From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.
hardback, 392 p., ISBN 0-262-03303-8, US$29.95.
MIT Press: http://mitpress.mit.edu
Although there are an increasing number of books being written on the history of computing, Martin Campbell-Kelly's From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry helps fill a key vacuum in this expanding literature. Rather than focusing on a particular era, luminary, academic institution, or firm, this book examines the entire software industry from a business perspective, beginning in the 1950's and extending to 1995. What is perhaps most unique about this volume is that it discusses the evolution of computing hardware only as much as is required to provide a foundation for the story of software to unfold. Campbell-Kelly keeps the focus squarely on software, and his telling of its history is both consistently fascinating and enlightening in terms of today's technology marketplace.
The scope of the book includes software contractors, corporate software products, and mass-market software products. While the later category, which contains firms such as Microsoft, may be the most familiar to many readers, Campbell-Kelly aims to expose us to a broader range of software players and products. Applications such as IBM's CICS and SAP's Enterprise Resource Planning implementations are brought forward from their established locations in the background in order to better explain the history of the infrastructure that runs today's businesses.
Since the scope of the book's analysis is broad, Campbell-Kelly carefully steers us through his editorial decisions in presenting this history. The book focuses primarily on the U.S. software industry for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that its particular history contains, on the whole, a majority of the industry's output, "especially in software products." A final chapter entitled "Reflections on the Success of the U.S. Software Industry" examines this global asymmetry. Other editorial decisions include the selection of exemplar firms and products that typify trends in software's evolution. These decisions are explicitly stated, and the firms and products selected are consistently interesting case studies.
The book's chronology begins with the "Origins of the Software Contractor" in the context of highly custom programs and large government contracts. It then continues through the "origins" and "shaping" of corporate software products and the origins and "maturing" of the personal computer software industry. It also contains a chapter on "Home and Recreational Software" that gives the same comprehensive level of analysis to the development of the console and PC gaming markets as well as the CD-ROM market.
This history tightly tracks the differentiation of software products with the firms that originated and perpetuated them. The strategies of both successful and failing firms are discussed across different eras and software categories, and the backgrounds, often including training grounds, of their founders are outlined where illuminating.
Although Campbell-Kelly does not concentrate on historical comparisons with recent events, in most every chapter, readers will find topics that have parallels to recent events in the technology market. The origin of the user groups for the IBM 704 is reminiscent of the rise of the open source movement. The section discussing the software market "Go-Go years" at the end of the 1960s, and the way that the stock market behaved after that bubble burst, will certainly remind many readers of the dot com years.
While From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog will be of particular value to data-driven business and technology historians, it is a crucial document for anyone interested in understanding the history of software from a business perspective. For readers who began their interests in computing with the arrival personal computer or later, this book will clarify the origins of many of today's commonly used consumer products and place their development in a larger business context. For readers more familiar with the extended history of software, this volume will provide a wealth of details from a variety of sources on key phases in the development of the industry, crystallizing an insightful timeline of pivotal events. — Jacob Burghardt
Donald O. Case.
Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior.
San Diego: Academic Press, 2002. cloth, 400 p., ISBN 0-121-50381-X, UK£62.00, US$89.95. Academic Press: http://www.academicpress.com/
In his most recent book, Donald O. Case, a professor in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Kentucky, sets out to review the literature on information seeking. Case sees this book as an introduction to the field for graduate students and as a handbook for established researchers. I believe it could be useful to other professionals and students as well, including librarians who wish to better understand their clientele, and undergraduates majoring in a number of fields like information science, marketing, the health sciences, and communications. This is a compliment to the broad range of topics within this book, their readability, and the accessible format through which Case presents them.
Reviewing what has been written about information seeking was no doubt a challenging task. As Case tells us, the literature is large, scattered across many disciplines, and at times includes conflicting terminology. To identify the over 700 works he references, he uses a series of selection criteria. First, Case opts not to draw on the "library use" or "information retrieval" literatures, stating that such studies have been somewhat overemphasized in the past and are "really more about documents (or computer records) than people." Secondly, his review does not thoroughly describe pre-1980 information seeking research, given that much of it is about "the use of libraries and paper or electronic documents." Finally, Case makes only limited use of studies related to education and students. These well-defined boundaries allow him to "focus more on recent information seeking topics of importance" and those that he feels "have not yet received the level of attention they deserve" for example, the similarities between "information" and "entertainment" and the relevance of "play theory" to information seeking.
The book consists of five thoughtfully ordered segments, each of which contains two to four chapters. Every chapter has a similar and quite useful structure: They begin with relevant quotes from information seeking scholars and an outline. The content within the chapter then appears in ordered-hierarchical sections. Each chapter ends with a summary and recommended reading list. All but the final chapter include one or more figures or tables. There is also an eleven page appendix of review questions that instructors might find useful for both in-class discussion and out of class assignments.
Segment one, "Introduction and Examples," includes chapters one and two. In chapter one, Case acquaints us with the almost century-old field of information seeking and the history of its literature from systems-oriented research and its emphasis on information resources to studies focused on context, meaning, and the information seeker. Case treats Brenda Dervin's work of the 1970s as the turning point for the field, and he discusses the sense-making paradigm frequently in later chapters. Indeed, ongoing conceptual evolution and methodological progress in the information seeking field are conclusions that Case hopes we will draw from this book. In chapter two, Case highlights some diverse yet familiar contexts in which intense information seeking occurs. We learn about the information problems and behaviors of five different characters a consumer, a student, a gambler, a lawyer and a curious citizen. If there is a chapter capable of inspiring future information seeking researchers this may very well be it the stories will surely resonate with students and newcomers to the field.
You may sense a change in tone and level of conceptual difficulty when embarking on segment two, "Concepts Relevant to Information Behavior," which includes chapters three through five. Case delves into the information seeking literature in detail, describing concepts and terminology such as information, information needs, decision making, browsing, relevance, information avoidance and many others. Early in the book, Case states his belief that "a broader approach to this literature is warranted." Many of the explanations and definitions he offers in segment two support this stance. For example, Case considers information to be a "primitive term," that refers to "any difference that makes a difference to a conscious, human mind." Similarly, Case points out the shortcomings of the term "information seeking," and its specific focus on active/intentional behaviors. He instead argues in favor of the term "information behavior" given its applicability to a "broader range of information-related phenomena."
Segment three, "Models, Paradigms, and Theories in the Study of Information Behavior," includes two of the most useful chapters for students. Case makes few assumptions about our prior knowledge, offering thoughtful explanations to questions such as "what is a model?" and "what is a theory?" In chapter six he describes five general models of information seeking that he believes are applicable across multiple contexts: Two models from T.D. Wilson, the Krikelas model, the Johnson model, and the Leckie model. In chapter seven, Case adopts P.D. Reynolds' (1971) definition of theory as "an interrelated set of definitions, axioms, and propositions." He also describes what he calls the "layers of meaning" in the concept of theory a kind of hierarchy. Case explains that theory in information seeking research is often borrowed from sociology, communication, and psychology, and then proceeds to describe (with many examples) several specific theories relevant to studying information seeking from the Principle of Least Effort to Media Use as Social Action.
Segment four, "Methods for Studying Information Behavior," includes what Case considers to be "the heart of this book." Making the statement that "we must consider how information seeking has been studied to assess what we know about it," he describes in chapter eight the issues and decisions that surround the design of research studies. This is at times a fairly general discussion, rich with terminology (i.e. operationalization, validity, reliability, units of analysis, etc.) useful to students new to the research process. It does an excellent job preparing us for chapter nine, where Case introduces us to the kinds of methods typically found in the literature on information seeking. He describes case studies, experiments, surveys, interviews, and other methods, along with their advantages and disadvantages. Included in the discussion are specific investigations that use each of these methods. Case encourages us to see the conceptual and methodological differences apparent in these studies from more quantitative analyses to more contextual, qualitative studies.
