November 9, 2006

Publishing is changing

Steal This Article: It May Be My Last

Organizations large and small - including the ABA - need to evolve on the ever-changing Internet.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 10/28/2006; Law Practice magazine; American Bar Association

[Note from EJH: This article differs somewhat from the version published online today by the ABA. In particular, the title has been changed. For reasons that I hope are obvious, I prefer my title. I also have made the publication date 10/28/06, which is the web publication date, rather than 10/01/06, which is the print publication date. I thought about creating a redline to show all of the edits but decided not to since my version is the only one that will stand the test of time. Read on. This will all make sense shortly.]

One of the things that separates humans from monkeys is our ability for self-examination. And self-improvement. It’s why diets are started, houses are painted, and websites are redesigned. This is an introspective and retrospective look at Internet publishing. I’m using the ABA as a case study, but the lessons apply to all of us. Including me.

In 1992, I wrote the first edition of my book “The Legal List,” a book for lawyers about how to use the Internet. In November 1994, the ABA published my award-winning - but more importantly historically significant - article in Law Practice Management magazine entitled “Why Lawyers Should Get On The Internet.” Today in 2006, there are over 9,000 references to “The Legal List” in Google (http://www.google.com/search?q=%22legal+list%22+heels). When I am dead and buried, “The Legal List” will live on. Yet my 1994 article is nowhere to be found on the ABA’s website. But you can find it on my weblog (http://www.erikjheels.com/lpm-94.html), along with all of my other published articles. This is my 85th published article for the ABA and my 55th “nothing.but.net” column (http://www.erikjheels.com/category/nothingbutnet/). But it may be my last. Unless you help me prove my points.

Point One: Planned Obsolescence Is A Bad Thing

The first article that I wrote for this publication in 1994 is no longer available for free on the ABA’s website. Maybe that’s not so unusual. But the article that I wrote for the June 2006 issue is also no longer available for free. In order to read that article on the ABA’s website, you have to be a member and login. And even if you do login, nothing prior to 1999 has been preserved on the website. Newsweek declared 1995 the year of the Internet, so I could see there being a pre-1995 gap, but I’m pretty sure that articles of value were written before 1999.

Even Burgess Allison’s Technology Update column (http://web.archive.org/web/*/www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/tu_index.html) is nowhere to be found, and Burgess wrote TU for Law Practice Management magazine for 17 years (1983-2000).

In contrast, a review of “The Legal List” that appeared in the December 1994 Wired magazine is still online. At the original URL (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.12/streetcred.html?pg=20). Which explains why Wired (http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Awww.wired.com) has many more pages in Google’s database than Law Practice (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=site%3Awww.abanet.org%2Flpm%2Fmagazine).

Getting on the Internet is a good thing. Taking things off the Internet is a bad thing. It was true in 1994, it is still true in 2006.

Point Two: Copyright Is A Good Thing

Copyright law is beautiful in its simplicity and complexity. Copyright rights can be sliced and diced in a seemingly infinite number of creative ways. For example, I write for the ABA and grant the ABA the right of first publication for this and other articles. You may be reading this in October 2006, but I wrote it in August 2006. I always wait for the publication date before publishing the article on my weblog.

Similarly, when I published “The Legal List,” electronic copies were free, paper copies were not. I called this “print-and-pay copyright” (http://www.erikjheels.com/ibc-copyright.html), and it was a simple application of copyright law. In recent years, the Creative Commons (http://www.creativecommons.org/) has become popular as a way for authors and artists to declare which rights they are reserving and which they are granting.

I routinely grant reprint requests for my articles. My weblog’s copyright notice is easy to find, easy to guess. The ABA’s copyright notice and reprint request form are not as easy to find, but the ABA also routinely grants reprint requests.

But maybe reprint requests wouldn’t be necessary if a different publishing model were used.

Point Three: Blogs Are A Good Thing

Thank goodness for blogs. The best thing about blogs is that they allow you to publish on the web by filling out forms on a website (or a publishing program than runs on your local computer). Enter the title, enter the article, click publish, and you’re done. If you can order a book from Amazon, then you can publish a weblog.

Thanks to the advent of blog software, I can publish, link, cross-reference, categorize, and tag my articles to my heart’s content. And so can other bloggers. My personal favorite feature on my weblog is that all articles are automatically linked to and from related articles on the same weblog. So this article will automatically be linked to other related articles, and other related articles will automatically be linked to this article. I don’t have to tag it. I just have to write it. The software does the rest.

