Tuesday, October 28, 2014

BPN 1692: The first Dutch cybernauts met again

On October 28, 1977 the Dutch Association of Users of Online Information Systems officially was granted its charter. On October 29, 1977 the first meeting was held. Looking back VOGIN members were the first official cybernauts in the Netherlands. Recently some of these  Dutch cybernauts met. 

The battle of Arnhem Bridge has its veterans and online Netherlands has its cybernauts. This first brigade was active more than 20 years before internet was launched in the Netherlands. Recently this brigade met at a rare meeting, held in Amsterdam. They got together for a dinner and shared memories on the early days of online searching. The occasion was the termination of a foundation, awarding  a stipend for publications on online retrieval. The foundation was affiliated with the VOGIN, the Dutch Association of Users of Online Information Systems. In 1984 the foundation was launched in memory of the online pioneer, Rik Molster, who died young, and was one of the founders of VOGIN.

Upon entry of the dining hall, the entrants skittishly looked around, while people who had already arrived, showed a glance of recognition. Some people had not seen each other for a long time. Yes, Charles Citroen, the godfather of online in the Netherlands, was there as well as Jan van den Burg , the information science emeritus professor John MacKenzie Owen and Peter Evers. The real eminent grise of the brigade, Guus Mathijsen, arrived late. Also the younger generation with Hans van Harteveld, former library head of the Royal Tropical Institute, Ruud Kuipers, former president of VOGIN and ex Kluwer, as well as the director of TU Delft Library Maria Heijne was present. Hans van Nieuwkerk, former CID TNO and now an entrepreneur in Hungary, just happened to be in the country. Altogether some 30 cybernauts were present.

The group of the founding fathers was made up of people working as online intermediaries in academic institutions and libraries as well as in companies like DSM, Shell, Unilever and AKZO. Way before Google these searchers knew how to solicit relevant publications from host computing companiesin the shortest time  possible as connect time to the host and connect time to the telecom network was very pricy. To search files, one needed to have knowledge of a number of query languages​​. Online services such as the American Dialog, SDC and BRS and European organizations ESA-IRS and DIMDI had their own search language. IBM used the language Stairs, while the French company Bull had Mistral and Kluwer Law bought the retrieval package status.

VOGIN originated in the seventies, when there already was a close-knit group of scientists and librarians using online for research. There were no courses yet and there were a lot of rookie mistakes, misunderstandings and incomprehension. Besides problems with the hosts, there were problems with the Dutch PTT on data communication matters. The cybernauts had to find out a lot themselves and be inventive. In order to share experience and to form a group against the hosts and PTT, the association VOGIN was established on October 28, 1977. One of its first activities was to start courses for searching databases. In 1980, the first manual Introduction to online literature research, was published with the support of the VOGIN members Lieuwien Koster and Jan van den Burg. Even in the Google era these courses are held. The association has turned into a foundation in 1995 and is now part of the Royal Dutch Association of Information Professionals (KNVI).

 At the occasion of the termination of the Dr. Ir. H.C. Molster foundation a pdf was produced with a retrospect of the foundation and a list of stipend winners. The file is in Dutch, but it contains also interesting photographs.  

Thursday, October 09, 2014

BPN 1691: infographics Dutch lingual e-books

    Below you will find links to the infographics of e-books in the Netherlands and Belgium Flanders. The infographics are in Dutch and English.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Non-commercial announcement


Dan Remenyi (UK) and Jak Boumans (NL) will speak at
the IWOOTI 2014 workshop

Dan will give a talk entitled:               Jak will give a virtual talk:
The Academy Pulling its Weight            Archeology of e-Reading
in the 21st Century! 

Local Organizing Committee:
Saskia Langhammer Head of the International Office

Homepage of the University of Applied Sciences Mittweida:
International Office: www.ausland.hs-mittweida.de/en.html

European Virtual Academy (EVA)
EVA platform: www.evaonlinecourses.eu
Contact: info@evaonlinecourses.eu 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

BPN 1690: Swets & Zeitlinger Group suspends payments

The Dutch company Swets & Zeitlinger Group has filed for bankruptcy due to insolvency, but the court has granted the company deferment of payments to creditors, mainly publishers. Main activity of this company was mainly broking subscriptions between publishers and  libraries for professional use such universities and professional institutes. Swets & Zeitlinger Group have two months to find a solution and new financers.

