Communication in a Digital Age
Print/Pixel

Arie Altena

On May 13th 2009 I was live blogging at the conference Print/Pixel, organised by the MA Media Design of the Piet Zwart Academy in Rotterdam. This is a copy of my posts, unedited, as they can also be found at http://blog.wdka.nl/communication-in-a-digital-age.

Final Session

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 16:00:00 - 17:00:00

For the final session Simon Worthington, Alessando Ludovico, Edwin Schravesande, the people of the OPL, Gerrit Imsieke and Florian Cramer gather around the table.

The first issue that is raised is the relation between creators (content-creators) and designers? Between what is editorial work and what is design? A conventional way of anwering this is hinting at the real difference between people who are good at words and those who are good at visual stuff. Yet it is the entanglement of technical protocols (in software and CMS’s), and the way in which our tools deal with design and with content — prestructuring and structuring both — it is our CMS’s and tools with their prestructured designs (themes) and automated document conversions — which, well, makes us think again about it.

Gerrit Imsieke drops a nice quotable statement: “Design is also an elegant design solution. There is design in programming”.

The amateur - professional split comes up of course. The ‘themes’ of Wordpress bring okay graphic design in the hands of anyone willing to choose a nice template; yet also the ‘amateur’ world also exactly has the freedom to use ugly designs, just as the fanzines & small zines (50.000 there were at least) of the eighties and nineties.

The second issue is that of the reason for POD and for the e-readers. Is it secretly a question of aesthetics, Florian Cramer asks, rather as a concluding statement, that we choose for them because it makes the text look better? Because, why an e-reader, when we already have either a mobile phone with a decent display, or a small laptop? Why print texts, if not because the text looks better on a piece of paper?

Alternative titles for the conference Print/Pixel — though all speakers think it is a good title: “Programming design” (Gerrit Imsieke), “System design” (Simon Worthington), “Print 2.0″ (OPL), “Integration and convergence”, “Publishing, real soon now” (to bring in the ambiguity), “Scalability” (Schravesande: a lot of desing work will be done in scalability, like taking away pictures as soon as the screen becomes too small).

Florian plays the devil’s advocate: “All the mentioned alternatives are characteristic of web design.”

Nobody disagrees on that. Yet the web-model is a terrible thing in many respects, design-wise. There certainly is much bad web design conventions. There is a lot of room for improvement. As I guess anybody who was ever involved in the development of a larger website, using a CMS, knows. On the other hand: there is not one web design model, as there is also not one print design model.

But there is one important aspect to the web design model which is always, or almost always true: the fact that visual design is seperate from the content (being a seperate file — .css). On the other hand, wikipedia (Cramer says) pushes a certain design from content.

Alessandro states: until now print and pixel were just fiancees, now they are married, then the problems start.

Not covered until now is the possibility of doing generative printing on demand: the possibility to customize every single copy of a publication. It is technically possible (the PZI did a project, and used it).

Customization — of newspapers? It all is mentioned: it’s overrated, it makes us isolated, it doesn’t allow for serendipity, it is good because you get to read the good stuff (for you), and not what you don’t want to read, the filtering that takes place in social networks, using google-reader giving a better insight in the ‘news’ et cetera. I certainly would like it — but I’d see it as a layered thing, where I — as a reader — make choices, but also make such choices that allow for serendipity, that look at what peers and friends are reading, that always gives me the work of certain journalists, etc. It does not exist. It certainly is not RSS as it exists now, nor following tags.

Matthew Bernius states: “I am much more interested in when print and pixel get babies, when we will have a true hybrid, in a post-McLuhan sense. Something entirely new.”

As a final statement Florian Cramer mentions that most of the speaker did not know each other before the conference, did not even know of each other, and their enterprises and research — yet: there was not any problem in getting to an understanding. This makes one curious to see the next developments.

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Real time newspaper

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 15:20:00

Now we have the explanation of the realtime newspaper project. By the students and Peter Zuiderwijk. That is about these words too.

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Discussion II

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 15:15:00

Florian Cramer asks — as Simon Worthington joins Alessandro — if the issue is not that we are now talking about paper after the net, and after mass media. Whereas even the Yes Men’s prank takes off from an idea of the dominance of printed newspapers as mass media.

