You’ve probably noticed that things have been relatively quiet around here lately. I haven’t been on vacation or anything like that. Rather I’ve been figuring out the future, not of the book, but of me. After much personal consideration, and discussion with the group here, I’ve decided that now’s the time for me to move on from the Institute after three and a half fantastic years. I’ll still be a part of the general Institute community, and will continue posting here periodically, but as of now my leadership, management and production roles will be phased out. I’m not yet sure where I’m headed next.
It’s surreal looking back on the beginning of this place, and of this blog. I came to this work as sort of a blank slate, a liberal arts refugee (to borrow a term of Dan’s), a theater major a couple of years out of college with practically no knowledge or experience in the field of new media and the Web, but deeply interested in the questions we were asking, and I suppose blessed with a naiveté that enabled me to jump headlong into new territory without knowing what the hell I was doing. There’s an old rabbinical adage from somewhere: “do first, understand later.” Not that I fully understand now, but I’ve definitely learned a thing or two.
This blog has been a deeply rewarding, at times agonizing place of discovery for me, a way of educating myself publicly. I thank everyone who has taken the time to read my thoughts, ramblings and observations here, and especially those who have weighed in in the comment stream, which is where so much of the thinking gets refined, corrected and improved. Finally, I thank my colleagues past and present who have been so smart, so challenging and, above all, so different from me, which is what has always made this such an interesting place.
I plan to continue in this field (whatever you call it – ?publishing, new media, web stuff…), and also to pursue other interests that have reawakened during my time here (namely that most unmediated of art forms, live theater). It may be a little while before I settle on my next big project. I welcome any ideas and advice.
Lest I get too elegaic, I’ll stop there. More regular posting should resume before too long.
Hence the quiet around here.
A couple of weeks ago, I alluded to a new institutional partnership that’s been in the works for some time. Well I’m thrilled to officially announce that the we are joining forces with the NYU Division of Libraries!
From Carol A. Mandel, dean of the NYU Libraries. “IFB is a thought leader in the future of scholarly communication. We will work together to develop new software and new options that faculty can use to publish, review, share, and collaborate at NYU and in the larger academic community.”
Read the full press release: NYU Libraries & Institute for the Future of the Book Announce Partnership to Develop Tools for Digital Scholarly Research
A basic breakdown of what this means:
-? NYU is now our technical home. All IFB sites are running out of there with IT support from the NYU Libraries’ top-notch team.
-? Bob, Dan and I will serve as visiting scholars at NYU.
-? With recently secured NEH digital humanities start-up funding (along with other monies yet to be raised), we will work with the NYU digital library team, headed by James Bullen, to develop social networking tools and infrastructure for MediaCommons. This will serve as applied research for digital tools and frameworks that NYU is presently developing.
-? We will work with NYU librarians, with the digital library team, and with Monica McCormick, the Libraries’ program officer for digital scholarly publishing, to create forums for collaboration and to develop specific projects and digital initiatives with NYU faculty, and possibly NYU Press.
Needless to say, we’re tremendously excited about this partnership. Things are still being set up but expect more news in the weeks and months ahead.
So Noah’s just wrapped up the blog peer review of his manuscript in progress, and is currently debating whether to post the final, unfinished chapter. He’s also just received the blind peer reviews from MIT Press and is in the process of comparing them with the online discussion. That’ll all be written up soon, we’re still discussing format.
Meanwhile, Ian Bogost (the noted game designer, critic and professor) started an interesting thread a couple of weeks back on the troubles of reading Expressive Processing, and by extension, any long-form text or argument, on the Web:
The peer review part of the project seems to be going splendidly. But here’s a problem, at least for me: I’m having considerable trouble reading the book online. A book, unlike a blog, is a lengthy, sustained argument with examples and supporting materials. A book is textual, of course, and it can thus be serialized easily into a set of blog posts. But that doesn’t make the blog posts legible as a book…
…in their drive to move textual matter online, creators of online books and journals have not thought enough about the materiality of specific print media forms. This includes both the physicality of the artifacts themselves (I violently dogear and mark up my print matter) and the contexts in which people read them (I need to concentrate and avoid distraction when reading scholarship). These factors extend beyond scholarship too: the same could be said of newspapers and magazines, which arguably read much more casually and serendipitously in print form than they do in online form.
