I’M SORRY I EVER MET YOU

The Ontario government has just handed $172,500 to an amorphous nonprofit known as Magazines Canada (né CMPA). What are they going to do with the money?

Magazines Canada Digital Discovery

This project supports the creation and hosting of digital editions of Ontario and other Canadian magazines. Magazines Canada will research and, through an RFP process, select an independent and seasoned provider of digital services to develop a conversion, delivery, and maintenance solution. A marketing plan will help magazines utilize the materials created to access new markets, improve customer satisfaction and keep pace with trends in new media and mobile technology.

Given the massive, endemic incompetence in online development in Canada (Cf. Canadian New Mediocrity Awards), here’s what the “seasoned provider of digital services” selected by “an RFP process” is likely to do:

  • They’ll develop an entirely new E-book format just for Ontario magazines. It’ll have DRM, of course. Or use an existing DRM-laden E-book format. Or use some other format that requires custom software, which the “seasoned provider” will write itself. (It won’t work on Macs.)
  • Or they’ll perpetuate the nonsensical notion that people want digital versions of magazines to look exactly like the print version (Cf. New Yorker Digital Reader, Times Electronic Edition, various newspaper analogues) and issue every magazine as a 60MB PDF. Untagged, of course.

Remember: As in other fields, when print publications move to online distribution, they make the same mistakes over and over again. A “provider of digital services” becomes “seasoned” in Canada by recapitulating the same mistakes, not by learning from them and trying something else. In this case, the mistakes are much worse than those to which we’ve become inured in the Web domain – tables for layout, “font tags,” Flash.

The only reason to run up a six-figure consulting bill is to reinvent the wheel. To justify that kind of budget, you have to write a custom software platform and/or reader application. While this is exactly the wrong thing to do, Magazines Canada and the Ontario government don’t understand that. But it is the only outcome that justifies the grant money.

Here’s what this “seasoned provider” assuredly will not do:

  • Convert Ontario magazines to standards-compliant Web sites with nearly-valid code, one article per page (not pageview-inflating multiple pages per article), print CSS, RSS, microformats, and moderated comments. (This task has so little cost it could not possibly have ever justified applying for a grant.)
  • Test the platform to prove it functions for disabled people.

Your tax dollars at work.

On the other hand, they also gave the ATRC money for accessibility, so I guess one-sixteenth of the project isn’t all bad.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.12.05 15:27. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2008/12/05/seasoned-provider/

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