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cover of the book Theory's Empire

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Will Work For Whuffie - or - anything you can do, I can do meta

Posted by John Holbo on 11/19/05 at 05:27 AM

So here's a blueprint for a possible academic blogging/social software model, pulled together from my own thoughts and things people said at that meeting in LA. I'm writing like I know what I'm talking about. But I don't. So please set me straight.

We can give it the nickname Thinkr, for starts - maybe that's too cutesypie to stick; or maybe it's only an apt tag for the tagging/social software portion of the production. We'll see. (I'm partial to figures drawn from the Glass-Bead Game and might be tempted to plumb it for a better name.)

It's an academic blog collective, or co-op. (Will good non-academic public intellectuals like our friend John Emerson be allowed in the cool kid's clubhouse? The answer should be 'of course!' In the meantime I'll talk about 'academics', but don't think me an ivory tower snob, dear reader. There are solutions to these problems.)

Co-op in what sense? How? Well - entering the building on the ground floor - we find a bloghosting service for academics. So far, so redundant on TypePad and Blogger, et al. You add a little value by tailoring offerings to entice non-blogging, non-technically-able academics; handy things like templates and features suitable for setting up course blogs plus personal pages. Nothing you can't do easily in lots of existing ways, mind you; but set it up invitingly. And make it look a little ... academic. (Appearances matter.)

Now, to the good part. This thing is not primarily a hosting service but an aggregated archive. It's a place where academic bloggers, who probably won't be using the aforementioned hosting service - certainly they won't be required to - can deposit appropriate stuff. (I feel google nipping my heels; on I dance.)

Let's take a step back. One of the best things about the best blogging is its (shall we say?) Montaignean character ... if only more bloggers wrote as well as Montaigne. The effect of daily dosing is really quite intimate acquaintance. We consider someone we visit every day a friend (or enemy), through the steady cascade of personal attempts (the sluice of excess personality, if you prefer.) Posts live closer to the root of 'essay' than most essays, after all; this is what attracts us to them. You get to know a person not just through fine and polished writings but through incidental trivia and offhand musings and from-the-hip firings all around. I'm not naively asserting that people don't construct their informal blog voice every bit as artfully as their more formal academic voice. (I'm not naive, you know.) Still, the Montaignean mix, the informality and eclecticism and self-expressive distract, is genuinely enriching; at least it's satisfying. I, for one, do not want to design it out of the model.

On the other hand, catblogging is a major obstacle to academic respectability.

But rather than throw out the babe of informality and individual voice with the bathwater of not getting tenure, you split the babe, solomon-wise. Let people continue to build their intensely personal blogs (and host them somewhere besides this new site I'm conjuring, probably. We don't allow cats.) But let there be this place for stuff that isn't catblog and is intellectually/academically substantial.

Here again, it may seem we haven't got anything that 'click here to see all my academic posts' doesn't provide, but bear with me. I have several improvements in mind.

First, the collective archive would help solve a problem I've mentioned before: how to make archives more useful. Blogs are bound to the newscycle, though for many of us that doesn't make much sense. One reason blog archives aren't used more is that there is no natural presumption that a given blogger has written anything in any given topic. (You use the search box to find that half-remembered item, seldom in an 'I'm feeling lucky' mood, chasing after the thing you had no idea was there.) The collective archive could hope to achieve a critical mass of material that would actually make it reasonable to go looking for discussion of specific subjects.

Also, once people have the expectation that their material might have a shelf-life longer than 48 hours, they would start to produce different material - additional material. You would then hope for a higher synthesis of exuberant bloggy individual voice with wikipedia-like, worker ant toiling to improve the collective and tend its general health.

But how is this archive going to get you better results than a reasonably intelligent google advanced search? (After all, the whole web is bigger than this archive.)

Better metadata, and generally good content quality. How do we get these? We now step into the turbid waters of social software (if we aren't in them already, which we probably are. Hell, I'm probably saying something about Web 2.0, for all I know.)

