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Editorial note: Voting will be open until the end of next weekend (29 April), at which point we will make a decision based on the usual number of upvotes criterion.

In light of the "unearthing" (or re-unearthing) of the Q&A e-books, I'd like us to consider as a community whether we are content with our content being used in this fashion. This will determine our course of action (cf. my earlier answer).

Note that I'm not talking about the legal aspects of it here – if you're interested in discussing that then do drop your thoughts on the other meta post.


Background

For anybody out of the loop, we've recently noticed that data dumps from Chem.SE (and it seems practically every other SE site) have been formatted into books which are for sale on Google Books as well as Amazon. The ones relevant to us are:

The author says he believes he has "done everything needed to comply" with the Stack Exchange content licence (CC-BY-SA 3.0), but also tells Physics.SE that

Finally, if any user would like their content removed from all current and future publications I will do so. Likewise, if the physics.se community collectively decide they do not wish to be included in any publications I will remove them from sale and not use this site as a source for any future publications.

so I'd like to ask the community about their opinions on this.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if you did some magic, or if the author did this by his own will, but both the books mentioned above currently give a 404 error :/ $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 9 '18 at 10:54
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There's a few issues here, so for us to be happy, let's discuss them separately.

First, before any discussion, we must realize that the work that Mr. George has done - scraping our forum content, then collecting it into an ebook, with proper attribution, and then selling that ebook, is absolutely legal. He can do this, and he has done this. He's following the laws. In this respect, we cannot stop him. I know this sounds bad, but, when we chose to write questions/answers on StackExchange, we also chose to license all our content under "cc by-sa 3.0 with attribution required". And he has followed this license.

That said, there is a second problem, unrelated to copyright infringement, and that is the misleading book description. Let me list this out:

  1. While the chemistry.stackexchange.com url is clearly mentioned in the Google Books description, the book description is still misleading to a common user. I believe the author must also mention that this content was "freely available on chemistry.stackexchange.com" This would ensure that the average reader is well-aware of their choices before reaching a decision as to whether to buy this book or not.
  2. The "About the book" does not even once mention a link to our site. I believe that, here also, the author should add the part that the content presented in this book is freely available on chemistry.stackexchange.com
  3. The "Copyright" has got the name and url of our forum wrong. It is "Chemistry Stack Exchange" and the url chemistry.stackexchange.com. They both must be mentioned in that Copyright section to make it complete.

The author should fix all these problems listed above, otherwise their product is misleading to an average reader. The author has been very prompt in dealing with criticism. Instead of taking ten different shady ways to make money off our content, he's taken the lawful path, being polite and transparent in his activity. We should appreciate that, and politely request him to to reform the book and make it even less misleading, as per suggestions above. While it is expected that the reply will be prompt, if it isn't, we can always escalate it at a later time.


With all of that said, here are a few things we shouldn't worry about:

  1. "Who'll buy these books anyway?" - whoever has loads of dollars in their pocket, but that's beyond our discretion.
  2. The author says "This book has been designed to be very easy to use, with many internal links set up that makes browsing in many different ways possible." - but our forum is just as easy (and probably easier?) to navigate as this book is. Perhaps, someone wished to have that content in a book form instead? Whatever, we needn't worry.
  3. "What's the deal with that exorbitant pricing?" We should note that the price amount might not be the sole decision of Mr. George. Perhaps, there are rules by Google itself about the pricing of content on their platform. There may be a baseline price, a royalty cut, etc. and other factors that might have inflated the price of the book. Of course, the price is exorbitant, but at the of the day, we can't force him to change that. So, it's better not to worry about it.

Also there are no problems with the book listing itself. Mr. George has "updated all books to indicate that (he's) the Publisher, rather than the Author." which is a great step. I can confirm this update on the Google Books listing, so we're fine in that regard.


Addendum:

With ortho's new answer, requesting the removal of the books, I feel it necessary to further elaborate on why I think we should not request removal of the books.

I agree that the formatting of the ebook is excessively poor, and the content is hardly useful, but then, it's upto the publisher (and not us), to decide how the content gets published. As long as it's legal, we shouldn't worry.

There are probably many other people and bots crawling our site, especially in malicious ways we aren't aware of. The point is, if the publisher has politely given us the power to suggest changes to his book, I think it's best we do it moderately. Someone took their time to scrape our site and curate a book mostly out of the good content we have. Their effort is poor, but it is an effort nonetheless. So, taking the books down appears as an excessive measure in this case.

