When “evil” destroys dialogue

The term “digital rights management,” or DRM, as the technology used by many publishers to prevent unauthorized copying of their digital titles, is the subject of intensely emotional debate, so much so that the discussion seldom rises above claims that the technology is “evil” or “not evil.” Michael Bhaskar of Pan McMillan leaps into this perennial debate with a nicely reasoned piece that, nevertheless, seeks to justify the idea of limits on use of a text. (TeleRead also likes effort.)

I don’t think DRM is a good idea. It makes using a digital product harder than it needs to be. It also represents the fear among publishers and some authors, that their work will be undermined by people who would give it away freely.

However, DRM is also built on something that could be incredibly useful in a shared e-book, cryptographic identification of multiple readers, so that their annotations and discussions can be parsed logically and presented selectively. I’ve written about this before, in hopes of raising the smog of DRM from the potentially useful features that underlie it.

If the publishing industry let books be copied freely, across more than a few devices, for example, it would create business opportunities by allowing even those who receive a book at no cost to pay a small fee—comparable to the price of an e-book—to add their own thoughts to the page or discuss the book with some coordination provided through cryptographic technology to limit who could see their notes, or selected notes (some annotations may need to be private, because they are controversial or too sensitive to be exposed publicly, but they provide a personal point of reference for framing a discussion linked to the same place in the book).

No, DRM isn’t “evil,” it’s just a barrier to greater use of the text. Turn the whole argument upside down—what could we do with a freely shared crypto-enabled document that let readers integrate their notes and other reading? How could we maintain vast personalized libraries and reference databases secured in the same way that a cash payment at a bookstore provides anonymity?

Then, the problem isn’t unauthorized copies, it is how to identify one’s own copy, so that readers can share and use the information in more meaningful ways. If anyone doubts this is a viable approach, take a look at the growing use of OpenID and Facebook logins to parse and present social relationships with greater personal context online.

Forget “evil,” it’s  meaningless term in the context of computer science.

Shared annotations in e-books debate heats up

I’m pleased to see people talking about the pressing need for shared annotation standards in e-books. This is the keystone of a new reading experience and new models for compensation of authors, publishers and, even, critics of books. I wrote at length about this on ZD before launching this blog. The question I think remains unasked is how do we control access to our annotations? We don’t necessarily want to share all our notes about a book. In fact, we want to be selective when shaping a response to the ideas we read. The solution is more than annotation, but access control (not DRM, but using the same kinds of cryptographic technologies that make DRM work, albeit badly). Here’s what I had to say: Books Entering the Age of Glosses.

Talenthouse: Collaboration and exhibition venue

TalenthouseA new creative community, Talenthouse.com, launched this morning with video and images from hundreds of recognizable artists, says it will “eliminate the age-old artistic struggle for recognition and instead focus on creative excellence,” according to founder and CEO Roman Scharf, who also founded JAJAH, a voice over IP developer.

The Mountain View, Calif.-company offers an elegant alternative to MySpace and suggests it will help artists collaborate. Artists can join and propose collaborations through the site. The main functionality, however, is the ability to upload and display works. It is primarily a platform for being seen and finding fans.

Talenthouse pledges to foster “seasoned and up-and-coming talent and proactively facilitating interaction between them and established icons and industry players.” The language takes art and places it squarely in the marketing speak of corporate development. I am not sure this is the correct way to put it in order to win artists to the site. Yet, sites of this kind are going to be notable hubs of activity in the careers of working artists and performers.

Supporters of artists are encouraged to share their fandom with automated tools for posting to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networks. It looks like a viable marketing platform, but I find its statement that it is the “only purpose-built online platform for all artists and creatives” over-reaching, as there are many such services vying to support and, in return, gain the support of artists. The site has 25,000 members after its alpha testing phase and aims for a million within a year.

Talenthouse is currently aimed at visual and performing artists as well as fashion entrepreneurs.

Simon & Schuster has a Pulse

Simon & Schuster Digital Group has launched a social site, Pulse It, that offers a free e-book each month to members, who musts be between 14 and 18 years of age. Kids are presented a choice of two e-books a month and are allowed to pick one to read, which is available online for 60 days. The idea is to get kids sharing thoughts about the books and to get them talking amongst themselves. Members earn points for participating in the community. Monthly sweepstakes offer physical prizes, such as books and “other cool stuff.”

The site’s got all the signatures of a contemporary social site: Member profiles (no email addresses displayed, forcing the discussion to stay in the community for privacy’s sake), message boards and video. On the front page today, author Scott Westerfield (Uglies, Pretties, Specials) is featured in video. Interesting to note that there are no young people on the front page. Privacy certainly has something to do with this, but young faces are a key to engaging first-time visitors with community. Message board postings are not viewable without joining the site—it would be better if some sampling of the discussion were available.

I’d also suggest more images of kids reading and talking on the home page. Holding the current featured titles, preferably.