Transliteracy Conference 2010

One – The Phoenix Square Digital Media Centre is the epitome of a British location, in that you are only capable of getting there if you already know how to get there. Next time I come, I’m helicoptering in.

Two – It’s a nice digital center, as far as I can see. Nicely sized multi-purpose screening rooms. And the building’s green, which always gives it plus points in my mind.

Three – The conference. Which is the thing, isn’t it? Themes I picked up on:

  • Transliteracy is transdisciplinary. We started with an ethnographer, followed by a geographer…
  • Ongoing Twitter feeds (#transliteracy) and live blog posts – Although I’ve done some live blogging myself, I don’t really know how much these add to the overall experience. It’s almost distracting, and the Twitter feeds are generally scattered, surfacey, and lacking in true discourse. It’s mostly the pretense of discourse in byte-size format.

Highly interested in Gareth Howell‘s talk, looking at comics as a model for online narrative. He used Scott McCloud’s idea of closure (how the reader “reads” the spaces between the panels, and the functions those panels serve for the narrative itself), and applied it to web narratives. He looked at those web narratives as different panels, exploring the spaces between in the forms of:

  • site to site
  • device to device
  • time to time
  • media to media
  • author to author

He touched on what I’d call the attention issue – depending on site, device, media, and author, a web narrative ‘reader’ may be applying 5% attention to the narrative (i.e., a tweet forwarded to your mobile), or close to 100% (sitting down at the computer and focusing entirely on the narrative). We don’t read books with this varying level of attention from start to finish – it’s relatively even. We flip through magazines, and attention levels vary much more in this shorter form with many different panels/lexias/nodes. Perhaps we’re going awry even with the term ‘literacy’, because it lead us to compare transliteracies to the literacy of literature in the form of codices.

I was sad that the practitioner panels were the only ones done in parallel, so I didn’t get to see half of them.  I’m hoping that when the videos of the presentations go up, I’ll get to share the experience belatedly of the panel I missed.  The panel I attended included Kate Pullinger, discussing her and Chris Joseph’s Flight Paths, which is in a small way similar to my overall project in that they posted a base story (consisting of 5 episodes), and then crowdsourced for open contributions.

I’ve always been concerned about the interface for Flight Paths – while it’s easy to manage from a webmaster perspective, it’s difficult to really get lost in as a reader.  They don’t interlink, and aren’t presented in any visual order or structure.  I asked Kate about it, but she was perhaps the wrong person to ask, as it’s the story and the writing process that really concern her.  Though I did love her response – that the contributions wound up mirroring the brainstorming that goes on in a writer’s head as she starts to work on a piece.  They’re in fits and starts and bits and pieces, eventually converging to form a whole.  I’d argue that on the site, the contributions never really converge, and maybe that’s my problem with them, but I like the idea.

Dr Martin Rieser presented his group project The Third Woman, a locative, interactive (via mobile) film they placed in Vienna.  I like the idea of the real-world interaction (something we’re working on with the Arduino project), but I found it…disappointing to see how tied all of these practitioners are to the foundation of a completely linear story.  The reader/experiencer (god, we really need a term here) can’t possibly experience the  story in a linear fashion, so why do we create stories that are linear from the get-go?  (More on this in an upcoming post.)

I’ll post our presentation in a different post, but here I want to say we were a little sidetracked by the fact that we weren’t quite in the right panel.  Our paper was really practitioner-based (though a lot of that angle got cut off by the extremely short time for presentations, especially considering some chairs let people ramble on for 25 minutes or more), but we wound up in the middle of a discussion on copyright issues and monetization.

My thoughts on those could fill yet more blog posts, and probably will, but here they are in brief: we’re too married to the idea of author copyright in order to make a living off what we do.  I’ve definitely seen a lot of successful practitioners working with more open Creative Commons copyrights, so it’s not tied into monetization.  Also, we can’t force the revolution.  It will come when it comes, and we can’t predict what the best or prevalent model will be.  The MP3 revolution came about because Apple produced a product that tied everything together, and became the prevalent model.  Was it the best model?  Maybe not.  Kindle’s doing something similar for digitized books.  Something will come along that will do the same for digital stories.  Will we like it?  That’s yet to be seen.

Overall, I felt it was a very useful conference.  I do very much wish it had been spread over two days – so much was packed into one day that there wasn’t much chance for full discussion of papers or for the networking that is so crucial for these get-togethers.  Maybe next year.

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