August 3, 2005

Plans for Keeping E-Lit Working: Born-Again Bits

by Nick Montfort · , 4:08 pm

Alan Liu has finished many months of work on a report that will help to keep electronic literature working for readers, scholars, students, and authors in the future. The result is Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature, which outlines two main approaches to keeping e-lit functioning over the years, across changes in platform. While the responsibility of putting it all together fell to Alan, the report is an outcome of the Electronic Literature Organization‘s PAD (Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination) project and is co-authored by David Durand, Nick Montfort, Merrilee Proffitt, Liam R. E. Quin, Jean-Hugues Réty, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. There’s an announcement on the ELO site; of course, please check out Born-Again Bits itself, and feel free to comment here about it.

8 Responses to “Plans for Keeping E-Lit Working: Born-Again Bits


  1. miscellany is the largest category Says:

    Born-Again Bits

    In the attempt to “keep e-lit alive,” Alan Liu and other members of the ELO’s Preservation, Archiving, and Dissemination (PAD) initiative have released Born-Again Bits: A Framework for Migrating Electronic Literature. Happy reading! [via GTA]…

  2. Mark Bernstein Says:

    Alan Liu and a bunch of co-authors are thinking about preserving electronic literature. They write, strangely, that

    “Many early electronic literature works were written in Storyspace for Mac and will not run on Windows.”

    Of course, everyone knows that Storyspace for Windows has been available for a decade.

  3. nick Says:

    I doubt everyone knows it, Mark, although several of us at Grand Text Auto do know about Storyspace for Windows.

    Do you mean to say that it’s possible to read early Mac Storyspace files (e.g., the first version of Afternoon) on Windows computers, seeing all the same behaviors? I wasn’t aware that the Windows and Mac versions used the same file format and had all the same features. On Storyspace.net, I read: Storyspace is available for Macintosh and for Windows. Each version is written separately, and adapted to the special capacities of each platform.

  4. David G. Durand Says:

    As someone named as a co-author of the report, I should have noticed at some point that that sentence was there, because it’s incorrect, and I (at least) know that.

    We are working on a correction to this unintentional error, and I hope that it will be available very soon. I particularly regret this avoidable error because past errors made with respect to Storyspace should have singled this for special attention.

    Like a lot of software people, I think Mark is more interested in features than data structures, and so when he talks about customization, he’s referring to interface consistency and integration with the platform, not changes in the data structures.

    As I was reminded in recent conversation with Mark about this error, it is also possible to use Tinderbox to convert storyspace to XML (perhaps with some loss of information). The new version of Storyspace is reported to support a native XML file format.

    This means that separating out the red-herring (for most purposes) of bit-identical display, there are already good options for extracting old storyspace data fro preservation or re-implementation. For exact replication of the original, software emulators and hardware preservation are the only long-term guarantee, as re-implementations may have subtle bugs which negate the point of trying to replicate every detail of the original.

  5. nick Says:

    Thanks for the reply, David. This is great news.

    But I’m having some trouble. I tried opening “VG.SSP”, the Victory Garden Storyspace file that was expanded under Windows from my Windows disk, in the Mac Storyspace 2.0 reader. It says “The file ‘VG.SSP’ could not be converted. A translator could not be found for this document.” Is there something else I should be doing?

  6. nick Says:

    One thing that’s worth pointing out again, relevant to the discussion of enterpretation/emulation in Born-Again Bits and to main example there, HyperCard, is the HyperCard bibliography here on Grand Text Auto. As this bibliography grows – it no doubt take some more substantial effort from me at some point for it to grow much further – this should give us a better idea of the range of work a HyperCard interpreter should support, and should help make the case for why such an interpreter will be useful.

  7. andrew Says:

    Related to this discussion, there’s a new article in the Culture Clash column about the upcoming video game revival project called Game Tap.

  8. mark Says:

    I don’t have a good link handy, but it might be worth noting that the issues faced here overlap extensively with the discussion in the computer-music community about preserving electronic and interactive pieces. I’m not aware of any real consensus, but at the last International Computer Music Conference a lot of people seemed confident that stuff written in PD (an open-source tool originally basically cloning the commercial Max/MSP) would be usable essentially indefinitely, because it’s a completely open standard and open codebase, so can always be ported to any future platforms.

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