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 03, 2006
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend... - Google Book Search
Google Print: Hey! I found myself in Ray Kurzweil's new book, "The Singularity is Near." That's cool, to show up in the book of an author I really enjoy reading.
Might as well record the entire citation. However, I have a bone to pick here. Dude! That's a section where I quoted a bit from Sherry Turkle's book "Life on the Screen." But the quotation uses elipses so you can't tell which are my words and which come from Turkle.
I used to make all my first-year composition students read the first two chapters of "Life on the Screen" (this quotation comes from the beginning of the book).
It's my favorite line in Turkle's book (copied it here below as well, if anyone wants to discuss it, my version, and Kurzweil's with the elipses). In the CNN.com column, I couldn't record the page number of the Turkle quotation, but I can put it in here. You can find that bit in "Life on the Screen" at the bottom of page 13.
I also value Turkle's assessment of two dichotomies of competing cultures (aesthetics?) in computer science (and engineering, and many other fields) of "tinkering" vs. "top-down planning," as well as what she calls in her introduction "a culture of calculation" vs "a culture of simulation."
Those ideas are valuable as a heuristic mainly, as overly simplistic dichotomies maybe, like Robert Pirsig talks about in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," the "classic" and "romantic" understanding of motorcycles, surface romance vs. the guts of a finely tuned engine. But it gives a person something to think about. One of these days I'm going to insert that Pirsig quotation into this blog as a "Seminal Text." I used to copy it up as a handout for the gifted and talented students when I taught critical thinking at Arkansas Governor's School.
The other essential Turkle book I own is "The Second Self."
Here's the bit from my CNN.com column Kurzweil uses:
A student may have a textbook open. The television is on with sound off (perhaps with the CNN Headline News modular screen). They've got music on headphones. On a laptop hooked in to the Internet there's a homework window, along with e-mail and instant messaging in the background. The Web has become an essential part of checking facts and figures for the homework (not to mention plagiarizing with copy and paste). On top of that, the student may field phone calls or talk with a roommate.
One of the most striking observations in Turkle's findings was a quote from one multi-tasking student who preferred the online world to the face-to-face world. "Real life," he said, "is just one more window."
College students are the leading edge in adapting to this new goldfish bowl, these new multi-tasking sense ratios. Some of us will hold on to the old ways by our fingernails, afraid of losing a coherent self. Others will plunge into the new collective nerve center, our various selves loosely joined in a partial free-fall at all times.
Kurzweil's bib citation in the book:
Christine Boese, "The Screen-Age: Our Brains in our Laptops," CNN.com, August 2, 2004. https://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/01/26/hln.hot.buzz.silicon.brain/index.html.
Now part of [my consciousness] lives on the Internet and seems to stay there all the time.... A student may have a textbook open. The television is on with the sound off.... They've got music on headphones... there's a homework window, along with email and instant messaging.... One multi-tasking student prefers the online world to the face-to-face world. "Real life," he said, "is just one more window.
---Christine Boese, reporting on findings by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle.
And here's the bib for Kurzweil's book:
October 17, 2005
Fifth annual Pollner lecture draws big crowd
Link: Fifth Annual Pollner Lecture.
News & Events • October 2005
Fifth annual Pollner lecture draws big crowd
By ANNE E. PETTINGER
J-School Web Reporter
photo by Ryan Brennecke Blogs have power because they are interactive and more personal, Boese said.
A visiting journalism professor who kept prominent war blogs from the Iraq war says she often feels trapped between two worlds: one of traditional media and one in the blogosphere.
Christine Boese’s Oct. 10 lecture, “Big Media and Little Bloggers: How corporate media responded to war-blogging journalists,” addressed tensions that arise when mainstream media and bloggers go after the same story but in different ways.
“What does little David have in his slingshot that is making Goliath sit up and take notice?” Boese asked
This year's T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor, Boese delivered the annual Pollner lecture to a group of about 150 people in the University Center Theater.
Boese was writing for the “ticker” at CNN Headline News when the war in Iraq began. She said she had felt uncomfortable ever since the events of Sept. 11. “The thing that shook me up the worst was the uncertainty,” she said.
That uncertainty was magnified by her placement in two different journalism traditions: one in the mainstream media she was exposed to at CNN, and one in the blogosphere, where stories would break but often weren’t regarded as credible by the mainstream media.
