Keith Peters used his new USB microscope to take pictures of magnified text, snips of which are below. His article on this included the pictures and a discussion of iPad and Kindle. He says little about the book and magazine pictures, and they’re far down in his article. I thought they added an interesting comparison with the iPad and Kindle …

The voluminous comments to Peters’ article, mostly on iPad vs Kindle, are interesting, with many heated opinions and citing of tech issues like dpi, bit depth, resolution and contrast. The arguments give an indication of how little scientific proof there is on what makes text readable/legible — Seems to be a case of who can shout the loudest! Not only is it difficult to define clear criteria to judge text on computers and eReaders, it’s also surprisingly difficult to find evidence about text on print vs computer – Googling for subjects like readability screen and readability screen print turn up little that’s relevant (Please email me if you’re a better googler than I am!) In Wikipedia, the most relevant subject seems to be Typography, but it also doesn’t speak much to the issue of print vs computer.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

A big part of Steve Jobs magical mobile revolution has been the advent of the App, which greatly simplifies using a small mobile-device screen. As popular as iPhone Apps have been, though, iPhone’s Safari browser has also been a great success, showing the practicality of using a Web browser on a small screen.

Safari has shined even more on the larger-screened iPad. With its interface being so similar to the iPhone, it seemed when it first came out that Apps would play the same role on the iPad as on the iPhone. But with its larger screen, people quickly realized that the Safari browser does a fine job in presenting information, and that separate Apps are not nearly as important as on the iPhone. And of course the Safari browser has the great advantage that it lives on The Web.

So the trend, going from iPhone to iPad, is the growing importance of Safari on Apple devices. But this goes well beyond Apple, because Safari is just one of the large class of “WebKit” browsers. I became aware of the importance of this with news in the last month that the Kindle and the Blackberry are both getting WebKit browsers (Thanks to Mike Cane for giving a shout about the significance of this).

So, what’s a WebKit browser? WebKit is the “layout engine” for Safari, Google Chrome, and almost all mobile browsers (Android, Blackberry, Kindle et al). It’s especially good for mobile browsers because of its nimble code and advanced HTML capabilities. And WebKit is open-source, which is why it’s being used on such a wide range of platforms, beyond Apple.

Learning about WebKit has given me a whole new way of seeing the mobile Web world — The varied and interesting implications are many …

  • The iPad’s big splash – Desktop computing is fading fast, and mobile is booming. Until the iPad came out in April, “mobile” meant cellphones and other hand-held devices. Now with the iPad, the definition becomes fuzzy, and will get fuzzier, with smaller versions of the iPad rumored to be in the offing, and Android tablets with a variety of screen sizes certain to come out soon. The whole mobile tribe, from cellphones on up, are certain to have WebKit browsers.
  • Apple’s influence spreads – The first implementation of WebKit on a widely-used browser was when Apple developed Safari and made WebKit as a “fork,” or variation, of the existing Unix rendering engine KHTML. Although Apple made WebKit open-source, and usable by anyone, it’s come to be strongly identified with Apple. So isn’t it interesting that now WebKit, which is widely thought of as an Apple standard, is being used in the browsers of Google and Amazon — Is there any precedent for that? For anything that’s Apple-flavored being adopted by Google and Amazon, which may be Apple’s two biggest competitors in the near future?
  • Apple’s Unix roots are deep, going back to Unix based Mac OS X. WebKit deepens these roots, having been developed by Apple from the Unix KHTML layout engine.
  • WebKit & eBooksWebKit is used for many eReaders, because they have so much in common with web browser technologies, so it will become increasingly important for libraries as the use of eBooks grows.
  • Firefox is fading – Instead of WebKit, Firefox is built on the Gecko layout engine, which was designed for the bulky Windows environment, and it shows its age on mobile systems with more compact code.
  • The growing irrelevance of Microsoft – With very little mobile or tablet presence, their claims to be embracing cloud computing (which is closely connected to mobile computing) seem doubtful — Especially since none of their current or planned browsers are WebKit-based.