For more information on how to automatically add tags (keywords) to your articles (http://www.erikjheels.com/2005-05-08-mt-keywordextractor.html) and automatically add links to related articles (http://www.erikjheels.com/2006-05-09-feedfun.html) for your Movable Type weblog, see my weblog.

Blogging is a lot like juggling. People watch as long as you’re doing it. If you stop, your audience may depart, your popularity may decrease. But on the Internet, where everything is (potentially) archived, blogging is like having every juggling performance stored for eternity on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) or whatever comes next. The history is there for future audiences.

In short, blogs and blog-related technology make the web (a) more webby, (b) more linky, (c) more related, (d) more relevant, (e) more powerful. Without it, (f) none of the above. And “F” for a good reason.

Point Four: Interactivity Is A Good Thing

As I wrote in the October 2000 issue of Law Practice Management magazine, business is a conversation (http://www.erikjheels.com/nbn-cluetrain.html). Or at least it’s supposed to be. But that wasn’t my idea. That’s an idea from “The Cluetrain Manifesto” (http://www.erikjheels.com/isbn0738202444.html). But how did the Cluetrain people spread their idea? Via the Internet, of course. Same way “The Legal List” spread. I first heard about the Cluetrain Manifesto in March 1999 via email, nine months before the book was published.

There are no new ideas, there are only good ideas. Interactivity is a good idea. Making websites interactive is a good idea. People can leave comments on my weblog, and you can get the comments in my weblog’s feed (http://www.erikjheels.com/2006-05-17-comments-feed.html). People can link to my website and have their articles automatically linked from my weblog, and you can get the links (trackbacks) in my weblog’s feed (http://www.erikjheels.com/2006-05-25-pings-feed.html). Spam comments and spam trackbacks are a problem, of course, but where there is any conversation there is noise.

One of the things that was exciting about the early days of the Internet (in my case, 1984-1994) was meeting new and interesting people with similar interests. For example, my longtime partner in crime, Rick Klau, and I “met” via the Internet (http://www.erikjheels.com/online-launch.html).

Point Five: Love Is A Good Thing

There are two reasons to do most things: love and money. Write because you enjoy writing. Blog because you enjoy writing.

Do what you love and the money will follow. Love is a good motivator for writers. But it is not the only motivator.

Point Six: Money Is A Good Thing

If you have a website with lots of visitors, then writers will want to write for you. Advertisers will want to advertise. Writers like to write because it is good marketing and helps them make money. Advertisers make money from advertising. Publishers make money from advertising. While I have generated new business as a result of writing for the ABA, I consider writing for the ABA an ROI positive experience primarily because I enjoy doing it. In other words, I don’t write for money, I write for love.

But my weblog makes money because it has advertising. Not a lot, but it pays for my ABA dues.

Summary: What I Am Not Saying And What I Am Saying

I am not saying that any ABA publication should strive to be more like Wired magazine. I am saying that the Internet works in a certain way. For every action, people and technology will react differently. Read “Freakonomics” (http://www.freakonomics.com/), which is all about the economics and psychology of incentives. Perhaps the ABA should keep only its best publications online. Perhaps the ABA should keep only its worst publications online. Perhaps only the current issue, perhaps everything except the current issue, perhaps everything, perhaps nothing. There are many options. Each option, each action, has a logical reaction. But it certainly appears, at least to me, that fewer people will visit your website if your content isn’t findable.

I am not saying that the ABA or anyone else should blog. I am saying that blogging is cool and powerful because it makes the web more of what it was intended to be. I am also saying that adding interactivity to any website can improve the conversation.

I am not saying that I like things the way they used to be. I am saying that old content should not be edited out of existence, which I have said previously in this magazine (see my July 1999 nothing.but.net). And that new technology should not be ignored.

I am not saying that this will be my last column. I am saying that, whether or not you agree with Darwin that we evolved from monkeys, everyone has to evolve to survive and thrive on the Internet. I am also saying that I miss you, my audience. I miss getting feedback, by email or otherwise. I miss the interaction. I miss the conversation. And since there are only two reasons to keep doing this, love and money, I can only say, “Show me the love!” Read this article. Steal this article before it disappears into the archives. Forward it to a friend. Visit my weblog. Leave me feedback. Link to me so that I can link to you. Let’s show everyone what a people-powered conversation machine the Internet can be. Then, in December 2006, when this article goes into the ABA archives, check back on my weblog to see the results, to see what’s more powerful, a dynamic open web 2.0 or a static closed web 1.0.

Then I’ll decide if I’m done.

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