What Happened?

[As many of you know, MediaCommons disappeared for a couple of days this week. It’s (almost entirely) back now, but we wanted to explain what happened, and to start rebuilding not just the site but our relationship with our community. Thus this, cross-posted from MediaCommons.]

So… funny story.

You know how you get those email messages from your hosting provider, saying “hey, we’re going to upgrade some things on your server”? And you think “Bonus! Upgrades are good!”

We are here to tell you that sometimes upgrades are not so good.

The result of the upgrade that was conducted on the MediaCommons server over Tuesday night was, not to put too fine a point on it, a debacle.

We woke up Wednesday to a completely clean, shiny new server — with no files on it, no configuration settings, and no user accounts through which anyone could log in and, say, rebuild a totally missing website.

The day was a misery for our heroic development team, who tried absolutely everything to get things back up and running as quickly as they could. Thanks to some utterly abysmal customer service and misleading communication from our hosting provider, it wasn’t until the wee hours of Thursday morning that our folks found the source of the problem, which they spent all day Thursday addressing.

To cap everything off, a server configuration mystery prevented our even leaving anything like a meaningful error message on the site, so for an embarrassingly long period of time all we were able to provide were bad redirects, 404s, and our hosting provider’s generic “hey, site administrator, something’s not properly configured here” screen.

Happily, we’ve gotten the bulk of the network restored. There is a bit of recent content still missing, however, and a few other errors to address. If you notice something odd, please leave us information about it in the comments.

We are deeply sorry for any inconvenience that our downtime may have caused our community, and we hope, now that we’re back, that we can begin rebuilding your trust in the stability of our platform. The good news, though, is that we heard from a lot of you over the last couple of days, and so we got a very strong sense of the richness of the community that we’re serving through the various MediaCommons projects.

We are — it will probably not surprise you to hear — actively seeking a new hosting solution. We are hard at work on upgrades to the platform that will increase its stability and its user-friendliness. And we have some very exciting developments in our projects coming soon.

Thanks for sticking it out with us. Together, we can and will do better than this.

Open Review: A Study of Contexts and Practices

crossposted from MediaCommons:

In April 2011, MediaCommons and NYU Press jointly received a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a year-long study of open review practices and possibilities. The document that follows is a draft of the white paper that will serve as the grant’s primary outcome. We are happy to post a draft of this paper for open peer review.

The questions raised in the paper affect a wide range of scholarly processes. They impact publishing, of course, but also the ways scholarly work is assessed beyond the moment of publication, from hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions to funding applications, and the development of a scholarly reputation. The issues we discuss affect scholars at every stage in their careers, as well as publishers of journals and books of every sort, and administrators at many different kinds of institutions.

We therefore welcome the broadest possible feedback, both on the white paper’s details as well as on the larger questions that it raises. Please join in the discussion!

MediaCommons Receives Mellon Grant to Study Open Peer Review

[crossposted from MediaCommons.]

As was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus yesterday, MediaCommons and New York University Press have together been given a $50,000 grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of a year-long study of peer-to-peer (P2P) review. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to take what we have learned from our experiments at MediaCommons Press, as well as experiments conducted by other scholarly networks, and assess the state of open peer review in the humanities today.

We are in the process of assembling an advisory panel composed both of scholars who are invested in experimental, open modes of scholarly communication and of scholars whose work is well-positioned in more traditional publishing forms. This advisory panel will join us for a series of meetings at which we will investigate and assess a range of experiments in reviewing practices, finally helping us to produce a white paper in which we will:

1) assess the value and shortcomings of P2P review for the evaluation of scholarship;
2) develop a roadmap for scholars and publishers, articulating criteria and protocols for conducting P2P review that are both rigorous and flexible enough to apply across disciplines;
3) identify the technical functionalities necessary to support these protocols; and
4) assess tools and platforms currently available for online peer review, and consider whether their functionalities will support our proposed protocols.

