This is a pretty serious idea. I started thinking about it while reading my paper New York Times, which ran a story this morning on page 1 below the fold, while it’s somewhat buried in the online edition, claiming that all newspapers are retreating behind paywalls and before you know it there’ll be nothing left but the Guardian.

So, I’m not merely willing for newspapers to make lots of money, I really want them to (though when I say that I mean writers and editors, not shareholders demanding a psychopathic 20% ROI), but: only under the condition that there’s a public library of some kind. That is, there needs to be an online public library, a virtual place where you might put yourself to some inconvenience to go and where reading your Washington Post or your Haaretz or your Welt am Sonntag is perhaps not as comfy as reading your subscription copy, but where this essential citizenship information can be found without too much difficulty and with no expenditure beyond that of getting online in the first place.

What I thought in the first place is that all of us–bloggers and commenters–could be contributing to the construction of a volunteer periodicals collection.
Everybody could belong to some bibliography-sharing program like Zotero; then, whenever you read an article from a subscribers-only source, you copy its metadata into the Zotero-like program: title, author, date, publication name, and permanent URL; along with a few index keywords, or maybe even a 20-word abstract of the article.

Then, all these accounts would be synced with a central account from which a newspaper-like front page can be published as with paper.li (or for that matter RawStory, but better if it’s laid out more or less automatically), but with archive and search boxes.

Stories ranked as with HuffPost, but on the basis of how many readers have submitted them.

And topical subject front pages (business, sports, international…) or self-generated front pages out of the keywords (France, Vietnam, tar sands, baking…).

Perhaps it could be done through Twitter, though 140 characters isn’t enough for bibliographically good entries, I wouldn’t think.

Or on the other end of elaborateness it could be a Wikimedia project: the idea has a lot of Wiki ethos to it, I think, the reverence for text edited by somebody else. Remember, it’s not a publication, just a catalogue of URLs. Or the door to a library that already exists, though in fantastical concealment like a virtual Easter egg hunt, in the cloud. Above all it’s a volunteer thing, an opportunity for everybody to participate in making our imaginary environment a better and friendlier place, which is what makes me so bold as to suggest naming it after everybody’s dear lost friend, the good, mourned, Aaron Swartz.

I wouldn’t have the time or the techitude or indeed the leadership quality (i.e. sociopathy) required to plan and implement such a thing, but I’d certainly give it some grunt time. I hope some smarter body will see this and think about making it happen–I’ve posted it at my place and Kos, and you Boomaniacs should feel free to copy and paste it wherever you see fit, or for that matter rewrite the whole thing if you like (be nice and link me though).

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