The last segment of the book, "Research Results and Reflections," is perhaps the most useful for researchers. Case offers an extended bibliographic description of the literature on information seeking in chapter ten, revisiting the issues of its size and shifting topic areas. The next two chapters include well-synthesized, balanced reviews of recent developments in the literature (since 1990). Chapter eleven is organized by occupation, including scientists and engineers, humanities scholars, health care providers, managers, journalists, and lawyers. Chapter twelve is organized by social (non-work) roles and demographic groups. Case describes the information behavior of citizens, consumers, patients, gatekeepers, children, the elderly, racial and ethnolinguistic minorities, and the poor. The focus on the person or "information seeker" in these chapters and in the concluding remarks of chapter thirteen illustrate the scope, evolution, and dynamic nature of information seeking research, as well as its potential for impact.
There are only minor flaws to report about this book. First, separate author and subject indexes would be helpful given the extensive number of works Case cites and the number of concepts, theories, and terms he discusses. Currently, author names and subject terms are combined in a single, sixteen page index. A second related problem is the lack of a glossary. Throughout the text, Case never seems to lose sight of the students and novices that might be in his audience. For example, significant terminology often appears in italics and is accompanied by a clear definition. Nowhere is this more apparent than in chapter eight, where terms like descriptive studies, exploratory studies, explanatory studies, research problems, attributes, cross sectional studies, and hypothesis are defined. However, some of these and other terms do not appear in the index. As a result, there is no convenient way to relocate or reference the useful definitions that appear within the chapters. A glossary would resolve this issue.
Aside from these minor shortcomings, Case has achieved his goal of creating a book that promotes a multidisciplinary understanding of the literature on information seeking. Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior is not intended to be a methods textbook, and Case does not set out to address all the studies that fall under the rubric of information seeking or information behavior. Rather, it is a text that students interested in information seeking research should read in conjunction with other materials, and it is a handy pointer back to the literature for experienced researchers. It should appear on reading lists and bookshelves across a number of academic fields. Timothy P. Hogan
Paul E. Ceruzzi. A History Of Modern Computing.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003. paper, 445 p., ISBN 0-262-53203-4, UK£15.50, US$22.95. MIT Press: http://mitpress.mit.edu
As we are on the subject of histories of computing, here is another book taking a closer look at the developments of computers from their early days up to the new millennium. Although it is also published by MIT Press, A History of Modern Computing views the industry and its development from a different angle from Campbell-Kelly's From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog (reviewed earlier). Ceruzzi, Curator of Aerospace Electronics and Computing at the National Air and Space Museum, begins his journey just after the mid 1940s, with the efforts of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation which initiated the transformation that took computers from mere calculating machines (used mainly in the academic and military communities), to a personal commodity that would revolutionise human communication, information sharing, and scientific advancement.
The author focuses primarily on the role played by hardware firms which, initially, drove much of the industry. Software is covered, too, in a separate chapter examining the origins of programming (the electromechanical Harvard Mark I required users to punch a row of holes on a piece of paper tape for each instruction) and how the pioneering work of, say, Grace Murray Hopper and Howard Aiken contributed to the sophistication of algorithm processing and how this fostered subsequent work on early compilers. The software aspect is, of course, quite fascinating in itself and there are many snippets of truly enlightening information in the chapter. Considering that software is a word we all seem to use nowadays, the background to its emergence can only contribute to a better understanding of the processes that created it. Software is not confined only to this chapter, though, and the narrative often makes references, when appropriate, to the interplay between hardware and the algorithms that went with it.
Looking at the table of contents, it is apparent that the book is going to follow a more-or-less chronological description of events; indeed, the chapters cover, in turn, the advent of commercial computing (1945-1956), the maturing of the computing industry between 1956 and 1964, the early history of software (1952-1968), the transition from mainframes to minicomputers (1959-1969), the years of IBM's System/360 (1961-1975), the impact of the silicon microprocessor chip (1965-1975), the emergence of the personal computer (1972-1977), the plethora of new developments that took place piggybacking on the revolution of the personal computer itself (this includes DEC's VAX systems, Xerox PARC, Wang office solutions, the rise of the Apple II and Visicalc) between 1975 and 1985, with the final two chapters devoted to both the Internet and the recent antitrust tribulations of Microsoft, played out in contraposition to the success of open source, Linux and GNU.
Overall, then, a fair bit of technologies, personalities and historical situations are introduced over the course of the book's 400-plus pages. However confusing this might easily have become, Ceruzzi has done a marvellous job of remaining focussed on the salient points, without getting sidetracked by irrelevant details, which would have rendered the book both much longer and decisively tedious and hard to enjoy. On the contrary, the result is a highly compelling reading, a gripping and lucid account: Ceruzzi shows an ability to expose the facts in such a way as to make the reader feel drawn into the story, yet avoiding any sensationalism. And it is a fascinating story, full of rivalries, technological feats, business acumen, innovative as well as competitive spirit. Some of the key players wanted to change the world, some saw the opportunity to become powerful, others remained rooted to their origins as academicians. Not to mention the many who were way ahead of their time.
Apart from the historical value, the book also aims at dispelling many of the persistent myths, which unfortunately are all too common in the field of computing. One example should suffice:"Tim Paterson's initial work on 86-DOS took about two months, and the code occupied about 6 K. MS-DOS was, and is, a piece of skillful programming. It was the culmination of ideas about interactive computing that began with the TX-0 at MIT. It has faults, some perhaps serious, but those who claim that MS-DOS's success was solely due to Bill Gates's cunning, or to Gary Kildall's flying his airplane when IBM's representatives came looking for him, are wrong."
Having said that, A History of Modern Computing is not perfect. Most evident is the mismatch between title and contents: Although the cover might indicate that the author's history is going to encompass computing as a global activity, most of the material turns out to be concerned only with developments in the United States. Pages 10-11 state clearly that the book "focuses on the history of computing as it unfolded in the United States. Western Europe, especially England, was also a site where pioneering electronic computing machines were built. [...] The following narrative will occasionally address European contributions, but for reason of space will not chronicle the unfolding of the computer industry there. This narrative will also touch only lightly on the history of computing in Japan." Hence, in my opinion, the book should have been called A History of Modern Computing in the United States.
In any case, the decision to exclude discussions of non-U.S. events reduced, somewhat, the appeal of the overall account. It becomes clear that it is not possible to write a history of this kind remaining confined only to a particular location, without then having to refer (necessarily) to some events which took place on the "outside". Already on page 32 the author writes: "A final example of the UNIVAC in use comes from the experience at General Electric's Appliance Park, outside Lousiville, Kentucky. This installation, in 1954, has become famous as the first of a stored-program electronic computer for a nongovernment costumer (although the LEO, built for the J. Lyons Catering Company in London, predated it by three years)." One could question why the particular UNIVAC installation was then considered the first of a kind, if it had been preceded by something else in London. The comment is made in passing, as if the claim of the Catering company in question would not deserve more in depth discussion.
Similarly, further on page 61, we read: "These three types of registers accumulator, program counter, and B-line or index register made up the processing units of most large computers of the 1950s. [...] In 1956 the British firm Ferranti Ltd. announced a machine, called Pegasus, whose processor contaqined a set of eight registers, seven of which could be used as accumulators or as index registers. That inaugurated the notion of providing general-purpose registers [...] Other companies were slow to adopt this philosophy, but by the end of the next decade it became the most favored design." Quoted only in passing, this was a revolutionary development, yet no extra words were devoted to it. While compiling a global history would undoubtedly have been a much more daunting task, the end result would have been a definitive account on this subject. So, perhaps it is something that Ceruzzi might consider for subsequent editions.
Other than this, the only few qualms I have are related to the sometimes inconsistent index, which, for example, includes plenty of operating systems, but not LISP (although this is discussed in the main text), and to the odd statements that are not clearly explained, such as the following: "Java's write-once, run-anywhere feature was heralded in the trade press not as a way to do something interesting on the Web, but to break Microsoft's hold on personal computing software. If people could write programs in Java, which any computer could run, who needed Windows? It was a variant of what people were saying about Netscape's Navigator, and in both cases they were wrong."
