Donald G. Perrin
My email server records 2,738 emails this past 7 days of which 2,465 were discarded as spam. This is a violation of the web. Ninety percent of my mail was junk mail. I assume this means that the speed and capacity of the web is greatly diminished by spammers. I also assume that much of the power of my server and computers is similarly diminished.
My email showed further violations. Workforce Management presented an attractive invitation to download, free of charge, a Wainhouse Research Report entitled Web Conferencing’s Expanding Role in Training. This report would enable me to see “how Web Conferencing is a fundamental paradigm shift in the training world.” I clicked on the link and was confronted with a table that required personal information in order to receive the paper. I immediately deleted the offer and moved on. If you are volunteering personal information for somebody’s mailing list, it is not free and I do not subscribe to services that use this kind of promotion.
Next, I opened an email from an IJITDL author who was surprised to find his ebook available for download and discussion from another website. I checked it out and found it was a free web-resource owned and copyrighted by an organization in Munich, Germany. You can join for free if you provide personal information. More than 400 people had already done so to access the ebook and join the discussion. I decided not to commit my personal information. However, I was troubled because normally there would have been a courtesy notification or request.
The Journal receives dozens of requests each year from universities, libraries, professional organizations, and teachers to include full text copies of articles in their information systems. The answer is always yes, so long as it is not-for-profit you obtain the author(s) permission. For example, the American Society of Training Directors periodically requests permission to republish an articles from itdl.org.
There are many possible reasons why a courtesy request was not received. IJITDL allows free distribution of articles. Perhaps a request was made, and became one of the 2,500+ items caught in the spam filters? Perhaps the link for the download is directed to itdl.org? Or perhaps the ebook was translated into German for a primarily European audience? The facts will be researched and discussed by the Journal editors. But it raises my original contention; if you provide your personal information to get it, is it really free?
There are many reasons why websites collect personal information. One is to demonstrate value for sponsors and advertisers. A detailed list of users validates the value and the price. Non specific data is suspect. For example, in January 2007, IJITDL had over 100,000 page views, but two thirds of the requesting sites were cloaked so that their web address could not be identified. Perhaps there was a mysterious web crawler virus that pounded the site to inflate the readership? More likely, it is a reaction to misuse intended to shield the user’s identity from the unscrupulous.
So, what is the bottom line? Do we add restrictions and make information less accessible? How do we encourage legitimate users and at the same time protect authors from inappropriate use of their intellectual property? Perhaps we could generate language that eliminates right to copy onto servers and information systems unless permission is obtained from the author(s) and this journal. What was once a courtesy has become a necessity.
This brings up another question. Authors are entitled to know how many people access a web article or ebook, just as an author is entitled to know how many copies of a book are sold. There is no standardized system for web use measurement. For example, IJITDL totals are reduced by publishing the entire journal as an Acrobat file - it counts as one download, but depending on how it is used, that download may represent any number of page views. Journals that provide each article as a separate Acrobat file have better tracking and more impressive numbers.
What if some GPS-like system could track institutions and bloggers and individuals who access, circulate, and discuss these articles on secondary and tertiary websites and intranets and in conferences and classrooms? This would provide real information on the diffusion of knowledge from research and theory to daily application and from entrepreneurs to organizations and end users. Would this be sufficient justification for requesting personal information in order to access information or join freely in a discussion? I don’t think so. Furthermore, if you search itdl.org on Google, you will find over 10,700 examples of how this journal’s articles are used.
By the way. The ebook problem was solved by the author requesting its removal from the secondary site.