September 23, 2006
Designing for Blogs, Part 1: A Brief Manifesto
I'm an unabashed fan of working smarter, not harder.
In 1999, before I first happened on blog software or even the precursor called "EditThisPage," I was working with a few student programmers on a similar system in PHP, for classroom uses, collaborative projects, and portfolio-based active learning. What I really wanted to do was get away from the limitations of WebCT and Blackboard for more student-centered learning, instead of reproducing traditional classroom structures online. And I didn't want to have to keep teaching students HTML in classes that had other work to do.
When I saw that EditThisPage, Radio Userland and other applications were already doing what I was attempting to build from scratch in my dining room, I realized that the idea was so simple and such a logical next step, hundreds of people were probably doing exactly what I was doing, in different arenas, to make publishing accessible to more people. I saw that I could use blog tools for just about anything I could imagine with HTML and Flash, and save myself a whole lot of work.
And why did the blog idea catch fire as the killer app, when content management systems on the corporate side were plentiful? I strongly believe the answer is a timely combination of the rise of Google along with RSS.
Even though feed readers are having difficulty reaching non-tech users, feeds and tags are becoming an intrinsic structure in nearly everything we build. Quite simply, I won't build another freelance/contract web site that is not RSS/Atom-enabled. It's a no-brainer. Blogs are the display and feeds give the display legs. Technorati.com would not exist without feeds. And the massive social movement that is the blogosphere would not exist at all without RSS behind it.
So these days, rather than endlessly re-inventing the wheel, I'm primarily designing for CSS and the content-management shell blog software provides, a shell I can pour nearly anything into. Do I ever wish for the old blank-slate, starting fresh with a new audience/user interaction model every time?
Sometimes, but Web functionality is
so crucial to interactive communities and a public commons that solo work in
empty to me, like an essential piece is missing. I think we'll end up
one day defining "interactivity" as something that essentially must
have more than one author, perhaps even many authors.
And lately, when I want to push on the limits of what interactivity can do, I find myself reaching for an even more robust system, pmachine's Expression Engine, where I can situate multiple blog modules in different contexts on the same page, and still retain my permalink archives and flexible CSS designs.
My only complaint so far is that I want some of the features I find in Scoop, features of audience-driven, "self-organizing" sites.
Not too long ago, someone asked me to predict where interactive media and the Internet would be five years from now. I refused to give an answer, because I don't get to decide. The beauty of a grassroots, bottom-up social movement like in the blogosphere is that the social structures provide an organic kind of direction and structure, and the social structure is the authority, not "industry leaders" or "futurists" or any other professional prognosticators striving for control or a first-mover advantage.
Interactivity is about giving up control.
What I strive to do as a designer and a participant in this grassroots social movement is to create tools that empower the most people with enough freedom to set their own directions. I'm not interested in herding cats. I am interested in watching and learning inductively from where cats go.
That's what Web 2.0 is about. That's why it rose from the ashes of
the top-down corporate- and VC-driven creations that crashed and
burned after all the money turned to vapor. What we valued most was
what remained. Communities, interactions, strong ties, weak ties. Rich
relationships over time. Rabid flame wars. Not endlessly pitching
widgets while dropping names to bugger your Google/Technorati rank.
That's also why, in what some are calling a Web boomlet, I see business people desperately trying to appropriate blogs for various business models, proclaiming themselves authorities on their blog content niche as if they were following a stock professional copywriting formula, many diluting content in search engine-optimized blog sites that literally suck all the life out of the real reasons for blogging, the real reasons for writing and communicating online.
They claim they are dispensing value in a kind of knowledge-log "how-to" format, but as this genre of blogging multiplies, the sites look to me like little more than human-written, SEO-focused link farms, one step away from machine-generated link farms. Where is the real value in that?
Where I will stand in this new wash-out is with the commons, the spaces where real people talk, where conversations are alive with an energy of their own. The interfaces I will build for these communities and cybercultures will be interfaces that allow patterns of use to co-create the interface structures themselves.
The most creative, edgy projects I want to work on compulsively on my own time will not just employ user-centered design. They will allow social network structures to literally create their own designs.
