Current Cites (Digital Library SunSITE)

Volume 11, no. 10, October 2000

Edited by Roy Tennant

The Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720
ISSN: 1060-2356 - http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/CurrentCites/2000/cc00.11.10.html

Contributors: Terry Huwe, Michael Levy, Leslie Myrick , Jim Ronningen, Lisa Rowlison, Roy Tennant

Issue Spotlight: Peer-to-Peer Networking

Not since the release of NCSA Mosaic, the networking application that spawned the phrase "killer app", have we seen the like. Once again it took a youngster (in this case an 18-year-old college dropout) to rock our world — with a networking application that bears his nickname: "Napster". But as quickly became apparent, Napster was just the first salvo in a new battle over freedom, intellectual property rights, and the future of the Internet.

Other clients using the same technology (called "peer-to-peer" networking since it is individual clients (peers) communicating directly with one another instead of through a central server), quickly appeared, with Gnutella and Freenet being among the most widely known. Developments have been happening so quickly that it's hard to believe that Napster isn't even two years old yet, but already the old guard very much has it's guard up. The music industry has hauled Napster, Inc. into court and the publishing industry surely isn't far behind, if they could only find some one or some organization to sue. But there's the rub. With anonymous applications like Gnutella and Freenet, there is no one to sue. We're in an entirely different ball game. But don't take my word for it. This month we've reviewed some of the best articles we could find on this new phenomenon. They speculate on the future of creativity, publishing, and access to information in the wake of an unstoppable technology that will change everything. Can I possibly be any clearer?
The Editor

Adar, Eytan, and Huberman, Bernardo A. "Free Riding on Gnutella." First Monday 5(10) (October 2, 2000) (http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue5_10/adar/). - Two Xerox PARC researchers analyze use traffic on Gnutella, the underground peer-to-peer file sharing service, and find that usage patterns aren't really all that egalitarian. Over a single 24 hour period, nearly 70 percent of users shared no files; instead, they spent their time "free-riding" on the system. Of the overall traffic, 50 percent of responses were returned by only one percent of the total sharing host population. The authors determine that this does not bode well for community-based file sharing, since communities depend on broad participation, just as healthy democracies depend on a populace that actually takes the time to vote. Adar and Huberman suggest that copyright infringement fears may diminish if this trend predominates in similar communities. It will be interesting to follow the peer-to-peer underground movement's growth with this assertion in mind. - TH

Barlow, John Perry. "The Next Economy of Ideas." Wired (October 2000): 240-252 (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.10/download.html). - Building on his famous article The Economy of Ideas, John Perry Barlow looks at the issue of copyright in the Napster era. As Barlow comments "no law can be successfully imposed on a huge population that does not morally support it and possesses easy means for its invisible evasion." Launching into a scathing criticism of the entertainment industry and their attempts to protect intellectual property using such means as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Barlow sees the media behemoths as fighting a losing battle. In his call to arms the future is one where "there will be no property in cyberspace." If there is no property how will those creating content be rewarded and given incentives? He believes that the interests of creators will be assured by practical values: "relationship, convenience, interactivity, service and ethics." Summing his stance up Barlow envisages artists entering into relationships with consumers who will be ethically inclined to pay for services. While some will still dismiss him as a hippy out of touch with the reality of the modern economy his ideas are thoughtful, provocative and he might just be right. - ML

Chudnov, Daniel. "Docster: The Future of Document Delivery?" Library Journal 125(13) (August 2000): 60-62 (http://www.libraryjournal.com/docster.asp). - In this provocative piece, Chudnov proposes that libraries modify the Napster model of file sharing for use in interlibrary lending. The main change that Chudnov suggests is to add copyright compliance. For details on what he suggests and how it would work, see the article. But what I find most impressive about this article isn't so much the details as the idea itself. Libraries need imaginative ideas, and this is one. Building on a technology that isn't even two years old yet, Chudnov has proposed a reasonable solution to a common library problem. We need more ideas like this, and more librarians with Chudnov's combination of imagination and technical savvy. - RT

Cohen, Adam. "A Crisis of Content." Time 156(14) (October 2, 2000): 68-73 (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/articles/0,3266,55700,00.html). - When Time magazine "gets it," you know the rest of the population can't be too far behind. And this article shows that they do. What they "get" is that where intellectual property rights are concerned, the cat is out of the bag, the cow has vacated the barn, and the bottle no longer holds the genie. Napster is just the tip of the file sharing iceberg. As new peer-to-peer clients like Gnutella (http://gnutella.wego.com/) and Freenet (http://freenet.sourceforge.net/) show, any intellectual content is at risk of being freely shared on the Internet. To demonstrate this, Cohen uses such examples as sewing patterns (about as non-Napster like as you can get), which are being freely (and illegally) swapped online. For a taste of what Cohen has to say about all this, here are a couple quotes from this piece: "There is no underestimating the threat that all this free file sharing poses to existing business models" and "The only thing that is certain in the content business is that everything is up for grabs." And if you think this only affects businesses, and not non-profit libraries, think again. - RT