Let's consider how these posts are going to get into the archive. It is obvious you could do it automatically, via RSS or whatever; have it set up so that everything any participating blog categorizes under 'academics' (or whatever) gets hoovered up on schedule. (Well, I couldn't set it up; someone could.) But this wouldn't be the way, precisely because this wouldn't produce anything better than google. You'd just have the same post in two places. Better that you extract a few precious drops of human-intelligence metadata discipline at the moment the thing goes in. Keywords, short abstract, thoughtful categories. You, the author, have to provide this value as a condition of entry.

Much thought needs to go into 'thoughtful categories'. We need to mark along a couple more axes than at present: distinguish not just by subject but along an axis of substantiality - how big is this thing (article, brief note?); and an axis of form (a serious article, a semi-whimsical musing? Intended for classroom use?) In general, we need to hit the sweet spot between rigid, top-down taxonomy and fluid, bubble-from-below folksonomy. Happy marriage of imposed hierarchy and emergent order. You (and a few thousand of your closest, well-educated friends) hit that spot, and you are better than google. I'm not going to spin too many speculations here. I'm not qualified; but this paper is interesting and covers some basic points in what strikes me as basically plausible fashion. I have read Clay Shirky and Paul Ford and some others back and forth on the subject. (I'm not totally ignorant, but I'm still pretty ignorant, I admit.)

Here's a page I googled up that obligingly says what I suspect, while sounding more technically authoritative than I am likely to:

Put another way: There is no cheap metadata. Of course, if we could use computers to compute the metadata like Google does, that would be immensely cheaper than having employees do it. And a lot of smart people have invested a lot of effort and money into the problem of deriving metadata from data, but it’s a hard one. (Still, we should be on the lookout for opportunities; more later).

Many people in the content-management and knowledge-management trades have noticed this, and concluded that the trick is to gather metadata upstream. Remember how Microsoft Word, out of the box, used to pop up a dialog every time you created a new document and encourage you to provide a little metadata? Most people immediately said “Make this go away!” and I don't think Word has done this (by default) for years.

Historically, the difficulty of collecting metadata at source has been generally large enough to outweigh the (potentially huge) benefits from collecting it. But I for one am not ready to give up on this approach. There are, after all, domains where metadata is at the core of the business proposition, and the process works there. For examples, the editorial staff who produce the Wall Street Journnal add metadata as they go along, identifying people, companies, stock ticker symbols, and so on.

If You Collect Metadata By Hand
The most important lesson I’ve learned, is: Don’t try to collect too much. You might, just might, get people, when they’re interacting with your intranet, to label their information by project and title; but more than a couple of fields and people will just bypass the process.

This is harder than it looks. When you decide in principle that metadata should be collected, it will develop that many stakeholders have short-lists of the fields they need to make this worthwhile. You can easily end up with a “short” list of a dozen or more fields that constitute the “absolute minimum” that people think you must have. And if you adopt it, you’re dead, because except in special circumstances (e.g. the WSJ), people just will not take the time to do this.

Reading that - and clicking some of those links above - it should start to dawn that, metadata-wise, a social software swarm of educated professional academics is a remarkably valuable construction tool; potentially a near perfect taxo-folksonomic storm, if you'll pardon the sheer barbarism. If only we can bring it into being.

This brings us to another very obvious question the above passage poses: motive. How are you going to make people do their metadata chores, and do them well? Here again we need to think hard, but the point of leverage is that academics have a sign hanging around their necks: will work for whuffie. If the prospect of building this thing well dangles the further prospect of greater respectability for these sorts of online self-publication activities, then I think the academic blogger would be provided with that rare thing: a selfish reason to do the metadata right.

But how do we avoid some tragedy of the creative commons, where everyone counts on everyone else to do the metadata right, hoping to free-ride, and the system never really grows into something great? (It's boring trying to think up the best key words.)

Well, there is the prospect of people finding your work better. One reason why bloggers tend to be rather lazy about categories right now is that, per above, they don't seriously anticipate them getting much exercise. But there are other problems lurking: over-categorizing, to draw attention to yourself; just plain unhelpful or wrong-headed categorizing.

