I found the part where you said, "the process of sense-making that readers must undertake are still just as relevant" in digital forms interesting. I feel the multi-modal possibilities of digital spaces exceed even Flash and audio additions to a text. A variety of visual clues are possible within a digital space, of course, including colour, placement, and more. However, I wonder if digital space will allow more granularity in analyzing the reader reaction to a text, digital-born or otherwise. For example, using digital tools might allow tracking the amount of time reader's spend reading particular sections, providing quantifiable data concerning the reader's process of sense-making. Similarly, for embedded audio and video, the number of times these clips are replayed or if segments are replayed, might be useful in extrapolating the reader's experience.
I think that one of the issues is that, when we talk about our game avatars or our Facebook profiles, we identify them with some extension of ourselves. In traditional fiction, when we “read for character,” no matter how much we identify with a particular character, we still recognize them as a creation of someone else. This ties back in the the privileging of the author in the creation of texts in the Western tradition.
There is also a tradition of dismissal of the tech writing abilities involved in the creation of templates, which, really, is what an avatar or a Facebook profile is. They are templates that we may adjust and customize (to certain degrees) in order to express ourselves as authors, using a combination of features to make the template our own.
Laura, you highlight some interesting points in regards to the ways contemporary audiences interact actively with narratives. I will admit to also being a "lurker" on fan sites, often for shows that found little mainstream success (the names of those shows will be withheld to preserve my dignity - ok, ok, Legend of the Seeker is one example). Your example of Smash, and my experiences with campy, less popular, instantly canceled shows (Seeker shockingly got two seasons), made me wonder how we might theorize those efforts of viewers who both try to "save" their shows (Firefly is an obvious example and exception) and that may use these wiki spaces as a means of preserving a narrative that was found to be unprofitable and thus discontinued. In the case of Seeker, a lengthy book series existed first, but many viewers pressed forth, writing whole "episodes" drawn from the television adaptation.
You also mention that you believe this is a "new mode of storytelling in its own right." Does it have any historical precedence?
Finally, I was struck by your claim that you were at times frustrated when "fan participants who seem to revel in speculation and their own creativity will equally yield to the creator’s expressed intent when provided." I think this is an interesting line of thought to explore further. In a non-academic manner, I'm often delighted when author figures offer definitive answers; to me it feels like learning the end of mystery novel. In some ways, all the creativity and speculation is a guessing game; it adds to the experience of the narrative and is not erased when a "top-down" assertion is made. Another thought that occurred to me was that perhaps because those figures have a much wider audience than the typical fan, perhaps fans feel obligated to concede that authority due to sheer numbers, or even the lingering sense of hierarchy afforded the author figure who initially created the universe the fans are playing in.
Intriguing stuff. I need to go check my Dr. Who fan page now.
My own research is also interested in the ways that digital media and the everyday intersect. I think that the immersive feeling that we get from digital media, like video games comes not from an immersive virtual reality, but from pervasive media we pull (reading about games online) or pushed to us through everything from email to smartphones that reminds us of the digital worlds we inhabit even when we aren't inhabiting them. This helps us to extend the experience of a game and gives us alternative points of interactivity as well.
During early releases on the capabilities of XBox One, players were critical of the fact that the Kinect would always be on. Likewise, discussions of the Illumiroom were criticized as not taking into account that gamers play in shared spaces or in varied spaces. We draw definite lines between what is too much immersion and that line sits far from 90s notions of virtual reality.
Good point, Jamie. The notion of play suggested by the playlist metaphor could become yet another reason for traditionalists to dismiss digital publishing. Still, I wonder if the concept isn't a good way of thinking about book-based anthologies (as it arose for me twice), in that its use might at least open up spaces for further experimentation and that might eventually inform natively digital texts. I didn't name the anthology to which I referred because I'm not sure I should before it's out, but the publisher is Oxford UP, not exactly an upstart (!). This makes me optimistic about the trajectory of academic publishing and the influence that Media Commons and other such efforts have exerted.
