Here are some considerations in favor of this proposal that weigh most heavily with me:
- 1. The essays that appear in chess problem magazines — some very entertaining, some deeply insightful, and some substantive works of scholarship — are among the most important ways of passing on our ever growing knowledge about chess problems (themes, history, composers, genres, etc.) that we have. Nevertheless, for the most part, upon publication they are lost. Libraries do not subscribe to chess problem magazines. The articles rarely make their way into published books (and when they do, libraries will not generally own them). Archiving these articles electronically will (barring Armageddon) keep them alive and accessible to new generations of problemists.
2. Sometimes one remembers an article perused a long time ago and seeks to look it up again. This is usually a very frustrating task. If articles were archived electronically, the powerful search tools of the Web would make finding them much easier.
3. At present, given the constraints of magazine publishing, there is very little opportunity for discussion. Readers of articles don't in general have the opportunity to correct, supplement, disagree with, or ask questions about a published article. It appears and that's that. If articles were subsequently posted on-line, then the opportunity for continued discussion down through the years would be available. This, again, would contribute to the continuity and cohesion of our community.
4. Some cannot afford to subscribe to any chess problem magazines, and even more cannot afford to subscribe to many of them (there are surprisingly many published). The on-line archiving of articles would further democratize what is already one of the most democratic of art forms.
The major, and perhaps only, concern about this suggestion is that it would undercut economically the existence of problem magazines, already operations that are often struggling. This is a serious consideration. I am not convinced by it, however. For one thing, if we don't continue to attract people to the world of problems those magazines are quite doomed anyway. Furthermore, I believe that those magazines offer much more to readers than merely the fine articles that they publish: they offer originals, award honors, conduct solving competitions and keep solving ladders, publish problems of interest from other magazines, report news items, etc., all in a physically compact and portable format. Finally, the archived version of the published article needn't be in competition with its print version: a magazine could specify the amount of time that it would like to see pass before it felt comfortable having its published articles electronically archived.
There are of course many ways of effecting this scheme. Because I am involved with ChessProblem.net, I naturally think about how this website could be of use here. One idea would be the following. Each author interested in having his or her article archived should take the following steps:
- A. Communicate with his or her editor/publisher and inquire whether the magazine would have any objections to seeing the article archived on ChessProblem.net. If it doesn't, then an appropriate waiting period would be agreed upon.
B. Start a topic, in the appropriate forum or sub-forum on ChessProblem.net, which contains:
- (i) an abstract describing the subject of the article (so readers can gain a quick sense of the article's contents without having to download it);
(ii) a list of keywords (to facilitate searching);
(iii) and finally, an attached file that contains the article (preferably in pdf format, since this is freely readable by all).
I think the feasibility of the scheme depends on the onus of uploading resting with those who have the greatest incentive to see the articles archived: I take this to be the authors themselves. Their articles are often the product of a great deal of research, reflection, and writing. Surely they of all people would like to see their work preserved and made as widely available as possible.
I believe that ChessProblem.net is an appropriate venue (though no doubt not uniquely so) because it is free, has a multi-lingual interface (at present, 32 languages), is flexible in its configuration, has powerful internal search functions (and is indexed by search engines), employs the leading open source forum and online collaboration system, aims for a high level of security, and is subject to weekly back-ups (by both its web hosting service and its board administrator).
If you think this proposal has merit, I hope you will draw it to the attention of authors, as well as others in the chess problem community. If you are involved in the publication of a chess problem magazine, I hope you will republish this call in its pages — or at least its gist along with the URL at which this entire post can be found: