Regular readers will know that I’ve started a project (Arduity) which is aimed at helping non-academic readers to get to grips with difficult poetry. The support that I’ve received thus far together with promises of contributions has been very heartening but I’m at one of those crossroad moments where I don’t know how to proceed. This is unusual for me because my usual tendency is to carry on in all directions in the hope that something will eventually become clear.
This particular problem relates to having too many choices and being aware that whichever choice I make now will remain fixed for the life of the project. I know this to be the case because the choices which we made (and regretted) in my last business project remained fixed and unalterable for ten years.
I think the aim of this thing is relatively straightforward, it’s about removing some of the barriers that currently surround difficult verse and encouraging readers to provide their own responses to poets and/or their work. To this end I have begun work on a web site and have put a few pages on a wiki and also there is some of the material on this blog that can be re-used.
The advantages of using a wiki are two-fold, site users can create and display content without any mediation and those who wish to comment or add content can also do the same. The problem with this is that anyone can put non-relevant or abusive material on the wiki because there is no mediation. I’m also concerned about spam, this blog has received over 800 spam postings compared with 165 legitimate comments over the last 18 months.
The advantages of an old-fashioned site are retaining two kinds of control, I can control the content and the stats package gives me the ability to configure pages and content in order to increase the number of page views. This blog gives me the same level of control but I don’t get access to a full set of stats.
So, I’m currently thinking of a blend of all three-
- The wiki would be used for contributions/responses to poems and poets
- The web site would be used to provide baseline information
- the blog would be used to develop ideas and for me to think out loud
This all made sense for most of last week when I started to dither which isn’t good because I’ve got more content and I need to put it somewhere. The other options are to just run with one or two of the above. I’m painfully aware that I know next to nothing about information architecture and even less about getting the balance between ‘fixed’ and user created content right so if anyone has any useful suggestions then I’d be very grateful
I’m skeptical about using a wiki. In my experience, to make that work, there has to be a good-sized community of writers, intensely engaged. At the job I’ve just left, for instance, we software developers had a wiki, which was a midden — nothing was ever deleted or even edited, and it was littered with the leavings of inconstant good intentions, apt emblem of the difficulties we faced in communication of all kinds. I’d say start with moderated comments, and if you find they’re too copius and interesting, then, in the irritating phrase of my cohort, that’s a good problem to have.
I’m still torn on this, I think wikis in principle should be the way that knowledge is constructed as per the Wikipedia model but then again I’ve never felt sufficiently motivated to add to the pages where I have a degree of knowledge that might be helpful to others (the Edmund Spenser page springs to mind) and I would probably need some encouragement before I did so.
The second issue is one of visibility, arduity is beginning to get reasonable search engine rankings (but not as good as the blog) but the wiki, using the same tags and home page, is invisible. If this remains the case then (if the wiki stays) I’ll still need to link to it from either arduity or the blog.
I guess since the wiki was (sort of) my suggestion, I’d better weigh in. Vance is quite right, a wiki does indeed require a group of people who are willing to spend a certain amount of time working on it, and I guess it’s reasonable to assume that right now this group does not exist, but one does have to start somewhere, and, you know, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. One way to try it out might be to put a difficult—but short—poem on the wiki and ask for some commentary/ thoughts/ opinions/ speculations/ etc about it. Run it up the flagpole, as it were…
Vance is right again: It is very likely that people will be sloppy and careless—but maybe insightful and knowledgeable as well. The wiki we use at City College http://ccnyliteracy.pbworks.com/ is a hodgepodge—with some people being neat and organized, creating links to new pages for new material, and others just lumping stuff on there. I have made my peace with this; it is a reflection of the program, good and bad.
The information architecture aspect need not be too complicated here. It is pretty much just using the page as the basic unit and then arranging them in a parent/ child relationship.
I know you don’t think of yourself as a Web 2.0 guy…but look at what we’re doing here. Your blog, my blog—Vance, I’ll have to look further at The Edge of the American West: We can ‘publish’ pretty much what we damn well please. We don’t have to satisfy an editor, worry about advertising, figure a way to get that manuscript past the slush pile. This really is a change in the way the world thinks about the world. (Earnestly: really it is.)
Poetry, the more I think about it, is an interesting place to experiment with this whole Web 2.0 stuff, because, let’s face it, poetry is fading from our lives. It’s becoming the province of specialized academics This may be a big mistake the culture is making, but it is happening.
Okay, I step off the soapbox.
But let me conclude by saying…
All power to the people.
Thanks for giving me another prod. I probably worry far too much about IA issues and in the next few days will transfer all of the site content on to the wiki just to see what it feels like. some of the examples that are on the site I could use to elicit responses…
I think the project does require a degree of ongoing support from others and I have been heartened by the offers to contribute but (as you say) I may need to be a bit more aggressive in spreading the word / flying the flag. I agree with you about Web 2.0 and I think it does offer an opportunity to distribute ideas and knowledge in a much more democratic and diverse way. The serious poetry problem (academification) is what arduity is about and if something isn’t done soon then the distance between poetry and how are lives are lived will continue to increase. End of rant.