Media Theory for the 21st Century

March 20, 2008

Wiki-Fallacy 2.3232423423423: Presentation on ELC as a case study.

Filed under: Discussion — Jacob Burch @ 2:17 pm

I realized last night that I hadn’t ever actually put up a link the my presentation and a brief goings-over of what I said. So, without further adeu…

Link to presentation: (includes links to the ELC sites discussed) http://jacobburch.com/m08/

The basic point of my presentation that in a time where business are encouraging people to get online and give their say–both by “dumbing down” their software and marketing–and technology is getting further and further complex (see my other posts–and following comments– on Wikifallacy for arguments here) a big gapping flaw arises: its really common, easy and even expected to make a “flawed” website.

This problem is expounded when it comes to web-as-art. On a normal blog or business model site we can over look errors of design or content-presentation as they’re usually not serious (ok, yes, this dark black text probably shouldn’t be in this dark, blue box whilst I read this website in IE6, but its readable all the same), this isn’t as easily resolved on any piece of art and literature in particular. When the stress of one syllable or the whitespace placement of one word can, at times, change the entire meaning of a poem, the technology that affixes these properties becomes all the more crucial:

“Clearly this author feels disconnected from the world as he must move every third sentence to nearly unreadable space” — critique of e-Lit piece made by a neophyte of HTML, unaware of IE6’s double-float-margin bug.

This type of analyses isn’t that far-fetched: earlier in discussion, Rita noted several works who have parts where the author intends for a computer to crash, to make a point. To drive this point, I decided to demonstrate the first Electronic Literature Collection. The collection is a tremendous step to combat the problems I feel plague web-art. Using Acid-Free Bits (AFB) and Born-Again Bits (BAB) as guiding points, the ELC updated and refined five dozen works covering numerous technologies–various versions of HTML, CSS, Javascript, Flash and other proprietary software and provided them in broad-format as best conceivably possible. The points raised in AFB and BAB are pinpoint and wonderful steps to provide universal access, and while the ELC is an excellent and overly successful attempt, it is a flawed one.

This post is not meant to be a technological breakdown of the flaws, but in brief, the two critical errors I found within a few days tinkering with the collection (these errors reflect the current online version, and should [hopefully] be corrected in the version included with Kate’s book]):

  • OBJECT tag mis-source: This usually happens on mass-exports (usually to tinker with small mistakes) of flash movies. In some versions of flash, the default exported HTML file contains two ways to embed the movie–an embed tag and object/param tags. The problem arises when someone manually edited one method’s source video file and ignores the other–most browsers will render the correctly formated tag, but many (including still-market-share leader, Internet Explorer 6) will load whichever is listed first on the html page. This error occurs both in Set of U and Digital Landscapes.
  • AUX: While this doesn’t effect the web version, if a user with one of the older CD ROMs attempted to save a local copy to a windows machine, the auxiliary files (mostly CSS and Image files) would not copy over. This is due to them being stored in a folder called AUX, which windows reserves as keyword.

As is often the case with people who like to nit small mistakes, I have only vague ideas of solutions. Outside of the wonderful advice in AFB and BAB, I gleaned two categories of advice when considering e-literature’s archaic, print-form cousin. What allows Print Media to conform to readable formats (outside of its simplicity) are the standards required to be archived and the desire to market the book. Creating a centralized, “universal” format (or series of formats) for works to adhere to–and more importantly, a professional, academic or government group to enforce such standards–allows web archivists to more easily and definitely preserve web based art. The monetary motivation is less concrete for online works than in print media due to the difficulty in marketing what only exists as an idea–but still a viable consideration. The reasoning for this is simply that you cannot sell what does not work.* The online music market is a fair example of how a market can adapt to the difficulties of the online playing field and still enforce standards in format to all shades of genre.

All of these ideas are based on the rough, unhashed, blubbering observations I’ve made over the last year, but the more thought I put into them the stronger I believe in them. I encourage and welcome criticism — either through this blog of through email (or just bothering me as you see me half-asleep in the humanities building), as they are ideas and arguments I do not plan to stop forcing anytime soon. Another note, the “Art” video seems to have been taken down–I shall do my best to track down another.

* – Unless, of course, you happen to be trying to sell an operating system named Vista

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