citation systems for new media

Kari Kraus's picture

One of the things often discussed on this blog is the nature and challenges of the open peer-to-peer system of review that MediaCommons hopes to launch. A recurring question is this: once such a system has been designed and implemented, how do you get scholars to participate in and support it, both senior scholars who may be heavily invested in the current system and junior scholars who are expected to succeed under entrenched guidelines for promotion and tenure? If we want authors to contribute to an open-access platform on the web that determines prestige in new ways, then we need to create a system of incentives for them to do so. For example, we've discussed generating a letter for each author's tenure and promotion dossier that documents how often her MC-published work has been accessed, linked to, and cited, and how it's been received, commented upon, and re-used. It's the citation problem and its relationship to "usage patterns"that I want to focus on here. In the American Council of Learned Societies' report on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the authors identify "citation systems" as one essential element of a robust cyberinfrastructure, in part because of the role they play in information retrieval (6). Likewise, the University of Maryland's online guide to citation systems and style manuals includes this statement about why referencing sources is important:

Proper citation allows others to locate the materials you used. This allows interested readers to expand their knowledge on a topic. In some disciplines, one of the most effective strategies for locating authoritative relevant sources is to follow footnotes or references from known valuable sources.

Despite their importance, however, the citation conventions we've evolved for print resources are often inadequate for electronic resources. This is not, strictly speaking, a citation problem; it is an information services problem. Moreover, it is a problem that is especially acute in the arts and humanities, where we deal with aesthetic objects whose experimental nature often makes them difficult to classify and document. For example, The MLA style manual--the manual of record for arts and humanities scholars--offers no guidance on how to cite a variety of emerging creative genres that are native to the WWW: how, for instance, would you cite a machinima production? Harry Potter fan fiction? A "mixed reality" art work, such as Filthy Fluno's Sintetika, which exists both as a virtual painting in Second Life, and a limited edition print in Real Life? A YouTube mashup? A transmedia novel, such as Cathy's Book, that tells a story across multiple media? If such works are essentially un-citable using existing citation standards, then they risk becoming invisible because they cannot easily circulate within scholarly communication channels. In 2004, Alan Liu, Professor of English at UCSB, published a "Proposal for Revisions to MLA Style for Citing Web Resources." He begins by offering the following rationale:

While writing my book, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2004), I became aware of limitations in the current stylesheets or guidelines for citing Web resources. The best-known style guides are not intended for scholars who address "new media"—especially online new media—as their primary object of study (or one of their objects of study) rather than merely as a secondary resource. Stylesheets for print-based scholarship tend for reasons of economy to treat online materials as essentially analogous to print materials, though supplemented with a few additional bibliographic descriptors (e.g., date of access).

