Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The other side of the creek

This morning I was checking my mail when I noticed an invitation to a Fibreculture meeting at University of Sydney on Wednesday.

fibreculture is about critical and speculative interventions in the debate and discussions concerning information technology, the policy that concerns it, the new media for(u)ms it supports and its sustainable deployment towards a more equitable Australia. fibreculture is a forum for the exchange of articles, ideas and arguments on Australian IT policy in a broad, cultural context. ...
On the agenda was:

  • Help define fibreculture's role in the proposed new peak body: Digital Humanities Australia and Oceania
  • Propose ways to make best use of fibreculture's new online infrastructures, including MediaWiki and the Joomla web content management system
  • Help liven up the lists (and give feedback on moderation policies)
  • Play a role in proposed publication projects: fibreculture print-on-demand book series; collaborations with other publications (ephemera); upcoming editions of fibreculture journal
  • Help with fibreculture's possible involvement in an ANAT event on alternate modes of publishing proposed for March (~ Adelaide Festival)
  • Conferences: ADHO Paris, AIOR Brisbane, IE2006 Perth?
It was Wednesday, I was not far from the University so I jumped on a bus and was there ten minutes later.

I find involvement with fibreculture an intensely frustrating but rewarding experience. Fibreculturalists are humanities people who use the Internet. So they talk English and use IT terms, but I still can't understand what they are talking about. Even when I can understand what they are saying I don't know why they are saying it. This is because they speak in humanities-speak and I talk IT geek.

I could get the Wiki to give me the agenda and was late, so was even a little more confused that usual. So here I can say things I wanted to say:

Digital Humanities Australia and Oceania:

Lets provide something useful. As an example, I ran a workshop on the web for South Pacific museums in Samoa a few months ago for the International Council of Museums and UNESCO.

This went okay, but the smaller museums do not have the resources to run their own web sites. So I had an ANU student do a project on how to build a semantic web based system for all the museums of the region.

Propose ways to make best use of fibreculture's new online

When you work that out tell the rest of us. Better still if you can't work it out tell us what the problem is and we can get the IT researchers to work on solving it. There is a lot of money for doing research into online publishing, but little idea on what problems need to be solved.

Help liven up the lists:

Put Google ads on the web site. This will provide enough income to pay the hosting cost of the site. It will also provide lots of entertaining controversy. Each time someone complains there should not be ads about something, the system will see that topic and put up ads about it, further fuleeing the argument. ;-)

Play a role in proposed publication projects:
Firberculture could play a role in working out how to do books online without using some sort of Stalinist five year plan approach. How do a group of lossely associated people collaborate on a book? Can you translate a list/blog/Wiki into a book?

At present the Print On Demand services seem to say that once you have produced the book using old fashioned writing and editing processes if you email them the typeset PDF they will print and distribute it. This seems to only address a small part of the process.

If Australian humanities types want the sort of money the e-science people get, they need to come up with projects which sound hi-tech and have a chance of being of economic assistance to the nation. One would be to work out how to do book publishing in Australia, by an adaption of POD. This could be an offshoot of initiatives such as the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories.

That may sound difficult, but a few years ago the Australian Computer Society decided to offer conference proceedings publishing service for Australian IT conferences.

As a result many conferences which would otherwise publish and print their proceedings in the USA are now doing it in Australia. Other conferences which could not afford to publish can now publish. There are now about 50 volumes of proceedings, which are also provided free online.

But there is still much to do with much of the process lacking IT support. Roger Clark pointed out that much of the cost with publishing academic papers is in preparing the content so even a paper-less journal costs money.

The ACS sponsored some work by ANU students to provide some tools for electronic publishing . Some of this may have fed into ARC work.

The Integrated Content Environment (ICE) System from USQ,

is an example of the same ideas applied to educational content. Perhaps Fibreculture can help make sense of all this technology, so we can seamlessly move from a discussion, to research to teaching to publishing.

Conferences: ADHO Paris, AIOR Brisbane, IE2006 Perth

Perhaps Fibreculture can stop these conferences being a closed shop with just people talking to the people they usually talk to.

The meeting made excellent use of technology with the agenda on screen along with some remote participants on audio and video conference. Due to technology limitations we could have only one remote participant at a time. Perhaps Fibreculture should borrow the few dozen Access Grid nodes around Australia for an event. These are lavishly equipped video conference rooms with wall sized high definition screens, hifi sound and gigabit connections. The rooms were bought for big science projects (The Grid), but should be co-opted for the humanities.

It was fun sitting in a room lined with dusty books discussing Moodle Wiki PODs. ;-)

ps: The title "The Other Side of the Creek" refers to the situation at the ANU, where Sullivan's Creek divides the campus. The humanities are on the eastern bank of the creek and the hard sciences on the west bank.

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