Art Kleiner on 14 Sep 2000 17:14:46 -0000

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<nettime> The next wave of format

(please check the URL for updated versions, thanks)

The next wave of format
by Art Kleiner

Version 0.5 . This is still a rough version, with only a small portion of
the illustrations and writing that I hope to add. But I wanted to get it
posted so that I could show it to... well, to you. Thank you for taking
the time to look at it. Your comments are welcome to

1. There is something terribly right going on...

A mood of doubt and dread has overtaken conversations among creative
people who publish their work on the internet. Prominent
"content-provider" and information web sites are consolidating or running
out of money. News is becoming pithier, punchier and more self-consciously
outrageous to attract an audience which is said to be fragmented, fickle,
and enervated. Never has there been such an overwhelming amount of cheap,
quick, and overblown material vying for readers' attention. Theodore
Sturgeon, when he said, "90% of everything is crap," was making an
understatement. Wading through that crap to find material of sustained
interest - material that is not just newsworthy, but illuminating and
compelling -- is beyond the capabilities of even the most sophisticated
software agent.

Or so it seems at first glance. Some conclude from all this that writers
and artists will be reduced to selling coffee mugs and giving lectures to
support themselves. It's tempting to think that there is something
terribly, terribly wrong going on right now for content creators.

More likely, there is something terribly right going on. We are watching
the birth pangs of the formats of creative work in a new, incredibly rich
medium. The Web and its ancillary technologies are brilliant design
achievements, but they are not yet sufficient to create a hospitable
environment for meaningful creative work -- either for producers or
audiences. Coherent, powerful work cannot exist in any proportionate
amount until the internet world develops an effective set of story-telling
and information-weaving formats that can take advantage of the unique
qualities of computer-mediated communications.

2. A brief history of creative formats

Developing the technological underpinning of any new medium - a movable
type system, a rotary press, a radio or video broadcast, a transmission
and mark-up language standard -- is only the first step. A medium becomes
viable for meaningful content by only developing formats for creative
expression. These "formats" (for lack of a better word) are the grammars
through which artists and journalists (verbal and visual) can quickly and
effectively make sense of the world and communicate.

For instance: When Daniel Defoe started the first English-language
newsletter in 1704 (called the Review), and when Joseph Addison and
Richard Steele followed with their Tatler and Spectator, their primary
invention was the "journal" format. As most format creators do, they
borrowed from existing forms and adapted them to new technologies; in this
case, they married the commentary of "men of letters" with the regularity
and consistency of the printing press.

But the impact of this format was immense. It allowed Defoe, Addison, and
Steele (and others who followed) to realize their main goal: to bring to
the surface, some of the hidden aspects of their turbulent era. The
essence of the form is a style of writing and presentation together that
interprets the events of the day in away that resonates with readers,
helps them make sense of their own feelings about the world, and provides
just enough unfamiliarity and surprising context to be interesting. Today,
The New Republic and The New Yorker, along with every newspaper editorial
page, continue to wring variations on the formats wrought by Defoe,
Addison, and Steele. So, for that matter, are Slate and Salon. The key
creative formats tend to develop through trial and error, leaping from one
institution to another, in a kind of community of practice.

Thus, newspaper editors, photographers, publishers and journalists
develped the lede, the head, the slug, the "nut graf," the halftone (in
1886), the captioned photograph (by French photographer Paul Nadar), the
column-inch, the classified ad, the London Times typeface and the
copy-editor's system of abbreviated markups. All of these, and much more,
evolved into a highly stylized, heavily innovated form that would allow a
reporter to observe an event at 4 PM, turn in a story about it on a
teletype at 7 PM, and see the people of a city become aware of it starting
at 6 AM the next morning, on a reasonably small budget. That awareness is
the purpose of the newspaper form, and until that form existed, news (in
the quantity and extensiveness we know today) was too expensive to

Similarly,.the technologies of recording sound could not develop into a
medium of recorded music until the corollary formats of the track, the
stereo mix, and the album jacket were developed.

Television, for its success, depended (and depends) on the half-hour slot,
the situation comedy, the studio audience, and the game show formats. If
television show runners had to invent new formats all the time, they would
be too exhausted to conduct their real work: portraying something
meaningful about human relationships. (To be sure, they don't succeed very
often, but 90% of everything is crap, after all, and when they do succeed,
they succeed very well.)

Fine art depends on the rectangular canvas and the gallery track lights;
performance art exists, in part as a way of tweaking the established
format that makes it easy to be an audience for fine art. But even
performance art had to develop its own formats, including the willingness
to occur at a particular time and place.

Those of us involved with computer conferencing in its nascent era (the
late 1970s and early 1980s) remember very well that the critical question
was the design of the format for putting comments in order. Would they be
numbered? Named? Would they follow in sequence, as on the Electronic
Information Exchange System, or branch off with each new idea, as on the
Source's Participation System? Ultimately, a hybrid approach, now
established on the WELL and elsewhere, prevailed as the established
format. Until that happened, computer conferencing could not catch on.

It is, of course, possible to break the constraints of format, and some of
the best artists (and journalists) continually do so. But there are also
great artists who create dramatic, meaningful work within a format's
constraints. Rex Stout and Nat Hentoff come to mind. Paradoxically,
constraints are often liberating: when creating a steady stream of
meaningful content, it takes extra effort and expense to break the bounds
of format. Audience members who simply want to learn what's going on (or
be entertained) cannot be bothered to wander amidst an impenetrable sea of
new experimental formats.That's not why they're spending their time on
this piece of work.

3. The state of creative formats on the Web today...

The World Wide Web and the Internet, as they exist today, do not provide a
sufficient level of prevailing creative format or convention, and that's
why so much that exists upon them already seems stale. Writing and design
on the web tends to echo writing and design from magazines, the most
logical paper equivalent.

To be sure, a variety of new conventions are beginning to emerge, but most
of them are not yet mature enough to help journalists and artists create
meaningful content. They include the multi-person role-playing game, the
computer conference, the chat room, the link, the search engine results
page, the banner, the portal, the relatively-easy-to-create-animation, and
the link-accessed data-bank (the format which allows, for
example, to create a library of not just book reviews but book reviewers).

One of the most interesting and influential new formats is (for lack of a
better term) the non-linear, multilayered research paper -- a way of
making in-depth argument far more accessible than it used to be. (That's
the format that I'm trying to learn about, in part, by writing and
developing this piece of writing.) To call it a "research paper" doesn't
do justice to the fact that, increasingly, these documents are written for
a large audience of lay people. But they can be designed in ways that
allow people to get a deep overview, or to investigate the author's
argument in depth by clicking through to links and digressions.

It makes sense that the research paper would be one of the most
thoroughly-developed formats on the Web, since most of the web technology
designers came from academic research backgrounds, and the original
proposal for the Web was published in a precursor to this multilayered
research paper form. The web itself, in fact, was conceived as a vehicle
for more effective research communication; and so, for that matter, was
Ted Nelson's Xanadu project, which preceded it.

Yet it still takes too much time and effort, even now, to create a really
good multilayered research paper. The format of the web-based research
paper iis fascinating, but it is still in its infancy. So are the other
new web formats. Unlike the technologies, they are probably not going to
have a Department of Defense initiative to foster them. We are today to
the ultimate web medium as Daniel Defoe was to the emerging newspaper, and
it's up to us creative people to follow through, if only for the sake of
our audiences.

And until we do, we won't have much truly meaningful content on the Web.
At best, we'll have what we have now: the rehashing of meaningful content
from other media. Meaning is created from human perception, and perception
is amplified and channeled by creative formats. The greatest potential of
the Web is that, by fostering new formats for human expression, it will
make open up understanding of the complexities of the world today.

For a person like me, who produces creative and journalistic work for a
living, it is very exciting to be alive at a time when one can see (and
maybe take part in) the evolution of new formats.

4. Charting the next wave

We don't yet know all the styles, and grammars that forms and formats of
interactive media will take in the future. But we can clearly see some of
their qualities, and we can guess more, both from observing what is
happening on the web and from our own personal experience. Moreover, we
can decide what kinds of forms and formats are interesting to us, and we
can invite other people to work on them with us.

The rest of this essay, then, represents my own guesswork. It derives, to
a large extent, from work I've done, developing new formats for the
printed page, over the past twenty years. And it derives especially from a
course I taught at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications
Program last year -- a course called Meaning and Media. The course, by
most accounts, was an interesting failure.

We set out to produce a website that would explore and explain a complex
subject: the battle over whether or not to filter New York City's water
supply. This was a complex story involving politicians, activists,
environmentalists, real estate developers, research scientists, and career
bureaucrats, all with different views of the issue. Moreover, it was a
vital issue for anyone living in the New York region; perhaps in the

We all (and I, in particular) underestimated the task we had set for
ourselves. We never did get our website produced. The students produced
some remarkable pages, but there wasn't the time available to fully make
sense of our story or to follow through. And there wasn't time to develop
the full range of skills that we needed: Interviewing, writing, editing,
graphic design, illustration, archive management, web site architecture,
information design, charting and mapping, and project management.

But every student in the course responded heroically to the demands, each
in his or her own way. Some responded by taking on the challenge of
managing the web site architecture; some by delving deeply into the human
characters they were meeting; some by analyzing the problem; some by
trying to stretch the limits of meaningfulness in graphic design; some by
creating a theory about what meaningful media would be. And while some
were overtly cynical about the whole project and its purpose, I saw that
as a heroic response as well.

I learned a great deal, upon reflection, about the next wave of meaningful
media. And I saw, for the first time, the shortage of formats and the need
for them.

I personally think that the formats of the future will have six basic
qualities, that distinguish them from formats of past media. There may
well be others; these are the qualities that seem most relevant and likely
to me. These qualities are skewed, perhaps, to non-fiction -- to drawing
forth understanding from observation and interviewing instead of from
imagination and conceptualizing -- because non-fiction is the kind of
creative work I personally know best. (For more about my own background,
see this link) I would like to think, however, that the forms and formats.
of nonfiction, fiction, and semi-fiction will continue to influence each
other, as they have since the beginning of language.

1. The new formats will integrate text, image, sound, and motion picture.
This seems obvious, but one aspect of it is far from obvious: Few people
have the necessary skills. Graphic designers are trained to think
differently from journalists, and they both in turn think differently from
sound engineers. Recent research in cognitive science suggests that this
training is so deeply ingrained in the processes of perception that it
actually affects the physical mechanisms with which the brain perceives
letter forms.

Perhaps this is why project teams that work on highly complex media
projects, like films, magazines, complex books, and web sites, tend to
operate in a very compartmentalized fashion, with different members of the
team taking on specialized tasks.At Time/Life, arguably the most efficient
journalistic operation of its time, the tasks of research, writing,
editing, photographing, copy-checking, managing production, laying out,
typesetting, and marketing were all handled by different people, who often
knew only the minimum about each others' tasks. And when I tried to teach
a multi-disciplinary course on "meaning and media" in the Fall of 1999,
one of the graphic designers in the course said, "We're not used to this.
We normally have the meaning handed to us and then all we have to do is
present it."

I had felt the same frustration in 1980, when I tried to incorporate
courses in graphic design into the graduate-level journalism degree that I
was pursuing.. I thought I would need both skills to do any meaningful
magazine work, and (in part because I worked part-time as a typesetter), I
felt more of an affinity for graphic design than for journalism. I hoped I
wouldn't have to choose between the disciplines. But I learned how
overwhelmingly exhausting it was to study two cognitively contradictory
bodies of method at one time.

It turned out, interestingly enough, that history was a natural vehicle
for mixed media, because the timeline of chronology provided an automatic
organizing structure on which both images and text could hang. This would
later be significant for more contemporary learning histories.

