If I could go back to just a few decades ago (a very modest jump in time), I would warn authors and readers about the eBook model. The codex is quite an ideal technology for its purpose. There is still a lost potential around eBooks, as they only mimic the codex form.
Although there are more experimental works arising, as Sam has brought up, they are far and few between. I would push authors and readers to explore new ways of storytelling that digital media makes possible.
I think, in general, I would tell people to start considering storytelling more broadly. As Stephanie mentioned, print books are safe. The rise of new technology has allowed various models of storytelling to arise from eBooks to virtual reality games. Recognizing all of these forms as art and figuring out how to live off of them without the exploitative model that has developed around licensing and digital content would benefit us greatly. I keep thinking back to MoMA’s acquisition of video games. How much did this contribute to the legitimization of video games as story-telling within non-gamers? Are we using technology to its full extent when it comes to storytelling?
Books don’t present a lot of ownership issues to me. This may be because I own a lot of them. These days, I only buy books that have some design or production elements that interests me on top of the content (apartment living has changed my personal collection development policy). In terms of eBooks, they only come from the library.
Music ownership and I have a troubled history. I first encountered issues with digital ownership when my hard disk failed and my computer was wiped clean during my undergrad. I had lost all of my iTunes music and there was no way to recover it. Most of the music was bought on iTunes, but there were also albums that I had transferred to my computer from friends’ CDs. I emailed Apple frantically and they explained that even though I paid for the music, it was only licensed for one download. This seemed completely unreasonable to me. They took pity on me and gave me a second copy of my downloads (although if the prices had changed, I didn’t get those particular albums). It does seem that their policies have changed:
As an accommodation to you, subsequent to acquiring Eligible Content, you may download certain of such previously-acquired Eligible Content onto any Associated Device. Some Eligible Content that you previously acquired may not be available for subsequent download at any given time, and Apple shall have no liability to you in such event. As you may not be able to subsequently download certain previously-acquired Eligible Content, once you download an item of Eligible Content, it is your responsibility not to lose, destroy, or damage it, and you may want to back it up.
Association of Associated Devices is subject to the following terms:
(i) You may auto-download Eligible Content or download previously-acquired Eligible Content from an Account on up to 10 Associated Devices, provided no more than 5 are iTunes-authorized computers.
(ii) An Associated Device can be associated with only one Account at any given time.
(iii) You may switch an Associated Device to a different Account only once every 90 days.
(iv) You may download previously-acquired free content onto an unlimited number of devices while it is free on the App and Book Services, but on no more than 5 iTunes-authorized computers.
The above terms (i) to (iv) do not apply to App Store Products.
Some pieces of Eligible Content may be large or may initiate the ongoing delivery of content based on usage and resource constraints, and significant data charges may result from delivery of such Eligible Content over a data connection.
The anxiety of digital ownership is fascinating. You can have 5 enabled devices, you can burn songs onto playlists 7 times, you can change your account only every 3 months… The limits of digital ownership don’t comply with our overarching ideas of ownership (I acquired this thing, I can now use this thing).
I don’t buy digital content anymore. This isn’t necessarily because of the iTunes fiasco. I just now live on two ends of the spectrum when it comes to music. On one end, I have Spotify, which allows me to listen to most everything (and, increasingly, this includes Yugoslavian New Wave music). On the other end is:
(That is, by the way, its first breathe!)
I’ve been collecting records for years and finally invested in a record player. This still wasn’t about a desire to own music or have some control over how I share it (I didn’t get a record player with a USB). The records, for me, are about the sound quality and the social aspect of gathering around to listen to music. My conceptions of ownership really depend on how I consume and use the texts.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a pretty edgy journal, New Criticals. What really struck me about this journal is the way it abandoned the format of a traditional, academic journal. Although it is not peer-reviewed (there’s very little information about the selection process), it is run by qualified people and has contributions from well-regarded academics.
What New Criticals got me thinking about is the impact of design on sense of rigor in academia. Most open access journals conform to the format and design of paid academic journals. I am interested in looking into some journals out in the left field to see how the choice of design impacts their use and the contributors and readers who engage with it.