Last semester I asked students enrolled in my Information Access in the Arts course to research additional initiatives, proposals, and recommendations for reforming current citation systems for new media art and literature. Each group conducted a literature search and tracked down relevant articles, websites, and white papers investigating the pertinent citation issues and how they overlap with metadata standards, linking behaviors, and bibliographic management software (e.g., Zotero or Endnote). Students also tried to identify stakeholders (Who cares about these issues? Who is trying to address them in systematic ways?). Below you'll find their short annotated bibliographies of secondary sources. If you know of other proposals for citing new media, we'd love to hear about them. Please feel free to use the comments field to expand the bibliography and create a collaborative resource that others can consult. Group 1: Anne McDonough, Heather Meixler, Amanda Montgomery, Lara Nosek, Robin Pachtman Accio UK. “Style Guide for Accio Paper Submissions.” (n.d.). Accio 2008. 9 Mar. 2008. <>. This style guide for submissions to a UK-based Harry Potter conference offers an inclusive list of citation styles for new media, with citation styles for fan fiction, weblogs, weblog comments, chat room discussions, discussion list postings and video games. While developed to ensure standardization for papers submitted to Accio 2008 (a conference based on themes presented in the J.K. Rowling series), it clearly offers standards of interest to those citing new media, no matter the forum. The citation styles are very clear. Resembling standard MLA style, the in-text citation is general author and date, and the author serves as the main access point for the works cited or reference citation. The style guide also addresses the issue, common to web-based correspondence, of authors known by multiple names (given names, usernames, nicknames, post names, and email signatures) and gives direction for citing subsections of web sites. The guide itself includes a “Works Cited at Back” form, based on one developed by Fiction Alley, another Harry Potter fan site (, demonstrating that the community is building consensus on a way to cite fan fiction materials. Perhaps if enough members advocate for this particular style, it may become a standard spread beyond the Harry Potter community. “Draft Addendum to APA for Second Life (unofficial).” SimTeach Wiki. 8 Feb. 2008. SimTeach. 8 Mar. 2008. < Draft_Addendum_to_APA_for_Second_Life_(unofficial)> . The SimTeach wiki, which was created in April 2006, is designed as an information hub and resource for university instructional designers, faculty, and administrators to share their experiences in designing, teaching, and administering classes in immersive environments. Jeremy Kemp, Assistant Director of the Second Life Campus, started the site. The draft addendum entry describes and gives examples of citation and reference methods for objects, prims, sounds, animations, and gestures, as well as more traditional text-based resources such as papers and newsletters. While this paper is unofficial, it is based on the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines for citation, allowing for the examples to be absorbed by the official body. The SimTeach entry also briefly explains when one should give credit for work used and introduces common sense into the decision making process. While aimed at Second Life users, the straightforward descriptions and examples are beneficial to anyone looking to cite non-traditional electronic sources. The entry is well-written and has a scholarly vibe but still maintains its readability for the lay person. Despite the short length, it is packed with information about the need for citations and who needs to use them, and offers examples on how to sort various styles of “new” media. A user known as Knomaze posted the entry; registered users can access additional information about the poster. The entry is ad-free and appears to have no agenda besides providing citation guidelines for electronic media that currently have no guidelines in the major style manuals (APA, MLA, etc.). Duncan, Bonnie. “Citing Hypermedia: Solving the Indexing Dilemma.” (Re)Soundings 2001. 6 Mar. 2008. < ~resound/*vol2iss1/index.html>. This resource is itself a lesson in how citation systems need to accommodate developments in the world of digital literature: It’s introduced as a “peer reviewed interactive hypermedia periodical [that] publishes articles that effectively utilize print, graphic, music, and other text formats.” Duncan identifies the hypermedia phase of scholarship as the “young scholar’s game” while noting that these same scholars need the “boost” of name brand publications, and that the MLA and other organizations must recognize and index web-based peer-reviewed journals in order to address this gap. To that end, Duncan puts forth recommendations on the production side; if those creating the materials standardize, citation systems may follow suit. Duncan’s system incorporates partitioning (files for a particular issue are kept within a single folder; once complete, it brooks no changes); numbering (all files within an issue should be numbered sequentially); labeling (information on the article’s place is included in the <title> field in the HTML code and each graphic included is given its own stable number); and creating a system that archives with a particular issue (and makes searchable) the online responses. In line with the partitioning recommendation (and somewhat ironically, as the online-only publication covered forward-looking developments in digital media), (Re)Soundings, which ceased publication in 2004, followed a traditional publishing model of volumes and issues. The stable URLs for each article reflect the volume and issue number rather than an article title or identifier. Noahwf. “Citing Computer Games.” (21 April 2006). Collaboration Infrastructures: HRI Group Blog. Weblog entry. 