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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bibliographies from the web?

Seth Godin thinks that bibliographies should be done on the web: Stuck systems:
A young friend of mine needed to create a bibliography for a school project this weekend.

I had forgotten how annoying this task was. I was also pretty sure it was obsolete.

Why, exactly, does a teacher or reader need to know the city a book publisher is based in?

If your goal as a reader (or someone checking for plagiarism or quality of research) is to get to the books that the writer used, you need exactly one piece of data: the ISBN.

A quick online search didn't turn up what seemed obvious to me: a free service that would allow a writer to type in all the ISBNs used in creating a paper and then generate two things:

1. a bibliography based on looking up the data onlline and
2. a web page that would allow the reader/teacher to see the books, their covers, links to Amazon, libraries, online references, etc.

Then, when the student hands in the paper, she appends the bibliography created by the site, and there, right on top, is the web address with all the links.

Now, the typical middle-school teacher is going to explain that kids need to learn to write biographies because it's part of literacy. And a college professor is going to want to keep the tradition going because no one wants to be the first to end it. And an entrepreneur is going to hesitate to build the site I described because she's worried about how hard it will be to spread this idea and how much effort will go into making it the standard resource.

And no student wants to risk a grade by breaking the system.

Some random questions:
  • Does everything that a student might need to reference have an ISBN number? I don't think so. But maybe you could get around that.
  • Do all students have access to the web?
  • How would an entrepreneur make money from doing this?
  • Could we quantify the wasted effort in doing bibliographies.
  • I am a college professor. Why does Seth Godin think that I do things just to keep tradition going?
  • How tough is it to type in all that information anyway? A lot of it is already on Amazon, and a cut and paste is pretty easy.
  • A related question. Why are there so many different bibliography styles. Each journal seems to have a different one. Why? I know that software makes it easy to deal with, but still.
  • Do you always want things to be easy for students?
  • Are there some privacy issues associated with the Godin proposal?
  • Making it easier to do bibliographies will probably lead to more entries in the bibliographies. Is that what we want?
  • Why do we have the current system?
(Hello to readers from Mungowit's End and Financial Rounds.)

UPDATE: How much of the required stuff is in 'Endnote' (which I don't use). Of course that is not a web app. But why not?

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