January 22, 2008

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 3:02 am

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Expressive Processing is the name of my forthcoming book about digital fictions and computer games, scheduled for publication next year by the MIT Press. Now is the time, in traditional academic publishing, when the press sends the manuscript out for peer review — anonymous commentary by a few scholars that guides the final revisions (and decisions). As Jeff Young reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education today, we've decided to do something a little different with Expressive Processing: asking the Grand Text Auto community to participate in an open, blog-based peer review.

Blogging has already changed how I work as a scholar and creator of digital media. Reading blogs started out as a way to keep up with the field between conferences — and I soon realized that blogs also contain raw research, early results, and other useful information that never gets presented at conferences. But, of course, that's just the beginning. We founded Grand Text Auto, in 2003, for an even more important reason: blogs can create community. And the communities around blogs can be much more open and welcoming than those at conferences and festivals, drawing in people from industry, universities, the arts, and the general public. Interdisciplinary conversations happen on blogs that are more diverse and sustained than any I've seen in person.

Given that ours is a field in which major expertise is located outside the academy (like many other fields, from 1950s cinema to Civil War history) the Grand Text Auto community has been invaluable for my work. In fact, while writing the manuscript for Expressive Processing I found myself regularly citing blog posts and comments, both from Grand Text Auto and elsewhere. Now I'm excited to take the blog/manuscript relationship to the next level, through an open peer review of the manuscript on the blog.

This project started when Doug Sery, my editor at the MIT Press, brought up the question of who would peer review the Expressive Processing manuscript. I immediately realized that the peer review I most wanted was from the community around Grand Text Auto. I said this to Doug, who is a GTxA reader, and he was enthusiastic. Next I contacted Ben Vershbow at the Institute for the Future of the Book to see if we could adapt their CommentPress tool for use in an ongoing blog conversation. Ben not only agreed, but also became a partner in conceptualizing, planning, and producing the project. With the ball rolling, I asked the Committee on Research of UC San Diego's Academic Senate for some support (which they generously provided) and approached Jeremy Douglass, of our newly-formed Software Studies initiative, who also became a core collaborator — especially (and appropriately) for the software-related aspects.

As for the book itself, Expressive Processing engages projects from the history of story, character, and play in digital media — from artificial intelligence research to mainstream computer games. It introduces a framework for understanding digital media, which serves as the basis for interpretations of the processes that drive these works, not just the surface outputs seen by audience members. This approach produces a series of lessons for creators and critics of digital media — as well as broader lessons about the software systems that we must increasingly engage in order to understand our evolving society.

Obviously, those are some ambitious aims, and I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions over the coming weeks. In particular, at the most basic level, please let me know if I get anything wrong. The project is very interdisciplinary and I know some of you are experts in areas where I'm still learning. More generally, please let me know what you think of the arguments. Are there further points calling out to be made? Are there elements that should be clarified or removed? Are there other projects or writings that I should be sure to engage — either for this book or my future thinking? Also, I hope GTxA people will feel free to offer thoughts that aren't specific suggestions for me. If Expressive Processing gets you thinking about something new, I'd be glad to hear about it!


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Finally, I'm interested to know what people think of the blog-based peer review process itself. While the future posts in GTxA's "expressive-processing" category will be the best place to discuss the specifics of the book, this page seems like a good place to begin meta-discussion. Do you think you'll participate? What kind of feedback would you like to offer? Feel free to share thoughts here or just start by commenting on the manuscript. The Expressive Processing project launches today — and will continue each weekday for about ten weeks. I'm looking forward to it.

Total comments on this page: 46

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[…] of Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s peer-review experiment: Noah’s publishing his book manuscript, Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, in a modified version of CommentPress on the Grand Text Auto blog, at the same time his editor, […]

January 22, 2008 4:47 am

[…] of Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s peer-review experiment: Noah’s publishing his book manuscript, Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, in a modified version of CommentPress on the Grand Text Auto blog, at the same time his editor, […]

January 22, 2008 4:53 am

[…] if:book has a very interesting post on a relatively new blog with a very new idea,  blog reviewing before publication of a new text on digital media. the post can be found here and outlines the program along with comparing it to other blogs with similar goals. This could prove to be a very exciting project which could take us one step closer to finding a path for publishers in this digital age. The blog itself, Grand Text Auto can be found here. […]

January 22, 2008 10:27 am
Adam Chapman on whole page :

I think opening the peer review up to the GTA community is a wonderful and generous move. Like many great ideas, now that you’ve done it, it seems like such a natural step. I’m excited to see what happens.

January 22, 2008 10:34 am
noah :

Adam, thanks, I appreciate it!

The move is largely inspired by how much I’ve already learned by being part of the GTxA community. I’m glad it all worked out to take this next step, and I hope our experimentation (and tool development) here will pave the way for future work in this area.

January 22, 2008 9:22 pm

[…] Press has authorized what is probably one of the first blog-based peer reviews for a forthcoming book by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, digital media writer, artist, and professor of […]

January 22, 2008 2:01 pm

[…] Noah Wardrip-Fruin] An exciting new experiment begins today, one which ties together many of the threads begun in our earlier “networked book” […]

January 22, 2008 3:32 pm

[…] Review a Gaming Text Via Blog; Read a Classic for Free Noah Waldrip-Fruin is embarking upon a grand experiment this week by having his latest book peer-reviewed via blog. Waldrip-Fruin, over at UC San Diego, is […]

January 22, 2008 10:12 pm

[…] Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s introduction to the experiment – The Institute for the Future of the Book’s introduction – Coverage in The Chronicle of […]

January 23, 2008 12:15 am
Greg J. Smith on whole page :

That does really say something about the readership of a blog when you can tap into them as “collective experts.” Viva (quality) crowdsourced content!