Here the analogy between Java and Netscape (the browser) does not hold, primarily because Netscape was not written specifically with the aim of dethroning Microsoft from a dominant spot, as the Redmond company had not even jumped on the Web bandwagon yet (of course, Netscape would become, later, something that did indeed symbolise the struggle between software behemoths and the smaller, more innovative startups). Secondly, why were these people wrong, when they suggested that Java might render Microsoft's stronghold less secure? The subsequent paragraphs do not shed any light on the claim and the text moves onto something else soon afterwards.
To be fair, there aren't many such instances, however, and it is really very hard to find any other fault with the book. Personally, I think its main strength lies in putting things into context. Exactly because we, nowadays, consider us experts in all things digital and (especially the new generations) seem to assume that the current technologies are all there ever was, learning about the past and the unfolding of these technologies can only make us more perceptive to their intrinsic characteristics, their limitations, and above all, to the importance of fostering human ingenuity and innovative spirit. If you genuinely want to know how it is that you got yourself into staring at a monitor reading the latest issue of First Monday, you have only one option: buy this book! Paolo G. Cordone
Connecting: How We Form Social Bonds and Communities in the Internet Age.
Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press Press, 2002.
cloth, 256 p., ISBN 0-791-45434-7, US$21.95. State University of New York Press: http://www.sunypress.edu
Chayko is Assistant Professor and Chair of Sociology at the College of St. Elizabeth in New York and this book is written from a sociological perspective. As a non-sociologist, I was a bit daunted when I started but Chayko introduces the concepts gently and reinforces them with real world examples in fact I'd argue that she over does this.
Those of us who use the Internet and Web to converse with others may already have views on whether it is possible to build relationships and connections using this technology. The book argues forcefully that these connections do exist and are analogous with sociomental relationships that people have with other individuals with whom they have no other contact. This is where I think the book is overly rich in examples. They include the relationships some readers have with characters in books or plays or soap operas, the "connections" some feel with sports heroes or heroines, with distant family members, with deceased friends and family, and with ancestors. As a U.K.-based reader, I found the many references to U.S. soaps and talk show presenters mildly distracting, but the underlying principles are easy to follow and clearly stated. I don't think I've read many technical books where I've felt comfortable with the jargon and concepts so quickly, and where I found that I was thinking "Oh yes that makes sense" a great deal.
Chayko builds a cogent case by layering each element without actually reaching the subject of online connections until late in the piece. By then I think most readers will accept that her argument is made. Her final section states well the case for accepting that technology-mediated connections and face-to-face interactions are both, equally valid, parts of the modern world. Furthermore, she suggests that rather than attempting to reconcile the differences, we might consider "social connectedness to exist in a kind of multimodal continuum".
I found this an informative book and an easy read a rare enough combination in itself. If you find yourself wondering about the validity of your online relationships, this is a great way to start understanding them. Nigel Gibson
From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.
cloth, 357 p., ISBN 0-262-07232-7, UK£25.95, US$35.00.
MIT Press: http://mitpress.mit.edu
When I first spotted this book in the new MIT Press catalogue, I became immediately interested in it, especially when I saw the subtitle: A History of Soviet Cybernetics. Since I teach information and communication technology, I am a avid reader of everything related to the development of computers as social facilitators. One aspect about which I did not know very much, however, was the role of cybernetics in Soviet society, from the late Stalinist period, right up to the 1990s. While there is a copious corpus of literature on the subject of computing and its influence on society and science in the Western world, discussions of how new technologies were incorporated into Soviet life are much more scarce, so it was with utmost satisfaction that I devoured Gerovich's book.
The author is a postdoctoral researcher at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, as well as a Research Associate at the Institute for the History of Natural Science and Technology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. As such, he is in an ideal position to highlight the differences in discourse between East and West, particularly with respect to science and engineering. Not for nothing does the book open with the following paragraph:"The language of Soviet science always fascinated me. Working in my first course papers after coming from what then was the Soviet Union to the United States for graduate study in 1992, I quickly discovered that the dominant styles of academic discourse in the two countries were vastly different. While American academics preferred precise, unambiguous wording, Russians often valued more intricate and vague formulations open to multiple interpretations."
Cybernetics in the former Soviet Union, then, was not only a scientific discipline dealing with algorithms, artificial intelligence, and the advancement of computing; it represented also a rhetorical tool, a mechanism for influencing, for disseminating ideas in a climate of unscrupulous repression, for forging a new type of language that could be both scientific and ideological. With these premises in place, Gerovich's journey can only be fascinating in every respect.
Defining the content of the book is not easy; it could be categorised under the headings "media studies", "computing", ""political studies", or even "linguistics". There is a great deal of interdisciplinary information here, which is all the more interesting, as the chronicle puts into context many of the facts that might have already been known to Westerners before, such as the influence of Norbert Wiener's ideas on Soviet cyberneticians.
The core theme of the book is represented by the juxtaposition of newspeak with cyberspeak, the former being defined as a derivative of George Orwell's pervasive and intimidating, ideology-laden slogan-like language, whose inherent ideas were not supposed to be questioned. Of course, in a country like the former Soviet Union, such a language was seen as serving well the interests of the political elite: "Newspeak allowed a seamless transition from science to philosophy to ideology, for its vocabulary was composed largely of 'empty' or 'floating' signifiers-words that easily passed between different realms and were (re)filled with different meanings." On the other hand, the term cyberspeak derives from the work of Norbert Wiener, in particular from his book Cybernetics; or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (MIT Press, 1961). Here Wiener describes living organisms, devices of control and communication, as well as human society in general in terms of information, feedback, and control.
The book contains numerous threads, creating a story that depicts vividly the effects of the amalgamation of ideological and technological language and the effects that this process had on the communities of scientist and engineers. Towering over all of these luminaries are the figures of Norbert Wiener and Andrei Kolmogorov, as inspiring thinkers who, albeit in different ways, contributed to the establishment of cybernetics as the study of control and communication theory (whether animal or mechanic). Many other prominent personalities appear in the account, among them John von Neumann, Alan Turing, and Claude Shannon.
One aspect of the narrative that struck me as intriguing was the sense of constraint created by the Soviet ideological discourse and the way in which any deviations from the official line were harshly condemned (see the Lysenko diatribe). The role of scientists is particularly illustrative: "criticize and destroy" or "overtake and surpass" were the two alternative stances to adopt when confronting the works of Western experts. Not infrequently, finding a balance between the two positions turned out to be very difficult, with the (perilous) consequence that pleasing the authorities proved a near impossible task. While reading certain passages of the book, I could not help but wondering how any sane person would have wanted to become a scientist in Stalinist Soviet Union, considering the dangers attached to the profession. Special credits must be then given to the people who, despite everything, materialised technological advancements in a climate of fear and repression. It seems obvious that such climate must have inevitably curbed the spirit of experimentation and innovation. Who knows how many ideas and inventions the world will never know about. And the fact that the Soviets lagged far behind the West with respect to computing is a direct consequence of the indisposition of the regime towards genuine research and frank exchange of ideas. For despite the brief period of political "thaw" under Nikita Khruschchev, the gap would ultimately become too wide and thus define, at least in part, the disparity between the two superpowers.
Not that cybernetics never found its moments of favourable prominence. As Gerovitch explains, in the late 1950s "Soviet cybernetics emerged as an ambitious project for creating a single overarching conceptual framework, a general scientific methodology, a sort of substitute for the meta-scientific role of newspeak in academic discourse. Cybernetics began to serve as an institutional umbrella for various unorthodox research trends previously suppressed by dominant Stalinist schools." However, its subsequent integration into governmental structure as a means of conserving the existing administrative and power hierarchies (especially during Brezhnev's leadership) initiated the demise of cybernetics as a progressive force: "by the early 1970s, cybernetics had been transformed from a vehicle of reform into a pillar of the status quo." So we come full circle.
