The Blob

The peer review chapter that I’ve mentioned a few times of late is a key element of the big project I’ve been working on since January (or more accurately, given the last couple of months, gearing up to work like crazy on this summer). I’ve said several times that I want to start blogging some pieces of the project, both to get some of the ideas into preliminary circulation and to get some early feedback. I’ve held off on doing so, though, partially out of an ongoing nervousness about putting unfinished material out into the world — a deep irony, I recognize, given that I’ve been at this blogging thing for nearly six years now, not to mention all the talk I’ve done at MediaCommons about shifting the center of gravity in scholarly publishing at least slightly away from finished products and toward process.

Another part of my hesitation, however, has to do with my ongoing uncertainty about the mode of production of the project itself. On the one hand, I have some strategic reasons for wanting the project to have a print existence, not least among them that the argument I’m making could otherwise very easily fall into the trap of preaching to the choir; the argument, about the institutional change that will be required in order for the academy to move into the digital publishing future, has to reach those most resistant to that change, and they’re unlikely to read it online. On the other hand, I want the text to have a primary existence online, to put its metaphoric money where its mouth is, to show what that digital future might look like.

But there’s the $64,000 question: what might it look like? I don’t want the digital version to simply replicate the printed page online: no paper under glass! The text needs to be networked and commentable, but beyond that, I’m not yet clear what I want it to look like or how I want to release it. For instance, I could, as Siva is doing, blog bits and pieces of the research and the ideas as they come together, while working on a separately produced linear text, or I could, as Noah did, release the text in chunks for comment and discussion after it’s fully drafted. Or, I imagine, I could do something inbetween, something more akin to drafting online.

I’m going to post the project proposal in the next few days, I think, so that I can start talking about the argument and its structure. For now, though I’d really like to hear some opinions about the structural possibilities for a project like this in general, as distinct from the structure of this particular project. Some of how this goes will likely be determined by the press with which I hope to be working, but I think I’ll have a pretty significant role in shaping the process, so I’d love have some discussion here about the kinds of things I should be thinking about as I move forward.

It’s the amorphousness of all this that has me unable to refer to the project as anything other than a “project” to this point: it’s not a book, or at least not only a book, but I don’t really have another word for it as yet. As Bob Stein recently told me, it’s a blob — a book-like object. And at the moment, it certainly feels all-consuming enough to qualify, even if it isn’t made out of strawberry jam.

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