I’m often surprised in reading commentaries about the iPad and its competitors that WebKit isn’t mentioned — John Martellaro touched upon the sense I have of “seeing the leaves but missing the branches” in a recent such commentary — He talks about “the advanced technologies that Apple has been nursing along for a decade (unnoticed)” [boldface added] — YES! Exactly! — People see the effects of Apple magic but don’t notice the things that create the magic (Martellaro himself doesn’t mention WebKit!).

So for me, seeing things through the lens of WebKit has been like “pulling back the curtain” on current developments and power struggles in the Web world — In reading anything about competition among Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and various eBook competitors, it’s invaluable to think about how WebKit affects things. I think it’s likely that as things progress (and especially when Android tablets start coming out in the next few months), WebKit awareness will certainly grow fast.

I use a Windows desktop at work and a Mac desktop at home. I’ve been a confirmed FireFox user on both of them for several years. But in doing research for this article, I’ve switched to WebKit browsers — Safari on the Mac and Google Chrome on Windows. I like both of them a lot, especially Chrome — I’ll certainly be staying with it.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Is it because of mixed feelings about Google that librarians don’t talk much about Google having its origins in the library world? As described in the quote below, it’s well-established that Google PageRank is built on librarian Eugene Garfield’s citation-analysis work done in the 1950′s, which led to the standard library reference tool Science Citation Index, and later Web of Science — So why are we not shouting it out? – Google grew from library roots!

Guy Gugliotta’s 2009 article in Wired does a good job of connecting Garfield’s work with Google (boldface added):

The science citation revolution began more than 50 years ago. Eugene Garfield, then a young librarian pursuing a PhD in structural linguistics, started wondering about that most prosaic of bibliographic tools: the footnote. Most people think of footnotes as reaching backward in time to a document’s sources. But Garfield realized that they could reach forward, too—future footnotes would cite the original article. “The citation becomes the subject,” says Garfield, now 83 and enjoying his stature as the founding father of modern citation analysis. “It was a radical approach to retrieving information.”

Some three decades before the concept of the hyperlink and the World Wide Web crossed anybody’s mind, Garfield had figured out how to connect the immense body of scientific knowledge into a network. In the early 1960s he began publishing The Science Citation Index; Garfield sold the first edition, five volumes of arcane hard-copy reference, to academic libraries for $500.

Citation-based ranking schemes … are increasingly the coin of the online realm. Understanding and quantifying reputation is the best approach to navigating the tsunami of information on the Internet. That’s why Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin cited Eugene Garfield in their academic work on PageRank, the algorithm that powers their company’s search engine.

*      *       *       *       *

Why I’m calling Garfield the “grandfather of Google” — Gary Price, in 2004, seems to have been the first to refer to Garfield as The Father of Citation Analysis (which is repeated in the quote above) — So, if he’s the “father” of citation analysis, and citation analysis played a key role in the development of PageRank and Google, it’s a short step to … Garfield as Google’s grandfather.

*Garfield as a “librarian” — Although he apparently never worked in a library, Garfield did have an MLS and is often referred to as a “librarian,” as he is in the Wired quote above. In his early career, he had especially close connections in the medical library world, as this profile of him describes.

Picture of Garfield from Indiana University.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

A little example of how collective intelligence helps to build a better Twittersphere – My original tweet (on the bottom below) is in response to an article that was getting a lot of Tweets on the Six Degrees of Separation and Twitter. I wondered how this compares with Facebook, and found in Wikipedia that Twitter is said to have fewer degrees of separation than Facebook, which is shown by the numbers in the tweet. My tweet said: “Twitter a Close-Knit Network …” — @sanjeevn improved this to show the closer connections in Twitter by smartly adding the letter r”: “Twitter a Closer-Knit Network …” – So, thanks, @sanjeevn, for improving my tweet — Keeping the ball rolling, and passing it on … to @Pjoseph85

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Building on the phenomenal popularity of the iPad, David Rothman recently proposed in a guest article in TheAtlantic what he calls a National Information Stimulus Plan (Here’s the whole long article & Rothman’s shorter summary) — Using tax breaks to encourage citizens to buy iPads to build up peoples’ skills at using information tools. Of course, the iPad part of Rothman’s idea has gotten most of the attention. But he also focuses a lot on libraries and healthcare, two of the themes of this blog. So I’m excerpting some of his comments on those subjects below.

