Friday, February 26, 2010
  Funding the volunteer web
Photo by Jemal made available freely under a CC licence :)
The web has become a funny place. Despite its ethos of volunteerism and culture of free, increasingly volunteer effort and time are not enough for worthwhile projects. Meanwhile borrowed money, cosmetic surgery, pornography, and other essentials of modern life can finance themselves, and even enable others to make a modest income from blogging.

The latest illustration of this strange situation is Librivox. LV is a huge volunteer effort that In a mere four-and-a-half years, has made thousands of free audiobooks for anyone to enjoy. The site gets 400,000 visitors every month.One recording I did has already passed 10,000 downloads. Yet LV is appealing to its volunteers to donate money as well to pay for the system that enables all this. LV is deeply committed to the dream of free culture, so all its recordings are placed in the public domain. This ethos sits uneasily with advertising, otherwise a combination of Amazon links and/or Google Adwords would ensure an annual income of far more than the $20,000 that they are seeking (in the hopes it will cover the next few years of opperation).

There is a strange logic here, even a tiny payment from a few of the users who download and enjoy the books would cover the cost. Yet LV asks the producers of the content (well at least one group of them, the authors and original publishers are mostly dead, so they are not contacted by the appeal). So it is the readers, prooflisteners and project coordinators who must pay.

Perhaps in the gift economy and the culture of free this is the way it should be, with people covering the cost of publishing their work. But how does this fit with academic publishing? Academics (with a few, over the 20th Century a dwindling few, amateur scholars as exceptions to the rule) are mercenaries, we undertake our scholarship for pay. Yet even in this realm of "workers worthyof their hire" (we hope) publication has usually been free!

No, books and journals have not been free, but authors have most often given them away, it is usually only the commercial publisher of the work who makes any significant money (and then often barely enough to meet their costs) royalties on the average book (or even well above average like your latest one) are barely cover the coffee consumed in its writing.

There's the real paradox of digital publishing, a sector (somehow in this over-managed world we are always part of a "sector") that traditionally gave away its (or at least this) product is wary of the new culture of free and hides its work behind the firewalls of commercial publishers. Apart from hidebound inertia and fear of the new what explains this strange reality?

[See also this old post by Mark Goodacre.]

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Sunday, November 22, 2009
  David Clines' SBL Presidential Address
It's almost the first time I've attended an SBL presidential address. I know I'm (getting) old, it's the first time I've known and respected an SBL president as more than a name on some papers and books (usually ones I have not read).

DJA Clines is an iconoclast, I vividly remember the time I met him, SBL International in Jerusalem in '86. He was sharing a room with Robert Carroll, one of my few friends from Glasgow, and a guru I admired, but never tried to follow. I had the room next door. (The rich occupied the flash SBL hotels in town, the creative, the European and waifs like me occupied student accommodation at the Hebrew University.)

It was at that SBL International (or at the IOSOTS that accompanied it) that David met Heather, but I remember it more for one phrase. I think it was Clines' but it could have been Carroll's. I've Googled it, but could find no attribution (if you try that NOW, Google leads to me, but I know I did not invent the phrase - I just wish I had). That phrase, picked up from whichever intellectual nomad from the neighbouring room actually coined it, has guided, or at least served as Leitmotiv for two decades of (my) biblical study.

But back, from senescent ramblings about times past, to David's presidential address, David is an iconoclast, and his address topples many cherished icons of the academic world: the dichotomy of teaching and research, and the primacy of the latter, the modes of teaching, the hierachy of teacher and student... David is an entertaining speaker, and most of us chuckled and a few even dared to laugh... David is a prophet, and his address may even (like Muillenberg's in 1968, an SBL even I am too old to have attended) provide a stimulus for years to come... But is was not NEW. And there's the tragedy, Biblical Scholars are still not listening to other disciplines, we "borrow", occasionally, an unfamiliar notion torn from its context (preferably non-Anglophone) in Psychology (especially the esoteric and academically dubious fringes of Psychology) or Literary Studies for these can provide the dillettant biblical scholar with a neat paper for many sections in the SBL program guide, but we systematically turn our backs on the professionals. Professionals in teaching above all ;)

And that may be the truly iconoclastic element in DJA Clines' SBL presidential addesss in 2009. If he stimulates a few younger scholars to toy with the ideas of teaching theorists and researchers as he once stimulated me to toy with ideas of the unnecessary "hypothesis of the idiot redactor" then thank God for SBL Presidents!

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Friday, May 29, 2009
  Making it (electronic publication) count
As a follow up to my previous post, and an indication that I am not really the angry old man presented in that post ;) I'll draw the attention of biblical scholars who blog to the excellent set of guidelines for evaluating digital work being produced by the Modern Languages Association in the USA.

"Being produced" because the material is a wiki, being refined continually by members of the MLA's Committee on Information Technology, though the guidelines are already very useful.

Note to Jim: Wiki technology, far from being the necessary haunt of flagrant dilletants, can be a really easy way for a group like this to publish ongoing work - Judge the product not the technology (a useful motto for this conversation ;) :End note to Jim

The site: The Evaluation of Digital Work contains a very useful annotated listing of Types of Digital Work, and a Short Guide to Evaluation of Digital Work that would be really useful to members of committees called upon to evaluate digital scholarship, as well as illustrative material and an (unfinished) section assisting applicants with Documenting a New Media Case.

NB. This post follows on from the following earlier discussion:
Stephen's Academic Blogging: Publication or Service?
Mark's Academic Blogging: Publication, Service or Teaching
My rant Should blogging count for academics?
(see also Jim's Blogging: To What End? and Mark's Why blog? and - though you may need to scroll to see the connection - Media Literacy: Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media by George Siemens - Apr 25 09

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Thursday, May 28, 2009
  Should blogging count for academics?
Many academics now blog. [Cue crusty elderly mumbles about how back in 2006, 5, 4... there were merely a handful of us...] So, the issue of whether, and if so how, blogging should "count" among academics is a live one. There is, certainly nothing like a clear common answer. Even among blogging-academics the topic has been hashed and rehashed, but little light as emerged.

Evaluations of academics' performance are traditionally, and probably globally, thought of under three headings:
  • teaching: fairly obvious, includes preparing, marking, talking to students...
  • research: usually requires publication in a peer-reviewed form of actual research, so writing a Bible Dictionary article usually counts as service or teaching not research
  • service: a rag bag for anything else the academic and their evaluators think of as "work", committees, consulting, speaking to non-professional groups etc.
The current posts among biblical studies bloggers, opened the conversation with Stephen's Academic Blogging: Publication or Service? and also Mark's response Academic Blogging: Publication, Service or Teaching posing the question in terms Marx would have approved. Does blogging "count" as work, and if so of what sort? In other words the question is economic, should I/we be paid to blog?

Jim in a typically forthright reply poses the question differently in Blogging: To What End? and Mark offered a typically reflective answer in Why blog? I'll answer Jim's question briefly, and then return to the original one. I blog because I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of reading other people's posts, and I hope that (by blogging myself) I can add a different voice and perspective to the mix. In short I blog for the same reason that I do not (despite being a raving introvert) sit silent in a corner during conversations in the Carey staffroom, or the church coffee room after the service, because I feel part of the community.

So, back to the question should blogging count as work for academics?

Professional scholars have long enjoyed a privileged elite status in society, not least in the freedom to choose how to spend time. As long as certain requirements of teaching and committees are fulfilled, we get to select which interests to research. To a large extent too we get to choose when to work, late into the evening for some, early mornings for others... and if the plumber can only call on Tuesday afternoon there is a good chance that the family academic can arrange to be home at that time :)

And yet, these freedoms, and especially the freedom to research, have been restricted over the years.

When I began at Carey in 1993 we taught typically 4-5 courses a year, 2 larger courses (maybe 25-35 students) in one semester and 3 smaller ones with 7-20 students in the other. This left plenty of time for research and service, and these activities were not rigorously assessed. If my research produced no publications some years, but I wrote a series for the denominational paper, that was fine.

Now we teach 5 courses a year, and few of them have less than 30 students while the largest have 70-80. About a third of these are distance students, so a whole extra layer of preparation and interactivity online has been added. My guess is that overall these changes double the time taken each year by teaching, take out committee meetings and the like... research and service become spare time activities. Yet research is now subject to a government sponsored evaluation process, it is not enough to produce an article for a local (= Australasian) journal, at least some of my publications must be in top international journals...

Should blogging "count"? I do hope not, because if it does, I'll need to produce "n" posts a year, and remove from Sansblogue any posts I fear will not meet the approval of some committee. If blogging starts to "count" then the biblical blogsphere will become a mass of turgid, safely academic, posts full of language designed to impress rather than to communicate, relieved only by the amateurs - used in it's deep sense of someone who undertakes an activity for love rather than payment - and the outsiders.

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Friday, June 06, 2008
  Britannica does Wiki
And I missed it, it was there on the Britannica Blog sitting in my feedreader since Tuesday, but I've been so busy with a laptop that is almost dead, and another that is nearly ready to take its place (though it has not battery life, or microphone :( that I nearly missed it.

As I understand it, the post Britannica’s New Site: More Participation, Collaboration from Experts and Readers basically announces that the Wikipedia model has so much going for it that Britannica has to adopt elements from its greatest rival's method of working. By that I mean that the announcement clearly hopes that something of the incredible energy and diversity of the Wikipedia community involvement will be able to be harnessed into a more controlled and even attributed and peer reviewed environment. It is a grand dream. It looks well thought out.

Among many ideas, this one stood out for me:
Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work. We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain
control of his or her own work.
Is this Britannica "getting" the commercial potential of Web 2.0, and like Google and YouTube planning to profit from it, or is it more?
You can preview the new site, which is still in beta testing, at A portion of the people who visit Britannica Online today are being routed to this site and are using it now; soon it will replace our current site at entirely, and the new features we have described above will be introduced in the weeks and months ahead.
I can't wait to see how this attempt to marry the best of the new with the best of the old works out, in the years and decades, rather than weeks and months ahead! One thing is for sure, at last the "old" is gone, buried and dead... I still wonder what the new will look like, and wonder at what it has already given us.

In the post that preceded the announcement and anticipated it a contributor, Jorge Cauz, three important principles:
  • "ownership" - by which he means attribution and responsibility - about which none need fear or quibble
  • "the voices and powers of experts" which is a much less attractive phrase than the Britannica's official "community of scholars" I hope the official version wins out, I would hate to be at the mercy of the power of experts, since the "experts" of the past become in the present fools
  • "objectivity" which he claims is merely "difficult to attain", my view is that it is an impossible though perhaps desirable dream!
While there is much in this post that is sensible (as Jim W will doubtless have pointed out back on Tuesday) there is a tone that I fear:
We believe that to provide lively and intelligent coverage of complex subjects requires experts and knowledgeable editors who can make astute judgments that cut through the on a topic.
This reads to me dangerously like the tyranny of "experts" that every successful totalitarian regime in the 20th century ensured.Give me the "cacophony of competing and often
confusing viewpoints
" over the bland, expert unitary point of view - but then I believe truth is more important than "standing" ;-)

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Saturday, May 03, 2008
  Citation Nazis get U2?
If you write, as a student or academic (and you do not yet use Zotero) this is one video you MUST watch, and if it amuses you please pass it on!

By the way, for David (when he returns from lazing on the beach!) there is a mobile version, it is just over 1/2 the size of the WMV, but I'm showing the Flash version above (so Mac users can watch it ;-) which is 3x the size of the WMV or 6 times the 3GP...

What can I say to excuse this arrant sales pitch for Zotero? Well, it is Saturday, so I'm unwinding, or possibly coming undone ;-0

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Sunday, April 13, 2008
  Writing differently
Writing online needs to be different from writing destined for print publication. (Unless it intends merely to use its online existence as a delivery medium, being printed out once the reader has downloaded the text. For the purposes of this discussion I do not count such hybrid publication as "online".) This is no less true of academic and "literary" writing than of the more commercial writing in which the online world abounds! Two thinking bloggers have addressed this topic recently. Since it is one that I've been thinking and experimenting with since the 90s I'll add my 2c here and hope to garner some interesting discussion.

Sebastian Mary begins a post "on writing less" with the famous Pascal quote:
Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte." Pascal, Lettres provinciales, 16, Dec.14,1656.
It is a cliche among preachers too that 'less is more', to speak shorter takes more preparation but is usually more effective. There is a virtue in brevity.

It is, however, a virtue that belles lettres and scholarship have largely ignored or deliberately flouted. Among scholars (particularly in the German and [hence?] American traditions) it has become the norm to act as if to write incomprehensibly is a sign of profundity. It has also often been assumed that length is equivalent to quality - as if one bought ideas by weight, like potatoes!

In the scan and click mental world which most of us inhabit online prolixity is hardly productive. Numerous studies have shown that in an online hypertext environment writing less - if one can do it while still saying the same things - is more effective. SM attributes this, in part at least, to readers unwillingness to scroll "below the fold". Yet that web folklore idea (which SM cites unthinkingly) has been shown to be untrue. If they are interested readers will scroll.

The problem is that if the writing is verbose, readers are not interested. They click elsewhere. To retain readers' interest in this environment one must write differently and firstly one must write more briefly and simply. This is not the same as saying one must "write down" to the audience. The audience of Sansblogue (at least judging by the audience I know through comments and links) is highly educated and articulate. To write down would be to loose readers. What is required is to write, discussing complex and interesting ideas, simply and briefly. That's harder. One does not always - or even ever - hit the target, but such a goal is necessary in academic writing online.

The second "problem" with academic writing online is that coherent sustained argument is not easily conducted in this medium. (As I have argued in my "Form, Medium and Function: The Rhetorics and Poetics of Text and Hypertext in Humanities Publishing", International Journal of the Book 1, 2003, 317-327.) Ian Bogost, more recently and more clearly expresses much the same points in his "Reading Online Sucks: Reflections on scholarly writing on the web". In the paper I argued that coherent sustained argument (such as the monograph form) probably "works" better in print than in a hypertext environment.

I would like to qualify that somewhat, in the light of experience. In the Amos commentary I had some points that I wanted to argue that would more usually be presented in a monograph style publication. Sure enough most readers have failed to spot these arguments. They have mined the commentary for the information they needed, and moved on. But one academic reviewer spotted and commented on these arguments. The difference was (I think) not that he was an academic reviewer, but that he is preparing to write a commentary on Amos himself. For him my theories about the book's construction and about the place of the Day of the Lord in its composition were not extra, unneeded details, but rather the reason he was reading this work!

Here the differently that one must write is not to dispose of large ideas or sweeping arguments, but rather that one must write so that readers who are not interested in these particular big ideas need not be troubled by them, while readers for whom the ideas are significant can follow the thread that allows you to sustain the argument. Again the hypertext environment requires writing differently. Sadly most writing online (except that which sells) is shovelware. Even when written for the web, the author has not troubled to adapt to the new medium.

Writing differently, according to rules that are as yet only half-baked is difficult and requires experimentation. It is great to see that at last some of the "traditional" print publishers have begun sponsoring such play. The Penguin Books We Tell Stories site is a prime example.

See also: my Writing for screen: Time to rethink? from August 2007.

PS: Judy has now posted the response she mentions below "Writing for the web vs writing for print".

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Friday, April 11, 2008
  How might scholarship and community interact online
Bob Stein on if:book asks stimulating questions about the interaction of scholarship and (online) community:
  • what are new graphical and information design paradigms for orienting
    readers and enabling them to navigate within a multi-layered,
    multi-modal work?
  • how do you distinguish between the reading space and the work space? how porous is the boundary between them?
  • what do readers expect of authors in the context of a "networked" book?
  • what new authorial skill sets need to be cultivated?
  • what range of mechanisms for reader participation and author/reader
    interaction should we explore? (i.e. blog-style commenting, social
    filtering, rating mechanisms, annotation tools, social
    bookmarking/curating, personalized collection-building, tagging, etc.)
  • how do readers become "trusted" within an open community? what are
    the social protocols required for a successful community-based project:
    terms of participation, quality control/vetting procedures, delegation
    of roles etc.
  • what does "community" mean in the context of a specific scholarly work?
  • how will scholars and students cite the contents of dynamic, evolving
    works that are not "stable" like printed pages? how does the project
    get archived? how do you deal with versioning?
  • if asynchronous online conversation becomes a powerful new mode of
    developing scholarship, how do we visualize these conversations and
    make them navigable, readable, and enjoyable?
He raises these issues in his post "where minds meet: new architectures for the study of history and music" as part of the planning for two colloquia that they are organising around "multi-layered, multi-modal digital publications" so it is no surprise that they are facing many of the same issues that we must address in envisaging the future of the Hypertext Bible Commentary and Dictionary.

Their projects include a repurposing of music commentary CDs:
and a networked version of a history text:
How I'd love to be part of their conversations! I wonder if the colloquia will themselves have a networked/virtual component?

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Friday, October 12, 2007
  Somewhat unusual jobs I've had
Scott (at Jesus Creed) has a post Crazy jobs I’ve had in it he lists (some of?) his previous employment and invites others to do the same. Here's my list:
  • dolly boy in a ducting factory - the dolly boy holds a lump of iron against the inside of the ducting while the "craftsman" hammers the aluminium rivet flat, it is quite a noisy job but in those days we had no ear protectors
  • accounts clerk (temporary) - helping fix the accounts before the auditors got to see them, I worked at a side table in the CEO's office, so between the job and the telephone conversations I could not help overhearing I knew more about the company than anyone (yes, even the CEO in whose office I worked, he did not see all the invoices and receipts ;-)
  • student pastor (sole charge) of a church with 10 members - it was great practice for preaching each week to people you know and who know you
  • filling station attendant (night shift) during my PhD, the theory was I could get reading done in the quiet hours... after a few months of feeding the police and other denizens of the night (there were few if any all night fast food outlets in Glasgow at that time) I developed splitting headaches and had to give up this sinecure, for "real work" as:
  • Photo of one of many plastic imposters by Clouds76Father Christmas is Coming

  • Father Christmas - yes I confess I am not just any red faced, portly older gentleman, I am that (now retired from the role) red faced, portly older gentleman so just send me your Christmas wish lists and I'll see what I can do!
  • vice-recteur (vice-principal) of a University (well of two faculties on the way to becoming a University) with 2000 students - while there I was also (unpaid except in food) a rabbit, chicken and duck keeper (who once branched out into goose) for food, and part-time computer technician a role that dogged my steps later here in NZ :(
  • part-time computer technician when our administrator left in a hurry here at Carey I was offered got landed with the job of computer support, during my time our network went from six PCs on a peer to peer network sharing one printer to twenty plus PCs and laptops with an NT server and an Internet... I went from an (almost, well nearly almost) full head of hair to my present un-hirsuite state!
I'm sure I've missed a few doozies, but that will do to be going on... maybe Barbara can remember those I've omitted...

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Saturday, July 07, 2007
  Branding scholars
Abélard and Héloïse depicted in a 14th century manuscript
Abélard and Héloïse depicted in a 14th century manuscript
Source: Wikipedia
Not a terrible plot by the powers that be to identify the stroppy and awkward with a new tattoo, but Charles Halton's post on Awilum about scholars as academic brands.To give you a taster his first paragraph reads:
Academics is not merely about reading, teaching, and writing–it’s also about brand building. Want to get your new book idea distributed by a top-flight publishing house? Want to be asked to participate in the invitation-only conference? How about writing a major article for a prominent dictionary or encyclopedia? Ever dream of editing a journal? Want to recieve an endowed chair? You get the picture. In order to do anything of these things you need to be bright, dependable, and have good ideas. You also need to be a one-person brand.
A different, but effective way to think about academic careers - particularly recommended to recent PhDs and scholars with an early onset mid-life crisis ;-)

At this point I think I am (almost?) thanking God that I've never had an academic career! I've been teaching at tertiary level for the last quarter century, but always my employers have had activities and qualities they value much higher than "scholarship". Faith, integrity, simplicity... But the scholar as brand is not a new phenomenon, the early European Universities of the middle ages (even while they were religious institutions and their teachers "Religious") had their "stars" - think Piere Abélard ;-)

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