The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

August 10, 2006

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2006 10:13:25 -0400
From: Lloyd Hoffman <>
To: Frances L VanScoy <>,,,,,
     Gayane Goltukhuhyan <>, Brian Sowers <>,
     Alberto Santiago <>,,,
Cc: Frances L VanScoy <>
Subject: Re: [vel] GAM3R 7H30RY wikimonograph

This requires a reread and some thought.  A couple of initial points in no 
particular order I would be happy to meet and discuss.
1.  What are the psychological ramifications of the physical tangibility a 
printed book has over an electronic one?
    a.  Beauty
    b.  Physical mobility (no hardware required)
    c.  Wacking a bug (harder to do with a device)
    d.  Tangible nature of illustrations for study and enjoyment versus
        animation and sound potentials with a computer)
2.  Is the issue a  new publication form, or simply a new conversation
      form using blog vice verbal speech?
3.  Definition of serious peer review?
----- Original Message ----- From: "Frances L VanScoy" <>
To: <>; <>; <>; 
<>; "Gayane Goltukhuhyan" <>; "Brian 
Sowers" <>; "Alberto Santiago" <>; 
<>; <>; <>; 
Cc: "Frances L VanScoy" <>
Sent: Wednesday, August 09, 2006 4:16 PM
Subject: [vel] GAM3R 7H30RY wikimonograph

> From the issue dated July 28, 2006
> Book 2.0
> Scholars turn monographs into digital conversations
> New York
> While most scholarly books are reviewed by a few carefully chosen experts 
> before publication, McKenzie Wark's latest monograph is getting line-by-line 
> critiques from hundreds of strangers in cyberspace, many of whom know 
> absolutely nothing about his academic field.
> Mr. Wark, a professor of media and cultural studies at New School University, 
> has put the draft of his latest book online in an experimental format 
> inspired by academic blogs and the free-for-all spirit of Wikipedia, the 
> popular online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Each paragraph of Mr. 
> Wark's book has its own Web page, and next to each of those paragraphs is a 
> box where anyone can comment
>  though readers are not permitted to alter the original text.
> The scholar says he looks forward to sitting down each day to read a new 
> batch of comments, some by colleagues whose names he recognizes and others by 
> people cloaked by pseudonyms.
> That input has persuaded him to sharpen the opening section, and he says he 
> will probably make other changes as well. But not all the online feedback has 
> been helpful, or kind. "This doesn't have substance," wrote someone 
> identified as "toad." "Take some time off, and teach a little."
> Mr. Wark is in the habit of responding publicly to just about every comment, 
> but that left him virtually speechless. "Harsh, dude," he replied.
> Welcome to what is either an expansive new future for the book in the digital 
> age, or a cacophonous morass that will turn scholarship into a series of 
> flame wars
>  or both.
> Scholars like Mr. Wark, who are as comfortable firing off comments on blogs 
> as they are pontificating at academic conferences, are beginning to question 
> whether the printed book is the best format for advancing scholarship and 
> communicating big ideas.
> In tenure and promotion, of course, the book is still king
>  the whole academic enterprise often revolves around it. But several scholars 
> are using digital means to challenge the current model of academic 
> publishing.
> Thanks to the Internet, they argue, the book should be dynamic rather than 
> fixed
>  not just a text, but a site of conversation. Printouts could still be made 
> and bound, but the real action would be online, and the commentary would form 
> a new kind of peer review.
> Even some publishers are experimenting, though so far the most ambitious 
> efforts have been at scholarly journals. Nature, for instance, started a 
> program this summer in which authors can opt to have articles they submit 
> made available immediately as electronic pre-prints that anyone can comment 
> on. Those papers are still reviewed the old-fashioned way, but the comments 
> by online users are also taken into consideration.
> Many academic publishers shrug off open-review e-books as simply the latest 
> technological fad, saying that the time-tested peer-review process should not 
> be replaced by bands of volunteers.
