for obvious reasons. Were books
to be published as open content
using a computer-based device,
however, other artists could offer to
substitute their own illustrations.
Authors do not want their work
tainted by poor illustrations, of
course, and the best illustrators may
refuse to illustrate works except on
an exclusive basis. Degrees of “
openness” are possible, however. At one
extreme, a publisher may be completely open to third-party illustrations to allow the market to decide
which ones are best. At the other
extreme, the publisher may prefer
to be closed to alternative illustrations (even while remaining open
to other types of substitutions or
additions, perhaps). In between these
models, a publisher may accredit
a limited number of “approved
illustrators” from time to time.
For films, substitution and addition are already common practice—films are dubbed into foreign
languages, and subtitles are added
for foreign viewers or the hearing impaired. Foreign-language
versions may be judged to be not
commercially viable for minority languages, such as Breton for
example. For Breton speakers, and
those interested in preserving the
Breton language, however, there may
be much more incentive to produce
subtitles or a Breton soundtrack.
If films were published in an open
content form, then interested third
parties could obtain permission to
add their own subtitles or dialogue.
Currently, the soundtrack of a
film would not be described as a
“companion”, of course. But once one
conceives of all content as potentially open, articles like this are no
longer an immutable fusion of their
constituents but can be conceived
as an ensemble of companions [ 9].
Since open-content technol-
ogy enables connections between
pieces of content, it could also
be used to create new ensembles
even when no third parties are
involved. Here are a few examples:
A cookbook could have a video
companion of the cooking tech-
niques: Wherever the technique is
called for in the text, the relevant
video demonstration could be con-
nected and invoked by the user
if needed [ 10]. There are many
similar opportunities to attach
video demonstrations to instruc-
tion and reference manuals. For
example, how to train an espalier
fruit tree in a pruning guide, how
to change the head gasket in a car-
maintenance manual, and so on.
Usually, opera lovers study the
libretto before watching an opera
because it is difficult to understand
the words when they are sung (even
for native speakers), and some
of the language may be archaic.
When a person is watching an
opera on a computer-based device
in the future, it should be possible
to pause to refer to the libretto at
the start of an aria or recitative.
Vice-versa, it should also be possible to read a part of the libretto
and then watch a performance of
that part, repeatedly if desired.
During the radio broadcast of the
BBC’s “History of the World in 100
Objects” [ 11], the image of that part
of the object corresponding to its
audio description at that moment
could be displayed automatically.
Apart from describing objects such
as historical artifacts, antiques,
and works of art, there are many
other uses for audio files with
image companions attached that
are more lightweight and, possibly,
more suitable than videos—online
lectures, virtual guided tours or
product instruction manuals.
A companion invocation need
not return content only; it can
provide any sort of gadget:
As part of a cookbook ensemble,
the user could invoke a companion
to remember the list of ingredi-
ents of each recipe chosen for the
coming week. On completion, the
companion could return a shop-
ping list for the chosen recipes.
[ 1] By Stanley Wells (contributor) and Michael
Dobson (editor), OUP Oxford, 2005.
[ 2] See, e.g., The Cambridge Companion to
Shakespeare, Margreta de Grazia and Stanley Wells
(editors), Cambridge University Press, 2001.
[ 3] Established authors and media firms can be
ambivalent about the value of ‘companions’. See for
example Rowling v. RDR Books at http://cyberlaw.
[ 4] Here, therefore, ‘open’ refers to the ability of
companions to make connections rather than to the
property of being publicly available.
[ 5] See, for example, http://www.patrickobrian.com/
[ 6] Philarmonia Virtuoisi, 1996
[ 7] Patrick O’Brian, HarperCollins, 1997
[ 8] Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman
Thomas, W W Norton & Co., 2000
[ 9] The term “ensemble” implies bringing together
content elements in a controlled environment to create a new article, cooperatively when more than one
author or artist is involved. In contrast to some bootleg content, or mash-ups, it is not meant to imply
that elements are altered significantly in the process.
[ 10] The BBC recipes website: http://www.bbc.
co.uk/food/recipes/ inserts hyperlinks to video
demonstrations into its recipes. Using companion
videos is an alternative and potentially less intrusive
method of illustrating cooking techniques.
[ 11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/
[ 12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali_Baba
About thE Author
Martin McCaig taught computer
science for several years. He
spent most of his working life at
Reuters, where he held a number
of IT and marketing positions,
March + April 2011
© 2011 ACM 1072-5220/11/0300 $10.00