After a few years of swimming upstream (and realizing how much I had to
learn about graphic design), I gave up the design component and focused
instead on writing. Even then, I continually struggled, like many writers,
to avoid being pigeonholed into a particular specialization or genre, even
though I knew that would represent a better career move.

But on the web, specialization is no longer an optimal strategy.
Journalists need to be taught design skills because the pictures that
accompany their words are no longer illustrations per se. The pieces of
text, image, sound, and video, and the logical structure that links them
all together, are inseparable parts of a larger whole. Artisans will need
a sensibility in all of them.

To be sure, the web platform supports tools that make the task easier; but
the tools will never substitute for skill, style, and sensibility. Gaining
that sensibility happens only one of two ways:

You can be born with it; You can deliberately hone it by practicing the
craft under the guidance of someone who understands the theory underlying
the craft.

Since graphic designers tend to be "downstream" in the production process
from writers, they typically have some respect for writing, even if they
(often) lack confidence in their own ability to learn how to write well.
Writers, on the other hand, tend to assume that the task of design is
easy, or just a matter of style, or even trivial. And both groups often
have little appreciation for the skills of information architecture, which
exist on a much greater level of abstraction. Finally, there are still
comparatively few models for combining these forms effectively together in
a non-clichéd way: Walker Evans. Scott McCloud. Kurt Schwitters and critic
Stefan Thernstrom ("Kurt Schwitters on a Timeline"). Jay Kinney, Art
Spigelman, and other genre-stretching comics-creators, Edward Tufte (the
"Envisioning Information" guy), and... and....

Despite all the difficulties involved with it, I suspect that the
integration of skills will feel more and more natural because it's the
surest way for a creator to maintain control over the creation. The more
that text and images depend on each other for their meaning, the more
likely a creator's intent is to survive in the malleable digital
maelstrom. For this and other reasons, the time is coming when any writer
will automatically want to become sophisticated about image creation; when
any image-maker will automatically want to become sophisticated about
words; and when both will have at least a passing awareness of sound,
simulations and automation, and the impact of their design on audiences.

(At one point, I thought that the web would naturally lead creative people
to also learn to integrate business acumen with their other skills. I no
longer believe this. For my reasoning, see my article in Strategy &
Business, Corporate Culture on Internet Time.)

2. They will lead readers into simulated worlds, fictional and (more
significantly) non-fictional. In the "meaning and media" course, a group
of 10 students looked at the evolution of New York's water supply. We
developed a range of human stories, but one the most compelling and
provocative pieces, developed by Joanne Cuyler and Danielle Nguyen, was
originally designed as an interactive diagram: A trip through a water
filtration plant, following the progression of the water as it was
cleansed by technology. The two students who created this were guided in
their research by a "key informant," a scientist at the EPA, who insisted
on remaining anonymous, but who provided perspective.

The power of this piece came not from the science, and not from the
diagram (which could have been just another tedious diagram), but from the
way the diagram allowed us to enter someone else's point of view. A person
on the web page could explore it, as if it were a museum exhibit. But in
this exhibit, the attitudes and thoughts of the person that Joanne and
Danielle interviewed were manifest; and their own perspective was evident
as well.

It was as if we were visiting with a knowledgeable inside information -- a
cousin working at a filtration plant research center, perhaps -- who
opened the door to the plant, let us in after hours, and answered our

Had it gone up on the web, and had people written in to disagree, then
those comments might have been incorporated as well.

The net effect of such experiments is news that resembles, in itself, a
multi-player role-playing environment, rife with simulations,
multiple-perspectives, and software-driven environments. The major feat of
newsgatherers will be to design formats that people can operate within,
and add to, with the same speed and facility that allows journalists and
copy-editors to slot stories into column inches in a daily newspaper

Most people will want the simple version of most stories; probably 80% of
th e time, they will seek to understand the news in a paragraph or two,
the way that CNet provides it. But when they want to understand a story in
depth, they will recognize that they cannot understand it from one
perspective, and they will gravitate to those news sources that gradually
compile a series of interlocked perspectives around a common, significant,
and coimplex event.

