A nitpick. Ken actually didn’t use a ‘4’ in his title, but kept it as an ‘A.’ So not pure leet, but close.
This is a very important point, although it should be noted that the majority of participants on Mitch’s paper were not (to my knowledge) from the NYU working group. We strongly encouraged them to participate, both in advance of and following the face-to-face meeting at NYU at which the paper was presented and discussed, but few seemed to think it worth their while. So they were quite a bit like the Lapham folks in their tentative attitude toward digital media. The difference was that Mitch already had a small but active wired readership that was accustomed to dialoging around online postings. I believe most of the comments on the Holy of Holies were from 1) readers of Mitch’s blog, 2) people who found their way to it through the Institute, and 3) a few other scattered scholarly colleagues/friends.
Holy of Holies was the only project without threaded comments. Gamer Theory had them.
Small quibble, and probably not important but thought I’d mention. Although In Media Res employs the same adjacent comments format, and in this sense very much belongs in this lineage, it’s not actually using the CommentPress code, it’s just styled that way. Again, this doesn’t in any way affect the larger argument.
“Rear-view mirrorism” and “blindered inability” are negative terms which I think obscure the possibility that the early experiments — though they may be failures — may be crucial in terms of setting up the conditions for eventual breakthroughs. I.e. sometimes breakthroughs arrive as brilliant flashes of insight which come from “nowhere” but it’s quite likely that often breakthroughs come as a result of failed experiments wherein people tried to invent the future by reinventing past forms in a new context.
I think he must be referring to the hypertext novels he and others were writing in the Storyspace environment.
I’m not entirely convinced by the “hypertext” argument. In a lot of ways you could say much the same thing about the leap from the scroll to the codex in the sense that the shift to the codex made the book a true random access device which certainly empowered the reader to read in whatever sequence they wished. And given that you demolish the hypertext argument so beautifully in the next section, I think you might hint here that you don’t really buy it either.
Another problem is that the Eastgate stuff was bloody ugly, throwing centuries of book design out the window. I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of aesthetics in the adoption of new forms.
“The very purpose of scholarly reading is the discursive exchange and development of ideas amongst peers.” — superbly put.
the way the communal lingers in the circuit — i love that way of putting it.
the scholar in his office with a book is never wholly alone, but is always in conversagtion with THAT previous author. not exactly who or what you are referring to by saying “that previous author.”
There is a wonderful quote from Carla Hesse from her future of the book essay . . . “The concept of intellectual property – the idea that an idea can be owned – is a child of the European Enlightenment. It was only when people began to believe that knowledge came from the human mind working upon the senses – rather than through divine revelation, assisted by the study of ancient texts – that it became possible to imagine humans as creators, and hence owners, of new ideas rather than as mere transmitters of eternal verities.”
“I do not intend to return us to this kind of uncritical technoboosterism . . . . ” this sounds unnecessarily defensive to me, especially since nowhere so far have you even suggested that “community” would solve the problems of scholarly publishing. if you feel it’s absolutely necessary then i think you also need to explain more clearly what was wrong with rheingold’s view, beyond that is, just calling it technoboosterism (which by the way i agree it certainly is, in its most grotesque form).
“[hypertext’s] real interactivity” isn’t a good descriptor. also, i’m a bit nervous about the use of “hypertextual form” by which you seem to mean either the storyspace model or simple clicking on one thing to go to another. the first is a failed expt.; the second, perhaps best seen as one very small aspect of a new form of reading/writing that is coming into being. guess what i’m saying is not to damn the word “hypertextual” because of what it’s been associated with in the past.
you probably don’t want to get into this here, but . . . .i found myself finishing your sentence (“One question remains . . . . ” quite differently as i’m of a mind to question whether the long-form (whether communalized or not) isn’t likely to become much less impt. overtime. while i’m sure there are some subjects and studies that require three hundred plus pages, my guess is that consitutes a small # of the scholarly books published. sadly the reason for the long-form is that you have to have “a book” to get tenure. for me, one of the metrics of longterm success for MediaCommons (and the effort it’s part of) will be if we see people getting tenure based on something other than a “long-form” book, whether paper, electronic, commentable or not.
again, not something you may want to get into here, the bit about libraries seems to trivialize their effort at community a bit by suggesting that the real reason for the effort is to get people to use the library in traditional ways. one might argue that while getting people to “ask the librarian for help” is of course good, what may be even more important is getting patrons to help each other; overtime we may see librarian regarded more as a mentor for a community of (re)searchers than as a “helper” to an isolated patron.
