Paper-Based Publishing Meets the Web


A few hours ago somebody posted a link to Brian Kernighan's IEEE Software column titled Sometimes the Old Ways Are Best at At the time of writing, the entry has already attracted 143 comments and 172 votes. It contains is an (often interesting) discussion between Young Turks praising IDEs/SlickEdit/BeyondCompare and defenders of Unix tools. One bemused respondent commented (in a somewhat irreverent style) on the strange fact that a column that hit the headlines in January was mentioning summer projects. Here is the story behind the column's timeline and some thoughts on paper-based publishing.

On July 11th 2008 I asked bwk for a contribution, and he agreed a couple of days later. On July 20th he sent me a draft and on July 26th we finalized the text and forwarded it to the IEEE Computer Society editorial office. Early September it was copy-edited, and on September 27th bwk received the final layout for review. This went to press and was published middle October, to arrive to the subscribers in the IEEE Software November/December 2008 issue. Computing Now (the web portal of the IEEE Computer Society) picked it up, and on January 21st 2009 they circulated an email newsletter noting that the content was freely available online. I posted a link in my blog on the same day.

Normally, I post my own Tools of the Trade columns a few days before the issue is shipped (about three months after I submit the column). However in this case I couldn't do that, because the rights to contributors' columns are licensed to IEEE and only they and IEEE can republish them.

Most journal and magazine articles take at least six months from article submission to online publication. This time may seem excessive at the internet age of instant gratification. It is the price we pay for quality: peer-review, corrected resubmissions, licensing, copy-editing, professional typesetting, printing on paper, and archiving. Only time will tell where the balance between quality and rapidness will stabilize; which quality attributes we find essential and which we can live without.

In the process we may learn some painful mistakes. For instance, we have over than two millennia experience with paper-based archiving, but only a 50 years (spotty) track record with preserving digital documents. Will this blog or reddit's online discussion outlive bwk's printed column? Place your bets!

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Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 2:51 pm

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