> Whether traditional publishers join in or not, there is no doubt that 
> academic discourse is increasingly occurring on blogs and other online 
> forums. So how can that energy be channeled into accepted forms of 
> scholarship? Is it time for the book to get a high-tech makeover?
> Game On
> Mr. Wark's book is called GAM3R 7H30RY (pronounced "Gamer Theory," and 
> rendered in a code-like language style popular among computer geeks). It 
> offers a cultural critique of video games and argues that popular culture 
> increasingly casts life itself as a kind of game
>  where you're only truly a survivor if you can avoid being voted off the 
> island.
> Mr. Wark originally planned on sticking with the old-fashioned peer-review 
> model
>  and he has, in fact, submitted the book for publication by a traditional 
> academic press (Harvard University Press). But as he was finishing a draft, 
> he was approached by Ben Vershbow, a researcher at the Institute for the 
> Future of the Book, an unusual academic center run by the University of 
> Southern California but based in Brooklyn.
> Mr. Vershbow is a fan of one of Mr. Wark's previous books, A Hacker Manifesto 
> (Harvard University Press), an excerpt of which the scholar placed online. So 
> Mr. Vershbow asked whether Mr. Wark would have been interested in having 
> users comment on that book while it was under production.
> "Hell, no," Mr. Wark responded
>  at least by his retelling, over brunch at a Brooklyn restaurant last month. 
> "That's one of those books where you sit alone on a mountaintop and not talk 
> to anybody. ... Not everything can be 'engage with the reader' every five 
> minutes."
> But he agreed to turn GAM3R 7H30RY into a conversation with his audience. So 
> he sat down with researchers from the center
>  a group whose work ethic blends long brainstorming meetings with bouts of 
> hands-on multimedia production
>  and helped design a format that would put both text and comments in the 
> foreground. In May they unveiled their creation and opened the rhetorical 
> floodgates.
> "The first thing I figured out about this is, you outsource the 
> proofreading," said Mr. Wark, noting that many of the comments have nitpicked 
> his text's grammar rather than confronting its substance. "I'm loving that 
> because I'm bad at it. I mean, structural things I can figure out, but, 
> particularly for a writer, it's hard to see tiny, tiny details."
> Thanks to mentions on some popular blogs, the e-book has also attracted video 
> gamers who have commented on the book. The problem, though, is that many of 
> those gamers have dissed it. "They're saying, This is a stereotype of what 
> gamers are like," said Mr. Wark. "And I'm trying to say, I flip it over, 
> that's the whole point of the first chapter; I start with the stereotype and 
> then I flip it over. But you've got to signal that earlier on, so people 
> aren't put off."
> He plans to make that change for the published version because he wants the 
> book to appeal to a broad audience. "The thing about scholarship is it tends 
> to create homogeneous readerships, so you write for the new-media-theory 
> crowd," he said. "I don't do High Theory, as it's called. I do Low Theory, 
> which is, Is there a way to bring a little bit of distance and reflection 
> into people's everyday experiences and lives?"
> Mr. Wark admits that he is not much of a gamer himself, though he did pick 
> his favorite games to write about, including the Sims, a popular simulation 
> where players control the social interactions of a suburban family. He 
> considers himself a writer foremost, and he sports the markings of an artist
>  with hipster-style sneakers and a sticker for an experimental art group on 
> his laptop. He says he chose to write about video games because he thought 
> the subject would appeal to today's students.
> "If you want to have conversations with 20-year-olds," he said, "one good way 
> is to start with their own common culture and make it unfamiliar."
> Though a few of the comments on the e-book have been cutting
>  one user said "Is this a textbook or a novel? I'm confused"
>  Mr. Wark notes that most of the responses have been thoughtful. (In fact, a 
> look at the more than 300 comments reveal that readers are examining the 
> book's argument closely and posting specific suggestions.) He doesn't remove 
> any of them, no matter how negative, though he does delete spam, postings 
> similar to the ads that clutter many e-mail boxes.
> "I'm meeting new people," he said, adding that the experiment is working. He 
> said he had interacted online with a range of people who had commented, 
> including a Derrida scholar, a fan of the video game Civilization, and a 
> middle-aged librarian. "To me that's half the reason to write anyways, to 
> meet new people."
> One of Mr. Wark's inspirations for the e-book form is Wikipedia.
> "That is the literary work of our time," he said. "It's the Shakespeare of 
> 2006. It took a traditional form, which is an encyclopedia, and completely 
> rethought it. It rethought what authorship is. It rethought what 
> collaboration is. It rethought textual form."
> That sentiment is likely to rile other scholars, many of whom dismiss 
> Wikipedia as full of inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise flawed information 
> contributed by people of unknown background. But Mr. Wark argues that 
> Wikipedia's power is that it brings many thinkers together. And because 
> Wikipedia allows anyone to see the history of who has added what to each 
> entry, he said, it is self-correcting when errors do emerge.
> "Wikipedia is based in sound academic practices to do with peer review
>  it just changes who those peers are," he said. "They're not people who are 
> authorized by Ivy League degrees or anything like that. But there's more of 
> them, and they work faster."
> Pointing to a recent study in Nature that showed that Wikipedia entries are 
> about as accurate as entries in Encyclopaedia Britannica (though Britannica 
> disputes those findings, and the study's methods), he said these new 
> knowledge-makers are "not doing too badly."
> "You've really got to ask yourself," he said, "What have I got against free 
> knowledge produced by the people?"
> A New Kind of Publishing
> The Institute for the Future of the Book, which produced the GAM3R 7H30RY 
> e-book, is not your typical academic center. For one thing, it's located in a 
> row house in Brooklyn, just steps away from the residence of the institute's 
> founder and research director, Robert Stein. A tiny, hand-scrawled label on 
> the building's door buzzer is the only physical indication of its existence.
> The institute's five researchers often work in the same room, sitting with 
> their laptops around a large, funky conference table. If one of them needs to 
> make a phone call, he goes into one of two small meeting rooms and shuts the 
> door. If you want to know what is on their minds on any particular day, you 
> can visit the institute's blog, called If:book, where the group's members 
> post thoughtful riffs on digital publishing.
> On a recent afternoon, Mr. Stein, Mr. Vershbow, and the three other members 
> of the research team gathered around a table in the institute's yard to talk 
> about why they think academic publishing is broken. And, naturally, to talk 
> about the future of the book.
> Mr. Stein has been involved in e-book publishing longer than just about 
> anyone. He founded the Voyager Company in the 1980s, which produced 
> multimedia projects on CD-ROM; he worked on electronic-text projects for the 
> research division of Atari, the early video game company; and he founded 
> Night Kitchen, a company that developed multimedia publishing tools in the 
> late 1990s. At least, that's what the Wikipedia entry about Mr. Stein says. 
> (And those facts check out.)
> "For the first 20 years I was working in this field, I really thought the 
> main thing we were doing was putting audio and video in them," he said of 
> e-books. "In the last couple of years it's become clear that locating the 
> book inside of the network is fundamentally more important than adding 
> multimedia to it."
> What changed his thinking was an essay by a University of California at 
> Berkeley historian, Carla Hesse. The essay, "Books in Time," argued that the 
> idea of the author was a fairly recent invention, dating from only about the 
> 18th century. The implication: Books don't have to be so lonely.
> "I realized that this questioning that goes on while you read, that that 
> could happen sort of in real time and in a dynamic way," he said. "And best 
> of all would be if readers could talk to each other, and if readers could 
> talk to the author, because the reason for a book is to afford conversation 
> across space and time, and so why shouldn't some of that conversation take 
> place literally within the book itself?"
> Mr. Vershbow, who is newer to the field of e-publishing and does not yet have 
> a Wikipedia entry about his career, said the group is not advocating the 
> death of the physical book
>  though it is worth noting that there aren't many printed books visible in 
> the institute's offices. "This is not a proposition that every book should be 
> written in this way," he said. But the networked e-book is ideal for 
> scholarly books, or any work dealing with big ideas that might be difficult 
> for a lone author to tackle, he argued.