And anyway we still have the quality problem. How do you ensure that people aren't just posting filler?

Here we need to add another element, a doozy: peer review - P2P review, if you want cute. When you submit an item to the archive, you incur two obligations. First, you owe a few drops of metadata, per above. Second, you owe review duty. Let's just guesstimate where the peg might be: you must 'review' three posts for every one you submit; that is, you must leave a 'comment' that is reader report-like in character. Here there are a lot of details that might go different ways: you could actually be assigned three posts to review, by the system (which would know something about the post, and you, and the sorts of things you have written: the possibilty for heuristic matching of posts with competent readers is strong.) You could choose your posts. Or some mix. And when you make these reports, you make sure the metadata of the piece you review is in order. If the poster has done something stupid or negligent, you flag it. If you respectfully disagree with the set of categories the author has suggested, you would simply overlay your own selection, which would have the effect of amplifying points of consensus and minimizing points in dispute, without erasing the evidence of the dispute. If you see what I mean.

What happens if you, as reviewer, do not do your duty in a timely fashion? The post you were supposed to be paying for through this labor gets dropped from the system. It's not erased, of course, because it's still at your personal site. It just doesn't get to join the club until you pay your dues. There would also have to be a system for reporting sloppy reports, etc. And for assigning people to check out reports of sloppy reports. There is oversight that would need to happen. People could do stints as editors, I think. (As these layers of oversight ascend, the plan gets sketchy, I admit.)

I think it would make sense to insist, as well, that positive reader reports should have your name attached; negative ones could be anonymous. And there ought to be a quality rating ; give it just five settings: wildly positive, positive, neutral, negative, very negative. (I'm not insisting on this. Just an idea.) Three reviewers grading each post on this simple scale creates a quality hierarchy that's worth a little something. And if your post gets additional attention, any commenters would have the option of adding further layers of metadata (which wouldn't clutter the place up, but would in principle be available.)

Again, discord is inevitable. But people can still live together because you don't need to resolve it. It all exists together, recorded reactions. You can tune it out. (Listening to your critics is good, but sometimes you need to dial down the discord.)

You could also have features like: reviewer data. If a reviewer always reacts to every post 'wildly positively' there could be some sort of correction for that. If people are logrolling each other, in an attempt to game the system, you would be able to catch that out. If a reviewer is a crank, this would eventually show. Open source peer review.

Now this P2P review regime implies rather a lot of work for contributors, even before we start scaling the obscure heights of oversight. I admit it. Paying with labor just to leave a post is a bit expensive, maybe. But it isn't a lot of work for blogaholics who go around all day leaving comments anyway. Maybe what I just sketched is too arduous. (So we scale it back until we figure out how much people are willing to pay to post.) But then again it might catch on. It is obviously not just a big step towards functionality for the whole archive, it is a close approximation to traditional peer review, which obviously has certain advantages. And it isn't like most of us post something that we think has real academic quality each and every day. So it isn't like we would have to be frantically reviewing other posts each and every day. And, as comments became more like reader reviews - but public - you would start regarding your comments as your intellectual property, just like you regard your posts. You would take pride in them and there would be a link on your page for people to read all your reviews.

I trust you see that there are other potential virtues and applications of this system. Tagging. People could compose interesting glass-bead games of good posts on given topics, or in different areas. Composing elegant path structures to guide others could, indeed, become a kind of recognized labor: metapublication meets cyberspace travel writing.

I think it would also be very nice to insist that the whole thing is Creative Commons. You have to agree to that to join. You retain copyright but allow non-commercial use. And ... this would be nice: people could then freely make little anthologies out of whatever they cull from the archive; maybe for classroom use. I realize most posts aren't currently written to be used in the classroom, but that would change. People could make it their business to pen little lesson plans and 'intros to this and that' for the archive.

This leads me to the last point, which I won't go into at length (I've given you enough to chew, and I've talked about this before).

I would really like to start an academic press, focusing on e-editions, but backed by POD [print on demand]. I'm partial to the name: Glasperlen Press. This is strictly speaking a separate dream than the blog archive community I indicated above, but I think they go together. (But you should feel free to separate them if you like the press but think the community is absurd, or vice versa, or whatever.) The press publishes academic works of all lengths - from articles to books. The focus would most sensibly be on substantial works, i.e books. You offer every work (or at least all the substantial ones) in every format: nice PDF, handsome HTML. The Institute For the Future of the Book people have a new e-book format they are hoping will catch on - once the programmers say we can actually try it; something open source called SOPHIE. Fine. Everything in SOPHIE. And it's got an ISBN and is available for POD purchase on Amazon. This all needs the details hammered out nine different ways. Never mind about that. I mention it because, on the face of it, it would be shrewd to hitch this academic press proposal to the sketched blog archive/community, per above; because, again, the model would be co-op labor: you publish a book, you do peer review and help edit. Books in the draft stage would be open to commentary from anyone, and might go through several versions. Anyway, a somewhat conventional press (in the sense that a lot of peer review and editiorial labor is the norm) would add yet more respectability to the community, while the community would help bring the press to life.

And that's all I have to say just right now. But I will add that I think it might work to build these things up from smaller pilot programs, as it were. Do it one discipline at a time, perhaps simulataneously, but certainly with an eye for eventual integration. (So we start doing just literary studies publishing, with some philosophy, and call it Poppetvalve Press, or whatever cute thing we come up with. Such divisions would of course retain their utility even in a larger system.)

We're going to need to apply for a grant.

Or maybe I'm just nuts.


This is going to look like a trivial objection, but it’s really not meant to be.  I don’t think catblogging can be excluded from the legitimate range of contributions to knowledge available to writers working in the blog form.  None of us know what blogging is going to become.  Writing about animals is hardly a frivolous pursuit - in the right hands (Clare, Cowper, Eliot, Orwell, Dick, Woolf, Kafka, Coetzee etc.) If other checks and balances related to quality / originality / value are in place, I don’t see how putting in extra restrictions about permissible content is helpful.  Particularly if the extra restrictions target the more domesticated and daily and personal and autobiographical end of the spectrum, these are valuable and necessary elements of literary criticism and already quite hard to come by.

By on 11/19/05 at 08:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Dogblogging too. The only book my hound Speckleford has chewed was by Gaskell, a matter either attributable to spilled ketchup or something else. Something deeper.

By Jonathan on 11/19/05 at 09:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, Moretti too. Speaking of which, we’re going to have a Moretti event in a few weeks. You’re all invited.

By Jonathan on 11/19/05 at 09:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Okay. Good stuff here.

1. Can the P2P review follow the Slashdot “karma” model? I don’t think we need to reinvent the karma wheel here, but perhaps only slightly adapt it to our purposes.

2. I already have to type in a word in order to post a comment on The Valve, so why should I object to typing in another word or two for metadata in order to post something?

3. I really don’t think we need to encourage more academics/intelectuals to have their own blogs. There are too many blogs out there already, which is why I prefer to comment on good sites like this one rather than have a blog of my own. The challenge, I think, it to make the conversational environment richer and more conducive to substantive debates.

4. This gets me back to my hobbyhorse. What Larry Lessig would call the architecture of blogs is sometimes inimical to the kind of intellectual community that John wants to foster. The biggest problem is the blog’s overwhelming emphasis on novelty. You go to a blog site, and what do you see? Only the newest posts—often the newest single post. But why does it have to be that way? Why shouldn’t you immediately see the post that has generated the most comment in the past week, or month? Or the post from the last month that the moderators have ranked the highest? A change like this could encourage people to continue productive conversations long past what they now perceive to be the sell-by date of a post. The single most frustrating thing about reading even good blogs—well, aside from the Troll of Sorrow—is seeing a really interesting and potentially productive conversation get abandoned simply because the arrival of new posts has distracted people from it. Almost the only site I can think of that has at least a little of what I’m looking for here is Edward Tufte’s, which doesn’t use the typical blogging software but has topics arranged in such a way that some of the conversations have been going on (in fits and starts) for four years. But Tufte is basically just posting emails; it’s not an adequate architecture for making the things happen that John wants to see happen.

