First Monday

Commentary on Web-Wise by Peter Kaufman


Point One: Business
Point Two: Media use
Point Three: Television



I’d like to begin by thanking Joyce Ray and the IMLS and the UIC for their invitation here, and the extraordinary presenters that I have been able to hear from over these last two days. I attended my first Web–Wise meeting three years ago and they just keep getting better and better. That Maine Music Box thing blew me away.

It is a great privilege for me to be here. It’s a privilege because the most exciting media work today is being sponsored under the aegis, or facilitated by the creative wisdom of, information or library science, as I will detail in a minute. I really believe that everyone needs to know what a vital place you occupy not just in the record–keeping of our society, which most people understand as historical in nature, but in the development of media, which is forward–looking.

I am happy to bring to this conversation what I hope may be the experience of an independent television producer, but also someone who has been active, more than a little, in the creation of digitized cultural content with cultural and educational institutions, who has ten years of experience in book publishing, and who has worked extensively in the non–profit world (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not).

I am going to make three points relating to the proceedings here. The first point involves business. The second point is about how people use their media. The third point is about television.


Point One: Business

My dentist likes to say that you don’t have to floss all of your teeth, just the ones you want to keep. And I think much the same applies to the digital collections that you all are supporting. To that end, I think many of these wonderful presentations in the future, even next year, need to discuss how much these initiatives cost, where the money came from, and what the plans are for their sustenance in the future — short–term and over the long haul. It is not a dirty subject. And it sure isn’t a secret in this community. Nothing is, as I have learned.

I am a member of the new Task Force on Cyberinfrastructure in the Humanities and Social Sciences sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies, chaired by UIUC Dean of the School of Library and Information Sciences John Unsworth and generously funded by the Mellon Foundation. It is a very important initiative and details for it can be found at

the interests and flow of private capital, as much as any thought or software or best practices or hardware developed in the academy or libraries or museums, will determine the future of our use of technology, media, and information

In that capacity, I am always arguing strenuously for including private interests in our discussion of the future of this North American infrastructure, because the interests and flow of private capital, as much as any thought or software or best practices or hardware developed in the academy or libraries or museums, will determine the future of our use of technology, media, and information.

As a result of my articulating this need, the Mellon Foundation recently invited me and my company to plan out a much more targeted approach to dealing with the private side of the information sector, the communication sector, the education sector — defining explicitly what those interests are, and how they can be harnessed, developed, and deployed specifically in the interest of the public.

I think it would be beneficial for us to explore how business or the private sector can work together with us all. We need to define the stakeholders in culture and education as broadly as we can. The potential that Google and other corporate underwriters bring to our table is still underappreciated. Anybody — any company, any enterprise, any venture fund — with a screen to fill, an engine to search, a pipe to send bytes down, or a chip to sell is a current or potential stakeholder in the digitization and publication, broadly defined, of scholarship and culture and educational materials.

I met my wife at the Frankfurt Book Fair; and that fact notwithstanding, it happens to be one of the most exciting places in the world every October. But as many of you know, and as you heard from Google’s John Lewis Needham, the presence of the greatest authors and publishers from around the world was overwhelmed this past October by the presence of Sergei Brin from Google, and the press announcement of Google efforts at mass digitization.

While Google has taken this sector by storm, with initiatives announced in text, map images, video, and scholarship, the American Antiquarian Society, as many of you know, is quietly celebrating the 50th anniversary this year of its longstanding collaboration with ReadEx–Newsbank in Chester, Vermont, distributing the holdings of our greatest and oldest library of pre–1800 printed materials — an initiative that was started, by the way, by the great American book publisher Albert Boni of Boni & Liveright, H.L. Mencken’s publisher, Eugene O’Neil’s early publisher, Theodore Dreiser’s publisher. Thomson–Gale has been active in initiatives like the Text Creation Partnership, which ReadEx and ProQuest have just joined; companies like ProQuest are talking with research libraries now about financing new institutional repositories; and Smithsonian Folkways has just signed a music deal with Microsoft, and last week announced a major publishing partnership with HarperCollins. At Carnegie Mellon University, Don Marinelli takes his students from the Educational Technology Center on a West Coast tour every January, bringing them to meet, and, in spades, get jobs from, the top gaming and new media companies in California.