3. News will present a multitude of people quoted (or speaking) in their
own voices on demand. Audiences mistrust intermediary journalists. As well
they should. Television, film, and first-person narratives have
demonstrated that most people's views are more powerful when they speak
for themselves.

In a newspaper or print medium, which is expensive to revise, it is very
difficult to give participants their voice, however. Few people know how
to write well enough to convey what they want to say; and a tape
transcription of their speech is typically even more articulate.

But it is not hard to edit people's statements into something that conveys
the meaning that they want to convey, and to make them articulate on the
page, especially if you are willing to check their words with them ahead
of time. The writer becomes a kind of ghostwriter, but in a very honorable
fashion: a Studs Terkel or John Gwaltney. The writer does not just
interpret a speaker's words, but channels the speaker's intent.

A conventional journalist would see this as pandering to the source, and
would say that it lacks credibility. But in a medium like the Web, this is
a far surer path to credibility than the established, skeptical approach
to journalism. Credibility, in this medium, comes from the juxtaposition
of different voices, including the journalist's or commentator's voices,
with all of them transparent to the audience. It becomes more powerful
still when specific items link text from one perspective to another.

For the meaning of any complex situation (real or fictional) is
multi-dimensional: it depends on capturing the cross-currents and
cross-references between different peoples' perspectives, ideas, and
feelings. (Even a one-person narrative is multi-dimensional, because that
person doesn't live in isolation, and the reader/viewer/audience is aware
of the interrelationships and conflicts.) A piece of work it is most
powerful when care is taken to make each voice authentic. Hence the value
of quote-checking. Anyone reading a statement in this piece of work knows
that the person saying it cared enough to check it and approve it. If they
are hiding something, then the writer/creator has the responsibility (if
it's important) to bring that to light, probably in someone else's voice.

The audience member will decide whose voice he or she wants to hear. So as
part of its grammar, this form needs cues that will naturally lead people
to be aware of opposing views, mitigating factors, differences of
perception, and deeper (or shallower) understanding.

Imagine, for example, a case I learned about recently, about a convicted
rapist, put in jail on the strength of the victim's eyewitness testimony.
Years later, the conviction was called into question. A report on this
story should have direct statements by the convicted man, his lawyers and
advocates (including an analysis of the failures of his initial defense),
the woman who pressed charges, the witnesses on either side, the police
and D.A.s who were involves, and some people who can offer broader and
deeper perspective. Issues that might seem incidental in a tight news
story can have room here to expand into novelistic proportion for those
who are interested: the convicted man's experience in jail, the pattern of
violent crime in that neighborhood, the public reaction to the case, the
evolutin of the police and D.A attitudes (in this case, the D.A. had a
strong, heartfelt desire not to convict an innocent individual.)

Here is an example, in a business story, of the way that several voices
can lead to more than the sum of the parts -- from a "learning history"
coauthored by George Roth, myself, and three internal managers at
"AutoCo," a large car company.

We attempted something like this in the "meaning and media" course. The 16
students in that course interviewed 30 people - housing activists and real
estate developers, environmental activists on both sides of the water
filtration issue, seasoned bureaucrats and eager community organizers,
scientists and artists, and so on. We first tried to make sense of them
together; then sorted them apart again to make sense of them individually.
But we became frustrated because we didn't then have time to make sense of
them together again (in part because we didn't have an established format
to work within.)

Ted Nelson, I suspect, saw the value of multidimensional perspectives in
his original Xanadu design, and particularly in its provision for
"parallel documents." Nelson points to Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern Are Dead as an example (and he could now add John Updike's
novel Gertrude and Claudius). Both of these, as Nelson puts it,

"show events that occur offstage in "Hamlet", and vice versa).  But
implicitly parallel documents are everywhere-- the parallelism of
commentaries, the parallelism of long and short versions of reports, the
parallelism of translations, the parallelism of holy books It is vital
that we be able to see this parallelism of documents and to intercompare
and work with their side-by-side connection.

