[Humanist] 24.379 iPad apps by/for us

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Oct 3 22:29:46 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 379.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>                     (55)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.375 iPad apps for us; Goodreader

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (43)
        Subject: platforms and contents

        Date: Sun, 03 Oct 2010 10:48:28 -0400
        From: Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.375 iPad apps for us; Goodreader
        In-Reply-To: <20101001203937.0FA5688921 at woodward.joyent.us>


> > My original point was that if a target audience uses the iPad and/or the
> > iPad offers capabilities that your application requires, or both, then
> > develop for the iPad. Neither one of those are "ethical" questions.
> Ah, but it's not that simple, is it - because the 'target audience' is
> to an extent determined by the applications developed for the iPad.

Actually it is. But for the confusion between applications and the
content for applications. 

Content for an application, even for the iPad, can certainly be written
in a standard, interchangeable format. 

I would be surprised if anyone repeated the mistake that MS made in
tying the code for MS Office to the format it purchased from PARC

There are two advantages to content being independent of the application
code that will process it:

1) Developers can improve code for an application without fear of
breaking with the content format.

2) Content can be delivered to any platform (open or otherwise) for
which an application has been developed. 
> Tech companies have long realised that users are interested foremost
> in content, and not in platform: that, in other words, the best way to
> create platform lock-in is to ensure that desirable content is
> accessible only on your particular platform. The most successful
> attempt at this kind of platform-monopoly-through-content-control is
> Microsoft's domination of the world through its business/office
> applications; the most obnoxious was probably the Browser Wars, which
> saw every company implementing HTML in some slightly different way in
> the hopes that *its* implementation would become the default on the
> www.

Ultimately a self-defeating process. The more incompatible formats, with
the tying of those formats to applications, the greater the internal
cost in terms of maintenance and development.

Independent of format from code creates advantages for both consumers as
well as producers. 


> But this doesn't mean that we, as developers and humanists, have to
> play into the hands of this strategy. We can (and generally do) favour
> open standards and platforms; should consider all platform options
> that are on the table (as an aside, I'm puzzled by the repeated ease
> with which Android drops out of this conversation); and ought to
> consider the extent to which commitment to a proprietary platform is
> simply storing up a rod for our own backs in the future.

Whether a platform is "open" or not isn't the issue. The issue is
whether your application consumes content written in an interchangeable
format. Assuming that to be the case, I don't see the problem. 

BTW, you mention Android in a later post in this thread. I don't recall
it "dropping" from the conversation but what is it that you want to say
about it? 

Hope you are having a great weekend!


        Date: Mon, 04 Oct 2010 06:38:58 +1100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: platforms and contents
        In-Reply-To: <20101001203937.0FA5688921 at woodward.joyent.us>

Although I understand (I think) what developers are getting at when they 
speak of a "platform" and certain "contents", from a long way off I'm 
troubled by how the thoughts we're having are bent by these metaphors.

Apart from questions of height and stability, a platform is simply a 
place to stand, "A surface or area on which something may stand, esp. a 
raised level surface" (OED). Whether I use a hinged-screen laptop 
(Windows 7, boot-time considerable, battery-life of 3-4 hours, total 
weight of  2+ kg) or an iPad (instant-on, battery-life of 10-11 hours, 
total weight for a day's outing of .68 kg) depends quite a bit on those 
physical characteristics. It depends also, perhaps even more, on what 
those two machines can do -- although I will redistribute the tasks I 
assign myself so that laptop-tasks stay at home, iPad tasks go with me, 
if I can, so that I don't have to shlepp the heavier machine around. And 
then there are those characteristics of each which border on "religious" 
questions, which sometimes get expressed in ethical language, strangely. 
But let us not compare our lists of Evil Empires.

The content metaphor (with the commercial language of "delivery" and 
"package" close behind) is perhaps even worse but exhibits much the 
same problem. I've recently been in meetings of supposedly intelligent 
people where "content delivery" was used with apparent sincerity. How we 
humanists have failed, esp those of us who teach literature! True, we 
are powerless against that dominant part of the world in which goods are 
delivered by whomever (doesn't matter, as long as they're on time and 
don't break what's inside), in packaging that we immediately discard. 
And we're struggling, it must be noted -- this is the interesting bit -- 
with a set of devices which challenge the language and ideas we have 
inherited, in real-life situations which don't allow us much time to ponder.

It's so convenient to use these wholly inadequate metaphors, and we're 
so distracted that we fail to notice how our paths are redirected by 
them. But it does matter, this redirection, no? And isn't it the task of 
people in the digital humanities to be concerned with this problem of 
language, to take care, to stand back from the workbench from time to 
time and notice what's happening?


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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