The Social Edition: Old and New Not Necessarily Something Blue

The social edition—combining social media, scholarly production and the “electronic form”–for example The Devonshire Manuscript—sits among the same chaos, uncertainty and ineffective censoring plaguing all of the world wide web.

Ray Siemens et al. in “Toward modeling the social edition: An approach to understanding the electronic scholarly edition in the context of new and emerging social media” (as well as in Pertinent Discussions Toward Modeling the Social Edition: Annotated Bibliographiesbring some strong, rational points to the pro-social edition debate.  Social editions provide tools that make,

  • text fluid,
  • collective,
  • include “many readers/editors” instead of “a single editor”,
  • and all together “broaden the editorial lens as well as the breadth, depth, and scope of any edition produced in this way.”

So what makes this different from the editorial process behind the publishing of a print edition?  Take The Devonshire Manuscript as an example.  The editors are forced to deal with the electronic form they have chosen–Wikibooks–and its limited list of tools for formatting and so on.  The editors must answer to what should stay and what should go in the transfer from print to web, especially since Wikibooks offers a variety of options not possible in print.  Lastly, with anyone who creates an account on Wikibooks able to edit The Devonshire Manuscript, “many readers/editors” becomes an understatement.  But, do all of these cons suggest the social edition to be more destructive than beneficial?  I don’t think so.  Anything that takes what has been said and done and says and does it in a new way has the possibility of uncovering important truths on how we read and edit, and what information is important.

I think the real issues behind the debates over the social edition are not visible among the strong and rational pros and cons, but rather around the fear of replacement, and losing control.

The Fear of Replacement

People are not ridiculous for very long.  Yes, books have been destroyed in the name of modernization (in the cases on early book digitization), but eventually sense was regained and the process was, for the most part, dropped.

It’s like vinyl records and compact discs.  Compact discs began taking over the market in the early 1990s and eventually largely replaced vinyl.  But vinyl is not gone altogether.  There are many artists who utilize vinyl and many shops who sell these records.  As long as a group of people find value in them they will not disappear.  The printed book will not disappear either.  Has digitization negatively affected the curation of knowledge?  Yes.  But this practice is very new and is bound to have many faults.  It is not as if the printing press is without its faults (more on this below).

What it all boils down to: Loss of Control

We all know the hero arc, the story of the genius, but are either points of view representative of the real story?  Neither genius or hero get very far without the help of others.  The author navigates the same world.  The authors role has not changed completely in digitization because they were never sole owners of that which they brought together.  The amount of support and guidance involved in publishing a printed novel is astounding.  With the social edition the work is more in the people’s hands than before.  As Siemens et. al. discuss, the editor is not an “ultimate authority” anymore–complete control over what happens to the work is gone and this can be incredibly intimidating.

But, dramatic changes in the fluidity of our knowledge may be exactly what we need.  Our cultures dedication to the written word has always meant slow change.  Dedication to the printed word resulted in canons.  Canons have only led to the marginalization of different genders/sexualities, races and classes.  The majority of attempts to move away from the canon have only resulted in “alternative” education, which has not sufficiently addressed the canon and often only suggests that the canon is the norm and all other view points are variations on the norm.

Losing complete control of authorship means that an entire social edition can be drastically edited–for the better or worse by anyone (for some electronic forms like Wikibooks and Wikisource).  As the co-founder of Vlogbrothers said, when discussing cupstacking, “What! Why would anyone spend time doing that?”  In this environment, publishing social editions can seem just as pointless.  Graciously, Mr. Green supplies us with an interesting and simple answer “value is placed upon…things by mutual agreement of a group of people”.

I’ve never understood the stock exchange.  Clamoring around, shifting imaginary numbers for something called an economy is just as mindboggling as sitting down with 16 people and deciding to edit and annotate a digital copy of the Tales of John Oliver Hobbes on Wikisource.

The value placed on the social edition is based on the mutual agreement of a group of people, this group just happens to be incredibly large.  And like in a Democratic country, bringing the power to the people often disappoints, but if the common person has access to an increasing amount of knowledge common knowledge can also increase.  Of course, the elitism of membership stands very much in the way and this is just one of the many issues that need to be addressed with the social edition–if one wants to make something truly social, should there not be the possibility of access to all that engage in society?

And so, there are many obstacles and many disadvantages to the social edition, but what isn’t fraught with holes?  The potential for the social edition is more intoxicating and should be the future/focus of the concept.

About nlikarev

Nikolina is new to digital publishing, in terms of working with publications like Wikisource and XML Editor, but is not new to blogging. She is excited to reflect on this courses material through the blog format and to test out the introductory blogging skills she was taught years ago.
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