Many of the points that you hint at within this piece resonate with some of the work that we do within MediaCommons (at least the front page). One of the trends that I have notices is that more open less "thesis-driven, hierarchically-framed prose" seems to gain more readership and more commenting. MediaCommons wants feedback and we encourage contributors to format this way. Developing this kind of publication is a different kind of genre that demands a slightly different kind of writing and skill set. I am not sure where it fits in a universal hierarchy.
I like many connections between the notion of play list, especially the way that the various types of media build meaning instead of supplementing them. I like notions of play and choice as well that come with a metaphor of playlist. I wonder, though, if such a metaphor does not introduce too much play for those that are already hesitant about the validity of online publication?
I'm excited that you have been keeping data on the publishing practices in these drafts. I'll definitely look for the analytics once the peer review phase is over.
Jamie, thanks for the thoughtful questions. You're correct that several of the Web Writing comments came from other authors in the edited volume. I haven't yet done an analysis on this book-in-progress, but in a similar open peer review for Writing History in the Digital Age, we found: "Of the 71 individuals who posted open-review comments, the majority were general readers (43 percent) and other contributors to the volume (41 percent), followed by the appointed reviewers (14 percent) and the book co-editors (2 percent)." See WHDA "Conclusions" paragraph 22 for more details. Not all WHDA authors participated in the open peer review, but this did not necessarily guarantee or hurt their chances of being accepted for publication in the final volume. Still, I believe that authors recognized that commenting to improve each other's essays improved the book as a whole, and therefore increased the chances of their work being seen and read by general audiences.
Both Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Jason Mittell have observed that readers are more likely to make page- and paragraph-level comments than global ones on books as a whole. That's not surprising, given that it takes more cognitive energy to synthesize a broad evaluation on 300+ pages than a quick comment on a particular essay. But that's one reason why we work with publishers to commission expert reviewers to do this meta-level work, and for Web Writing, we obtained half of the funds from our campus for Michigan Publishing to pay $250 each to four appointed reviewers. But there's more we can do to encourage general readers to write book-level comments. First, in WHDA and Web Writing, we customized and highlighted the General Comments on the Book section of CommentPress, which is hard to find in the default theme, and also inserted "manuscript review questions" at the top of the page. As a result, we received 45 general comments in WHDA (of which only 7 were written by appointed experts). So far, there are 15 general comments on Web Writing, and I'll analyze those after the open peer review phase concludes.
I definitely see what you're saying here, Matt. When I think of webcomics, I generally imagine a format closer to a comic strip with shorter story arcs. As this develops from print comics (trying to create a feminist Batman) it takes on many of those print conventions. I wonder if more than anything, though, people enjoy a convergence of media. Something almost doesn't feel real until it has a print presence, an online presence, and maybe some kind of merchandise. Current consumption models seem to have us looking for these multiple outlets.
I think this post is very much in conversation with Tim Stinson's from yesterday, where in Will Brooker has become author, editor, publisher, and financier. However, in this instance, this text has become a sustainable model as it has borrowed business techniques. If we could do this for academically minded comic books, could we also do it for more academic texts? I don't think scholarly writing lends itself to this model. We would have to find different models, or really rethink the genre of scholarly writing.
This week's contributions have been great at looking at the very applied realities of publishing online and this is no exception. One of the points that really sticks out to me here is that contributors get to see the whole book together during the draft phase and are able to edit their work to put it into conversation. In this way, an edited volume starts to take on even more collaborative tendencies, and can be seen more as a whole than a collection of different articles on a similar topic.
Looking through Web Writing, the technology itself is comfortable to read within and the citation technique used here makes a lot more sense for the web. As I look through comments, I see a several conversations starting in the comments, and many of them seem to come from other authors publishing within the same text. Is that where you see the majority of these comments coming from? If so, is this kind of publishing making peer review editing more transparent (as we put our names on our comments)? In an academic setting among digitally minded scholars, I can see the value of this, along with the ability to respond/converse with a reviewer.
Jason Mittell, who is doing a similar project with Complex TV on MediaCommons Press, visited our campus last spring and mentioned he received a great deal of local comments, but didn't see as many global comments on his work. Have you seen similar kinds of commenting patterns in Web Writing and Writing History in the Digital Age?