The role of the reader in the Internet age

Since the upraising of the Internet in the 1990s many things have changed for the Gutenberg galaxis. The most obvious one, is that the price of internet related information is cheaper. While the normal book costs around 20 US$ to buy, a blog is provided without any costs, except the service fee for the internet service provider. As a result, the amount of information exploded. After the 1990s the amount of serious and entertainment information is higher than ever, and it grows further.

A second, not so obvious difference is, that with the Internet all the journal publishers losts it’s readership. Before the internet there was a strong connection between a journal and their readers. The relationship was determined by long term subscription and it was a seldom case, that a reader switched his newspaper. A reader from the new york times doesn’t read the wallstreet journal. As a result, each journal had a certain target group which was called their readership and the aim was to provide information for that group.

In the internet age the fluctuation is higher. Today it is very easy for the reader to switch a journal. The next journal is only a mouseclick away and one reader can subscribe to different blogs at once. The upraising of fulltext search engines since the 2000s has increased the situation further. Today the reader doesn’t have to know the journal title, it is enough if he knows his favorite subject and Google will filter all the available journals for him.

What is the effect for authors? Things have changed dramatically. A book or a website doesn’t have a classical audiance which can be identified and tracked. Instead the reader remains anonymous. A blogpost uploaded to the internet can be read by anybody and nobody at the same time. In most cases, Google decides who sees the article. But how is it possible to write a blogpost for an unknown audience? The answer to the problem is to raise the abstraction level. There are two language codes available: restricted and elaborated. If the situation is unclear, complex and determined by different actors only the elaborated language code is the right choice. That means, a blogpost has to be written in formal language for an academic audience.

Even if not all readers have this background this is the smallest possible common denominator. According to the definition the formal language can be understood by all groups of society. Adjusting the own writing style to such kind of communication interface is difficult but it’s necessary in the Internet age. The prediction is, that in 20 years all blogs are academic blogs, otherwise Google will filter it as spam or non-sense information. A good outlook in which direction future internet society will move is given by the Academia.edu project. The writing style within the website is purely academic. That means 100% of the content is written by academics for academics. Colloquial speech isn’t available. An academic paper has the highest amount of formal language it is written for situation in which the readership is unknown. The challenge is hard to write such kind of information. It would be much easier to write information for a non-expert audience. This kind of relaxed information distribution won’t be possible in the future, because Google asks for a high amount of abstraction.

Let us make an example. What is known about readers of a weblog. In case of doubt, nothing is known. A reader can be anybody or nobody. In such uncertain situation we have to admit, that the reader is an expert on a field. That means, the author has to write a text for a very demanding audience which is detecting every fault in the text. Not because the readership has changed so much, but because today’s readers have more tools available. They can compare the information written down and if one blog posts explains things different from another blogpost, they will recognize it.

Google has transformed non-experts on a field to professionals. The reader is sitting behind his search engine and he is scanning the Internet with a search engine. This allows him to judge fast and efficient and every piece of information which is wrong or written to deceive somebody is recognized. This makes reading of information very easy, but writing a hard task. The relationship between authors and readers have changed. Before the internet, the author was king while the reader was some kind uniformed beginner who needs advice. Today, the situation is the other way around. The reader has the full choice and all the tools, while the authors are under pressure.

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Yes, WordPress is the better Facebook

I recently investigate the feature in the WordPress Reader in detail. At first, they have a limeline-like newsreader. This is created from the blogposts a user is following, in the same way as Facebook. To get a personalized newspaper, the wordpress user has only follow some sources, and then he sees all the information aggregated like in a RSS reader. The second feature which is similar to a social network is the share-button. It works in the same way like on Google Plus and Facebook. Sharing means, to write a remote comment and post it on the own blog. So, what is the purpose of Facebook and Google Plus, why are not using more people WordPress? I would guess, that the public is not informed. I personally discovered both features today, and they are available for many years. So perhaps it has to do with learning.

Let us focus on the main advantage on WordPress over Google Plus. WordPress has a much higher traffic. Every day around 3 million posts are uploaded. And wordpress can be seen as the standard-newspaper in the web. Most users are using the tool for uploading short texts. I would guess, that Google Plus is not an alternative to Facebook, because the traffic on Google Plus is low and nobody is posting there. But WordPress is an alternative to Facebook, because WordPress is more serious. It was created as a publishing platform and the social features (wordpress Reader) were added later. The main advantage is, that WordPress posts are visible in Google per default, and the user can setup his own PHP Server with a wordpress software, which is not possible on Facebook. My prediction is, that WordPress beats Facebook one day!

Why Lyx is not used very often

In the past, I recognized a surprising fact. On the one hand, the Lyx software is one of the most powerful software available for creating academic documents and technical writings on the other hand the software is nearly unknown in the public. The mismatch can be explained with two commercial products: Framemaker and Quarkxpress. Both are the marketleader in professional Desktop publishing. Let us go into the details.

It is surprising, that in most online-forums and guidelines no concrete software is mentioned. Instead it is up to the user to decide for a certain product. But if we are watching the software-stores and the published books carefully, than two products can be called a standard in publishing. The above cited Adobe products, which are sold for at least 500 US$ per licence. As far as i can see, both software tools are well suited for creating larger documents with lots of tables and references and both a heavily documented with books. According to the user-forums, Framemaker and co is used in reality very often. But most users doesn’t speak about it. They use the software, they like the high productivity but it is an open secret.

From the user-experiance the Opensource software Lyx is comparable to Framemaker. Both are GUI tools (in contrast to plain LaTeX) and both are superior to MS-Word and similar software. That means, if someone plans to publish a book or a 700 pages long report, than Lyx and Framemaker is a here to stay. The interesting aspect is, that Lyx is for free but has the same features.

