ARGH – Joss Whedon-related ARG – & me with no time

On Monday, a new thread appeared on the unfiction forums pointing out a trailhead for a new game that seems to be linked to the Fox series Dollhouse. Given the percentage of librarians who are big damn fans of Joss Whedon + my obvious fascination with Alternate Reality Games the odds were very good that I would find this very fascinating – but …. I will have no time to catch up on it until after next week.

So quick – if you fall into the above categories and are not presenting in a week:

Rabbit hole – one of the characters on Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse sends an email to this person (described as a “prominent Whedon fan” on unfiction. Not a librarian, but yes, an Oregonian). The email leads, though not directly, to this website —

That site is then referenced at an official Fox blog, suggesting this isn’t a fan-created site, but an “official” ARG.

(Note, the login information for the adelledewitt site is provided in the comments to the Fox blog post.  Not typical ARG practice, but there it is.  And it is interesting how even on the unfiction forum there are clearly some ARG newbies being pulled in by the Joss connection)

Trailhead thread at the unfiction forums — 7 pages and 93 posts as of this moment. They really start to get into the unfolding narrative on page 2.

Game thread at the official Dollhouse forums

Game thread at the Dollverse forums – a fan-created Dollhouse portal

All about the intersection of scholarship and peer review around here

all the time.  That’s because Kate and I are deep in preparation for our Loex of the West talk and it’s hard to think about anything else.  A few things that have come out of my work in the last few days.

This video at Kairos – This is Scholarship

This video cuts across a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about lately – the connections between new scholarly forms and traditional reward systems based on peer review.

The context for the video work done (and released in 2006) by the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion

Some related reading —  Kathleen Fitzpatrick at The Valve, argues that the conversation about the future of scholarship can’t end with journals, but must be extended to a conversation about books in her essay – On the Future of Academic Publishing, Peer Review and Tenure Requirements.

At Inside Higher Ed, Catherine Stimson provides a dean’s perspective on the MLA report – significant because the MLA task force left the specifics of how their recommendations should be implemented up to individual institutions.

And Alex Reid’s post today talking about last week’s Computers in Writing conference – Experimentation and Expertise in Web-based Scholarship looks at some of these questions through the lens of the digital journal Kairos, which published the video that started this off.

how the experts do it – and does JSTOR make a difference

This presentation from last week’s JSTOR Annual Publishers Meeting, examining how digital access to information has affected scholars’ research patterns, is very interesting.  Meredith Quinn presented some research from Ithaka that looks at some of those disciplinary differences in research practice that I think most of us intuitively feel are there.

What a difference a discipline makes: How scholars use resources across the academy

A few points I pulled out on first scan – which are worth thinking about as we find ways to teach new scholars and undergraduates how to navigate these types of resources —

  1. There’s a difference in how scholars in different disciplines approach the process of exploratory search – historians tend to search broadly, hoping not to miss anything and to make unexpected connections. Life scientists, on the other hand, look to narrow their inquiry to limit the amount of information they have to sift through. Both sets of scholars want to be comprehensive – but they approach that task (and probably define that goal, though the presentation notes don’t go there) differently. As a former historian, I definitely fall into the broad exploration category – which might be affecting how I communicate with those in other disciplines.
  2. Across the disciplines, scholars are more likely to use Google than Google Scholar to find material in the journal literature. Given that this slide immediately follows one on “targeted” (we’d call it “known-item”) searching — I’m wondering if that’s not connected. If I’m looking for the full-text of a specific journal article I’ll use Google instead of Scholar — why wouldn’t I?  This may also suggest that Google is used more as a retrieval tool than as a scholarly search environment — which is something to think about when we think about how to teach our students to find expert information after they leave the university, with its database subscriptions.
  3. The availability of online resources and online search tools has made interdisciplinary research easier and more important. But scholars struggle, just like the rest of us, evaluating information outside of their area(s) of expertise. And many of them rely on colleagues — so how do we realistically expect students to do this work without a network of experts to turn to.

Notes from the freeculture front

From this — The Future of Online Music: Why Closed Platforms Will Fail —

Alternatively, the disappearance of an open platform could spell the end of DRM technology altogether, at least for digital music. Since I believe strongly that the market in the end must and will be based on interoperable digital formats, if DRM is used to erect barriers to that goal, then there is no question it will be swept aside, and the industry may end up with what many have believed was the obvious choice from the beginning: open MP3 files.

Either way, Napster has the tools in place to adapt to whichever way the environment evolves and will remain committed to the common-sense goal of helping to shape a music industry that actually benefits consumers over the long-term.

