August 19, 2005

Adina Levin on Conversation Clouds... And Mitch Ratcliffe responds with Cloudmakers R Us

Awesome stuff by Adina Levin on Conversation Clouds which I'm just going to repost:

And Mitch Ratcliffe, who has a company called Persuadio which visualizes relationships between data, responds with Cloudmakers R Us:

Nice! Go look at Mitch's diagrams.. but you get the gist. It's just so cool.. I figured why rewrite, just put up their words!

Posted by Mary Hodder at August 19, 2005 04:30 PM | TrackBack

I've been thinking about this same problem from the perspective of search engines but also as a problem of literary quality, which might sound odd to you techies, but I think it is relevant.

During the Culture Wars in the late 80s in academia, the debate around multiculturalism made everyone freak about how society would be destroyed if everyone didn't read the same 'golden bookshelf': the classics, the canon, the 10 best or the 100 best books of all time. Of course: best for what? best for whom? best for what specific purpose? I was in this debate, then left grad school, went to work in tech and eventually for a major search engine, and then back to academia again.

I have been talking about an approach to literary quality that would take for granted the idea of multiple, dynamic canons. Besides conversation clouds (which in literary criticism we call intertextuality; books become important or relevant not just by being talked about, but by talking about other books) it is also helpful to factor in other qualities that are internal or external to the text. And if there were some degree of transparency to the algorithms, and users could adjust them, what then? If they were open source algorithms, then institutions or companies could develop their own secret branded algorithm (i.e. Harvard's top 100 books, or Technorati's top 100 blogs.) And that would have value to them and to others.

But if I as a user of the search engine, or quality-judgement algorithm, or interest-matching algorithm; then I could turn "published by major publisher" all the way down and turn something else up. Probably this would best be done as a set of settings/preferences files that could be user-created and fiddled, and the search user could toggle easily between them. The idea applied to traditional "literary" texts and to blogs - it's much the same idea. Much of literary criticism is people flailing around trying not to "hyperlink" texts in the cheesy fashion this word usually means -- instead they want to link and tag and annotate as people are doing with literary/textual production in the world of blogs.

I've been talking about this in humanities grad school and people occasionally get the idea. danah suggested to me at Blogher that in the tech world people would know what I was talking about... and wow, was she right.

Posted by: Liz Henry at August 22, 2005 01:52 PM

In case that sounds utterly mad: think of a book you think is important, and then think of it as a book in conversation with other books. Jacqueline Carey's "Banewreaker" books are important not because they're high culture (they're in fact super purple prose) but because they're a conversation with Lord of the Rings and with most of the fantasy genre.

People fuss about whether blogs are journals, or diaries, or journalism, but I think we can benefit from seeing them as literature. And literature that is unmediated by institutions which claim to control the production of knowledge.

Posted by: Liz Henry at August 22, 2005 01:57 PM