With the iPad being so popular for reading books, Rothman broadens his appeal for the stimulus plan to the idea of a national digital library:

Might iPad-style technology in fact be a godsend for millions of schoolchildren with obsolete textbooks? And could e-books benefit the elderly, the disabled, and other library users, too, including U.S. workers eager to upgrade job skills? If nothing else, the iPad and similar machines could drive down library costs per book. That could help keep reading alive in places like Hood River County, Oregon, where the 98-year-old library system plans to close for financial reasons –just one of many cash-strapped U.S. libraries.

Along the way, as the technology’s price declined, the mass automation potential of the tablets could justify the cost of a national digital library system. Such potential might count even more than the library initiative itself. Call it a national information stimulus plan or NISP. The stimulus would be in the form of more and better information, as well as greater efficiencies in both the public and private sectors.

Neighborhood libraries serve as community gathering places and for many other reasons are preferable to digital collections alone. But a national digital library system able to serve library-bereft neighborhoods–and places like Hood River County–would be better than no library service at all. Local librarians could still help choose books to be offered.

Taking off from his own recent experience as a patient, he argues that the information stimulus plan could benefit the nation’s healthcare system:

But how to cost-justify a well-stocked national digital library system? Multibillion-dollar savings and other benefits could result from iPad-style technology in a number of ways, beyond the library world, if the United States had a better information strategy. Simpler e-commerce and tax forms–at local, state and national levels–are just a start. Healthcare is the real paper dragon to slay, and the Americans might even live longer if we acted. The National Institutes of Health and other leading institutions could more effectively distribute medical information to doctors and patients alike, and the sick could use the same machines to monitor treatments and juggle around pills, not just track the financial details.

Let’s look, close up, at the paper dragon. When a Northern Virginia man suffered a heart attack in September 2008, this AARP member felt as if the healthcare industry had bullied him into becoming an accountant–caught as he was between the hospital, the doctors and the insurance company.  … I know first-hand of the horrors here. You see, I’m the cardiac patient from Northern Virginia, and remember mine is a best-case scenario or at least somewhat close to it. The hospital itself was theoretically within the insurance company’s network for almost full coverage. But oh, the loopholes!

So why not use iPad-type machines and easy-to-use software closely tied in with the devices? Then, for example, I could instantly show why an insurance company rejected problematic items that the doctors’ offices or hospitals were now trying to get me to pay for.

Forget about just paper-based information or facts from separate corporate Web sites with password hassles and other joys. Give me instead a simple iPad-style application or a centralized Web-based “dashboard” or maybe a choice, so I can more easily try to reconcile information from different sources … Case by case, let patients themselves play more of a role in policing our health system … The same dashboard could also help me retrieve drug information–I gulp down five pills a day, a small number compared to some patients’–and alert me to relevant medical news. …

And he extends the “iPad Stimulus” beyond healthcare:

Healthcare is just one example of how a coherent and comprehensive strategy for iPad-style machines and others could empower individual Americans in new ways and improve life in areas besides literacy, education, and training. Furthermore, the right information policy could help build a constituency for the library initiative far beyond teachers, librarians, and book-lovers.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In another article, I’ve discussed the idea of the WIDE WORLD Web — the idea that people with significant connections outside the US have made disproportionately large contributions to innovation and quality on the Web. I suggest in that article that one reason for this is that Wide World people seem to have a particular appreciation for Storytelling. Here, then,I’ll discuss examples of this from articles I’ve written.

The outstanding example of resonance between the Wide World community, storytelling, and the Web is certainly British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie’s tantalizing word picture in Haroun and the Sea of Stories that I see as an envisioning (prediction?) of  the Web. Rushdie, of course, was raised as a Muslim in India, and his “stories within stories within stories” style in Haroun resonates equally with One Thousand and One Nights and with the Web that we experience, with its “liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity,” to borrow Rushdie’s words.

I’ve gotten new insights into storytelling and the Web in following the active brain of Bulgarian blogger and storytelling fan Maria Popova. She coined the phrase “controlled serendipity” that spread virally last winter after being headlined in a NY Times article by Nick Bilton. As I wrote in my commentary about that article, I think the reason the phrase resonated so strongly with people is because it captures the essence of how we use the Web — To follow stories, and make new stories ourselves. So I see Popova as another example of a heightened appreciation of storytelling from the Wide World community.

