Thursday, January 24, 2008

Blogging and Peer Review -- Noah Wardrip-Fruin's Experiment

In the January 22 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Young writes about an experiment being conducted by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, a Communications professor at UC-San Diego. Wardrip-Fruin is publishing segments of his book, Expressive Processing, on a blog, with the hope that feedback from commenters might be as effective as traditional peer-review. The book is to be formally published by MIT Press, who are encouraging the experiment, though they are also continuing with a traditional peer-review process as well. Wardrip-Fruin is using the CommentPress feature designed by the Institute for the Future of the Book.

Wardrip-Fruin has started putting sections of his book online at Grand Text Auto. The first chunk (section 1.1) is here. Wardrip-Fruin describes his project as follows:

Luckily, quite a number of books have already been written about digital literature, and many more have been written about digital media more generally. However, almost all of these have focused on what the machines of digital media look like from the outside: their output. Sometimes the output is considered as an artifact, and interpreted in ways we associate with literary scholarship and art history. Sometimes the output is seen in relation to the audience and the wider culture, using approaches from fields like education and ethnography. And there are, of course, a variety of other perspectives. But, regardless of perspective, writings on digital media almost all ignore something crucial: the actual processes that make digital media work, the computational machines that make digital media possible.

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with this. Output-focused approaches have brought many valuable insights for those who seek to understand and create digital media. But, on the other hand, it leaves a big gap.

This book is my attempt to help bridge the gap. (link)

After perusing sections 1.2 and 1.3 of Wardrip-Fruin's book, I must admit I'm not sure I get it. What Wardrop-Fruin describes as "processes" seem to me to be mainly programming artifacts. Why not work out a theory of video game narrative using the logic and idiom of the object-oriented programming languages that are used to create the video games in the first place? (Classes, objects, methods, etc.) But again, I should concede that this is not really my thing, theory-wise or thematically.

Wardrip-Fruin is certainly not the first person to blog a book in progress (see Siva Vaidhyanathan, for instance), but he may be the first humanities/social sciences academic to do so. Do people know of other examples?

And of course: one wonders whether and how something like this might work with a book on a specifically literary (or literary theory-ish) topic. Wardrip-Fruin's experiment seems to be sustainable partly because he is writing about a digital media theme, and is therefore likely to find readers who are densely involved in the internet; that is not so much the case for scholarly communities in literary studies.

Incidentally, I brought up an idea for a different kind of experiment in blogging/peer review last year, and got a somewhat mixed response.

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