Text that flows and rolls

Last week I finished The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen by John Bryant. The book is a great introduction on how a text is not a text unto itself, but falls in a continuum of versions from the manuscript to alternative versions. For publishing folk it's a reminder of how responsible they are for culture. For metadata folk and catalogers, it is one of the clearest explanations of the relationship of a text to its manifestations, or Work, Expression, Manifestation, and Item (Hello FRBR!) The book had me thinking about e-books and the different ways multiple versions of text could be displayed (specifically, I was thinking about how an e-book version of Melville's Typee could reproduce the original British edition, the expurgated American Edition, a critical edition and a genetic edition all in one linked document and still give different levels of readers the text they wanted. Vertical integration of reading experience!).

With that fresh in my mind, I started listening to This Week in Tech with Leo Laporte, episode 305: This One Time at Foo Camp. The program was mostly dedicated to discussions of what was happening at Foo Camp that week. One of the guests was Ben Huh, the founder of Cheezburger network and he was talking about his new Moby Dick Project, which aims at taking a look at journalism in a new way. Like the ideas behind the fluid text, Moby Dick hopes to take journalism and recognize that events (the main fodder for journalism) evolve over time and are covered in different ways during that time. Or, as Ben puts it in one of his initial posts about the project:
The traditional methods of news-writing, such as the reverse pyramid, the various “editions” of news pose big limitation on how news is reported and consumed. Unfortunately, internet-based changes such as reverse-chronological blogging of news, inability to archive yesterday’s news, poor commenting quality, live-blogging, and others have made news consumption an even more frustrating experience.

ReadWriteWeb provides a few more details on the project in the article, Cheezburger CEO Planning WordPress-Style News 2.0 Software, including Ben Huh's wireframe of how news may be presented.

I think the idea bears investigation, but I have no idea how worthwhile it would end up being. I have had in-class discussions about digital tools and journalism and digital tools and publishing to get them thinking about how to publish smarter. And having a way to follow an event or see different views on an event could be very valuable for researchers (much like different versions of Typee are of interest to scholars like Bryant), but how many people really want to invest time and energy in tracking the creative process and how many just want the product, whatever version that product may be? I know my students are generally split on the idea. Yes they say it would be a great thing to have, as long as there was a way to just see one version. My students like to point out that their lives are filled with enough information as it is, to have each piece of information they find provide different options on interacting with the data is too much. Sometimes simplicity is more attractive than completeness.

It's one of the concerns I had about FRBR- great system for catalogers and librarians who revel in a real-world equivalent of "Spot the Difference" games, but not so good for the patron/ reader who just wants direct access to a story/ report/ idea. As information creator/ curators we need to figure out the optimal way to present this information. Going back to Melville, while an e-text of different version of Typee could provide some insight into Melville's thought process, it could also present a large block of inaccessible text to a larger audience who would feeling like K in Kafka's Castle, trying to find a way in to the text, but being blocked at every attempt because they can't interact with the gate-keepers.

For now I'm going to keep an eye on the Moby Dick Project's Twitter Feed and think a little bit more about how epub and mobi can provide more accessible and more useful critical editions (or come to the realization that it's impossible and go back to creating clean epub versions of yesterday's best-selling novels that haven't been in print for decades).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is probably not explicitly related to the topic, but Ben Huh's concerns reminded me about a TED talk I watched a while ago – perhaps you've seen it: http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html.

Summary: "As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a 'filter bubble' and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview."

Really scary, doubly fascinating! Will be checking out The Fluid Text soon, too. Hoping it's a good read.

2:36 PM  

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