The project will be managed by MediaCommons co-editors Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Avi Santo, NYU Press assistant director and editor-in-chief Eric Zinner, and NYU program officer for digital scholarly publishing Monica McCormick.

We look forward to reporting here on our progress as our work proceeds.

The New Everyday: Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions

[Crossposted from MediaCommons.]

We’re thrilled today to announce the relaunch of The New Everyday, an experiment in “middle-state publishing” being undertaken here at MediaCommons. This relaunch brings together an exciting cluster edited by Shannon Mattern focused around Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions, with an amazing site redesign by the NYU Libraries Digital Library Technology Services group.

The New Everyday, which is part of a two-year project undertaken by the New York Visual Culture Working Group, originally launched this spring with a cluster focused on the murder of Jorge Stephen López Mercado. The project is a bottom-up publication experiment; the pieces that are published in The New Everyday are open for discussion, and are intended to be seen, both collectively and individually, as remaining somewhat “in process.”

MediaCommons members are encouraged to contribute new posts to The New Everyday, as well as to propose new clusters. We look forward to following the discussion of today’s cluster, and to seeing more such new work as you produce it.

Talk at the Hemispheric Institute

One of the first things I’m doing here at NYU, now that classes have started up and things are underway, is giving a talk at the Hemispheric Institute, as part of our celebration of the launch of a new MediaCommons project, The New Everyday (about which more very shortly). Details are on the flyer at left, which can be clicked for a more readable version.

The talk will provide an overview of both Planned Obsolescence and the genesis of MediaCommons as a means of thinking through the social and institutional changes within the academy that the full embrace of digital scholarly publishing will require.

If you’re in New York, I’d love to see you there.


MediaCommons, Open Review, and the New York Times

[Crossposted from MediaCommons.]

The open review experiment conducted by MediaCommons on behalf of Shakespeare Quarterly continues to make a splash. Previously covered by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the experiment has now led to a front page story in the New York Times looking broadly at the ways that peer review is being opened up through projects such as ours and the Center for History and New Media’s Hacking the Academy.

We’re ecstatic to have gotten this attention. Now we hope to follow through. If you have an account here, you can already create a scholarly profile, publish your own blog, and build a research network. We’re taking proposals for projects that our network members want to develop under our auspices, and we’re also looking for submissions for MediaCommons Press. Get involved with us here, and help us build the future of scholarly publishing.

MediaCommons, Shakespeare Quarterly, and Open Review

[Crossposted from MediaCommons.]

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education brings us a wonderful article from Jennifer Howard, exploring our recent experiment in open peer review, conducted on behalf of the eminent journal, Shakespeare Quarterly. This review process, which is at the heart of MediaCommons Press’s experiments in new modes of publishing for scholarship, has been so successful for SQ that, as the article notes, the journal’s editors plan to use it again for future special issues.

One interesting point in the article is the comparison between the Nature experiment with open review conducted in 2006 — an experiment declared by its editors to have been a “failure,” and used by many in scholarly publishing since then as evidence that open review can’t work — and the SQ review. Howard notes one participant’s sense the “the humanities’ subjective, conversational tendencies may make them well suited to open review — better suited, perhaps, than the sciences,” and yet, of course, the humanities have in general been very slow to such experimentation.

We at MediaCommons are extremely proud to be taking the lead in developing new models for transforming scholarly communication in the humanities, and we’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with a journal as important as Shakespeare Quarterly, modifying the open review process that we used (and advocated for) with my own Planned Obsolescence for the journal’s needs. Thanks to SQ‘s editors, and especially special issue editor Katherine Rowe, for making such a successful experiment possible.

We very much look forward to collaborating with scholars, journals, and presses on future such projects!

Fair Use

The Library of Congress has just this morning issued its statement of exemptions to the portions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that forbid the circumvention of DRM and other technological measures intended to prevent access to or copying of digital materials. These exemptions are issued every three years; last time out, the exemptions allowed film and media studies professors to crack the content scrambling system (a.k.a. CSS) on DVDs in order to rip short clips to make compilations for classroom use. This seemed at the time like an awfully restricted exemption — literally only film and media studies profs (no profs in other fields, and no students), literally only in order to create compilations of clips for use in the classroom (not for use in critical writing) — but it struck me then that the statement might be the thin end of the wedge.