Though, there's a valid point of the content being wrong (Uncle's answers/weirdly formatted stuff), which could give the readers a false impression of what great content our site has. But, that problem is simply solved by adding a disclaimer in the "About" section of the book: (along the lines of)

The answers have not been manually verified from experts in chemistry universities or from the Chem.SE users. The publisher nor the Chem.SE users are not responsible for any factual inaccuracies. The content in the book is not an accurate representation of the content available on the site.

Hence, as long as the book clearly disclaims, that it is not officially endorsed by us, we should again be happy.


If you agree, vote up! Disagree? Comment below! Have a different view? Post a new answer! Thanks!

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry I'm late on this, I've been really busy. Would you be able to draft a fairly short message to the author, asking him to add a disclaimer to the book? I think the best way to go about this would be to ping the author in chat - I think email is too formal. I can superping the author when we have a message ready. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol May 1 '18 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol sure, I'll get back to you with the message ready. $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 2 '18 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol exactly 1337 bytes, no clue how to shorten it further without making it appear rude or too straightforward. Feel free to make the necessary grammar/phrasal changes and then push it to George. $\endgroup$ – Gaurang Tandon May 2 '18 at 3:24
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This is a factual summary of the layout of the book (and not an answer to the question) to help make better judgement:

  • the book description on the Google books page states:

    If you have a question about Organic Chemistry this is the book with the answers. Organic Chemistry: Questions and Answers takes some of the best questions and answers asked on the chemistry.stackexchange.com website. You can use this book to look up commonly asked questions, browse questions on a particular topic, compare answers to common topics, check out the original source and much more. This book has been designed to be very easy to use, with many internal links set up that makes browsing in many different ways possible.

    Topics covered include: Reaction Mechanism, Acid Base, Nomenclature, Aromatic Compounds, Synthesis, Reaction, Experimental Chemistry, Alcohols, Bond, Everyday Chemistry, Stability, Inorganic Chemistry, Carbonyl Compounds, Biochemistry, Stereochemistry, Physical Chemistry, Nitro Compounds, Carbocation, Polymers and many more

    Note that there is visible attribution to the chemistry.stackExchange.com website right in the first line.

  • the first page of the book has a "Table of Contents" - listed by relevant [tags] on our site. Each tag has a hyperlink that immediately jump you to the corresponding section of the book.
  • next comes an "About the book" which just states:

    This book has been divided into categories where each question belongs to one or more categories. The categories are listed based on how many questions they have; the question appears in the most popular category. Everything is linked internally, so when browsing a category, you can easily flip through the questions contained within it. Where possible links within questions and answers link to appropriate places within the book. If a link doesn't link to within a book, then it gets a special icon, like this (bad link).

    Note that there isn't any visible attribution to Chemistry.StackExchange here.

  • Next come questions. Each question has a question title, tags, the question text, OP's name, and all the answers, along with the poster's name. All the questions, answers, and user names hyperlink to their corresponding webpages on the official StackExchange site (the author has not used any URL shortener as well)

  • the final page of the book has a "Copyright":

    This book was created from chemistry, using the latest data dump available at archive.org. A selection of the best questions about Organic Chemistry, as voted by the site's users have been selected for inclusion in this book.

    I am not affiliated or endorsed by StackExchange Inc, although I do have a StackExchange user profile there under the username George Duckett.

    All questions and content contained within this book are licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required as per Stack Exchange Inc's requirement.

    If you have or know of copyrighted content included in this book and want it to be removed please let me know at georgeduckett@gmail.com


Note: This analysis was prepared based on the ebook Software Industry from Amazon Kindle and the relevant Organic Chemistry Google Books The hyperlinks work properly only on the Amazon page, which also offers a free preview to the first few pages of the book. The author claims he did insert links in the Google books, but sadly they are broken in the preview.

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The quality is low and I would prefer that we request the removal of the books.

  • The formatting is non-existent.
  • Phrases such as "xyz's comment" or "the accepted answer" make no sense without the context.
  • I am also unsure of the quality of the content itself. As far as I know, the author has sorted by score. I agree that there is a large body of good content and that searching by post score is likely to get more good content than bad, but there is also a lot of meh content, and there is also a minor amount of poor content (e.g. Uncle, Al's, answers).

As such these particular books are... an imperfect representation of what the best content on SE is. I would prefer not to be associated with them.


There is some talk about a more carefully curated book. However, I am hesitant to support such a proposal. First, we might want to consider what kind of target audience would read such an unfocused book, over the myriad of textbooks out there which teach the subject in a more systematic fashion. I don't have an answer to this question that makes me think that it would be worth the effort to write a book.