These public–private relationships are very much part of getting content out there. So, with generous Mellon Foundation support, Intelligent Television has begun a study on this topic. First, we are canvassing the custodians of commercial–non–commercial relationships in the field of culture and education about their business and commercial relationships — successful and unsuccessful — to date. The early history of these relationships, for example, focuses on basic licensing and co–publishing arrangements. As the story matures, it involves more such deals, but also new forms of investment, co–production, joint venture structures, spin–off entities, new models of commercial philanthropy, and the application of commercial business planning, know–how, and practice to the stewardship of American culture and education. The second task is to talk with people in the commercial sector who have been or may soon be developing roles as stakeholders in the future of culture and education in the United States. This involves publishers, filmmakers, media developers, lawyers, accountants, venture capitalists, investment bankers, merchant bankers, and others.

This study may lead to a more detailed initiative we’re calling "Marketing Culture in the Digital Age," which would involve collecting general and specific business, legal, and tax recommendations for the museum, library, and archive sector. These, in turn, may include templates for legal, business, and tax analysis, agreements, and strategies — including sample budgets; profit & loss statements; and production, publishing, licensing, and merchandising contracts — that could usefully be customized by all of us.

Business is interesting for a number of reasons. It can affect our basic thinking. It’s not just a source of capital. It’s a source of expertise about how to render an investment sustainable, even self–sustainable. It’s a sector that represents, various scandals to one side, sound advice on legal and accounting and financial structures.

In short, I think we should investigate how industry/commerce/business can be more systematically incentivized to support these educational and cultural content initiatives.

Next year, perhaps, a variety of publishers (broadly defined), vendors, and investors may be the natural complement to the academy, cultural and government institutions that are present here today.

At exactly the same time that some of us in education and academy say that we cannot ignore the media world, people in the private media world are beginning to say that they cannot ignore the library and information scientists.

Now I am not the greatest business person in the world. Far from it. In fact, I just finished those math problems that Susan Sclafari gave out a little while ago. But I do know that not only should we not ignore business, they — thems in industry — are not ignoring us. For at exactly the same time that some of us in education and academy say that we cannot ignore the media world, people in the private media world are beginning to say that they/we cannot ignore the library and information scientists, the open content and open courseware innovators, the freeware guys, the techheads, the bloggers, the geeks. And I underline: open content.

The incoming head of Sony Computer Entertainment, Ken Kutaragi, has said to the press that Sony missed out on potential sales from MP3 players and other gadgets because it was "overly proprietary" about music and entertainment and information content.

Mark Cuban, the Yahoo billionaire and visionary behind HDNet, told a conference of lawyers in Los Angeles recently that the media world must embrace peer–to–peer networking for free media.

Sean Fanning, who started Napster, and in many ways is the greatest modern pirate of us all, has just been hired by Universal Music to design a business plan for Universal’s 150,000 song catalog. How remarkable is that? Universal has hired the founder of Napster to design a business plan!

Then thereís Phil Morle’s service Kazaa, or the incredibly popular BitTorrent, Bram Cohen’s free peer–to–peer program. BitTorrent lets users quickly upload and download enormous amounts of data, files that are hundreds or thousands of times bigger than a single MP3. Today, BitTorrent traffic accounts for more than one–third of all data sent across the Internet. More than 20 million people have downloaded the BitTorrent application.

So we need to involve the people in the business community who are being forced to look at this, and even more, the people who have forced them.

Teenagers and college students are at the forefront of this. They’re downloading Mozilla. They’re working with Adobe Premiere for $99.00.

Although only six million homes today have digital video recorders, by 2020 half of American television households, or 58 million homes, will have them. In the process, people are turning television — traditionally beamed into homes at the convenience of the broadcast and cable networks — into something that the New York Times has described as more flexible, highly portable, and commercial–free.

People are customizing all their media and their personal media buys. As of today, for example, Apple’s iTunes store is selling one million — one million—songs a day! People are now building and controlling their own listening and viewing and educational experiences. New research suggests as well that television in the future will be most bought on–demand, in a process equivalent to downloading a song track or image or attachment over the Internet.

These are new distribution models and new ways of thinking. They are, or soon will be, governing the minds of the young. So, to echo Susan Sclafari’s comments, if a kind of research or focus group or even another major conference like this were assembled, one that brings together people in media that represent not only public broadcasting but Pixar and LucasFilms and Apple, TiVo, the gaming companies, what people are calling the Torrent — and artists and producers who, like Intelligent Television, follow and monitor this stuff — well, that would be a major and important complementary effort to this good work.


Point Two: Media use

I visited a video digitization studio in New York the other day with my friend from SIMS at Berkeley Jeff Ubois (who has just written a great piece on video archiving that is in the March issue of First Monday at We walked in and Jeff remarked, "Lot o’ fans" — and in that saying he reminded me of this college kid I met the other day on a train. He was sitting next to me editing a movie he had shot in some Civil War battlefield for a history assignment at Virginia Tech, and as we got to talking, he told me most of the guys in his dorm have jerry–rigged their laptops with extra fans so they can run more stuff on ‘em. The thought of college kids gaming and souping up their laptops is the number one thought worth leaving you with today. That is your market. When I wrote my senior thesis at Cornell in 1984, I was thrilled to be working on a used Selectric with an ‘x’ button that could erase mistakes one letter at a time. It’s not like that anymore. They are voracious. They are omnivorous. They are among us.

The thought of college kids gaming and souping up their laptops is the number one thought worth leaving you with today. That is your market. They are voracious. They are omnivorous. They are among us.


Point Three: Television

I disagree with the point that was made during one of the educational sessions yesterday, namely that we were hoodwinked by the television industry into believing that it would be the great educational medium, like radio hoodwinked us before TV, and like the Internet may hoodwink us again. Television is the great educational medium. It’s why the only people killed in the so–called bloodless revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe fifteen years ago were slain by government tanks at the foot of the television towers in Bucharest and Vilnius. It is the reason why there were more people shot defending the very same Gosteleradio television tower in Moscow than were killed defending the so–called White House.

The fact is, We let it get away from us. Television is the great educational and informational medium. It’s the reason why even though there are no reporters formally covering the FCC hearings about media ownership generally for any of our major newspapers, over two million citizens wrote to the Federal Government to protest recent planned changes to the ownership structure of American media. And it is the reason why we should afford our government, as represented here on this panel, the ability to fund more, much more, quality programming.

As I frequently say when my colleagues and I come into a room — whether at the Smithsonian, American Antiquarian Society, Library of Congress — "We’re from television, and we’re here to help." And maybe it’s obvious perhaps from the mischief that Joyce and her colleagues are wreaking at this meeting and in their funding generally, that they believe the broadcast or telecast or televisual production and distribution industries have much to share with, teach, and learn from our colleagues in libraries, museums, and universities.

Television is the great educational medium.

Intelligent Television is a new production company that works exclusively with libraries, museums, archives, and universities, especially those that have or are building large–scale digital repositories, around subjects and stories that could make good television. We’re developing and producing now new public and cable television documentaries on the history of the American South with the University of Virginia, the history of the American labor movement with the City University of New York and other universities, the story of Hitler’s lost art museum with a variety of museums, and the history of comedy in America with the Museum of Television and Radio, among other programs.

Our work features simple but innovative production agreements with cultural and educational institutions; it focuses on the broad relationship of media to memory; and, explains how documentary television, digital repositories, and online media can interact to the satisfaction of the consumer, producer, network, and cultural institution.

