The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32
Anne Field § The booster pack / 2014-02-15 16:15:39
Josh Rubenoff § The booster pack / 2014-02-09 04:29:20
David Lang § The right flavor of fame / 2014-02-07 15:13:49
Robin § The booster pack / 2014-02-06 16:41:42
Navneet Alang § The booster pack / 2014-02-06 03:40:31
Sam M-B § The booster pack / 2014-02-06 03:32:35
Chris Baker § The booster pack / 2014-02-06 02:38:57
G Love § Conversation Media / 2014-01-30 07:26:22
Navneet Alang § Calculating the Weight of the Object / 2014-01-26 16:07:58

The generative web event

Last week, a bunch of digital humanists got together at the Center for History and New Media to make a new tech tool that the broader academic AND nonacademic communities could use for their work. The catch: they had to conceive, design, and ship the thing in JUST one week. And as anyone who’s spent any time hanging out with university people, the pace is usually pretty glacial compared to the commercial world, even/especially for tech.

They called it “One Week | One Tool,” with a great subhead in the deck: “A Digital Humanities Barn-Raising.” You can see the sweet team that put it together here. And CHNM has a great track record with these kinds of projects: Zotero and Omeka alone are free, open-source world-class products that have made life in the research and curatorial feeds way easier.

Now about half these people working on One Week | One Tool are in my Twitter feed, and they spend a lot of time talking to each other, so as this was unfolding, I read about this event non-stop. People wrote blog posts about it. Folks (especially those of us who were on the periphery) made puns and cracked jokes. It was an ongoing communal broadcast that you could follow on the #oneweek hashtag if you wanted the full dish. It was very, very similar to the excitement around the 48HrMag (now Longshot Magazine) project when it was first announced, albeit within a slightly smaller, maybe more homogeneous community.

But, importantly, with all that information circulating, nobody said anything about what the tool actually was. There were even enigmatic teaser tweets, like “Just used the new #oneweek tool for the first time; works great!” It wasn’t LeBron-taking-his-talents-to-South-Beach suspense, but at a certain point, more and more people were waiting to find out what the heck the thing was. They even launched a video stream to make the announcement. I don’t know if they tried to get ESPN to donate some time and sell commercials for charity, but who knows?

And sure enough, it became big news. Everybody who’d been following it live-tweeted the news once they’d gotten it. (Some people even begged their Tweeple to post it, since they couldn’t watch the video broadcast.) It got written up in ReadWriteWeb, the Chronicle of Higher Educaton, and the Atlantic, among other big-for-DH venues.

And they put together a great open-source tool: Anthologize, a WordPress plugin that helps you take online content like blog posts and collect, edit, design, and format them into a book — for either digital or print. Solid software, with obvious utility for lots of people, not just academics. (Although part of me quietly wonders if the CHNM’s last big project, “Hacking the Academy,” motivated the choice, since that explicitly was an effort to turn a whole bunch of scattered blog posts — again, all written and/or curated in one week — into a book.)

Now this is the part on Snarkmarket where, usually, I would try to explain what I think all of this means — for you, for us, for media, for journalism, for education, for the children. And this time, I’m deliriously happy, because I think we’ve already done it. I can just take two posts+comment threads from the Snarkmarket archive and blockquote the hell out of them. (And as everyone knows, me and blockquotes are totally BFFs.)

Here are some highlights from Robin’s still-uber-potent “The future of media? Bet on events“:

So far we’ve got this TED/Phoot Camp media-making work­shop spear-gun. Now, bolt on deadly addi­tions from Iron Chef and the Long Now Foundation’s debates. Now we’ve got a laser sword media prod­uct that is:

* Live. It’s an event that hap­pens at a spe­cific time and place in the real world. It’s some­thing you can buy a ticket for—or fol­low on Twitter.
* Gen­er­a­tive. Some­thing new gets cre­ated. The event doesn’t have to pro­duce a series of lumi­nous photo essays; the point is sim­ply that con­trib­u­tors aren’t oper­at­ing in play­back mode. They’re think­ing on their feet, col­lab­o­rat­ing on their feet, cre­at­ing on their feet. There’s risk involved! And that’s one of the most com­pelling rea­sons to fol­low along.
* Pub­lish­able. The result of all that gen­er­a­tion ought, ide­ally, to be some­thing you can pub­lish on the web, some­thing that peo­ple can hap­pily dis­cover two weeks or two years after the event is over.
* Per­for­ma­tive. The event has an audience—either live or online, and ide­ally both. The event’s struc­ture and prod­ucts are care­fully con­sid­ered and well-crafted. I love the Bar­Camp model; this is not a BarCamp.
* Ser­ial. It doesn’t just hap­pen once, and it doesn’t just hap­pen once a year. Ide­ally it hap­pens… what? Once a month? It’s a pat­tern: you focus sharply on the event, but then the media that you pro­duce flares out onto the web to grow your audi­ence and pull them in—to focus on the next event. Focus, flare.

