The Contract

If you’re a Facebook status watcher and a friend of mine, you may have seen the recent update in which I announced that I have a contract. It’s an advance contract for Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, which will, if all goes according to plan, be released in commentable draft form here and at MediaCommons, revised, and then published simultaneously in electronic form by MediaCommons and in print by NYU Press.

It’s phenomenal news, of course, and enormously exciting. As a friend of mine pointed out to me, though, all good news in academia comes with more work attached, a pricetag of sorts. This one’s a bit daunting: the entire thing is due in just about a year.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, needless to say, but it promises to be an exciting year. More about the project here, of course, as the process becomes clearer…

The Future of Citations

Things have been a bit quiet around MediaCommons for a while, as we’ve been working behind the scenes on a major platform transformation that should be coming soonish. But there has been a little activity there of late, and in case you were looking the other way, I wanted to bring it to your attention.

The most significant thing is a very interesting and important post by Kari Kraus on citation systems for new media. Kari gives a bit of background on the problems that new media forms present for existing citation systems such as MLA and APA, and then follows with some of the research done by her Information Access in the Arts course this spring into various initiatives and proposals for renovating citation strategies into the future. Kari and her students are exploring a crucial set of issues for the future of academic discourse, as the ability to develop a systematic and yet flexible set of guidelines not just for referring to multimodal web-based sources but for ensuring the stability of those references will have an enormous impact on the ease with which scholars move into new modes of networked communication.

I raise a related issue in the comment I’ve left on her post, as well, one that I’ve discussed in a couple of classes recently: the unit of reference within the codex has long been the numbered page, through which I can get from your footnote to a relatively narrow chunk of text within which your reference lies in relatively direct and speedy fashion. But as we start reading texts in multiple new environments, moving from web to computer-based readers like Sophie to reading appliances like the Kindle, what new strategies will we need to develop in order to refer not only to the particular text we’re citing, but the particular spot in the particular text?

This Is Scholarship

A colleague of mine recently sent me a link to the Summer 2008 issue of Kairos, guest edited by Scott Lloyd DeWitt and Cheryl Ball, entitled “The Manifesto Issue.” The manifesto as a form is near and dear to my heart, and particularly those that have to do with new media composition and publishing, so I was happy to dive in — but even more thrilled to discover a reference to MediaCommons in Catherine C. Braun and Kenneth L. Gilbert’s fantastic video, “This Is Scholarship,” which should be required viewing for every tenure and promotion committee. I haven’t read the entire issue yet, but it’s clearly filled with compelling pieces that do not simply make arguments on behalf of new digital modalities but that manage to enact those arguments in their form as well. This has long been the m?©tier of Kairos, and in turning the journal’s attention explicitly to the manifesto, the editors have produced a most important kind of scholarship, both rigorous and experimental, clearing the way for others to follow.

if:book, NYU, the NEH, and MediaCommons

(Crossposted from MediaCommons.)

I’ve hinted over the last several months that big things were afoot for MediaCommons, but haven’t been able to be terribly specific; at last, however, the haps:

Our friends at the Institute for the Future of the Book have today announced their new institutional partnership with New York University (which NYU likewise announced recently).

Happily, the first fruits of this partnership directly benefit MediaCommons; working with the NYU digital library team, we have received an NEH Digital Startup Grant that will enable us to build the social networking backend for the fully-functional MediaCommons network we’ve been planning.

As Ben notes at if:book, we’re all enormously excited, and we’ll be looking forward to announcing more such developments in the future.

Peer Review

Yesterday morning, as part of the new regime, I sat down and did half an hour of uninterrupted, undistracted writing, beginning the process of blocking out the new article I’m working on, focusing on the history and future of peer review. And not a moment too soon, apparently. This morning, via the Chronicle (and if:book) comes the announcement of Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s peer-review experiment: Noah’s publishing his book manuscript, Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, in a modified version of CommentPress on the Grand Text Auto blog, at the same time his editor, Doug Sery, sends it out for traditional peer review.

Noah’s interest in this experiment has its origins in his desire to have as his primary peer reviewers the social network that has developed around his blog, feeling certain that those readers are the ones who will provide the greatest insight into his project. Doug Sery, for his part, agreed, while remaining somewhat skeptical:

He insisted on running the manuscript through the traditional peer-review process as well. “We are a peer-review press–we’re always going to want to have an honest peer review,” says Mr. Sery, senior editor for new media and game studies. “The reputation of MIT Press, or any good academic press, is based on a peer-review model.”

The origins of that “traditional” model of peer review, its presumptions of honesty, and the lock that it has on current models of academic authority are precisely the subject of the article I’m now working on, so I’m looking forward to watching Noah’s experiment develop. I’m also watching with great anticipation to see what this experiment bodes for MediaCommons, where we hope to develop a new model of “peer-to-peer review” that might not simply exist alongside traditional blind peer review but in fact augment and surpass it as a mode of creating and measuring authority in the age of the network.


I’m finally acknowledging this morning that the holidays are over, that there are two weeks left before classes start, and that if I’m going to get anything done, now’s the moment. I’m hoping to return to some regular writing here in this new year, and so am going to begin with a few relatively random bullets, just trying to capture some of what I’ve been pondering.

Originally uploaded by KF
  • The big-ass storm that pounded the west coast seems finally to have passed. The radar pictures I watched much of the weekend were quite dramatic — rain, at one point last night, stretching solidly from Palm Springs to the east to the coast, and from southern Orange County to well north of San Luis Obispo. Storms of that size are like a homecoming of a sort — one of a few things that I really miss from Louisiana — but they’re unusual enough to be a bit of a pain here: flooded streets, crap drivers, and a general creeping damp cold that my heating system can’t seem to overcome. On the upside, however, is that the storm has left us with enough snow that the desperation of this year’s drought might be a bit ameliorated.
  • The first episode of season 5 of The Wire already has me hooked, but that was pretty much a foregone conclusion: combine my absolute adoration for the show’s narrative strategies, its complex web of characters, and its focus on the systemic obstacles to really fixing serious social problems with the fact that, this year, the media provides the primary system in question, and I’m one hundred and four percent sold.
  • I’m back to work on some MediaCommons projects, which I hope I’ll have more to show for, soon.
  • I’m also attempting to move forward with my own writing projects, but as usual, they’re getting short shrift. I keep saying that I want to find ways to integrate that writing with posting here, and I keep not following through. I’m determined to get some blog mileage out of the research I’m doing right now, though, and some project mileage out of the blog, too. I’d call it a new year’s resolution if I really believed in those.

More from the homefront, soon.

CommentPress: New (Social) Structures for New (Networked) Texts

Late last spring, I attended “New Structures, New Texts,” a very exciting one-day meeting of folks from various academic publishing units, both press-affiliated and library-affiliated, who are all engaged in attempting to think through the problems and opportunities that the digital poses for scholarly communication. After that meeting, I began work on an article inspired in part by our discussions there, and in part by the Institute for the Future of the Book’s release of CommentPress, a WordPress-based publishing structure for finely commentable texts. I published the article in CommentPress as a draft and revised it based on the discussion there.

I’m happy to announce that the article is now being published simultaneously by the Journal of Electronic Publishing and by MediaCommons. The latter version is in CommentPress, and is thus open for comments and discussion.

I’m particularly interested in beginning a discussion in the “general comments” area of the article about the look-and-feel of the document; CommentPress is one of the primary technologies that MediaCommons currently has at its disposal, and it would be great for us to spend some time thinking about how the technology might work for us, what possibilities we can imagine for it, and what kinds of future development we’d like to see.

The Googlization of Everything

From my friends at the Institute for the Future of the Book today comes the launch of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s new book-in-progress, The Googlization of Everything. Siva, who is the Institute’s first Fellow, is writing this book in public in an attempt, as he says, to open the “black box” of its production, a project that MediaCommons likewise has at its heart:

I have never tried to write a book this way. Few have. Writing has been a lonely, selfish pursuit for my so far. I tend to wall myself off from the world (and my loved ones) for days at a time in fits and spurts when I get into a writing groove. I don’t shave. I order pizza. I grumble. I ignore emails from my mother.

I tend to comb through and revise every sentence five or six times (although I am not sure that actually shows up in the quality of my prose). Only when I am sure that I have not embarrassed myself (or when the editor calls to threaten me with a cancelled contract ‚Äì whichever comes first) do I show anyone what I have written. Now, this is not an uncommon process. Closed composition is the default among writers. We go to great lengths to develop trusted networks of readers and other writers with whom we can workshop ‚Äì or as I prefer to call it because it’s what the jazz musicians do, woodshed our work.

Well, I am going to do my best to woodshed in public. As I compose bits and pieces of work, I will post them here. They might be very brief bits. They might never make it into the manuscript. But they will be up here for you to rip up or smooth over.

That’s the thing. For a number of years now I have made my bones in the intellectual world trumpeting the virtues of openness and the values of connectivity. I was an early proponent of applying “open source” models to scholarship, journalism, and lots of other things.

And, more to the point: One of my key concerns with Google is that it is a black box. Something that means so much to us reveals so little of itself.

So I would be a hypocrite if I wrote this book any other way. This book will not be a black box.

Join in the discussion of the text as it develops there. I hope that the folks at MediaCommons can also discuss the implications of that text’s development; what can we learn from Siva’s experiment with writing-in-public?

“University Publishing in a Digital Age,” in a Digital Age

A while back, I mentioned the release of the Ithaka report on University Publishing in a Digital Age. Ithaka has now partnered with the Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library and with the Institute for the Future of the Book to post the report online in CommentPress (which I also wrote about a while back), making the text open to fine-grained commenting and discussion. Ithaka and the SPO are serious about seeking comment on the report; reactions and responses to this document may have a profound effect on shaping the future of academic discourse. Please stop by, read, and leave your thoughts and concerns for discussion.

(I’ll also take this opportunity to re-plug my paper on role of the social network in digital publishing, which focuses in part of CommentPress, which is also available for commenting in CommentPress. I’m beginning revisions on the piece, so your thoughts would be much appreciated.)

[Edited to add: Somehow I managed to let this post sit there for days without realizing that I hadn’t actually linked to the CommentPress version of the report. Sheesh.]

MediaCommons Series Casefiles

Among the kinds of texts that we’ve repeatedly noted as potential forms for MediaCommons to explore is what I’ve previously referred to as the “digital casebook,” an evolution of the anthology that allows scholars working on a single text, such as a television series, to produce an organically developing repository of scholarly materials about and around their subject of interest. This idea has developed into a proposal for what we’re now thinking of as the MediaCommons Series Casefiles (“files” here intended as a means of escaping the confines of the “book”). The proposal itself is below the fold, but we’d very much like to hear your comments, questions, and other responses over at MediaCommons, in order to further develop the idea as we proceed.

Continue reading “MediaCommons Series Casefiles”