13.0382 what's interesting about Web pages

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Tue Feb 08 2000 - 07:09:37 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 382.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: "Patrick T. Rourke" <ptrourke@mediaone.net> (115)
             Subject: What's interesting about Web pages?

       [2] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (72)
             Subject: Re: 13.0378 what's interesting about Web pages?

       [3] From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com> (27)
             Subject: Re: 13.0378 what's interesting about Web pages?

             Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2000 22:04:12 +0000
             From: "Patrick T. Rourke" <ptrourke@mediaone.net>
             Subject: What's interesting about Web pages?

    > This is the situation. Two people are given the task of assessing a
    > student's Web page, one of them a tutor in the subject area that the page
    > addresses, the other a tutor in humanities computing. My question is, what
    > criteria does the latter person employ? What from a humanities computing
    > perspective makes the page academically interesting -- or not?

    Dr. McCarty,

    The criteria for evaluation, to me, for at least continuous text-based
    resources* are obvious: the use of new technologies and the adherence to
    open standards (of readibility, of editability, &c.). I'll ignore the "use
    of new technologies" for the moment to simplify my argument (in part because
    it's difficult to manage new technologies and maintain such standards
    without very precise criteria), and ignore databases and non-text resources
    for the same reason.

    Perhaps an analogy to the making of books is in order. What makes a book a
    fine book, aside from the content, is the quality of the printing (the fonts
    and how well they are integrated, how well they represent differences in
    structure and semantic content, use of white space and general readability),
    of the use of illustration (are the illustrations properly processed so that
    one may discern the features of importance in the argument? Are the
    illustrations properly captioned and integrated with the text?) and similar
    design matters, of the paper, of the binding and cover, and of the use of
    the "book-model" (chapters, pagination, indexing, etc.) to organize

    For an electronic text (to use the simplest example, and one less likely to
    be affected by changes in standards), analogous features would include the
    following standards, which have the virtue of being more forward looking
    than time-bound (at least in the immediate future):

    Did the student use platform-independent markup standards? Platform
    dependence (and technology dependence) is as discussed in another thread the
    biggest headache for librarians. [That's why I think XML has a bright
    future - properly written, the markup code doesn't obscure the content and
    is itself human-readable and "transparent," without reference to a DTD or
    other external document (excepting entities, the one problem area).
    Transparent, human-readable markup would thus by my definition be part of
    "platform independence."]

    Is the student's markup sufficiently upgradeable (e.g., is it XML-valid)?

    Is the student's markup clear and easy to understand (so that future editors
    can more easily upgrade the markup)?

    Is the student's markup tagged in ways that will make linking to the
    document more robust (e.g., either direct linking to each section break, or
    some kind of tagging of sections with id attributes so that in the future
    they will be easily transformed to permit direct linking)?

    Is the student's use of typographic features (directly analogous to the book
    criteria above) clear, unambiguous, and non-distracting?

    What measures has the student taken to ensure the stability of the page and
    its currency (e.g., how easy is it to make changes to the page, are links to
    outside resources relative or absolute [prefer absolute]; are links to
    internal aspects of the associated site relative or absolute [prefer
    relative] - features that improve portability)?

    Has the student worked out a method of indicating revision numbers and dates
    that will be easy for readers to understand, and has the student provided
    for proper archiving of old versions and reference thereto so readers who
    have linked to a section that is no longer printed in the current version
    don't end up with broken links?

    Most importantly, what is the quality of citation in the document? Are the
    resources (whether primary or secondary sources) to which the student has
    linked of a high reliability and stability (e.g., as I've said in another
    forum, resources with URIs like
    http://www.someplace.ac.uk/~tutorsname/essay.html are unstable, as they are
    subject to renaming, and of only moderate reliability, as they do not
    suggest that they have been thoroughly reviewed)? Has the student properly
    integrated his (or her) citations with his argument?

    > There are ancillary questions too. How time-dependent are these criteria?
    > If, as I have observed, they are time-dependent, then let us project into
    > the future a few years and ask the same question with which I began. In
    > five years' time, say, will a Web page be -- from a humanities computing
    > perspective -- at all interesting? If so, where will the interest lie? Of
    > course there's the question of whether anyone will be writing Web pages
    > then, and what metalanguage they will be using, but for purposes of
    > discussion let's say that the Web is still current, and let us further
    > stipulate that HTML is the metalanguage and that it stays more or less the
    > same.

    > If we humanities computing people are creatures of the technological
    > frontier, then where is that frontier now? Unless I am badly mistaken (it
    > happens :-), one patch of the current frontier is in the deployment of
    > data within an argument or other discursive prose. (Envision, if you will,
    > reading someone's argument in which he or she, rather than give a footnote
    > or a quotation, supplies a link to an online database. Envision further
    > just the thrill of getting to look at his or her stuff but also the
    > problems that may arise in relating what the author says, if in the welter
    > of interesting data you can remember, to the data you see.) What's the
    > rhetoric of the situation? How do we train our students to conduct an
    > argument using live data? (Yes, I know, there's the problem of having to
    > train our students to conduct an argument FULL STOP. Where do we turn for
    > wisdom on that subject?)