7 Mar. 2008. < 2006/04/21/citing_computer_games>. The author of this post is most likely Noah Wardrip-Fruin, of the University of California, San Diego, a key figure in the electronic literature movement whose research interests include the preservation and study of software, computer games, and digital writing. The post proposes ideas for citing computer games that go beyond the standard publisher and title information, a necessary step as the author notes that wanting to cite a behavior, or a code, or an element of a game all require different approaches. For example, Noahwf notes that when referring to computer games with a relatively small file size, it would be beneficial to cite portions of code file (or even the entire game) needed to reconstruct a certain game state. This new citation system would allow scholars of new media to directly access the material and different variations of play within, which in turn would help researchers better understand the author’s written argument regarding the material. Including the whole game via code in the citation not only ensures that the author of a work is referring to the correct manifestation of the game; this form of citation also serves as a way of preserving the source material, a particularly key distinction when it comes to ephemeral digital information. While this posting is brief, it raises important questions about the myriad functions of citations, and the critical component they might play in preserving original digital material for future generations. Perkel, Jeffrey. “The Future of Citation Analysis.” The Scientist 19.20 (Oct. 2005): 24. Garfield Library. University of Pennsylvania. 2 Mar. 2008. < 405.pdf>. This article, written by a freelance science and technical writer, explores the impact of citation analysis on the quantitative tracking of authors, particularly science writers, when publishing in nontraditional formats. While the article does not directly address the issue of properly citing new media, it does highlight the impact that useful (e.g., complete and standardized) citations have on the publishing community at large. Challenges discussed include: poor documentation of information access points (e.g., title and publication date); that an author may be cited by both legitimate as well as fly-by-night sources, thanks to the democratic nature of the web; that citation analysis is key to determining grant funding; and that traditional citation format favors those designated as authors while neglecting those whose credit is relegated to the acknowledgements section of a work. A possible extension of that observation is that collaborative environments, such as the arts, might consider access points additional to the standard author, title, publication, etc. For example, consider how one might properly address the work of an appropriation artist working in Second Life that incorporates original work produced by someone else’s avatar. While the appropriation artist might be the obvious main access point, a citation that does not reference the original artist or her avatar would, following Perkel’s assessment of citation analysis, perhaps be lacking. Group 2: Lisbeth Herer, Amanda Holgate, Mary Lou Klecha, Lanah Koelle, Ashley Locke Beck, Sheila and Richard Beck. “Web Citation: A Proposal for Standardized Specification.” Online 60.4 (2006): 31-34. Academic Search Premier. 8 Mar. 2008 <>. In this short article, librarian Sheila Beck and computer technician Richard Beck acknowledge the difficulty of citing electronic sources. As a solution, they propose a new standard: the use of a HTML/XHTML tag <BIBLIO> in the <HEAD> section of a web page. <BIBLIO> would help researchers create accurate citations by clearly noting essential bibliographic data (author, title, etc.), without following the formatting of any citation system. In addition, the authors predict that browsers could display the bibliographic entries, while word processors and online citation tools could sense the tags and extract the bibliographic data to create citations. If approved by the W3C, this tag would be easy to incorporate into the HTML/XHTML code of current websites. The authors have also included examples of coding with <BIBLIO>. “The DOI System.” 6 Mar. 2008. The International DOI Foundation. 3 Mar. 2008 <>. This informative Web site, supported by the International DOI Foundation (IDF), highlights the place of “digital object identifiers” in today’s growing cyberinfrastructure. In much the same way that ISBN numbers consistently identify texts, DOIs offer the ability for intellectual property to be persistently located on digital networks. This site further explains the numerous impacts such markers have on digital intellectual property. IDF offers a convenient, uniform, and interoperable method for tracking digital content that could influence the future of digital librarianship and archives, as well as academic fields within the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Ritter-Guth, Beth. “Virtual Citations: Defining and Creating Ethical Content in Virtual Worlds.” 2 Nov. 2007. New Media Consortium. 7 Mar. 2008 < creating-ethical-content-virtual-worlds>. Ritter-Guth describes a conference presented under the auspices of the New Media Consortium, “an international 501(c)3 not-for-profit consortium of nearly 250 learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies” (<> [accessed 7 Mar. 2008]). The conference was entitled “Symposium of the Evolution of Communication” and focused on how new media has changed the ways in which citations will need to be handled. The description of the session notes that MLA and APA are not providing adequate guidance for the citation of what is being called “virtual world documents” including “notecards, text chat, object text, and scripts.” The session description states that once participants have collaboratively created a “user-friendly system for documenting within virtual worlds and from virtual worlds,” a publication called “VDS” or “Virtual Documentation Style” will be published by session moderator Beth Ritter-Guth and released by Creative Commons. Tomaiuolo, Nicholas. “Citations and Aberrations.” Searcher 15.7 (2007): 17-24. Academic Search Premier. 