June 10, 2006

Notes from the Hyperlinked Society

Filed under: hypertext,networks,profession — jrice @ 7:04 am

Or what I did for two days in Philadelphia while attending the Hyperlinked Society Conference.

  • Thursday spent with old friend who teaches at Temple. Burmese food for lunch. Much walking through the city. I’m treated to a stop at the Ben Franklin museum in the historic area. Notable moments: the furniture. Each item is labeled “as if” or “similar” to something Ben Franklin “might” have owned. A museum of simulacra. And don’t forget the telephone exchange where you get to call people who’ve written or spoken of Ben Franklin: John Keats, David Hume, Balzac! Hi Woodrow Wilson! What’s up!
  • That night the Heat fall to Dallas. Uh oh.
  • First morning of the event. Name tags reveal lots of IT and business folks. Jeff Jarvis is tall.
  • In front of me, two eager bloggers blog away their impressions! In fact, lots of people appear to be blogging. Er..blogging what? Wait for the games to begin! David Weinberger announces that he set up an IRC channel where folks with computers can chat about what they are seeing (or bicker). Sounds like a good way to get your gripes on without using the microphone during the Q&A. The conference below the conference! This should spark debate! But it doesn’t. Unless it does on IRC. Since I don’t have my Mac, I have no idea.
  • First big debate! Nicholas Carr thinks all this Internet stuff is hooey! “You get what you pay for,” he says, “and if you’re not willing to pay for anything, you get YouTube.” Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Carr battle it out briefly…but Wales does note that – in response to the type of complaint I make about Wikepedia not being a good source of info – it’s a place to begin, not do research. Yes. And then he asks inquiring academics why they let college students use an encycolopedia to do research anyway. “Even I wasn’t allowed to do that in 9th grade,” he says. True dat. Wales is wearing what looks like a small Dashiki. I’m reminded of a dashiki I had to buy in 5th grade for a school event. We all wore dashikis and sang French folk songs. I kid you not. I loved that shirt and kept wearing it long after 5th grade – until it became too small.
  • This is not a conference like a typical academic event. One panel. Five or six people Each speaks briefly for 4 or 5 minutes. Then Q&A from the 200 or so sitting there. Moderators are very active and also do a brief presentation.
  • I’m sitting in the Ivy League!
  • While most of the talks skim the surface of networks, Web 2.0, and so on, one thing is obvious to me: Many in industry (and other areas of academia) are talking about these issues and engaging in research when deals with the complexity of web interactions and relationships (what is, in essence, rhetorical exchange) even if they don’t see their work as rhetorical. A good example was Marc Smith from Microsoft who explained his research in inscription, understanding the traces left behind, the patterns made by interactions. Conversations form. Influences shape those conversations. “The thread keeps it together.” Only 2 percent of a given group responds to initial conversations. Very interesting stuff. Except that Microsoft does this research only to figure out how to minimize their role in help and how to shift help to users. Ok. But there are broader implications here. We can’t reject this work because it’s Microsoft-based; it demonstrates generalizable points regarding influence, response, and what we leave behind in a given conversation.
  • That is my basic reaction to most of the panels. One on mapping and map making is interesting, but doesn’t go far enough. What they are mapping is the Web, or some types of relationships. But what they leave out of their mapping are those items difficult to categorize or trace through links: emotion, affect, mood, the material, the event, and so on. I want to bring up Katherine Harmon’s You are Here as one example of this “other” kind of linking and mapping, but then I wonder if anyone will recognize the text. I look over the shoulders of the bloggers in front of me instead and see that they are active on IRC.
  • Mary Hodder shows a video. Apparently she is well known in this group for her blogging. I’ve never heard of her.
  • Social science asks questions about online usage that never seem to go anywhere. “10-20 percent of the most popular websites are about porn!” The audience gasps. Huh? You mean to tell me that in a room of 200 people, all hip to the Web, not one has ever visited a porn site? And are we still shocked over the continuing relationship between porn and new media? People, listen up: FOLKS LIKE PORN! Get over it. Next!
  • Since I’ve been reading Ambiant Findability, I was eager to hear Peter Moorvile. His brief talk hit upon many of the problems I find in his text. Too limited in vision. Findability is important. And the concept of it being ambient (all around) is intriguing and worth exploration. But Moorville works from the position of “being able to locate our objects” in singular spaces and meanings. Here is where post-structuralism and theories of chora have much to offer.
  • That point reminds me: No theory here. Craig Saper and I complain about this over lunch.
  • Seth Finkelstein! I want to party with you! But seriously, Google is ok. No worse than anybody else out there. Easy, boy. You don’t have to hate the player.
  • Jeff Jarvis likes to ask the first question for each panel. At one point he gets into it with Jack Washlag of Turner Broadcasting. Jarvis is a bit too rah-rah of Internet productions. Yes, YouTube is cool. Yes, blogging is great. But distance, man! Create some distance here!
  • Before I leave for the airport, I stop for a pizza around the corner. When I’m in a different city, I like to try local beer and eat local pizza. The pizza isn’t bad. But as I eat, I’m fortunate enough to be sitting in the middle of a staff meeting. The owner is threatening to fire the entire staff if they leave the restaurant a mess one more time at the end of the night’s shift. I hope she doesn’t think I work here too.
  • Final thoughts (as the formula requires): What I learned was not what was presented. I do see that much of the work we do is very relevant to what goes on in IT, industry, and even the social sciences even if they don’t know it yet. I’m not sure what can be done to forge stronger connections (or “link”) us up. The meta-issue here is obvious: We are in English, and that label, or identifier, is right now not of much interest to these folks because of the meanings “English” carries. The same can be said in reverse. And if we replace English with “rhetoric” or “rhetoric and composition” we will meet the same obstacles. On the other hand, there were a few English folks in attendance, so the event’s organizers must have seen some relevance. The conference announced the creation a new journal, International Journal of Communication, and so I think, in what is usually a traditional response, that maybe sites like this new journal or other related sites of publication might be the initial places to forge connections. If we can get into such publications, of course. And that last point depends on how we see each other’s views regarding new media and allow those views to be published. As is evident from this post, there are views that I don’t find very interesting, and that point can be flipped for the reverse response.


  1. We are in English, and that label, or identifier, is right now not of much interest to these folks because of the meanings “English� carries. The same can be said in reverse.

    Sometimes I think the reverse is the bigger problem. Projects with a commercial genealogy or with grounds in practical applications are too often dismissed by traditional English studies.

    But this is not only an English problem. Academics of all sorts have trouble getting their work to the general public. The work I did with Ag Engineering at Florida was a great example: they had potentially useful stuff (both software and reports) mired in models and numerical results. Jones &c. were willing to devote considerable resources to generalizing their work in a manner that (I hope) not only got it read but made the connections which got industry interested in the bigger picture. I’d like to see more folks in the humanities doing similar work.

    Comment by cbd — June 10, 2006 @ 7:52 am

  2. Right. It’s not getting read that interests me so much (though I recognize that to make connections one has to be read and one has to read elsewhere) but the connections you note. And in making such connections, we don’t have to search out one on one correspondence (i.e. the value can be found where it was not necessarily seen to be by the originary party). Often, we are better off not generating that correspondence, particularly if our desire is invention.

    Comment by jrice — June 10, 2006 @ 1:52 pm

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