In part two on this topic, I offer a visual snapshot into the kinds of blog-based sites I design, build, and often, host. One got 2,500 hits in its first 48 hours online. Others get very little traffic, because they are e-books I'm committed to maintaining as part of our common online library. Others are simply labors of love, my own contribution to the "real."
May 02, 2006
Xena Dissertation featured in the The Chronicle of Higher Education: Digital Dissertation Dust-Up
This still lives behind the firewall (and may well live there forever, I think). So here's some excerpts from it, with some bib information. It is a topic near and dear to my heart, so I have some comments to throw in before you get to the part that mentions my dissertation.
Monaghan, P. (2006). Dissertation Dust-Up: Film clips and hyperlinks in graduate theses raise tough copyright and open-source issues.The Chronicle of Higher Education. 52: 34. A41. Retrieved on May 2, 2006 from https://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i34/34a04101.htm.
From the issue dated April 28, 2006
Digital Dissertation Dust-Up
Film clips and hyperlinks in graduate theses raise tough copyright and open-source issuesBy PETER MONAGHAN
Virginia A. Kuhn, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, was having dissertation trouble.
Nothing unusual about that.
But it wasn't that Ms. Kuhn was struggling to finish her thesis. The trouble was that officials at the institution could not figure out whether to accept it.
Her thesis is not a printed document. It was born digital, in a multimedia format full of film clips, hyperlinks to other parts of the work, and other uses of electronic media.
There was no way to measure the margins to make sure they met the university's specifications, which are notoriously strict at many institutions. But that was a minor concern. The biggest issue was copyright. Citing a snippet of text in a printed thesis is standard procedure, but including a piece of video or a still picture, which Ms. Kuhn says is critical to explain her points, can raise the ire of copyright holders, and sound the alarm among university attorneys.
Although Ms. Kuhn lists detailed citations for all multimedia works in her thesis, she refused to ask permission to include them, because she insists that she should be able to cite them in the same way that print sources have long been cited. She says: "If you ask for permission, you're screwed because you imply that you legally need it."
Instead, she says, "I'm doing all that's incumbent on me legally to establish fair use."
[At the time I was working on my multi-media, native hypertext dissertation (The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace), I had to deal with a similar issue with fair use and the rights to material, as it relates to fandom and "textual poaching" (Jenkins). During my data-gathering period, Xena fans who also had web sites in X-Files fandom had two very different experiences with their fannish bastardizations of screenshots and artwork, and of course, fan fiction. Several of my informants with X-Files sites received "cease and desist" orders from Fox, basically forcing them to take down their sites (I have a bit on this skirmish in my diss, here).
Xena fans had a very different kind of relationship with the producers of that show, Renaissance Pictures, and Universal Studios. Because it was a more marginal show, the producers (TPTB) were regarded as friendly parts of the online community for the most part, and Universal saw the fan sites more as free publicity that the show wouldn't have gotten otherwise. All fan sites in the Xenaverse carried standard disclaimers about fair use, and as I wove my dissertation into that community, I used many of the same materials, and did not hesitate to use the same kind of disclaimers as the fans used.
If I had any doubt on the question, I had also researched and attended academic conference sessions and workshops on the evolving nature of intellectual property (it didn't hurt that my dissertation adviser, David Porush, was an outspoken "copyleftist") , and I was well aware of the protections I had under law for non-profit academic "fair use."
Now if I had a book contract, most of those materials could not be used. But the bigger challenge in converting my nonlinear dissertation into a book was "unweaving" it, which isn't exactly impossible, but the more I worked on it, the more I felt it was a betrayal of the original thought patterns I was advocating.]
An Enhanced Book
The form of Ms. Kuhn's dissertation is based on that of a regular book, but with many nonstandard features. Its online pages are heavy with text, like a printed book, but when a user moves the cursor over the pages, hyperlinks pop up, leading to embedded information. And images, when clicked on, open windows containing more-detailed captions, or a film clip, or citations. An electronic "sticky note" feature lets users record comments and reactions for their own later reference.
"I made it look traditional so it wouldn't be completely alienating for a university user," says Ms. Kuhn.
To produce the electronic work, she used TK3, a software platform designed by Robert Stein, research director at USC's Institute for the Future of the Book. An acclaimed figure in new-media circles, Mr. Stein is the founder of Night Kitchen, a seven-year-old company that develops writing tools for electronic publishing.
Ms. Kuhn first secured the approval of her dissertation committee, whose members became enthusiastic after initially hesitating. When her doctorate was put on hold, committee members went to bat for her.
She assured University of Wisconsin officials she was willing to convert the document from the TK3 platform to an open-source program that Mr. Stein and colleagues have developed, called Sophie, which Mr. Stein says is specifically designed to "be alive for a long time." The Sophie project is part of his work with the Institute for the Future of the Book, a collaboration between USC's Annenberg Center for Communication and Columbia University. The software allows writers and readers to have conversations within books — both live "chats" and exchanges through comments and annotations.
The software does not answer the thorny copyright questions, though.
In her dissertation Ms. Kuhn discusses such subjects as what it means in the era of digitized media to reproduce images. That and, as she puts it, "why should you pay copyright fees to cite an image but not a word?"
She argues that citing works, the way one cites texts, should be enough. Copyright laws, as currently enforced, she says, "limit what can be put out there," and discriminate against people without a lot of money. "The rich can afford to pay Hollywood for those clips.
[That is an important issue. The problem is often the "percentage" rule, where the part cited or quoted cannot exceed a certain percentage of the total work. In a collection of words, a quotation is a small part, but what is a percentage of an image? Thorny questions. Video material also has to be chunked up this way, but that is largely for commercial, for-profit "fair use." I'm not aware of the same standards applying to non-profit research and the issue of the shrinking public domain due to increasingly narrow conceptions of intellectual property.
Academics and other researchers find their work limited simply because of Mickey Mouse, and the 800-pound gorilla that is Disney, which has enough power to keep extending Mickey's copyright into perpetuity. As many researchers have noted, the violences done to history at the hands of Mickey Mouse keep adding up, as many other works are lost, deteriorating, losing value, because they fall under the Mickey Mouse copyright restrictions, when many of them would have a quite robust life in the public square, the public domain, and are even too important historically to lose in this way, like the documentary film "Eyes on the Prize."
Those very arbitrary and politically-based decisions that continually shrink the public domain are also part of the reason I have chosen to disregard the literal element of the percentage rules in most of my appropriation of others' material, in the same spirit of the Creative Commons copyright notices.
I'm more interested in the spirit of crediting others for their contributions to the public domain than poaching, but my experience with the non-profit fan uses of material as with Xena also makes me a bit of a poacher as well. Not that I want to deprive anyone of the credit or remuneration that comes with their creative or intellectual property, but I want to overthrow this ridiculous "scarcity" model that counts copies as property, instead of a more distributed, democratized model that gives more weight to influence, and the work's role as a participant in much larger dialogues and conversations.
This point is highlighted especially with the absurd restrictions of firewalls, such as with the Chronicle of Higher Education or the New York Times columnists under TimesSelect. Generally, I'd boycott those sources, because they clearly don't want to have influence or be part of the larger public dialogues. By restricting ACCESS to their work (and don't get me going on the restrictions on academic research journals, which aren't interested in the dissemination of ideas at all, just creating fiefdoms), they deprive the free exchange of ideas from certain ideas, effectively censoring themselves and weakening the knowledge-making that comes out of such public domain dialogues.]
The University of Wisconsin System is setting up a repository for a variety of digital documents from the system's campuses. But the library requires that materials that are placed in the archive be "open-access compliant," she says, so that anyone can get to them. And, she says, if Ms. Kuhn's work is included in such a repository, that may create legal problems because copyright holders may consider the document's accessibility a breach of their copyrights.
The university's legal department, however, has washed its hands of the dissertation. "After reviewing the matter, we concluded that the copyright issues were the concern of the student and publisher, not UWM," says Robin L. Van Harpen, the campus's senior university legal counsel, in an e-mail message.
For members of Ms. Kuhn's doctoral committee, the delay in approval of her work became frustrating. "I don't see what Virginia did as anything less than a solid, original dissertation," says one of them, Charles I. Schuster, associate dean of humanities. "It met all the requirements: good argument, exploratory, full references and sources, innovative."
Even the copyright concerns struck him as misplaced. The concept of "fair use" should apply, he said, because "this is a dissertation, not a commercial property."
Legal experts agree. "It seems to be classic fair use," says Kenneth D. Salomon, a Washington lawyer who often represents colleges in intellectual-property cases.
Courts determine fair use by considering several questions, says Peter Jaszi, a professor of law at American University. Is the use educational? Is it for commercial ends? Does it do measurable harm to a copyright holder's prospects in the marketplace? Are the clips unnecessarily long or numerous?
He agrees with Ms. Kuhn that images should be evaluated just as text is. "Case law makes that absolutely clear," he says.
But even court rulings, say the two lawyers, do not prevent organizations such as University Microfilms Inc., the publisher and repository of 98 percent of doctoral dissertations completed in the United States, from imposing their own rules. And, in fact, Milwaukee officials did meet opposition when they tried to submit Ms. Kuhn's work to that archive.
The company, which is now part of ProQuest Information and Learning, has been accepting dissertations in CD-ROM format since 1996. Sound, video, and other non-text files can be uploaded to the company using an online submissions process. But those files must be in "standard" formats — and the TK3 software platform does not qualify.
Nor does Ms. Kuhn's dissertation meet the company's copyright-compliance requirements. Tina Orozco, a spokesperson for ProQuest, said in an e-mail message: "While we are seeing many challenges to copyright 'standard practice' and the scope of 'fair use' is being debated across academia and the global media, we are obligated to protect our authors to the extent possible and to comply with the standards set by our agreement with the Library of Congress."
[Here's where things get a bit onerous, I think. Those Library of Congress standards are similar to what's being worked out with Google Books and Amazon Pages, and the system is set up to stack the deck in the favor of copyright holders, effectively short-changing the public domain and the contributions to the larger world of ideas, where works gain value when they circulate, when they are distributed, when they belong to all, but are adequately credited. What if Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence" had been behind a firewall? That could have reduced his risk a bit if the British couldn't get at it. But how would those ideas get around? And the "Federalist Papers?" Are works of deep thinking meant only for the elite and insiders, the same way Bell Labs may be rewriting the laws of physics right now, but so anxious to keep their discoveries proprietary, they may never make college or school textbooks?
This is not the knowledge-sharing that was born during the Enlightenment, with dialogue, replicable experiments, and debate. This is learning as alchemy, as secret groups pass books around to hide them from the Inquisition, with special passwords and lodges to allow texts to go forward in time. Science Direct, Taylor and Francis, even TimesSelect and the Chronicle of Higher Education have to acknowledge what kind of knowledge-making and information-sharing they are advocating. They encourage learning, all right, just as alchemists did.]
In addition to problems of readability and dissemination, he said, there is the obvious one of copyright. He said Ms. Kuhn's work posed challenges because, for example, it "includes video clips nested inside other multimedia 'quotes' from other 'authors.'" In such cases, attempts at clear referencing of material are "not always so simple," he said. The university is not permitted to help a student resolve such legal issues, but officials are sympathetic to the difficulty students face when they try to, he said. Students, he said, are "ill resourced to clarify such complex legal and commercial issues."
Multimedia dissertations are not new, though they have been few and far between. One of the first was Christine Boese's 1998 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute dissertation about the "Xenaverse," the cyberworld of fandom for the television show, Xena: Warrior Princess (the work is stored at https://www.nutball .com/dissertation).
Authors of multimedia dissertations have found various ways to deal with the issues that officials at Milwaukee have been confronting. Way back in 1997, for her dissertation at the University of Virginia, Constanze M. Witt, now a lecturer in classics at the University of Texas at Austin, used a multimedia format to support her arguments about the nature of early Celtic art.
"I actually didn't have many problems with acceptance, as the time was ripe," she says. The "nonlinearity" of hypertext suited her subject, she says. Celtic art, she explains, is "curvilinear; it's very hard to follow what is background and what is foreground. Many images don't have a beginning and an end; they twist and turn on themselves."
So irony of all, in order to find out why the Chronicle of Higher Education was sending all kinds of hits to my dissertation, I had to stand on my head, rub my stomach in a circle, turn around three times, and spit, and eventually I found a way to get access to an article that folks in every other university office have lying on coffee tables. If I were a purist, I suppose I'd refuse to acknowledge it, just as I boycott TimesSelect columnists in my blogs, because they have chosen to erase themselves from the larger world of influence and dialogue, and instead speak only to the closed magical lodges that keep information so hermetically-sealed and safe.
June 23, 2005
Request for a Serendipit-e, Inc. site to be added to the Library of Congress
I'm feeling all bright and shiny about an email I got today from someone at the Library of Congress, the MINERVA Web Preservation Project.
The project was asking for permission to collect, archive, and make available offline Joshua Kucera's terrific Iraq warblog, The Other Side, hosted on Serendipit-e.com, covering the period of the start of the war in March 2003.
The site got national media attention during that month leading up to the Battle of Baghdad for many different reasons, and sometime later I also wrote an academic paper about the site and the controversy it generated, which appears in the University of Minnesota "Into the Blogosphere" collection.
Along the way I decided to learn a bit about the MINERVA Project, and I'll dig in more as I have time, but I just felt like saying how pleased and proud I am to be associated with Josh's site and his work in 2003, and I'm even happier to know that it will be archived as part of the historical record of the Iraq war at the Library of Congress. What a very cool thing! I spoke with Josh to get his permission, and he's tickled too.
Here's just a bit from the email they sent:
The United States Library of Congress preserves the Nation's cultural artifacts and provides enduring access to them. The Library's traditional functions, acquiring, cataloging, preserving and serving collection materials of historical importance to the Congress and to the American people to foster education and scholarship, extend to digital materials, including Web sites. The Library has selected your site for inclusion in the historic collection of the War on Iraq Internet materials. The Library requests your permission to collect your Web site located at the following URL:
Our plan is to engage the Internet Archive, on behalf of the Library of Congress, to collect content from your Web site at regular intervals during the War. The Library will make this collection available to researchers onsite at Library facilities. The Library also wishes to make the collection available to offsite researchers by hosting the collection on the Library's public access Web site. The Library hopes that you share its vision of preserving Web materials about the War and permitting researchers from across the world to access them.
And here's some more information about MINERVA:
The Library of Congress’ mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.
An ever-increasing amount of the world’s cultural and intellectual output is presently created in digital formats and does not exist in any physical form. Such materials are colloquially described as "born digital." This born digital realm includes open access materials on the World Wide Web.
The MINERVA Web Preservation Project was established to initiate a broad program to collect and preserve these primary source materials. A multi disciplinary team of Library staff representing cataloging, legal, public services, and technology services is studying methods to evaluate, select, collect, catalog, provide access to, and preserve these materials for future generations of researchers.
Maybe other sites get these requests all the time and I'm sort of a naive doofus, but I had a good chuckle on the serendipity that tonight I was watching Mr Smith Goes to Washington, which just happened to be at the top of my Netflix queue. I dunno. I been on a Frank Capra kick lately. LOL!
May 08, 2005
University of Montana School of Journalism: New Pollner prof
Link: New Pollner prof.
Click "Continue reading" below to read the text version of the article that begins here:
Blogging pioneer named next Pollner prof
By Bennett Jacobs
J-School Web reporter
Chris Boese, a writer for CNN Headline News and a pioneer in the Weblog movement, will be the UM Journalism School’s fifth T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor.
Boese will spend the fall semester at the J-school, teaching a class on blogging and working as an adviser to the Kaimin, the student newspaper. Pollner professors also deliver a public lecture during the semester.
“We were particularly interested this year in getting someone who was on the cutting edge of technology,” said Carol Van Valkenburg, chair of the print department and the Pollner selection committee. “Chris will bring something new and unique to the school and we’re certainly looking forward to that.”
Boese started her first Weblog, or blog, in 1994, before the software to do so which is so readily available today even existed.
"I was like, ‘Oh my god, someone’s given me a soapbox,’ " Boese said of that first blog.
Since then she has built and maintained dozens of blogs for herself and others, including some controversial ones for reporters in Iraq.
"I think the bloggers kind of act as a checks and balances to journalists," Boese said. "It's an explosion of words and voices and it gives power to a lot of people and that is empowering."
In the past several years, blogs have become an important and powerful platform for journalists and non-journalists alike to voice opinions and receive feedback as well as communicate with one another.
Boese joined the CNN Headline News team just a month before 9-11. In her application letter she wrote that she went to Headline News because she "wanted a front-row seat to the attempted 'convergence' of broadcast and interactive media with that very busy modular screen."
What she got was a front-row seat at the biggest event in modern media history. During that crisis, as well as during the ensuing two wars, Boese was often the writer vigorously punching out the blurbs on the Headline News double-tiered ticker.
Boese started her career long before her days in the bustling Atlanta newsroom of Headline News. It was in her home state of Alaska were she was first a reporter and photographer for the Frontiersman and Valley Sun newspapers. From there she entered the academic world, working and teaching at universities in Wisconsin, Arkansas, Georgia, New York and South Carolina.
Boese received a degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and an MFA in poetry from the University of Arkansas. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, where she earned a doctorate in rhetoric and communication in 1998, Boese studied the impact of interactive media on traditional forms of media. It was there that her relationship with interactive media began to thrive, mostly because she saw it as an outlet for individual voice, she said.
Her dissertation, a rhetorical analysis and cultural critique of the online fan club for the TV program "Xena, Warrior Princess," was the first Web-based hypertext dissertation accepted at the school and is required reading in some graduate seminars.
At the time of the interview for this story on the afternoon of April 1, Boese was having a particularly busy few days in the newsroom.
"What happened yesterday was the best and the worst of things," Boese said. "The Terri Schiavo thing (Schiavo had died the day before) was just shark attacks and exploitation of the mike, the kind of thing that makes me sick. Then the Pope took a turn for the worse and I felt I was doing something important again."
Boese has what she calls "an uneasy relationship with journalism." But that continues to turn her on to the possibilities blogs allow. It also gives her reason to turn to her other love: teaching.
"I've always loved teaching," Boese said. "It charges my batteries up is what it does."
Boese has taught many university classes and conducted as many seminars, but she hopes her time in Montana will be different.
"I want to meet people who are thinking about the things I'm thinking," she said.
Boese said she can lend her technical skills not only to students in her class but to the Kaimin and the rest of the J-School. She said she may use her time at UM to work on a book about her experiences covering 9-11.
Family and friends of 1999 J-school graduate Anthony Pollner created the the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professorship to honor his memory after his death in a 2001 motorcycle accident. Pollner helped create the Kaimin web page and worked as a Kaimin reporter.
July 07, 2004
Into the Blogosphere
I'll write more on this later (ok, yeah, so I'm in the collection, shameless self-promotion), but besides that it is a terrific collection I've just been reading most of the night. So color me very PROUD to be in this collection.
ed. Laura Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff, and Jessica Reyman, University of Minnesota
This online, edited collection explores discursive, visual, social, and other communicative features of weblogs. Essays analyze and critique situated cases and examples drawn from weblogs and weblog communities. The collection takes a multidisciplinary approach, and contributions represent perspectives from Rhetoric, Communication, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Linguistics, and Education, among others.
Into the Blogosphere is a first in many ways. Along with its being the first scholarly collection focused on the blog as rhetorical artifact, the editors also offer an innovative approach to intellectual property and to publishing. There are a number of peer reviewed journals in digital format. However, with an edited collection, the desired outcome is usually a hard-copy book, so the standard process has been to turn to a publisher with a proposal, then typically wait several years before the book actually comes out.
January 20, 2004
Jim Whitehead Memorial Site launched
I'm liking it very much.
Take a look! https://www.serendipit-e.com/whitehead