I wrote this in the comments:

I like posi­tion­ing the generative-web-event as being some­where between a sem­i­nar, a TV show, and a magazine.

Like a sem­i­nar, or work­shop: it’s brainy, and col­lab­o­ra­tive, aimed at cre­at­ing knowl­edge, not just recit­ing it;

Like a TV show: it’s live! It’s hap­pen­ing now! Or, rather — it was hap­pen­ing then. We’re going to show you some­thing that’s going to gain and cap­ture your attention;

Like a mag­a­zine: you’re not cap­tur­ing a ran­dom viewer, who is just try­ing to tune in to what­ever catches their atten­tion at that moment. You’re con­nect­ing with sub­scribers, and try­ing to gain and hold their atten­tion. Too much of the web, of social media, is like flick­ing through the chan­nels, with too much of the bad aspects of that and not enough of the good.

And Shamptonian asks:

Regard­less of the tools, meth­ods and processes involved, I keep wrestling with the exis­ten­tial ques­tion of “what is the ulti­mate pur­pose of this media?”

Are we gen­er­at­ing it:
1. For profit?
2. For atten­tion?
3. For edu­ca­tion?
4. For help­ing human­ity?
5. For the evo­lu­tion of civilization?

I have no answers :) I think I’m just grow­ing weary of hav­ing to assign pur­pose to art, and the increas­ing belief that the forms of [artis­tic] media (poetry, lit­er­a­ture, paint­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, video, etc.) are less mean­ing­ful, less mar­ketable, less ‘social’, if they do not have a broader intent.

Actually, that whole comment thread is one of my favorites ever: it features a goodly chunk of the all-time Snarkmatrix comment all-stars, and we talk about the awesomeness of the Snarkmarket ampersand, the non-value of farts in windowless rooms, and even spawned what’s still my favorite mass-culture media idea, “Lego Hamlet.” Read it, or read it again.

Now, Robin started out his events post thinking about events for profit, but clearly, as Anthologize proves, you can also get a lot of mileage for events that look to educate and help humanity AND — maybe most importantly — generate attention. Here’s Robin again:

A specter is haunt­ing the inter­net, and I think it’s even scarier than the chal­lenge of get­ting peo­ple to pay money. It’s the chal­lenge of get­ting them to pay atten­tion. I think it’s only going to get worse—which is to say, bet­ter, because we as inter­net users and blog read­ers and tweet slingers will have more cool, weird, inter­est­ing stuff to look at all the time, and it will just keep com­ing faster and get­ting cooler and frag­ments and—ack!

So what kinds of cultural objects historically have gotten people to pay attention? Well, I wrote about this last month:

The way our cul­ture works, depend­ing on what field you’re oper­at­ing in, cer­tain kinds of objects (or in some cases, events) gen­er­ate more cul­tural focus than oth­ers. Shirky gives an exam­ple from paint­ing: “Any­one can be a painter, but the ques­tion is then, ‘Have you ever had a show; have you ever had a solo show?’ Peo­ple are always look­ing for these high-cost sig­nals from other peo­ple that this is worth­while.” In music, maybe it used to be an album; in com­edy, it might be an hour-long album or TV spe­cial; I’m sure you can think of oth­ers in dif­fer­ent media. It’s a high-cost object that broad­casts its sig­nif­i­cance. It’s not a thing; it’s a work…

It’s no sur­prise, then, that he Big Dig­i­tal Shake-Up in the way cul­tural objects are pro­duced, con­sumed, sold, dis­sem­i­nated, re-disseminated, etc. is shift­ing our con­cepts of both author­ship and the work in many gen­res and media. What are the new sig­nif­i­cant objects in the fields that inter­est you? Pom­plam­oose makes music videos; Robin wrote a novella, but at least part of that “work” included the blog and com­mu­nity cre­ated by it; and Andrew Sul­li­van some­how man­ages to be the “author” of both the book The Con­ser­v­a­tive Soul and the blog The Daily Dish, even when it switches from Time to The Atlantic, even when some­one else is guest-writing it. And while it takes writ­ing a book to get on Fresh Air, to really get peo­ple on blogs talk­ing about your book, it helps to have a few blog posts, reviews, and inter­views about it, so there’s some­thing besides the Ama­zon page to link to.