Despite the topic being highly specialised, Gerovich manages to make his monograph readable and engaging, one that could appeal to a large number of people, even those with only a passing interest in computers and the history of computing. All material is well researched, with copious notes pointing the keen reader to further sources of information. Granted, at times, the book can become a little heavy going; after all, within its 300-odd pages the reader finds the description of complicated events, concepts, ideological and political machinations, technological details, as well as a large number of personalities who shaped the course of science and engineering in the 20th century. But after the first few pages it all becomes wholly absorbing. Putting down the book at that stage does not seem so easy anymore.
From Newspeak to Cyberspeak is a must for anybody who is interested in gaining an insight into life in the former Soviet Union from a very different perspective. It also stands as a major contribution to the mapping of the early history of computing, an achievement for which it has to be highly recommended. Oh, and I suggest serving the book with a boxed set of Shostakovich's symphonies as the perfect companion! Paolo G. Cordone
Chin-Chuan Lee (editor).
Chinese Media, Global Contexts.
London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.
cloth 272 p., ISBN 0-415-30334-6, US$95.00, UK£60.00
Routledge: http://www.routledge.com, http://www.routledge-ny.com
The chapters in this book provide a fascinating insight into how the Chinese government is handling the need to manage its media whilst accepting that its people have access to information about events from other non-regulated sources. This potential for conflict is well explained by Chin-Chuan Lee when he outlines how "the propaganda-weary Chinese do not trust fraudulent Party rhetoric; they treat it with indifference, ridicule [...] the only exception occurs when national sovereignty is at stake: the populace joins forces with the regime to achieve 'patriotic nationalism'".
Parts of this book analyse the context of the inherent nationalistic feelings of the Chinese populace to events such as the Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade, the EP-3 spy plane incident and the events of 9/11 (in particular how the outpourings were spontaneous), and reflect the irony of Chinese youth with an increasing knowledge of and influence from the outside world being accompanied by a rising tide of nationalism. An experience across many countries of the perceived homogeneity from globalisation being countered by a surge of nationalism as well as the wish to be more local.
The book goes on to provide examples of how the Chinese government has allowed the outpourings to only go so far before it perceives that damage may be done to its longer term interests. Then, the controls are used to disconnect or deflect the popular wrath, for the Chinese Communist Party leaders have quickly come to terms with the need to manage the media. One of the chapters outlines how the Chinese media has transformed itself from a brainwashing state apparatus to "Party Publicity Inc." whose task is to promote the positive image of the Party state.
Other chapters provide examples of the Government's handling of the need to manage the media whilst also recognising that the dead hand of bureaucratic control has and will encourage its citizens to seek information elsewhere. The examples range from analysis of the way in which the newspaper sector has developed mass circulation and thus practically circumvented the geographic restrictions on circulation, to examples of how these provincial borders are also being challenged by regional and global over-the-air broadcasting. In all instances the cases cited outline how commercial interest has been to the fore, but within a set of constraints which suit the Party. This because a key aim, though not explicitly stated, in the metropolitan dailies, which build their circulations by emphasising "popular" local and human issues, has been the generation of funds for Party coffers. Indeed one instance is quoted of a local Party official being promoted as a result of doing just this by extending circulation beyond the restricted provincial boundary. It is certainly an interesting example of blending commercial interest with disregard of regulations whilst it suits. Though in the longer run, as the urban elite have benefited from easier access to communications and academic information, so they have provided the means for the innate Chinese commercial culture to become ascendant again. How long it will work both with and against the authoritarian regime is more an answer for history than for this book, though some clues can perhaps be divined.
This backdrop provides but one of the reasons for Yuezhi Zhao's comment on the drive behind joining the World Trade Organization (WTO): "A 'genuine' market governed by transparent rules has considerable appeal in the context of China's corrupt business environment". More clearly the Chinese Business Times is quoted explicitly as championing the view that one of the key agendas of joining is to increase "the power of the private sector and further diminish the state sector". Even the People's Daily apparently agreed that the most important impact of WTO entry would be on state enterprise reform. Their comments are made in the explanation how the Party hierarchy managed the process of both negotiating and then ensuring "popular" support for membership. Acceptance into the WTO and being chosen to host the 2008 Olympics are part of the same issue of "national face, pride, and dignity". As such there is a chapter on how the spin of a "win-win" deal was emphasised by the Chinese press whilst ignoring the fact this was a turnaround to embrace global capitalism without explaining the break with the socialist past as well as the anti-WTO voices being suppressed. From the perspective of the Chinese leadership, WTO membership and the Olympics are but two steps on the same road of China's integration with global capitalism. Moves designed to ensure China is no longer viewed as "an outcast and in the uncivilized state of darkness".
This theme of managing the establishment of China's place on the "top table" of countries is a consistent thread throughout the book. Though as reiterated in some detail, Chinese youth has been drawn into the global culture but they have developed "two disparate images of the United States: a highly negative view of American hegemonism abroad alongside a highly positive assessment of American values and lifestyles at home". An ambivalence summarised by Chin-Chuan Lee as "the paradoxical co-existence between the United State's progressive domestic politics and its arrogant, go-it-alone, at times illiberal foreign policy". An interesting summary made at the time of reading this book and another challenge facing the Chinese leadership on how they manage their media. Particularly as Chinese youth expects China to play a far stronger role on the world stage, the regime has a difficult tiger to ride in this regard. Gregory Reece-Smith
Thomas J. Misa, Philip Brey, and Andrew Feenberg (editors).
Modernity and Technology.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.
cloth, 376 p., ISBN 0-262-13421-7, UK£26.95, US$40.00.
MIT Press: http://mitpress.mit.edu
One goal of this volume is to examine modernist icons in the light of social theory, while another goal is to consider them at the same time explicitly as technologies. Technologies are understood as embodiments of human desires and ambitions, as solutions to complex problems, and as interacting networks and systems. To capture the fluid relations between technologies and society and culture, the notion of co-construction is adopted, and serves as a constant perspective informing the thirteen chapters that make up the volume. As Thomas J. Misa puts it in his introductory chapter, "while philosophers and social theorists asserted the 'technological shaping of society', historians and sociologists countered with the 'social construction of technology'" (p. 10). The central aim of this volume is to grasp both perspectives - the social construction of technology and the technological shaping of society and to develop new intellectual frames by which to comprehend them.
Misa's chapter is woven around four proposals: That the concepts "technology" and "modernity" have a complex and tangled history; that technology may be the truly distinctive feature of modernity; that modernization theory missed what was modern about technology; and, that postmodernism no less and no more than modernism is tangled up with technology. Throughout the book, the various authors examine individual technologies in order to disaggregate the singular "technology" and inquire into the diverse social and cultural processes that shape the technologies and are shaped by them.
The three papers that comprise part I of the collection are methodological pieces reflecting on the interactions between technology and either modern socio-economic structures or modern notions of culture, ideology or identity.
In chapter 2, Philip Brey posits the need for integrated studies of modernity and technology. While technology has been the engine of modernity, shaping it and propelling it forward, the common wisdom that technology is socially shaped, or even socially constructed, implies that a full understanding of modern technology requires a conception of modernity within which modern technology can be explained as one of its products. However, few works exist that bridge the two fields; in modernity theory, technology is often treated as a "black box", while in technology studies the larger sociocultural and economic context in which actors operate are not considered, partly due to the difficulty of connecting the microlevel concepts of technology studies to the macrolevel categories of modernity theory. Brey analyses this problem and ways in which it may be overcome in order to bridge the disciplinary gaps that separate modernity theory and technology studies.
In chapter 3, Andrew Feenberg also aims at bridging the chasm by diagnosing the philosophical and methodological gaps and overlaps between technology studies and modernity theory. He proposes a possible resolution through a synthesis of the main contributions to each of these fields, and illustrates this with an application of his own instrumentalization theory.
In chapter 4, Barbara L. Marshall notes that the juxtaposition of feminist theory, technology studies, and theories of modernity cuts to the heart of some critical debates. She sets out to demonstrate that "the insistence on gender as a crucial analytical category ... introduces important disaggregative and normative considerations that hold potential for pointing a way out of the theoretical and methodological impasses that frame this volume" (p. 106). While broadly in agreement with the theoretical framework developed by Feenberg in the previous chapter, she notes that "the notion of secondary instrumentalization needs to more explicitly recognize that in the recontextualization of technology, the nontechnocratic participation of social interests and values may not always be progressive" (p. 120).
