Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Alex Winter's "Deep Web" about Silk Road's Ross Ulbricht

Going in to see the movie Deep Web, which played yesterday and today at the Montclair Film Festival, I was most interested in the question "Who is Ross Ulbricht?" Is he the libertarian idealist who created Silk Road to let people do what the government doesn't want them to do? Or is he the scheming drug lord who put out contracts on associates who had betrayed him, as alleged by the government? Though the movie was fascinating, I left with my question unanswered.

This is no fault of the filmmaker, whose challenge was to make a documentary about someone he had little access to. Despite interviews with family, friends and business associates, Ross Ulbricht appears as a shadow in this movie. We see him in a few home movies, we see his LinkedIn profile, but we never really see or hear Ross Ulbricht talk about the subject at hand.

We hear more from Dread Pirate Roberts, a pseudonym that was at least partly Ross Ulbricht. We see many of his posts on Silk Road forums, with highlights to show the complexity of his motivations. DPR seems more interested in ideals than money, he wants to make the world a freer and safer place. But he's a businessman who values loyalty and doesn't tolerate people who don't make good on their promises.

The central voice of the film is that of Wired Senior Reporter Andy Greenberg, listed as "Consulting Producer" of Deep Web. Because much of the film surrounds Silk Road forum postings and the legal case against Ulbricht, it relies heavily on Greenberg to boil down and assess voluminous posts and complicated proceedings. Greenberg doesn't quite have the screen presence the film needs from him, but hey, that's not his job. But so we don't miss the point, there's always a poster of Edward Snowden behind Greenberg in his office.

The film has at least two narratives that make for a sometimes conflicted message. One narrative is the libertarian argument in favor of online drug markets, another is that the government has prosecuted Ulbricht unfairly, perhaps illegally.

The moral argument in favor of Silk Road is particularly resonant in this post-Ferguson post-Baltimore era, and I wish the film had followed this thread further. The gist of it is that real-life drug markets are violent scourges that ruin communities, and moving them online removes most of the violence associated with the illegal transactions. Silk Road succeeded by bringing accountability to these transactions; a transaction gone bad would result in a seller losing reputation instead of someone getting killed. In a sense, Silk Road functioned as a government beyond the reach of domestic law. By contrast, the War on Drugs results in police inflicting violence and punishment  on people and communities causing harm out of proportion to the benefit of extending the rule of law.

In the context of this war, it's small wonder Ulbricht doesn't get the benefit of the legal doubt. It's hard not to compare Deep Web with the film I saw last year at Montclair Film Festival, Brian Knappenberger's The Internet's Own Boy. Both films recount the story of a bright young man turned entrepreneur, who is driven by idealism to do something to which the legal system reacts with brutality. Both films prominently feature analysis by the eminently reasonable Cindy Cohn and the starker views of Chris Soghoian. Despite the emotional power of Knappenberger's film, Popehat's Ken White criticized it for its naive view of the legal system. White's cynical view is that we shouldn't be so outraged that Aaron Swartz was singled out for extreme prosecution, because that's what our legal system does to most people it turns its attention to today. This point would go double for Ross Ulbricht. The prosecution of Ulbricht was unfair, but that's exactly how most drug-related cases are prosecuted. "Drug kingpins" who complain about the feds hacking their computers can't expect much forbearance from judges who advance in the system by being "tough on crime", and rich white folks shouldn't expect to be treated differently.

Unfortunately for Winter, the most shocking revelation in the Ulbricht case came after most of the current film was shot, and is only mentioned briefly at the end - two of the agents investigating Silk Road were indicted for stealing over a million dollars worth of bitcoin from the site after they had infiltrated and taken control of the site. It's hard to imagine that this won't play a major role on appeal.

As far as I can tell, Deep Web get its facts right. It manages to avoid many of the silly characterizations of Bitcoin in the popular media (for example, bitcoin enables anonymity but it's not automatic). The only quibble I have is the title. "Dark Web" would have been more accurate, as well as more dramatic.

Over all, I found Deep Web an extremely engaging telling of an important story. But it ends in an unsatisfying place, with a shoe dropping. See don't miss it when it airs on May 31; you'll be able to enjoy what happens next.

Trivia note: Both Ross Ulbricht and I, in our past lives, published scientific articles on the incredibly obscure topic of adsorption-controlled molecular beam epitaxy of oxides. Yep.
Deep Web premieres on May 31 at 8PM EST on EPIX.

