to MPEG-4, including iPhone output.
CosmoPod ($12) Downloads and converts YouTube and other Flash video to MPEG-4 iPhone output.
QuickTime X Player (free) Converts anything it can play (see components above) to iPhone format.
MacOS X Automator Movie Services (free) Converts andy QuickTime movie to iPhone format.
Here's a screencast medley of these applications at work repurposing video that will be playable in the iBooks app on iOS devices.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Thus, I'll be holding forth on this topic for 45 minutes beginning at 8:30 AM on Thursday October 21 in the "International Paper 3" room. Not exactly the "Boom Boom" room but it will be a good experience I'm sure. Here is the abstract:
Creating eBooks using the EPUB standard is now within the grasp of faculty as well as any other subject matter expert with basic computer skills. Additionally, publishing eBooks for consumption by students and others on desktop. laptop and mobile devices will soon be a drag and drop operation. In addition to an overview of the eBook creation and publishing process, attendees will have access to a companion web site with links to in-depth information, tutorials and resources.
See you at the Rock!
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
An update to the iWork suite late last week included a new export option for Pages. The Pages app can now export a document as an .epub file, the predominant standard for eBooks. While there have been other WYSIWYG editors for producing ePub documents such as Sigil and eCub, Pages is the first mainstream commercial application to support ePub export. What's more, Pages is somewhat ahead of the standard by enabling the inclusion of audio and video media in an ePub document.
In addition to the Pages update, Apple has provided this support page which describes a number of ePub best practices and includes a link to download a very helpful sample file that can be used as a template or a source from which the proper ePub styles may be imported. I used it as a template by saving that file with a different name and then replacing the content with my own.
The key to creating a properly formed ePub document is to select the appropriate Pages Section types (Title Page, TOC, Forward, Chapter, etc.) and use the appropriate Paragraph Styles as you insert the content.
Here's a brief tour of the Pages template showing how Sections and Paragraph Styles are used to define the structure (cover, TOC, chapters, etc.) of the exported ePub file. First, we look at the template as Apple provided it and then with a different file name and different content.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
There are two basic approaches to using the iBookstore, doing all the work yourself or getting some help from an approved aggregator.
Your first step should be to acquaint yourself with the rules. They are simple and few in number. Go to iTunes Connect where you will see this :
... be sure to use the drop-down menu to choose "Books."
Here you'll see the requirements for submitting an eBook to the iBookstore.
The next two screenshots show the application and the info requested prior to uploading your .epub files. Of course it is essential that your book be exactly as you intend it to be. Involving an editor or at least other literate people as critical readers would be a wise move before uploading.
If this seems too much to bear, you always have that second option which is to involve an Apple-approved aggregator. For a small fee, these folks will handle most of what needs to be done. However, they generally do not support or market the book. That's your job and it can be a mighty challenge. There are lots of comments by other authors on this point so it's good to make an effort to find, read and consider the experience of others.
You'll want to investigate the requirements of each aggregator as they are not all the same. Smashbooks, for example, has a Style Guide that you should consult well ahead of time. Their style guide is an .epub file and they only accept manuscripts in the form of a Microsoft Word document. Smashwords also offers the option to publish via other venues in addition to the iBookstore.
Monday, August 9, 2010
All one needs is access to a server with an RSS feed capability. In Georgia, all university system faculty have access to the USG Podcasting Server which is very easy to use and has the ability to dynamically generate RSS feeds. However, any standard web server can be used if you can create and maintain your own RSS feed, a simple text document that follows the RSS 2.0 Standard.
The following screencast will take you through the process of uploading an .epub file to the USG Podcasting Server, copying the subscription address to share with students and then follow the student path of subscribing to the RSS feed with the iTunes application and synchronizing those eBooks with a mobile device running Apple's iBooks application.
Note: If a student doesn't have an Apple device running the iBooks application, there are other options that we'll examine in an upcoming blog post covering the many ways there are to read an .epub file.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
A tool that can help us achieve this end is the free, cross-platform application called "Calibre." Calibre has many attributes such as managing your eBook library, converting eBooks, syncing to eBook reading devices, viewing eBooks and providing you with a content server for online access to your book collection. It is this last capability that we'll be focusing on here.
Calibre's content server is based upon the Open Publication Distribution System (OPDS). Many eReader applications such as Stanza are capable of browsing an ODPS catalog by categories such as newest, title, ratings, publishers, series, authors, tags, etc. and then downloading selected items. The catalog can be password protected. Here's a screenshot of the server settings:
One thing that you'll want to be sure of is that you network administration has arranged for access via HTTP port 8080 or whatever other port you have configured the server to "listen" to for requests. There may be a firewall in place that would prevent that. If that is not possible, just use port 80 which is the default port for HTTP. If you can surf the web, port 80 is open and, so, this should work.
Here's a screen shot showing Stanza on iPad browsing an OPDS catalog:
It's also possible for Caliber to send eBooks and magazines via email. Here's the setup for that:
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Our example uses the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). Not only do we have the text of the poem to share with students but we also have a video of the actor Sir Alan Bates reciting it. There is only one chapter in this example but there could just as well be any number of chapters, each with media and text.
You may want to download this ePub-based eBook, "side load" it into the iTunes application and synch to a device running the iBooks application (iPad, iPhone or iPod touch). If you find an eReader other than iBooks that will display this eBook properly, please let me know.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
I also wanted to show rather than describe how easy this can be so here's my first video screencast for this blog. I hope that each frame is worth 10,000 words to you.
You may want to download this ePub-based eBook, "side load" it into the iTunes application and synch to a device running the iBooks application (iPad, iPhone or iPod touch).
For the next episode, I'll try to show how a more complex eBook project would be done using this same Automator service so stay tuned.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
The technique employed by Apple is a straightforward one. Using the HTML 5 audio and video tags, these new elements appear and play as the following screen shot images illustrate. The first example involves adding audio to Lewis Carroll's classic "Alice in Wonderland" which is now in the public domain. Here, we see the table of contents:
Sunday, June 27, 2010
To follow along, point mobileSafari (or other webkit-based mobile browser) at: http://m.ibisreader.com and then, on Apple iOS devices, create a web clip so that this web app is presented in full screen mode (eliminates browser UI elements) and is easier to access later on. If you are using an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or an Android phone, you'll be asked to permit the creation of a local database of up to 50 MB in size. Desktop/laptop readers will want to use: http://ibisreader.com.
Ibis Reader provides an encouraging answer to those would-be eBook authors who ask, "If I create an eBook in ePub format, who will be able to read it?" That answer is, "Anyone with Internet access and an HTML 5 web browser." Of course, many will have other software and hardware options as well and they may well prefer them for one reason or another but Ibis Reader has the widest reach of all and that may be critical for many authors. Being a web application, Ibis Reader can be used on any desktop, laptop or netbook computer and on many mobile devices including the wildly popular Apple lineup of iPad, iPhone and iPod touch and any of the Android phones.
Among the many benefits of HTML 5 is Local Storage which benefits iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and Android phones by enabling the download of entire eBooks to a local SQL Lite database on the device. This makes it possible for these devices to retrieve and present the Ibis Reader web app plus the full text of one or more eBooks without being connected to a network at all. Previously, this is what differentiated native apps from web apps. The web app could not run without a network whereas the native app could. This is now no longer the case.
Native apps still have some advantages over web apps in the areas of rich media and interactivity. However, even these may go away as the work beginning the next iteration of the ePub standard gets underway. More on this in a later post.
Friday, June 11, 2010
This method takes advantage of several MacOS X technologies (AppleScript, Automator and Services) so you'll need a modern Mac running MacOS X 10.6.x (Snow Leopard) or later. What you'll be downloading from Padilicious and using is an automated workflow that requires zero HTML coding expertise. If you can select text and find/select files on your computer, you have all the necessary skills to create iPad web apps.
So what is a web app? A web app is a web site that looks and operates very much like a native application for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch). If you create a web clip of this site on your iPad (instructions here), it will operate in full screen mode so none of the usual web browser controls are seen making it look even more like a native application.
With these Automator Actions and Services installed, creating a web app is a simple matter of selecting text, optionally selecting an image, an audio file or a movie and then invoking the service and using a forms like interface to choose various options.