The Group is the mother company to Royal Swets & Zeitlinger Holding. This holding with a slew of subsidiaries is worldwide market leader in subscription services to academic and professional libraries in 160 countries. It has offices in 27 countries and employs 541 FTE. It has more than 8,000 customers worldwide, representing more than 800,000 subscriptions to its offerings.

Adriaan Swets and  Heinrich Zeitlinger started in 1901 a bookshop in Amsterdam, named Swets & Zeitlinger. From this Amsterdam base it grew into an international publishing company, adding amongst others library services. By 2003 it sold the publishing division, which published amongst others test material, and focussed on library services. Royal Swets & Zeitlinger offers subscription services for 35.000 publishers to universities and institutional libraries. Half of the turn-over comes from the 10 largest publishers such as Elsevier and Springer. But as universities and institutional libraries are still in the process of changing over from subscriptions for paper publications to digital publications.  Commissions on digital products are lower than print subscriptions with the average gross profit margin for print subscriptions at 10.5 per cent to digital at an average gross margin of 4.4 per cent. Digital formats have also facilitated large publishers to establish direct customer relationships, resulting in partial customer losses. These developments combined with the economic crises  have hit Royal Swets hard. Last year the company lost 1,9 million euro on a turn-over of 550 million euro. A banking consortium and the financer ICG are set to loose 72 million euro.

At the beginning of the year the shareholders of the company put the company up for sale, as it needed more capital to go through a transformation and scaling up. This sale was said to be expected in the third quarter. But now Royal Swets has been overtaken by financial problems and has shareholders not willing to jump in. Royal Swets has now two months to find a new shareholders, to merge or be acquired or to sell the slew of companies separately.

Elsevier and Springer have informed their clients to be careful with payments as they might loose their payments in a bankruptcy.

EBSCO, Swets competitor in the global arena, has reacted to the problems of Swets. The company praises Swets as an honorable and professional organization with many astute and gifted personnel.
But it hopes to be a landing place for some of the personnel who will be out of work and is ready to help customers to avoid disruption in service. In the reaction EBSCO assures the publishers and clients that EBSCO continues to be financially very strong, having the highest possible rating by credit rating company Dun and Bradstreet.


Friday, September 19, 2014

BPN 1689: Dutch e-reading market in flux

The market for e-readers and e-books in the Netherlands is changing. The online shop Bol.com, recently acquired by the supermarket concern Albert Heijn, has announced a cooperation with the Canadian e-reading company Kobo. The chain of Libris bookstores, which until now had Kobo in their portfolio, change over to the German e-reader Tolino. And the rumours are stronger that Amazon will have a distribution centre based in The Netherlands instead of distributing from Germany. And as of September 13, the public libraries started an e-book campaign, adding more than 1,000 new Dutch lingual e-books to their collection of 7,000 e-books with many bestsellers. These developments are taking place against the backdrop of the disappearance of Sony e-readers and e-books from the Dutch market.

Bol.com has chosen to cooperate with the Canadian company Kobo, the runner-up in the global market of e-reading. Kobo provides millions of users in 190 countries worldwide with titles from the largest catalogue with over 4 million e-books in 68 languages​​, a portfolio of reading devices with an open platform and apps. in the Netherlands Bol.com can now strategically compete with Amazon, admittedly the world player with the reading machine Kindle, but with a closed platform. Kobo is part of the Tokyo-based eCommerce company Rakuten. Along with Albert Heijn Bol.com should be able to create a large Dutch e-book market for Kobo.

The chain of Libris bookshops terminated its cooperation with Kobo immediately, as if stung by a wasp, and announced the distribution of Tolino, an e-reader that has been put in the market since March 2013 by a German cooperative of bookstores and book clubs. The cooperative is active in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, but also in Belgium, where the Standard bookstores sell the Tolino e-reader. Tolino is also an open platform, and can even work on open source software.

