Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wikipedia's Success; Teachers cringe

The issue from this weeks reading which seems the most conscious from the blogging community is Camille Paglia's argument in Chapter 16 for the impact of physical appearance in quality interactive writing. You cannot judge a book by its cover and the way in which text is displayed on a web page does not determine the quality of its contents, but Paglia is on to something.

"Chiseling words into stone naturally leads to a more economic style of writing than putting pen to paper. Bound books suggest cross-referencing possibilities difficult to implement when working with scrolls. Print media place greater emphasis on layout and homogeneity of form manuscripts. Electronic text is less fixed, and more easily altered than words written in stone..."

Between html and web page design, the electronic text of our age has the ability to be published in an organized, attractive form. Where this ability exists people will obviously explore and use creative electronic design to differentiate their message from others, something that cannot be done as easily with print and paper. Aside from page design and physical appearance, something else is also happening to the evolution of published writing via the internet. Readers are getting greedy and impatient. Not only do I want the content of what I am reading to be thoughtful and creative and backed by liable sources, but I want the information organized in such a way that I can cross reference specific arguments and note important entities and events. Hypertext is a stepping stone in the cyber-evolution, where publishers need to find a way to grab their target audience's attention midst that swirling eternity of available information on the internet. I think judgment of the quality of published information (over the internet) is an irrelevant issue to the growing need for physical attraction and logical organization needed to intrigue readers towards the printed material.
This being said, I came across a very interesting article called
"The Future of HyperText" (1995) where author Jacob Nielson predicts the evolution of hypertext, and the implications that these changes will have on the publishing community. In Nielson's section discussing patents and how to credibly source hypertext links, he poses three traits which are needed for Goliath companies to emerge in the patent industry admits the confusion of hypertext credibility.

Information monopolies are encouraged by three phenomena: production values, fame, and critical mass. With the move from simple text-based hypertext to multimedia-oriented hypermedia production values become steadily more important. For a text-only hypertext product, an individual author can craft a good product, but a full-scale multimedia product with video and animation takes a crew of graphic artists, set designers, actors, make-up specialists, camera-people, a director, etc. It may still be possible for a small company like Knowledge Adventure to produce a better dinosaur CD-ROM than Microsoft [FN 2] by including 3-D dinosaur attack animations, but material produced by the average dinosaur enthusiast pale in comparison with either CD-ROM. Professionally produced multimedia titles with good production values look so much better than amateur productions but they require much higher capitalization and thus can only be produced by a fairly small number of companies. We are already seeing a trend to higher production values on the WWW with the major computer companies hiring specialized production staff and graphic artists to dress up their home pages and smaller companies with boring pages (or worse, ugly graphics designed by a programmer) will lose the production-value battle for attention.

In light of Paglia's argument of the need for appearance and organization to attract readers, and Nielson's description of what it takes to take foothold in the interactive publishing industry, I began to think of my personal experience with hypertext links. What website has more cross reference links and hypertext links than Wikipedia? Although as students we have been warned for years about the lack of credibility from Wikipedia sources, it seems as though all signs point to the online encyclopedia's continued success. It is a front runner in the hypertext era, where information is fast and easily accessible, it has accumulated enough fame to be Google's proffered search return for most major people, places, and things, and the website is easily accessible to anyone even slightly familiar with the internet. Wikipedia seems to fit in perfectly with the cyber-revolution, yet the fact that anyone can publish anything on the site continues to detain the sites reputation. Maybe it's Paglia's generation of web savy readers who need their information ready at the click of the mouse who maintain Wikipedia's continued success.

1 comment:

Lance Strate said...

Interesting argument about wikipedia, and it suggest two competing models for making full use of the medium. An individual, working alone, does not have the resources, collaboration among volunteers gives us wikipedia, which is in keeping with the original ethic of cyberspace. The other model is the more traditional one in which organizations, typically businesses, corporations, deploy their resources in order to reach audiences, as they have been doing since the beginnings of mass communication.