Shared Authority & the Return of the Human Curated Web

A few years ago, I wrote a piece on Why Academic Blogging Matters: A structural argument. This was the text for a presentation as part of the SAA in Sacremento that year. In the years since, the web has changed (again). It is no longer enough for us to create strong signals in the noise, trusting in the algorithmns to connect us with our desired publics. (That’s the short version. The long version is rather more nuanced and sophisticated, trust me).

The war between the botnets and the SEO specialists has outstripped us.

In recent months, I have noticed an upsurge of new ‘followers’ on this blog with emails and handles that really do not seem to be those of actual humans. Similarly, on Twitter, I find odd tweets directed at me filled with gibberish web addresses (which I dare not touch). Digital Humanities Now highlighted an interesting post in recent days that explains what’s going on, discusses this ‘war’, and in how this post came to my attention, points the way forward for the humanistic use of the web.

In ‘Crowd-Frauding: Why the Internet is Fake‘, Eric Hellman discusses a new avenue for power (assuming that power ‘derives from the ability to get people to act together’. In this case, ‘cooperative traffic generation’, or software-organized crime. Hellman was finding a surge of fake users on his site, and he began to investigate why this was. Turns out, if you want to promote your website and jack up its traffic, you can install a program that manufacturers fake visitors to your sites, who click around, click on adverts, register… and in turn does this for other users of the software. Money is involved.

“In short, your computer has become part of a botnet. You get paid for your participation with web traffic. What you thought was something innocuous to increase your Alexa- ranking has turned you into a foot-soldier in a software-organized crime syndicate. If you forgot to run it in a sandbox, you might be running other programs as well. And who knows what else.

The thing that makes cooperative traffic generation so difficult to detect is that the advertising is really being advertised. The only problem for advertisers is that they’re paying to be advertised to robots, and robots do everything except buy stuff. The internet ad networks work hard to battle this sort of click fraud, but they have incentives to do a middling job of it. Ad networks get a cut of those ad dollars, after all.

The crowd wants to make money and organizes via the internet to shake down the merchants who think they’re sponsoring content. Turns out, content isn’t king, content is cattle.”

Hellman goes on to describe how the arms race, the red queen effect, between these botnets and advertising models that depend on clickrates etc will push those of us without the computing resources to fight in these battles into the arms of the Googles, the Amazons, the Facebooks: and their power will increase correspondingly.

“So with the crowd-frauders attacking advertising, the small advertiser will shy away from most publishers except for the least evil ones- Google or maybe Facebook. Ad networks will become less and less efficient because of the expense of dealing with click-fraud. The rest of the the internet will become fake as collateral damage. Do you think you know how many users you have? Think again, because half of them are already robots, soon it will be 90%. Do you think you know how much visitors you have? Sorry, 60% of it is already robots.”

I sometimes try explaining around the department here that when we use the internet, we’re not using a tool, we’re sharing authority with countless engineers, companies, criminals, folks-in-their-parents-basement, ordinary folks, students, algorithms whose interactions with other algorithms can lead to rather unintended outcomes. We can’t naively rely on the goodwill of the search engine to help us get our stuff out there. This I think is an opportunity for a return of the human curated web. No, I don’t mean building directories and indices. I mean, a kind of supervised learning algorithm (as it were).

Digital Humanities Now provides one such model (and there are of course others, such as Reddit, etc). A combination of algorithm and human editorial oversite, DHNow is a cybernetic attempt to bring to the surface the best in the week’s digital humanities work, wherever on the net it may reside. We should have the same in archaeology. An Archaeology Now!  The infrastructure is already there. Pressforward, the outfit from the RRCHNM has developed a workflow for folding volunteer editors into the weekly task of separating the wheat from the chaff, using a custom built plugin for WordPress. Ages ago we talked about a quarterly journal where people would nominate their own posts and we would spider the web looking for these nominations, but the technology wasn’t really there at that time (and perhaps the idea was too soon). With the example of DHNow, and the emergence of this new front in botnets/SEO/clickfraud and the dangers that that poses, perhaps it’s time to revisit the idea of the human-computer curated archaeoweb?

Blogging Archaeology: Remembering that we’ve been here before when we ask ‘Where to next?’

