Please, no more portals

by reestheskin on 17/06/2015

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Once it seemed that people wanted to negate the hyperlink, and confine us to walled gardens. Think AOL etc. Sadly, many of the organisations I am forced to deal with want to give up what we have  learned about UI, and spend more and more time learning how their portal works. So, if I want to fill in CPD, I have to use this portal; if I want to be appraised, I have to use this portal. Etc, etc. Of course, I don’t seem to have any choice, I am obliged as a condition of employment. No longer can I see students and make notes in a software system that is universal (as in a textfile) and that is designed so as to encourage writing, but I have to type into badly designed online data management systems. All so  the users, the people who do the work can be audited. And the audit gets in the way. I posted earlier about David Graeber, and he seems to have it right. I quoted Gillian Tett, of the FT, herself once an anthropologist:

But even if you disagree with his politics, Graeber’s book should offer a challenge to us all. Should we just accept this bureaucracy as inevitable? Or is there a way to get rid of all those hours spent listening to bad call-centre music? Do policemen, academics, teachers and doctors really need to spend half their time filling in forms? Or can we imagine another world?

There are no easy answers. But the next time you see a bureaucratic form — and I have several sitting in my inbox right now — it is worth asking who really benefits from it? And, more importantly, who would suffer if we were to all suddenly rip them up? It is, perhaps, one of the more subtly revolutionary ideas of our age.

So what has upset me now? I gave a talk at an international meeting, one of those overview talks, rather than presentation of primary data. Kindly, the editor of a journal asked me would I turn it into an essay. I agreed, I had put a lot of work into the talk, and he and I both agreed that some of  my thoughts deserved a wider audience. All well and good, except the journal is not very OA, and my working prejudice is that I will not publish in, nor review articles for journals that are not predominantly OA and where the prices are modest, and where the journal is  a not-for-profit (not a rule, a sort of bias). Anyway, I thought about it, and carried on, knowing that at least I can put the essay on this site in its original spoken form.

Then the proofs arise. Now, I am older enough to remember paper MS doubled spaced using a typewriter, then paper pdfs, but now what do I have to wrestle with? I have to download Adobe Reader, and go through a particular publishers portal. Not amend a pdf, and email it back. Nor am I allowed to use the pdf editor that sits on my machine that is simpler and more robust than Adobe’s but no, I have to alter my workflow, download software I don’t like, to undertake all those tasks that publishers used to do.  Finally, please, please can everybody do what my colleagues in computing science have been doing for so long: BibTeX and LaTeX, or similar, rather than all these ridiculous journal specific font and references styles. Rant over. Maybe this is why the economists have commented that we see the ‘benefits of IT everywhere except in the productivity figures’. We have reinvented Babel. Rant over.