Popova combines her interest in storytelling with a strong interest in TED conferences (popularized on the Web as video stories told by prominent people), and I learned to see the TED-Storytelling connection from her. Beyond Popova, TED provides another example of the Wide World community and storytelling — TED Curator Chris Anderson grew up in Pakistan and India — the land of Rushdie — and it certainly seems possible that this experience helped to foster his building TED into a prime Web storytelling spot.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In another article, I’ve discussed the idea of the WIDE WORLD Web — the idea that people with significant connections outside the US have made disproportionately large contributions to innovation and quality on the Web. I suggest in that article that one reason for this is that Wide World people seem to have a particular appreciation for Simplicity & Elegance. In this article, I’ll discuss examples of this.

First, people and services that I’ve discussed before, with links to my articles about them:

Tor Ahlenius was a librarian at the Karolinska Institute library in Sweden. I first observed the surprising quality of Wide World web work when looking for quality link-lists in pre-Google days, and found that Ahlenius had the most elegant lists on the Web in health and medicine. Beyond Ahlenius, I found in working on Hardin MD that many others of the best link-lists were also from outside the US. Some may question the idea of characterizing link-list-keeping as “elegant” — But in pre-Google days it was an essential service, and comprehensive and well-maintained lists were difficult to find — A simple but critical skill, perfected to elegance by Ahlenius.

Moving forward and on a much larger stage, a couple of examples that are fairly well-known, but not usually thought of as having connections outside the US. But I’d suggest that they do indeed.

Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive, and Apple – Jobs was raised in California by adoptive American parents, but his biological father was from Syria. The secretive Jobs rarely talks about this, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see a connection with his career as a tech-genius. Jonathan Ive, who made the elegant designs of  the iPhone and iPad, has solid Wide World connections, being a native of England.

Sergey Brin and Google -  How would the world be different if he hadn’t moved from the USSR to the US when he was six years old and grown up to help invent Google’s elegant search and design revolutions?

Twitter was not developed by anyone with Wide World connections, but I’m including it because it’s elegant simplicity has been so firmly embraced by the Wide World community. I especially learned to appreciate this from following the prolific tweeting of Portuguese librarian Jose Afonso Furtado. He tweets mostly on library/publishing subjects, but during the serious outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico in 2009, he tweeted on that and I made good international contacts on Twitter through him.

Below are some Wide World examples I haven’t (yet) written about:

Tim-Berners Lee and the WWW – Lest we forget! — The Inventor of the Web was from England. As John Naughton says in his excellent profile of Berners-Lee, TBL’s great contribution was that he created a simple, elegant way to make hypertext, which had been around for several decades, usable by non-geeks — The World Wide Web.

Luis von Ahn, who grew up in Guatemala and is now on the faculty at Carnegie-Mellon – CAPTCHA inventor and MacArthur Genius Grant winner at age 27. He also was the developer of Google Image Labeler, an elegant application of crowdsourcing/gaming to tag pictures.

Yuri Selukoff – A very recent Wide World rising star – Russian developer of GoodReader, widely hailed as the best PDF reader for iPhone and iPad (and one of the two top-sellers of all iPad Apps). The simple, elegant trick of GoodReader is that it extracts pure text from PDF files and “reflows it” into wrapped text format. Selukoff’s GoodReader work reminds me of Tor Ahlenius, discussed at the top of this article, which was my first discovery of simple, elegant Web work originating from the Wide World community. As with Selukoff and GoodReader, it makes me wonder — Why does it take someone from outside the US to give the world such a simple, useful tool?

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I first noticed the disproportionate contributions from people with connections outside the US in the early days of Hardin MD. Before Google and PageRank the best lists of links were done by humans. In making Hardin MD, I kept close track of human-generated lists around the Web in health and medicine. A strong impression I got was that a disproportionate number of the most carefully chosen and well-maintained lists were from outside the US. A couple of examples — Tor Ahlenius at the Karolinska Institute library, whom I recently eulogized, and Ildo Shin, a physician in South Korea whose MedMark lists were by far the longest available, and had among the lowest rate of dead links (a common problem in those days).

