Summer Reading for Interactive Media Aficionados

By: Steve Outing One of the nice things about the Internet is its ability to tap into the collective intelligence of a group of like-minded individuals. With that in mind, I set out earlier this week to find out what interactive media professionals are reading -- with the idea of creating a summer reading list.

Using the online-news and online-newspapers Internet mailing lists (which I run), I asked the lists' subscribers what books they have read recently and would recommend. Their answers will keep your mind occupied as you lounge in the back yard as the weather heats up. (With apologies to Southern Hemisphere readers.) It's my hope that all of us can escape the glare of the computer screen and curl up with a good (dead-tree format) book occasionally.

(Recommended books are listed in alphabetical order.)

The Art of Fact, edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda (Scribner)
This is an historical anthology of literary journalism. Comments journalism professor Jon Franklin: "We're talking about it on WriterL (an Internet list for writers) -- those of us who think there's a future for literary nonfiction on the Net. I'm thinking we need to go back to first principles, trace history, and figure where we need to branch off -- the present is fairly sterile. The Art of Fact is a thick book with samples of almost everyone who was anyone in the literary news and magazine business. It's coming out soon (I have an advance proof) and it's gotten a lot of good advance press. I'm engrossed in it."

The Connected Family, by Seymour Papert (Longstreet Press)
Online and television consultant Cynthia Samuels, president of Cobblestone Productions, writes: "Yes, he's a guru but he's also clear, and his ideas about education on the Internet are provocative."

Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy, by Robert W. McChesney (Seven Stories Press)
University of North Carolina doctoral student and NandO Times editor Bob Stepno recommends this 80-pager -- more of a pamphlet than a book. He writes: "This one will go over like a lead balloon among the MBAs. I'm sure everyone who reads it will fire their Java programmers and replace them with either investigative reporters assigned to look into communications policy issues or public/civic journalism advocates assigned to build a 'public sphere' instead of those nifty photobubbles. (I like to think we can have both.)"

Data Trash, by Arthur Kroker-Michael Weinstein (St. Martin's Press)
Sergio Maria Dall'Omo, new media and new technologies senior editor for Il Gazzettino (Venice, Italy), says of this title: "A bit of Apocalypse, some drops of craziness, but, in a whole, somehow intriguing (right on our topic)."

Deeper: My Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace, by John Seabrook (Simon & Schuster)'s Jamie Hammond recommends this book: "It contains much of his best New Yorker stuff, plus much more. Not a paradigm-shifting book at all; just a fun read and an interesting perspective."

Designing Web Graphics, by Linda Weinman (New Riders/MacMillan)
Dean Betz of the Times Union (Albany, New York) likes Weinman's books. He writes: "They do a good job of tying together in one place, in an easy-to-digest format, Web design knowledge that I'd seen elsewhere but not fully understood. For a word guy like me, she makes sense out of a process and tools that are sometimes mysterious."

The Digital Estate, by Chuck Martin (McGraw Hill).
The author is an ex-newsman and publisher turned IBM executive and Web expert. Writes John Brewer, former president and editor in chief, New York Times News Service/New York Times Syndicate, who recommends this book: "In a domain positively viscous with lame literature, this book doesn't have any serious competition. It's very helpful at all levels, but its witty and humane approach is particularly good for news and business folks moving onto the Web for the first time. Martin gives sound, detailed explanations of Web advertising, marketing, relationship building, branding, business planning and building an online community, all through the actual experiences of Net companies that are building today's new economy. The last chapter of the book is virtual -- the author rewrites and updates it on a monthly basis at state.

Enterprise One to One: Tools for Competing in the Interactive Age, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers (Bantam Doubleday)
Jack Lail of the Knoxville (Tennessee) News-Sentinel recommends this one: "There's a lot to think about in what Pepper and Rogers say the future will be like ... particularly for folks in media companies. Well worth reading. Best taken in moderate doses."

The Future of the Mass Audience, by Russell Neuman (Cambridge University Press).
Paul Jones, who teaches cyber issues at the University of North Carolina, says: "A slim and prophetic book on the nature of Mass Audience with each argument strongly supported by serious empirical studies at every point. Each time a media expert sounds off about what people want and how the market works, I want to send him/her this book or at least a page or two. Neuman demonstrates the tensions between V. Bush's utopian vision of new mass media and Orwell's dystopian vision revealing what is at stake here and now."

I Don't Bow to Buddhas, by J.P. Seaton (Copper Canyon Press)
Paul Jones also recommends this "non-geekish non-media book of Chinese poetry in translation ... so as to remember what else is important."

Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland (Harper Collins)
A Cynthia Samuels favorite. She writes: "Coupland's touching and generous portrayal of the dreamers of this industry and their families is lovely. I've been accused of loving this book because it sounds like so many kids I know, including my own, but I just plain like it."

The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism, by Stanley Cloud (Houghton Mifflin)
Bart Preecs says this is the most interesting book about new media that he's read in recent months. He writes: "Of course you have to make a running mental 'search and replace,' substituting 'early days of Web' every time Cloud says 'early days of radio,' to get the connections, but the parallels and lessons are striking.
"1. When (Edward R.) Murrow first went to England, his job title was 'director of special talks' and he was supposed to arrange interviews with interesting celebrities. He was denied admittance to the Foreign Correspondents Association. Correspondents were guys with notebooks who wrote for newspapers.
"2. When Murrow tried to use early wire recorders to gather the sounds of war-time London back to the studio, he was forbidden to use recorded speech or music on the air. CBS feared it would damage their contracts with live performers. Today, recorded speech and music is mostly what you hear on the radio and CBS made billions in the recorded music business.
"The moral of the book for me is that the business and service models of this new media are still up for grabs. We have not yet found the formula that uses computer tools for doing things that other media can't do."

Net Gain: Expanding Markets Through Virtual Online Communities, by John Hagel III and Arthur G. Armstrong (Harvard Business School Press).
Freelance technology writer Dennis Fowler comments: "The book builds a strong case for building Web sites which attract and involve the user, offering a place for people with a common interest to interact with each other and with the Web site managers. By involving the users it holds their interest, the users bring content to the site, strengthening the site."

Neuromancer, by William Gibson (ACE Science Fiction)
Cynthia Samuels writes: "What can I say. Five years ago someone told me about this book and I began it shortly after boarding at Boston's Logan airport. I read all the way across the country and finished it in the parking lot at LAX. I haven't been the same since. Though there are those who don't 'get it,' for me Gibson's vision was a jump start on a whole new way of thinking. Late to most of you probably but to a former New York newshen a wonderful leap of faith. I not only (recommend) this book but also Mona Lisa Overdrive and Count Zero."

Official Netscape Guide to Internet Research, by Tara Calishain (Ventana)
"Cybermania" columnist Steve Miller says of this book: "A good introductory book for all levels of online research and also a good 'read this' for print editors unwillingly thrown into the Internet breach and for non-modem literate bosses who want to know what all those people are doing all day long."

The Responsive Chord, Tony Schwartz (Doubleday)
This 1973 book is difficult to find (though it turned up for me in an title search; Amazon says it may be able to find a used copy within 2-6 months). Fox News Internet senior producer Jon Bonne writes: "The book is an exploration of his theory that effective media strikes chords in the hearts and minds of the viewer/reader/user; that evoking common experiences in a certain way (the sound of a baby crying, the sight of a lone schoolhouse on a prairie, etc.) is the way that media effectively makes its message. It's an amazing piece of theory, and one that still has largely to be applied to the Web (few interface designers think in terms of common experience)."

Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society, by James Boyle (Harvard University Press).
Paul Jones writes: "This book is a sophisticated, well-referenced and well-argued presentation of the difficult problems of intellectual property in the world economy with a spirited (and often wry) defense of the public's rights to such property whilst raising serious questions about what makes a work original along the way. Not necessarily an easy read, but a rewarding one."

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, by Edward Tufte (Graphics Press).
Writes Elliot Parker of the journalism department at Central Michigan University: "Not specifically about interactive media, but about good design in any medium. Excellent, just as his 'Envisioning Information' and 'The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.' I would think all would be required for anybody concerned with visual communication."

Webonomics: Nine Essential Principles for Growing Your Business on the World Wide Web, by Evan Schwartz (Broadway Books).
This one gets the nod from Jim Conaghan, director of market and business analysis for the Newspaper Association of America, who writes: "It's a quick read and the author has a strong point of view."

Print it out!

Vin Crosbie, president of Digital Delivery, suggested that the printed page is not necessarily the best place to find new media enlightenment. He writes: "For those of the New Media cloth, most of the interesting reading isn't contained in religious journals or library shelves but nailed into the cathedral's door." He recommends two important works that can be found online (and printed out for patio reading):
"Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Conceptual Foundations," (revised 7/11/95) by Drs. Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak of Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management.
And Digital Tornado: The Internet and Telecommunications Policy," (March 1997) by Kevin Werbach of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Says Crosbie: "Hoffman & Novak's paper is the first to detail why the Internet isn't simply an extension of traditional media, why it won't work that way, and why new marketing practices, paradigms, and methodologies will have to be implemented. The paper's language is academic, dry, and technically precise. But then, it is an academic paper. ... Werbach's paper is a wonderfully savvy panorama of Internet media, ostensibly written from the perspective of the challenges these media face for telecommunications policy. It also details why almost any analogy with traditional media will seem to fit the Internet, but none really do."

Where to find these books

Should you have the leisure time to be reading this summer and want to check out some of these suggestions, be warned that several of these titles will be hard to find. I used and found each of these books in its database, so you might try it or another online bookstore (like Barnes & Noble) if a title is not available at your local bookshop.


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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