I also think that there needs to be some appeal to authority to make the text more trustworthy, or else, again, we have to consider who would read these over textbooks written by established experts in their own fields. I am not saying that without a name the information would be wrong, as that would be a logical fallacy. I am just saying that without a name, nobody will be able to trust whether the information is right, unless they fact-check it for themselves. Now this is fine if we are only posting answers from Loong or Geoff (for example), but I wouldn't consider myself an authority on anything.

Call me pessimistic, but my suspicion is that a book won't work.

On the other hand a blog circumvents these issues. The target audience will simply be anybody who is interested to learn random bits of chemistry in their spare time, and subscribing to a blog is a much smaller commitment than buying a book and reading it from cover to cover. The authority issue is greatly diminished, as we aren't competing against professional chemists in industry, academia, etc. and we have enough graduate students (for example) to instil some confidence that we know what we are writing about. Logistically a blog is much easier to set up and maintain. And of course, my hope is that it will eventually drive more "high-quality" traffic here. A book could do that, but much less easily, since this is an Internet site after all.


With all that said, though, I'd like to refocus the discussion on the existing Q&A books and restate that (1) I'm not comfortable with them (2) I would rather have them taken down.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is kind of a confusing answer to respond to, because there's a bunch of things going on. The quality of these books (which are bad) and the quality of a book are not the same thing. Clearly they are not representative of the site in terms of both possible content and formatting quality. However, their existence doesn't make me uncomfortable, because as long as they aren't trying to actively discredit or misrepresent the site, in a certain way the content is the same. $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Apr 20 '18 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ We have lots of bad content, and any Chem.SE production (book or blog or otherwise) will have content in it that people don't want, regardless of its correctness. As for trustworthiness, on one side of the coin, there should be a disclaimer about this, rather than an appeal to authority, and on the other, all resources have errors or bugs. I'm not saying it shouldn't bother people, but it's a fact of life than even [insert your favorite fact-checked reference here] contains mistakes. IMO, if there were to be a book, it would be a mistake to tout it as a reference or even as being correct. $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Apr 20 '18 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ And there is the rub. I think that if you want a "product" of the site other than the site itself, one's opinion about what it should be stems from how they view the site. For me, it's almost completely useless from a reference standpoint; few times have I found information that I actually needed here. However, I still think it's interesting. This is probably an indicator that people would rather have a reference than anything else. I would rather have a cross between a coffee table book and a Wikipedia book. $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Apr 20 '18 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ Ultimately, I agree that it probably shouldn't be done. For other reasons I am against a blog, but will refrain from going into them right now. </fin> $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Apr 20 '18 at 0:26
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The following is just a very brief and probably not well thought out view.

First of all, I'd like to address the idea itself. I think there could actually be scope for this kind of publication, collecting some of the best/most popular content across the SE network. The format of the site does not easily lend itself to such, but with enough curation and editing, it might work.

The problem is regarding "enough curation and editing". From what I can tell of the books on the Google link, it is a very rough scrape of the site. For example, this diagram of a condenser stretched across four pages gave me a chuckle. Now, if this was being provided for free, then nobody can really expect much. However, if the publisher is standing to profit from these sales (when the authors of the content themselves have nothing to gain), you would expect a higher level of effort having gone into it.

The best answer to this problem might actually be disruption; if another party could provide a similar service in a better way (and there is much to improve), then they have a role in dictating the new terms under which the content is offered. Could this be something for SE administration to look into?

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe worth mentioning that Physics has considered this before: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/9654/94834 $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Apr 17 '18 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, in general, for a variety of reasons, I feel I would not be comfortable with my answers being published, even if they were nicely formatted. But that is just my opinion and I respect your thoughts on the matter. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Apr 17 '18 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ I would love to have a curated (?) book of the "best" content Chemistry has to offer. Sometimes people forget just how good the questions and answers can be. $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Apr 17 '18 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ I personally prefer something more informal like a blog and I would be happy to contribute to/maintain it. Publishing stuff I have written in a book doesn't sit well with me, mainly because I realise that I don't actually know anything and that things I write may well be... off the mark, even though I always try my best. I hope to write a proper answer tomorrow, but this is partly why I wanted to raise the issue. I think I am not the only one uncomfortable with George's book, although I'm sure people have different reasons. [@penta] $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Apr 17 '18 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol I will wait for your answer, and only say that your ping didn't work. $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Apr 18 '18 at 13:45

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