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October 6, 2008 » 10:45 pm

ACM: The Curse of Professional Societies

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the professional society for computer scientists, and it is one of my favorite examples of how organizational networks often impede their own missions. I was reminded of this just now, as I attempted to download a paper from its Digital Library.    (N1Y)

Although you can search its archives for free, you usually have to pay to download individual articles. No problem. I was more than willing to shell out $5 to $10 for an article I knew I wanted, thus saving me the convenience of driving down to Palo Alto to copy the article from the Stanford library. But when I tried to download this particular article, I discovered that not only would I have to pay for the article, I would also have to pay an annual subscription fee for the ACM Digital Library — a cool $99 a year.    (N1Z)

What’s wrong with this? Here’s ACM’s self-description (emphasis added):    (N20)

ACM is widely recognized as the premier membership organization for computing professionals, delivering resources that advance computing as a science and a profession; enable professional development; and promote policies and research that benefit society.    (N21)

If your goal is to advance computing as a profession, why would you put 50 years worth of knowledge behind a firewall? The reasoning, of course, is revenue. But if your revenue model is conflicting with your mission, isn’t it time to reexamine the model?    (N22)

Computer science is special because of its living history. However, as sciences go, today’s programmers and computer scientists are more ignorant of their history than pretty much any other science. If the ACM wanted to advance the profession, it would do its part to make that history more accessible, not less.    (N23)

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