Amazon has had the intention to conquer the Dutch market. So far the company has done this through their German distribution channels, but now the company is showing signs to start a Dutch operation. Two years ago Amazon started talks with CB (formerly Central Book House), which runs the largest database with Dutch lingual e-books. Now the company has started to talk with publishers. Publishing company Xander has already been signed, but Podium is very hesitant to sign. Amazon is in a fight with US publishers and Dutch publishers will be afraid to fall victim to the same type of squeezing. Besides Amazon is aiming broader at selling publishing products such as printed books, videos, games and other products. As such, Amazon is a direct competitor Bol.com.

Public libraries conducted during the summer holidays the Holiday Bieb action. Eight weeks long members of the public libraries had access to a wide reading package for the whole family. A total of 345,000 people downloaded the app, with 200,000 new users this summer. In total this summer, 1.5 million e-books were downloaded, three times as many as last year; of these downloads there were 485,000 youth titles.

It is clear that there will be a lot of competition and promotion for e-reading in the coming year. The major fight will be between Bol.com/Kobo and Amazon, while Libris will attempt some impact through their bookshop chain.  The whole effort will result in more e-readers and legal purchase of Dutch and foreign-language e-books. The public libraries will attempt to convert its two million adult members to e-reading. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BPN 1688: Bitcoin exchange claims Dutch Central Bank license

The bitcoin exchange TradeBits presents itself on internet as "the first Dutch Bitcoin Exchange that offers its services to the market with the consent of the Dutch Central Bank." This is a remarkable message, because the Dutch central bank, DNB, recently warned against the risks of virtual currency. The Dutch newsletter Media Update checked out the story with DNB. A spokesman for DNB told, when asked for comment, that only institutions that are listed in the license register, are authorised to trade under license. A search in the register was inconclusive as to the name TradeBits. Telephone contact by Media Update with TradeBits revealed that DNB had announced by letter to have no statuary duty to supervise virtual currency. This was interpreted by TradeBits as a DNB approval. After consulting with their lawyer, the company recognized that this was a very broad interpretation. A spokesman for the company stated that the company would bring the text on the website in line with the letter of DNB. Upon publication of this blog posting the company still claims consent of the DNB, but in their FAQ they write: According to DNB the law on financial supervision is not applicable for the activities of Tradebits.nl.
On May 8, 2013 DNB has indicated in a press release that virtual currencies are unlikely to become a viable alternative for traditional currencies in the foreseeable future. On June 3, 2014, DNB warned financial institutions for integrity problems with virtual currencies in a press release.

In the Netherlands there are at least four bitcoin exchanges active: TradeBits, Clevercoin, Anycoin and Bitonic. The two most recently launched companies TradeBits, based in The Hague, and Clevercoin, based in Eindhoven both attempted to get a licence from DNB. Clevercoin claimed, according to the web publication Coin Courant that DNB let them know that they would get a preliminary exemption, until the rules would be clearer. 

Some facts about bitcoins, according to the Coin Courant
• Bitcoin is a digital coin.
• In 2009 bitcoin was introduced by the Japanese Satoshi Nakamoto, most probably a pseudonym or a group of computer programmers. 
• Bitcoins are generated over the internet by computers connected to the bitcoin netwerk.
• It is regulated that there will be maximally 21 million codes available.
• A bitcoin can be divided in smaller units like the euro and dollar.
• At this moment 12,5 million bitcoins are in circulation.
• In the coming years another 25 extra bitcoins per 10 minutes will be awarded tot computer programmers who provide computer power to keep the software for bitcoin transactions and who solve a mathematical problem fastest.
• The number of coins to be brought in circulation will be halved every time. In 2040 the maximum amount of 21 million bitcoins will be reached.
• The present exchange rate of the bitcoin is about 600 euro (Tradebits opened this morning at an exchange rate of 367 euro).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

BPN 1687: Heritage of the digital ice age

On August 17, 1982 the first audio compact disc was pressed, presenting the music album Visitors by Abba. The success of the audio CD would set the development of various data CDs in motion such as the CD-ROM, CD-I electronic book, DVD and Blu-ray. By 2004 CD media were not en vogue any longer as internet had taken over thanks to the growing capacity of broadband.