To this — Napster goes DRM-free as iTunes war steps up —

Napster has bowed to the inevitable and stripped away the DRM from its entire catalogue of tracks, meaning music purchased through the service is Mac, iPod and iPhone compatible for the first time. The service is offering six million tracks, free of usage limitations, in high-quality 256kbps MP3 format.

(For an interesting exercise – check out the difference in tone between the Macworld (US) story and this one – the US one reads much more as a “Napster vs. Apple” tale.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Both stories point out that the significant thing here is that Napster has apparently convinced all of the major labels to take part, including Sony-BMG, something Apple has been unable to do.

Napster’s subscription service continues, with a slightly higher price tag.  The DRM-free option does not apply to the subscription service, only to songs purchased individually.

And shifting gears – from the MIT chapter of Students for Free Culture ( comes a fairly awesome research project – Youtomb.

From the project —

…YouTomb continually monitors the most popular videos on YouTube for copyright-related takedowns. Any information available in the metadata is retained, including who issued the complaint and how long the video was up before takedown. The goal of the project is to identify how YouTube recognizes potential copyright violations as well as to aggregate mistakes made by the algorithm.

And a little further down – they say that they became interested in the issue after YouTube announced that the takedown process would be automated.  The students wondered if this would lead to collateral damage and take-downs of videos that should fall under fair use or that should not have received any scrutiny at all.

You can’t watch the videos anymore – and the site makes it pretty clear that this is an informational/research project only that’s trying to see what kinds of videos are being challenged and to see if there are any patterns to be found.  So it’s kind of interesting to look at the comments on the TechCrunch story about it where it’s being discussed more like it’s just another startup.

Holy publishing model shift, Batman!

So I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at different models for scholarly publishing preparing for this presentation, and what always happens happened – the themes start showing up everywhere. I went to visit the Top Shelf comic site the other day and found this — anticipation-building countdown. Intriguing!

Countdown on the Top Shelf site

Investigation led to this story at Publisher’s Weekly. Top Shelf 2.0 is a new site devoted to webcomics – editor Leigh Walton and Top Shelf founder Brett Warnock hope to capture and keep readers’ attention by publishing new webcomics regularly and often — every weekday something new will be posted. It may be an installment in a larger serialized work, or a quick one-shot.

The countdown counted down and now there’s webcomics to look at. I haven’t been through them all (they launched the site with a small collection of comics – varying in style, theme, and intended audience) but there’s some cool-looking stuff there.

Here’s a tiny glimpse – that does no justice to the real thing – of the splash page wrapping up the first installment of Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu:

Sneak peek at the splash page of Infinite Kung Fu, installment #1

To Publisher’s Weekly, Walton talked about the benefits of the web platform as a publisher. Some of the themes echo what we’ve heard in the scholarly world – the digital world means we don’t have to worry about space limitations, we can take more risks about what we publish and how much we publish — we don’t need the same return on our publishing investment because we haven’t invested as much, or at least we haven’t invested the same. But he also talks about some things more specific to the comics world:

“The most obvious difference [with webcomics] is color—something that we’re still using very sparingly in our print publications, but on the web is completely unlimited,” added Walton. “What excites me the most about working with young artists—those, like me, born after 1980—is that we’ve grown up with computers, and that affects the comics that we make. Whereas it would have been unthinkable for an “alternative comic artist” of Chester Brown’s generation to work in color (for economic reasons), for a lot of these new folks, it’s unthinkable to do it any other way.”

I love the color palette in Jed McGowan’s evocative Western-themed comic, Cookie Duster. Go – read!

Jed McGowan\'s Cookie Duster, page 5

So this is still a site focused on the consumption of information with no room for reader-generated content, remixing or conversation. But I think calling this Top Shelf 2.0 is fair enough — the creators retain control over their work, and the site feels like a step away from web publishing where we just apply the metaphors and practices of the print world and put them on the web. It’ll be interesting to see if more steps in that direction are forthcoming.

good interface + bad metadata =

well, not really bad metadata.  More like the wrong metadata.

Dipity lets you build interactive timelines. You can pull in all kinds of information sources — video, text, images — and display them in a nice, linear timeline. The interface is easy to navigate. Each item in the timeline can be viewed within the timeline, and each item has a handy “next event” button to make navigation easier.

Sample Dipity timeline about the Beatles

Anyway, I have some ideas for how to use this interface and if I ever get time to try them, I’ll post about it more.  But that’s the thing – putting this stuff together does take time.  If you choose the browse timelines option on the dipity site – there are a LOT of timelines with no events, with 2 events, with 4 events.  I’d imagine a fair number of them will never be finished.