hmmmmm….. the first six sections seem like the heart of a really important article. (it’s amazing and incredibly exciting to see how your thinking has evolved since the first manifesto to include and in fact focus on the issues related to community and conversation.) and then with the most minor of segues the article becomes a very good discussion of comment press. the problem i see here is that comment press is nowhere near important enough to serve as the conclusion to the important statement you are making in the first sixteen pages. perhaps the comment press article should have a much more concise intro. the first sixteen pages are too important to be saddled with commentpress as the sole example discussed.
is that inarticulate quote from me from the chronicle article or the public real-time chat the chronicle conducted. if the latter could i edit?
did we really not have threaded comments till ISGR?
i’m not sure about your explanation for the relative failure of the ISGR effort. also i’m uncomfortable that the only metric being looked at is the number of comments. my discomfort stems from a) there may have been many more reader/commenters of the Stephens paper – the ISGR had less than 20 people who were allowed to comment. and b) these two numbers don’t tell us anything about the qualitative nature of the conversation that unfolded in the margin. in the future, it would certainly be interesting to know how many of the comments in each paper were stand-alone comments vs. threaded replies.
some other minor points, perhaps not worth mentioning in the paper, but you should be aware anyway – the ISGR was released the day before XMAS (or close to it); the report had already been relegated to the trash by bush & co. which certainly made it a much less impt. document to those who otherwise might have felt compelled to comment and last, my instinct is that the lapham crew (incl. politicians like gary hart) were much less computer-comfortable than Stephens’ all academic bretheren.
i like the concept and how you made use of it. might be interesting for our journals one day as well.
i just wonder why none of the urls given in the bibliography are active links?
I haven’t read the Stallybrass article — though I’d like to — but I wonder whether his argument might be extended to stress the importance of the structural apparatus that facilitates random access, for example tables of contents and indices. Random access is incredibly important, but without basic tools like these telling you where you might turn, it’s of limited utility. In the electronic realm, this might be extended to search and tagging systems.
When Bolter says “There is nothing in an electronic book that quite corresponds to the printed table of contents,” what exactly is he saying? Is he describing the electronic books of 1991? It seems to me that if you’re locating books in an abstract space, you certainly could create something that corresponds to a printed table of contents in most ways — see, for example, a PDF that’s been formatted with a table of contents, or any number of HTML book projects. Certainly an electronic book could be devised that a printed table of contents couldn’t describe, but to say that there’s nothing that corresponds to a printed table of contents seems far-fetched; tools could certainly be made.
Does his argument still make sense then? In a broad sense I think he’s right – electronic space is a tabula rasa and there aren’t implicitly structures like tables of contents. But tables of contents aren’t inherent to codex books either: they’re more a convention that’s developed over time. (Bob always points out that even something so obvious as page numbers didn’t appear in printed books until 50 years after Gutenberg.) Storyspace-style books were the convention at the time he was writing; they’re not really any more. Are they worth having as part of the argument?
An analogue of this disorientation is the use of spatiality in text fields on a screen. One of the virtues of the codex books that’s been revealed in the age of the web browser is the way it spatially organizes text: when we remember a passage in a book, we often remember whether it was on the left or right page, near the top or near the bottom. This gets almost entirely lost when text is presented as a scrollable field: we can remember whether a passage was at the beginning, the middle, or end of a text, but it’s hard to be more specific than that. (This is, by and large, the argument for codex-style pages in Sophie; it remains un-addressed in CommentPress.)
Maybe the problem with “hypertext’s real interactivity” is that hypertext isn’t a solution in and of itself, any more than the network is a solution in and of itself. The problem with the early 1990s model was that hypertextuality by itself was hypothesized as the solution. Instead, it should be seen as a part of the toolkit. It works in Facebook because it’s being used as a tool, not as an end in itself.
Very well done and thought-provoking overview. Thank you. I’ll be very interested in seeing the kinds of projects the CommentPress theme inspires.
My main interest is in the production of online literary texts, where reader comments may not need to be given as prominent a position as in secondary literature. In that connection, though, your remark about the author of an online book not being able to walk away from a text after publication is also very germain. The flip side of course is that s/he now has the freedom go back whenever s/he wants and make edits to published texts – a significant advantage over printed literary texts.
This is somewhat outside the scope of your essay, I guess, but the real advantage of an electronic format for literary texts, in my view, is the ability to integrate audio recordings via flash players, creating hybrid literary/oral forms.
I wouldn’t burden CP with “creature feep” at this stage, but as soon as I saw this note I thought, I want to be able to have notes only I, the admin, can see”¦ and footnote display I can enable and disable.
Whew, please tell me you didn’t write all this over this weekend… love the point (can never hear it to often) that texts have never operated in isolation.
I have to say, being an oldfashioned gal, I don’t feel in isolation when I’m reading; it’s a dance with the author (s).
I’m enjoying CommentPress, thanks!
In this paragraph, perhaps just after “manipulation of the textual object,” I want to add either a note or an aside noting the ironies Stallybrass points to in digital textuality’s too frequent regression from the random access that the codex made possible, reintroducing the necessity of reading-via-scrolling.
I agree, generally speaking; the conventional wisdom (and my experience) says that serif fonts are easier to read in print, and sans-serif fonts are easier to read on-screen. I’ve left all the CSS settings within the CommentPress theme as-published, rather than tinkering as I might otherwise, but I find it interesting that this question returns us from structure to the question of pixels-on-screens”¦
True. And as a colleague pointed out to me elsewhere, there are certain lingering effects of rear-view mirrorism in contemporary automobiles, such as front-wheel steering (rear-steering, as in boats, is much more efficient, but drivers were used to steering toward the front)”¦
Good point. Perhaps the issue with such terms is not that they begin by looking backward, but that they persist in doing so, long after it’s useful. Somebody did once have to say, wouldn’t it be cool if we could get the carriage to move without a horse?, but once the thing had been invented, it had to become an object unto itself before it could fully develop.
Actually, I don’t have any alternative thesis to argue, nor am I casting doubt on Nelson and Engelbart’s contributions to the field. “Generally credited to” only means to suggest that the invention of anything as complex as hypertext takes multiple, and often simultaneous, discoveries, and that attribution becomes a more difficult thing.
Yes – this is from Writing Space, and is very much about the Storyspace mode of hypertext.
I’m a bit torn here. On the one hand, I clearly don’t buy it, either, at least not as hypertext actually played out. On the other hand, the radical restructuring that hypertext attempted really did pave the way for the nonlinear writing systems that followed, like blogs. So I want to indicate its significance, while pulling back from those early claims of the revolution it was enacting — particularly the politicized aspects of that revolution.
This is excellent news. Of course, that piece of news does raise an additional conundrum for electronic textuality more generally: it’s rare that one needs to pay for an upgrade, in the codex realm. A new edition might have corrections or features that a reader might prefer, but the old edition rarely stops working”¦
Yes, exactly — that’s something I’d like to find a way to deal with. Geoffrey Nunberg points that out in a footnote to his article, “The Place of Books”: “One ancillary effect of this homogenization of the appearance of electronic documents is to blur the sense of provenance that we ordinarily register subconsciously when we are reading. As a colleague said to me not long ago, “˜Where did I see something about that the other day? I have a clear mental picture of a UNIX window.’ “ (37, n31)
Absolutely. The stuff was ugly then, and given the advances in basic design-for-screen, is awful now.
Heh. No, the article’s been a couple of weeks in the works, but I did install CP and load the article in today…
In any case, I think that your response is exactly what I’m trying to get at here; we have this sense of reading as being something done alone, and yet it’s always profoundly social, even if only in imagination.
Hmmm. I think it’s my assumption that the scholar in his office is the present author, and the book he reads there is the product of the previous author. (Interesting how retyping that suddenly makes the sexism of the pronouns seem flagrant to me, in ways that I obviously missed before…)
Thanks for directing me to that… The relationship between the rise of the notion of the individual in the Enlightenment, the rise of individual ownership/property rights in capitalism, and the rise of print is a complex one. I’ll check her essay out…
Good point; thanks, Bob.