Here's the Trailer:

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ranganathan and the 5 Blind Librarians

It's "Choose Privacy Week". To celebrate, the American Library Association is publishing a series of blog posts; today they're running mine! I wanted to write something special, so I decided to have little fun with a parable. I'm reprinting it here:

I've heard it told that after formulating his famous "Five Laws of Library Science", the great Indian librarian S. R Ranganathan began thinking about privacy in libraries. Here's what I remember of the tale:

In India at the time, there were five librarians reknowned far and wide for their tremendous organizational skills, formidable bibliographic canny, and the coincidental fact that each of them was blind. It was said that "S" could identify books by their smell. "H" could classify a book just by the sound of the footfalls of a person carrying it. "T" was famous for leading patrons by the hand to exactly the book they wanted; the feel of a person's fingernails told him all he needed to know. "P" knew everything there was to know about paper and ink. "C" was quick with her fingers on a keyboard and there was hardly a soul in his city she had not corresponded with.  But these 5 were also sought out for their discretion; powerful leaders would consult them, thinking that their blindness made them immune to passing on their secrets of affairs and of state.

So of course, Ranganathan asked the five blind librarians to come to him so he could benefit from their wisdom and experience with privacy. The great librarians began talking among themselves as they sat outside Ranganathan's house.

"On my way through the countryside I encountered a strange beast", said librarian H.  "I can't say what he was, but he had a distinctive call like a horn: Toot-to-to-toooot..." and librarian H reproduced a complicated sound that must have had at least 64 toots.

"By that sound, I think I encountered the same beast." said librarian T. "I reached out to touch him. He was hard and smooth, and ended in a point, like a great long sword."

"No, you are wrong", said librarian P. I heard the same sound, and the strange beast is like a thick parchment, I could feel the wind when it fluttered.

"You fellows are so mistaken." said librarian C "You touch for a second and you think you know everything. I spent 15 minutes playing with the beast, she is like a great squirming snake."

"I know nothing of the beast except the smell of his droppings," said librarian S.  "But what I do know is that the beast had recently eaten a huge feast of bananas."

At this, a poacher who had been eavesdropping on the five librarians picked up his shotgun and ran off.

Just then, Ranganathan emerged through his door. Surprised at seeing the poacher run off, he asked the librarians what they had been talking about.

The librarians each repeated what they had told the others. When librarian S finally recounted the banana smell, Ranganathan became alarmed. The poacher had run in the direction of a grove of banana trees. Before he could do anything, they heard the sound of a powerful shotgun in the distance, and then the final roar of a dying elephant. 

With tears in his eyes, Ranganathan thanked the 5 librarians for their trouble, and sent them home. Though Ranganathan's manuscript on privacy has been lost to time, it is said that Ranganathan's 1st law of library privacy went something like this:


"Library Spies Don't Need Eyes".


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Suggested improvements for a medical journal privacy policy


After I gave the New England Journal of Medicine a failing grade for user privacy noting that their website used more trackers than any other scholarly journal website I looked at, the Massachusetts Medical Society asked me to review the privacy policy for NEJM.com and make changes that would improve its transparency. On the whole their website privacy policy is more informative and less misleading than most privacy policies I've looked at. Still, there's always room for improvement. They've kindly allowed me to show you the changes I recommended:


Last updated: April 1, 2015

Governing Principles 

NEJM.org is owned and operated by the Massachusetts Medical Society (“MMS”). We take privacy issues seriously and are committed to protecting your personal information. We want to say that up front because it sounds nice and is legally meaningless. Please take a moment to review our privacy policy, which explains how we collect, use, and safeguard information you enter at NEJM.org and any of our digital applications (such as our iPhone and iPad applications). This privacy policy applies only to information collected by MMS through NEJM.org and our digital applications. This privacy policy does not govern personal information furnished to MMS through any other means.


WHAT INFORMATION DO WE COLLECT?

Information You Provide to Us
We will request information from you if you establish a personal profile to gain access to certain content or services, if you ask to be notified by e-mail about online content, or if you participate in surveys we conduct. This requires the input of personal information and preferences that may include, but is not limited to, details such as your name, address (postal and e-mail), telephone number, or demographic information. You can't use secure communications to give us this information, so you should consider anything you tell us to be public information. If you request paid content from NEJM.org, including subscriptions, we will also ask for payment information such as credit card type and number. Our payment providers won't actually let us see your credit card number, because there are federal regulations and such.
Information That Is Automatically Collected
Log Files
We use log files to collect general data about the movement of visitors through our site and digital applications. This may include some or includes all of the following information: the Internet Protocol Address (IP Address) of your computer or other digital device, host name, domain name, browser version and platform, date and time of requests, and the files downloaded or viewed. We use this information to track what you read and to measure and analyze traffic and usage of NEJM.org and our digital applications. We build our site in such a way that this information is leaked to our advertisers, our widget providers, our analytics partners, the advertising partners of our widget providers, all the ISPs that connect us, and government entities such as the NSA, the Great Firewall of China, and the "Five Eyes" group.
Cookies
We use cookies to collect information and help personalize your user experience us make more money. We store minimal personally identifying information ten tracking identifiers in cookies and protect allow our partners to access this information. We do not store complete records or credit card numbers in cookies. We don't put chocolate chips in cookies either. Even if they're the other kind of cookies. Because we read about the health effects of fatty foods, in NEJM of course. You can find out more about how we use cookies at our Cookie Information page which is a separate page because it's more confusing that way.
Most web browsers automatically accept cookies. Browsers can be configured to prevent this, but if you do not accept any cookies from www.NEJM.org, you will not be able to use the site. The site will function if you block third party cookies.
In some cases we also work with receive services or get paid by third party vendors (such as Google, Google's DoubleClick Ad Network, Checkm8, Scorecard Reasearch, Unica, AddThis, Crazy Egg, Flashtalking, Monetate, DoubleVerify, and SLI Systems) who help deliver advertisements on our behalf across the Internet, and vendors like Coremetrics, Chartbeat and Mii Solutions, who provide flashy dashboards for our managers. These vendors may use cookies to collect information about your activity at our site (i.e., the pages you have visited) in order to help deliver particular ads that they believe you would find most relevant. You can opt out of those vendors' use of cookies to tailor advertising to you by visiting http://www.networkadvertising.org/managing/opt_out.asp. Except for Checkm8, Scorecard Reasearch, Unica, Crazy Egg, Monetate, Coremetrics, Chartbeat, Mii Solutions and SLI Systems. And even if you opt out of advertising customization, these companies still get all the information. We have no idea how long they retain the information or what they do with the information other than ad targetting and data dashboarding.
Clear Gifs (Web Beacons/Web Bugs)
We may also use clear gifs which are tiny graphics with unique identifiers that function similarly to cookies to help us to track site activity. We do not use these to collect personally identifying information, because that's impossible. We also do not use clear gifs to shovel snow, even though we've had a whole mess of it. Oh and by the way, some of our partners have used "flash cookies", which you can't delete. And maybe even "canvas fingerprints". But they pay us money or give us services, so we don't want to interfere.




HOW IS THIS INFORMATION USED?

Information that you provide to us will be used to process, fulfill, and deliver your requests for content and services. We may send you information about our products and services, unless you have indicated you do not wish to receive further information.

Information that is automatically collected is used to monitor usage patterns at NEJM.org and at our digital applications in order to help us improve our service offerings. We do not sell or rent your e-mail address to any third party. You may unsubscribe from our e-mail services at any time. Life is short. You may have a heart attack at any time, or get run over by a truck. For additional information on how to unsubscribe from our e-mail services, please refer to the How to Make Changes to Your Information section of this Privacy Policy.