I’ve often considered Bolter and Grusin’s term “remediation” to be a derogatory one. Borrowing and refashioning the conventions of one medium in another opens the risk ignoring what unremediated features are lost. The web has still not done much more than move text (or images, or video) into a new distribution channel. Digitizing and uploading analog material is easy and has immediate, significant impact: web, iPod, YouTube. We’ve prized simple solutions because they are cheap and easy, but they are also insufficient. In the case of books and journal articles, to offer a PDF or print version of the online matter is to equivocate. And the fashionable alternative, a metaverse-like 3D web of the sort to which Second Life points, strikes me as a dismal sidestepping of the question.
I want to give a shout out to a wonderful new project by a dear friend of ours. So When Are You Going to Retire? is -? or will be, or is in the process of becoming -? a book exploring questions of age, work and identity through the stories of people over 80 who continue, against the odds, to work for a living. As of very recently, the author, Ashton Applewhite, has begun documenting her research on a very attractive new weblog, and is inviting readers, writers and experts in the field to join her in conversations and story sharing that hopefully will shape the book’s development. In an email, Ashton explained to me why she’s doing this:
I’m a generalist writing about a broad topic: people in their 80s and 90s who are still in the workforce, and what we can learn from them. Following on the Institute’s work with Siva and Mitchell Stephens, I’m excited about using the blog as a mechanism for thinking out loud as I go through my material, formulate the themes of the book, and write the proposal. I think that ongoing feedback from experts (gerontologists, social scientists, demographers, etc.) and discerning readers will sharpen and inform my thinking -? in other words, that the network will help me build a better book. I also think i’ll end up with a valuable platform for leveraging and disseminating my work over the long run -? one that could radically revise conventional notions of shelf life. Cutting Loose, my book about women and divorce (HarperCollins, 1997) is still in print; imagine what sales would look like if it were at the hub of an ongoing social network, and what a rich site that would be?
Though this isn’t an officially Institute-sponsored project, we’ve done a fair bit of kibbitzing from the sidelines on the conceptual layout of the site and on general strategies for writing it (this being Ashton’s first foray into blogging). We’re also brainstorming with Ashton on that most crucial of issues: building an audience. Most of our networked book projects have been on technology or media-related subjects that naturally appeal to online readerships and get picked up easily in the blogospheric grapevine. Ashton’s book doesn’t have such an obviously built-in wired constituency, although its potential readership is far broader and more diverse than that of any of the works we’ve published. I imagine it will be a gradual, word of mouth kind of thing.
So check out Ashton’s rich and inviting site, join the conversation, and spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested. If you know of any specific sites or online communities that Ashton might want to connect with, let her know through the “email me” link near the top of her site. There’s already quite a lot to delve into since Ashton’s been blogging under the radar for the past several months, cutting her teeth on the form and piling up some wonderful stories (many of which you can listen to in audio). Help start building this network, and this book.
If you’re in the New York area, don’t miss this. Friday, March 21, 2008, 7-9pm – ?New York, NY – ?125 Maiden Lane, 2nd Floor.
FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY: Step inside three books, drink free beer and wine, and experience the future of the book:
Mark Batty Publisher, Hotel St. George Press, the Institute for the Future of the Book, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council‘s Workspace Writers Residency program offer a night of multi-media readings that invite attendees to step inside books, celebrating how new media and traditional publishing fuse to create innovative projects that are more than “just books.” On this night, authors Garth Risk Hallberg, Alex Rose, and Alex Itin demonstrate how their stories rely on more than just words.
Hallberg’s illustrated novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family, documents two fictional families through 63 entries accompanied by evocative photographs contributed by some of today’s freshest photographic talents, as culled from the book’s ongoing companion website, afieldguide.com. Read from start to finish or in a “choose your own adventure” style, Hallberg’s attention to narrative detail makes clear why he was included in the 2008 Harcourt Best New American Voices anthology, and why Print called A Field Guide to the North American Family “a modern illuminated manuscript.” Hallberg will project photographs from the book.
The interwoven, post-modern folktales that comprise The Musical Illusionist by Alex Rose muse upon historical arcana, tethered together by music and topography. Drawing on his experience as a director whose films, videos, and animations have appeared on HBO, MTV, Comedy Central, Showtime, and the BBC, Rose conjures, in the words of the Village Voice, “the playful parables of Jorge Luis Borges . . . exotic maps and exquisite prints further suggest a volume passed down from an epoch much more enthralled with mystery than our own.” Rose will read from the title story of his collection, accompanied by a surround-sound score composed by David Little and recorded by the Formalist Quartet.
