The Assayer: Help
What is it?The Assayer is an online book reviewing facility that is free and nonprofit. All the reviews are free information, meaning that they are copyrighted by their authors, but are available for free reading and copying under a licensing agreement.
You can browse the database of reviews by clicking on a link in the bar above; browsing is free and anonymous. You need to be a member if you want to post your own reviews or participate in discussions of books. Click here to become a member. Membership is free, and the only personal information you need to give is your e-mail address (which will not be made available to other people unless you say it's OK).
What's it good for?The Assayer's main reason for existing is to help people sort out the good stuff from the junk in the wild world of internet publishing. One of the traditional arguments against free books is that without a publisher to serve as a filter, you'd never know whether a book was any good. The Assayer aims to disprove that argument.
Here are some other things The Assayer is good for:
Aren't you reinventing Amazon.com?Because Amazon.com has the best known public reviewing system, it's interesting to compare what The Assayer does with what Amazon does:
What's up with the name?The name of the site is both a metaphor for book reviewing and a reference to The Assayer by Galileo, who was arguably the inventor of open-source computing. By the way, the accent is on the second syllable.
How do I contact you? How do I report a bug?Here.
How do you pay your bills?The Assayer is nonprofit. The webhosting bills get paid either by me or out of donations by members. Lion Kimbro donated for a year's worth of webhosting in 2001 -- thanks, Lion! I currently have a webhosting setup that lets me run The Assayer essentially for free, piggypacked on top of another site.
What do you mean by "free"?"Free" could mean that you just don't have to pay to read the book, or it could mean "free" in the political sense: copyright law was originally designed to encourage authors to write, at the cost of other people's freedom to copy, sell, or modify their writing. The free software community traditionally refers to this as "free as in beer" versus "free as in speech," or you could call it "gratis" and "libre," since French uses different words for the two concepts. Here is a good generic definition of what people mean by free as in speech as applied to software (there is somewhat less agreement about books).
The Assayer's database design defines the following levels of freedom:
1. Copyrighted, with no licensing agreement (a traditional book) [also books on iUniverse]
2. Copyrighted, doesn't cost money to read, but otherwise not free
3. Public domain
4. Copylefted, but with restrictions on modification and/or sale
5. Copylefted: anyone can read, modify, and sell
These are two licenses commonly used for copylefting books:Open Publication License 1.0 without options A or B. Freedom level 5 would include the GFDL, the OPL without options A or B, and many of the CC licenses. Reviews submitted to The Assayer must be copylefted under OPL or GFDL. For books, most people these days are using CC licenses, e.g., for my own books I use the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. The creator of the OPL has now thrown in his lot with CC.
Books that are theoretically free for reading on the internet nevertheless belong in category 1 if they are supplied in a form that is intentionally made impractical for reading. The most frequently encountered example is books on iUniverse, which are available only as bitmapped page images and can't be printed by any practical method.
Yes, some of this does read like it has moral overtones, but you're free to ignore or disagree with them. It's just a database, not the Ten Commandments. The ordering of the levels is meant to be meaningful, but again this is debatable. Placing public domain in the middle rather than at the highest level follows the conventional wisdom in the open-source software community that copylefted information is freer than public-domain information. Books show up on the screen with a dandelion flower icon if their freedom level is 5, and with a dandelion bud icon if they are from 2 to 4.
Note that conspicuously missing from this
set of definitions is any reference to whether the book is provided in a form that can be
easily modified, like the "source" part of open-source software.
The GFDL tries to do this, but the OPL and CC licenses don't. The problem with this is that whereas
there are standard and free software tools and formats for working with computer programs, there is
not necessarily any corresponding set of tools and formats for books, especially illustrated
books or books with complex layouts.
What will you do with my e-mail address and other personal information?Not much! I'll use your e-mail to send you your password. The Assayer is a nonprofit organization. I will not send you unsolicited commercial e-mail ("spam"), and I will not give out your e-mail address to other people without your permission.
Why do you need my e-mail address?Reason #1 is security. It hasn't happened yet, but every online forum of this kind eventually is afflicted with losers who don't have anything better to do with their time than to post irrelevant gross-out jokes and other juvenilia. Determined abusers of this kind may try posting a the same potty joke a hundred times in an hour if the software allows it. Requiring an e-mail address makes this kind of abuse less anonymous, and also makes it possible to institute more formal safeguards in the future, if necessary (e.g. a point system like Slashdot's). (Without mandatory e-mail addresses, a point system doesn't work, because people can make up as many aliases as they like.)
