Friday, November 25, 2005
Why I am not a biblioblogger ::

I've been uneasy with the identification "biblioblogger" since it first appeared. At first I thought it was just the name. Then I wondered if it was the insistence by some that properly "professional" blogs should eschew other topics and cleave only to professional matters. But at the SBL "Biblioblogger Session" (which I thoroughly enjoyed, and in which I was highly honoured to be invited to participate before several more worthy bloggers who helped form the gratifyingly large audience) I learned the real reason for my unease...

Well I did with the help of a coffee later with Paul Nikkel who had put it into words, at the session Paul spoke about identity formation, and naming, and of interesting parallels between ethnic naming and naming bibliobloggers. Despite Jim's rejection of the notion (backed up by a great photo), and AKMA and Pilgrim at First and Lake's preference for fears of academic prejudice in job search, tenure and promotion among a group vulnerable to marginalisation as an explanation of exclusivity, the naming of a "group" with a shared identity seems to me dangerous. But then I've never been "clubbable". I suspect I share Marx's sentiment (I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member! - of course it's a quote from Groucho not Karl ;)

Seriously, by naming we create a group, by discussing who is in (and therefore by implication who is out!) we create exclusivity. This is no longer the spirit of Blogaria, and I regret my phrase at the session about a virtual common-room, because one of the things I've greatly valued about the virtual one (an advantage that all the "real" ones, even those that seek to be more open, fail to realise) is its openness, that you can chat to anyone there. In the blog "common room" prof and grad student can chat with the undergraduate fresher and status (almost) disappears. But not if we name and create boundaries.

So, I'm sorry friends. I resign, I'll still read and comment on your blogs and I hope you may still read and comment on mine, but I'm just another citizen of Blogaria and not a member of the gated community of Biblioblogdom.

PS I have just read yasminfinch's thoughtful post "biblioblogs and all that" apart from more food for reflection it does not make me want to change what I've written above, but read it for yourself - especially if "you" are a male biblioblogger!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Web 2.0 and the Evils of RSS ::

For a while now I've been puzzled and puzzling over that "Web 2.0" slogan. Just what is the Web 2.0 that the gurus keep talking about? How does it differ from what we've had these last 10-15 years? The hardware is the same - pretty much, though it would have been nice in the 90s to have had broadband and wireless for the last few miles and feet like we often do today! (I'm assuming that Web 2.0 does not mean the new high speed Internet that is providing research institutions with much higher data rates, but refers to some quantum leap in the experience that "ordinary people" have with the web.)

On the 'plane from LA to Chicago, back on Friday, I listened to a really good BBC interview with Tim O'Reilly (of O'Reilly publishing) first in the cut down Go Digital programme format, and then in the "full version" they also podcast. Web 2.0 - according to Tim O'R - is all about taking and responding to user input and data. The Web 1.0 version of this is why - new kid with no pedigree - Amazon beat - established bookseller - Barnes and Noble. It explains the rise of Google - who understood that a useful search engine is not about indexing content like Yahoo or AltaVista (remember them) had done, but about spotting what people, web users, recognize as meaningful links (Page Rank).

It also explains the flogging phenomenon - build on user data and input - and so the importance of RSI and so why around the coffee stations of the Internet RSI (and pitchstone, RSI for MP3 files) are all the buzz.

But does it?

For blogs at least RSI works to deliver me the new posts from the blogs I like into my feed reader, so I read them together, in categories that make sense to me. So each time I log on I get the option to read the new posts from the Bibliobloggers, or the Emergent Church, or the tech's that I have found and like. No more trudging round a list of bookmark to see if Mark, or Paul, or Jim (always) have a new post, if they have it's there in my reader, waiting for me.

Which is great for the blog consumer, less work, less time. It's great for the blog author - at least those who are part of a circle (coterie) because now when Mark or Rick (I agree with whoever said "Rico" is such a cool name!) or Tyler want to comment on something I've posted they will write a post that links to mine, bumping up the Google Page Rank (see above) and so my prominence.

BUT, these same "benefits" of RSI that make it so Web 2.0 (and there is lots I've missed out here) also mean that I get comments like the one below - from an anonymous online reader, who echoes what some real life readers have asked - "does anyone ever post comments?" Well it's because AKMA or Peter or Jim no longer (usually) post a comment on the blog, they write a post on their own blogs. So does RSI (as the only technology from the Web 2.0 bundle that I - partly - understand) make Web 2.0 more relational or does it merely allow the Amazons to "personalize(*) " my web "experience"?

Digital Openness and Biblical Studies (post-CARG post #1) ::

[Nb. this post should have gone up this morning Philly time, but my hotel had an Internet blackout, following the hot water drought the day before, so I am sending it off this evening!]

Following the much blogged about CARG Biblioblogger session at SBL, amid the buzz of a dozen other conversations (that we'd all have loved joining also) a group of us talked about the openness thing.

It wasn't world shattering. We haven't solved the funding of the Disseminary, or even recruited a dozen authors for them, nor have we all agreed to put our shoulders to any other wheel (though several of us are busy inventing "wheels")... But we did decide - at least that's my memory of it, do correct me or add what I've forgotten - that we need to create a climate in which openness in Biblical Studies is on the agenda.

By "openness" we mean (some or all of these things, and perhaps others):
  • openness of access: the current (closed) "publishing environment" means that our output, monographs, articles etc. appear in costly forms that are difficult (at least for scholars outside Western academic institutions, in particular 2/3 world and independent scholars) to access. Note that this is of real interest to scholars, we publish to influence others, to propagate our ideas, to gain tenure or promotion - all of these goals are assisted if people can actually read our work!
  • openness of creation: in software programming circles there is a buzz around "open source" projects, the success of Linux (Did you know Google's server clusters - about the nearest thing in the real world to Deep Thought" - run Linux?), Moodle (Did you know that Britain's largest university has chosen Moodle as its Learning Management System?) and other OS projects reinforces the sense that openness of creation is a good model to explore. What projects could Biblical Scholars contribute to that would be our Linuxes or Moodles?
  • human openness: the "guild" model of scholarship and its practices (including for example the peer review system) have served Biblical Studies well, but they are - or have become - barriers to "outsiders". The guild has tried - SBL in particular, through travel grants, committees on Women in the Profession and the like - to break open this barrier, though with less than total success - see the discussion on the near absence of women at biblioblogger session and in particular Pilgrim at First and Lake's comments in her post "Why don't Women (Biblio-) Blog?" or ask yourself how many biblical scholars you have read or listened to recently who were born and who currently reside in South America, Asia or Africa...
To work to create such a climate in which openness in Biblical Studies is on the agenda - remember the discussion was at SBL - we talked of asking for a new program group on "Openness in Biblical Studies". I was deputed to begin rolling this ball, so if you are interested join in...

[PS after writing the above I attended the CARG business meeting, the "openness" thing is on the list of possible sessions for 2006, I also (before that) had a chat to Kent Harold Richards, so my suggestion is that we wait a week or two til the CARG list is finalised, and only if "openness" is absent we move further in proposing a group... sorry, none of you was around to consult with!]

As I wrote the above I began to reflect more on the sort of summary statement we will need to propose such a group, and I am convinced that:
  • much of this force behind this issue comes from the conjunction of a (historic?) societal move towards openness with the changes how we communicate and what is possible in a digitally mediated environment
  • these questions inevitably arise (at SBL) in the CARG sessions precisely because the drive towards "openness" is founded on digital communications
  • and that for some years (some of us) have been pushing the boundaries of what can accurately called "computer assisted research" to include such more cultural questions
So, the issue is do we go on developing within CARG (despite the name) a session on issues of digital culture and Biblical Studies, or should we (instead of proposing an openness group - however named) propose that like an amoeba CARG split into CARG (focusing on computer assisted research - as the name implies!) and DC a "digital culture and biblical studies" group...

[The above paragraph should be rewritten in the light of the comment above, but what the one below expresses is still my view!}

I wish we'd had the time to work through all this yesterday!

Sunday, November 20, 2005
SBL but jetlagged ::

Well, after close to 24 hours travel, I arrive at Philadelphia for SBL (all the rage among bibliobloggers at present, though whether I am such remains to be seen tomorrow, if not then I must be a mixed-genre blogger or just plain confused ;) and then six hours sleep and a full day of papers, book-buying and meeting people, so far no BBs among them, (Jim West has all the luck, or better eyes than me!) I am too tired and jetlagged to report... please excuse me this assignment will be late!
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Character Ethics and Biblical Interpretation ::

Since others have been keeping track of many of the SBL sessions for which papers have been placed online let me add that the papers for the Character Ethics and Biblical Interpretation Group of SBL have been posted, just follow the link.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Blummy, it's Cool Tool for November ::

There's a very new very neat tool with the strange name of Blummy that even though I'm flat out marking I could not resist playing with a little. It calls itself "The bookmarklet management bookmarklet" and it gives you a one or two click link to do almost everything you want with webpages, blog this, it, check its Google page rank, even check a site's uptime or remove its CSS colours... You name it, Blummy probably does it!

It is surely one of the best things since... well since... since... Firefox! (Frankly if you work or play on the web, you need Blummy.)

Small print, the only problem I have found with it is that it does not seem to timeout when trying to collect information, so when Blogger was down my Blummy was too ;( this also means if you get carried away and add too many Blumlets it can be slow... the solution is to have 2 or 3 Blummies on your toolbar... problem (almost) solved.

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TXT: Bible as koine ::

Although produced just across the ditch, I have up to now managed to avoid commenting on the Bible Society in Australia's SMSBible, but a rant on the esteemed if:book just changed that.

This reads like the complaints one regularly hears from people who can't stand change, and continues the snobbery of the highbrow:
...the SMS version changes the voice of god from that of a wizened poet to that of a text-messaging teenager. Here's an example:

4 god so luvd da world

I'm all for reading on cellphones and other portable devices, and I understand using a shorthand language for keying in messages, but why does the published book need to look like an electronic stenographer's notepad? I realize that the form of the electronic "page" is changing the way we write, but I'll be more than a little disappointed if this is the direction we are going—toward a cutesy-looking shorthand that compromises the integrity of the text for the sake of expediency.
Kim White concludes: Are you with me when I say that they jst dun hav d powR of d orignL txt.

TXT IS ugly, has no place in print (yet), and yet in many communications contexts it is (currently at least) convenient. For example, I use TXT (badly, as I naturally try to spell things in full and use punctuation too ;-) when communicating on MSN with my daughter. Though when we can I prefer to use voice, she often prefers TXT - since she is also carrying on three other "conversations"... For some things TXT is best.

So, God knows I am with Kim, in some things, but there is also a spare and contemporary flavour to the extracts from the TXT Bible that seems to work. Remember too that the original Greek of much of the New Testament was no literary linguistic masterpiece, but was koine the langauge of the streets and everyday letters - the TXT of the first century?

PS, by a nice synchronicity Wayne has a post on similar issues at Obsolete and archaic language in Bible versions.

Monday, November 14, 2005
Open Biblical Studies @ SBL (a reminder and appeal) ::

You may remember that way back when the world was young, or at least a few weeks less old than today, in August we had some discussion back and forth about Open Biblical Studies started by a post of AKMA's mentioning among other things the difficulty of resorcinol open projects at that time I proposed an informal meeting:
There seems to be some interest in gathering after the biblical session at SBL in Philadelphia, to talk about "open" biblical studies. So, acting unilaterally ;) I hereby announce that I will then and there meet with whomsoever is likewise interested!

We will (probably do things like:

* share what projects are around and where have they got to
* talk about their needs
* see if we can find ways (through things like, prioritising, collaborating, a central repository, promoting...) to further the goal of providing impetus to "open biblical studies"
* share a coffee and perhaps a bite of food

If you will be at SBL please mark this in your program book/diary etc.!

Biblioblogging @ CARG 4 SBL ::

I've been corresponding with my daughter in France by MSN, and in those "conversations" she has influenced me to use TXT type abbreviations. They seemed appropriate for the heading of this post, as I enter the last few days before setting off for Philadelphia, but try to finish the marking etc. first.

There's been a good collection of responses already to Mark's reminder and suggestion that we explore in advance a bit what we will talk about in the CARG "Biblioblogger" session. Here and now I'd just like to restate my interest in us attempting to offer answers to the question of the utility of biblioblogging for biblical scholars. (Mark helpfully suggests we summarise this as "Are we blogging a dead horse?") What I mean by this is, let's assume blogging is fun, accept that it is in some ways "good", but ask how is it good for our discipline, or our employers, or our students... that we biblioblog. Many of the "goods" we claim from blogging (like the vanity thing ;) are not relevant to answering this question...
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Sunday, November 13, 2005
Thomas L. Thompson and the Tel es Safi shard ::

Jim posts a comment from Thompson provoked by the buzz over the 10th century BCE (Philistine) shard from Tel es Safi that features what may be names formed like that of the biblical character Goliath. Thompson ends with a challenge: Does anyone know why so much nonsense is being published by journalists or why so many biblical scholars are paying attention to it?

That question, of course, is really two, and it seems disingenuous to make them appear one by writing it as one sentence.

So, breaking it up: "Does anyone know why so much nonsense is being published by journalists? Duh! Because in the USA and Israel lots of punters will pay good money for bad reporting and nearly as bad archaeology, just so long as it can be claimed to "prove the Bible". It is noticeable that in less religious States (or at least in NZ) none of these finds has made print the media.

The second question is different, and not a no-brainer: "...why so many biblical scholars are paying attention to it?" Actually this question, as well as being linked grammatically to the previous one shifts the ground. In Thompson's body he has mentioned not only the Tel es Safi shard, but also the "abecedary found in Palestine's southern coast" (SIC) and the "large wall in Jerusalem". Now, frankly, I find the Tel es Safi shard rather boreing, indicating as it does that constructions (which may well be names) like Goliath's name appear on a 10th century Philistine writing - I'm not an epigrapher, so yawn yawn. But the abecedary, now that gets my interest, it begins to fill out our sketchy picture of literacy in Israel, together with other information about the site it helps to build our knowledge in ways that assist me to read the texts and frankly I'm puzzled why Thompson, who has written extensively and controversially on this topic cannot see the interest!

Thursday, November 10, 2005
When Mummy knows best - overdetermining in translation ::

Wayne (Better Bibles) has a post about Ephesians 1:4. I'm not an NT scholar, so I won't comment on most of the post, but one point did stick out. Wayne notes that to render καταβολῆς κόσμου as "foundation of the world" does not make much sense:
I'm not sure what "the foundation of the world" refers to in English. I know what a foundation of a building is. I know about the foundation of some things that are more abstract than a building. For instance, I understand what it means to refer to "the foundation of our democracy." I would think that the Greek word katabole could more naturally be translated here as "creation" even though the lexicons give one of its glosses as 'foundation.' To me both English words refer to the same event, and the word "creation" brings to a reader's mind more easily what that event is. But I can't say that it is wrong to translate with the word "foundation." To my mind, the word "creation" would translate Greek katabole as accurately as "foundation."
I hesitate over "created" though. Now, I am sure this is what the writer thinks, but it is not quite what they have said. It is an inference from our presumption of their Christian theology... καταβολή generally refers to founding or beginning something, so how about "before the beginning of the world"?

"beginning" allows the reader to read with the same presumption, but - like the original Greek - it makes it something we work out rather than being explicit...

I do not want translators to over determine their readers' reading, rather I want them to allow readers to do the sort of work the writer intended. Presumably if the writer of Ephesians had meant to write "before the world was created" that is what they would have written! But they chose a close synonym...

That's a problem often with translations that aim for simple straightforward English, often they over determine our reading, making explicit what in the original was implicit - sometimes this can't be avoided, but when it can - as in this case? - it is better to leave the reader to do the work the writer intended!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Happy Birthday Dear Web... ::

The web will be 15 years old on Sunday. According to the Wikipedia, and surely on such a topic even Jim (see "comments" below) will recognise dear old Wikipedia as an authoritative (if anonymous) voice, Tim Berners-Lee created the very first page of the World Wide Web on 13th November 1990.

Of all institutions to celebrate this fact it seems nicely paradoxical to me that the Financial Times should be (a) the first I saw (thanks to Peter Suber at OAN) and (b) contain a celebration of the anarchic freedom of the web from commercial control!

James Boyle (Duke Law School) wrote the article: "Web'’s never-to-be-repeated revolution" which is full of goodies, like this:
Why is the web unlikely? Prepare for a moment of geek-speak. For most of us, the web is reached by general-­purpose computers that use open protocols - standards and languages that are owned by no one -– to communicate with a network (there is no central point from which all data comes) whose mechanisms for transferring data are also open.
James rightly points out that we can see the importance of that if we imagine its opposite, a web designed by commercial or government interests:
Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. "“Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography."”

And of course it is. But it is also much, much more. The lawyers have learnt their lesson now. The regulation of technological development proceeds apace. When the next disruptive communications technology -– the next worldwide web -– is thought up, the lawyers and the logic of control will be much more evident. That is not a happy thought.
Happy birthday for Sunday, dear Web, and God bless you, warts and all!

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Micropayments the big company way ::

The digital revolution has produced some startling turn arounds. The music industry's goal for generations was to package more music in the container. We progressed from our great-grandparents single song on a wax cylinder, to our grandparents small collection on a vinyl 78rpm disc, through the LP to CDs. While the copying of LPs to cassette tapes for friends in the 60s put a dent in "music industry" profits it no way revolutionised how music is sold. But CDs are digital. With music in digital format and millions of users all connected to the one huge network (the Internet) copying moved from one to few to a distributed peer to peer system (Napster et al.). Would Internet sharing kill the recording industry, high profile legal action to protect "intellectual property" (now there's an oxymoron) suggested the companies at least feared it would... And along came iTunes and the iPod, single tunes for cents....

Publishing is in crisis. No one has worked out how to operate in the new electronic environment. Some big players have the answer. According to an article in the New York Times Amazon, Google and Random House are all (severally or together?) drooling over the prospect of doing "for books what Apple has done for music".

Micropayments are the answer!

Why not get people to pay a few cents to "buy" a page at a time. As the NY Times headline screamed:
Want 'War and Peace' Online? How About 20 Pages at a Time?
Sorry to poop on your party guys, but frankly the answer is a big "NO!" No way do I want to cough up real money for 20 pages of Tolstoy... A novel is not made up of discrete "chunks" like the songs on a CD. Even the Readers Digest condensed "War and Peace" is not in the same league as the real thing. Include me out, no way no how!

Some works do come in "chunks". The article sensibly refers to recipes in a recipe book. Neat discrete "chunks", who wouldn't pay a few cents for a good recipe? Of course, to find the recipe, you'd need a good search feature... Wait a minute, it sounds like Epicurious or NZ's own Cuisine magazine website...

Forget the novels, I'll take the paperback "War and Peace" thanks. But information in chunks (hey, let's call them "lexia" sounds much cooler than "chunks") in a system that's well organised, linked and searchable... yes, I'll pay cents for a page of information. Except I can still get my recipes for free...

Ah, yes, next year it really will be the year of the micropayment ;) honestly!

PS hat tip to the excellent if:bookfor this and other stimulating news and views on the subject of the future of "books".

Carey email down ::

Just in case anyone has been trying to contact me in the last 24 hours, you have had no reply because I have not (yet? I do hope they are not all mia) received your mail. Carey's email has been getting nothing for 24 hours now... In the meanwhile just write to me as "tim" at "" that's still working, since I stopped it trying to send everything to me at Carey!

Monday, November 07, 2005
Wikipedia and the Two-thirds World ::

Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia was reported widely (e.g. on BoingBoing and SlashDot) as saying that the totally open encyclopedia "may soon be available in print for readers in the developing world".

Stephen the Greenflame (in an email) pointed me to this cartoon. Which prompted me to think about other ways in which this is surely "stupid idea of the century". Think what a print edition of Wikipedia will cost, any estimates of the number of zeros? My guess is that (at least in NZ$ if not in greenbacks) you'll need three. Now, for $1,000 you could get a cheap PC, with a DVD of Wikipedia, which could be updated every six months for peanuts. A print Wikipedia is inappropriate technology!

Jimmy, don't take something that (almost?) works and by imitating the past make it a useless prestige project - because that's what a print Wiki would be!

Friday, November 04, 2005
Tim needs an MP3 player with large buttons ::

Maggi Dawn had an amusing meme on her blog earlier, you type your name and the word needs into Google with quotemarks round like this: "tim needs" and post the first results to your blog. For me the first page (with a few false positives culled) read:
  • Tim needs a theme
  • Tim needs your help ...
  • Tim Needs a Shirt
  • Tim needs help...
  • All Tim needs is a patch into the main or house system. ...
  • The answer to what Tim needs is family, friends, and just enough stuff to ...
  • Tim, needs approving by Sheralee
  • Good old Tim needs to do a little more research.
Leaving aside the bizarre (what is a patch into a house system?), and the obvious (but I didn't think my current shirt was THAT old, and I'd love to do more research if only I had less meetings!) there is a theme developing here... "Tim needs help!"

OK, I thought, how do I need help? And in keeping with the immediate and casual theme of a meme the item currently on my mind, and actually what I was really searching for on Google when Maggi interrupted is an MP3 player with large buttons and screen designed for the elderly (see below)... So can anyone help Tim? All together now "Tim needs an MP3 player for the elderly!"

BTW if you choose to run with this meme, could you please quote the phrase "Tim needs an MP3 player with large buttons" as I'd love to see that come up top on Google when some other Tim decides to try the meme! Who knows a manufacturer might see one of those posts and actually make one!
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MP3 player prices tumble ::

Dave Warnock (42) alerted me falling prices for MP3 players through his post on church use of digital audio. The lowest price MP3 players in NZ is now under $50 (facts correct at 7am 4th Nov local time or see this page for latest info) though I notice that prices are higher in the UK!

This means that this techno-gadget which has already a very high market penetration among the young can become ubiquitous. It is now possible for a church to buy a few and give them - preloaded with 20 hours of Bible readings (and we already have the first hour of Mark's gospel ready at and will soon have much more...) - to elderly members who can no longer read for themselves.

Well apart from the fiddly controls and small size of every MP3 player I've seen... so which manufacturer will be first to come out with a "SeniorPod" a larger player with bigger buttons and clearer screen?
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005
The campaign against good translation (TNIV and its opponents) ::

The staunchly Conservative Evangelical translators of the TNIV went out of their way to accommodate their translation to the prejudices of the rightwing that rules American Evangelical media. However, they rightly tried to draw a line at translation practices that would misrepresent the meaning and intent of Scripture.

The primary issue is male supremacy and a strict differentiation of gender roles. So inevitably psychologist James Dobson's Focus on the Family has got involved, and is providing a platform for Wayne Gudrem a virulent opponent of the TNIV to air his views.

Just in case anyone should be mislead into thinking about the translation issues for themselves the broadcasts have apparently made no attempt to allow the case for the TNIV to be placed alongside Gudrem's polemic.

Another Wayne (Wayne Leman of Better Bibles) has tried to redress the balance a bit by posting to the Better Bibles Blog a "challenge" by Stan Gundry who was formerly a professor at (the notoriously liberal) Moody Bible Institute.

Oh, that as much heat, energy and plain old-fashioned cash was spent on constructive efforts to present the gospel of Jesus the Christ as the more staunchly "sound" of his followers spend on internecine strife! And my prayers for Gundry that he may retain his gentle and open spirit, yet still make the point clearly and firmly that it is Dobson and Gudrem who have betrayed Scripture, not the translators of the TNIV.
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Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Pressure to post ::

At this busy end of the year (down here the academic year ends just weeks before the calendar year does, so this is silly season) finding time to blog is difficult - frankly finding time to read blogs is not easy. But so much good stuff has been going on. So many ideas and posts bookmarked and noted "for a post". And, since it is nearly a week since I blogged the pressure to write is huge. (Fascinating, for "ordinary" writing often the problem is "writer's block", with a blog the problem is no time to write...)

I'd love to take part in Christopher Heard's great blogussion of Philip Davies article from JHS - it would be interesting, fun, and a stimulus to read something that does not contribute very directly to any current work... but I can't.

I really want to comment on some of the provocative material Stephen has blogged recently, and I have four biblioblog posts marked to write about...

But I really can't resist at least pointing to the fine posts on if:book recently. The one on Ted Nelson's thoughts on the future of hypertext will keep, maybe while I am away for SBL I'll find the time to process and write a longer piece, but I must mention the discussions of Wikipedia and Wikibooks. "can there be great textbooks without great authors?" is not only a great title, but a fine question. For there to be quality material on the web quality authors are needed. The critique of one early Wikibook is trenchant (and probably not entirely unfair - though the Wikibook project is still in very early stages, one wonders how first drafts of Gardner's textbook read?) The post compares the Wiki Art History volume with a classic text the seventh edition of Gardner's Art Through the Ages which is now in its 11th edition! The Wikibook unsurprisingly shows both infelicity of style, and plagiarises Gardner. The $1,000,000 question asks whether this is a temporary "feature" or whether the Wiki format is doomed to mediocrity - to misapply a tagline "the textbook anyone can edit" is hardly a selling point!

The if:book post on Wikipedia points to much good discussion. For me, in doing so it raises the key issue. A scholarly web, that is a web with scholarly content, needs some form of evaluation and assessment, worthy material must be distinguished from dross. That's what AKMA's biblical studies seeded search tool is trying to do automatically. (With, to judge by my cursory testing, so far not very impressive results - I am not convinced straight Google is not better...)

Peer review, which we have discussed before, is a relic of the old "guild" system, and though designed (in theory) to eliminate personal considerations, in practice incorporates generous doses of quasi-mafia-style patronage. Paul Nikkel's open QA model does not yet sound sufficiently rigorous... (BTW Paul, are you planning on publishing that AIBI piece somewhere? If not how about making a version available on the web...)

So, for this hurried post, no conclusion, except that (along with funding) quality assurance is a key issue if we are to produce an "open" web-based "scholarship"...

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