Heilemann, John. "David Boies: The Wired Interview." Wired (October 2000): 253-259 (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.10/boies.html). - At first glance, it appears to many onlookers that it is clearly illegal for users to record MP3 files from copyrighted CDs and make them available for dowloading by any Napster user on the planet. But as this interview with the lead defense attorney in the Napster case points out, this is far from an open-and-shut case of copyright infringement. He identifies four major arguments that the defense is making, any one of which will win their case if they prevail. Frankly, I couldn't care less if Napster gets shut down, but the legal defense of Napster involves issues that go much beyond whether a particular company can continue to do business or not. - RT

Kuptz, Jerome. "Independence Array." Wired (October 2000): 236-237 (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.10/architecture.html). - The tagline to this overview of how Gnutella works is "Gnutella: Unstoppable by Design". And they aren't kidding. Smart people with nothing better to do have worked hard at making sure that files can be shared directly between individual network users in an undetectable and untraceable fashion. Sneaking through via the HTTP protocol (here's a hint, it's the protocol upon which the web runs), there are no central servers (like with Napster), no log files, and no central organization behind it. This two-page spread on how Gnutella actually works is available on the web, but the graphic version in the print copy of the magazine lays out the whole bloody mess in a much more entertaining fashion. - RT

Crane, Gregory, et. al. "The Symbiosis Between Content and Technology in the Perseus Digital Library" Cultivate Interactive (October 2000) (http://www.cultivate-int.org/issue2/perseus/). - The Perseus Project is one of the most well-developed scholar-led digital library projects around. In this conceptual overview of the project and its many aspects and phases, Crane et. al. describe the motivations behind this eclectic set of collections. Maybe it was their enthusiasm or their "can-do" attitude, but by the end of the article it actually made sense to me that the project should be dabbling in Shakespeare and Arabic texts on mechanics at the same time. As they put it, "While all these projects differ substantially, they are united by our consistent effort to study the ways in which documents which are distinct in print libraries begin to merge with one another in a digital library, dissolving their individual structures and supporting new patterns of intellectual inquiry." Areas in which they remain interested include: 1) the development of new integrated collections, 2) the cognitive effects of digital libraries, 3) integration of modern computational linguistic techniques, and 4) information extraction and visualization. Those wishing for more technical background on the project should refer to Crane's recent piece in D-Lib Magazine. - RT

Crawford, Walt. "Guest Editorial: Talking about Public Access — PACS-L's First Decade." Information Technology and Libraries 19(3) (September 2000): 112-115 (http://www.lita.org/ital/1903_editorial.html). - I distinctly remember returning from the 1989 American Library Association Annual Conference and rushing to sign on to a new electronic discussion that had just been announced at the conference: the Public Access Computer Systems Forum, or PACS-L. Unfortunately, the instructions for signing up assumed you were on BITNET, and I was trying to sign on via the Internet. The ensuing days of digging around for documentation and discovering the way I had to send my message to sign on was one of my first trials by fire on the Internet. But PACS-L was well worth the effort, and was so for years. As Crawford documents so well, PACS-L was *the* library discussion list of most of the 90's, before becoming a victim of its own success. Although it has been resurrected, it will never be the same as it was when a profession was remaking itself in light of world-wide computer connectivity. If this sounds nostalgic, it is, as is Crawford's tribute. I guess you just had to be there. - RT

Drost, Karen, and Jorna, Miriam. "Empowering Women Through the Internet: Dutch Women Unite." First Monday 5(10) (October 2, 2000) (http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue5_10/drost/). - Drost and Jorna assess the experience of a Dutch collective known as "Webgrrls-NL", an organization whose goal is to train Dutch women in the use of the Internet. Webgrrls creates a forum where Dutch women can learn about computers and the Internet "without the intervention of men or others who feel the need to show rather than to teach." That quote points out the feminist perspective of this organization, but it also opens the door to think about the ways in which different communities can best learn in the Internet era. A large body of research confirms that women and men approach technology differently, and this article is further grist for the mill. It's also interesting and very pragmatic in its approach. The conclusions that are offered could easily apply to other self-identifying groups who wish to take advantage of the Internet on their own terms. - TH

Evans, Fred. "Cyberspace and the Concept of Democracy." First Monday 5(10) (October 2, 2000) (http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue5_10/evans/). - Social theorists and futurists will enjoy this well-researched inquiry into the nature of democracy in the Net era. Heavily footnoted and densely populated with ideas and questions, this article nonetheless raises some blunt questions that are on a lot of peoples' minds. For example, what are the characteristics of the body politic, if it's living in the "real" and the "virtual" worlds at the same time? What are the hazards of this new and uncharted domain for affecting hearts and minds in the political process? While the author has many optimistic analyses to share, he also finds a "dark" side to politics and the Net, which he categories as oracular in nature. - TH

