the new meaning of publication


Victor M. Ponce



♦ The new meaning of publication

According to Webster's Dictionary, to publish means: (1) to prepare and produce a book or magazine for sale; (2) to have an article of your authorship included in a book, magazine, or newspaper; or (3) to include an article, letter, or photograph in a magazine or newspaper. Note that the term "online-publish" does not appear in Webster's Dictionary.

Yet we reckon that for the past twenty years or so, all kinds of people have been publishing online, i.e., making readable and viewable material readily available to the public at-large, effectively, to a global audience. Curiously, the word self-publish does exist in the dictionary, with the meaning of "to publish something (typically a book) using the author's own resources." Then, the question arises: Are people posting online actually self-publishing? The answer is an unqualified "Yes."

With the advent of the World Wide Web, publishing has now taken a new meaning: To make available readable and viewable material, in any form, to a wide audience (Fig. 1). Actually, publishing online is more effective than traditional printed publishing, because, unlike in the latter, in the former the potential audience is not limited. Thus, to online-publish is to make available readable or viewable material to a global audience, by any means and using any source of support. Most people would agree that the web has now become a de facto way of publishing.

Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web

Fig. 1  Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, c. 1994.

♦ The old way to publish

In the old days, publishing was done by publishers. A publisher was typically a commercial enterprise constituted for the specific purpose of publishing material written by various authors. A prospective author submitted his/her materials to the publisher, to be evaluated using rules developed over time, to assure that the material approved for publication conformed to a certain perceived standard of quality. A piece of work meeting this standard was published, thereby making it available to a readership limited by: (a) field of interest, (b) marketing resources, and (c) cost of the printed material. Conversely, a piece of work not meeting this standard was rejected and did not see the light of day.

The system seems to have worked well for a long time (close to 500 years), since printed materials (books and other printed media) were costly to produce and a filter was needed to ensure that only the highest quality material was published. The drawback was that an aspiring author had to subject him/herself to the uncertainties of the review process. However, given no other alternative, the filter seemed a small price to pay to ensure quality.

The system continues to this date; however, it is undergoing a significant transformation under our very eyes. It is no longer accepted without question that printed material is the only way to publish. The World Wide Web has empowered many individuals to self-publish, eliminating: (a) the middleman (the publisher), (b) the intrinsic cost (of the printed material), and (c) the limited coverage (the targeting to a selected few). The issue of quality assurance still remains, but as we shall see here, it appears to be a non-issue.

♦ The new way of publishing

The new way of publishing is online. This can be accomplished in various modes: (1) through social media, (2) on the web cloud, on (3) by using your own server. Gone are the filters imposed to assure quality, so anything is theoretically subject to online publishing. Anybody can publish anything for any purpose, and the reach is theoretically unlimited. It would be up to the search engines to decide on the quality of the material and, therefore, on the actual ranking and consequent visibility. Unlike the standard filters of the past, the new paradigm is dynamic, constantly changing to adjust to new challenges; therefore, subject to relatively quick evolution in the noosphere.

A significant plus is that online-published material is subject to corrections on-the-fly, meaning that it is subject to changes (read improvements) when alerted by third parties to errors of commission or omission. In essence, online-published knowledge has now acquired an extended dimension of its own; it may no longer be attributed to the product of only one mind. Clearly, the old way to publish using printed means patently lacked this flexibility. Curiously, we note that with time, the old way has a tendency to becomes older (obsolete), while the new way refreshes with every correction. This advantage of the new over the old clearly sets them apart.

♦ The task ahead

The task ahead is to reconcile the two ways of publishing, to accept that online-publishing is here to stay, and to add the term "online-publish" to the dictionary. Wherever publishing is important, online-publishing would take a place alongside it. Given the clear advantages of online-publishing, we can foresee the day when it will take over as the publication mode of choice. The ubiquitousness of Wikipedia, coupled with the growing list of online journals, clearly speaks for itself.

Eventually, the time will come when the World Wide Web replaces the printed world as the primary media for all kinds of communications. The demonstrated success of the social networks attests to this trend. The web having already taken over large segments of commerce (as has done), it is certain that online publishing is poised to rule in government, academia, and the professions.