February 3rd readings…

February 3rd readings

             This week’s ‘readings’ included a visit to one of the early examples of digital history, “The Difference Slavery Made,” and listening to the podcast, “Making It Count.” Also included was an article on the thought process and creative collaboration that went into the making of “The Difference Slavery Made,” as well as an online book publishing experiment that tackles the concept of copyright issues in the digital age.

            Right off the bat, I can say I didn’t like the podcast experience; it was too much like listening to National Public Radio. If it were music, I could listen to it in the background while doing something else. But doing that would with this podcast would cause me to lose focus on the discussion. The funny thing is, had it been a video presentation, I would have been able to pay more attention, which I guess means that I am a visual person. But there was a transfer of information, and it is something that I can refer back to at any given time, so it is accomplishing its goal.

            The Fitzpatrick book, Planned Obsolescence, was a fascinating setup; she was putting up her chapters for online peer-review, using a platform that allowed commentators to comment directly at the point of contention, and do so in such a manner that everyone could see it. And then at some point, she cuts off feedback, makes revisions, and sets it up again. This widens the pool of reviewers and speeds up the process of peer-review. Coming from the old way of doing things (writing an article, getting your professor to clean it up, present it at a conference and solicit advice, then rewrite and publish), I am intrigued by this way of doing it because it fits into what my grandfather used to always tell me: “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors” (this should prove something of a shock to those of you who think that everything I ever needed to know I learned from Star Trek; I don’t think my grandfather ever watched Star Trek).

            But the “The Difference Slavery Made” site and follow-up article was by far the most intriguing part of this week’s assignment. Ayers and Thomas go into great detail about how much work had to be done before they even began writing for the site. They devoted a tremendous amount of time and thought into the structure of the site, the connections between topics, even how the data should be presented. And at each step, they invited peer review to see if their ideas made sense. I was especially taken by the idea that they should treat each data entry as a separate element, therefore allowing an integration of ideas from the ground up. I equate this thought process to breaking down a large integer into its basic prime factors that can be rearranged in any manner but still give you the original integer when multiplied.

            And the cross-topical integration is phenomenal (at first, I was afraid that this was what was expected from us for our final project, but then Jeremy said it took a team of collaborators years to put this together, and I breathed a sigh of relief); you can pick an element and go back and forth and sideways to see its connection with other elements. I was also impressed by a feature that allowed you to see which pages you had visited and which pages you had not, thus letting you know if there were gaps in your research.

            I wish the site would have had a flowchart on one page that showed all of the levels, like a corporate hierarchical chart, which would have allowed me to go directly to a particular element of data, or at least to see in one view the topical breakdown of data, given the depth of the site. But I can only make should a statement because I have something amazing to look at, something that resulted in years of collaboration between great minds. It is not a critical statement; I am too much in awe to criticize. It is a wish based on something that I didn’t even know existed a month ago.


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