January 2010

Kate Mertes

January 2010

Happy New Year! And with the new year and new decade, new technologies to think about. I hope you all had an enjoyable holiday season. I recently took over a tray of homemade Christmas cookies to my parents (I went nuts and made seven different kinds this year). While I was there my Dad, ever the businessman, asked me what I thought about how new technology was likely to affect the indexing profession in the next ten years. He was thinking about the coming ebook revolution (which in fact seems to be upon us). I've been thinking about that for a while, too. If people start reading more and more texts on an ereader, what will it mean for indexing? I expect that, at first, some people will think indexes are unnecessary if you can search the text. (Most ereaders have pretty crude search capabilities right now, but they'll surely improve as time goes on.) However, pretty quickly they will discover, just as the publishing industry did with CDs, that search on its own does not replace the work an index does. We can all speed this process up by using every opportunity we have to let people know the difference between search and index. Any good ideas on how to get the message out? Write me at president@asindexing.org.

In the early ebooks, even if the index to a text was included, the index was effectively dead, because the text reflowed as the reader altered the font, and there was no way to move easily between index and text. (Since most of these were fiction books with no index, it didn't much matter; but nonfiction is making up a bigger and bigger proportion of ebook lists as time goes on.) But I had an opportunity to examine Barnes and Noble's Nook ereader this week, and interestingly it maintains the page numbers as text markers, even though the text reflows. So the index remains viable. If one could enable the page numbers in the index to be hyperlinks, the functionality would be greatly improved – and since I once worked for a company that did this for its CDs with a very simple program back in the 90s (without having to embed the index entries in the text), I know this is eminently possible.

I have also heard from Samir Kakar at Aptara that they have produced a new high-volume ebook production platform called eGen. I will be contacting him to see what this means for indexing. Aptara, along with Cambridge University Press, has been forward-looking in creating embedded indexes for its products, and I expect they are already thinking about this. I know many of our members do projects for Aptara; if you have any additional information about ebook indexing I'd be glad to hear from you at president@asindexing.org.

I have also been hearing interesting rumors about Apple's new product, due to come out in February, which does triple duty as a cell phone, an Internet connection, and an ereader, in a format about the size of those little Notebooks that have become so popular. My vision, being somewhat compromised, makes it difficult for me to see and use the features of the iphone, the droid, and its cousins, so I am particularly interested in this product. As an ereader, its larger format is rumored to provide better resolution for pictures and also more overall functionality. Perhaps working, fully operative indexes??!

NASKO Article and Usability Testing: Fran Lennie told me about a very interesting talk she heard at the North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization (NASKO) in Syracuse last June. The presentation was by D. Grant Campbell, and it is called "Tensions Between Language and Discourse in North American Knowledge Organization." Campbell argues that cataloguers and classification structures (thesauri, taxonomies) codify language, while indexers interpret discourse. Occasionally the two overlap but are rarely in lock-step. He also makes the point that while there is much research on the language side, there is little on the discourse side (no argument from indexers on this front!). The article is available in Jacob, Elin K. and Kwasnik, Barbara, Eds., Proceedings 2009 North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization, Vol 2, pages pp. 10-16, Syracuse, New York. It can also be read on DLIST (http://dlist.sir.arizona.edu/2627/).

I've been too busy with other indexing duties to pay much attention to the issue of usability testing recently, but I really enjoyed Cheryl Landes' pilot project presentation in Portland last spring, and I remain committed to the concept of promoting research into index effectiveness. Campbell's presentation makes some very cogent points about the unique qualities of the index, and suggests some new angles on research into how people use indexes.

New Directions in Recording Meetings: ASI gets a steady stream of requests for recordings of our meetings, and we periodically look into whether we can do so effectively. At the moment the cost of hiring and setting up proper recording equipment is prohibitive. Seth Maislin courageously took on the task of committing my seminar on speed in indexing to CD, and we have probably only just about broken even on that. We also have a team looking into the creation of pre-recorded as well as live Webinars. The New York chapter had a day-long conference in November which they were keen to record, but couldn't work out a viable methodology. However, in the process, Elliot Linzer discovered that if the meeting room has a modern AP system, you can use the output receptacle for a standard RCA cable, link it to a computer input, and create a permanent viewable record of the event. Elliot has sent me instructions for this process. If anyone would like to see them, please write me at president@asindexing.org and I will forward them to you.

Opportunities for Further Education: The National Information Standards Organization (NISO), of which ASI is an organizational member, has announced its 2010 educational program schedule. Over the course of the past year, nearly 3,000 people from more than 1,000 sites have participated in NISO Webinars. Next year's schedule is full of great programs, including three in-person events, and there are several discount options for multiple Webinar registrations.

Index It Right! Enid Zafran, wearing her publications hat, tells me that she and Janet Perlman have just signed off on the text for Index It Right! Volume 2. This compilation of articles on special aspects of indexing will be of interest to newbies and old-timers alike. Topics include "Creating Elegant Subheadings" (Margie Towery and Victoria Agee); "Locators, Differentiating, 00-00" (Janet Russell); "Textbook Indexing" (Leoni McVey); "Public Policy Indexing" (Enid Zafran); "Through the Looking Glass: A Freelance Perspective on Database Indexing" (Linda Mamassian); "Embedded Indexing" (Lucie Haskins); and "Controlled Vocabulary, Thesauri, and Taxonomies" (Heather Hedden). The book will be available for sale early in the new year.

Salary Survey: The Committee is in the process of polishing the draft write-up of the results. We are trying to do a much more thorough analysis of the data than in previous years. We hope to have a final report for you all soon.

Web Site Redesign: As I write this, the board has completed round one of its critique of the recent redesign format, and I am in the throes of categorizing these comments so we can go through all the elements systematically. Lucie Haskins is also coordinating the webmasters' response for the board to consider. We'll then collate and pass these comments onto the design team, probably at the end of next week, and they'll work on refining the design. We're aiming for a bright, crisp look that will be inviting and easy to use for indexers, clients, and the interested public.

STC Conference: Lloyd Tucker at STC tells me that STC has a great new early bird conference rate for early registrations. This is available for members only and expires January 15. STC is extending this rate to ASI members as well. Anyone who is interested should contact Lloyd and he will get you registered. STC's preliminary program is available. The STC Technical Communication Summit will be held in Dallas, TX at the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion Tower, May 2–5, 2010.

ASI Conference: Don't forget our own conference, which will be held May 13-15, 2010, at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center Hotel. The conference schedule is now complete, and should be available on the Web site soon.

Kate Mertes, President, ASI 11/21/2009