“I didn’t know, or trust, whether or not the military would allow accurate reporting,” Boese said. “Most of the time I doubted what the so-called official sources were telling us.”
A long-time blogger herself, Boese wanted information when the war began from journalists who were in Iraq but not embedded with the military.
“I wanted to know I had sources on the ground in Iraq who were independent of the U.S. military,” she said. “I wanted to build their blogs so I could read their blogs.”
Boese met two journalists online and eventually became the keeper of their blogs. Carolina Podesta, an Argentinean journalist, wrote a blog that was featured on Argentinean television early in the war. At its most popular, her site was getting nearly 1,000 hits per day.
photo by Ryan Brennecke Members of the Pollner family visited Boese's seminar on Oct. 10
Josh Kucera’s blog also grew popular. Eventually, after the Boston Globe wrote an article about Kucera’s blog, Time magazine, Kucera’s employer, demanded that he stop posting to his site.
For Boese, that demand raised important questions about the ownership of ideas. “Can employers lay claim to what Josh [and others] do when they’re off the clock?” she asked.
Stifling intellectual freedom in that way is a disservice to readers, she said, because blogs offer strengths that differ from the strengths of traditional media. A major strength of blogs is that they encourage readers to interact with what they read, rather than simply providing facts, which encourages readers to remain childlike, Boese said.
Mainstream journalists often cite credibility as a reason for following traditional journalism guidelines. But, Boese asked, “what if credibility is casting readers into the role of perpetual children?” News should be a conversation, not a lecture, she added.
Blogs are also noted for being more personal than traditional media and often seem more like letters home than a news story. “It is incidental, off-hand observations that I think give blogs their power,” she said.
But despite their strengths, blogs don’t signal the end of traditional media, she said.
“Blogs couldn’t survive without newspapers,” she said during a question-and-answer session following the lecture.
Boese is the School of Journalism’s fifth T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor, a position made possible by family and friends of Anthony Pollner, a graduate of the School of Journalism who died in 2001. The Pollner professor spends the fall semester at the Journalism School, teaches a seminar and mentors the staff of the Montana Kaimin.
Previous Pollner professors were Jonathan Weber, a former reporter at the Los Angeles Times and editor of the Industry Standard, the fastest-growing magazine in American history; Tom Cheatham, a former UPI war correspondent and Emmy-award-winning producer and bureau chief for NBC News; Maurice Possley, a criminal justice investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune; and Nancy Szokan, an editor at the Washington Post.
July 31, 2005
Review quoted on the back cover of "Imagining the Internet"
Imagining the Internet: Personalities, Predictions, Perspectives
By Janna Quitney Anderson
$27.95 Paper 0-7425-3937-7 August 2005 256pp
$75.00 Cloth 0-7425-3936-9 August 2005 256pp
"Janna Anderson offers a great perspective on the history and future of the Internet based on Elon University/Pew Internet & American Life Project's extensive prediction collection. Good books come from thorough research. Starting with the earliest communications systems, such as the telegraph, is a useful bonus. Being a part of and having the last word in this fine past-and-future Internet chronicle is a real honor." —Gordon Bell, DEC vice president of research and development, leader of the National Science Foundation's Information Superhighway Initiative, and senior researcher, Microsoft
"There are many books on the Internet and cyberculture—part hype, part gloss, sometimes solid technology criticism. Anderson's book is valuable because it helps sort out differing viewpoints and puts them in a historical context, recreating many of the ups and downs of the 1990s, before things got really crazy. She has an amazing database of predictions, collected over time, and selects from it well. This book is never dense reading, but it is packed with interesting facts and milestones to jar my memory, to help me recreate what that time was like, because the subtle changes are what have worked us over so thoroughly. My favorite part in these excursions into the words of technology prophets and critics is picking out the threads that had an influence—that helped shape the larger visions of what this massive commons has become." —Christine Boese, cyberculture columnist for CNN.com and writer for CNN Headline News
"[Imagining the Internet] looks at the future through an analysis of the past. It is somewhat difficult after becoming immersed in these insights to remember that Internet communication began with the utmost diffidence. Indeed the first events involved a computer crash and unmemorable twaddle. . . . We hope that this material will be useful to scholars who wish to assess the distance we have come; journalists who are trying to figure out where we are now; government, industry, and nonprofit officials who want to build the Internet of the future; and people of all walks of life who must learn to recognize the coming complexities of their networked world." —Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, from the Foreword
"Janna Anderson illuminates with great clarity the history, dreams, and challenges of the Internet, which allow the reader to see glimpses of the future. A wonderful and important contribution." —Tiffany Shlain, founder and chairperson of the Webby Awards
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!
June 09, 2000
ACM Hypertext 2000: Making a Successful Case for a Hypertextual Doctoral Dissertation
Presented at: Proceedings of the Eleventh Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia May 30 – June 4, 2000 San Antonio, Texas, USA.
Published in conference proceedings: New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2000. 232-233.
At this same conference, I also presented the following material in a poster session:
Find this article in its original location here.
Making a Successful Case
for a Hypertextual Doctoral Dissertation
Department of English
Clemson, SC USA 29634
In August, 1998 the first hypertextual dissertation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was accepted (https://www.nutball.com/dissertation), a case study applying methods of rhetorical analysis and cultural critique to the online phenomenon called the “Xenaverse,” the cyberspaces devoted to the cult following of the syndicated television program Xena, Warrior Princess. The hypertextual research site, a vital online culture, seemed to demand a new kind of scholarship to describe and analyze it. Still, there were many hurdles to getting such an unorthodox presentation form accepted by the dissertation committee and the Graduate School.
This paper summarizes a few of the justifying arguments that led to the successful acceptance this dissertation, a hypertext that could not be reproduced in any way on paper. In showing how one case for a hypertextual dissertation was successfully argued, I hope to help other scholars make similar cases at other institutions, perhaps leading to further debate on the ways arguments and epistemologies will be defined in the future.
KEYWORDS: hypertext dissertation electronic scholarship online cultural studies library archives University Microfilms graduate school Xenaverse Xena
The rest of the text version is available at the "Continue" link below.
There are good and bad reasons for wanting to attempt a hypertextual dissertation. An attempt at hypertextual scholarship should not be motivated by a gratuitous desire to find any excuse to hypertextualize an argument. David Kolb, in a number of his works  has raised important reservations about hypertextual forms of academic arguments, especially because linearity and coherence have often been seen as essential features of good arguments. Some argue that dissertations are by definition linear, and therefore something that is nonlinear cannot actually be a dissertation. I agree that dissertations must present an argument, but I remain unconvinced that arguments are essentially defined by their linearity. The field of rhetoric in particular shows us how most arguments that strive for linearity are not fully linear, and are instead dependent on enthymemes and other rhetorical figures and stances.
Meanwhile, some of us are in search of truths that don’t proceed linearly, that build a persuasive case by accumulation and reiteration, by inviting users to make their own connections and to actively construct truths from extensive archives and linked appendices.
However, the best reason for attempting a hypertextual dissertation is that the content of the research demands it. In the case of the cyberspace-based virtual world called the "Xenaverse," an ethnographic study could take into account the hypertextual virtual culture created, describe it on its own terms, and then circle back and analyze the findings. The dissertation could contain both detailed description and critical rhetorical analysis, cross-linked and tied directly to the sites of the study’s co-participants. With this in mind I began the project, The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: Chaining Rhetorical Visions from the Margins of the Margins to the Mainstream in the Xenaverse (https://www.nutball.com/dissertation).
WHAT FORM SHOULD IT TAKE?
How do I effectively report back on my research? How much hypertextual knowledge and understanding would be lost in the translation from webbed text to linear print text? The data consist of multiple media strung across a web of links. The shape of the dissertation content, both my own description and analysis and the many voices of the people who live in my data, is primarily non-hierarchical, decentering, marginal, polyvocal, multi-threaded, in short, hypertextual. My goal was to move outside of the standard, linear, centered form for a dissertation argument in order to devise an alternative, perhaps more expansive, form for my persuasion in hypertext. The hypertextual performance of this dissertation was merely one step toward testing whether nonlinear arguments can be made in hypertext, a challenge put forth by David Kolb in "Socrates in the Labyrinth"  and "Discourse Across Links" .
If closure doesn't always happen down a predetermined route, how do I judge, how does my dissertation committee judge, whether I have successfully completed and defended a dissertation that exists in native hypertextual, multimedia form? Perhaps what I am making is more of a hypertextual creative work of considerable substance, a performance, a representation of a dissertation in experimental form. However, this does not mean that my argument cannot be effective and persuasive, and thus still meet the institutional requirements for dissertations.
This project sought to link and merge with the webbed Xenaverse culture in cyberspace. To learn about the Xenaverse, the power relationships and constructions of authority within it, the user is invited to step through a scholarly portal, to become immersed, explore, both within and beyond the blurred boundaries of the dissertation and into the Xenaverse itself. I made a choice to match the form of my dissertation to the webbed environment of the Xenaverse, in order not to lose the hypertextual knowledge and understanding that could perhaps be gained from associational linking and dialogic interactions between frames and windows.
With a dissertation I couldn’t be as free form as I might have been in a fictional piece. If I had been more experimental, I would have run the risk that the dissertation would have been unacceptable to the Graduate School. My committee was receptive to experimentation, and eventually voiced concern that I had been too conservative in structuring the interface. However, I had to find a way to ensure that the major argumentative points of my study were communicated through multiple paths and navigational styles. I attempted to do that by building redundancies into the content for a holistic effect. I also attempted to build recursiveness into the link structure, so that patterns of links would lead the reader back around and around until unexplored sectors will almost inevitably be reached.
There were also some key negotiations made between the chair of my doctoral committee, the Graduate School, and myself. Our research indicated that University Microfilms had been accepting CD-ROM dissertations since 1996, and it was heralded as a sign of progress in the “Information Technology” section of The Chronicle of Higher Education .
Upon contacting University Microfilms in 1998, however, I was told that the electronic submission policy only applied to Portable Document Format (.pdf) files, in other words, facsimile document files that faithfully reproduced images of a paper dissertation. The person I spoke with had no idea what University Microfilms would do with the multimedia dissertations written about in the Chronicle article. These were described as traditional linear dissertations with extensive support media (e.g. video clips, photographs). There was no mention of what would be done with the nonlinear structuring of hypertextual forms. Eventually I came upon the same difficulty with the Rensselaer Polytechnic library: lack of a digital archive.
I had developed an interface of dialogically interacting frames and windows forming a composite text. In the first round of negotiations over a “no paper” dissertation with the Graduate School, I was asked if I could just print out all the Mainscreens, negating the effects of nonlinear linking. My advisor, David Porush, and I had decided early on that if an electronic dissertation could be reproduced on paper, then there was really no compelling reason for it to be in electronic form at all.
To its credit, the Rensselaer Graduate School was remarkably open-minded. I proposed a small introductory text that would contain instructions on how to install the CD-ROM or access the Web site. This small amount of paper could be hardcover bound, with an envelope affixed to the inside back cover for the CD-ROM. Finally a compromise was reached. The Graduate School required that each dissertation have four sections, an Abstract, an Introduction, a Conclusion, and a Bibliography. In the end, the paper component totaled 73 pages.
The greatest obstacle to the archival longevity of the project had to do with the Institute’s lack of stable, long-term digital storage and access space on the Internet. I needed a permanent Uniform Resource Location (URL) that I could publish in the paper archives. I had to take it upon myself to provide a stable and permanent URL for the site, paying to register a DNS as well as the monthly server space rental.
I hope that other scholars can add to the development of such cases like this, opening the door for a more firmly established genre of hypertextual scholarship. We also must consider the traditional and not-so-traditional institutional constraints for archiving and referencing such work, and advocate changing the storage system assumptions made by University Microfilms and library archives in making hypertextual electronic scholarship available to other researchers. Electronic dissertations that are exact representations of paged paper texts show little justifying reason for being created and stored in digital form, other than the expedience of saving library shelf space. Some scholars are using digital materials to archive multimedia rich data appendices, but the form of their argument remains primarily conventional. There is much more work to be done.
1. Kolb, D., Socrates in the Labyrinth, in Hyper/Text/Theory, G.P.
Landow, Editor. 1994, Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, MD.
2. Kolb, D., Discourse across Links, in Philosophical Perspectives on Computer-Mediated Communication, C. Ess, Editor. 1996, State University of New York Press: Albany, NY. p. 15-26.
3. Mangan, K.S., CD-ROM Dissertations: Universities consider whether new format is appropriate way to present research. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1996 (March 8, 1996): p. A15-A19.