In quick succession a lot of issues are brought up now, which somehow were left out of the presentations till now. The need for designers to understand the publishing systems we are using now, the fact that design is not ‘the icing on the cake’ — as it is often taken to be (certainly in the tools we use), but has a close relationship with the content. Designers need to work with the content, and with the medium. Simon Worthington adds that designer need to unpack the systems they are using, and unpack the content. The false idea that all “design is a commission”. Designing as programming. The monopolizing of social networking systems by a few companies that are then sucking up the community-idea. Instead of many open tools and real community tools, we might end up with only Youtube. That is a danger, according to Cramer.

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Alessandro Ludovico

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 14:40:00

Alessandro is at the conference in three roles: as editor of Neural, as editor of the POD Magnet Reader, and as visiting researcher at the Piet Zwart Institute. He gives an overview of the chapters of the book about paper and pixels that he is writing now.

While going through the chapter titles he mentions a few interesting things: the death of the newspaper was announced at least 6 times before, with every new medium arriving at the scene; the concept of space in e-book-readers, cramming the data from an endless virtual space in a limited physical reading space; and the importance of how one remembers reading: the difference between remembering a book and remembering reading online. As a last introductory remark he mentions the vitality of networking — like in a network of editors and writers: for instance in the magazine project of Documenta XII and the group around the Magnet-reader.

He then starts to read a draft from his book, which concerns the history of self-publishing in print, from the Rennaissance to the present days.

For Alessandro “print is liberating”. He starts with mentioning the Biblia Pauperum, a woodblock print (if I am not mistaken), predating the Gutenberg Bible, as an example of giving people the power to make up their own mind. Another example is the self-publishing of radical pamplets and leaflets in the seventeenth century, of which only a few copies survive. Or for that matter the French radical pamphlets leading up to the French Revolution. Or, another classic example, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. All examples of self-publishing enterprises, often concerned with dissenting political opinions.

Next in his discourse is the use of print by the Avant-Garde, of course, he starts mentioning the Futurists, and their use of typography, culminating in Marinetti’s Parole in liberta. For the avant-garde the book was a dynamic object.

After the avant-gardes it was the mimeograph that unleashed new developments. It was light enough to be moved around and transported; it made small productions possible, both of political nature, samizdat-publications and — in the USA — many fanzines. Samizdat-production is only interesting not only because it was underground, but also because copies were made by hand.

Continuing his historical overview of small and self-publishing entreprises, we get to Fluxus, its boxes, posters and its use of the mail as distribution network. Followed by the Underground Press in the sixties during which a magazine became an object in itself. Whole Earth Catalogue became a model for future publication — as the underground magazine became one of the first successfull BBS’s, pioneering website and social networking: the WELL. (Still in existence). Xeroxing coincided with punk, punkzines made much use of the possibilities of black and white photocoping and cut-n-paste and its aesthetic anti-design was dependent on it.

According to Alessandro Ludovico the postal system is understimated as a distribution medium: referring not only to mail art but also to really small photocopied magazine, sometimes distributed in only a few copies.

With desktop publication the means of production came even more in the hands of the individuals.

We all know what happened afterwards, when the WWW of Tim Berners-Lee was coupled with an easy to use GUI, and internet access became wide spread. Yet Alessandro Ludovico also mentions how just before that moment paper prizes rose and postage also became much more expensive.

Ends with relating the Yesmen’s fake New York Times: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/nov/12/new-york-times-spoof and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yes_Men#New_York_Times.

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Web to PDF

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 14:10:00

In 2005 Mute developed a tool that translated webcontent — from a CMS — to a printable PDF. The idea was that every reader could select from and order the available content, and then a rough PDF would be made from it. A next step would be assigning design, and sending it online — by automatic magic — to a POD-machine. He mentions that the OPL-people have gone much further than they have — as at Mute they had to go back to writing and editing text as well. (Ah technical development takes all yr time… often).

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Simon Worthington

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 14:10:00

Florian Cramer introduces the next speaker: Simon Worthington of Mute: http://www.metamute.org. A magazine (about “culture and politics after the net’), but also a POD-publisher.

Simon mentions that he is a very happy man because of the first day of the conference: seeing that a lot of the things that Mute has been pursuing and developing in the last few years — and have been dreaming of — is now becoming a reality, also on a much larger scale. He, at Mute, develops ways and tools that help people to create print-on-demand publications. At Mute — with its background in hacker culture, and its critical attitude toward the market system — the turn toward POD came from a desire to publish more quickly an more flexibly (but I suppose also from the sheer impossibility to finance a full color shiny magazine), and translate web content into print.