For the last of Blogging Archaeology (on Twitter under #blogarch), Colleen asks:

For our last question, I would like to ask you to consider the act of publication for this blog carnival. How could we best capture the interplay, the multimedia experience of blogging as a more formalized publication? What would be the best outcome for this collection of insights from archaeological bloggers?

The relationship between blogging and other academic forms of discourse is certainly in the aether right now. One need only look at ‘Hacking the Academy‘ or Ian Bogost’s thoughts on ‘Beyond Blogs‘ to see that we archaeo-bloggers are not alone in considering these questions. For me, right now at where I am in my career, the best outcome of this rich back-and-forth we’ve been having is some sort of refereed publication. Some time ago, Tom Scheinfeldt of the CHNM suggested that all of us digitally inclined folks should start producing digital cvs (excellent example of which is here . In response to Tom’s argument, Adam Crymble wrote, “The vulnerable have to eat, so they have to play the game. The strong can change the rules.”  I think we #blogarchers have an opportunity to try to change the rules, but I think too that we are all of us vulnerable: and so what would secure us is if we can fit this new medium of expression into the safe boxes required by our annual assessments – hence a refereed publication, knowing full well how awkward that would be to produce.

That said, were I invulnerable, what might I do? Well, I think I might recycle an olde post here. In that post, I talk about Anthologize, a wordpress plugin for turning blogged content into the safer, more comfortable multi-authored volume.  And then maybe look at releasing it via Kindle Singles?

For an aborted attempt at putting individual blog posts together into a quasi-referred quarterly publication, see here and here on ‘PDQ – The Past Discussed Quarterly. Maybe an idea whose time has finally come? A number of us were involved in that project, but given where we all were (and the various stages of our careers and lives), we couldn’t make it work.  Here was our optimistic blurb:

From the official website:

PDQ is a journal designed to provide a bridge between blogging and academia. It will provide stable citeable references for selected weblog posts focussed upon or of interest to the pre-Renaissance past. It is compiled from articles submitted by bloggers on a quarterly basis. The journal is available in three formats. There is a PDF downloadable copy for free. There is a paper copy which can be ordered via Lulu, which is set to the cost of printing and delivery only. Finally we intend that the journal will also be placed in a repository for long-term curation. Until the details are finalised it will be available in XHTML format from a server based at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

PDQ is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence, making it freely copyable.”

Play the Past launched!

I’m happy to report that Play the Past, a collaboratively edited & authored blog about cultural heritage and games, has launched.

Actually, Ethan, our intrepid leader, says it best:

At its core, Play the Past is a collaboratively edited and authored blog dedicated to thoughtfully exploring and discussing the intersection of cultural heritage (very broadly defined) and games/meaningful play (equally broadly defined). Play the Past contributors come from a wide variety of backgrounds, domains, perspectives, and motivations (for being interested in both games and cultural heritage) – a fact which is evident in the variety of topics we tackle in our posts.It is very important to note that Play the Past isn’t just about digital games, its also about non-digital games (boardgames, tabletop games, collectible card games, etc.), alternate reality games (ARGs), barely games (a term originally coined by Russel Davies – no, not the Doctor Who Russel Davies – and built upon by our very own Rob MacDougall), and playful mechanics (or “gamifying” as its been recently called).

We are also very interested in exploring the spectrum of approaches to games – from the more “philosophical” (as some might call it) games studies side of things, to the more practically applied serious games/meaningful play side of things (and just about everything betwixt and between).

Drop by and see what’s happening!

Zombies in the Academy

Being the author of a paper called ‘Osteology of the Living Dead’  (final paper of my BA), I couldn’t miss the opportunity to pass this one along, could I?

Call for papers: book chapters for the interdisciplinary anthology
€œZombies in the Academy: living death in higher education

Editors: Andrew Whelan, Chris Moore and Ruth Walker

This book takes up the momentum provided by the recent resurgence of
interest in zombie culture to explore the relevance of the zombie trope
to discussions of scholarly practice itself. The zombie is an
extraordinarily rich and evocative popular cultural form, and zombidity,
zombification and necromancy can function as compelling elements in a
conceptual repertoire for both explaining and critically
enlivening the debates around a broad variety of cultural and
institutional phenomena evident in the contemporary university. We
propose to canvas a range of critical accounts of the contemporary
university as a living dead culture. We are therefore seeking
interdisciplinary proposals for papers that investigate the political,
cultural, organisational, and pedagogical state of the university,
through applying the metaphor of zombiedom to both the form and content
of professional academic work.

