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Oxford England

  • The End of the Road
    These photos are separated from my Travels album because Oxford is something of a second home. I still manage to visit it several times a year. So the pathway between Manotick and Oxford is well trodden and I can likely do it with my eyes closed - and probably have on more than one occasion.

Royal Roads University

  • Hatley Castle
    This series of photographs was taken over the last few years. I have stayed at the campus of Royal Roads on several occasions and I have been repeatedly impressed by the grounds. They are in many ways a little-known treasure.


  • Kafka Statue
    Here is a selection of pictures I have taken during my travels over the last few years. I am very obviously an amateur photographer and it is not uncommon for me to forget my camera altogether when packing. What the pictures do not convey is the fact that in these travels I have met, and gotten to know, a great many interesting people.

Manotick Ontario

  • Springtime in Manotick
    Manotick Ontario Canada is the part of Ottawa that I call home. Much of Manotick stands on an island in the Rideau River. Interestingly, the Rideau Canal, which runs through and around the river, was recently designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. So this means that the view from my backyard is in some way on a similar par with the Egyptian Pyramids - although the thought strikes me as ridiculous.
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« Intelligent Content 2010 | Main | In the Spirit of Benjamin Franklin »

April 02, 2010


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Maxwell Hoffmann

Joe, as always, you display your gift for taking a highly contentious or complex concept and distilling it down to its absolute essence. This is the best piece I have read about books (physical or digital) in at least 5 years. I think your point of the persistence of books (echoing my sentiments on need our fingerprints/highlighter in eBooks) is a critical point for digital reading materials to succeed.

By the way, I have "library" envy after seeing that photo of your book nook! I may have many books, but they are scattered on self-assembled book shelves throughout the house. At least the books are there. And they do become an important part of our physical space.

Final point: much as I am enthused about reading books on my Blackberry, nothing has replaced the joy of discovery one can only experience in a good used book store. I do judge books by their covers, and snatched a 1953 biography of Elinor Glyn a few years ago at The Illiad ( This totally forgotten, out-of-print classic gave me tremendous insights into the early days of Hollywood and how one pioneering author "branded" herself before WWI. I don't think any combination of keywords (I tried Wikipedia) can even come close to what I gained from that one hard copy treasure.

Maybe a group of used book lovers can pull together a project to digitally capture samples of their favorites and make pointers to brick and mortar specialty shops that could thrive via Twitter and other social media to connect book lovers with hard copy?

I think there is room for the physical and the digital in any book lover's world.

Scott Abel

Outstanding piece, Joe. I believe you hit the nail on the head and, as usual, have provided readers with a glimpse of what is certain to be the future of digital content consumption. eBooks are going to gain rapid adoption (thanks in part to Apple) and the shift toward digital publishing of XML content is the next paradigm shift needed in the traditional publishing space.

The winners will be those publishers that get there first.

Scott Abel
The Content Wrangler

Joe Gollner

Hi Maxwell and Scott

Thanks for adding your thoughts here. It is good to get the occasional thumbs up from our colleagues and especially from colleagues whose perspectives I value.

On your point, Maxwell, about there being a place for books in both forms is an important one. From a book buyer's perspective, as opposed to the publisher's, the digital domain can help determine what titles you want to bring into the physical domain. This is one place where the print-on-demand side of the market holds great promise. If I like a title and I want my own copy to get "active" with I should be able to summon this to my doorstep as easily as ordering flowers for a friend. Furthermore, if many find that a book calls for this attention then perhaps a more crafted edition is in order from the publisher. In my library there are many examples of exceedingly well done editions - including the first edition of Byron's complete works. So there is value to be provided by the publishers' craft and perhaps the new market will help them decide where and when to exercise that skill.

As an aside, I think that among printed renditions, there are different levels. An on-demand print copy would be something I could see myself "getting physical" with - highlighting and inked marginalia. (Of course, I would not dream of doing so on my edition of Byron.) I personally find that there are points in the reading and writing process where the physicality of pens and pages is essential.

As a final, and more mundane, example of the importance of having our content in both forms - digital and hardcopy - I can cite experiences from my days in uniform. For a period I was in the artillery. We used pretty nifty technology to calculate trajectories and therefore our settings for the guns (sort of miniature versions of ENIAC). However, when a command post breaks through the ice and proceeds to the bottom of a lake (as ours did on one occasion), you then revert to manual procedures - chronicled in a robust "gun book" and supported by firing tables and "plotters" which hailed from the first world war and that still work pretty well. Also, on specific types of occasions - and notably "direct fire missions" the demands of the moment were such that technology could not keep up and we needed to rely on two things - trained skills and a robust reference resource. So when I would leap, literally, from my gun tractor, I would hit the ground with two things in hand - a set of binoculars and my trusty "gun book". There are lots of times when the hard copy cannot be beat.

And in my years of projects taking books online, I have found myself repeatedly declaring that "paper is not the enemy" at least not when we are using the content. If we entangle how we manage the content in procedures developed for paper, or bound to paper, then we have a problem. If we fail to explore the unique possibilities that come with delivering content online, then we also have a problem.

On your point, Scott, about the rising importance of XML for publishers, amid this paradigm shift, there is a lot here. There are XML-enabled efficiencies to be had that I don't publishers can afford to do without much longer. More importantly, realizing some of the more advanced capabilities of not just eBooks, but eLibraries, will require a very effective deployment of XML not only in the creation / editing and publishing process but in how the content is delivered, used and communally (and individually) enriched. This latter side to the deployment of XML involves some new ground and even the experiences of the last 20 years will need to be superseded if we want to reach our goal. Needless to say, as a guy whose license plate reads "XML" I find the challenges ahead to be quite exciting.

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