So far, there are two automated workflows:
1) Create Single-page Web App
EXAMPLES (click on thumbnail images in rightmost column)
2) Create iPad Photo Web App.
EXAMPLES (click on thumbnail images in rightmost column)
To fully appreciate the examples, use an iPad, load the web site, create a web clip for it and then revisit the site using the web clip icon.
Feel free to post your iPad web apps here in the comments. I'd love to see them.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The iBookstore is currently only available via the iBooks.app on the iPad but we will see an iBooks.app for the iPhone and iPod touch as soon as iPhone OS 4.0 is released this summer. Then, too, there are many titles found in the iBookstore that are in the public domain and free. It appears that Apple has taken good advantage of the work of the Gutenberg project. All of these eBooks are in the ePub format which appears to be the de facto standard.
Thus, we're not so concerned about books that are free, in the public domain and have been digitized by Project Gutenberg or books that are not free. What we are concerned with are those free, ePub-based text books, handouts, reprints, and other documents that university faculty might want to assign to their students to read on one of these mobile devices or even on a larger, not-so-mobile computer.
Right now, we can give a qualified "yes" to this question. Here's how it works. Simply include .epub files in the RSS feed that you create for a podcast channel using same conventions that you've been using for .mp3, .mp4, mov, .m4a, .m4b, .m4v and .pdf files. The only thing that will be different is the suffix on attached files. That will be .epub.
Here's what will happen. When you subscribe to this channel using iTunes.app 9.1.1 or newer, the .epub files will become available for download according to the prefs that you've set in iTunes.app. Once downloaded, you will see these .epub files referenced in both the Podcast Library and the Books Library of the iTunes.app. Synchronizing with an iPad, those .epub documents will be placed on the shelf in the iBooks app and identified as a podcast in the list view. Ditto for iPhones and iPod touch devices with iPhone OS 4.0 (summer 2010). All of the features of the iBooks application such as bookmarking will be available as your students read these ePub-based documents.
Important caveat. Currently, iTunes U does not accept the .epub suffix in an RSS feed so if you try to subscribe to a podcast channel via the iTunes U RSS Tab feature, it will fail. However, I expect that this restriction will be lifted once all Apple mobile devices have their own iBooks application. That should be this summer.
To see this in action, subscribe to my eBook Test Channel.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
The fact that the ePub standard really doesn't support interactivity leads some to settle upon applications as the way to go. Concerned with being restricted to Apple mobile devices and the much higher costs of participation of the app model, others have talked-up the possibilities of extending the ePub standard to include greater interactivity. DRM, by the way, can be applied to either of these options but experience has already shown that these protections can be defeated just as easily.
There is a third alternative that isn't getting much attention right now. I'll call it "Hyper Lit" for want of a better label. It's already here and living amongst us. We are not talking about this new alternative yet simply because we don't recognize it as a potential solution to this challenge. HyperLit is hidden in plain sight. That technology is nothing more than HTML 5 poured into new containers.
Now imagine these containers holding interactive educational content. That package of content might have an identifying suffix such as .itlo (iTunes Learning Object) or .itlm (iTunes Learning Module). Further down the road, we can imagine these new media types being a part of an RSS feed (podcast channel episodes) handled by aggregators such as the iTunes application.
The application model will appeal to those who own or can rent the significant means of production required. It provides great flexibility in arranging interactive experiences and the illusion of protection from piracy. It also adds a measure of exclusivity which helps customers part with their money more easily. We can call this the monetized model for digital interactive reading experiences. Note that apps can be free to the consumer where the costs of production have been paid by some other, possibly eleemosynary, entity.
The ePub-based eBook model will appeal to those who concentrate upon providing a linear experience. Commercial interests will add DRM to "protect" the content from piracy and others will forego that option and rely instead on Creative Commons licensing or similar mechanisms. Depending upon the presence of DRM, we can call this either the monetized model for digital linear reading experiences or the open model for digital linear reading experiences. Since the cost of production using the ePub standard is very low, ePub-based models will be widely used.
The fledgeling HyperLit model will appeal to those who want to provide an open interactive reading experience. HyperLit documents will provide faculty and students with ways and means to talk about complex ideas with text, audio, video and animation, cite online sources and even initiate online dialog amongst the readers of a document. After all, a HyperLit document is basically a locally viewed web site using the file:/// scheme.