I don’t know if this is a feasible project; however, as more and more scholarly communication moves online (and even onto social networks), it would be interesting to look at how various journals are adapting to new forms of reading and new expectations of aesthetics.
Thinking about the relationship between content and containers immediately drew my mind to native advertising. Native advertising refers to sponsored content which is presented in the same typeface, layout, and tone as the rest of the content in the magazine, newspaper, website, etc. – the container in which it sits (Bakshi, 2015).
Although most people have encountered native advertising (an example is any sponsored Buzzfeed post), many people fail to recognize native advertising as advertising; instead, they identify it as an article (Lazauskas, 2015). Of the people in this study, 62% of respondents felt that a news site loses credibility when it publishes native ads (Lazauskas, 2015).
However, it’s not only that the website loses credibility when people figure out it has native ads. What’s more troubling is the fact that many people will mistake these ads for articles, which can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and a spread of false or biased information.
The blurred lines of between advertising and editorial content has not been without critique:
What interests me in native advertising is how the container can make content misleading. Its job is to blend visually and tonally into the container; however, by doing this, it disrupts the overall content and, seemingly, the authority or reputation of the publication.
This was not a small thing for me, since I most of my undergraduate degree mocking eReaders. The first effect I noticed was that I read way more on the Kobo. I’m not sure if my eyes are now so used to screens that it’s more comfortable or if it has to do with the fact that eReaders hide how long the book is. I’m thinking that it’s the latter.
I don’t read a lot on the Kobo but I feel this has more to do with time than the device itself (the few moments I get to read for leisure are full of magazine articles and poetry, all of it bite size). For me, the Kobo is a useful platform because it is always a pocket size book.
Generally, I do find it easier to read on screens, especially when reading articles. I will always finish a New Yorker article on my phone but the print copies gather dust. The smaller the screen, the more likely an article will be read. However, as soon as I know I have to retain information, I have to print the article out. For me, the purpose of reading will determine the medium. If I want to retain information or index it for future use, it has to be spatial and on paper.
Electronic reading has changed the way that I purchase books. I always loved book design but had to purchase cheap editions since the English language collections at my local libraries in Quebec consisted mainly of Stephen King and Anne Rice (which got me through high school). Once I moved to Toronto, met TPL, and eBooks, I began purchasing books whose design was as compelling as the story. In some ways, electronic reading (and a huge public library system) has allowed me to focus my attention on physical books in ways that I couldn’t afford to do before.
I know this post is long. But I promise it’s mainly pictures!
As I was thinking about a reinvented page this week, I immediately thought of journals. A lot of the research I’ve had to do recently has led me to open access journals. Most journals (open access or not) still look relatively similar: a bare-bones frame with browsing and search options and a view of the article in PDF or HTML. They are, in most cases, designed to be downloaded or printed.
As I was looking for articles one particular journal stood out: New Criticals
New Criticals is not a peer-reviewed journal but it is scholarly in focus and features articles by academics, artists, and others on a variety of topics. The first thing that struck me about this page is how minimalist it looks. It took me a while to figure out what New Criticals was and I’m still not 100% sure since their “About” page only says: “New criticism of all that exists” and short biographies of the “Producers” (“About New Criticals”).
I was going to use the word modern instead of minimalist in the description. However, after reading Andrew Piper’s “Turning the Page (Roaming, Zooming, Streaming),” I couldn’t stop thinking about the “crowdedness of the digital page” (45) as the modern webpage. The sparsity of the New Criticals website creates a digital page where “marginalia don’t blink” (Piper 46).
In fact, the minimalist format emphasises the idea of “roaming” on the “plane” (Piper 56). Even the way that the content is organized encourages this digital roaming by steering clear of traditional categories and advanced search functions.
This is an example of the read_only section:
The minimal descriptions and the unconventional subject names force readers to look through the posts and various webpages to orient themselves.
I’ve included images of the website from my PC and my phone because the responsive design creates another way to decide on your experience of the pages. I’ve found it a lot easier to navigate the site on my phone.
The flexibility of the design also allows readers to choose whether they wish to read pages or scrolls.
This experience is quite different from a journal such as First Monday (an open access peer-reviewed journal), which does not have responsive design and follows a more traditional layout.