We may report aggregate information about usage to third parties, including our service vendors and advertisers. These advertisers may include your competitors, so be careful. For additional information, please also see our Internet Advertising Policy. We may also disclose personal and demographic information about your use of NEJM.org and our digital applications to the countless companies and individuals we engage to perform functions on our behalf. Examples may include hosting our Web servers, analyzing data, and providing marketing assistance. These companies and individuals are obligated to maintain your personal information as confidential and may have access to your personal information only as necessary to perform their requested function on our behalf, which is usually to earn us more money, except as detailed in their respective privacy policies. So of course, these companies may sell the data collected in the course of your interaction with us.
Advertisers
We contract with third-party advertisers and their agents to post banner and other advertisement at our site and digital applications. These advertisements may link to Web sites not under our control. These third-party advertisers may use cookie technology or similar means i.e. Flash to measure the effectiveness of their ads or may otherwise collect personally identifying information from you when you leave our site or digital applications. We are not responsible or liable for any content, advertising, products or other materials offered from such advertisers and their agents. Transactions that occur between you and the third-party advertisers are strictly between you and the third party and are not our responsibility. You should review the privacy policy of any third-party advertiser and its agent, as their policies may differ from ours.
Advertisement Servers
In addition to advertising networks run by Google, which know everything about you already, We use a third-party ad server, CheckM8, to serve advertising at NEJM.org. Using an advertising network diminishes our ability to control what advertising is shown on the NEJM website. Instead, auctions are held between advertisers that want to show you ads. Complicated algorithms decide which ads you are most likely to click on and generate the most revenue for us. We're thinking of outsourcing our peer-review process for our article content to similar sorts of software agents, as it will save us a whole lot of money. Anyway, if you see ads for miracle drugs on our site, it's because we really need these advertising dollars to continue our charitable work of publicizing top quality medical research, not because these drugs have been validated by top quality medical research. CheckM8 does not collect any personally identifiable information regarding consumers who view or interact with CheckM8 advertisements. CheckM8 solely collects non-personally identifiable ad delivery and reporting data. For further information, see CheckM8’s privacy policy. Please note that the opt-out website we mentioned above doesn't cover CheckM8, And there's not a good way to opt out of CheckM8, so there. The Massachusetts Medical Society takes in about $25 million per year in advertising revenue, so we really don't want you to opt out of our targeted advertising.



WHAT SECURITY MEASURES ARE USED?

When you submit personal information via NEJM.org or our digital applications, your information is protected both online and offline with what we believe to be appropriate physical, electronic, and managerial procedures to safeguard and secure the information we collect. For information submitted via NEJM.org, we use the latest Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology to encrypt your credit card and personal information. But other information is totally up for grabs.

USER-GENERATED CONTENT FORUMS
Any data or personal information that you submit to us as user-generated content becomes public and may be used by MMS in connection with NEJM.org, our digital applications, and other MMS publications in any and all media. For more information, see our User-Generated Content Guidelines. We'll have the right to publish your name and location worldwide forever if you do so, and we can sue you if you try to use a pseudonym.

OTHER INFORMATION

Do Not Track Signals
Like most web services, at this time we do not alter our behavior or change our services in response to do not track signals. In other words, our website tracks you, even if you use technical means to tell us you do not want us to track you.
Compliance with Legal Process
We may disclose personally identifying information if we are required to do so by law or we in good faith believe that such action is necessary to (1) comply with the law or legal process; (2) protect our rights and property; (3) protect against misuse or the unauthorized use of our Web site; or (4) protect the personal safety or property of our users or the public. So, for example, if you are involved in a divorce proceeding, we can help your spouse verify that you weren't staying late at your office reading up on the latest research like you said you were.

Children
NEJM.org is not intended for children under 13 years of age. We do not knowingly collect or store any personal information from children under 13. If we did not have this disclaimer, our lawyer would not let us do things we want to do. If you are under 13, we're really impressed, you should spend more time outside getting fresh air.

Changes to This Policy
This privacy policy may be periodically updated. We will post a notice that this policy has been amended by revising the “Last updated” date at the top of this page. Use of NEJM.org constitutes consent to any policy then in effect. So basically, what we say here is totally meaningless with respect to your ability to rely on it. Oh well.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

16 of the top 20 Research Journals Let Ad Networks Spy on Their Readers

A recent query to the "LibLicense" listserv asked:
Is there any kind of organization that has put together a website or list of database providers/publishers that indicate the extent to which they respect patron privacy?
The answer is "no", but I thought it would useful to look at the top journal publishers to see if their websites are built with an orientation towards reader privacy.

I came up with a list of 20 top journals. I took the 10 journals with the most citations and the 10 journals with the most citations per published article, according to the SCImago journal rankings.

I used Ghostery to count the number of trackers present on the web page for an article in each journal. Each of these trackers gets a feed of each user's browsing behavior. I looked at the trackers to see if user browsing behavior was being sent to advertising networks. I also determined whether the journal supported secure connections. Based on these results, I assigned a letter grade for each journal.

Passing, Grade A

None of the scholarly journals I looked at earned excellent grades for reader privacy.

Passing, Grade B

Two journals, both published by the American Physical Society, earned good grades for reader privacy. They use a social sharing widget that respects privacy.