We invite submissions from a range of scholars - notably in cultural and
communication studies, but also popular culture, anthropology,
sociology, film, game and literary studies, political science,
philosophy and education - who would be prepared to submit chapters that
examine the zombie trope and its relation to higher education from a
variety of perspectives.

The editors of Zombies in the Academy have an agreement for
publication with Intellect Press UK for 2012. The anthology will be
structured in three sections around the broad general topics of:

1. corporatisation, bureaucratisation, and zombification of higher
education;
2. technology, digital media and moribund content distribution infecting
the university;
3. zombie literacies and living dead pedagogies.

Paper proposals that would fit into these sections would include essays
that might:
-- investigate the current conditions of the academy under pressure
from the zombie processes variously described as audit
culture or the McDonaldisation of higher education;
-- explore the uncanny value of the figure of the zombie as a component
in critical pedagogical accounts (zombie concepts, undead labour in
Marxist theory etc.), including in such accounts as they are applied to
the university itself;
--analyse the theme of zombies and the academic gaze through the
narratives and mechanics of particular films, games, texts or graphic
novels;
-- name the attenuated conditions of work in the sector with reference
to its various forms of zombidity;
-- evaluate the perceived decomposition of academic standards;
-- discuss the zombie contagion model as an explanatory device for the
circulation of content across multiple media platforms, including into
and out of the classroom;
-- explore pedagogical activities that use or reflect zombie content;
-- critically investigate the rise of zombie literacies - as an
epidemic circulated by an unthinking student horde, and/or the undead
ivory tower itself;
-- address the corpselike inertia and atavism of academic distinction
and social closure (journal rankings, peer review, tenure etc.) in the
face of the apparently lifelike models of research production
beyond the walls of the academy;
-- reassess the metaphor of zombiedom, considering how it can be
construed not only as a negative critique, but also as a possibly
desirable, advantageous or alternative adaptive strategy in academic
contexts.

Abstracts for proposed book chapters should be 1000 words. Authors are
asked to include brief biographical details along with their proposals,
including name, academic affiliation and previous publications.

Deadline for submissions is 15th December 2010. Please select the most
appropriate book section theme for your paper, and submit proposals as
an emailed .doc attachment to the following editors:

For papers on the corporatisation and zombification of higher education:
- Andrew Whelan, PhD. Department of Sociology, Sciences, Media and
Communication, University of Wollongong. Email: awhelan@uow.edu.au
<mailto:awhelan@uow.edu.au>
For papers on technology, digital media and contagion:
- Chris Moore, PhD. Centre for Memory, Imagination & Invention, Faculty
of Arts and Education, Deakin University. Email: moorenet@gmail.com
<mailto:moorenet@gmail.com>
For papers on zombie literacies and pedagogies:
- Ruth Walker, PhD. Learning Development, University of Wollongong.
Email: rwalker@uow.edu.au <mailto:rwalker@uow.edu.au>

Anticipated timeline:
- proposals due December 15th 2010 (1000 words)
- contributors notified January 15th 2011
- chapters due July 1st 2011 (6,000 - 9,000 words)
- edited full manuscript to publishers December 2011
- book publication 2012

Publish your excavation in minutes

…provided you blogged the whole thing in the first place.

How, you say?

With Anthologize, the outcome of the one-week-one-tool experiment.

Anthologize is a free, open-source, plugin that transforms WordPress 3.0 into a platform for publishing electronic texts. Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.

How Anthologize came to be is remarkable in itself (see Dan Cohen’s blog) and is a model for what we as digitally-minded archaeology folks could be doing. Which puts me in mind of excavation reports, catalogues, and other materials produced in the day to day work of archaeology.

What if, in the course of doing your fieldwork/archive work/catalogue work/small finds work, you used WordPress as your content management system? There are plugins a-plenty for keeping things private, if that’s a concern. But once the work is complete, run Anthologize and voila: a publication fit for the 21st century.