So what Mute has been looking for is a way to publish online, help people to publish online, and create printed books from web content — mainly using the POD-service Lightning Source.

Using POD changes the economy of publishing too. As the economy of making a POD is different from old-fashioned printing. For those who aren’t aware of it: any print run possible, printing as different presses around the world, just set-up cost, and then printing per copy as there is demand. So it’s cheaper. But also, it often means that the POD-books are displayed at online stores like Amazon; as Amazon looks at the ISBN-space, and any POD can have an ISBN assigned (it just costs a few euro per ISBN).

POD is part of a hybrid way of publishing. At Mute they put new articles online as soon as they are finished. They also make it available at GoogleBooks, and at Amazon “look inside”, and, as POD. There is not a great use for Mute to go out into Amazon and all the small services that thy offer. (See for instance Mute Vol 4. at Amazon).

Yet, he also is very concerned with getting the books (and the information) ‘out there’, he cares for the product after its made. Therefore they developed the knowledge network More is More (actually also thanks to Dutch subsidy money, it is in that sense certainly a Dutch project). More is More is a network for thedistribution and selling of books and other media: http://www.moreismore.net/nl. Still in development. Using Open ERP.

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Roundtable I

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 12:45:00

For a roundtable Schravesande and Lichtenberg are joined by Matthew Bernius and Marc Schwieger, to talk about newspapers — as a central case in the transformation of information culture.

Florian Cramer asks the first question: isn’t everything we heard today still arguing fromt he perspective of mass media — whereas what we are witnessing puts an end of exactly that model?

But as is immediately mentioned by Bernius, the mass media model is not even the orginal model for newspapers, which in any case in the US started as a community thing. (After Lichtenberg stated that newspapers need to find a new exploitation model).

Schwieger stated that the newspaper businessmodel is over, is dead. What will happen in the future is 1. civil journalism, and 2. the journalist of the future has to treat what happens online as a source (mentions a.o following twitters - a favorite topic these days).

Schravesande mentions that for the NRC interaction — he means online discussion and commenting — is something to build up, and bring to a level of NRC-quality. This is an important question for the NRC: giving form to high level discussion. (He doesn’t formulate it like that, but that’s what it is).

Bernius again stresses the fact that journalists and experts have become that not through schooling, but by takig part in a community process: this was pblishing in local papers, it now is, for instance, through blogging, which is also learning to write and learning what it means to be a journalist. (Again I am adding a bit to what he says).

Cramer: newspapers become “content agencies” and “editorial experts”, but what leaves this for design and art direction? The PZ is a design school…

Schravesande translates it as “if a student is looking for an internship at NRC”: he needs problem fixers on the structural side of design and for instance quick (Flash)-programmers who can make interactive maps for instance.

Question from the audience: What misses in the discussion: the issue of editorial selection. Is it true that people do not want the selection by newspaper editors, but find this selection through other means. A crucial issue.

Schwieger mentions that people indeed find it through other means — online. Bernius even says: “Facebook is the newspaper of the future”. Both zoom into onto all the ways in which information is aggregated and filtered through using tools like Twitter, tagging, facebook and social networks. Cramer has a skeptical thought: neither Twitter not Facebook have a business model.

Now Alessandro Ludovico takes the mike and stresses the enormous difference between “personal filtering” and an editrial choice of “quality content”. Neural survives on the second.

And Jouke — our blogger yesterday — mentions his (and mine) favorite Stephenson book The Diamond Age. I miss now exactly why because I’m typing.

Schwieger: we live in an inspiration society. “Inspiration is everything”. And he adds it is the things we learn on Facebook which are the threat for the newspaper.

Florian wraps up, plays the ‘bad cop” caring for our empty stomach, leading us to lunch. I guess the discussion will go on during ‘broodjes’.

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Do Newspapers have a Future? II

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 2009 12:20:00

Lichtenberg mentions three models how newspapers adapt (and adapted) to the future — or simply the present: 1. Audio-video model (from videotext to podcast), 2. Internet-model (websites), 3. Mobile models (news for pda’s and mobile phones).