Now, the time is right to do this, obviously. Many of you in libraries and museums and archives are searching for new ways to put your own materials, including moving images and recorded sound materials, on the screen. I have the sick curse of looking at every digital collection with the immediate thought, "What if you took it to TV?" My favorite collections that are unexplored may be the American Museum of Natural History’s extraordinary collection on the American expedition of Lang and Chapin to the Belgian Congo of 1909–1915, or the University of North Carolina’s libraries southern music collections, or the entire National Library of Medicine, or the collections at Columbia University Libraries on the history of Harlem, where I live. You could toss in the Tolkien collection at Marquette, or the Leopold and Loeb collection at the Chicago Historical Society. The list goes on.

Let’s face it. That presentation from David Rumsey around the theme of geography and cartography, narrated with that gentle voice of his, was, as we sat there watching a screen with a human narrator ... a little ... film! I was thinking if Ken Burns were making it, all you’d need is some fiddle music.

And then, lo and behold, a fiddler showed up!

But when David was asked, from the audience, how do you find complements from the video world to put into your databases, he said he’d love to, but ... he didn’t have any. My answer would be, "Get some!" Make it. Partner with independent producers to create it. The challenge of going after content, almost as producers or co–producers, is very much in the tradition of library programs that collaborate, for example on oral history projects, where the great Alan Lomax went out to capture slave narratives and many other memories from America, where poet and Librarian Archibald Macleish at the Library of Congress interviewed survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor and sent his staff out into war with recorders to capture the sounds of battles, where the Library of Congress has inaugurated a program to collect by video and audio the memories of veterans from war. This is a grand tradition, and indeed that nascent sense is emerging here at this meeting, with video of music teachers embedded in the Maine Music Box project, and sophisticated gaming models being deployed for education.

I think that libraries and museums should consider how to collaborate with independent production companies. Much of the finest television programming on public television every year comes from independent producers, in fact. That’s because independent producers — like independent scholars or musicians — have the vision. They have the passion. They have the creativity and also the day–to–day control over the storylines and the clearance procedures. David Fanning, the Executive Producer of WGBH’s magisterial strand FRONTLINE, used to call his television show but the executive summary of his Web site. And indeed, the most important and depraved memoranda of Paul Wolfowitz’s are available not at the National Archive, or even the non–profit National Security Archive — but at

The history of the American South in the twentieth century that we are producing, for example, takes this idea a little deeper, because it involves a different relationship between the television program and the primary document, where the primary document, far from being a revelation, is often primarily false! As Laurie Mercier of the Columbia River Basin History Archive said yesterday, "in researching ethnic history, reports produced by people outside the community need to be critically examined. You need to problematize these sources." That sounds familiar! "Fiction in the archives? What else?" cries Yale University historian Glenda Gilmore in her extraordinary book, Gender and Jim Crow. Indeed, when one starts examining the history and historiography of such central issues in the American South as memory and race, one finds that identity and collective memory, and the documentary evidence, of both are time and again being subject to reinvention, renegotiation, revision, reinterpretation — even correction. One stumbles across historigraphical concepts such as "countermemories" and "counternarratives." One gets into definitions of Southern history as a "darkness"; a "puzzle" (with "missing pieces"); a "grand hall of mirrors"; "a thicket of myth and fantasy"; "illusion"; "rumor," "legend," "parable"; a "shadow"; a "twilight zone between living memory and written history"; a dream or daydream; the absurd; "the big myth we live"; an "affair of construction" and, a patchwork of "silences." Even more nefarious, in the history of the South, rise the concepts of the "hidden transcript" of history and truly "private" discourse [1].

How well do we and you fit together? Well, digital initiatives being developed in humanities computing at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the Virginia Center for Digital History, which we have partnered with, can support multidimensional broadcasting projects, including one as ambitious as this one about such profound and complex subjects as memory and race.