I put forward a guess at the end of that post, which is a partial answer to that question. One new kind of media that’s starting to function as a work is a blog. Not, in most cases, a blog post — but a blog. If the New York Times decides, “hey, we’re going to start and host a blog all about parenting” — that blog becomes a Work. It produces ongoing cultural focus, and not just because it’s in the New York Times. Some posts get more attention than others, especially if they cross over into a long-form venue, but writing that blog, sticking with it, being its author, creates focus, readership, and a long accumulation of content. And I’m sure Lisa Belkin (who already wrote a book about parenting) will get another book out of it.

But the other new, emergent work, which might be more radical, is the generative web event. 48HrMag, One Week | One Tool, Robin’s novellas, and maybe even the New Liberal Arts (especially if we put together another edition) are all ancestral species of this new thing — the children of TED and Phoot Camp and Long Now and Iron Chef, and the parents of whatever’s going to come next.


I think you’re bang-on about Events being the future of media. Worth pointing out that that’s partly because we all get a thrill from eavesdropping and voyeurism; the net’s participation in such events draws on the legitimation of those formerly seedy urges.

Wanted to mention, too, the “Museum in a Day” project, which was very similar: see for info about that project and for the results of it.

1. The One Week | One Tool event is incredible. I didn’t even know it was happening as it was happening—goes to show you that the Snarkmarket Venn diagrams don’t overlap 100%, which is a good thing—but I’m completely blown away by it after-the-fact.

2. I think your emphasis on cultural focus, authorship, and “Work”-ness is important. Turns out we don’t just need processes of production & transmission; we need processes of validation too.

Tim Carmody says…

Re: 2 — Stock and flow, baby. Stock and flow.

Tim Carmody says…

Oh, and Re: 1 — this is another huge point. You can go back and look at One Week after it’s over, because the events of the future aren’t over when they’re over.

Because they’re generative — i.e., they create an object or a tool, or an ____ — and because they’re self-archiving, you can encounter and re-encounter them at any point in the time-chain.

To use Matt’s analysis for journalism — it’s time-accelerated, time-slowing, and timeless all at once.

Your position as audience/participant/public is fundamentally and morphologically modular.

Is it unreasonable for me to be disappointed that the One Tool is confined to WordPress? Not all of us have the freedom to choose our own blogging platforms, and not all of us who do prefer WordPress. I feel the same way about Zotero’s bond to Firefox, and it’s almost impossible for the uninitiated to figure out whether they can use Omeka at all, with its cryptic tagline “Linux, Apache, MySQL5, PHP5″ and no information anywhere on the site, that I’ve been able to find, about download requirements and compatibility issues.

There’s much to admire about all these endeavors, but something not to admire is the way they’re oriented to insiders. To an outsider the attitude seems to be “play by our rules, which we will not deign to explain to anyone who doesn’t already know them.” I don’t think that is the attitude, but if people want to see wide adoption of these tools they have to find ways to communicate to those who aren’t already clued in. And I would like to see more emphasis placed, whenever possible, on cross-platform (OS and blogging alike) and cross-browser tools.

Frankly, yes, it is a bit unreasonable. This is a tool only a week old, and to say that it is confined to WordPress is akin to saying that a newly-written book is confined to English. These are powerful systems, and with their power comes complexity, and a certain gravitation towards the points of least resistance — so, while it might be possible to write something like Anthologize to work with Blogger and Movable Type and Drupal and so forth, WordPress has the largest community of developers & users, the best-documented plugin architecture, et c. Zotero, similarly, targets the platform that has been most amenable to extension for the longest period, and is most likely to remain so.

Omeka’s tagline “Linux, Apache, MySQL 5, PHP 5″ speaks with extraordinary directness to anyone who’s ever configured a webserver, saying, “This program runs on the most common combination of server software.” To those who don’t recognize that, it says, “Perhaps you’d do best to learn a bit more about server configuration before you attempt to set this up.”

I agree that there can be a certain regrettable elitism in these techie communities, but is it really different from demanding a certain level of proficiency with spelling and grammar to enter the academic conversation?

(Apologies if this comes across as a bit crabby; no A/C here, and it’s approaching 90 today.)

Tim Carmody says…

Alan and Matt, I think you’re both totally right.

(Wow. Even when I say that, I usually don’t actually feel that way. It makes me feel kinda strange. I think I’m going to go have a Coke.)

First, the tags for this entry are meticulous and I am impressed by your bibliographer’s attention to detail.