Part II, while continuing the methodological discussion with a focus on the co-construction theme, examines various sociotechnical systems and technologies with prominent symbolic and material relations to modernity.
In chapter 5, Don Slater's ethnographical study of Internet use in Trinidad demonstrates that the concepts of "modernity" and "technology" are context-dependent rather than global; but that even "the context of a technology is also partly a consequence of that technology" (p. 153). Moving on from Brey's discussion of levels of analysis in chapter 2, Slater argues for a comparative approach situated between ethnographic particularity and higher-order generalization, enabling us to view modernity as a global phenomenon emerging from particular local conditions. The disaggregation of the Internet stems from the particularities of Internet use in Trinidad, which challenge the presumptions of the global notions of modernity underlying much of the academic literature on the Internet. This leads to a disaggregation of modernity positing a specifically Trinidadian construction of modernity in place of a global and abstract notion. The comparative approach is then used to identify dynamics that can be applied across a wide range of cultures allowing us to "build a sense of modernity under construction from the ground up" (p. 155).
In chapter 6, David Lyon begins his discussion of surveillance technology and surveillance society stating that "Surveillance is a distinctive product of the modern world. Indeed, surveillance helps us to constitute the world as modern" (p. 161). Bound up with this modernity are the technologies that support data collection, particularly computers, which Lyon points out are "socially shaped as well as socially influential" (p. 161). Writing in the aftermath of 9/11, he illustrates this point by noting how [American] society's response to this event will play a part in deciding what new surveillance technologies are adopted, and how the use of these technologies will alter relationships between citizens and the state.
While the surveillance technologies that helped constitute modernity are still present, "surveillance at the start of the new century is networked, polycentric, and multidimensional, including biometric and video techniques as well as more conventional dataveillance" (p. 172). Noting that the most rapidly growing sphere of surveillance is commercial, Lyon argues that increased reliance on ICT and intensification of consumerism are features of postmodern surveillance. As technological shifts are rarely examined empirically in the literature on postmodernity, "an examination of the co-construction of these emergent social and technological formations, as seen through the case of surveillance, promises to throw light on both of them" (p. 173).
Just as Lyon notes that surveillance technology is so much an intrinsic part of daily life that we often take it for granted, Paul N. Edwards in chapter 7 points out that "the most salient characteristic of technology in the modern (industrial and postindustrial) world is the degree to which most technology is not salient for most people, most of the time" (p. 185). Mature technologies have become largely invisible, and we generally only notice them when they fail, but they form the stable foundation, or infrastructure, of modern social worlds. Taking up once again the question of scale explored by Brey in chapter 2, Edwards argues that infrastructure not only bridges the micro and macro levels, but also offers a way of comprehending their relations.
Edwards provides several examples to illustrate the various levels of analysis. In tracing the development of the ARPANET, the micro-scale version, familiar from Hafner and Lyon (1996), focuses on the individual computer scientists. By this account, the process of development is non-hierarchical; "Indeed, the supposedly meritocratic, otherwise egalitarian culture of the ARPANET protocol builders has become part of the defining libertarian mythology of Internet culture" (p. 216). The meso-scale approach reveals an entirely different view, whereby U.S. military institutions, seeking a survivable command-control system for nuclear war, were the driving force. The macro-scale story would place the ARPANET against the larger background of other computer networking experiments, or situate the Internet against the long-term history of information and communication infrastructures.
Rather than attempting to choose which version is correct, Edwards' concept of mutual orientation allows us to move among these scales and accept all three stories as true. He thus raises the question of whether the conception of modernity itself is partly an artefact of the meso-scale perspective, "an abstraction to which reality corresponds only when viewed on a single scale" (p 222).
The final chapter of part II, by Junichi Murata, is titled "Creativity of Technology: An Origin of Modernity?" and is concerned with the unplanned, often unforeseeable, noninstrumental and nonrational aspects of technology. Murata argues that such developments as the transformation of the Internet from a military tool to a commercial medium is creative in that a new meaning for artefacts is realized, one which may well go against the original intent of designers and producers. This thesis is illustrated through a survey of modernization in Japan, and in particular a detailed comparison of western, Chinese and Japanese mechanical clocks. Murata concludes that "if we focus on the creative function of technology, we could describe the distinguishing feature of modern technology as the institutionalization of creativity within a certain sociotechnical network, in contrast to a traditional technology, in which creativity remains a random phenomenon" (p. 229).
While the essays in parts I and II are mostly concerned with description and analysis of existing or historical conditions, those in part III shift attention to practical and political matters.
In chapter 9, Johan Schot explores the idea that, as part of a modernization process that gained speed in the nineteenth and twentieth century in the western world, a typical modernist practice of technology politics emerged, which consists of separating the promotion of technology from the regulation of technology. "In this practice, technology development is perceived as a neutral, value-free process that needs to be protected and nurtured (because it creates progress, material wealth, health, etc." (p. 257). Schot suggests ways to go beyond such a dichotomous politics, aiming ultimately to "identify ways to open up space for the actual shaping of technology and for discourses on how to manage technology in society" (p. 258).
In chapter 10, David Hess focuses his examination on the medical field, which, he says, "provides a particularly important site for the problem [of modernity and technology] because biomedical conflicts tend to magnify some of the issues of technology and modernity, and also because health policy occupies a central place in the political and normative discourse of late modernity" (p. 279). His analysis is conducted within three macrostructural frameworks; cultural ecology, cultural values, and political economy, categories which, as observed in earlier chapters, are mutually shaped by technology.
Arthur P. J. Mol begins chapter 11 pointing out how the attitudes of environmentalists towards modernity and modernization have changed during the past two decades. Whereas twenty years ago the common denominator of environmental movements was their antimodern ideology, there is now a wide range of positions which are generally less hostile towards modernity. Conversely, responses to environmental concerns have begun to change the institutions of modern society. Mol explores how environmental considerations and interests are contributing to the transformation of modernity. He identifies five heuristics of ecological modernization, which, while valuable in framing research for analysts, are also used by policy actors as "normative paths for change".
In chapter 12, Haider A. Khan offers an analysis of the theoretical connections among technology, modernity and development in a non-western context. The principal concern of this essay is to identify the limits imposed by a modernist framing of technology and development, and to explore a rigorous conceptual model for moving forward and beyond the modernist impasse.
The afterword by Arie Rip provides a useful and sometimes critical overview of the issues that have been raised throughout the volume. One important comment here notes how agency has been forced to the background by the concern to show the co-construction of modernity and technology. Rip also articulates the point that just as concrete and plural "technologies" have been abstracted under the singular label "technology", it might be appropriate to seek "modernities" in the plural.
Overall, this is an interesting and well-integrated collection that opens up the conceptual space for the understanding of the co-construction of modernity and technology. Peter Beech
Harry Newton. Newton's Telecom Dictionary.
San Francisco: CMP Books, 2003.
paper, 923 p., ISBN 1-578-20307-4, US$34.95, UK£25.99.
CMP Books: http://www.cmpbooks.com
Looking back at the last several review columns, I notice that I have reviewed plenty of technology-related dictionaries. Nevertheless, I know there must be many more which never grab my attention, or of whose existence I am not being made aware. There was no overlooking this one, though, a gigantic tome of over 900 pages, with more than 21,000 entries covering a broad spectrum of technological fields: from computing and the Internet, to telecommunications, networking, and Information Technology in general.
As the scope indicates, its author, Harry Newton, must have put a gargantuan effort into compiling the book, considering that there is always the risk of leaving out something important. In fact, this dictionary is as comprehensive as you are likely to come across in one printed volume. Surely, 21,000 terms can easily be defined in an online resource on the Web, where amendments can be made on a daily basis. A paper version, however, has all the advantages of being always available, whether or not a connection to the Internet is at hand. The caveat: to squeeze all the information into a manageable volume, the publisher has decided to use, as main typeface, Futura Condensed, which in itself is already hard to read (it was designed mainly for headings, where it looks great); set it in seven-point size and the text becomes nearly illegible and very difficult to follow for extended periods of time. A serif face would have been gentler on the eyes, although it would have probably taken more space.