Reviews of Modern Physics.  Ranked #2 in citations/article. 1 Tracker (Google Analytics). No advertising networks. Supports HTTPS, but allows insecure connections.
Physical Review Letters. Ranked #9 in total citations, #393 in citations/article. 1 Tracker (Google Analytics). No advertising networks. Supports HTTPS, but allows insecure connections.

Passing Grade C

Two journals, both published by Annual Reviews, earned acceptable grades for reader privacy.

Annual Review of Immunology. Ranked #3 in citations/article. 1 Tracker (Google Analytics). No advertising networks. Insecure connections only.
Annual Review of Biochemistry. Ranked #5 in citations/article. 1 Tracker (Google Analytics). No advertising networks. Insecure connections only.

Failing Grade D

Failing grades are earned by publishers that allow their readers to be tracked by advertising networks. These networks get access to the full browsing history of a user and track them with cookies; it's difficult for users to maintain anonymity when most of their web browsing is exposed to tracking.

Science, published by AAAS. Ranked #5 in total citations, #49 in citations/article. 10 Trackers. Multiple advertising networks. Science gets a D rather than an F because it supports HTTPS, although it allows insecure connections.

Failing Grade F

15 journals earned failing grades because their participation in advertising networks exposes their readers to tracking and spying. Some of the publishers are more flagrant about this than others. Maybe I should have given F+ to some and F- to others. All of these journals force insecure connections.


PLoS One, published by the Public Library of Science. #1 in total citations, #1776 in citations/article. 3 trackers. One advertising network.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, published by the National Academy of Sciences. #2 in total citations, #155 in citations/article. 3 trackers. One advertising network.
Journal of Biological Chemistry
, published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. #8 in total citations, #513 in citations/article. 3 trackers. One advertising network.
Quarterly Journal of Economics
, published by Oxford Journals. #6 in citations/article. 4 trackers. One advertising network.
Chemical Communications
, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. #10 in total citations, #680 in citations/article. 6 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
Journal of the American Chemical Society
, published by the American Chemical Society. #4 in total citations, #185 in citations/article. 7 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
Chemical Reviews
, published by the American Chemical Society. #10 in citations/article. 8 trackers. Multiple advertising networks. 
CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians
, published by Wiley. #1 in citations/article. 9 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
Cell
, published by Elsevier. #4 in citations/article. 9 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
Angewandte Chemie - International Edition
, published by Wiley. #6 in total citations, #202 in citations/article. 11 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
Nature Genetics
, published by Nature Publishing Group. #7 in citations/article. 11 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
Nature
, published by Nature Publishing Group. #3 in total citations, #11 in citations/article. 11 trackers. One advertising network.
Nature Reviews Genetics
, published by Nature Publishing Group. #8 in citations/article. 12 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology
, published by Nature Publishing Group. #9 in citations/article. 13 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.
New England Journal of Medicine,
 published by the Massachusetts Medical Society. #7 in total citations, #41 in citations/article. 14 trackers. Multiple advertising networks.

Remarks

I'm particularly concerned about the medical journals that participate in advertising networks. Imagine that someone is researching clinical trials for a deadly disease. A smart insurance company could target such users with ads that mark them for higher premiums. A pharmaceutical company could use advertising targeting researchers at competing companies to find clues about their research directions. Most journal users (and probably most journal publishers) don't realize how easily online ads can be used to gain intelligence as well as to sell products.

In defense of the publishers, it should be noted that the web advertising business has developed very rapidly over the past few years due to intense competition. A few years ago, the attacks on user privacy enabled by the ad networks' massive data collection were mostly theoretical. But competition has led the networks to increase their targeting ability and scoop up more and more "demographic" data. What was theory a few years ago is today's reality. We still have time to prevent tomorrow's privacy disaster, but change will only happen if the institutions that purchase and fund these journals learn what's really going on and start to demand the privacy that readers deserve.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Free" can help a book do its job



(Note: I wrote this article for NZCommons, based on my presentation at the 2015 PSP Annual Conference in February.)

Every book has a job to do. For many books, that job is to make money for its creators. But a lot of books have other jobs to do. Sometimes the fact that people pay for books helps that job, but other times the book would be able to do its job better if it was free for everyone.