So the other day I noticed this – Time Tube – a mashup that puts the Dipity timeline interface together with YouTube.  Same cool interface, but you just have to keyword search a topic and your timeline will be populated with YouTube videos a few minutes later.  It’s created a fair amount of buzz over the last couple of days, most of it positive because it’s fun to use and some of the timelines are pretty interesting.

But – the timelines are based on the date the video was uploaded.  If all you want is a nice browsing interface this is okay – as another way to display the results of a YouTube keyword search.  But as a way of visualizing information, if what you want is to add some kind of meaning or context to the videos, it’s only useful for a very narrow set of topics.

Compare this “Beatles” timeline to the one above –

TimeTube for \"The Beatles\" - 1 year span

It doesn’t look too bad, but there’s no real meaning there.  Not even a spike when Across the Universe was released.

TimeTube lets you pick a longer timespan – here’s fifty years.  This really shows the limitations.

TimeTube for \"The Beatles\" - 50 year span

Everything clustered in the middle because YouTube didn’t exist until a short time ago.  The fact that they let you open out your range to 20, 50, 100 years suggests that the upload date might not always be the way these things are generated?  Or maybe it’s just a holdover from the original Dipity interface.  The timelines created are dynamic and there’s no way to save them.  There’s no account to create so you can’t find timeline buddies either.

Where this is useful now is for topics, like “olympic torch protests” where people upload their videos right away after an event happens.  Or to track the zeitgeist when something emerges out of nowhere to become the next big thing.  Or as a fun browsable interface for a YouTube keyword search.

What I haven’t had time to say about the Cult of the Amateur

was said pretty well yesterday at Daily Kos.

Keen tends to claim that the participatory web is destroying traditional media at great cost to our culture.  I’ve always thought that the mainstream media has done a great deal to destroy itself.  And I don’t think I can say it better than this:

The media — newspapers, radio, and television — is not made up of reporters running on a sparkling field of journalistic integrity.  Those reporters are instead embedded in a machine intended to do the one thing that Mr. Keen sets as the mark of professionalism — make money.  And the way the media has chosen to make money over the last few decades is, perversely, by devaluing their own product.

I’m not just annoyed by Keen in interviews and panels.  I think his completely uncritical acceptance of the traditional corporate media as a guarantor of quality is destructive to the very discourse he claims to embrace.  “Debate” about the participatory web that is sparked by arguments like Keen’s tends to look like this:

Andew Keen: But the problem is that gatekeepers — the agents, editors, recording engineers — these are the very engineers of talent. Web 2.0’s distintermediated media unstitches the ecosystem that has historically nurtured talent. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers. These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment.

David Weinberger: Actually, I’d suggested you take a look at the Top 40 songs. Of course you’re within your rights to cite the New York Times best-sellers list instead, but that’s indicative of the problem with your method. Are you seriously maintaining that pop culture off line is represented by six good books on the New York Times hardcover non-fiction list? Why do you find it so awkward to acknowledge the obvious point that the gatekeepers of commercial publishing and production — the producers of TV shows, magazines, pop music, movies, books — are usually driven not by high cultural standards, but by the need to reach a broad audience? Do I need to remind you that “The Secret” is likely ultimately to outsell all six of those worthy books combined?

Full-Text: Keen vs. Weinberger (WSJ)

Weinberger, or whoever is engaging with Keen-ish arguments can sit there taking home-run swings at Keen’s blind approval of the “media ecosystem” — making the earth-shattering argument that the mainstream media wants to reach a broad audience and make money.  I want to see what Weinberger says when really pushed about the limits and value of the participatory web.  Keen, regrettably given how much attention the media gives him, never provides that push.

And in libraries, the same thing goes on when Michael Gorman writes on these topics – because he has the same kind of un-critical acceptance of traditional scholarly methods as Keen does of mainstream media producers.  We need serious discussion about the implications of the read/write web for scholarly knowledge production, and that can only happen if we turn the same critical eye on traditional practices as we do on the new.  But as long as one can engage with Gorman by saying “peer review isn’t perfect” – that real discussion doesn’t have to happen.

(For an example of what I mean by “real discussion” – the March issue of First Monday is a good start)

(And let me say that I have a lot more sympathy for Gorman than anyone who would make the claim that movie studios these days, minor subsidiaries of corporate conglomerations as they are, have a clearer picture of quality than directors)

I haven’t read the comments on this piece – I don’t usually see Daily Kos because there’s too much discussion there and I know I won’t resist the comment threads even though I can’t keep up – so thanks to Copyfight for the pointer.