By on 11/19/05 at 10:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John, thanks for posting this.  I’ve been toying around with an idea that brings together many of your desires for some time—Creative Commons licensing; a P2P update of peer review; a space that would be flexible enough to bring together academic blogs, a PLoS-style repository, and an electronic imprint for monograph-length publications published in a variety of formats, including SOPHIE and other born-digital forms.  I’ve been thinking about it for some time, and have gathered a loose collection of folks whom I know to be interested in such a project, but have gotten little further than that, mostly for lack of time and focus.  I’ve posted about this several times, and am about to do so again; I’d be very happy to combine forces, particularly if it meant actually making something happen.

By KF on 11/19/05 at 11:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

You really, really need to talk to Paul Ginsparg.  There’s one really huge socio-technical reason, and a lot of smaller ones.

By Cosma on 11/19/05 at 01:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Head.  Spins.  Too.  Many.  Ideas.  John, you may want to chop this into a couple of shorter posts, so when the comments evolve, people don’t talk past each other.

As for comments:

I think this a fabulous idea, creating a virtual community of academics, and there’s one reason above all others: it would facilitate actual interdisciplinary work, as opposed to the quasi-interdisciplinary work which currently parades under the banner.  A political scientist with clout could read and post on a English professor’s post, leave an informed reader’s report, &c.  I like that model...but as for implementation, well, I still remember some BASIC.  Sort of.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/19/05 at 02:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This all sounds really exciting. I agree with Laura, though, about the catblogging.

You’re right about the grant, though; this all sounds very labour intensive. And then the idea of a grant brings up some other questions: granting agencies are at the national level or smaller, usually. So would a (just for example) U.S. granting agency want to subsidize the work of academics from outside the country? And, would academics from outside want to be associated with a particular granting agency/nation state? I see this as going one of two ways: look for some sort of international backing, and I have no idea where that would come from. Or, go with national funding agencies and know that you only have a corner, albeit a big one, of the internets. I suppose people in other places could attempt to build similar projects with their own funding, and those various projects could exist in some sort of loose association. But they would not be integrated, would they?

I’m just thinking of the kafuffle about the sponsorship of this blog. Multiply that ten-fold.

And not to be negative. This is very exciting. But if it is to be as big as you envision — if it is to be international — it has to be perceived to be separate from vested and national interests, it seems to me.

By Miriam Jones on 11/19/05 at 04:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Who controls access? Even if you want to allow non-academics to participate, that presumably doesn’t include trolls and fools. There are also academics that you wouldn’t want poisoning the well. Laura’s point notwithstanding, there are cat blogs and there are cat blogs—writing about animals doesn’t have to be a frivolous pursuit, but most of the time it is. And do you want a Sokal hoax three times a week? If you filter them too aggressively, you encourage groupthink and discourage the creativity and informality that makes the medium so interesting in the first place.

A reputation economy and web of trust helps, but it’s always the case that the whuffie-rich get whuffie-richer and the poor slip through the cracks. You can limit trolls by making people jump through hoops to have access—though remember that trolls always have more time to waste than legitimate users do—but the more barriers to entry, the less people will want to participate. Until the system is established, there’s no incentive.

The del.icio.us folksonomy model only works because users get private value from tagging (being able to find old booksmarks easily), which just happens to have enormous-but-incidental public value. I’m not seeing much private value here, not yet. There’s no reputation to be gained by participating until the archive has an aura of respectability, and it won’t get that until people are participating.

Negativity aside, I think the best thing at the moment is just to encourage participation and recognize quality. A Literary Studies Carnival with a voting system attached, say, collaboratively filtering the best of the web. There’s no barrier to entry to speak of, and with luck you build the reputation as the best place to go for quality. And then you start adding hoops to jump through, like the metadata and review-quota requirements.