    I think that simple, unlinked footnotes will eventually become unacceptable
    in electronic publication. A hypercitation, or linked footnote (leaving
    aside how those are manifested on the page, whether with a footnote number
    linked to a traditional footnote linked to the resource, or a direct link to
    a resource, which is preferable), if it is direct enough (and contextualized
    enough) a link to the argument cited actualizes the citing argument's
    reliance upon the cited, and makes it far easier for the reader to compare
    what the citing author says about her resource with what the reader
    perceives about that resource. A footnote to a journal no one can find
    isn't terribly useful; eventually, "footnotes" to print-only resources will
    be of far less utility than hypercitations to online resources for the same
    reason - ease of reference. [Sorry for the bad prose; it's early here.]

    > It seems one little question has turned into several. Discussion on all of
    > them would be quite helpful, among other things to clarify our
    > to the training of students. Many of mine these days want to grow up to
    > write Web pages, which among other things means identifying the
    > intellectually stimulating aspects of the technology.
    > Comments?
    > Yours,
    > WM

    I hope this is an appropriate start to such discussion.

    Patrick Rourke (ptrourke@mediaone.net)
    Webmaster, Physical Sciences Inc.
    Evening Instructor, Nashoba Valley Tech HS

             Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2000 22:04:45 +0000
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Re: 13.0378 what's interesting about Web pages?


    Is growing up wanting to write Web pages any different from growing up
    wanting to write and to be read, wanting to compose and be heard, wanting
    to drawn and to show? Are there two desires here? One to create. The other
    to receive feedback. Now the BIG question: can we as pedagoges inculcate a
    desire to create feedback, i.e. foster active critique?

    This, of course, returns to the question you raise about how to judge
    (it does abstract if from the context of a tutor evaluating or
    assessing a student's work).

    Some people approach this task by applying search and discover criteria.
    This page is good. I can find what I want quickly and with ease. This page
    is not so good. It could be organized otherwise. Material may be missing,
    may not be presented in a helpful order, the display may be distracting,
    etc. etc. etc.

    An other way to approach this task is to consider the document (argument +
    data) as a set of action items. The reader/viewer is the subject of an
    interpellation (click here). Even a document which reads like an
    encyclopedia-like entry participates in this rhetoric. Do this, then this,
    then that, is implied by a discursive invitation to accept this
    statement as a fact or to ponder the possibility of a given situtation.

    Approached in this transactional fashion, the act of reading/viewing
    becomes a matter of granting or withholding assent. In terms of judgement,
    it becomes possible to ask if the creator and shaper of the material takes
    into account the sceptical receipients.

    The true sceptic is curious.

    A list of instructions for curious folk, as I have experienced with
    cookbooks and XML manuals and not often with WWW pages, should demonstrate
    an appreciation of alternatives. If a choice is given is the contrary
    explored? Are users informed of the consquences of not performing an
    instruction as specified? One is reminded of Alice B. Toklas, as reported
    by Poppy Cannon, stating that "stir" and "beat" in the creation of cakes
    are not the same action. One would wish that writers and copy editors of
    books on XML would be so careful in refering to "nodes" and "elements".
    But that is an aside and a woeful moan about the need to recognized
    the intensely collaborative care required to produce good material.

    In emphasing the transactional nature of the encounter with cognitive
    artefacts, there is the danger of the formulaic rendering of an
    application of practical reasoning. There is without doubt here a strong
    hint of the bureaucratic mind. Option one, Option Two, Option Three....
    Recommendation. The transactional emphasis does capture well the temporal
    nature of the encouter. It applies equally to a genetic or archeological
    understanding as to how the artefact came to be created as to a
    telelogical or rhetorical understanding of the actions the artefact

    The parsing of arugments and the evaluations of invitations gets
    complicated quite quickly even with the simplest of documents with or
    without hyperlinks.

    [to click] or [not to click] :: (if, then) | (if, then)

    On the side of the creator there are the factors that influence the
    insertion (or not) of links. On the side of the reader/viewer, the factors
    influence the persual (or not) of a link, the postponed persual and the
    order of persuing links. Not very different from the old questions
    regarding the proper use of footnotes: how many, how often, in what order.
    What goes for the inclusion (or not) of footnotes/links also goes for
    images, lists, paragraphs, sentences, words, colours, fonts, numbering.
    The trick, as text encoders, know is to distiguish between the accidental
    and the essential properites. *smile and pause*

    Book-knowledge in my experience never stood alone. Never did and never
    does. It requires supplementation either with other books, time in the lab
    or the kitchen, or concourse with other readers and researchers. Is
    Web-lore any different? A Web-site which otherwise is not grand can
    provide a valuable piece of bibliographic information, can provide the
    lingo necessary for further searches, can provide links to discussion
    lists, or even a good textbook example of poor design.

    So search and discover criteria are not so far away from transactional
    criteria, after all. There is a sociality to be savoured. Can we say that
    the well-constructed argument tastes good? Or, if it tastes bad, at least
    it is good for you?

    Francois Lachance
    Post-doctoral Fellow
    projet HYPERLISTES project

    --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2000 22:07:21 +0000 From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com> Subject: Re: 13.0378 what's interesting about Web pages?

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    ----------------------- Message requiring your approval ----------------------MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com> Subject: Re: 13.0378 what's interesting about Web pages?

    In some way, Willard, the situation is not so different from that in the old PLATO days. You had teachers (of varying degrees of ability in presenting their materials), programmers (who often wanted bells and whistles but had no interest in content or method at all), 'distance learning' "experts" who only wanted to ride a wave or be in a fad....in other words, there was no way to tell what any given PLATO lesson would be like. It seems to be about t he same with educational WEB sites -- in other words, the human race has not improved any since the 1970's.

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