Reason #2 is that there is a feature that lets you check a box to receive
e-mail when anything is posted about a particular book. This allows people to have
real online discussions rather than just posting reviews.
The perfect review is entertaining and informative. It doesn't assume
the reader already knows about the book or the subject of the book.
The reviewer backs up her opinions with facts, and makes specific
statements rather than general ones.
Many of the books on The Assayer are technical in nature, and people
may be using them for reference rather than reading them from cover to
cover. It's ok to review a book that you haven't read from cover to
cover, but your review should note that fact. To take an extreme
example, the site has a listing of Nupedia: The Open Content Encyclopedia.
Nobody expects you to read the whole thing! The same would apply
to a dictionary or a technical manual documenting a large suite of
Your review should also note any information that might cause you
to be biased for or against the book. Are
you the publisher? Are you financially involved? Did you get the book
as a freebie from the publisher? Is it a book by a close friend or
The perfect review is entertaining and informative. It doesn't assume the reader already knows about the book or the subject of the book. The reviewer backs up her opinions with facts, and makes specific statements rather than general ones.
Many of the books on The Assayer are technical in nature, and people may be using them for reference rather than reading them from cover to cover. It's ok to review a book that you haven't read from cover to cover, but your review should note that fact. To take an extreme example, the site has a listing of Nupedia: The Open Content Encyclopedia. Nobody expects you to read the whole thing! The same would apply to a dictionary or a technical manual documenting a large suite of computer subroutines.
Your review should also note any information that might cause you to be biased for or against the book. Are you the publisher? Are you financially involved? Did you get the book as a freebie from the publisher? Is it a book by a close friend or colleague?
How can I format my reviews?You can use the symbol <p> for paragraph breaks. Simply hitting return and tab will not create a paragraph break. You can make italics <i>like this</i>.
If you know HTML, you can also use the following HTML tags: <b>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>, <br>, <sup>, <sub>, <a>, <tt>.
How do the numerical scores work?You are rating the book against a comparison group, which by default is assumed to be the set of similar books that a typical public library has on its shelves. The scale is as follows:
In certain cases, the reviewer will want to use a comparison group different from the default one. This is probably appropriate if the book is an amateur work, e.g. fan fiction, which should be compared with other fan fiction, or if it's a genre libraries don't normally have, like comic books. The review should state if a nonstandard comparison group was used.
Reviewers will eventually be allowed to give decimals, not just whole numbers, but this is not yet implemented.
Adding a book without a reviewThe Assayer functions both as a catalog of free books and as a forum for reviews. Adding a book to the database without a review contributes to the catalog, and we also want to encourage people to do reviews, so you can save potential reviewers the trouble of entering all the bibliographic information by entering a free book into the database without a review. To do this, go through the process of writing a review of the book, but leave the actual review (and the title of the review) blank. The software will know what you're trying to do.
If you'd like to encourage people to review your free book on The Assayer,
you can use this image
as a link. Here's some sample HTML:
<a href="http://www.theassayer.org/cgi-bin/asbook.cgi?book=xxx" style="text-decoration:none" > <img src="http://yourwebsite.com/reviewme.gif" width="275" height="33" border="0" alt="Review this book on The Assayer"></a>
You need to change xxx to the book identification number of your book, which you can find
by going to your book's page in The Assayer and looking at the URL. Of course
you'll also want to activate e-mail notification for your own book.
How are you going to maintain a reliable, accurate catalog?There are provisions in the database design for fixing cases where two people create two different book records for the same book using slightly different titles, or two different author records using different forms of the author's name. Normally you add a new book by a particular author starting from that author's screen, so you would not be entering the author's name again through the keyboard.
It's also important to realize that cataloging free books is fundamentally different from cataloging paper books. Free books move around on the web frequently, mutate into new forms, and may also be taken off the web by print publishers so that they are no longer free. The fluid nature of digital publishing makes it nearly impossible for a group of centrally organized librarians to keep a catalog of free books up to date. Seen from this angle, The Assayer's willingness to let users modify the catalog is a feature, not a bug.
It's also possible for the information in the database to get its logical structure messed up, e.g., a book could have no authors listed. There is a user-accessible page here that tries to find this kind of corrupted information in the database. I check this page myself from time to time, but if you notice something listed there, you can also contact me.
|The contents of this web page, except the parts contributed by members of The Assayer, are copyright (c) 2000 by Benjamin Crowell, and are copyleft licensed under the Open Publication License 1.0, without options A or B.|