Second, some thinking aloud:
Is the event of the future exclusive? What makes many present (past?) events so fascinating is their exclusivity- we aren’t invited so we want to be there. If it is exclusive, is it only because the events are narrow enough in their focus that not everyone WANTS to be a part of it? I’m thinking the difference between a Red Carpet Movie Premiere and say… the San Diego Comic-Con. Also, can these events only flourish in a community that is already well-connected? Or could somebody form a community by staging an event? Again, just thinking aloud.

Thanks for keeping my brain-waters churning, Snarkmarketers.

I have a bit of experience with both “does it need to be exclusive?” and “can you form a community through an event?” So far I think the answer is “no” and “yes”–but you do need to be really clear on what sort of people you want to participate, how people with different interests and skill levels can be involved, and in the case of forming a community through the event, have a clear invite that you can cast out there so the “right people” will see it and glom on. I also think it helps to be clear on what people will be asked to do–ComicCon is a zoo in part because the minimum level of participation is to show up and gawk, but if you put participants to work in some way, it acts as a filter, and fulfills that “generative” requirement.

In many ways it’s easier and more manageable to stick with exclusive events, or groups that already know each other and work together, but I’m always impressed how providing a structure for people to self-identify as part of what you’re doing produces delightful results I couldn’t have known to ask for.

Hmm. Opening up the possibilities for who can join in opens up the possibilities for what can happen? Seems like a fair trade to me. Ideas are swirling.

I’m probably being too grumpy.

Matt, your reply didn’t seem crabby at all. But let me push back a little (after apologizing for missing the link on Omeka’s webpage to the system requirements). You say “Omeka’s tagline ‘Linux, Apache, MySQL 5, PHP 5′ speaks with extra ordinary directness to any one who’s ever configured a web server” — which is exactly right. But those who haven’t don’t know what the tagline is saying and what it isn’t. They might say, “well, this says it’s for scholars, and I’m a scholar, and it says ‘Omeka is designed with non-IT specialists in mind,’” click the download button, and then wonder what to make of those files. For such people, it would be good to say, “Scholars interested in Omeka who don’t run their own web servers should contact their institution’s system administrators to find out if Omeka can be installed for them.” Even something that brief can be very helpful to people who are trying to understand the tools that are available for them.

Similarly, if there are any plans to expand Anthologize beyond WordPress, it would be helpful for the project FAQ to say so. Or if, by contrast, it’s the view of the builders that WordPress is (or should be) the standard platform for academic blog-publishing, then stating that, and explaining the reasoning a bit, would be helpful too.

One more little thing: do you really want to say that having the technical knowledge to configure and run web servers is equivalent to having “a certain level of proficiency with spelling and grammar”? What percentage of the scholarly community would such a criterion designate as being grossly ignorant? (I may have misunderstood your point.)

I just think that a little bit of an evangelistic attitude would help the cause here.

Tim Carmody says…

Omeka, at least as I understand it, really isn’t for individual researchers or users. It’s for institutions — museums, nonprofits, libraries, that kinda thing. I’ve got a little bit of background working with server stuff — I should say, very little — but I couldn’t find a way to make it work or a problem it could help me solve.

Still, I think it’s a sharp project, really useful for some people, and not just professors or universities, which is always a plus. Collaboration with a broader range of alt-ac cultural institutions is both good in itself and maybe a more workable intermediary goal than generating a pure consumer-grade program.

Zotero, too — yeah, it kinda bugs me that it’s stuck with Firefox. And it’s fairly user-friendly, but only to a point. I always thought it would be cool to have a Firefox-(or maybe Webkit-)based Flock-like browser for writing and researching. But then it’s a trade-off between leveraging the ubiquitous tools you already have versus creating purpose-built ones that are tailored, or maybe over-tailored, to what you want to do. The old Lévi-Strauss bricoleur-v-engineer dilemma.

Omeka is indeed designed with institutions in mind, but a number of individuals are experimenting with it for their own projects, such as tenure portfolios, interactive CVs, digital storytelling, and just plain old family history. Using LAMP as the backbone for Omeka makes sense in a hundred different ways, cost-effectiveness being only the most obvious. I don’t think the LAMP architecture is prohibitive for non-techies. Many web hosting providers can make sure you have the necessary packages installed, and the Omeka forums are full of people who can help (which, indeed, I needed when I installed Omeka on my own server; of course the problem turned out to be the idiosyncrasies of my shared server rather than anything with Omeka itself).