I must admit that reviewing a specialised dictionary is a relatively easy task, compared to, say, a work on the philosophical and ethical implications of technological advancement: After all, my task here is not to go through the thousands of entires, one by one, reading each of them and basing my final assessment on what I have found. Instead, I usually concentrate on sample pages, on some selected (and for me vital) terms, on the overall language used in the explanations, and on other issues, such as format, layout and accuracy of the definitions. It seems obvious that most dictionaries, if they are eventually published, must do a pretty good job at being comprehensive enough to be useful, and accurate enough to be authoritative. Where the faults lurk is generally in the details, and this is the case here too.
So, let's start first with the strengths.
It is pretty impossible not to notice that the dictionary is extremely comprehensive, covering many technical areas. Consider the following entries: IEEE 1394, IEEE 488, IEEE 802, IEEE 802.1, IEEE 802.1d, IEEE 802.11, IEEE 802.2, IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.3 1Base5, IEEE 802.3 10Base-5, IEEE 802.3 10Base-T, IEEE 802.3 10Broad36, IEEE 802.3b, IEEE 802.3c, IEEE 802.3d, IEEE 802.3e, IEEE 802.3h, IEEE 802.3i, IEEE 802.3j, IEEE 802.3k, IEEE 802.3l, IEEE 802.3p, IEEE 802.3q, IEEE 802.3r, IEEE 802.3t, IEEE 802.3u, IEEE 802.3v, IEEE 802.3z, IEEE 802.4, IEEE 802.5, IEEE 802.6, IEEE 802.9, IEEE 802.10 ... and if this not enough, what about the G Recommendation, a series of standards defined by the International Telecommunication Union: G2, G3, G-Lite, G.5, G.703, G.704, G.707, G.708 ... all the way to G.992.2! The coverage is mind-boggling. Virtually every alphabetical section begins with a copious series of obscure (for the uninitiated) clusters of letters and numbers, mainly standards. These might be obscure, but for them alone the dictionary is worth its weight in gold.
Of course, you'll find also more "mundane" words, such as pixel, middleware, and laser. Most definitions are clear and to the point, but some go to great length to exhaust the term's significance. Late collision, for instance, takes up nearly an entire column, as does PBX. So, in general, the weigher words are given more space, especially if historical information is required. However, finding a balance between vagueness and prolixity is not always easy; sometimes I felt that a definition could have been more detailed, as in the case of flip flop; other times, an entry seemed perhaps too long-winded, in the context of the dictionary (Semiconductors is one example).
Nevertheless, the sheer wealth of information and elucidation contained in this 19th updated edition is simply indispensable for anyone working with communication technology.
But what about the weaknesses? Let's group them into five categories.
Number one is represented by entries whose presence in the list I genuinely couldn't justify. Many instances caught my eyes, and here are some of them: Barbarella, divorce, Brendan Smith logic, exosphere, nutmeg, and sleep tight. These are all irrelevant terms for inclusion in a communication reference book; I am not sure why they were included. Their definitions are often enlightening and very interesting, so maybe it was supposed to create some 'oasis' in the dense dryness of the inevitable technical jargon.
Which brings me to issue number two: The book is (perhaps unavoidably) pretty U.S.-centric. Many instances of listings and entires are not going to be of much use to anyone living outside the United States. Take, for example, the comprehensive catalogue of North American cellular network, with 773 for Illinois and 920 for Wisconsin. Granted, most of the 600,000 copies the book boasts to have sold have probably found their home in American households and offices, so it is not a big deal. Similarly, although the introductory "Best Dollar-Saving Tips" section which opens the book also contains a great deal of universal tips, some of them are certainly irrelevant to inhabitants of the rest of world (anything to do with social security number for a starter).
Number three is the slight inconsistent criterion according to which something is defined or not. Newton himself has a disclaimer on this: "Which words gets defined? [...] No proprietary products, i.e. those made by only on firm, are defined." Yet, the dictionary include Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Fax, but fails to mention Microsoft Internet Explorer. Moreover, it lists, on the one hand, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows CE, Windows NT, and Windows XP, plus Linux and AIX; on the other it omits Solaris and, more glaringly, Mac OS X, probably the newest operating system on the planet. I thus would personally avoid defining any of these proprietary products, in order to remain consistent.
Fourth issue: In a tome of about 1,000 pages there is a fair probability of finding at least a few typos or grammar mistakes. I have discovered two during my sampling. It is, of course, not a reason to regard the dictionary as less meticulous. There is simply no avoiding such pesky occurrences, and what we, readers, can do to help out is to notify the author, so that he can amend them (I have done so).
So far nothing major really, but number five is the worrying one: The presence of inaccurate definitions. Again, I cannot claim to have sifted through the entire dictionary, so my findings are patchy. However, one explanation I found was completely misleading: TrueType."A Windows feature. Fonts that are scalable and sometimes generated as bitmaps or soft fonts, depending on the capabilities of your printer. TrueType fonts can be sized to any height, and they print exactly as they appear on the screen. Using TrueType, you'll be able to create documents that retain their format and fonts on any Windows machine."
A "Windows feature"?! Well, here there is a lot that needs to be put right. It was Apple which had been developing what was to become TrueType from late 1987. At that time there were many competing font scaling technologies, and several would have been suitable for the Macintosh. It was by no means certain that the company would adopt TrueType. In the end though, it proved itself on performance and rendering quality against the others. In 1989 Apple and Microsoft announced a strategic alliance against Adobe, which had tried to incorporate its PostScript-based fonts rendering technology into the main operating systems of the time. Apple released TrueType to the world in March 1991, with Times Roman, Helvetica and Courier as the first typefaces. TrueType has been built into the Mac operating system ever since. As for Microsoft, it introduced TrueType into Windows with version 3.1 in early 1992.
Thus, stating that TrueType is a "Windows feature" does not give in the least the whole picture and distorts many historical facts (see also http://www.truetype.demon.co.uk/tthist.htm). The other issue, of course, is that using TrueType won't guarantee that documents will retain the format and fonts across computers. This simply because if the target user does not have the document-specific fonts installed on his or her system, these will be substituted and the format will change. What allows formats to be retained (by embedding postscript and fonts information) is rather Adobe's PDF.
So, my hope is that this was only an isolated case which, in fairness, was not the end of the world. Nevertheless, finding erroneous information in something that is supposed to be authoritative might not inspire confidence, for the doubt is always there, that there could be more. Having said that, I genuinely don't think this is the case with Harry Newton, though: His effort is commendable, if only for the scope of his work. Of all the dictionaries I have examined, this is certain to find its prominent place in my library. Paolo G. Cordone
Evan I. Schwartz.
The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit, and the Birth of Television.
London; New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
cloth, 336 p., ISBN 0-066-21069-0, US$24.95.
This book is for anyone who still thinks (as I did, before I read it) that John Logie Baird invented television. And for those others who believe that David Sarnoff of RCA invented it. Above all, it is for those who have never heard of Philo T. Farnsworth, who really did invent it.
Schwartz presents his story in dramatic terms: A David and Goliath battle between the solitary hero (Farnsworth), working against all the odds, and the scheming big businessman (Sarnoff), countering his rival at every turn, determined to steal the credit for himself and his huge corporation. It's an exciting account, with struggles for funding, the death of a child, marital breakdown and reconciliation, the burning down of a laboratory and of a home, depression and re-emergence: Everything to appeal to the general reader. But Schwartz also includes plenty of technical explanation, for those who wish to know more about how TV technology developed.