Lyx stays in the shadow of the very successful Adobe programs. That means, publsihing companies and professional writers are using Framemaker but not Lyx. The reason is, that Linux is not very often used, especially by programmers and professional writers. As far as I can see, Lyx is a bit less powerful than Framemaker. It has no XML features, and the programming project is not so sophisticated. For example, the current Lyx version is crashing quite often. But the main advantage is, that Lyx is opensource, while the Adobe tool is only available under a commercial license.

Let us ask the worldcat-library how many tutorials are out there with Lyx. I’ve found exact two booktitles. One in German, and one in English (“Self-publishing with Lyx”). Apart from it, no other books are available. It seems, that we have one hand a very powerful software which is comparable to Framemaker and on the other hand a lack in good tutorials. The LaTeX backend itself, is very good explained in bookform, but LaTeX alone is not very comfortable to write longer text with it. For example, if someone wants to insert a table, he must look in the reference sheet, and it is very complicated. With Lyx, the user has only to click on a button and that’s it.

For pedagogical reasons, I entered a small screenshot which shows Lyx before entering the table. The user can choose, if he wants a 5×3 table and this will insert. The table can be edited later with dropdown menus, and it is floated inside the text.

What is wrong with blogging?

Blogs are no longer relevant – that is the impression what most people have, if they are compare weblogs with social media on one hand and Academic social network on the other. Facebook, Twitter and Linked are trying us to convince to be part of their networks. The price is, that other users must login to, for retrieving the content.

But what have ordinary people to do with Facebook or with the OpenAccess movement? Right, nothing. Facebook is a project created by the media industry and for people how find it difficult to set up their own wordpress blog, while Researchgate was founded with the idea to revolutionize the production and circulation of scientific content. What has that to do with blogging? Right, nothing. It is legitimate, if the universities has discovered the internet, and it also ok if advertisement companies build their own network, which is no longer accessible from the normal internet. But we as the users should be aware, that apart from the so called social media and academic networks the good old classical internet never died. That means, all the ordinary websites which were programmed in the past with html and today with wordpress are well and alive. They are searchable per default, and they are working without a higher company behind it.

My question is: what is wrong with putting the content on a normal website? What is wrong with uploading a pdf paper to a blog? Right, nothing is wrong with it. I believe, that Academia.edu and Facebook are promoting a different kind of internet which stays in contrast to the normal static internet.

WordPress as Information aggregator

Social networks like Facebook and Google Plus are created with the idea in mind to be the personal frontpage of a user or a brand. On a central place all relevant information are put together. So a Facebook profile is equal to a RSS feed. Even this feature is technical not available it is true from the marketing perspective. Because what the companies are doing on Facebook is to aggregate the public communication.

But are Facebook and Google Plus the best options for doing so? In the case of Google Plus, the answer is easy. Most companies have stopped they activities there because Google plus is not very business friendly. For example, it has no ads. Also a wide audience is missing. But Facebook is also not ideal for promoting a brand, because per default they are not providing the data as a RSS feed, so it is not possible to access the data from outside.

But there is an alternative. Blogging software has the RSS format as their standard format. Nearly every blog can be subscribed in so called RSS readers. So in theory, it is possible to aggregate all the information about a brand in a wordpress blog. What does that means? It means, that the public communication is not done with Facebook or blogs, instead it is done with an .xml file which is machine readable. If the user has done something important, for example uploads a new video, creates a new posting in a forum or updates his github-code he only creates a new WordPress-Entry which references to that activity. So the blog can be used as the central hub of a persona or brand.

As far as i know, this use-case is not very common. In most cases the other way around is used. For example, a user writes a blogpost, and paste the url in his facebook account. But if not Facebook but the wordpress RSS feed is the central hub, than the actions must be done in a different order. At first, the new article is uploaded to Facebook, and secondly the reference is stored in the wordpress blog. As a result, the RSS stream is updated which is subscribed by the readers.

Admitted, in reality both options are possible. The question is only, what is more important and which should be the central hub for storing activities.

Mindmap

The mindmap shows the idea. Facebook is no longer the central hub, in which the information are aggregated, instead the social network is used for storing content, like a weblog. The content in Facebook is aggregated with other content from the internet to a single wordpress RSS stream. And this is the central hub. The advantage is, that a rss file is machine readable without further API requests and it comes without any advertisement. It can be watched either in the webbrowser or in a dedicated RSS reader.

Why can’t Facebook or Google Plus the central hub? Because they are not providing an RSS feed. It is not possible to subscribe to the Facebook feed from a RSS reader. And RSS is the standard-format for information aggregation. So it makes no sense to call Facebook a central place, in which all the other services are integrated. Instead the WordPress tool can be called the social network. Because it is more open to the public, and has also the ability to comment and like something. I think, that Facebook is more like a telephone app like Whatsapp, and Google Plus is only a bad replacement for that. Both are no longer interesting enough.

One per mille can change the world

The internet has so far 3.8 billion users, and every day 3.8 million blogposts are written. According to the math, one out of thousand people is a blogger. That means, that 0,1% of the internet population is writing regularly a blogpost. This results into a huge quantity and a huge quality of daily added postings, which are searchable with Google websearch. What the other 99,9% of the guys are doing is simple: they don’t blog, but perhaps they doing other useful things, like uploading youtube videos or commenting in a online-forum. But even if they are doing nothing and only browsing around, it is ok. Because somebody must read all news content which is added on a daily base.