Thus, the digital reading experience will likely be available to us in several flavors, the traditional linear experience and new, interactive ways of engaging content. How these new interactive approaches to the reading experience get sorted out will be interesting to watch, especially in educational circles. There are lots of contenders. Not all will survive but it is equally likely that no one option will predominate. The need for open content on the one hand and the need for economic viability on the other are too great.
As for the reading experience itself, there are some interesting views already coming to the fore. Although focused exclusively on the novel, I found these two opinion pieces by Michael Grothaus to be interesting:
Dear John Makinson and Penguin, please don't "reinvent" books.
A tale of two mediums: Despite the iPad, traditional books aren't going anywhere.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Working around this limitation is possible and there are several approaches to consider. I've attempted to use most of them. Thus, the following is offered so that others won't have to start out at square one as I did.
There are many fine screencasting applications for desktop and laptop computers. I use ScreenFlow for all of my screencasting ($99). It requires MacOS X 10.5 or later. On Windows, you can do much the same thing using Camtasia ($299). Both of these vendors offer lots of helpful info on their web sites. ScreenFlow has a dedicated site for that called The Screening Room.
With either of these products, you can record anything that appears on screen and do a lot of fancy post-processing to zoom, pan, add text and graphic elements and so on. Thus, the challenge is to get an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad to make an appearance on your screen. Here are several ways to do that, all require a MacOS X computer:
1) If all you need to do is show how the iPhone handles a web site or web application, iPhoney is hard to beat. This application reproduces the behavior of the Safari web browser on your laptop or desktop so you can use ScreenFlow to capture all the action and go from there.
2) The iPhone simulator in the iPhone SDK will provide you with an iPad simulator as well as an iPhone simulator. The SDK is free but you have to sign up as an Apple developer (also free) at:
http://developer.apple.com/programs/ To simulate more than what Safari does, you have to have the source code for each application and be able to use the XCode compiler. Apple doesn't provide the source code for the apps it develops so that's all beyond our reach.
3) The most flexible solution is to jailbreak your iPod touch or iPhone (difficult and bound to earn frowns from Steve Jobs). Here's where to get help in doing this: http://blog.iphone-dev.org/ Once your iPod touch or iPhone is opened up in this way, you'll have an app called Cydia for installing other apps. Then go here: http://screensplitr.com/demogod/ and learn how to download and use DemoGod for your Mac and ScreenSplitr for your iDevice.
This will get you the broadest, most flexible representation of your iDevice on your screen both for capture and for live demonstration. However, you'll find that the frame rate is not high enough for really smooth and realistic action. This is most noticeable when showing video playing on an iDevice.
The other thing that you won't see fully represented is an indication of the touch gestures. I am currently thinking through how best to handle this, with a literal image such as would be available with PhoneFinger or something less obscuring but still meaningful such as animated fingerprints.
Finally, I should mention what is probably the simplest and most effective approach, use a mid to high end document camera (c. $1200) with digital output to your computer and capture that. Other than the cost, this approach has the verisimilitude required for top notch educational visualizations.
Of course you could do what Apple does and use pro hand models and videographers who really know lighting and all that stuff. It will be expensive.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Thus, I can create .epub files using free, cross-platform software and students can consume that content using a variety of mobile and not-so-mobile devices. Using an iPad, for example, my students would simply drag the .epub files that I provide into the Books library of the iTunes application and then synch with the iPad. I could simply post those .epub files to my Faculty Web Server account for download.
However, as an academic using iTunes U, I am very eager to learn whether and how eBooks can be distributed using the same podcasting model as is now used by iTunes U to distribute audio, video and PDF files. The advantages of offering content via podcasting over simple file services are many, including being able to more easily restrict access, use subscription to schedule delivery of content over the semester timeline and extending the benefits of content aggregation (automated organization) to my students.