For example, IATH applications permitting in–depth "annotation" and comparison allow one to take a look at a manuscript from Herman Melville’s Typee in a digital facsimile, online; study Melville’s own revisions, transcribed from his handwriting; and review extensive annotations from modern commentators — all at the same time. Such commentary and glosses have profound applications for contextualizing the archival documents presented in this series. See

Or, one can delve deep into the world of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tomís Cabin and run clips of contemporary films made from the book — clips of different films, same scenes, simultaneously on screen for comparison and contrast. See

This searching and syncing technology can help match disparate interviews, songs, and films referring to the same event and link oral and written documents about the same topic — critical for Southern history. Current print dimensions of new Southern scholarship are also recognizing the potential of digital media to present certain and countervailing evidence at one and the same time. Now, obviously, television and interactive television facilitate this potential, with the material now deliverable in high–definition (HD), via video–on–demand (VOD), customized for personal video recorders (PVRs), and distributed via digital channels and broadband. So technology and media and library–based information science may well be able to empower viewers, online users, and readers across the country to become, to paraphrase Carl Becker and to repeat Professor Mercier’s comments, each his own historian [2].

Again, you and many of your institutions at the intersection of all of this. You, with your intellectual support, the digital know–how and planning that you have mastered are able to make that even richer. There is some critically important work on digital video archiving and repository building being masterminded at New York University under Professor Howard Besser, and it has vital, analogous efforts at institutions like Rutgers, MIT, and Georgia State.

To the extent we could create a study group to understand what cultural stakeholders could do to pollinate educational broadcasting and vice versa, that would great — a signal and enduring achievement, with many dividends for the future.

People will fund these collaborations. Our ambitious project on the history of the American South in the twentieth century, for example, will be sponsored in part by a regional phone company. Imagine as media is distributed from the project and its films onto cell phones — complete, perhaps, with Mr. Rumsey’s maps — so that when you are at a civil war or civil rights memorial in the South, you can see on your cell phone what local library collections are pertinent. And the phone company’s new slogan comes in, as we’ve worked it out:

"Wherever you are in the South, we’ve got your story."

There is even more interesting work to be done. In the same way that there are open archives being created, as we’ve heard, in the same way that there are open courseware and open knowledge initiatives proliferating in our community, what if we all developed, as Intelligent Television is developing, Open Production Initiatives — what we, at our company, call "living television"? Where we amass and produce in digital form the core material for a documentary, but keep it in an open repository so that students can play and learn with it, that teachers can teach with it, and that anyone can access it for educational purposes.

It’s like Larry Lessig’s remix culture, except ... it’s not remix culture. It’s mix. It’s the original creation. It’s the equivalent of a band laying down its tracks in a studio and letting two million listeners put the songs together.

There are some fascinating open educational cultural heritage initiatives going on now that bear a relevant citation here — MetaMedia at MIT’s Open Knowledge Initiative, the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, Storymixer, Ronna Tannenbaum’s effort to take Internet Archive material and cobble it together.

Imagine what independent television producers could do with you systematically. These are people you have to talk to!

John Dos Passos, in his day, brought the 1919 Harvard Police strike so vividly to life in USA, one of the greatest novels ever written, and a remix in print if there ever was one. So imagine todayís media elite — the kids at Harvard (Dos Passos was a kid at Harvard, too) — at play with the content that the Hewlett Foundation has recently funded at Harvard on women working, as part of a grant to the Harvard Open Collections program (see, manuscript, and image resources selected from Harvard’s library and museum collections — exploring women’s roles in the U.S. economy between the Civil War and the Great Depression; working conditions, conditions in the home, costs of living, recreation, health and hygiene, conduct of life, policies and regulations governing the workplace, and social issues. Going digital. 2,500 books and pamphlets, 1,000 photographs, 5,000 pages from manuscript collections. This is putting together material in the studio, as it were, with the band. Joyce and IMLS just sponsored a meeting in Oxford, U.K., last week, where together with the BBC, the CBC, and the Egyptian culture sector, we have launched an international co–production, based entirely on open–source materials, about the Suez crisis on 1956–1957.

