Sunday, April 04, 2010
New Models for Online ‘Salons’: the ARCADE example
There’s been some discussion here a few times about the challenges of keeping blog content accessible and useful, because of the structure of blogs themselves: older material scrolls off the bottom and into the cloud, and though it is archived, there’s not usually a systematic way to keep it current. One result I’m sure we’re all familiar with is the constant reinvention of the wheel. I know when I first joined the list of authors at The Valve I (re)opened conversations that were new(er) to me but had been hashed out a few times here already, whether about the state of the profession or the future of literary studies or blogging. It’s interesting to watch, now, as blogging and web publishing are gradually becoming familiar parts of the academic landscape, and new ventures explore ways to create online the kind of intellectual community and continuity we all, in one way or another, are after. One of the latest additions is Stanford University’s ARCADE, which seeks to combine blogging with other features to make it, according to its founders, a kind of online salon. Here’s how it was described in the Stanford News:
Arcade describes itself, in a brochure, as “curated but participatory” and “technologically rich in the service of ideas.” But at first glance it can be overwhelming in the wealth of information it offers – Greene guesses it has “about 10 times more stuff” than, say, The Valve, another site for the academically inclined. He said that he and Zach Chandler, who is the academic technology specialist for Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages, are exploring ways to make the site easier to navigate.
It currently works like this: The left side of the page features bloggers; the right side of the page is structured to feature constantly refreshing scholarly journals, podcasts and multimedia. On a particular day, a post by Christopher Warley of the University of Toronto, musing about the various editions of Shakespeare his students bring to class, might appear on the left side. On the right, in the scholarly reviewed Occasion, John Bender of Stanford gives his take on rational choice in Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
I agree that the front page is “overwhelming” but it’s an interestingly ambitious attempt to draw together different kinds of writing and publication. I can’t pretend to have explored a great deal of the content yet, particularly the more ‘official’ journal-type content (I’m least interested in online content that is just more of the same kind of writing typical of the profession). But I’ve been keeping an eye on a couple of the blogs, particularly the posts on “the profession” (such as Roland Greene’s on ’Misplaced Horizons in Literary Studies‘)--which is what made me think of the “reinventing the wheel” problem--the lack of difference made by all the previous discussions of related issues at, say, The Valve. Don’t get me wrong: all the problems and questions discussed at ARCADE remain good ones, complicated ones, ones worth asking. But there’s an archive of previous ‘work’ on these questions, including our discussions at The Valve, that isn’t referenced at all (and I’m sure our Valve discussions didn’t find or link to every other relevant discussion either). So are we just reproducing online the same phenomenon of an overabundance of unconsulted material that we see in our conventional scholarly work? If people can’t (or don’t) find or cite what’s already been said, how worthwhile is the conversation, after all? Is that primarily a technical problem, because, for instance, there’s no equivalent of the MLA Bibliography for blogs?
In any case, what do people think of the combination of features at ARCADE? Does it seem to prefigure the future of online scholarship, with its mix of blogs and journals and seminars? Does its all-in-one approach create its own kind of insularity or homogeneity? I thought the news article rather exaggerated the novelty of the salon effect: any group blog is already achieving a lot of that, though not, perhaps, with quite the same ambitious reach as seems to characterize ARCADE. It may be an idiosyncratic response, but I rather shy away from the institutional identity and heavily ‘curated’ impression the site gives off: I like a well-managed site, but I enjoy the individualism, the almost unhinged quality, of the internet. I think I’d be sorry if in our effort to make online work academically respectable (or to get it noticed / cited / archived) we lost too much of that, but I realize that very disorderly quality is precisely what makes it so difficult to build anything more sustained, or to move conversations forward instead of just having them again (and again).
I thought the news article rather exaggerated the novelty of the salon effect . . .
I’ve spent a fair amount of time there and have contributed to several conversations, and linking some back to The Valve. As far as I can see, they’re going to have the same “back issue” problem that we’ve got once they’ve been around awhile. The old conversations are just going to get lost. Of course, maybe they’ll be able to attract some funding that’ll allow them to deal with that.
Nor do I see any linkage between the blogs and their formal journal articles (and I’ve read some of them). The articles themselves are not directly linked to a comments area, though any blogger there would be free to start blogging on any of those articles.
They’ve got a “seminar” facility that might be useful, but it’s not up and running. The idea is that one convenes an invitation-only and time-limited seminar to discuss a particular piece of work, say the draft of an article you’re working on. You upload the draft and then invite others to comment on it. I haven’t got any idea about how the commenting facility will work because, as I said, it’s not running.
(I’ve been invited to one seminar, and I’ve downloaded the article, but no-one’s commenting on it because, as far as I can tell, the comment facility isn’t yet there. I’ve had some brief email exchanges with Zach about the user-interface for that facility.)
It may be an idiosyncratic response, but I rather shy away from the institutional identity and heavily ‘curated’ impression the site gives off . . .
The fact that the “news article” Rohan linked to “rather exaggerated the novelty of the salon effect” isn’t really Arcade’s fault; the purpose of venues like “Stanford News” is to disseminate the glorious doings of the alma mater, so we should be glad that Stanford wasn’t credited with inventing a thing they cal the “web-log.” (As the Berkeley Alumni magazine revealed, it was John Holbo who invented it. Roll on, you bears!)
Hi. I’m Natalia, one of the managing editors at Arcade. Rohan, thanks for your post here, and for your comments over at Arcade. The balance between curation and flexibility is one that every site has to strike (however minimally--e.g. banning spammers from comments), and we’re still working on striking that balance. That said, the internets are big. It seems that there’s a need for things like Arcade and a need for things like the Valve, and they’re not the same need.
Bill, thank you for mentioning ArcadeWorks (the seminar function). It is in fact up and running, but in beta. The seminar you mention actually isn’t a real one; it was Zach’s way of getting you the article, and of troubleshooting some bugs in the process. I think Zach may have even turned off comments for that particular seminar. Generally, the purpose of ArcadeWorks is to workshop a single work, usually prior to publication.
Again, thanks for your post, Rohan, and thanks to everyone else for your comments. Arcade is, as always, a work in progress on many levels.