That's why Creative Commons licensing is so important. But while CC addresses the licensing problem nicely, free ebooks face many challenges that make it difficult for them to do their jobs.

Let's look at some examples.

When Oral Literature in Africa was first published in 1970, its number one job was to earn tenure for the author, a rising academic. It succeeded, and then some. The book became a classic, elevating an obscure topic and creating an entire field of scholarly inquiry in cultural anthropology. But in 2012, it was failing to do any job at all. The book was out of print and unavailable to young scholars on the very continent whose culture it documented. Ruth Finnegan, the author, considered it her life's work and hoped it would continue to stimulate original research and new insights. To accomplish that, the book needed to be free. It needed to be translatable, it needed to be extendable.


Nga Reanga Youth Development: Maori Styles, an Open Access book by Josie Keelan, is another example of an academic book with important jobs to do. While its primary job is a local one, the advancement of understanding and practice in Maori youth development, it has another job, a global one. Being free helps it speak to scholars and researchers around the world.

Leanne Brown's Good and Cheap is a very different book. It's a cookbook. But the job she wanted it to do made it more than your usual cookbook. She wanted to improve the lives of people who receive "nutrition assistance"- food stamps, by providing recipes for nutritious and healthy meals that can be made without spending much money. By being free, Good and Cheap helps more people in need eat well.

My last example is Casey Fiesler's Barbie™ I Can Be A Computer Engineer The Remix! Now With Less Sexism! The job of this book is to poke fun at the original Barbie™ I Can Be A Computer Engineer, in which Barbie needs boys to do the actual computer coding. But because Fiesler uses material from the original under "fair use", anything other than free, non-commercial distribution isn't legal. Barbie, remixed can ONLY be a free ebook.

But there's a problem with free ebooks. The book industry runs on a highly evolved and optimized cradle-to-grave supply chain, comprising publishers, printers, production houses, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, aggregators, libraries, publicists, developers, cataloguers, database suppliers, reviewers, used-book dealers, even pulpers. And each entity in this supply chain takes its percentage. The entire chain stops functioning when an ebook is free. Even libraries (most of them) lack the processes that would enable them to include free ebooks in their collections.

At Unglue.it, we ran smack into this problem when we set out to bring books into the creative commons. We helped Open Book Publishers crowd fund a new ebook edition of Oral Literature in Africa. The ebook was then freely available, but it wasn't easy to make it free on Amazon, which dominates the ebook market. We couldn't get the big ebook aggregators that serve libraries to add it to their platforms. We realized that someone had to do the work that the supply chain didn't want to do.

Over the past year, we've worked to turn Unglue.it into a "bookstore for free books". The transformation isn't done yet, but we've built a database of over 1200 downloadable ebooks, licensed under Creative Commons or other free licenses. We have a long way to go, but we're distributing over 10,000 ebooks per month. We're providing syndication feeds, developing relationships with distributors, improving metadata, and promoting wonderful books that happen to be free.

The creators of these books still need to find support. To help them, we've developed three revenue programs. For books that already have free licenses, we help the creators ask for financial support in the one place where readers are most appreciative of their work- inside the books themselves. We call this "thanks for ungluing".

For books that exist as ebooks but need to recoup production costs, we offer "buy-to-unglue". We'll sell these books until they reach a revenue target, after which they'll become open access. For books that exist in print but need funding for conversion to open access ebook, we offer "pledge-to-unglue", which is a way of crowd-funding the conversion.

After a book has finished its job, it can look forward to a lengthy retirement. There's no need for books to die anymore, but we can help them enjoy retirement, and maybe even enjoy a second life. Project Gutenberg has over 50,000 books that have "retired" into the public domain. We're starting to think about the care these books need. Formats change along with the people that use them, and the book industry's supply chain does its best to turn them back into money-earners to pay for that care.

Recently we received a grant from the Knight Foundation to work on ways to provide the long-term care that these books need to be productive AND free in their retirements. GITenberg, a collaboration between the folks at Unglue.it and ebook technologist Seth Woodward is exploring the use of Github for free ebook maintenance. Github is a website that supports collaborative software development with source control and workflow tools. Our hope is that the ingredients that have made Github wildly successful in the open source software world will will prove to by similarly effective in supporting ebooks.

It wasn't so long ago that printing costs made free ebooks impossible. So it's no wonder that free ebooks haven't realized their full potential. But with cooperation and collaboration, we can really make wonderful things happen.