> In a way, he said, the institute seeks to apply the model of open-source 
> software development to scholarship. Open-source software, in which a 
> distributed group of volunteer programmers contribute to large software 
> projects, was also the inspiration for Wikipedia.
> "We're kind of talking about open-source development of big-idea books
>  that go into more depth than a Wikipedia article would, obviously, and that 
> are more perhaps original and more provocative and are less balanced than a 
> Wikipedia article is trying to be."
> Mr. Stein chimed back in: "We are suggesting a new idea of peer review that 
> is fundamentally similar, in that it is an exchange among peers, but that is 
> in the open," he said. As it stands, most scholarly presses, and journal 
> publishers for that matter, keep the peer-review process private and 
> anonymous. "We think that the way that peer review in theory enacts 
> scholarship is actually of value, and it's worth being seen, and it might 
> spark further discussion and further critical engagement," Mr. Stein said.
> But how can five guys sitting around a table in Brooklyn revamp the 
> peer-review process?
> That's the question that is driving them lately as they have organized a 
> series of daylong meetings with well-known bloggers and other prominent 
> scholars.
> The answer, they have decided, is to start their own scholarly press. It's a 
> relatively modest step, as it will focus only on the discipline of media 
> studies. The tentative name is Media Commons, and the plan is to publish more 
> academic books like GAM3R 7H30RY, as well as scholarly articles, and even 
> blogs
>  all of which will be subject to a public, open peer review. The institute 
> unveiled initial plans for the project last week.
> "We decided we're going to publish really fabulous stuff, we're going to let 
> anybody comment, and the editorial board will take the responsibility of 
> vetting commenters as peers," said Mr. Stein, though he noted that the 
> details are still being worked out. "We think we can do such a good job of 
> publishing, and have such a high level of comments and discussion, that we 
> think it will suddenly become prestigious to be published here. And that's 
> how precedent gets set."
> War Over Words
> For that project, the institute found another collaborator eager to buck the 
> publishing establishment.
> Kathleen Fitzpatrick, an associate professor of English and media studies at 
> Pomona College, said she started thinking critically about academic 
> publishing after a maddeningly long struggle to find a publisher for her own 
> book, about depictions of television in literature
> The short version of her story, as she tells it: Several publishers told her 
> that her book was great, but that budgets were too tight to print it because 
> it was not seen as of broad enough interest to be a big seller. When she 
> finally found a willing press, and after the book was favorably reviewed 
> twice and nearly accepted for publication, the marketing department still 
> pulled the plug because it felt the book wouldn't sell enough copies. Ms. 
> Fitzpatrick wondered why she couldn't take the book's text, and the two 
> scholarly reviews, and just post it all online herself. But she knew that 
> would not impress her tenure committee.
> What she did end up publishing, on a blog, was a series of manifestos on 
> scholarly publishing. And even though her book did eventually find a 
> publisher (Vanderbilt University Press), and she did get tenure, she says 
> change is needed.
> "The entire system right now of academic publishing, especially in the 
> humanities, is broken," she said in an interview. It should not take years 
> for a monograph to find an audience, she said, and too much pressure is 
> placed on book publishing in the tenure-and-promotion process.
> "The process of communicating one's research through a book or through an 
> article has become more about markers of individual success
>  lines on a CV"
>  than it is about convincing other scholars of ideas or arguments, she said.
> She said she hopes that the Media Commons Web-publishing effort will bring 
> more voices into peer review and turn the process into a valuable 
> contribution to discourse.
> "It will be more inclusive, and it will be basically community-regulated 
> rather than regulated by a small editorial board," she said.
> Though the details are still being determined, she described one possible 
> model: Though anyone would be able to comment on manuscripts in the Media 
> Commons, some users would be chosen by the board as official "peer 
> reviewers." A professor whose book has been reviewed could then take the top 
> 10 reviews from official reviewers and submit those to a tenure committee.
> "The promotion-and-tenure committee will have to do a little more work
>  actually looking at what peer reviewers said rather than simply at whether 
> they voted yes or no," Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
> But leaders of traditional scholarly presses wonder how people will know what 
> to make of the reviews conducted in an open-review model.
