Comments on the Pages
Is there any hope Stallybrass will publish his paper?
I’d certainly imagine so. I’ll keep my eye out for it, and will post a comment on that works cited entry once it’s published.
in order to escape what he called “the tyranny of the book”
Here Stallybrass obviously makes a very good point, but he still holds on to the concept of a “page”, which is also a codex/book-concept. In print the size and contents of a page is fixed, whereas in much digital publishing (e.g. in e-book readers) re-flow or adapted layout is an important principle. Digital publishing has long suffered under the “tyranny of the page”, especially as PDF has been such a dominant format.
(By the way: This is my third comment and none of the others have yet turned up on the site, a delay that gives an annoying impression of a behind-the-scenes editing process.)
That delay, alas, is about the moderation process; in order to prevent spam comments, first posts by new readers require approval. (And I was quite asleep as you were posting!) This indicates one of the problems with the technology, of course: the same kind of insecurity to which blog comment and trackback technologies are prone. My sense is that we’re going to have to solve those problems before really dynamic electronic scholarly communities will be able to arise.
In this and the next paragraph you suggest we approach issues “involved in electronic publishing from a broader structural perspective”, which intuitively seems correct. However, reading this chapter carefully, what really seems to be important is the reception of text, that is the use and reading of text, clearly indicated by use of terms and clauses such as: reader, reader’s active engagement, manipulation, random access, scrolling, sense of provenance, stick one’s finger between pages etc. I believe any approach to electronic publishing has to take the interrelation between use and structure very seriously, and as a result be willing to admit that no standalone interface, application or device can comply with all needs or reading practices, not even within the limited space of scholarly reading and writing.
I am very much in favour of the ideas underpinning CommentPress and have often felt a need for receiving more immediate feedback on my own writings and for giving response to others. However, before commenting a paper, I like to read it trough, reflecting on its content and getting an impression on the overall argument (often underlining parts of the text and making annotations). Unfortunately CommentPress neither provide an online reading mode nor a print version of the article. I therefore rely on the version I printed from the JEP archive for this kind of sustained and reflective reading. When I now comment, I have the printed and annotated version in front of me at the same time as I write the comments and scroll through the CommentPress text.
This is how I work (and studies indicate that this is a very common way of working). Taking the many different ways we read and use documents and texts into consideration, I believe you overstate your point when, using CommonPress as an example, you claim it is necessary to replace the codex-form with a web-native form. What is the necessity? And how do you think one form can replace numerous other forms?
I like this point quite a bit. I’m working through some similar issues in my research on film blogs. Many film and media bloggers have used their blogs to invite discussion of their research (JD Lasica’s Darknet and Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail are interesting examples. The result is that the book is more visibly the product of a network of thinkers. In both cases, the final product itself–the book–was important, but the book was also more clearly and visibly the product of a network of readers.
Are people who say this making an argument about whether blogs became significant before wikis?
Hmmm. Perhaps. I think they’re also suggesting that “publishing” implies dynamism, in the sense that one never publishes one book, or one issue of a journal, but rather establishes an ongoing enterprise that releases multiple sequential texts. Wikis are more internally dynamic, but they remain one text, and thus aren’t in the same sense an ongoing publishing system.
I see. But I also wonder if this might be precisely one way that people see web-native publishing: getting away from a sequential release schedule of texts. Take a journal like electronic book review that specifically eschews discrete sequential “numbers” or “issues” in favor of a group of ongoing threads to which content is added as it is ready. They’re very happy to have gotten away from the print-imposed forms of the volume and number, toward an expanding, interconnecting body that is more wiki-like. And yet I wouldn’t hesitate to call what they do “publishing.”
Oh, yes, of course. I do not mean to suggest that I am espousing the position above; only attempting to speculate about circumstances under which one might claim a “publishing” status for blogs that would take precedence over that of wikis…
I understand we can comment both on the contents on the paper and on the user interface of CommentPress. I have used Firefox until now and it has functioned well, but as it happened I opened the paper in IE and suddenly the comments were presented at the end of the running text of each chapter, which of course was very inconvenient.
Yikes. Which IE, on which operating system? This sounds ugly!
It is an adapted and distributed version of IE 6.0 used by the university on a Windows 2000 operating system
Hmmm. I wonder if one of the adaptations disables something in the CSS. I’ll have to see if I can replicate the bug here…
I am with you on everything so far except for this. I completely agree that a new for will be transformative. But never because it elevates the reader to a place where the reader is required to create the meaning of the text. Make it easy for the reader to understand the text not harder. As teachers we all want our readers to actively engage us. The reality is that we are lucky if we on the only screen they are reading from at any given time, let alone in the only window they are reading. Conceptually I recognize that what is desired is a better way to convey the context of the piece of text being presented to the audience. And the simultaneous desire to let the audience define what is relevant as context. But we will rarely succeed in gaining attention if we make the audience put down their coffee, and close the twitter window. We need a platform that conveys context effortlessly and intuitively. Not “full participation” rather the ability to be meaningful in sporadic and burstable attention.