With Americans being the preponderate population of the web-using world, why was it that it was people in other countries who managed to master the simple task of keeping good lists? I think it has to do with simplicity — I think maybe Americans have trouble cutting through the distractions on the Web that yell out for attention, to cut through the fluff to see what’s really important! I’ve seen this same tendency as the emphasis on Hardin MD has changed from meta-list making to pictures — I find that many of the best sites for medical pictures are also from around the world. The Hardin MD Skin Disease pictures page, for example, has sites from Sweden, Germany, Pakistan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Taiwan, and Nigeria. As with lists in Hardin MD, the important element here that’s captured by non-US people, I think, is the vision to take advantage of the simple virtues of the Web to accomplish a simple task — presentation of good medical pictures.

So, having been sensitized by my work on Hardin MD, I’ve broadened my observation over the years to see how an appreciation for simplicity and elegance has become central to the Web/Tech world of Google, Twitter, Apple. I continue the story of how people from the WIDE WORLD community, with connections outside the US, have made significant contributions emphasizing simplicity and elegance.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In my early work with Hardin MD, I observed that some of the best contributors were from outside the US. I’ve observed something similar on the Web in general, that people with significant connections to other countries excel in Web work disproportionately to their numbers. Several articles on this blog are on subjects that relate to the excellent work done by people around the world, so I’ve been thinking about a category name to bring these articles together. I discussed earlier the idea of using World-Wide for this, but that doesn’t distinguish the idea from the good ol’ “world-wide web,” so I’ve decided to give it a bit more branding and uniqueness by using the category WIDE-WORLD to denote strong connections outside the US.

In a separate article I’ll talk about how I discovered the concept of the WIDE WORLD web, starting with my work with Hardin MD, and broadening over the years to Google, Apple, and Twitter. In other articles, I’ll extend this discussion — emphasizing especially stories I’ve written about on this blog — and say why I think it is that WIDE WORLD users have made contributed so disproportionately to building the Web. In short, I’m suggesting there are two reasons for this — First, the valuing of simplicity & elegance and second, a heightened appreciation for storytelling.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In its original meaning Elegance had to do with tasteful and graceful. In Sci-Tech-CompSci, it’s come to be associated with simplicity – surprisingly simple yet effective (Wikipedia) … cleverly simple (FreeDictionary) — I’ve written quite a lot on this blog about the concept of simple design, especially in the context of  library user-interface (UI) issues and design for mobile devices. Recently, I’ve also been thinking about simplicity in the context of my experience with Hardin MD, remembering the value of list-keeping in pre-Google days — A simple task, but a surprisingly difficult one to execute.

Quality list-keeping, UI design and mobile design — those fit well within the concept of “simple” — But moving beyond those, I’m seeing that there are broader topics that I’ve been writing about that extend the concept of “simple” to something more like “elegant.” I think of there being a continuum from the simple list-keeping of the early Web to simple design to the full-fledged Elegance of the giants discussed below, and I see all of these as being motivated by the same instinct, and blending together so much that they’re hard to separate. So I’m making a new category — Elegance — and putting all of the blend into it — Simple to Elegant.

Here are some highlights of my recent articles – The boldface name links (Apple, Google, etc) go to all of the articles in the category. The links within each paragraph go to articles that are more specifically on elegance:

AppleSteve Jobs and Jonathan Ive have set the standard for elegant design, as stated in a recent iPad review – “Led by British-born Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design team has created another iconically elegant piece of hardware: the iPad.” (boldface by me)

Google – Like Apple, Google has contributed much set the standard for elegant design. I suspect when Google first became popular, the Wikipedia definition of “elegance” given above — “surprisingly simple yet effective” — is just what a lot of people thought — How could this young upstart, with a homepage that was made up of mostly white space compete against the link-laden gateway pages of the era?

Twitter – Tim O’Reilly captures the essence of Twitter’s secret, I think — In writing about why he loves Twitter the first reason he gives is – “Twitter is simple – It does one small thing, and does it well” — Again, echoing the Wikipedia definition of Elegance – “surprisingly simple yet effective.”

And, of course … Wikipedia fits its own definition of Elegance – “surprisingly simple yet effective” — Who would have predicted the simple idea of users making the best dictionary in the world?

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey