Digital Library

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There’s a new service provided by ACM’s Digital Library: Author-Izer. Short version: if you have published something with the ACM, and you have a preprint of the paper on your own or your company’s website, you can provide the ACM DL this link for your article and they’ll put it with the article reference. This is fairly sporting of the ACM. If you’re an author it’s worth this bit of effort to give your work wider dissemination. Linking also can provide the ACM with download statistics from your site and so give a better sense of the impact of your paper (or at least inflate your statistics compared to people not using Author-Izer).

As a reader without an ACM DL subscription, it’s still better to go to Ke-Sen Huang’s site or Google Scholar, where these external author sites have been collected without each author’s effort. For example, free preprints of 95% of SIGGRAPH 2011 papers are linked on Ke-Sen’s page. In a perfect world, the ACM would simply hire Ke-Sen for a few days and have him add all his external links of authors’ sites to their database. I’d personally toss in $20 towards that effort. I suspect there are 18 reasons given why this would not be OK – “we want individual authors to control their links” (but why not give a default link if the author has not provided one?), “we’re not comfortable having a third party provide this information” (so it’s better to have no information than potentially incorrect information leading you, at worst, to a dead link?), or the catch-all “that’s not how we do things” (clearly).

As Bernie Rous discusses, there’s a tension at the ACM between researchers, who want the widest dissemination of their work, and professional staff, who are concerned about the financial health of the organization. Author-Izer helps researchers, but there’s little direct benefit to the ACM’s bottom line. Unfortunately, currently the Author-Izer service seems to be virtually unknown. For example, the SIGGRAPH 2011 table of contents appears to have no Author-Izer links, though perhaps I’m missing them. I hope this post will help publicize this service a bit.

It’s nice that the ACM allows authors to self-archive, where they can provide preprints of their own work on their website or their institution’s. Most scholarly journals allow this archiving of preprints – more than 90%, according to one writer (and more that 60% allow self-archiving of the refereed final draft, which the ACM does not allow). For authors at academic institutions with such archives, great, easily done; for authors at games companies, film companies, self-employed, etc., it’s catch-as-catch-can. If the author hosts his own work and is hit by a meteor, or just loses interest, his website eventually fades away and the article is then available only behind a paywall. One understandable reason for ACM’s “must be hosted by the author or his institution” clause is that it disallows lower-cost paywalls from competing. But why not just specify that? I can see a non-compete clause like “the author will not host his preprint behind a paywall” (a restriction the ACM doesn’t currently have), but otherwise who cares where the article is hosted, as long as it’s free to download?

This restriction feels like a business model founded on being a PITA: instead of uploading his article to some central free access site and never thinking about it again, each author needs to keep track of access and deal with job changes, server reorganizations and redirects, company bankruptcy or purchase, Author-Izer updates, and anything else that can make his website go off the radar. Pose this problem to a thousand authors and the free system will be inherently weak and ineffectual, making the pay version more desirable.

I believe that many people in the ACM have their hearts in the right place, there’s no conspiracy here. However, the tension of running a paywall service like the Digital Library gives a “one hand tied behind my back” feel to efforts at more open access. If there were no economic constraints, clearly the ACM DL would be free and there would be no real point to Author-Izer. Right now there still are these financial concerns, very real ones.

A journal publisher used to offer:

  • Physical journal printing and binding
  • Copy editing, illustrations, and layout
  • Peer review and professional editors
  • Archiving
  • Distribution to subscribers and institutions
  • Reputation

The physical artifact of the journal itself is becoming rarer, and authors now do copy editing, illustrations, and most to all of the layout. The technical editors and reviewers are all unpaid, so their contributions are separate from the publisher itself – many journals have abandoned their publishers, as the recent Elsevier boycott has highlighted. So what is left that publishers provide?

Another way to look at it: what if publishers suddenly disappeared? Different systems would supplant their services, for good or ill: Google, for instance, might provide archiving for free (they already do this for magazines like Popular Science). Distribution is as simple as “get on the mailing list.” Reputation is probably the one with most long-term value. I don’t think I’d instead want to have a reddit up/down vote system, given the various problems it has. CiteSeer and Google Scholar are pretty good at determining reputation by citation count. You can even check your own citation count for free. There are ways of determining a paper’s impact beyond simple citation counts, lots of people think about this.

I can imagine a few answers for why publishers matter – these disconnected solutions I mentioned are not necessarily the best answers. However, the burden of proof is on the publisher, both commercial and non-profit, to justify its continued existence. It will be interesting how the various open access initiatives play out and how they affect publishers.

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If you’re a member of ACM, you have access to about 1200 books online through Safari and Books24x7. Safari’s catalog is here, Books24x7 is here. Just login using your ACM ID & password. I can’t say the book selection is that exciting, some are half a decade old or older (bad for books about APIs), though there are few that might be of interest. If nothing else, there are some guides to popular packages and languages that might help you out.

Worth a reminder: if you’re an ACM SIGGRAPH member, you also get access to essentially all computer graphics papers in the ACM’s Digital Library. I took a peek today to see if the I3D 2012 papers were up yet (the conference runs this weekend) – no joy there, though 2011’s are available. At least, I’m pretty sure 2012’s are not up. Personally, I find their searcher kind of poor if you want to search through proceedings, but is otherwise serviceable for individual articles. As usual, Ke Sen Huang’s page is the place to go to get most of the latest articles (with no membership needed).

Oh, just to reel off some other free books that might be of interest: Autodesk’s “Imagine Design Create” book, a free PDF. More for designers but full of pretty pictures and there’s stuff on game graphic design, along with films and much else. If you’d rather have the coffee-table version, get it on Amazon.

Me, I just finished the crowd-sourced sci-fi “Machine of Death” compilation, which has nothing to do with computer graphics but was an interesting bedtime read. Free as an ebook or audiobook, or again in physical form from Amazon.

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Well, not just from the ACM, but also from people involved in the Ke-Sen Huang and ACM Publications situation.

  • ACM SIGGRAPH membership also gives you access to just about all computer graphics papers in the ACM Digital Library. This I knew already, but found that others haven’t realized it. Any conference sponsored by SIGGRAPH is available, from what I can tell, e.g. I3D. I noticed a few weeks ago that the SIGGRAPH 2009  Posters were not accessible to me through this benefit; the ACM fixed this problem when I reported it.
  • Deep linking, where one site links directly to content on another site, is not illegal. The EFF notes that deep linking has not yet been found to be illegal by the courts. However, linking to sites providing infringing (illegal) copies of a work for download is contributory infringement.
  • “Sweat of the brow” compilations, such as the white pages of phone books, are not copyright. There is no original expression involved, so the Supreme Court ruled such are not protected. Paula Samuelson’s article in the Communications of the ACM (Google Scholar hits here) is a fascinating overview. Titles are not copyright. Elements such as the order in a Table of Contents are in a gray area, from what I can see. The ordering and grouping of the articles into sessions may be copyright protected – the courts have not ruled, as far as I know. Changing that order on an external web page would then not be copyright, since it would be a different “original” expression. Alphabetized or numerical ordering is not copyright protected.
  • You do not need to enforce your copyright to maintain it, unlike a trademark. You can ignore an infringement and not lose your rights. So the argument that a copyright must be protected now in order to preserve it in the future is incorrect.

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