Hi Alan — I would echo Tim’s point that Omeka is really pointed at institutions rather than individual scholars, but it would be nice if its creators did a little more to make that clear. The point I was attempting to make with “a certain level of proficiency with spelling and grammar” was that, just as the academic community erects shibboleths to enter its conversation, so does the techie community expect fluency — or at least recognition — for specific technologies in order to be taken seriously as a participant. I don’t think all academics need to develop these specialized skills, by any means, but if you want to engage with the web it’s worth learning a bit about what powers it.

An evangelistic attitude has its uses, but its drawbacks as well. There’s an interesting tension here, not just between purpose-built vs. general use tools, but between drawing the boundaries of the community so wide that you constantly have to catch people up with what’s happening (“A blog? What’s that?”) vs. so narrow that, while you may get a lot of work done, no one outside your group will ever know or care.

With regards to the seeming exclusivity of Anthologize, I’d point everyone to a post by Patrick Murray-John about this very issue: Anthologize Uses: What Can We Turn On Its Head. What makes this post—in which Patrick ponders extending Anthologize to Drupal, Joomla, and other platforms—especially significant is that Patrick is one of the key developers on the One Week, One Tool team responsible for Anthologize. Patrick describes how the underlying TEI wrangler for Anthologize isbuilt to be “themed” for other CMSs. Building initially for WordPress was a pragmatic decision, meant to hit the broadest use audience as quickly as possible (i.e. in one week). The so-called long tail—building Anthologize out to other platforms—comes later (but not so late).

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (or the digital simulation thereof), I think museums are a really interesting site for these kinds of events. We’re where things (objects) live; maybe we’re also where Things (generative web events) happen. Museumification is another process by which a work is validated.

My view of One Week was shaped by my museum hosting Maker Faire at the same time. I had concurrent searches for #oneweek and #makerfaire going on my customary intermediator, and as my friends at CHNM were working feverishly on their secret code, we here were watching tents go up and the life-sized mousetrap being assembled, bringing artifacts out of storage, and in general facilitating an art/technology experience for our visitors. I felt like we were doing similar kinds of work (on very different scales), with similar kinds of evidence living on on the web.

By the way, on the larger subject of generative web events — I feel that some of the most epic and memorable online games result in this kind of after-the-fact record, and can be almost as fun to read as they must have been to play. I’m thinking here of long-term games of Diplomacy or Solium Infernum, games that people want to tell stories about. Maybe this is the next direction for social games: games that leave a mark on your history, games that are about your relationship to the other players, about the world you choose to create.

YES. How great would it be–how redeeming of the genre–if a sprawling Facebook game like Farmville generated a story? A story you could re-live and re-tell? A story you could buy, printed & bound, with a nice cover and some illustrations, for $5.99?

(I like this: over at Topsy, a user tagged this post: “My God I can’t think of all the tags I’d need to add to this.” YES!)

Tim Carmody says…

Um, yeah — that’s actually how I tagged this post up top. That’s what Ryan’s joke about meticulous bibliography is all about.

Ha haha. Whoops, missed that. Nicely done. :-)

Oooh, I think I just found a piece of the Ada Lovalace Day 2011 puzzle. All I need to do now is figure out exactly how it all fits together, for which I think I may need more tea.

You might also be interested in Social innovation Camp.

We bring together ideas, people and digital tools to build web-based solutions to social problems in 48 hours.

Running since 2008, we’ve gestated Enabled by Design, MyPolice and The Good Gym and held Sicamps in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.


Hi all,

I’d like to add a little to Alan’s, quite right, concern about the tie to WordPress in Anthologize. (I’m speaking as a member of the dev team, but not _for_ the entire Anthologize team). I partially agree with Matt, it made sense to aim toward WordPress for the community base. But, to my thinking, we’re not wanting to limit it to that. The RSS import was a key feature to us because it starts to bridge those gaps via the well-understood mechanism of RSS import. So, it is partly confined, currently, to operating within WordPress. But from the start we’re interested in operating on any content on the web (with the needed copyright permissions), first through RSS imports.

Cross-CMS operation is a much bigger issue. My sense is that we’re aiming to make things solid in one system (WordPress) before trying to make things go elsewhere. That said, I think that we will be well placed to work on that step when the time comes.

Thanks much,

Should mention, too, that while we did joke about the connection to Hacking the Academy, it really didn’t figure in to the team’s decision-making process about what tool to build. Tom and Dan pretty much left that entirely to the team. I think the overlap just reflects the fact of widespread tensions about publishing in general.

Mark–thanks for linking to my post. I didn’t get it written until after I had commented here the first time!

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