> "How do you know about the quality of people doing the peer review online?" 
> asked Alex Holzman, director of Temple University Press. "I'd really want to 
> know who's commenting, and why."
> Ken Wissoker, editorial director for Duke University Press, said the current 
> system of peer review works well for identifying the best books in each 
> discipline.
> "We have a very demanding peer review," he said of his own press, and 
> "reviewers might go through several rounds of revision.
> "You'd have a really different situation when what someone did with the 
> reviews was optional, or where it was continuous
>  where it's more like going to a writing group," he said.
> Rice University announced this month that it would start the first 
> all-digital university press, focusing on art history and other disciplines 
> in the humanities. But even that effort will conduct peer review in the 
> traditional way, said Charles J. Henry, vice provost and university librarian 
> at Rice. "It's extremely important that the press establish its authority 
> from the start," he said, noting that many scholars are likely to be 
> skeptical of the quality of a book publisher that does not actually print 
> books.
> The new Rice University Press does plan to use the online medium to encourage 
> discussion of the books it publishes. Mr. Henry said it would put up 
> something like a blog with each of its books, where readers and the authors 
> could have a public dialogue, and authors can better learn how their books 
> are being used in class and in research.
> The idea of replacing printed books with networked texts recently attracted 
> the attention
>  and derision
>  of John Updike.
> "Yes, there is a ton of information on the Web, but much of it is egregiously 
> inaccurate, unedited, unattributed, and juvenile," he said, addressing the 
> topic at length this summer at BookExpo America in Washington, an event 
> sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and the Association of 
> American Publishers.
> "The printed, bound, and paid-for book was
>  still is for the moment
>  more exacting, more demanding of its producer and consumer both," Mr. Updike 
> said. "It was the encounter, in silence, of two minds, one following in the 
> other's steps but invited to imagine, to argue, to concur on a level of 
> reflection beyond that of personal encounter."
> Mr. Updike essentially argued that what books achieve transcends and improves 
> on conversation, and that reducing the book to simple chatter would harm 
> scholarship and discourse.
> Ending his remarks, which were met with enthusiastic applause, Mr. Updike 
> urged his colleagues to resist letting the network subsume the printed word. 
> "Booksellers, defend your lonely forts. ... For some of us, books are 
> intrinsic to our human identity."
> Blogs Have the Last Word
> On the Institute for the Future of the Book's blog, Mr. Vershbow responded to 
> Mr. Updike's much-quoted speech.
> Calling Mr. Updike a "nostalgic elitist," he said it was unfortunate that the 
> author was helping shape the popular conversation about e-books, and he 
> criticized The New York Times for giving the remarks so much ink.
> In a comment posted on the blog in response, a user with the nickname "renee" 
> agreed with Mr. Vershbow. "Regardless of what Updike thinks or wants, the new 
> Renaissance is under way," she wrote.
> Another reader of the blog quickly jumped in to defend Mr. Updike, however: 
> "I think he is simply acknowledging the changes to the book, and I think he 
> has an honest concern of what might [be] lost in the transition of moving 
> ideas to the Web, especially from someone whose life has been about books," 
> wrote Eddie A. Tejeda, a computer consultant who helped the institute build 
> the GAM3R 7H30RY e-book. "I think it's fair to lament what might be lost."
> The discussion continues in the blogosphere.
> GAM3R 7H30RY, an e-book by McKenzie Wark, a professor of media and cultural 
> studies at New School University, in which readers are invited to comment on 
> every paragraph.
> If:book, a blog run by researchers at the Institute for the Future of the 
> Book.
> An online essay, "On the Future of Academic Publishing, Peer Review, and 
> Tenure Requirements," by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, an associate professor of 
> English and media studies at Pomona College, arguing that academic publishing 
> needs major changes.
> An audio recording of a speech by John Updike criticizing aspects of the 
> shift from printed to networked books.
> Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute.
> Section: Information Technology
> Volume 52, Issue 47, Page A20

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