In 1984 CD-ROM started to battle Pre-internet online on storage capacity, defeating the slow telecom speed and small storage capacity of the PC’s hard disc. But by 2004 this battle was over as internet, broadband capacity and storage capacity were on the rise. The era between 1982 and 2004 had proven to be an ice age in online.

Looking back at this ice age, the question can be asked whether there are still left any worthwhile digital heritage gems of that period. Of course it's not so long ago, so there must be some digital artifacts around. And the next question is whether they are representative for that digital ice age and worthwhile to be saved?

In order to talk about artefacts an inventory will have to be produced. In the ninenties the TFPL CD-ROM and multimedia CD-ROM Directory was published by MacMillan. It gave an international overview of CD Media titles. The directory has not been  available after 1996. Of course a national library and National Archive might have done some inventory work or even collected some artefacts. In the Netherlands the Royal Library has an e-Depot and the National Archive has a small collection, it seems. The question is of course what did they actively collect. In the Netherlands Electronic Media Reporting compiled the List Optical Media  in the beginning of the nineties and published a quarterly report for two years in cooperation with the Dutch Association of Information Service Providers (NVI). These lists are currently being processed for the database of Collection Jak Boumans. In short, there will be a few snapshots available, but not a systematic index to optical media.

Which artifacts are worthwhile of collecting as pieces of heritage? There are four criteria to explain:
a Technology: videodisc, CD-ROM, CD-I, electronic book, DVD and Blu-ray;.
b. Environment: scientific / business, consumer, cultural;
c. Language: native, foreign, multilingual;
d. Type of heritage: born digital, digitized heritage.

Ad a. Technology. In technology, all artifacts from videodisc to DVD-ROM interesting. CD-i Video, DVD Video and Blu-ray are not interesting since these media usually optical carriers for film. Most interesting are the productions which can be played out on different machines. Elsevier Science produced Interactive Anatomy as CD-I and CD-ROM versions on one disc.

Ad b. Environment. Would be a minimum in each of the three sectors, a minimum of production need to be in order to show how the media were like in various environments. With a few examples preserved Interestingly, with this criterion, the discs produced for the cultural sector by publishers and museums.

Ad c. Language. Important in the selection is language. In a national language the native languaue will have preference over a foreign language. In some cases combination of the native language with a foreign language can be made. But a CD production can also be classified as national heritage, even when a foreign language has been used on the disc. In the Netherlands for example the discs published by Elsevier Science could be classified as national heritage. 

Ad d. Type heritage. Digitisation started out from copying text productions. For example, the first mini-discs with electronic books produced were mostly directories and dictionaries. Instead of searching through the alphabet, search engines had been built in these productions. This is digitized heritage. Later these text productions were embellished with photographs, drawings, videos and sound clips. Although DVD Video is not so interesting, the 1995 trial production of ODME DVD with the film The Netherlands by Bert Haanstra remains unique as a precursor of DVD and Blu-ray.

(l above) Spectrum Encyclopedia, published by Spectrum Publishers in 1995; (r above) Interactive Encyclopedia, published by Philips Interactive, 1996; (l under) Encarta Encyclopedia, published by Elsevier Winkler Prins in 1998; (© photos Jak Boumans Collection; CDs owned Jak Boumans Collection)

When multimedia came en vogue the number of born-digital heritage artefacts increased. In science multimedia was by Elsevier Science for an interactive approach to anatomy. Moreover, some CD-ROM productions have become precursors of  internet sites like Escher Interactive. Even combinations of online and CD-ROM were made. For the exhibition of Hieronymus Bosch in Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen in Rotterdam in 2001 an online website (www.boschuniverse.com) was developed by ZappWork and on a CD-ROM for schools a game by V2.

(l above) Interactive Anatomy, published by Elsevier Science; (r above) Escher Interactive, published by A. W. Bruna; (l under) Hieronymus Bosch, a school edition issued as part of the exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2001; (© photos Jak Boumans Collection; CDs owned Jak Boumans Collection)
The examples above are CD productions which could qualify according to the criteria above for Dutch heritage artefacts of the digital ice age.