Ways Past Facsimile

I’m wrestling with how we can move past the electronic facsimile as the standard digital humanities web-based presentation.  Projects such as The Valley of the Shadow (to select a well known one at random) are presentations of static objects.  The meta-data is usually searchable and there are other tools sometimes for slicing and dicing the objects to help in doing research.  Is there a way to move forward to something that plays more of the role of the monograph?

A facsimile performs a useful service to the scholarly community and supports further research, but does not itself usually form a narrative.  The monograph does, but presents a fairly linear argument (disregarding tables, figures, and plates, the text of a monograph can form a single string of glyphs that can be read as a linear set of words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, etc., that take the reader from an initial state to some different, final state).

Online presentations consider the user to be the reader: a passive consumer instead of an active contributor.  This is similar to a book reader, but instead of turning pages, the online reader composes searches and flips through pages of results.

I’m trying to figure out how video game and film criticism can be turned into a critical tool for unpacking digital humanities web presentations and figuring out how to design projects that are participatory, encouraging information flow not only to the reader, but from the reader.

One of the texts I’ve found useful is Alexander Galloway’s “Gamic Action, Four Movements” (in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Electronic Mediations 18.  Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2006).  He presents four modes of gamic action: play (operator initiated diegetic action), algorithm (operator initiated non-diegetic action), process (machine initiated diegetic action), and code (machine initiaited non-diegetic action).  In the context of digital humanities presentation, these might be exploration, transformation, curation, and code.

There’s still something missing though, and that’s participation by the reader.  All information still flows from the machine to the operator (site to the reader).  What if we flip things around and have information flow from the reader?  We still have exploration, transformation, curation, and code, but now from the machine persepective.  We can have systems prioritize prompts to maximize the information gained for the time spent by the participant, transform the information based on how much the system trusts the participant, have the participant track sets of objects they care about, and I’m still figuring out what “code” might be in me.

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