10 Mar. 2008 <>. The author discusses the difficulties posed by electronic sources for citations, particularly the proliferation of slightly varying forms of a work available in different electronic formats. Noting that even academics and librarians are prone to errors and inconsistencies in citations of all kinds of sources, he points out the importance of reliable and informative citation formats, and presents a few of the differing standards for electronic source citation. The article argues in favor of standardization of format for electronic sources, and discusses the pitfalls of automated citation generators, while noting the promise of programs such as NoodleBib to promote good citation standards. Ultimately, the author emphasizes the importance of accuracy, and teaching of accuracy, in citations of all sources. Walker, Janice R. and Todd Taylor. The Columbia Guide to Online Style. Second Edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Books in Print hails The Columbia Guide to Online Style as the “standard reference” for “instruction on how to cite electronic and electronically accessed sources” (“The Columbia Guide to Online Style.” Bowker’s Books in Print Professional. 2008 R. R. Bowker. 8 Mar. 2008 <>). If The Columbia Guide to Online Style is indeed the prevailing print guide to online citation for scholars, then a literature review of current issues surrounding citation systems for new media art and literature would be remiss if it did not assess the ways in which this established resource handles electronic works in the arts and humanities. Walker and Taylor’s approach to citing electronic sources is commendable in the ways in which it builds upon, modifies, and extends citation styles such as MLA and APA that scholars are already familiar with. In re-thinking citation systems for electronic resources, Walker and Taylor do not completely discount or eliminate traditional bibliographic approaches. Rather, they guide scholars in how to search for, identify, or make do without traditional bibliographical elements in electronic sources. Chapter 2 discusses the challenges scholars face when citing electronic sources, and outlines traditional bibliographical elements that can be adapted to suit the needs of evolving electronic citations. Chapter 3 covers electronic resources that arts and humanities scholars are already fairly accustomed to citing (web pages, online articles and books, databases, etc.), and branches out to include citations for graphics audio or video files, blogs and wikis, chats, MOOs and MUDs, online games, software and video games, and courseware/online course material. Citation models also include untraditional elements such as source and programming codes, file extensions, and command sequences. The Columbia Guide to Online Style is by no means perfect or complete, but until scholars and publishers can determine once and for all how to formally cite new media art and literature, this print guide provides compromises between the old world of citation systems and the new. Group 3: Kim Detterbeck, Rachel Donahue., Megan D., Christine Forbes., Beth H. Beck, Sheila and Richard. "Web Citation: A Proposal for Standardized Specification." Online 30, no. 4 (July/August 2008): 31-34. 10 March 2008. Accessed via ResearchPort. <>. The authors propose using XHTML tags to standardize bibliographic information on web sources. They suggest incorporating a <BIBLIO> tag into the head of the HTML page. The tag would contain two levels: one which describes the page as a container of information and one that describes the information that is contained. The information in the first level (title, creator, date of creation, URL) is often already included on webpages, but it would be standardized using the tag. The second level of information would include the author, publisher, date of publication, and version. Because the information would be all in one place and clearly labeled, it could be automatically compiled into a bibliography through a web browser or word processing program. The authors explain their proposal quite well, with many examples, but do not offer if or how it can be used for any digital, new media objects. Frank, Ilene. "Results from SLED Tools survey...Citing Second Life." Online Posting. 19 Mar 2007. SLED. 09 March 2008. <> SLED is listserv for educators who are either new to or experienced with the Second Life application, and information believed to be pertinent to both educators and academics is distributed through SLED. User Ilene Frank writes that she and others were wondering how to cite objects/events in Second Life, and actually emailed Janice Walker, co-author of the Columbia Guide to Online Style. She attached Ms. Walker's response for comment, which quotes relevant passages from the CGOS which deal with quoting RPGs and code, and also suggests incorporating directions for any other types of files (jpgs, videos, etc) that would be relevant to the object being cited. Included are concrete examples of how such a citation should be formed. Probably the largest change from traditional citation styles that Ms. Walker suggests is including the commands required to get to an object. Her message was then replied to by Daniel Livingstone, who pointed out the pros and cons of Janice's citation suggestion. Where he saw a problem with the suggested format, he offered a correction. He also included two examples of how he cited things from a second life workshop. Jorgensen, Peter. "Citations in Hypermedia:Implementation Issues." Information Technology and Libraries. Chicago: Dec 2005. 24:4. 186-191. 29 February 2008. Accessed via ResearchPort. <>. To begin work on creating a system for citing online sources of all sorts, the ability to gather the needed information for basic citations is the first issue that needs to be resolved. As Internet sources become meaningful for scholars of all levels and types, standards need to be created. Although citation authorities have attempted to apply their monograph standards to web source, these systems are inconsistent and do not fully recognize the unique characteristics of digital information. Surprisingly, e-publishers have not recognized the need to address citation of their publications, although the have the means to provide accurate citation information. Jorgensen, therefore, suggests that the producers of electronic information begin to utilize Dublin Core standards to embed necessary citation data into metadata tags. Secondly, the author encourages software designers to begin building applications which could access the DC metadata and present it to the user in a meaningful way either by merging it into a document, copying it to the clipboard, or automatically adding it to a bibliographic database. Date and time stamps could also be present in these applications. Not only would such citation advances aid in the transmission, retrieval, and standardization of online information, but the scholar would also have a record of her own online studies. Lindquist,Mats G. “Not your Father’s References: Citations in the Digital Space.” Journal of Electronic Publishing. March 1999 4:3. University of Michigan Press. 4 March 2008 <>. Lindquist’s article focuses on the growing change in scientific literature from a focus on print journal publishing to the new-found channel of electronic journals. Although this article deals with scientific publishing, some of the conclusions Lindquist proposes can be applied to electronic citation standards in the arts and humanities. As “articles” in electronic form are not bound by conventions of the print tradition, one must define new citation standards for these articles. Concepts such as “issue” and “page” cannot easily be applied to electronic documents and thus make them hard to confirm to tradition citation standards. Lindquist also addresses the issue of “unique identifiers” for every electronic document and goes over several international efforts in place to deal with the problem of the impermanence of links and unique identifiers. Lindquist also addressed the question of granularity, meaning the level of detail of an electronic document, which cannot be determined by traditional means. There are rarely page numbers, issue numbers or chapter titles and each level of an electronic document can be owned (by copyright) to a different individual or institution. To help solve the problem of “e-citations” and their preservation, Lindquist proposes a “network of archival servers” where all the electronic information for a document can be stored and be accessed. The author concedes that such an endeavor will take many resources in terms of time, man-power and money but as the electronic journal is exploding in popularity, this dedication of resources is merited. Paskin, Norman. "E-citations: actionable identifiers and scholarly referencing". Learned Publishing, 13.3 (July 2000): 159-166. IngentaConnectComplete. Ingenta. University of Maryland Libraries, College Park. 07 March 2008. <> This article addresses citation in scientific literature, but many of the issues described by Paskin parallel those faced by scholars in the arts and humanities. In this article, Paskin identifies the challenges in creating standards for “E-citations,” citations that refer to electronic sources. Problems result because the current scholarly citation system developed around the use of print resources—physical, tangible works. With scholars increasingly citing digital material, citation systems need to evolve to reflect their intangible nature. The purpose of citations, to unambiguously identify a source, is made problematic in the digital realm because, for one, URLs change and secondly, digital sources themselves change. Paskin proposes the use of technology to remedy some of these issues by attaching “actionable identifiers” to intangible information sources, which would stay the same even when URLs change. Paskin also identifies challenges associated with “granularity”—how many, and what type of changes result in a “new” work? He does not present a solution to this problem, but does recommend the development of new standards and agreed-on “best practices” within a field.


Kathleen Fitzpatrick's picture

Excellent information, Kari

Excellent information, Kari — thanks so much to you and your students for sharing this! Citation strategies are going to have to undergo major — and, I suspect, continual — renovation in the coming years as new modes of publishing and communication become increasingly prevalent in the academy. In addition to the questions about web-based resources you raise (such as the mode of citation for machinima), I’d also ask about otherwise “ordinary” texts read in new environments, and about the citation not just of the location of texts within networks but of specific passages within those texts. For instance, how one would cite a text read on, for instance, a Kindle, given that one can change the font size? Will the “page” as the unit of reference cease to have the same kind of meaning, leaving us with chapter/section/paragraph citations?

Kari Kraus's picture

Thanks Kathleen. Great

Thanks Kathleen. Great question. I’ve heard this problem described as one of “granular addressability”: the ability to link to (and by extension cite) all kinds of content at different scales (e.g., document level, paragraph level, word level, frame-level, bit level, etc.), and to extend this capability to multimedia formats that don’t natively support embedded links. A few resources:

Purple Numbers:
XML linking language (which also includes the novel concept of the “extended link”):
The Open HyperDocument System: