Some notes from a NITLE meeting on scholarly collaboration and digital resources that I’m participating in today.
First panel, the panel I’m presenting on, is on collaborative writing of scholarship in online formats. Kathleen Fitzpatrick started it off with a really smart presentation that puts books and other forms of publication in historical contexts, and argues that the future form of digital publishing lies in breaking with the codex form of the “book” to develop a net-native format and structure for disseminating long-form knowledge. Very cool points made along the way: hypertext is actually very painful to read in a purely physical sense.
I would add: a lot of hypertext only sounds like a good idea when its prophets are writing about what it should be. In practice, it not only falls short of the promises, it reveals that the promise is false. Kathleen mentioned Joyce’s afternoon. Like Kathleen’s students, I’d say that counter to the promise of inclusion and involvement, this hypertext is possibly the single most hostile and alienating fiction composed in the last century in terms of the way it constructs the relationship between author and audience.
Kathleen’s key argument is that net-native scholarly collaboration is going to have be situated within the actual social worlds that produce scholarship, rather than being an interface that just simulates the book. Argument that CommentPress (the WordPress template used by the Institute for the Future of the Book) is moving towards accomplishing this goal.
Kathleen mentions that CommentPress is trying to think about how to manage long-form work, but this is crucial to me: there still seems to me to be a difference between the scale and type of a “book” and the coffee-house world of academic blogs. Long-form texts are simply hard to consume using most digital readers, but I also think they’re hard to follow. I think we need to not overlook the virtues of the book (including individualization, privacy, sequestration from social networks of the experience of knowledge consumption and production).
A full version of Kathleen’s extremely interesting presentation can be seen at Media Commons.
I’ll put my own presentation up a bit later.
Laura Blankenship talked about putting her dissertation online. Laura started by talking about how putting the dissertation online alleviated some of the fears that are endemic to the process of restarting a dissertation, when most people might feel that online exposure would make those problems worse. The blog audience she had attracted was a supportive community that she thought could be portable to an online process of writing and publication. Online writing as a way to create communities and networks.
A personal side note: this points to a weakness of my own presentation. I talked about particular scholarly networks as they exist, and whether they can support online collaboration, but Laura is completely right that putting content up can create networks which seemed not to exist prior to the availability of content.
Laura also talked about the difficulties of the blog form itself: its reverse chronological character, and the effort of “housekeeping” the format itself. Also the question: now that it’s done, what does one do with it? Do you try to keep it moving into new formats? Create continuing use or participation?
For myself, this is how I feel about wikis also: they’re way more effort to keep “clean” than some of their most enthusiastic promoters let on, at least for creating a reusable resource built around a particular project.