Slathering themselves in glory [updated] • 21 May 2007 • The SnowBlog

Slathering themselves in glory [updated]


So, two organisations who are confounding me at the moment. First is the BBC and second is the International Group for Electronic Commerce in the Book and Serials Sector or the IGECIBSS for short. No wait, they're not called the IGECIBSS for short; they're called Editeur for short and they're the Onix people.

Two very different organisations; two very similar attitudes to making the most of what they produce. My peeve with the Beeb concerns their attempts to stop people watching Doctor Who. It's what I call Emergency Snooker syndrome. You choose a time slot for a program which each week you then mess up to make way for something with a completely different audience. I'm not a fan of snooker or bowls, but time and time again I've turned on the TV to watch something I do like only to find an especially vital snooker match has taken its place. With Doctor Who, which pretty much must be the BBC's flagship show, they've been changing the time each week, hoping that viewers would miss the start or think it wasn't on. And then to make viewers really think it wasn't on, they actually didn't put it on for a week. It was either that or make Graham Norton, whose show conflicted with Eurovision, wait a week. And I'm sure the viewing public, starved as they've long been of opportunities to see Graham Norton on television, got what they wanted. But for me, this last week, when Who was actually shown in its supposedly regular slot, was the finest of the recent 'gotchas'. My Sky+ box, which will record every episode in a series if I tell it to, failed to record the Doctor because no one in TV Land had updated the magic info that tells it to. Perhaps everyone was too busy getting the info on Home and Away - The Early Years (= not a made-up title) up to date.

Editeur have a much easier job persuading people not to use their main product - the Onix standard. It's not primetime family fun; it's an acronym-riddled techno-fest that needs nothing more than drab presentation and the occasional bit of self-sabotage to preserve its obscurity. Anyone who keeps up with these things, or reads this blog, will know that the Onix standard describes how you should format information about books if you want to electronically exchange that information with other Onix users. To dissuade ordinary publishers from taking an interest, the Editeur website is kept unattractive and difficult to read. To keep hardened techies away, Editeur have to resort to something more underhanded. Firstly, they make the website unavailable whenever possible. And secondly - and this is the really cunning part - they replace the most important document on their site with a bunch of error messages disguised as the missing information. Download the 'schema' for Onix - a 'schema' being the computer-friendly version of the rule book for using Onix - and what you think you're getting is a zip file containing all the important details. But try to open it and you'll be told that the zip file is corrupt. Dig a little deeper and you'll see it's not actually a zip file at all - it's just labelled as one; it's really a bunch of error messages saying 'file not found' and 'The page you are looking for might have been removed'. It's almost enough to make me give up. After all, without the schema, there's not much I can do on the techie side with Onix. But I'm not going to let them beat me. It might be a badly-written, unattractively presented - and currently unavailable - standard, but I'm going to be progressive and forward-thinking about this no matter how inconvenient and frustrating they make it.

Of course if Editeur really wanted to beat me, they'd make the schema available - but only on Saturday nights at 7pm - give or take an hour or two.

P.S. I tend to assume organisations above a certain size don't have feelings. I wouldn't be so blunt in my criticism of Editeur if I thought I might be upsetting an actual person. So just in case a bigwig from Editeur drops by and is offended, let me say that Snowbooks will design you a new website and write some introductory content for you, if you want. Call it £200, so we can eat while we do it.

And if the BBC are offended, I'll gladly write them an episode of Doctor Who. Or, you know, even if they're not offended.

Update: Hurray! Editeur have replaced a file full of error messages with an actual copy of their schema.


The SnowBlog is one of the oldest publishing blogs, started in 2003, and it's been through various content management systems over the years. A 2005 techno-blunder meant we lost the early years, but the archives you're reading now go all the way back to 2005.

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