Perhaps. Part of me wants (as in prior manifestoes) to continue to argue for the necessity of the long-form publication, as the venue within which an idea can be gradually teased out, explored in multi-faceted ways, and then synthesized into something larger than the sum of its parts. I still believe that the argument that I make in my book isn’t possible in a series of articles. On the other hand, there are many academic books that really are just composites of separate articles, and that don’t somehow compound one another into a larger whole. The good news, I suppose, is that a venue like MediaCommons would allow those multiple articles to exist alongside one another without being republished, allowing authors (and, perhaps most importantly, readers) to create collections via links and tags, without the current costs of print republication…
Exactly what I’m hoping to get at – hypertext as a linking structure is a necessary precursor to useful implementations, but in and of itself it’s only links – only clicking”¦
Good to know — I’ll correct that!
I think your comment is exactly right, but I’m not sure as yet how to respond. I felt the first part of the article really growing well beyond what I needed in order to set up the points I wanted to make about CommentPress, but was so intrigued and invested in what I was finding that I wasn’t sure how to truncate it. I’m wondering whether, on the one hand, I’ve got two articles (one situating this moment in the development of electronic textuality within this print/codex distinction and one on CommentPress), or whether I simply need to make the second part of the article, on CP, bear the weight of the first half.
As to the quote — it’s from the Chronicle article. Not great quote editing, but alas, there it is…
Huh. That’s really good information to have — in a way, it makes the same point (one must have an audience ready to converse before the conversation will actually work), though from a different angle…
Again, me with the misreading of surfaces. One other thing, though, that I think is somewhat parallel with CP is IMR’s placement of the curatorial remarks inline with the comments; though the curator gets a little bit of a header, it’s just another comment in a potentially ongoing thread…
Only because I didn’t take the time to go through and make them into links, which was silly of me. The final version of the article (available at http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/commentpress) does have active links in the bibliography, though.
Is this the best metaphor for the case? It is difficult to apprehend precisely what developments in automotive design would have been impossible to envision, had we continued to view the automobile as a variant of the carriage. In point of fact, a number of carrriage forms persist today; we no longer have hansoms, but the UPS van is not that far removed from the classic milk wagon.
“Generally credited to Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart” is a strange locution, suggesting that you believe this is not the correct, or entire, story. If you have an alternative historical thesis to argue, present it. If not, why cast doubt on the contributions of these scholars?
All Storyspace hypertexts will soon be available today for MacOS X. And, of course, they run fine on Windows XP and Vista.
My second copy of Gaudy Night “stopped working” this year, the binding having failed.
My fourth copy of the CRC handbook languishes in the attic. I don’t use it anymore because Web references are better. But if I did use it, I’d buy a new one because the risks of using obsolete data outweigh the expense. So, my CRC Handbook has stopped working.
My copy of Architectural Drafting Standards will be “stop working” in a year or two, when the new standards are promulgated.
And *any* book that is only available, say, in the Bodlein may be said to have “stopped working” for everyone who lacks a large bank account and plenty of spare time.
[…] proprietary, single-use devices, (b) specific annoyance at anything playing on the notion of the e-book, and (c) very particular vows never to support Sony technologies. Curiosity got the better of me, […]
I’m delighted to discover CommentPress – and your use of it.
I like the way the page operates (in Safari, at least), too!
I *am* puzzled, however, as to why a print-optimized (serif) font is used…Â Sans-serif’s like verdana or arial or *so* much easier on screen (the “common wisdom”, i believe).
Your “generally credit” phrase is also how it’s stated in wikipedia (FWIW). [I went there looking for any contrary evidence.]
“the need to situate the text within a social network, within the community of readers who wish to interact with that text, and with one another through and around that text” YES! This is as much about anthropology as it is about technology”¦
This reminds me of the ramble that resulted from meeting all you guys in NJ earlier this year – the tradition of the book vs the character of the net. Authority, fixity, boundedness, physicality, universality (book) as compared to unreliability, mutability, boundlessness, virtuality and specificity (net).
I’d argue that the net makes visible the activity that takes place prior to a text being enshrined in a form evoking the tradition of the book. Hence, dynamic community-based net activity doesn’t replace in-depth, fixed, authoritative scholarly work but rather facilitates those aspects of scholarship that are plainly more fluid and mutable, speeding up conversation and removing the shackles of Authority from kinds of print that chafe under its yoke. Or, to put it another way, I think there always comes a point where you want to write a book – but not everything works best when published that way.
Trite, perhaps. But I think it’s vital to hang onto the idea that there are different forms, with different purposes; and that what works in which form is – as you’ve remarked before – a social question.
July 2009 at 11.28 am
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