Of course, New Criticals and First Monday have different mandates and purposes, so it makes sense that the functionalities would be different. It was interesting encountering Massanari’s articles (both scholarly) on the two websites.
What really struck me about New Criticals is that even on the smaller phone screen, where the images take much more room, there is still a sense of an uncrowded page, very different from the usual crowdedness of the web. It also made me thing about design and the sense of rigor in academia, but that’s a whole other discussion.
“About New Criticals.” New Criticals. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
First Monday: Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet. Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
New Criticals. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Piper, Andrew. “Turning the Page (Roaming, Zooming, Streaming).” Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. 60-76.
When I was studying Ezra Pound, I thought a lot about imagery and his use of the page. I’d never considered the real visual complexity of his most challenging poems, The Cantos, until I started thinking about the encoding challenge. Our group discussed concrete poetry and other forms where the arrangement of the words on the page contributes to the meaning.
And then you have things like this:
These pages are excerpts from “Canto 85” (LXXXV), the first poem in the Rock-Drill Cantos.
The poem combines English, Chinese, Greek, Latin, French… I may have missed a few. What makes this most interesting is that Pound only spoke English. Responding to criticism about the incomprehensibility of the Cantos, Pound response was: if you don’t understand something, skip it until you do understand. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carroll F. Terrell‘s Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Poundis a larger volume than the Cantos.
Besides the difficulty of encoding the various languages and accounting for the placement of the Chinese characters, what interested me with this poem is the interpretation. Pound didn’t understand Chinese (alhtough this didn’t stop him from translating traditional Chinese poetry) but, rather, he worked from Ernest Fenollosa’s translations. If these characters are integral to the text, it’s likely that their placement is just as (if not more) important for the overall experience of the poem than their actual meaning. This would have to somehow be addressed.
I was searching online to see what people have made of the Cantos and I found The Cantos Project. This project is a scholarly, interactive edition of the poem with criticism and multimedia annotation. Unfortuneately, they have not reached “Canto 85” yet (they are only on the third Canto). Given that this is already a project, it would be interesting to consider how the various visual elements of the poem could be encoded properly.
If someone knows of an online version of a Canto that has characters or symbols, please let me know! Everyone seems to avoid these particular Cantos online. The whole book is on Internet Archive, though!
Looking through the list of TEI projects, I noticed eZISS: Scholarly Digital Editions of Slovenian Literature. This project is hosted by the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I was interested in eZISS because the material was unfamiliar and the project is extensively documented. Although the texts are only in Slovenian, the entire website is available in English.
eZISS offers “selected Slovenian texts with integrated facsimiles, transcription and scholarly commentary, in some cases including audiovisual recordings” (eZISS). The project is described as existing at the intersection of Slovenian literature, ecdotics (philological study of texts and their presentations), and modern information technology (eZISS).
There is a large focus on encoding, which is likely because information technology is part of this intersection. Encoding isn’t just a vehicle for showcasing texts but a fundamental aspect of the project. On the main page of the site, they write:
The complex digital encoding of texts with facsimiles, transcriptions, critical apparatus and audiovisual recordings is achived with the help of open standards of textual markup: Unicode, XML, and the TEI Guidelines. This foundation helps the editions to be better resistant to technological change, software independent and compatible with other standardised digital resources. From the source XML, an HTML version is created with XSLT stylesheets; to read the HTML, only a standard browser is required (eZISS).
From here, you can view all of the components online or save them to your computer. Interestingly, the website states that you will “also get the XML/TEI files, suitable for further processing” (Freising Manuscripts).
The downloaded edition provides everything from the icons used on the webpage to the facsimiles (gif folder) to the TEI files.
What impressed me most about this project is the emphasis on openness, either through the CC license or through explicit mentions of further processing.