There are various research projects, looking at ways to innovate the ‘newspaper’, especially looking at the use of e-readers and pda’s. Innovation yet is also taking place in the newspaper industry, from using more color in the print issues, experimenting with user generated content, to catering news to more specific groups (youth etc.)

His answer to the question “Do newspapers have a future” is “Yes. As digital information products.” For that still a lot of experiment is needed and according to Lichtenberg we are currently only in the first stages of the transformation of the newspaper to a digital infromation product.

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Do Newspapers have a Future?

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 12:00:00The second presentation is by Lou Lichtenberg of the Netherlands Press Fund, who a.o. De krant doorgeklikt, a report about the future of newspapers, presented in August 2008 to the Minister of Culture of the Netherlands: PDF.

Lichtenberg mentions an important paradox: there is more information readily available than ever before, yet people are much worse informed. There is a task therefore for society and for the governement in civil society to do, well, do something about this. For instance by innovation of the, I would say, news and information industry.

He mentions the well-known problems of print newspapers — circulation decline, the difficulty of selling ‘paper’, and selling ‘paper space’ to advertisers. Etc.

Short interruption due to malfunctioning of microphone.

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Typing as I listen…

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13th May 11:55:00

Live blogging is simultaneous listening, typing, thinking, browsing, copy-pasting (links): the post will not always be coherent at clicking “Publish”. Hence the importance of the time-stamp.

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Multiple preprogrammes digital newspaper outlets

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13 May 2009 11:50:00

First presentation of the day is by Edwin Schravesande of the Dutch quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad, now rather a ‘media company. It publishes both the NRC Handelsblad (daily afternoon print newspaper), NRC Next (morning newspaper, aimed at younger audience, and various websites and blogs: see http://www.nrc.nl/ and http://www.nrcnext.nl/. One can take a subscription to the print issues, but also to a digital version in pdf (http://abonnementen.nrc.nl/index.php?type=25), or consult the website that are updated around the clock. The digital content can be read also on a e-book-reader (the digital edition of the NRC), an iPhone, a laptop.

It is, according to him important to understand the multiple outlets that newspapers already produce, and will produce in the future. There are multiple presentation formats and multiple distribution methods for their products. More important might be that it shows that a company former a print newspaper - is actually in the business of creating content, which is distributed in many many ways also through RSS, syndicated at other sites.

NRC also takes content from other sources — he doesn’t mention this, yet I find it fascinating now that journalists are writing for their own websites, and have a contract with for instance one or more newspapers that republish their posts an example is the blog De Papieren Man of Dirk Leyman: http://papierenman.blogspot.com/, about a quarter of his posts are republished on http://www.nrcboeken.nl/, but also in the print edition.

What does this tell about the future of newspapers? What problems are there to be tackled? NRC wants to publish: “Anytime, anywhere, for any device”. One way of dealing with this is seeing it as one message, spread over different media so one needs to build an integrated newsroom. They need: a longtail editorial system (archive), a deadline editorial systems (print focussed), and short news editorial system (CMS) — that all output to various media.

The craftman’s perspective of the journalists is crucial: who cares about doing everything well? Who for instance cares about doing metatags in a good way? Archivists do, not all journalists are focussed on doing it correctly. (Ah, that sounds familiar…). That’s a small hick-up in the processes.

Copy-pasting amongst systems doesn’t work well (tedious), this is where automation of this process is important: styling template prestructuring - editing - flowing - presentation layer rendering - delivering - product.

Formatting tells a story too. Just KISS: the old keep it simple stupid. Yet sometimes simple is not good enough. It is often hard to make things simpler. (Ah, another familiar one…). They are now working on a solution for the order in the listing of articles on a webversion of a newspaperpage: now it shows the last added on top, which is not always the best solution.

Ask the readers what they would like to pay for… Because a central problem is: how to finance all of this, in a world where many consumers still think that all information should be free as in ‘costing nothing’ (these are my words).

The 21st century needs inventors — people in your own company who are inventive and know how to implement the inventions of the 20th century. Schravesande stresses the importance of craftmanship.

“I just do everything I can think” is his closing thought — taken from Citizen Kane

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Gettin’ ready

13 mei 2009 - crajj

Wednesday 13 May 2009 10:55:00

Testing, seeing if everything works. Ready to go, ready for the second day of Print/Pixel. Today “crajj” is me, Arie Altena, taking over from Jouke. My posts will be tagged as “ariealtblog”.

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