prevailing visibility: a bit further

Three days ago, I posted a gloss of Bill Wolff's Deliverator at #cw2010, attempting to reinforce some of the ideas he put forth. I focused on his notion of expanding "composition" to include bookmarking and tagging (among other online actions). I also carried this into how I've reorganized my offline research library. Brian McNely was kind enough to acknowledge the post, mentioning its connection to his and Derek Mueller's #cw2010 talks. McNely's is on his blog, so I'll let him speak for himself: "Mentorship and Professionalization in Networked Publics." 

One of the recent links I shared on Twitter, which Alan Benson retweeted, was a piece in the Atlantic about how disorganized terrorists often are and the importance of emphasizing this fact. "Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?" the authors ask. It's a piece worth reading, hence the sharing via Twitter (and here later tonight as part of #wymhm), but I mention it in this moment for another reason, one (I think) related to Bill Wolff's Deliverator and Brian McNely's talk at #cw2010. 

I maintain four print subscriptions: the Atlantic, Paste, Lansing State Journal and Wired. I read each issue in its entirety within 24 hours of its arrival. The aforementioned article is in the most recent issue of the Atlantic, and it was in print that I first encountered it. Most Atlantic pieces appear online soon after the print publication is out in circulation, so I went there to find it and subsequently share it. Is it safe to assume that those seeing my tweet about this Atlantic piece figured I found it online first? I think an argument for that could be made, but it would be incorrect. 

I mention all this here in the interest of that prevailing visibility, and because I just have an increasing interest in how we come to share information online and even marking the paths that lead to sharing.

prevailing visibility

Three weeks ago, I attended the Computers & Writing 2010 conference at Purdue University. What I experienced there is fodder for multiple entries here, but I want to focus on Bill Wolff's Deliverator talk, "When Understanding Hypertext Isn't Enough: Thoughts on Writing in the Age of Web 2.0." Of the many things Bill discussed, foremost in my mind right now are the ideas of information movement and formerly invisible acts of composition.

Writing happens now in a more expansive way; I don’t think there can be any doubt expressed about this. I use a half-dozen social media tools in rather focused ways every day, and sharing is the paramount action. I pull images, text and video from email listservs, Google Reader and Twitter, posting to those same listservs, Google Buzz and Twitter. Seesmic Web helps with cross-posting and URL shortening. I also bookmark and tag via Delicious and Diigo, maintaining networks of influence there even though Twitter is dominant. Posterous is an additional repository but also functions as an opportunity to revisit previously shared items and share them again in an ongoing series of “What You Might Have Missed” entries.

Much of this happens because, as Wolff observed in his talk, websites are less silos and more interactive domains, facilitating and promoting the kind of sharing and referencing I’ve just described. All this is more than just part of a writing process, too; it is a kind of composition. This is so not just because Wolff made a compelling case for it in his Deliverator either.

I carried these online methods of organization offline to my bookshelves, though I should mention that Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous was an additional inspiration. Now I keep articles and books on shelves not by author or title, but by connection. I’m able to move from Ong’s Orality and Literacy to Huizinga’s Homo Ludens on one shelf. The range of print I go through in making such movement, though, isn’t visible unless I look. I’d probably also need to explain to any witnesses just how it works. Via social bookmarking and tagging, however, explanation isn’t required, perhaps not even necessary. It’s even likely that my tagging justifications aren’t as meaningful or right-minded as the interpretations of those witness to such action. And that’s okay.

Bookmarking and tagging are previously invisible forms of composition made visible. We see the pathways and make the threads connecting a recent article in the New York Times to an O’Reilly Radar report from 2008. This visibility is, of course,  helpful for research processes, allowing us to build and see beneficial source relationships for ourselves as well as those in our learning networks.