Griffiths, Jose-Marie. "Deconstructing Earth's Largest Library" Library Journal 125(13) (August 2000): 44-47. - Current Cites readers are familiar with Steve Coffman's provocative thoughts on what librarians can learn from Amazon.com. This piece aims to "debunk" Coffman's ideas. Since Griffith does not make her points as clearly and forcefully as Walt Crawford, they are somewhat difficult to extract, but they can be roughly summarized as "we can't cooperate enough to pull it off, our current automated systems are too limited, and it would be too difficult and costly." From there, Griffiths explores the issues of digital opportunities (formerly known as the Digital Divide), the library as place, and the value of the library 'brand'. A sidebar highlights the Internet Public Library, Contentville.com, and Fathom.com as "libraries in cyberspace." - RT

Hawkins, Donald T. "Electronic Books: a Major Publishing Revolution. Part 2: The Marketplace" Online 24 (5) (September/October 2000):18-36. - As the author himself acknowledges, "The marketplace is moving so rapidly that any list of players quickly becomes outdated." Some of the specifics relating to the vendors here have changed since the article's publication, with probably the biggest news being that Rocket eBooks and SoftBooks now have the same parent company and are sold through eBook-Gemstar. So, check the company websites listed for the latest word. As for Hawkins' more general take on how the market is shaping up, this is an excellent continuation of part 1, which was published in the July/August issue. He explores the many ways (including device-independent ways) in which e-books are being disseminated, including the system of interest to many libraries now, netLibrary. - JR

Rutenbeck, Jeff. "The 5 Great Challenges of the Digital Age" Library Journal NetConnect (Supplement to Library Journal and School Library Journal, Fall 2000): 30-33. - We've survived Y2K little the worse for wear, just in time to face the five "great challenges" Rutenbeck identifies in this provocative piece. What are they, you ask? 1) Malleability: "through digital technologies we're inclined to do much more than preserve or distribute information: we're prone to manipulate it, alter it, and enhance it in often profound ways", 2) Selectivity: selecting digital over print; selecting the small amount of print materials we're capable of digitizing, 3) Exclusivity: the digital divide, the dominance of English as the language of the Internet, the necessity to have typing skills, 4) Vulnerability: "we are only now beginning to realize that the benefits of interconnectedness via the global network also bring with them an unprecedented shared vulnerability", and 5) Superficiality: the shallowness of our interactions with information and others in a networked world. Whether or not you agree with Rutenbeck's assertions, or his elevation of them to "great challenges", these issues are important and may be increasingly so. - RT

"Special Issue: Digital Reference Services: Papers Based on the Virtual Reference Desk Conference" Reference & User Services Quarterly 39(4) (Summer 2000) - We've come far from the notion that online reference service is a nice embellishment, to an expection from users that there will be a computer interface available for any library need, including that (potentially) most complex exchange, the reference session. The articles here address such issues as assessing the quality of online reference service, the "how-to" points to consider when creating such a service, what to expect in workload changes and how to manage them, how to create a successful reference interview environment when the face to face element is removed, and how the culture of library use for reference information is changing. The gatekeeper function of reference librarians is changing, some would say radically, and these articles are very helpful for information providers adapting to the new patterns of information-seeking behavior. - JR

Taylor, Mary K. "Library Webmasters: Satisfactions, Dissatisfactions, and Expectations." Information Technology and Libraries 19(3) (September 2000): 116-123 (http://www.lita.org/ital/1903_taylor.html). - This article reports on the findings of a 1998 survey of library web managers of institutions that are members of the Association of Research Libraries. From the survey data one can glean such interesting nuggets as the fact that of the respondents, less than a third have attended an HTML workshop or seminar, and 83% of respondents were self-taught to a greater or lesser degree. A finding I found surprising was that more than 50% of the respondents shared their position with another person or committee. The vast majority find satisfaction in their work, and what the largest number liked the least was not having enough time to spend on the web site and to learn new skills. Taylor ends the review of survey results with a list of recommendations based on her findings. - RT

West, Darrell M. "Assessing E-Government: The Internet, Democracy, and Service Delivery by State and Federal Governments." (September 2000) (http://www.insidepolitics.org/egovtreport00.html). - Some of the most far reaching and effective delivery of information services via the Internet has been by Federal and State governments. In this study of "E-Government" the author surveyed over 1800 websites during the Summer, 2000. Unsurprisingly, states with smaller populations and therefore fewer resources performed poorly compared to larger states, and federal government provided better services compared to state governments. Overall the websites were weakest in areas of security, privacy, disability access, offering specific online services such as purchasing a license, filing a complaint or requesting a publication, and democratic outreach such as email, message boards and the ability for citizens to receive periodic updates on specific issues. The conclusion of the study is that the "e-government revolution has fallen short of its true potential." - ML


Current Cites 11(10 (October 2000) ISSN: 1060-2356
Copyright © 2000 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley. All rights reserved.

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