I’m not sure we’re actually in disagreement here, if I’m reading you correctly; this paragraph is actually meant to be citing what I read as a species of utopian thinking on the part of early hypertext critics…
Are you sure that people are as trapped in “the codex” as you claim? My guess is that most professionals spend far less working time with bound books than with other formats for written matter. We read e-mail, circulate memos, print drafts, read drafts, print and read loose-leaf PDFs, put together or read 3-ring binders of materials. etc. And that’s not even counting Death by PowerPoint!
Dealing with important issues, I find this paper very interesting. However, as the author gets closer to the core of problems concerning digital text, new questions naturally arise. Therefore I hope the paper will start off a thorough discussion.
First a short comment on the name of the application. The word “press” in “CommentPress” clearly points backwards to the print world and not forward to a net-native publishing form :-)
I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing that we use print-like metaphors to explore new media. Gotta start with something…
It might not be necessary to reinforce this argument with additional examples, but I’ve certainly found this to be true in maintaining my blog (on film and media studies) over the last few years.
It’s worth adding that this “conference-without-walls” model also invites non-scholars to participate in this textual circulation. My research on internet film cultures has benefited considerably from my interaction with bloggers who are not academics.
Obviously, it is important to analyze the new digital and networked scholarly discourse using various models and concepts, such as “the coffee house model”, the library model” and “the model of a communication circuit”.
The classic sender-oriented linear communication model is in many ways outdated and when Darnton bends the line of this model into a circuit (and populates it with authors, publishing firms, printers, booksellers and readers) he turns the attention to (the relation between) all participants in textual communication in different historical periods. It is my impression, however, that the circuit model tends to direct most of the attention to the circulation of the completed books and journals, that is, their distribution and dissemination.
The much-used cycle or life cycle models (information cycle, document life cycle etc.) focuses on text forms (books, journals) and examines the different sequences or phases the texts within these forms go through, including their production, distribution and reception. In their model “The life cycle of scientific information” Tenopir and King bring in a dynamic aspect, stating that writing of scholarly papers is not a totally solitary activity, involving both reading and reference to other scholarly text, editing, peer-reviewing and proofreading.
An interesting aspect of networked scholarly discourse is that within the text cycle the distinction between the previously rather separated phases of writing, distribution and reading is starting to get blurred, or to put it differently: the phases are about to be mixed or mingled, epitomised in Wiki-environments where the users are also the writers. I guess it is a similar community-based cooperative writing-commenting-rewriting process that is the ultimate goal of CommentPress’ efforts within scholarly publishing, in many way making the process of writing just as important as the final product,
I have a strong feeling that the discussion about these new forms of peer-writing or peer-production is in need of a whole range of new models and concept in order for us and others to fully grasp the significance of the changes. I also fear on behalf of CommonPress advocates that the linear and circulation concepts are so deeply embedded in long-lasting institutional practises that any significant change in our understanding and behaviour will take a very long time.
(I wonder, by the way, if this comment is too long?)
I hesitate to ask, because I know this text has already gone through a round of commenting, but should “Wark” instead be “Stephens” in the last sentence?
Ack! You’re exactly right. For better or for worse, that sentence is new to this draft, and so hadn’t previously been read by anyone but me…
I have now over a period of nearly 5 days written several comments and very few others have written anything. I guess that this indicates that in order to get the “liveliness of convercation and interaction” requred, some kind of community has to exist. May be in the form of an established scolarly web site, journal portal, or blog on which the CommentPress article is published.
In this paragraph I think you contradict yourself and again exaggerate your point. I do agree that most of the digitation of text is based on the printing paradigm (what else should it build on?) and that this printing- thinking (and its deep embeddedness in economic and social practices) still dominates electronic publishing in such a degree it impedes the development and proliferation of new forms. However, “pages”, “documents” and “e-books” are not primarily a heritage of the print-model, but rather of the codex-model, as are many features (of CommentPress), such as “paragraph”, “chapter”, “title”, “margin”, “white space” etc. and even “comment” which of course is an explanatory note in a text, usually in the margin of the manuscript (In my opinion several basics of the XML markup paradigm is build on the codex’ way of visually and spatially organizing written information). However, there is nothing wrong in building on features developed within the codex model (or for that matter within the writing systems as such; “character”, “letter”, “capital” etc.), the codex after all being a rather successful conveyer of information.
This, of course, doesn’t mean CommentPress (and others) shall not develop new textual communication forms building on possibilities offered by the computer technology and networked communication (interactivity, hypertext, linking, near-to-simultaneous communication, communities etc.). Still, we can not elude our heritage, stretching thousands of years back and may consequently also give some credit to the e-book developers and advocates, that, building on the book heritage and introducing new technical solutions (adapted fontsize, re-flow, character enhancements, paging etc.), are trying to transfer prolonged and reflective reading on to a digital platform, an effort that has turned out to be very demanding indeed, indicating that in some forms of reading the centuries of expertise and know-how accumulated in printing may be of some relevance after all.
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8 November 2007 at 2.08 pm
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