Although we frequently think about eBooks as novel-length tomes, the format will also support shorter works such as a textbook chapters, assignments, journal articles and the like. An eText and supplementary content could be delivered in serialized form throughout the semester. The problem, right now, is that neither the iTunes application nor iTunes U will handle files carrying the .epub suffix. This is a decision that only Apple can take but we can certainly lobby for it and I think that we should. I mention this to anyone at Apple who will listen and I have also signed up for a free developer account so that I can submit "enhancement requests" via bugreport.apple.com
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Ning is the social platform for the world's interests and passions online. Millions of people every day are coming together across Ning to explore and express their interests, discover new passions, and meet new people around shared pursuits.
Ning's Jason Rosenthal, who has been their CEO for a month, announced the end of free services this week. The knee jerk response to this event is to say, "This is what you get when you place yourself in the hands of proprietary services."
Of course some will try to apply this generalization to iTunes U, the iTunes Store Podcast Directory and other free services painting them all with the same very wide brush. Is there a difference and, if so, what is it and why should we expect a different outcome?
I think that the difference is not simply the fact that Apple is profitable but that what Apple does for free actually generates income, albeit indirectly. The iTunes Store, the part where you pay for stuff, is not a big profit center. They do slightly better than break even. This is also true of the MacOS and application software such as iWork, Final Cut etc.
All of these free and low margin products generate sales of Apple hardware and that’s where the profit margins are very healthy. They are a hardware company. Apple dominates (90%) the market for computers that cost more than $1,000. They dominate the portable media player market with the iPod and are well on their way toward dominating the mobile phone and mobile computer markets with the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
So “free” can be fraught with danger but that risk can also be managed by making intelligent and well informed choices about which free things you predicate your programs upon. I see iTunes U and the larger Apple ecosystem that makes it possible as a much lower risk than Ning and other services that have to stand on their own and deliver profits to shareholders.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
This piece was widely quoted in online blogs and elsewhere but few commenters seemed troubled about the idea that something can be both ethical and illegal at the same time. I'm not questioning whether this is the case because obviously it is if you agree with Cohen's reasoning. My question is whether both assertions should be true. When the law condemns ethical behavior, something is wrong with the law and that should be changed.
Commercial entities are simply acting normally when they seek to leverage any and all means to maximize profit. Thus, it is quite natural for them to seize upon copyright law as one way to achieve this end. They will interpret copyright law in self-serving fashion, they will attempt to convince law enforcement and the general public of the correctness of their position and they will lobby for statutes that further reinforce their interpretation. This is the nature of the beast.
There are countervailing forces. Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation draw upon the support of those who understand that society in general and they in particular would be harmed if commercial interpretations of copyright law were not challenged at every opportunity. The larger question, then, is whether the ratio favors the whole of society or some oligopoly or another. As the Internet becomes more and more central to the lives and fortunes of more people, the importance of this question will rise.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Of course, innovative folks have already conjured up a workaround.reported here
... that kinda, sorta works. But why should this be necessary? Whose priorities trump all others?
Traditionally, writing a paper and quoting from various sources inevitably involved transcription, just like Monks of old. There simply wasn’t another way.
With the dawn of the digital era, it became possible to use a digital scanner and Optical Scanning Recognition (OCR) software to produce machine readable text and illustrations that could be re-purposed in academic and other writing. Better but still not a boon to students without access to expensive gear. They were still mired in ancient scholarly bogs.
Now that we have eBooks and eTexts and eJournals and wonderful, magical devices to read them on, one would think that the scholarly life would ease-up a bit but noooooooo, the commercial interests will have none of that. The doctrine of presumptive guilt means that scholars will continue to be consigned to ancient monastic transcription rather than the liberation of copy and paste. That, of course, will come at the cost of less time invested in developing their higher order thinking skills.
Quoting excerpts from a book for the purpose of criticism or for scholarly purposes has long been protected as a fair use in US and international law. DRM places an unnecessary and unwarranted tax upon the exercise of these rights, especially in this digital era where there are better options than tedious and error-prone transcription.
The tragedy here is that DRM doesn't prevent the kind of copyright infringement that threatens a publisher's profitability. Those wholesale pirates will have their way regardless. Only scholarship will suffer.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
When I do get my hands on one I'll be like the fellow who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions. WaaaaHoooooo !
I suspect that the iPad will be pointed to by future historians as a watershed event in educational computing. How this will play out is less clear. A few of the things I'll be looking closely at are:
o The replacement of physical textbooks with eTexts. If the commercial interests have their way which seems likely. we'll have old wine in new bottles (yawn). On the other hand, there will be the opportunity to radically change the cost, content and logistics of textbooks in K-12 and higher education. That would be exciting.
o The challenge to institutionalized education where the proposition that one could learn all they need to know in grades K-(some number less that 12) in order to become a fully independent learner. Will higher education become irrelevant as David Wiley recently predicted or will it rise to the occasion and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? HINT: Credentialing won't save higher education, Microsoft and Cisco are already doing that quite well, thank you very much.
Stay tuned for future thoughts on these themes.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Still, the audience had to be somewhat literate. Without universal literacy, written communications may have reached their limit.
Enter video. Thanks again to the computer and internet revolutions, we have a method of communication that is not constrained by literacy. Some video doesn't even require spoken language to make a point. Where spoken language is required, the fact that video can have multiple, selectable language tracks seems a better, less costly solution than printing books in multiple languages. Not even Esperanto could save us from the Tower of Babel incident but perhaps some day we will have a universal spoken language.
So video may be seen as a more powerful and more universal medium of communication. That's the good part. The bad part is that, unlike our written and spoken languages, video may not be entirely unencumbered. I'm ignoring the fact that some font faces are encumbered by copyright because there are plenty that are not and there is no compelling reason to choose one over the other in written communications.
The composition and publishing of video necessarily entails compression and decompression and that requires software called a CODEC. Video also requires a container format examples of which include MPEG-4, Ogg, QuickTime, Flash, Silverlight and so on. Thus, all Internet video is some combination of container and CODEC(s). It's mostly the CODECs that are encumbered by patents and this is the focus of our concern about open and unfettered communication in the Internet video age.
Recognizing the fact that using video was a complicated process involving web browser plug-ins that present stability and security hazards as well as multiple lines of complex code, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sought to make video as simple to use as including a still image. The first major upgrade to the HTML standard in more than ten years, HTML 5, presented the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Not only does the HTML 5 video element simplify including video in a web page, it also eliminates the need for video plug-in or 'helper' applications such as Flash, the QuickTime Plug-in and Silverlight. Web browser plug-ins are a continuing source of performance issues(slowdowns and even crashing) and security threats. The HTML 5 video element promised to make it possible for more people to use video to communicate and to help their audiences as well.
However, the key piece to this scheme involved web browsers standardizing on a single video CODEC and container. The two main contenders for this were and still are: a) MPEG-4/H.264 (video)/AAC (audio) and b) Ogg/Theora (video) /Vorbis (audio). Unfortunately, the W3C group working on the video element, unable to agree on one, specified neither. The unresolved issue was not about open standards. Both options are open standards. The unresolved issue was about patents. No one argues that H.264 is patent-free, not even in the face of MPEGLA's recent announcement that it would not charge royalties for Internet video that is free to end users through 2016. Proponents of Ogg claim that it is patent-free. However, there is significant skepticism surrounding that claim.
Work-arounds have been developed such as the Google code cited below but the originally intended simplicity and elegance have eluded us. Worse, there is the prospect of having to pay directly or indirectly for the privilege of communicating with video. Imagine if we faced that prospect with words in the form of text on a web page? The time for governments to review and rescind copyright and patents for software may be at hand. What do you think?
Dive Into HTML 5: Video on the Web
Daring Fireball (John Gruber): Why the HTML 5 'Video' Element is Effectively Unusable, Even in Browsers that Support It.
Brian Crescimanno: Dear Mozilla, Please Don't Kill HTML 5 Video!
MPEGLA: MPEG LAs AVC License Will Continue Not to Charge Royalties for Internet Video that is Free to End Users
WC3: HTML5 Video Element
Daring Fireball (John Gruber): GIF, H.264 and Patents
Daring Fireball (John Gruber): On Submarine Patents vis-a-vis H.264 and Ogg Theora
Google: HTML Video and Audio for Everyone
Monday, March 22, 2010
In higher education, we have long seen use by faculty who find educational technologies inherently interesting and are not hampered by worries about maintaing artificial scarcity of knowledge (the DeBeers model). That has spurred some increases in availability of open learning resources.
However, the problem is that these faculty are a small proportion of the cadre of instruction in higher education. What keeps the majority from getting more involved? It's a failure of leadership in higher education that is at the root of this stagnation. There are two things that HE administrators and faculty (via shared governance) should be doing that most of them are not:
1) Making sure that reaching out is not only permitted but rewarded. Here, the focus is on P&T (promotion and tenure) but there are other factors such as an institutional mindset that its survival is somehow linked to maintaining a false sense of scarcity. Credentialing is a part of this.
2) Making sure that reaching out is possible. Here, we are talking about helping faculty garner the skills necessary to developing and publishing content in an open and unfettered fashion, collaborating and cooperating with others on content projects that are beyond the abilities of solitary work.
Whether or when that will happen is well beyond my ken but I do believe that these steps are essential prerequisites.
Certainly, creating content on touch-oriented devices will be different and possibly better, especially for non-professional content creators, aka the average learner. We should keep our minds open at least until these things are actually in the wild and applications for them are in use, getting reviewed, etc.
The assumption that LMS use will be tied to "native" iPhone OS apps is clearly wrong in the case of the recently announced Moodle iPhone app. That is a web app, not a native app. Native apps are good for two things: monetizing a product or service and, with native apps that are free, providing a richer feature set than is currently possible with web apps. With an LMS, lock-in has already occurred (even with free, open source LMSs) so that's not very relevant in this case.
A more accurate view is to look at the iPhone OS as having attributes that are attuned to commercial models and attributes that are or could be attuned to non-commercial models (web apps, ePub support, and podcasting). How teachers and learners mix and match these will be interesting to observe.
That Apple is just another corporation seeking to maximize profits should not be a surprise to anyone. In the underfunded world of education, we are, as we must be, pragmatically opportunistic and take advantage of what is within reach. Given that decentralized learning is unlikely to be fully funded by any mixture of learner and government payments, we must deal with the commercial world making every effort to convince them that they can "do well by doing good." Apple seems to understand that and has long offered more support to education than their low margin competitors.
Even if decentralized learning were fully funded by governments and learners themselves, we have to ask what kind of systems would that bring forth. Too bad the Soviet Union is no longer existing. They would certainly make the answer to that question quite plain to see. Just imagine a Soviet-engineered mobile learning device and supporting infrastructure
The main complaint appears to be about the closed nature of the iPhoneOS ecosystem where devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch and, now, the iPad are fed by the iTunes Content Management System which includes the iTunes Store for Music and Video, the iTunes App Store and, now, the iTunes Book Store.
Since Apple is not an eleemosynary concern, we should expect an emphasis on the commercial aspects of all this. Making life and consumption safe and easy for customers is certainly consistent with that status. Equally unsurprising is that geeks who like to tinker with everything, Libertarians and other kindred spirits are rankled by all of these constraints. Which camp is the more numerous and profitable? But is that all there is to it?
Smart capitalists also understand the "economics of free" and how "doing well by doing good" can improve the bottom line. Apple gets these concepts very well and that is why Apple has maintained non-commercial avenues for content production, discovery and distribution. Hundreds of thousands of podcasts are free via the iTunes Store podcast directory. Apple supports iTunes U which is free to any higher education institution and many other public information sources. Apple has a long history of supporting educators in their work with sites such as the Apple Learning Interchange.
Thus, I expect that these kinds of things from Apple will continue and expand. It's good business for them.
Unlike the iPhone, the iPad is aimed at a new category and Apple hasn't revealed to the world everything that we need to know in order to properly assess its importance or irrelevance to teaching, learning and other things. Right now, we know more about the iPad commercial model than we know about its corresponding non-commercial model and it's the latter that will likely be more important in education.
We know that the iBooks app and iTunes Book Store will be based upon the open ePub standard. What we don't know is how much of that standard will be supported. There's a lot to ePub beyond plain text. We also don't know whether there will be free books in the iTunes Book Store or not or whether books will be reviewed by Apple, someone else or not at all. Although eTexts will probably also be done with ePub, we don't yet have confirmation of that nor do we know how eZines and eNews will be done though I suspect that these will be apps that use in-app purchasing to acquire single issues or commit to multi-issue subscriptions.
The big unknown, IMO, is what the non-commercial counterparts of eBooks, eTexts, eZines and eNews will be like. How will they be produced, discovered and consumed? The podcasting model would seem to me to be a natural fit. If they were all done as ePub documents, these would be just one more new podcast media type. There are other possibilities, especially for eZines and eNews (including newsletters) that I would like better than ePub but this is hard to discuss when we don’t know how Apple will address these things.
The fact is that we know too little about how new content for iPhoneOS devices will be created, discovered and consumed, especially the non-commercial varieties that are so important to educators. Thus, our assessments are premature and sorely lacking.
Textbooks. If eTexts were available for free or at very low cost, could the money saved be used to maintain a program that provides teachers and students with mobile devices such as the iPod touch and iPad loaded with equivalent eTexts and free eText readers such as Stanza and iBooks? This raises a few related questions:
Where would free and very inexpensive eTexts come from? There is a standard called ePub that is widely accepted and supported by free readers such as Stanza and iBooks. As well, there are free software apps that make authoring, converting and even serving ePub documents very easy such as Sigil and Calibre. So, could classroom teachers write eTexts that could replace the physical textbooks now in common use? What institutional support would be required? Release time? Extra compensation? Royalties?
How do we identify the classroom teachers that have the content expertise and writing skills necessary to create eTexts? Could a group of teachers collaboratively write an eText? Presumably, all experienced classroom teachers have the appropriate content expertise. As well, those same teachers are probably well grounded in the state standards that guide the curriculum throughout. So, the major variable is writing skill. Can that be taught and learned? Do we need editors and, if so, where do they come from? Are we talking about establishing a guild of teacher/writers?
Some will worry, "What about copyrights?" So, what is it about textbooks that is copyrightable? As it turns out, not much. Facts and ideas are NOT copyrightable. It's only the unique expression of an idea that is copyrightable. Illustrations, audio and video clips? There's tons of stuff in the public domain and in various open content archives under Creative Commons licensing. The Internet Archive is but one example. However, the nagging question of whether educators are too self-censoring to venture forth may be important. If it is a factor, how can it be overcome?
Now, assuming we still want to move in this direction, what technologies might help individual and collaborative groups of teachers writing and editing eTexts? Is this a Web 2.0 opportunity?
On to computer labs. Most of the ideas behind computer labs in schools are focused on addressing economic issues having to do with the fact that not all students can afford a computer and not all schools can afford a 1:1 program issuing a laptop to every student. Is it time to rethink this? If we could provide every student with an iPad or iPod touch, would we still need as many or even any computer labs. What does the cloud computing model offer us in this quest?
Finally, what is the average annual cost of textbooks and computer labs on a per student basis? If foregoing that cost enough to support an eText project, 1:1 mobile device program and requisite professional development? Is it more than enough, just enough, almost enough? If there is an anticipated shortfall, how might the difference be made up?
1) While it's nice to know that I can bring .epub volumes into iTunes and subsequently synch them to an iPad, I'd really like to know about all the options for getting them into the iTunes.app. Drag and drop into a yet-to-be-seen "Books" Library in the iTunes.app seems minimal. So, what else? How about podcasting? I can already podcast audio, enhanced audio, video and PDF files so why not simply add .epub to the list of podcastable file types? This would make sense because podcasting is the mechanism for resource discovery and distribution used by Apple's iTunes U. An iTunes course containing eBooks or eTexts in the ePub format seems quite natural to me.
2) Will Apple enhance the ePub standard? They did this with RSS for the iTunes app and iTunes U, so why not here as well? Extensions to the ePub standard would only work on iPad and be ignored elsewhere. Extensions would add functionality such as bookmarking, marginal notes and so on. Is Apple planning to do this? It would make sense if they are as that would be a boon to self-publishing teachers and learners.
3) Yes, there's more to this than simply tapping into the Gutenberg Project and reading books in the public domain. The ePub standard makes it possible for anyone to publish without the intermediation of commercial publishers. This completes the revolution begun in the 90s with desktop publishing and laser printers. Today, anyone can create a digital novel, collection of short stories, textbook, magazine, newsletter, newspaper, etc. and publish it worldwide. The iPad and other devices capable of rendering .epub completes the circuit.