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D-Lib Magazine
July/August 2005

Volume 11 Number 7/8

ISSN 1082-9873

Really 10 Years Old?


Amy Friedlander
Shinkuro, Inc.

Red Line


How odd to think that D-Lib Magazine is 10 years old. Congratulations to everyone who has done the hard work of keeping it going, month after month, year after year. Especially Bonnie Wilson.

My own contribution occurred in the early days. The site is so sophisticated now that it may be hard to remember when we did it with a handful of HTML commands when the challenge was just getting copy. We launched the first issue around 10:00 at night on Friday, July 15, 1995, the night before my 12th wedding anniversary. It had been a long day. I had proofread the stories for the umpteenth time; I had releases from the three authors; and Bill Arms had negotiated the agreements on our intellectual property rights and site use policies by phone. He came into the conference room where Bob Kahn and I were going over the final details and said, "Okay, we have agreement on these terms."

I typed up the documents and formatted them in the simple HTML we were using. Then Bill and I went over to his office and he moved the directory with its collection of files from the internal test site to the external location, mumbling to himself, "move," "copy", "return." I was standing behind him, and at one point, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, "Watch me do this as a check to catch me if I make a mistake."

At the time I thought, right, like I really know what's going on.

But he didn't make a mistake. The files were moved. Bill sent a message announcing the release to the sponsor, the PIs, and their teams, and we were in business.

In the beginning, I thought of the magazine as a tool for communication about the six projects that constituted DLI1 as well as a means of bringing allied topics to their collective attention. So in each issue, I tried to have at least one story from one of the DLI1 projects and one story from a project outside of the initiative that was investigating similar questions or had yielded relevant results – for example, Red Sage, which ran in August 1995. Two areas I found particularly interesting were the various text encoding projects in the humanities, and the research into cross language retrieval and machine-assisted translation.

In any case, my strategy worked. But quite frankly, long range planning was the ability to see three months in advance; most of the time, my focus was on the issue in front of me and perhaps the one immediately after it. I was once asked about achievements and goals, and I answered, "To have closed the last issue and to get the next one out."

I also thought of D-Lib as a magazine – not a journal. There are many fine journals in the world, but a magazine would be a place where we could help authors put their ideas in play early, perhaps in less than polished form. This did not mean sacrificing editorial standards; indeed, I was firm on the correct use of English and more than willing to cite the perhaps antiquated Fowler's Modern English Usage (Oxford, 9th edition) with the stuffiest. "That" v. "which" is a specialty, but I'm good on "provenance" as well. More importantly, we were freed from the canons of peer review to engage in speculation that might eventually feed into the formal process of juried results. The physical and biological sciences have done this for years – to wit, Science, Nature, Physics Today, and the raft of publications that come out of the American Chemical Society. Why not us? And D-Lib took off, in part because we were expanding into a vacuum, in part because our sponsors were generous, in part because we found good material (sometimes with a bit of arm-twisting) that you wanted to read, and in part because we "packaged" that material consistently and reliably so readers and writers could trust it and trust us.

I didn't know squat about editing a magazine when we started D-Lib, and I knew somewhat less about the Internet and the related technologies. So I looked around at publications I admired, bought a couple of books about editing, and dutifully read them. One of them opened with the premise that it was the role of the editor to represent the reader to the writer, to defend the reader's interests. I never saw the need for that. Writers with whom I worked always wanted their stories heard. Just tell me the story, I told them, and they always did.

I thought of D-Lib as a combination of the content philosophy of the Research News section of Science and the editorial values of The New Yorker. From Science, I took the notion that we could write responsibly about the substance of research for a literate yet general audience, and from The New Yorker, the commitment to good writing. My contact with formal scholarly publishing was minimal in the early days; I had never heard the phrase "write-only journals". So I was usefully naïve. I do remember that Bill looked at the draft of my very first editorial and said, "You really expect people to read this."

I did. I do. And you did.

Thank you.

Copyright © 2005 Amy Friedlander

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