Writing Machines is the course website for English 170L at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
Deciding what is good innovation and what is bad innovation on the web is always a challenge. After all, if web designers ignore accessibility (the ability of search engines to interpret pages, users to bookmark them, different web browsers to interpret them the same way, etc.), some very cool effects can be achieved (see many of the projects this semester). In contrast to these projects, however, I would like present a web design company that innovates in form while retaining a fair amount of convention.
Enter 2Advanced Studios. Beloved and hated all over the net (but known everywhere), 2Advanced are undisputed magicians of Flash (if you want to know more about flash). They have produced some of the most dynamic and interactive sites on the net, integrating animation, audio, and video (hypermedia anyone?) at an unprecedented level. So why are they hated?
So...a while ago I added a new story to the bottom of the main wiki page that involved (and although it's easy for anyone to see on the wiki, it's a bit embarrassing to post this on the blog) professor (KF) as God. I don't know if people hated my addition or just didn't know what else to put after it (I kept checking and imagining cricket noises in our classroom). Anyway, since it's the last day and I've been itching to add a little more, I did. And I think I've added some sort of closure to the wiki, but I'm not entirely sure. Obviously, please edit or delete or add if you want! If you didn't like my prof=God story-line, then you probably don't like my ending. (Though, honestly I don't intend it as a full and complete ending.)
One of the most interesting things I found about many of the projects we looked at (the projects that seemed to have frustrating elements to them), was the seeming need to innovate broken forms. Much like House of Leaves or Only Revolutions, many of the projects we looked at seemed to take a traditional mode of expression (a web site/a book), and break it.
In the case of Danielewski's works, I find the break to be intriguing and exciting. Somewhat scary -- I'm not sure how I'm supposed to read them if there's even a how to be found -- but overall engaging and stimulating in a manner that makes me want to read them rather than avoid them. In many of our projects, however, I decidedly felt alienated and repulsed. Of course, one could attribute this to the fact that website design is a profession for me, and dealing with websites that break from convention is both threatening and frustrating for me as a professional -- not a very interesting interpretation. Instead, I think there's a reason why some innovators produce forms that are engaging and others repulsive.
One of the hardest topics of discussion for me to participate in this term was web design (or interface design, or project design, or anything of the type). I'm sure this stems from the fact that I spend much of my life (outside dance and academia) designing web sites. Trying to discuss web design in class was like trying to hold a meaningful conversation about a senior seminar in maths with a bunch of freshman in Calculus I. That's not to say there weren't some interesting observations about web design especially -- there were, though not in any way that I expected.
As a web designer, the focus of my job is to produce a product. That product is a digital presence that sells my client on the internet (whether that sale be one of image, presence, brand, product, etc). When I look at web design, therefore, it's a question of functionality, aesthetic pleasure, and accessibility. And, like most developed arts, web design has a set of defined aesthetics that seem to work (why or how they work is a discussion that I may get into at some point, but not here). Some people may well argue that web design is an art form in its infancy, which I agree and support, but to argue that there are no rules or conventions is an experiment in wishful thinking. A search in Google should resolve any doubts on the matter -- a search for "web design" tops out at around 1.1 billion hits. Not all of these sites may be particularly relevant (or even helpful) in defining or producing conventions of web design, but with 1.1 billion hits there is at least enough material out there to define trends and have a discussion about what works and what doesn't.
I've found it very hard to comment and write here for many reasons, but probably mostly because I spend so much time in the blogosphere and know what I like to read. And like any fanboy, I like to pretend to the style and quality of writing that I enjoy in others. That is to say that there are hundreds of thousands of blogs out there thousands of blogs out there (that being just the LJ map), and there was a point where I was reading close to a hundred different blogs daily through an RSS reader. When you get that far into the blogosphere, however, you notice that much of what people write are responses to original material from prominent news sources (if it's a focused blog -- technology, gaming, etc.), or responses to their own life experiences. Don't get me wrong -- I don't want to devalue the digital records people keep of their analogue lives, but at a certain point I can't cope with that much emotional investment in people I don't actually know.
Two things a bird posted recalled this to my memory: first, the request for more blog reading; and then the blog-provided map-generator of one's past travel destinations. When I was abroad in Santiago de Chile, I met another study abroad student who took his dissatisfaction with the study abroad experience in hand, dropped out of his program, and found work cutting trail in the Patagonian wilds. I know it sounds like a fairy tale, but I'm serious; some people just have a gift for living good stories.
In the appendix to his final project, "Art Between Worlds," crashingintowalls remarks: I struggle with the fact that much of the creativity present online draws energy from the embodied world but feels no compunction to reinvest in it, hyperlinking and posting comments instead. I find this comment very apposite to my present situation; that is, after a morning spent sitting here working on ideas for blog and wiki stuff, for thesis stuff -- and let's be honest -- weeks spent drawing heavily on all my word-related sources of creativity, I hit yet another of those walls where I realized that I couldn't write anymore, no less think anymore, until I stepped out into the world, exposed my ever-paler skin to the winter sunshine, and rediscovered the type of human contact that does not occur through a computer screen.
And it worked.
I realized I should use this blog while its is still up and running (actually, I guess it will always be up and running...i should rephrase and say while its still "frequently checked") to see if anyone knows the answer to a question I have regarding privacy and facebook. You see, I submitted a term paper on Wednesday for a journalism class at CMC that was a bit unusual (and fun). Since it's a journalism class, we had the option of writing a standard research paper, or we could write a query letter and article for any magazine. I chose the magazine option. Our professor is going to edit and give us feedback, then we will actually submit the article to the magazine and hope they accept!
"Shorter American Memory" is a collection of prose poems by Rosmarie Waldrop, one of the poets who visited this semester as part of the English Department's Literary Series. I read "Shorter American Memory" for another class this semester and found it to be an incredible reading experience, and so considered adding the piece to our suggested reading list based on a tenuous similarity to the writing process Katherine Hayles describes in her chapter on "The Humument" -- Rosmarie Waldrop crafted "Shorter American Memory" by undertaking what she calls an abridgement, or collage poetry. That is, working with the text of "American Memory," a high school textbook on U.S. history, Ms. Waldrop went through the existing order of the text and its chapters -- selecting words, phrases, and fragments either according to certain rules or according to her whims -- to create her own version of American Memory.
Fine! It is possible that pseudo is going to kill me for this, but I suspect the class will revolt if the secret is not revealed. I'm not sure that the person wants their name posted on this blog, so I'll just say this: On pseudo's project page, there is a section on possible suspects. One possible suspect is described as having their fingerprints all over this. That person was the main initiator of the Cassie prank. Said lead prankster had help from several individuals, most of them on the suspect list. Crashingintowalls and I both knew the identity of the prankster, and I fear that a couple of joking suggestions I made were actually implemented (the "You don't care about me!" letter, among others).