It's a fascinating social history too, giving an insight into a period that saw a huge growth in the presence and influence of the mass media, radio being the first big boom industry. This is when the great RCA 'empire' began, with the broadcast of a boxing match (Dempsey v. Carpentier, 1921) triggering a huge growth in the market for radio sets, the proliferation of radio stations across America, and the inevitable scramble for legal rights to broadcast and manufacture. I was amused to see that the RCA logo at this time was a globe with 'WWW' stamped on it, standing for 'World Wide Wireless'! A whole picture emerges of what it was like to be living in America at the time not only in terms of prosperity and material comforts, but also when things went badly wrong, such as in 1929 with the Wall Street Crash, and later during World War Two. On balance, Sarnoff seemed to suffer more from the adverse events than Farnsworth.
Sarnoff's psychology was such that he always needed to be in control, always wanted to take the credit. He constantly strove to buy up other companies who were inventing technologies relevant to his industry, and made use of legal machinery to get his own way wherever and whenever he could. One long-drawn-out legal wrangle led to the tragic suicide of an opponent who had once been a friend. Sarnoff even offered Albert Einstein a job, but on careful consideration the latter very sensibly declined.
As a counter to the rather claustrophobic atmosphere of this cut-throat business world, we learn of the young, idealistic Farnsworth who grew up on a farm, married, and moved to Hollywood in 1926, just at the time when film and sound were first being put together. Farnsworth's idea was to convert this same technology to a television screen. For many years he relied on his own small resources: A handful of devotees who worked with him in his various laboratories, and financial backing from a sympathetic bank. The lone inventor had a dry sense of humour: His first demonstration to his bankers of a moving image on a television screen was of a dollar sign and drifting cigarette smoke!
The first face-to-face encounter between Farnsworth and Sarnoff was at a big monopoly investigation hearing in Washington in 1939. Giving evidence at this hearing allowed Farnsworth an opportunity to say what his invention was capable of, which led to huge newspaper coverage to Sarnoff's dismay. From this time onwards Sarnoff was endlessly scheming to buy up Farnsworth's company, but Farnsworth instead decided to make a deal with RCA's rival, Philco, and moved himself, his family and his business to Philadelphia. This led to some dirty tricks on the part of Sarnoff, who tried to get Philco's radio licence cancelled. Farnsworth and Philco parted company, and Farnsworth filed a patent suit against RCA for interference it was a lengthy process, but Farnsworth won in the end.
A chilling episode is the visit of Farnsworth and his wife to Nazi Berlin in 1936, to meet the organization that broadcast the Olympic Games to theatres in Berlin, using Farnsworth's technology. Farnsworth was there partly to collect his German royalties, but the Nazi Party was channelling all the money, and he got nothing. There is some fascinating political and media history here, as the Farnsworths saw how the Nazis were using radio and television as propaganda tools. In the end, Philo and his wife had to be smuggled out of the country, as their exit visas had been cancelled.
By 1936 RCA's research and development department was lagging behind Farnsworth in terms of screen size and sharpness of image. Sarnoff's solution was simply to infringe Farnsworth's patent in order to demonstrate "RCA's new invention" at the World's Fair in New York (1939-41). But, as if to compensate for this, there followed an unexpected reversal: One of the RCA bosses moved to Farnsworth's company and negotiated a licence agreement between RCA and Farnsworth. Technical standards were agreed, and TV became commercially available for the first time.
By the late 1940s TVs were being sold and programmes being broadcast, with the emphasis on news, entertainment and sport. RCA held 80 percent of the market and, predictably, Sarnoff began to claim for himself the title "Father of Television". But RCA tended to be rather dull and conservative in its programming, and lost ground to its big broadcasting rival, the more lively and entertaining CBS, who poached some of RCA's star performers. But at the same time standards were dropping, and by the late 1950s TV hit a low period, with cynicism arising from quiz show fixing, and criticism of escapism and general decadence. On the other hand, politicians began to use television as a campaigning medium, the most notable example being the TV debate in 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon. TV sets were by now in 90 percent of American homes.
By the late 1960s Farnsworth, the true "Father of Television", had retired, and was understandably disillusioned with the way his invention was being used. But one day in 1969 he watched the televised Moon landing, and seeing this amazing event made all his years of struggle seem worthwhile. And, as if their fates were linked to the bitter end, both Farnsworth and Sarnoff died in 1971, Farnsworth aged 64, Sarnoff aged 80.
Now I'm just waiting for the TV movie to be made this story deserves to reach a wider audience, and no story could be more appropriate for the medium. As I fancy myself as a casting director, let me see now ... in the old days it would have been Jimmy Stewart as Farnsworth and Edward G. Robinson as Sarnoff. But today? As they used to say at the end of BBC radio programmes: Answers on the back of a postcard, please! Gill Stoker
Julie M. Still.
The Accidental Webmaster.
Medford, N.J.: Information Today, Inc., 2003.
paper, 220 p., ISBN 1-573-87164-8, US$29.50.
Information Today: http://www.infotoday.com/
This book is written for volunteer Webmasters, primarily the enormous number of people who create and maintain Web sites for non-profit organizations. It is a highly readable compendium of ideas and information covering all aspects of the task, starting from the very moment when you are volunteered to donate your expertise.
Julie Still provides a lot of commonsense advice grounded in her own experience as an accidental Webmaster. Much of this may seem obvious to people who are already involved in maintaining Web sites, but could be invaluable for those who are just starting out: "Personally, I'm resistant to making my volunteer sites overly elaborate or technical, simply because that aspect of maintenance would take up too much of my time, and I think it is better for the organization if I spend my time on content issues" (p 20).
Chapter 1 provides advice on what the duties of a Webmaster actually are, complemented in chapter 2 by a discussion of the policies which need to be established before work begins on the Web site.
Chapter 3, in addition to a useful overview of the pros and cons of various hosting options, provides valuable advice on the choice of a domain name, pointing out the benefits of long-term thinking. This is reinforced in chapter 13, where it is mentioned that George Bush is rumored to have bought "bushsucks.com".
Chapter 4 provides a substantial introduction to design issues, with a welcome focus on accessibility. In keeping with the style of the whole book, this section strikes a sensible and prosaic note, advocating the avoidance of packages that "serve no other purpose than to appeal to people who have little else to do than design spiffy sites" (p 45). The sound advice throughout this chapter is based on the importance of substance rather than style; noting that people skim rather than read on the Web, the author emphasizes the importance of making the content easily accessible. Users of the book are encouraged to avoid the triumph of style over substance that has led professional Web designers to create firstly Flash introductions and then the facility to skip them. Novice Webmasters are similarly steered away from the viewpoint that site navigation should be an intellectual challenge and that clearly labeled links lack subtlety.
There is some good advice on naming files, though this doesn't mention the avoidance of long file names, capital letters, spaces and special characters. The example of naming a file trlgb1.jpg (p. 56) makes the point about giving files meaningful names, but trlgb001.jpg would be a better option, as anyone who has belatedly discovered that trlgb2.jpg comes after trlgb11.jpg in alphabetical order will know [this is true for many operating systems, with a notable exception represented by Mac OS X, which uses a more sophisticated algorithm that avoid such illogical sorting; there, 2 comes before 11 editor]. There is also no mention of the distinction between the extensions .htm and .html or the organization of files in directories.
Chapter 5 is concerned with the content of the Web site. Noting that "although you may think something is obvious, chances are it isn't apparent to your site's visitors" (p. 66), this covers a range of topics including language issues, planning the site, creating content, and updates.
The kind of sites that this book applies to are likely to have regular visits from members of the organization, so chapter 6 is devoted to ways of creating community, including e-mail, bulletin boards, chat rooms and the Web itself. There is useful advice on the policies of moderated or unmoderated e-mail discussion lists and other administrative issues, as well as brief sections pointing out the practical drawbacks of bulletin boards and chat rooms. Along with the emphasis on the need to keep the Web site content fresh and timely, there are some simple suggestions for ways of letting visitors know what has been updated.
Chapter 7, "Marketing and Feedback", gives a clear and simple overview of the statistics available to the Webmaster, and the use that can be made of them, along with ideas for promoting the site through search engines and link exchanges. It doesn't mention that some Web hosting companies provide useful tools and statistics for their customers, while others may charge extra for these or may not supply them at all.