By on 11/19/05 at 09:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I have some experience as a programmer (of database-backed Web sites, too) and I’d say that you really don’t want to have anyone program this from scratch.  You’re really talking about features and services from Typepad, Blogger, Google, wiki, slashdot, Lulu, etc.  I’m not surprised that there are people like KF thinking about working on things like this, or people like Paul Ginsparg with their own solutions to parts of it; just about everyone vaguely involved with Web content is thinking of something like some part of this.

So you don’t want programming per se—you want to have someone tie all of the things that are out there together.  You want what’s basically a set of rules for how your community is going to use the tools that you find ready-made, plus templates perhaps, and maybe a little bit of interconnective programming glue.  So, maybe a programmer, maybe some kind of newfangled expert in Internet social dynamics, but maybe—since your basic focus is on providing information to all requestors for free—what you really want is a librarian with some of the above skills.

Combining that with Miriam Jones’ concern about funding sources, I’d say perhaps you could look for support from some university library at a university with a strong program in librarianship and information science.  Surely that would be neutral enough?

I’ll add something that I’ve added in every previous recursion of this set of ideas: make sure that whatever you do has some kind of formal archiving system.  Blogs are notoriously bad at long-term archiving of material, in addition to their other flaws.  (Although I suppose that you can depend on the Wayback Machine to some extent).

By on 11/20/05 at 01:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

As someone who is for the most part new to thinking about blogging on these meta levels, I have to say this is fascinating. The visible thinking through happening here and at places like the Institute for Future of the Book really opens fresh insights on academic writing and publication. I must say, though, that I hear in the proposal strains of constraint, of wanting to wall things in or out and I mention it only as an observation from one less used to the concerns driving these kinds of proposals. I’ve read some of the Sharky and get the tension between the filter down or bubble up models, but catch in the language a sense of circling the blogs that seems overly strong. I guess that may just be the nature of such an enterprise, though.

One analog that comes to mind is the tension sometimes felt when trying to set up discussion activities for a class. Too much control, grading of messages, etc. and the posts become stilted--mini essays rather than points in a conversation. Again, I’m more intrigued than insightful about any of this, wondering about ways that the conversational elements would also play out in such a scheme. Also about the relationship between the kinds of materials that might make it into such an archive with other electronic scholarship that has been receiving recognition over the last decade or so.

I also was wondering if a way of imagining the shape of such entitities is to think about how we might make use of them in journal or print publications. Would it not be enough to simply start citing blogs in forms already favored by academic culture? The already-present URL would suffice, then. Or, how much authority stamp would it take to add the requisite weight to such a citation? My first impulse is to say, who wants to replicate that game, but I see the need to look beyond that impulse.

By Daniel Anderson on 11/21/05 at 10:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for comments. Let me respond to a few points.  I agree with Rich that it should probably be a matter of stitching a lot of things together - i.e. a political problem, if you like - although there will be quite a bit of programming.

Norman, let me propose one possible fix for the cranks/Sokal hoax problem. You have relatively low, but not non-existent barriers to admission. Let’s say you have three reviewers. A unanimous 3 no’s means you are deemed inappropriate. Even one ‘yes, this is OK’ gets you through the door. There should be a very explicit possibility of the reviewer saying: ‘I think this piece is utterly wrong-headed, but I recognize it as being apparently serious, and the sort of thing some people take seriously.’ That is, you don’t refuse entry except to things that cross the line that separates the hostility some analytic philosophers may feel for, say, Derrida (or vice versa) and tips over into more serious doubts. If analytic philosophers started voting to exclude writings about Derrida, that would be a serious problem for the system, clearly. So you just give them the option of admitting while registering emphatic disagreement. (Like how they don’t go over to the English department and disrupt Derrida seminars, as it stands, even if they think it’s all totally misguided.)

This basic inclusiveness would make it be the case that you stopped a lot of cranks - if not all. And you wouldn’t really have a Sokal hoax problem because there wouldn’t be any presumption that, in getting in, you had penetrated the sanctum sanctorum. (There’s no sport, really, in getting one out of three people to say that your piece is bad but barely tolerable.) If you got your hoax through and lots of eager, enthusiastic comments accreted, then you could rub your hands together. But I think it’s actually quite unlikely that hoaxes would rise to the top like that.

To put it another way, whatever credit you get in this reputation economy is not a function of how many pieces you get included but how much other people rate them as being worth. It would be a function of something you never see now: how much the reviewers liked your piece (rather than whether they accepted it). And what a bunch of people (rather informally) said after it was accepted.

Also, by obliging people to do lots of reading of each other’s posts, you hope to ensure more fluidity in terms of new entries being able to rise. It’s true that blogs are not perfect: the top tends to stay tops. But I think you could do an OK job of keeping things liquid. I think you could make it better than what we’ve got.

As to how non-academics could get in (another aspect of the liquidity problem). One simple idea might be: sponsorship. Any non-academic needs an academic sponsor, whose name will then be associated with whatever the sponsee (?) produces. So you’d want to be a little careful about saying yes to just anyone who asked you to sponsor them, and you might have the power to revoke them if it turns out you made a bad mistake. There is something patronizing (literally) about this arrangement: every non-academic participant would have a ‘big brother or sister’, as it were. But you could outgrow it. After you’ve made x posts without anyone complaining, you just become independent. Also, it wouldn’t actually be onerous at the start.  If you are someone (like John Emerson, to pick him again) who writes on the web, and produces good stuff, you can probably contrive to get at least ONE academic person to think well of you, if you deserve it. And then you’re good. (Just a possibility.)

Miriam, I think it would be quite international because it would be totally open. The goal would be to give the archive itself - and/or the press - a very small legal footprint. Copyright retained by authors. Material released under Creative Commons. That leaves the archive itself owning nothing, but entitled to the material it contains.

As to the catblogging: I think one possible expansion of what I proposed would be a big catch-all category ‘whimsy’, ‘persiflage’, a one-click option. Academics who want to deposit joky personal posts that are more or less just to make their colleagues laugh - a limerick about Zizek or whatever - they could just mark them thusly. And you would have the option of excluding this lot from searches. And it wouldn’t be ‘reviewed’, but someone would check it to make sure that it’s acceptable for the achive. It isn’t JUST a picture of a cat, and it isn’t anyone’s personal porn page or any of a number of other things that would be not acceptable. (You could make some rules that wouldn’t be totally impossible to follow, I think.)

In general, I haven’t really studied how the ‘karma’ market has worked out elsewhere. Obviously the thing to do would be learn as much from what others have done, rather than invent the wheel from scratch.

By John Holbo on 11/22/05 at 12:48 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If I remember rightly, there are economists on Crooked Timber who study closely related things: economies of online RPGs, linkage patterns, Internet tools, etc.  You should have another Crooked Timber seminar, in which you present the specs of what you want and have them all hash out how to do it as a kind of case study.

By on 11/22/05 at 01:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hi, relatively new to blogging, and very new to The Valve. Something similar to what you’re suggesting John, exists here, if you’d like to check it out. Is what you’re envisioning something like McGann’s Nines project but more universal? I do like your utopian vision of this being an international project; however, my experience of blogging so far, and this blog is a good example is that, for some reason blogging culture hasn’t seemed to have caught on amongst academics in the UK (especially those in the humanities) as it has in other countries. The reasons for this, I suspect, are many, and I shall be blogging about it at some point soon!

Reading Miriam’s post (and the consequent eruption that followed) I do feel one shortcoming of The Valve is that it seems rather insular and navel gazing...having said that, a blog by definition (whether about cats or esoteric ramblings on Wittgenstein) is precisely that. Sadly, I feel that’s rather at odds with the little magazine, unless you choose to redefine it. I suspect the hypertextual little magazine is quite a different animal from its print counterpart - if this is the case, how would you define it?

By Padmini on 11/25/05 at 08:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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