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Do We Really Want A Digital Library of Alexandria?
Future News 170: WaPo's new CEO and the FT's Saudi bet
The ongoing debate around AI has reanimated a many centuries-old discussion about how and where to store human knowledge. The most important information of the ancient world, or so the story goes, was held in the Library of Alexandria.
Under siege by the Ptolemaic Kingdom, Julius Caesar set fire to his ships and the out-of-control inferno destroyed parts of the library and its rather flammable papyrus scrolls.
The tale gets fuzzy after that. Was it the Romans or the Muslims who later destroyed the library, or had it fallen into disrepair or was it ever really there?
The advent of the internet helped revive ideas about re-building a digital Library of Alexandria. The most famous example has been Google’s Project Ocean, the initiative to digitise the world’s libraries and books.
It later became Google Books, with one engineer working on the project estimating that there were 129 million different books in the world
Starting in the early 2000s, Google would experiment with book scanning technology and then initially team with Oxford University, Harvard University, Stanford University, The University of Michigan and The New York Public Library.
But following a slew of lawsuits, never mind the main costs associated with digitising the books, the initiative seemed to lose momentum over the years.
The end result? There are now reportedly 25 million books digitised by Google, but you can’t read them.
The irony is that studies have found that digitisation of books can boost physical sales by as much as 8%.
But I’ve always wondered why nobody has taken the time to ask one of the main moral questions about such a project – should we be seeking to build a modern-day Library of Alexandria and would such an outcome be desirable?
Who better to ask than Richard Ovenden, the current Bodley's Librarian at The University of Oxford (2014 - onwards), who oversees all of the university’s library services?
“The more desirable goal is one where knowledge is discoverable and accessible,” he said (in a long-form interview which can be found on FN’s sister site).
“What we are faced with in the world of knowledge institutions is to be able to place the collections in our care in a way that they are easily discoverable and accessible.”
Ovenden, author of Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack, stressed that a distributed global archive already effectively existed, the challenge lay in its accessibility.
“Whether that is through the Google Index or through other forms of discovery, I don’t think that really matters,” Ovenden explained.
“The great goal that we should be striving for is not to put everything into one pot, but to look at the pots we have got – the smaller ones – and to try and make them visible and discoverable at the network level.”
(2) The WaPo Will inherits. Speculation had been slowly brewing over the past couple of months around who Jeff Bezos would appoint as The Washington Post’s next CEO and publisher. We now know the answer – (Sir) Will Lewis, the former Dow Jones executive who co-founded The News Movement.
Brits will best know Lewis as an ex-editor of The Sunday Telegraph, apparently he was also in the running to buy the outlet. Lewis will take the reins at One Franklin Square on 2 January. But what kind of WaPo will he inherit?
The good news for Lewis is that he’s heading into what is expected to be a closely contested election year and the most recent US job figures show the country’s labour market is softening. The suggestion here is that high interest rates could be cut throughout 2024, boosting consumer spending and the ad market in the process.
(3) Alt streamers score big gains. Streaming platforms are the immediate beneficiaries of the recent macroeconomic news out of the US. Paramount’s share price surged by more than 15% to $13.76 on Friday as the equity markets saw bullish behaviour across the board.
The positive movement also came on the back of Paramount’s Q3 earnings report (Paramount+ now has more than 63 million subscribers). It was a similar story for AMC Networks (up 13.8% to $15) and Fubo TV, a sports-first media aggregator, which rose by over 9% to $3 per share.
(4) It’s the economy, stupid. The US’ financial health will also play a pivotal role in how voters will cast their decision at the polls on 7 November 2024. Though there have been ten US presidents who haven’t won successive terms in the White House, including Trump, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. In the modern political era, it is typically the economy that does it (or not) for the incumbent. The issue is one of the biggest concerns for US voters today (16%), alongside the government/poor leadership (18%) and immigration (13%).
A hot poll out of The New York Times over the weekend estimated that Trump is currently leading Biden in five key swing states. But there may be more complexity to the Presidential race. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the only candidate – the environmental lawyer is running as an independent – with a net positive favourability rating. In a three-way race for the White House, RFK Jr. will apparently pull more votes from Trump than Biden.
(5) The FT bets on Saudi. As the country’s influence on the global geopolitical and cultural stage grows (FN 168 mentioned the boxing world’s embrace of the state-sponsored Riyadh Season), the FT is hoping to boost the quality of its coverage of the Kingdom by appointing a ‘super stringer’.
The role, based out of Riyadh, sounds diverse. Not only will this senior journalist have to liaise with the outlet’s energy and finance teams, but they will also have to keep up-to-date with Saudi’s relationship with the Biden Administration.
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