There are also brief but informative chapters on "Fundraising on the Web", "Legalities", and "Keeping Up", which covers ways of updating technical skills. Part one ends with a chapter addressed to other members of the organization, "Care and Feeding of the Accidental Webmaster", which summarizes the issues that you will want your colleagues to consider.
Part two of the book is much shorter, and consists of forty-five pages divided into eight brief chapters focusing on specific types of sites. As in part one, lots of useful practical suggestions are offered, with just enough detail. So when Still summarizes a chapter with the words "So keep it simple, keep it sharp, keep it current, and keep it focused" (p. 139), you know exactly how to do that.
Most chapters end with a short list of recommended reading, with the emphasis on the practical and informative rather than the academic, and these are collected in a five-page bibliography, complemented by a single page of Internet resources.
Overall, this is a very practical and readable book, that provides a wealth of useful advice covering all aspects of the task of the accidental Webmaster. Peter Beech (accidental Webmaster of www.tesolgreece.com).
Search Engine Visibility.
Indianapolis, Ind.: New Riders, 2003.
paper, 297 p., ISBN 0-735-71256-5, US$29.99.
Companion site to book: http://www.searchenginesbook.com
New Riders: http://www.newriders.com
People arrive at Web sites from various sources personal recommendation, directories as well as through searching. Shari Thurow primarily attempts to address those visitors coming via search engines (six-seven percent of visits according to the author) and directories. Finding a particular Web site that you know has content you want is quite different from trying to find a site for to buy CDs.
Search Engine Visibility goes through the various ways that search engines list sites, from direct submission, and natural spidering to pay-for-inclusion methods. It shows how higher ranking in search results can be obtained. Along the way, advice is given on some obvious Web page design rules that any designer should know. "Your site designer should not set the text size too small (too hard to read) ...". Oh, thanks for that one! Even that point is debatable, though, as there is a view that users should be able to adjust browser settings to select their own font size; I digress and so does the book, into basic usability material, basic graphic design, for example serif vs sans-serif, and basic details on HTML (the explanation of 'alt' tags). On design guidelines the advice is scant, with not enough advice to be useful alone the material is better regarded as "tricks-of-the-trade" to be used when considering search engine visibility.
The guts of the book is really about keywords where to put them and which ones to choose. And this is where it is authoritative. There is much other useful material here though, and I can imagine referring to this book if consulting on commercial Web site design. There is a useful short section on using traffic analysis software to improve your site. For example, a page can be found easily but then may not have enough information to enable conversion to sales.
Thurow is pragmatic about the virtues of Flash home pages. Problems with them are addressed and advice is given let the user decide (by having non-Flash alternatives and monitoring logs) and add keywords below a certain design line ("fold"). It is acknowledged, that in the end, in Web page design, decisions can come down to a compromise between the aesthetics and search engine visibility.
I can recommend this book as an addendum to a basic library on Web site design and development and there is some very useful material on making your pages search-engine friendly. These tips could potentially be worth a lot of money for certain sites indeed the author makes these, probably, justified claims. But Web designers will find themselves coming across much material that they already know and some that they even disagree with.
As is the norm these days there is an accompanying Web site.
There are lots of examples to illustrate points, the book is well-written and laid out clearly. The author has an impressive client-list and has a forward quoting the line from the film Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come." He then rightly ends on "Build it right with the help of this book, and you should indeed find that they come!" Peter Cambridge
Douglas K. Van Duyne, James A. Landay, Jason I. Hong.
The Design of Sites: Patterns and Processes for Crafting A Customer-Centered Web Experience.
Boston, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 2003.
paper, 762 p., ISBN 0-201-72149-X, US$54.99.
Capturing effective, repeatable design knowledge in a way that is accessible and applicable during the design process is a very difficult task. In The Design of Sites: Patterns, Principles, and Processes for Crafting a Customer-Centered Web Experience, Van Duyne, Landay, and Hong have created a powerful document of richly networked best practices for Web design, achieving a level of success that others projects taking a similar approach to the subject have failed to attain.
Rather than simply list generalized heuristics or present case studies, the bulk of this book takes the approach of a pattern language. Interest in applying Christopher Alexander's idea of a pattern language for architecture to the domain of computing has been rising steadily in areas as diverse as user interface design, application development, and computing system architecture. The authors explain how Alexander intended patterns to be empowering for a broad range of people: "by creating a common language, would-be designers could discuss and take part in the design of spaces ... ." The patterns in this book create a basis for the same type of discussion in the design of Web sites.
The pattern proposition is that, from a Web site user's perspective, although many forces shape the usefulness and usability of a site, a key factor is how appropriately a given site conforms to the emerging "customer-centered" patterns of Web information architecture and interaction design. As users develop expectations from consistent, positive interaction with Web sites, the process of using the Web shifts largely from learning the interaction model of each new site to navigating new sites within learned conceptual frameworks.
The proposition from the designer's standpoint is that there is no need to begin with a blank blueprint each time one sets out to design a Web site. There are clearly a set of recurrent design ideas that are replicated by the mouse-grasping hands of Web site creators everywhere in order to meet specific goals. But not all patterns are created equal; the patterns in The Design of Sites are "... a reaction to the multitude of design patterns implicitly in use that do not take a customer-centered approach."
A common problem with similar pattern languages is that they are focused strictly on the configuration of the user interface. While there are many ways to organize the expanding body of design knowledge in the domain of interface design, most efforts have taken this literal UI approach that is often too rigid and can lead to misapplication.
The organization of The Design of Sites avoids the literal UI problem. The authors make several different cuts at established design practice on the Web, resulting in a set of useful categories of patterns ranging from high level "Site Genres" to process-driven categories such as "Writing and Managing Content" and user-interface-driven categories such as "Creating a Navigation Framework." Within these categories, each of the individual patterns is structured around a design theme that solves a particular problem. Examples of patterns include "Multiple Ways to Navigate," "Clean Product Details," and "Inverse Pyramid Writing Style."
While some readers may find some of the patterns to be well-documented common sense, the point of a pattern language is often comprehensiveness and careful networking of ideas, not making each node of content revelatory. Each pattern has numerous links out to other, related patterns elsewhere in the book, inviting the reader to consider a mesh of interrelated design drivers and concepts.
The patterns are based on an analysis of over 100 sites and sources in related literatures. Many of these sources are not of the empirical variety, and, in some sections, readers who are research oriented will run the risk of not finding enough of a foundation in empirical findings for their satisfaction. The authors have opted for a broader audience than the usual human-computer interaction crowd, and the book's tone and referencing style reflects that more inclusive stance.
Many readers, however, will find the comprehensiveness and organization of this book both impressively thought out and useful. Like a good Web site, the book's information design facilitates easy scanning and fast information retrieval. Each of the major sections is color-coded. Each pattern is labeled with a unique code that is placed in the margin whenever it is discussed in the text. The headings are concise and carefully worded, allowing sections that are not relevant to a designer's problem to be skipped, and acting as effective memory cues should a designer skim back through the volume looking for ideas. Whiteboard-style illustrations and well-selected screen captures are included on most every page. All of these traits give the book the feel of itself being a well designed Web site that seeks to provide great content while not insisting on a comprehensive read.
While design patterns comprise the majority of the volume, the first portion of the book is devoted to customer-centered principles and processes. These sections are a rapid exploration of topics that other books devote extensive chapters to. While the authors' goal appears to be introducing their audience to principles such as "Understand your Customer's Tasks" and processes such as "Formal Usability Studies," some readers will find these areas of the book light on content, despite supporting material in the appendixes.
Anyone tasked with creating a Web site who is not familiar with design patterns on the Web will find this book to be a useful summary of salient factors for effective design across a number of disparate yet important subject areas. For those readers who are quite familiar with common design practices on Web, this book can act as a highly accessible supplemental checklist of design thinking. It explicitly calls out the topics that most every experienced Web site creator routinely addresses, and it can act both as a source of common language and as a cognitive artifact for ensuring that a broad spectrum of key Web norms are considered in Web design practice. Jacob Burghardt
Copyright ©2003, First Monday