Parallel documents are a technical solution. A combined technical-creative
format could make it easy for creators to present parallel perspectives.

4. The new formats will give audiences an explicit choice, on the spot,
about how much or how little to read, and how deeply to go. In my meaning
and media class, one of the most startling debates was over the amount of
text that people were willing to read. I was interested in having our
material reflect the complex skein of attitudes and personalities that we
had uncovered. Some students were skeptical that anyone would read that
much material. I said, "What about Salon?" They said that nobody reads
Salon - it's too difficult to read long passages on a computer terminal.
"I don't have the patience to stare into a screen and read a 2,000-word
article in Salon, no matter how well it's written," they said.

Short passages, however, don't always allow for understanding. Some
subjects require the precise chain of reason or emotion (or both combined)
that can only occur through a long chain of text and image. They can't
come throughin a paragraph. Nor can them come through in a simulation,
game, or animation alone. The web-based simulations, games and animations
that I have seen, for example, are largely sensation-rich and thematically
impoverished. That is why people gravitate to online character spaces
where they can invent their own characters and play them out.

We see the same dilemma operating in political discourse. I agree with
Maureen Dowd that the issue is not length, per se; it's passion and
precision of thought and feeling.

"Viewers' embrace of "The West Wing" puts the lie to the notion that
Americans won't watch substantive discussions of ideas. Ideas just have to
be presented with real human passion. But since the exit of John McCain,
who managed to make campaign finance reform seem romantic, it's been hard
to find real human passion anywhere but on a fictional TV drama. It's
impossible to tell what George W. Bush and Al Gore really care about,
besides not making mistakes." - Maureen Dowd, "World's Dullest Men," New
York Times op-ed page, July 23, 2000.

With enough precision of thought and feeling, you can create a very long
piece of work and people will read it. If the text itself is cumbersome as
a long stream, then a creative format needs to be devised that allows
pages to unfold pleasurably, even for on-screen readers. Readers have
always had a choice about how much to read; they can stop and close a book
or magazine. But the choices here will be explicit: readers will naturally
grow accustomed to selecting the version that matches their depth of
interest. Perhaps 5%, perhaps 10%, perhaps 20% of the time, they will
choose a format that immerses them in a situation, as if they had lived
through it.

5. The new formats will provide navigation with context to outside
connections. "Navigation does something to the content," said Todd Lefelt,
one of the students in Meaning and Media. "There is a web of signification
that determines that power and meaning of the message."

Thus, navigational tools need to evolve the kinds of conventions and
formats that will allow them to add meaning.

The most obvious feature where formats are needed is the link. There was a
period of about three years, from 1994 through 1997, when pages of links
were fascinating. Those days are gone. The compelling formats of the new
medium will be based around informative, considerate, even emotionally
compelling links.

This means that links will be a fundamentally different form than
citations. Citations are a form of research substantiation; they represent
a way for the author to establish credibility and to place the work in the
chain of continual theory and observation. They are a part of the edifice
of what Robert Pirsig called "the Church of Reason" (meaning the

Links, by contrast, will be like a form of theatre. Some links, by the way
they are worded, will make it unnecessary to follow the link. Others will
compel readers to follow. The format of links will evolve, in the way that
"emoticons" evolved, to give people a sense of what each link has in store
for them:

Another piece by the same author; A link to an expanded story on the same
subject; Links to popular destinations (using, say, the Google rankings);
Links to obscure but significant destinations; Links that are returned
(where both sites link to each other); Links that to counterpoint or
opposition; Links with authority or authoritativeness; Links that require
passwords or identity checks; Links to potentially offensive material;
Oblique references; Links that raise new windows; Links that return to the
original starting point; Places to post comment. People will learn to
follow subtle cues (and ever-changing cues as the fashions of the Web
change) that show what the link has in store for the audience.