Lastly, the project is very well documented. There are three English publications on the development of the eZISS editions (and several more in Slovenian). According to the article, “E-Slomšek: A TEI Encoding of a Critical Edition of 19th Century Slovenian Rhetoric Prose” by Erjavec, Ogrin, and Faganel, in small nations such as Slovenia, “publishing critical editions with facsimile, transcriptions and apparatus in traditional print form faces great economic barriers, primarily due to the very small book market” (Erjavec et al., 2004, p. 31). Digital editions of this work, thus, have a “much better chance… of preserving, interpreting and making available Slovenian cultural heritage” (p. 31). In this case, the availability of open standards allowed for projects that the researchers saw as contributing to national identity and preservation of culture.
The ICDL is the result of internationally-motivated research out of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland. The ICDL is very socially-oriented, their aspiration being to “have every culture and language represented so that every child can know and appreciate the riches of children’s literature from the world community” (Mission).
There are several aspects of this library that differentiate it from other digitized collections. One of these is the kid-friendly interface.
Besides searching by keywords and advanced search, the ICDL uses the “Simple Search” tool to allow kids to browse books. Just as a physical library, they can look at the whole selection and flip through the pages until something catches their eye. However, the ICDL allows kids to combine unique characteristics (such as cover colour and type of character) in order to construct unique searches that would be difficult to replicate in a physical library.
Digital space is used well in this project because it allows for unique functionality that would be almost impossible in a physical collection that can’t be rearranged to taste or on a whim (for good reason). There is also a way of searching by geography:
Once you select a book, the corresponding catalogue page opens. There is usually quite a bit of metadata and sometimes interesting notes. There is even a link to WorldCat. One of the interesting things about the digitized versions of these books is that they allow for reviews. This gives kids an opportunity to share their reactions and “leave a mark” on the book.
One consequence of their interface design is that all of the pages open in a spreadsheet and you can start the book from any page (and choose between a single page or spread view). The ability to skip to a specific part of the story makes it a lot easier to engage with the texts in a non-linear fashion, which is interesting.
Of course, the selection of books is quite outdated for the most part, since most are in the public domain. The interface that allows for interaction with the digitized objects, however, shows the possibilities for creative forms of interaction with texts through the “Simple Search” function and the (perhaps less intentional) book overview page in the image above.
I recently came across Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock. The book is the first part of an epistolary trilogy, which was later followed by a second trilogy, Morning Star. All of the books follow the correspondence of two artists, Griffin and Sabine, as they discover their peculiar connection. The books are filled with Bantock’s art, both on the postcards and the envelopes.
The series is impressive in the artwork and storytelling, but the interactive form is largely what allows for the art and story to come together. The two images below show a letter from Sabine to Griffin and a letter from Griffin to Sabine, respectively. Bantock uses the style of the paper and the implied production of the text (handwriting versus typewriting) to not only differentiate between the characters, but to show the differences in their characters. Sabine is a whimsical stamp artist living on the Simcon Islands, a fictional group of islands in the South Pacific. Griffin is a jaded graphic artists stuck in his uninspired London studio. There is a larger issue of the representation of the “exotic East” in this series but that might be for another time.
The benefit of the form is that Bantock can keep the correspondence free from obvious authorial intervention and really allow for the two characters to speak with their own voice. Unlike a typical epistolary novel, which is usually structured like a regular novel (maybe with various fonts to represent characters), this form allowed Bantock to show much of the characterization through the way the characters styled their letters.
Although the format allows for a more complex narrative than a traditional epistolary novel (no spoilers), it is still a relatively familiar form. What is fascinating about this series is that it will once gain be renewed, but this time digitally by the Bound Press (a wonderfully named digital content and VR developer, but that name is a whole other analysis).
Last year, Bound Press launched a Kickstarter campaign for Griffin & Sabine: The Interactive Trilogy, which was unfortunately unsuccessful. I would encourage you to take a look at the video on this page to get a sense of their proposed adaptation. Bound is still looking to do this adaptation as an app for iOS and Android: Griffin & Sabine App
Taking it a step further, they developed an Oculus-optimized Virtual Reality version of Griffin’s Studio. In some ways, these moves are logical since they are really just taking the immersive quality of Bantack’s books a step further. I’m interested to see how the App will be developed and how (or if) it will change the experience of this story. Will it lose its unique epistolary feel once you have to merely click on the letters to open them? Will that even matter if the digital form can add further insight into the characters?
Bantock, Nick. Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1991.