And So Our Social Experiment Begins: The Difficulties of Editing Socially

This week we have started our adventures in social editing with the first series of blog posts and an introduction to Wikisource. For those readers who might be confused about what exactly we, as a class of graduate students, are trying to do, let me offer a simplified explanation:

-As a group we are using Wikisource to create a digital edition of The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.

-Using a digital scan of the book each of us will be responsible for proofreading a portion of the book and will then be required to validate the proofreading of our peers.

-After the initial editing stages are complete, we will begin to use the digital edition of John Oliver Hobbes’ text to create an annotated digital edition of the book, which can subsequently be used by the public as a research source available for free online.

Seems fairly straightforward, right? Well, here’s where the problems come in – we are not the only ones who have access to the draft version or the scanned images of the original text, which means that other members of Wikisource could take part in the project without our permission and can erase any edits we’ve done. In the worst case scenario, all of our work could be wiped away by the administrators of Wikisource if we disobey their guidelines on formatting, and more importantly, if we don’t restrain ourselves from including a bias in our annotated version of the text (this is something Steven talks about in his post).

This possibility leaves me with an overwhelming fear of impermanence. Our society has instilled in us the notion that individuals must strive to leave their mark on the world in however brief a period of time they occupy it. Everyone wants to leave a legacy but in a digital age this is increasingly becoming less possible than ever before. Our world revolves around the ever-changing, innovative, and ephemeral digital world where nothing is inherently permanent and thus an individual’s mark on the current world can be erased by a future “editor”.

This is a huge difficulty to face when attempting a social edition of a scholarly work. With print editions of scholarly texts there is a certain permanence attached to the material copy of work – it has a binding (and so it is physically protected) but it also has a copyright that prevents others from claiming it as their own or altering it. Whereas with a social edition, as Emily mentions, it is important to let go of the idea of ownership in a project that cannot even claim entire completion. Siemens, et. al. refers to the scholarly social edition as “a process rather than a product” (16); in the digital ideal of open contribution to a text (as Wikisource and other similar websites foster), the text can always be edited and is never complete. This is something I anticipate myself having difficulties coming to terms with but also hope to eventually overcome.

So read our posts, and watch the experiment unfold by hearing our stories, anxieties, and complaints. And feel free to examine our progress by looking at the Wikisource document itself (see the links)!

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One Response to And So Our Social Experiment Begins: The Difficulties of Editing Socially

  1. jason.boyd says:

    It has been argued that, due to increasing storage capacity, the real problem is that everything created online is permanent, or at least persistent.

    I think the characterization of Wikisource administrators is somewhat extreme. It is unlikely that a text would be summarily deleted — Wikisource has a deletion policy and process, and part of the bargain of using Wikisource is that you operate within the guidelines that have been established by the community, and have the opportunity to modify them through discussion.

    I think it speaks to your anxieties that you speak of “erasure” of work done rather than of “improvement”. Even erasures, if done with the right intent, are done to improve the work, not destroy or vandalize it. Of course, this might lead to a discussion about what constitutes improvement, but dialogue of this sort is the essence of platforms like Wikisource.

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