And, since the constraints of paper publishing no longer apply, David Wilkin’s thoughts on the fuller experience of archaeology could also now find easier expression – in 2007 I wrote the following:

But he asks, ‘what of characters in archaeological writing?’ Wilkinson’s paper is really making a plea for archaeologists to remember that they themselves are characters in the story of the site or landscape that they are studying, and that they should put themselves into it:

“We all sit in portacavins, in offices, in vans, in pubs or round fires, and we tell stories… we have a great time and drink too much and what do we do the next morning? We get up and go to our offices and we rite, ‘In Phase 1 ditch 761 was recut (794) along part of its length.’ Surely, we can do better”.

A similar argument was made in the SAA Archaeological Record last May, by Cornelius Holtorf , in an article called ‘Learning from Las Vegas: Archaeology in the Experience Economy”. Holtorf argued:

“Learning from Las Vegas means learning to embrace and build upon the amazing fact that archaeologists can connect so well with some of the most widespread fantasies, dreams, and desires that people have today.[…] I am suggesting that the greatest value of archaeology in society lies in providing people with what they most desire from archaeology: great stories both about the past and about archaeological research.”

Archaeology – the doing of archaeology! – is a fantastic experience. You learn so much more about the past when you are at the coal-face itself, when you stand in 35 degree C heat, with the dust on your face so thick you almost choke, debating with the site supervisor the meaning of a complicated series of walls, or sitting at the bar afterwards with a cool beer, still debating the situation, laughing, chatting. Reading ‘Three shards of Vernice-Nera ware found in-situ below 342 indicate…’ sucks the fun out of archaeology. It certainly has no romance which puts the practice of archaeology – as published to the public – far down the list of priorities in this modern Experience Economy. The serious face of archaeology we present to the public is so lifeless : how can we expect government and the public to be excited about our work if we ourselves give every indication of not being excited either?

I’m not arguing that we turn every site monograph into a graphic novel (though that’s an interesting idea, and has been done for teaching archaeology). But with the internet being the way it is these days: couldn’t a project website contain blogs and twitters (‘tweets’, actually) from the people working on it? Can’t we make the stories of the excavation at least as important as the story of the site?

Contragulations to the folks who participated in the creation of Anthologize; there’ll be great things ahead for this tool!

Hacking Archaeology, or, PDQ Redux

I cross-posted this yesterday at the Ancient World Bloggers Group

At the risk of sounding derivative… are folks aware of the ‘Hacking the Academy‘ book project? Perhaps something similar to collect together the archaeo-blog-o-sphere is a good idea…?

To recap, Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt launched this as part of the recent THATCamp:

Can an algorithm edit a journal? Can a library exist without books? Can students build and manage their own learning management platforms? Can a conference be held without a program? Can Twitter replace a scholarly society?

As recently as the mid-2000s, questions like these would have been unthinkable. But today serious scholars are asking whether the institutions of the academy as they have existed for decades, even centuries, aren’t becoming obsolete. Every aspect of scholarly infrastructure is being questioned, and even more importantly, being hacked. Sympathetic scholars of traditionally disparate disciplines are cancelling their association memberships and building their own networks on Facebook and Twitter. Journals are being compiled automatically from self-published blog posts. Newly-minted Ph.D.’s are foregoing the tenure track for alternative academic careers that blur the lines between research, teaching, and service. Graduate students are looking beyond the categories of the traditional C.V. and building expansive professional identities and popular followings through social media. Educational technologists are “punking” established technology vendors by rolling their own open source infrastructure.

“Hacking the Academy” will both explore and contribute to ongoing efforts to rebuild scholarly infrastructure for a new millenium.

At least one other ‘hacking’-inspired project is now underway. We had a bit of momentum a while ago for something along these lines (PDQ) but maybe the problem there was that we tried to build it entirely via blogs – ‘Hacking the Academy’ seems to have gained its momentum by its use of Twitter for collecting/collating submissions.

So. Good idea, bad idea, unnecessary?

(see here for comments over at AWBG)

Prezi for Archaeology

I’m entranced by the possibilities of Prezi for displaying archaeological knowledge. Prezi changes the metaphor of presentation from ‘slides’ to ‘zooming’, which (aside from a bit of nausea-inducing swirls) looks very promising.