We launched it over warm beer.

Just like thinking about business can make us more perhaps practical, thinking about the development of the great, last open educational content effort — that of educational broadcasting — can inform our historical perspective, and can inform what we do for the future. Again, summoning a number of visionary producers to gather with us and discuss how the university and community–based assets can work with us to produce and distribute material could be invaluable.

We need to see how educational broadcasting can be brought into the fold. And we need to think, to go back to an earlier point, not only about what industry can do for us, but what we can do for them. Look at Apple. Imagine Apple creating on campus a lab equivalent of an Apple store, or a studio — just for the subject of, say, American labor, where everybody in that lab would be working with material, like what Harvard has digitized, what Mark Kornbluh has created from audio interviews at Michigan State University, what the City University of New York develops in my hometown.

Think about it. We are in the non–fiction business. We are in the media business. We can appreciate what we have every right to call the demand for our product, and we too can think about personalizing it.

In closing, let me just cite one example of something that’s real, getting realer, and that will come to affect many of us here pretty soon. Our Library of Congress, with the support of the Packard Foundation and Packard Humanities Institute in California, has embarked on the creation of a new National Audio–Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC) in Culpeper, Virginia. When it’s completed in 2007, it will be institution unlike any other in the world, and already, the support of the Institute is so significant that in 2004 David Packard became the largest single benefactor in the history of the Library, surpassing the billionaire John Kluge.

The future is already here. It's just unevenly distributed

The NAVCC is in many ways the most exciting thing going on in cultural content and media today. Into its brand–new buildings on 41 acres will be moved most of the largest repository of film, television, and radio assets in the world—the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division. Three million recorded sound items. One million moving image items. In sum, our first audio–visual century. And it’s being digitized for preservation and access.

Now, can you imagine these digitized media assets, developed and produced with a range of partners and investors, distributed on cable, satellite, broadcast, swapped and rendered anew on the Torrent — produced and re–produced on subjects such as the history of the silent film, the Abrahamic religions, or political advertising?

The young New York Times reporter John Leland, in his extraordinary new book Hip: A history, has a great quotation for all of this. "The future is already here," he tells us. "Itís just unevenly distributed."

Thank you for this opportunity to attend and visit with you today. End of article


1. See Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the politics of white supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), p. xvi; Spencie Love, One blood: The death and resurrection of Charles R. Drew. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), pp. 3, 4, 5, 32, 33, 42, 44, 55, 264; W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Where these memories grow: History, memory, and Southern identity. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), pp. 1, 2, 5, 11, 12, 222, 224, 334; Michel–Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), p. 27.

2. See the threads connecting William G. Thomas III and Edward L. Ayers, "The difference slavery made: A close analysis of two American communities," American Historical Review, volume 108, number 5 (December 2003), generated at UVa’s Virginia Center for Digital History; the fuller online edition of the article at; the XML–encoded database of thousands of digitized materials at; and, the first of two definitive book–length studies of the material in Ayers, In the presence of mine enemies: War in the heart of America, 1859–1863. (New York: Norton, 2003). Becker and Penn Warren are quoted in Cushing Strout, The veracious imagination: Essays on American history, literature, and biography. (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1981), p. 104. See also Carl Becker, "Everyman his own historian," American Historical Review, volume 37 (January 1932), pp. 233–255, and Michael Kammen, Mystic chords of memory: The transformation of tradition in American culture. (New York, Knopf, 1991), p. 17.

Editorial history

Paper received 26 March 2005; accepted 3 May 2005. HTML markup: Kyleen Kenney; Editor: Edward J. Valauskas.

alt="Creative Commons License" border="0" src="" This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Commentary on Web–Wise by Peter B. Kaufman
First Monday, Volume 10, Number 6 - 6 June 2005