And so it appears to have been. The exemption on the cracking of CSS now extends to all instructors and students [Correction: see Timothy Yenter’s comment below; the extension includes all instructors but only students in film and media studies courses], and the “educational uses” now include critical commentary and documentary production, as well as the exceptionally broad category of “non-commercial videos.” Whether this gets taken to mean that fan vids will be recognized as falling under the exemption remains to be seen, but the chances seem to me to be high.

This is already pretty amazing, and yet, as they say on late-night infomercials, “but wait! There’s more!” The LOC has also declared that programs that allow the jailbreaking of a cell phone in order to install “lawfully obtained” applications is legal, as is the following:

Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network.

If I’m reading that correctly, I think that unlocking a “used” phone has now just been made legal as well. The question of what constitutes “used” here is open, I think — is the iPhone I purchased new but have now had for a year “used”? — but I think the way has been paved for users to connect their handsets to their network of choice. Ars Technica correctly, I think, understands these two provisions as a direct kick in the teeth to Apple; it will be interesting to see how the company responds.

And, as if that weren’t enough, the LOC has also declared that circumventing DRM in order to activate the text-to-speech function of e-books for which the function has been disabled is now permitted, as is circumventing DRM in order to make e-books usable by “screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.” I’m not exactly sure what that last means — is it now legal for me to crack DRM on my Kindle app books in order to port them into iBooks? — but there seems to be at least a recognition that lawfully obtained digital texts should be readable in the purchaser’s choice of formats.

All of these provisions come with the caveat that where there are other means of accomplishing the same thing (getting video clips; getting e-books with the audio component enabled), consumers must take the route that does not require circumventing DRM, but where there is no other way, the position seems to be that those who have legally purchased texts and objects protected by DRM have the right to break those systems for purposes that would otherwise fall under the category of fair use.

These exemptions promise to have an extraordinary impact on the kinds of media scholarship that can be published over the next few years; projects like In Media Res, which has long led with its jaw on the fair-use front, now have a certain measure of legal protection working in their favor. But these exemptions will be up for review in three years, so media scholars, students, and practitioners who care about their ability to access and use the legally-obtained media texts with which they work need to make wise use of the time, demonstrating to the LOC what can be done with such free access. And we need to continue to lobby for further expansions in our rights to access the primary sources with which we work.

The New Everyday

I’ve just posted the following announcement at MediaCommons:

We are thrilled today to unveil The New Everyday, an experiment in “middle-state publishing” being undertaken here at MediaCommons as part of a two-year project undertaken by the New York Visual Culture Working Group, housed at NYU and funded by its Humanities Initiative. The project is launching with a cluster edited by Nicholas Mirzoeff considering the murder of Jorge Steven L??pez Mercado; the pieces that form this cluster are open for discussion, and are intended to be seen, both collectively and individually, as remaining somewhat “in process.” We hope that you’ll join the discussion within this cluster, and that you’ll consider curating a future cluster as well.

I’m extremely happy to see projects like The New Everyday moving forward, allowing MediaCommons to take on a more actively experimental role in thinking about the future of publishing in media studies. We’re of course on the lookout for more such projects, so join in!

Shakespeare Quarterly Open Review

Yet another month-long absence. At least this time I have a major project to show for it!

It’s perhaps a tiny bit ironic to be launching this particular new MediaCommons Press project on the Ides of March, but nonetheless: we at MediaCommons are thrilled to unveil the open review experiment being conducted here on behalf of Shakespeare Quarterly, in conjunction with the journal’s forthcoming special issue, “Shakespeare and New Media.” Special issue guest editor Katherine Rowe has brought together four fantastic articles plus three review essays, each considering the impact of media change on Shakespeare studies.

Please visit the site, read the articles, and leave your feedback for the authors. We very much look forward to your participation.