For instance, I can imaging starting with an aerial photograph of the site – then zooming down to the ground, then zooming through to the first few days of excavation, and so on…. or alternatively, a prezi of a Harris matrix, and being able to zoom into each context to display/link to each artefact etc…  (you can also pan and drag too) exciting stuff! I’ve got some materials on my other machine that I’ll be playing with.

I searched through the ‘showcase’ and found two archaeological presentations.  Of the two, I think the second one by Natalie Farrell is the more effective – but then again, I haven’t tried creating one myself, so no criticisms from me until I’ve created one.

(I can’t embed them into wordpress.com, so follow the links)

http://prezi.com/oe5bw25e3utx/archaeology-and-the-speculative-turn/

http://prezi.com/5nugigpseiup/theory-and-methodology-in-contract-archaeology/

Paper.li – A newspaper format for your twitter feeds

Twitter is useful. It keeps you connected. But it’s a pain to read. Paper.li is a new service, still in alpha no less, that takes all of your feeds, searches, groups, tweets, etc, and analyzes them once a day to create a newspaper-style presentation. Videos referenced in a tweet? Paper.li will present them to you. Photos, media… it’s all there. I quite like this! Here’s the Electric Archaeologist Today

So – if you created a twitter account and used it not so much for your own tweeting, but rather to aggregate the twitterverse for say all things archaeological, museological, politics & archaeology etc… you’d have a daily publication with the latest from the ‘real-time’ web.

As soon as I get this marking done, that’s what I’m going to do. Look out Digital Humanities Now! :)

Why Academic Blogging Matters

It’s always good practice to reflect on why you do things in a particular way, if only to recognize the potential errors or time-sinks in what you do. With that in mind, I thought I’d contribute my own two cents (Canadian; 1 cent US) to a recent conversation. To set the scene:

Michael Smith reported on an article in the American Anthropologist that purports to ‘review’ academic blogging. Michael ends the piece wondering why archaeological blogs don’t seem to generate the commentary that their cousins in Anthropology do. I think they do, but instead of it being in the comments on a single blog, the conversation ping-pongs across multiple blogs as various authors mull their own perspectives.  For example, Bill Caraher took the baton from Michael and responded on his own blog, in a long piece reflecting on why he blogs, and the utility of blogging in terms of the wider academic community, and where blogging might fit in the tenure process. Both Bill and Michael noted that the review piece in American Anthopologist was not so much a review of the content of academic blogs, but more of a ‘golly gee look at this whole ‘blogging’ thing, what a waste of time’.

Which brings me to my contribution. I blog for many of the same reasons that Bill does. I also blog because I work remotely and have no community of scholars around me – blogging thus connects me to the world of academe (my day job as a faculty trainer is a world away from archaeology). But more importantly, let me address the bigger question: Why does Academic Blogging matter? One word: Google. Everyone needs to read the recent article in Wired that explains just how Google decides which sites are important and contain the information that the searcher is looking for:

First, Google crawls the Web to collect the contents of every accessible site. This data is broken down into an index (organized by word, just like the index of a textbook), a way of finding any page based on its content. Every time a user types a query, the index is combed for relevant pages, returning a list that commonly numbers in the hundreds of thousands, or millions. The trickiest part, though, is the ranking process — determining which of those pages belong at the top of the list. That’s where the contextual signals come in [emphasis added SG]. All search engines incorporate them, but none has added as many or made use of them as skillfully as Google has.

[...]

[An] engineer named Krishna Bharat, figuring that , links from recognized authorities should carry more weight [emphasis added SG] devised a powerful signal that confers extra credibility to references from experts’ sites. (It would become Google’s first patent.)

This is why academic blogging matters. Academic blogs are content-rich, and tend to focus on very specific areas. We create an enormous signal in the chaos of the internet. This blog, Electric Archaeology, consistently shows up on Google search results for a wide variety of domains. There is a fairly important Canadian politician with the same name as me (heck, even the same middle initial), and my material frequently outranks materials related to him.

Google controls how we find information; but often, academic blogging tells Google what’s important.