The following I throw open to everybody to contribute to and talk around. I lack the coding skills to create this myself and I lack the experience in the field to 1) know if it already exists or 2) if I am alone in even thinking this might be a good idea. It is what it is – a moment of possible inspiration that struck (very) late at night after a (very) odd week.
And now time for something a little bit different. My “research” in the field of Archaeology/computing/mulitmedia has taken something of a back seat to life lately. If I’m being one hundred percent honest with y’all, I haven’t so much as looked at a proper academic text or a field report in about a year. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped thinking about things. Bit and pieces have been ticking away in my back-brain and, every now and again, I have to jot something down before I forget it. That’s what follows here. It’s not a concise piece, or very coherent. In fact, it’s more a collection of notes: but I hope you enjoy and it makes you think as well –
Take as our start a complex hypertext document – Holtorf’s infamous piece will do very well here. Hyperlinks are used extensively throughout the thesis to present information in a new way and to forge links between pieces of information and ideas. You, the reader, follow these links through the material, and create your own ‘reading’ of the document. My ‘reading’ will not be the same as your ‘reading’, as we will have chosen to follow different links at different times, taking different paths through the document. Holtorf’s argument is that the sum is greater than its constituent parts. By working your way through the document in your own time and way you make something new and better. He also mentions, though does not really utilise, the fact that hyperlinks can go outside the original material to other extant sources.
All well and good.
However, you the reader can only travel down paths that Holtorf the author has already mapped out for you. You are only able to make a connection between two points, pieces of information, or ideas if he has previously forged that link by hardcoding the link into the document structure.
What if I, Cas, feel that a particular occurrence of the word “neolithic” should link to a different definition of the term than the one Holtorf has used? My own reading, and hence my own version of the document, are severely limited.
With a wiki you are given the choice to make your own edits to the basic source text and to forge your own links between things. I don’t like the definition of neolithic that has been chosen, I can change the link to a different source. Among other things. I can add pages, delete content, change things. The document truly becomes MY document.
However, the original Holtorf vision is lost. What the new user sees is the Cas-Holtorf vision. Previous versions can be looked at, by using the underlying wiki database which saves ‘histories’ of pages, but in looking at them, you loose the Cas aspect.
And what if a third user comes along after Cas and edits yet again? You have spent time editing the wiki and made it your personal reading, yet when you come back, destinations have been changed, links have been added or removed that mean nothing to you, and suddenly it is a completely different document AGAIN.
This is what happens in a wiki – the ideal is the ‘community’ or consensus view. In reality, you tend to get what is the view of the most vocal authors and the most persistent members of the community. These may, or may not, be representative but there comes a point when any but the most ardent editor will give up rolling back edits or making new edits. They will just give in and say “ok, let this person have the final say”. And the reading of the document becomes fixed yet again into that final editors version.
Now I do not say that this is wrong. A community view could be argued to give them broadest view, the view that is least radical and, as such, maybe most correct?
But is there anyway that a wiki can be all things to everyone?
Would it be possible to have a system where the links YOU make are related to you personally – already it is possible to see who has edited what. But is it possible to make your view of the document can be separated from everyone elses. When I sign into the wiki-version of Holtorf’s work, I view the base-work with MY edits and MY links. MY reading.
I can then, if I will, turn to the ‘community’ view of the document. The amalgam of all the edits and links (though I imagine that this would/could become insanity if strict version controlling was not kept in place). It would theoretically also be possible to view the individual collections of edits/links relating to individual people. As overlays? that can turn on/off?
You want to see Johns path through a document, click on Johns view…
Want to see your own, click on your own…
Want to see what the community has decided on, click on the community view…
As I said at the start I am not sure if there is a use for this sort of methodology. I am not sure if there are tools out there which allow you to do this already. But the idea of what it could be excites me. Does it excite you?