As an artist-in-residence at Brooklyn’s Institute for the Future of the Book, Alex Itin uses text, original illustrations and animations, and music to encourage readers to reconsider the definition of a book. Take for example Itin’s Orson Whales: Melville’s Moby Dick meets Orson Welles, and Led Zeppelin. Itin’s multi-media books will be screened.
The LMCC is the leading voice for arts and culture in downtown New York City, producing cultural events and promoting the arts through grants, services, advocacy, and cultural development programs.
In case you missed the news last week, Siva has locked up a deal with the University of California Press to publish the North American print edition of The Googlization of Everything. It’s due out late summer, 2009. Profile will publish it in the UK and British Commonwealth. We’re currently brainstorming next steps for the blog as Siva moves into intense drafting and revising mode. Congrats, Siva!
Good news. Google has finally released an API (?) for Google Book Search:
Web developers can use the Books Viewability API to quickly find out a book’s viewability on Google Book Search and, in an automated fashion, embed a link to that book in Google Book Search on their own sites.
As an example of the API in use, check out the Deschutes Public Library in Oregon, which has added a link to “Preview this book at Google” next to the listings in their library catalog. This enables Deschutes readers to preview a book immediately via Google Book Search so that they can then make a better decision about whether they’d like to buy the book, borrow it from a library or whether this book wasn’t really the book they were looking for.
Tim Spalding of Library Thing has some initial comments on limitations:
The GBS API is a big step forward, but there are some technical limitations. Google data loads after the rest of the page, and may not be instant. Because the data loads in your web browser, with no data “passing through” LibraryThing servers, we can’t sort or search by it, and all-library searching is impossible. You can get something like this if you create a Google Books account, which is, of course, the whole point.
(via Peter Brantley)
Buckle your seatbelts, we may be experiencing a bit of turbulence. We’re in the process of migrating our server from Los Angeles, where for the past three and a half years it has resided, at the University of Southern California, to our home town of New York. Our ties to USC remain strong and will continue, but we’re currently forging an exciting new relationship in NYC and so have decided to move our technical operations here. More details on this soon.
For now, this means that we may be going a day or two here on if:book without new posts. And, due to minor complications in the switchover process, it also means we could experience a few hours of total site outage (crossing our fingers that this can be avoided). At any rate, if:book and the rest of the Institute’s sites will be soon be running smoothly again from a little box in the big apple. Bear with us as we settle into our new digs.
I finally got around to reading Nicholson Baker’s essay in the New York Review of Books, “The Charms of Wikipedia,” and it’s… charming. Baker has a flair for idiosyncratic detail, which makes him a particularly perceptive and entertaining guide through the social and procedural byways of the Wikipedia mole hill. Of particular interest are his delvings into the early Wikipedia’s reliance on public domain reference works, most notably the famous 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica: “The fragments from original sources persist like those stony bits of classical buildings incorporated in a medieval wall.”
Baker also has some smart things to say on the subject of vandalism:
Wikipedians see vandalism as a problem, and it certainly can be, but a Diogenes-minded observer would submit that Wikipedia would never have been the prodigious success it has been without its demons.
This is a reference book that can suddenly go nasty on you. Who knows whether, when you look up Harvard’s one-time warrior-president, James Bryant Conant, you’re going to get a bland, evenhanded article about him, or whether the whole page will read (as it did for seventeen minutes on April 26, 2006): “HES A BIG STUPID HEAD.” James Conant was, after all, in some important ways, a big stupid head. He was studiously anti-Semitic, a strong believer in wonder-weapons – ?a man who was quite as happy figuring out new ways to kill people as he was administering a great university. Without the kooks and the insulters and the spray-can taggers, Wikipedia would just be the most useful encyclopedia ever made. Instead it’s a fast-paced game of paintball.
Not only does Wikipedia need its vandals – ?up to a point – ?the vandals need an orderly Wikipedia, too. Without order, their culture-jamming lacks a context. If Wikipedia were rendered entirely chaotic and obscene, there would be no joy in, for example, replacing some of the article on Archimedes with this:
Archimedes is dead.
Other people will also die.
All hail chickens.
The Power Rangers say “Hi”
Even the interesting article on culture jamming has been hit a few times: “Culture jamming,” it said in May 2007, “is the act of jamming tons of cultures into 1 extremely hot room.”