June 16, 2003

Unravel the Threads

Ok, a few threads dangling in the breeze, but announcements first:

Most recent Digital Arts & Culture conference papers online here For those of us without travel budgets, blogs and pdf papers are a life-saver (and no, not the candy). Several days worth of metro-reading in printable format.

Hope everyone had a great weekend. As I mentioned, L and I met my folks in Charlottesville. On Saturday, Dad and I went up into the mountains, put up our tent, and did some hiking - something we used to do for a week or two every year as I grew up. This usually happened when Mom took a week off to bang out a chapter of her dissertation, so we would make for the mountains so I wouldn't (as had happened at least once) kick the plug (accidently, of course) of the computer, causing her to lose half a day's work. Anyway, aside from the rain (inches away from flooding our tent), we had a great time. We saw a bear (no pics though) - only the second one I've seen in the Shenandoah in the 20+ years I've camped there. More on the weekend later, once I get the digital pics downloaded (sometime later in the week, probably).

Ok, some quick notes on our discussion of form and content - shortly I'll grab screenshots or text examples to complement my discussion earlier, but I want to respond to George's post, where he said:

Might we restrict our view to the "document" -- whether that's a blog entry or the interface for a chat client -- as it appears on our screen? The skin, the database backend, or the stylesheet are the means by which the document was formatted, but now that it's there on screen, do these things matter so much to our analysis of the document itself?

George is right in a key respect - there is a significant difference between speaking of a document as a completed incarnation (I'm sure the textual studies folk can help me out with a term that's not coming into my head at 7am) and speaking of it in terms of production process. To a user's eye, the completed page may look nothing more than single document - a single-page newspaper whose fold is a "digital fold" rather than a physical one. And this is often how we look at many types of traditional printed documents. Most non-specialists don't concern themselves with the differences between editions, the collaboration of author, printer, and perhaps artist.

I do think, although I haven't thought this through yet, that the structures can not be boiled down to "formatting" - in other words (maybe a question is the easiest way to phrase this), how do the "skin, the database backend, or the stylesheet" function differently in their "formatting"?

In the comments section of that same post, I asked: "what happens when I syndicate your site and apply my own style?"

George responded: "The same thing that happened when a seventeenth-century reader copied a Donne sonnet into their commonplace book. Ok, maybe not the same thing, but I don't think it separates the two strands of form and content."

But I'm not sure it is the same thing. If I syndicate a blog, I get an XML-marked version of the blog (at least one, if not two layers of structure - the initial post structure, enforced by the database, which is subsequently marked up in XML) but I can also place it seamlessly within a new blog or website encoded with my own new HTML and CSS. So, maybe like copying Donne into a prayer book (poem is ordered already by its poetic structure, after all), but does it simply boil down to a function of scale? It seems to me that at least some of the strands unravel, or don't at least others thread themselves in?

Posted by Jason at June 16, 2003 5:32 AM | TrackBack
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