This type of link will elegantly solve one of the perennial problems of
the essayist's craft: the difficulty of digressing without crafting a
return. Now, each digression is its own module. For deeply modest people,
this means they can be personal about (for instance) their own background,
without worrying that this personal information will overwhelm the reader,
offend, or draw attention to itself.

The web offers a glut of editors; potentially an infinite amount of
editors. Therefore, it is already a cliché to say that audiences will look
for editors who can make sense of the complexity for them. But without an
effective format to help identify links -- without conventions of both
text and graphics -- the editors will not have enough to work with to
identify their destinations appropriately.

Other navigational devices -- pop-up menus, rollovers, frame menus, and so
forth -- will gradually acquire meaning that they do not have today. It
would be worthwhile to find ways to test the intuitive responses that
different users have to different features, because in the long run, those
intuitive responses will determine the meaning of navigational features.

6. The new formats will distinguish between changeable, unchangeable, and
semi-changeable documents. "If [an] experiment were a static once-only
development," wrote Tim Bernars-Lee in 1990, in the original proposal for
the Web, "all the information could be written in a big book. As it is,
[the body of work at our lab] is constantly changing as new ideas are
produced, as new technology becomes available, and in order to get around
unforeseen technical problems... Keeping a book up to date becomes
impractical, and the structure of the book needs to be constantly

Already, the Library of Congress is being criticized for not preserving
archival copies of material on the web. Sooner or later, web pages will
routinely embody formats that contain, for example, the last date they
were modified, and the next date of change -- in other words, the date by
which the page promises to stay intact, so users know how long they have
to come back to it.

Ted Nelson's planned design, the original Xanadu structure, went further
than this; it was designed to not only let people change and find context,
but to go backwards and forwards in time, retaining every successive
version of a document so that people could see the changes that have
occurred in a concept -- whether individually or collaboratively

Ted may be right that an underlying structure is needed to provide that
kind of continuity. He proposes a different design for links, for example,
which he calls "free-standing content links" -- a two-way link that would
protect audiences against the familiar Web "404" bug, in which a
destination page changes and the source page suddenly becomes less
relevant. But Ted's structures will probably never come to pass, if only
because the perfect is the enemy of the good. So creative formats will
probably have to pick up the slack. And it may be better to embed these
concerns in human conventions and creative formats, instead of in software
design. Software design determines human behavior to some extent, but in
media content, the behavior of the audience determines, before too long,
what the programmers choose.


I would like to see a university or institute, or perhaps even a
for-profit web content site, provide a home for a deliberately creative
group, or perhaps a group of cross-disciplinary students and teachers, to
experiment with creative forms and take their development seriously. Some
of the most innovative creative forms, that are needed today, are akin to
the creative forms on the original Macintosh design: not the desktop, but
the conventions of MacPaint and MacWrite.

It may turn out that I am naively treading ground that hundreds, or
thousands, of people, have trod before; or treading new ground in an
uninteresting way. If so, I would hope that readers of the first draft
would tell me. That in turn will spark newer drafts, newer revisions,
newer ways of thinking through the meaning of the material.

Working on creative formats is a fascinating thing to do; in part because
so few of them are adopted. (The most interesting creative format that I
have ever worked on, the Learning History, has yet to find a venue where
it can be successfully adopted.)

I imagine a series of courses that would span a full year, in which
students (and faculty) would develop the skills of knowing their world,
discover the meaning out of the human voices and perspectives around them,
and seek out (or invent) formats that bring that meaning to life. Then
they would apply those formats to other situations, and evaluate how
successful they are -- and build on each others work, both in form and
content, so that the format initiative itself would become a kind of
web-based museum of human life in that part of the world.

Along the way they would learn not just to write HTML code (if they didn't
already know how), but how to interview, discern, extract, condense,
dismiss, conflate, design, emphasize, and promote -- the skills of
rhetoric needed for a time when there are no limits to the reach of
rhetoric. The purpose of art, at a time like this, is to help artists see
how to make their grasp reach nearly as far as their reach.

-- ArtK

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