I’m really eager to see what comes from this, the move is a step towards bringing down some of the walls between the academy and the rest of the world. Good work Noah!

January 23, 2008 7:52 am
noah :

Thanks Greg! Yes, it definitely says something about the people who read and write here. The years of positive experiences with this group inspired the project.

January 23, 2008 8:55 pm
Ian Bogost on whole page :

Noah, is it possible to move the trackbacks in the comments on these posts to another section? They are muddying up the waters by being combined with the comments, in this case.

January 23, 2008 8:49 am
noah :

Ian, good question. At first I’d looked at it as a feature — bringing in the other main method by which people comment on blogs. But now I think you’re right. I’ll see if we can adjust the CommentPress code (perhaps this coming weekend) so that Trackbacks are a separate category from full-page comments, but still visible in the CP environment.

January 23, 2008 2:18 pm
Malcolm Ryan on whole page :

What’s with this strange floating comment box? Is there any way for me to go back to the old way of reading comments?

January 23, 2008 4:32 pm
noah :

Malcolm, the good news is that all the other posts on GTxA are still (and will continue to be) the way you prefer. But this box allows paragraph-level commenting on the Expressive Processing posts, which I think may be quite valuable, so it’s here to stay for this part of the blog activity.

January 23, 2008 8:53 pm
mark :

This is a quite belated comment, but the online peer review of Real World Haskell (example chapter) has what I think might be a more readable solution. There’s an AJAXy comment area below every paragraph that starts collapsed by default, and can be expanded to view the comments on that paragraph. An added benefit of that style is that the main text is now a normal width instead of in a narrow column to the left.

May 2, 2008 9:48 pm

[…] Grand Text Auto » Expressive Processing: An Experiment in Blog-Based Peer Review Very cool ground breaking experiment and an excellent example of the Institute of the Future of the Book’s WordPress plugin CommentPress. (tags: blog scholarship) […]

January 23, 2008 7:39 pm

[…] assistant professor in communication at UC-San Diego, and the blog in question is Grand Text Auto. Here’s a link to the blog post where Wardrip-Fruin kicks things off. And there are some other links in the article to sites like if:book. Actually, the Future of the […]

January 24, 2008 8:48 am
doug sery on whole page :

as the acquiring editor for noah’s book (and a long-time admirer of his work), i found noah’s suggestion that we put the first draft of his manuscript on-line for public comment at the same time i sent it out for peer-review an excellent idea and one that i was quite happy to participate in. in my mind, this has always been an experiment in new forums of communication, not a competition, so i’m amused (but, at the same time, disappointed) that the “blogosphere” already seems to be focusing on a perceived tension based solely, i believe, on the title of the chronicle of higher education article. nonetheless, i am very interested in seeing how this crowd-sourcing will affect noah’s manuscript. my primary concern has always been to make sure that The MIT Press publishes the best books possible and if this process will help Noah achieve that goal then i will deem it a success.

January 24, 2008 5:31 pm
noah :

Yes, while it’s amusing to characterize this as a “death match” between the current academic publishing processes and some new possibilities, and it will be interesting to compare the results of the two, the fact is that I think both will help make this a better book. Doug, Ben, Jeremy, and I are all enthusiastic about the experiment and interested to see what we learn. There’s no hostility here.

January 26, 2008 11:00 am

[…] who is a professor at UC San Diego, is asking readers to do an open review at the paragraph level using CommentPress. It’ll give you a chance not only to get a read on what looks to be ain […]

January 25, 2008 3:21 am
Dega Lancaster on paragraph 1:

I think it is really neat that you are opening your book to blog-based review. My students comment on my blog posts as well as each other comments. The idea of being able to comment by paragraph is super cool!

January 25, 2008 2:14 pm
noah :

Thanks Dega. I hope we see many more experiments in this area.

January 26, 2008 10:55 am
Dega Lancaster on paragraph 8:

I would love to participate. As our world becomes more digital, it is essential for our classrooms to be digital. Meaning, teachers must increase their digital knowledge and your book sounds like a great place to begin.

January 25, 2008 2:17 pm
Sean Barrett on whole page :

Once upon a time, this blog had posts signed by their authors at the _bottom_ of the post. I griped about this, as I always do when I come across it, because 99 times out of 100 the first paragraph uses a first-person pronoun of totally unclear referent. Author’s names belong at the top.

In a later revamp of the site layout, the author’s name was placed at the top.

In this current revamped layout, the author of this blog post is listed neither at the top NOR at the bottom (in Firefox, at least). I can’t tell at all from the blog whose book is forthcoming, except by clicking through to the Chronicle of HE article and reading it there. (Well, ok, it was also visible in the trackbacks.)

January 25, 2008 9:21 pm
Sean Barrett on whole page :

Er, I should clarify: that’s on this page alone, e.g. coming through from an RSS feed. The summary front page obviously still has the author names on it.

January 25, 2008 9:22 pm
noah :

Sean, you’re absolutely right. I’ll add that to the list of things we should change, as we adapt CommentPress for use in an ongoing blog.

January 26, 2008 10:43 am

[…] Text Auto, a group blog about computer narrative, games, poetry and art, has recently launched an interesting blogging experiment that may take blogging and publishing to the next level. Noah Wardrip-Fruin is putting the […]

January 28, 2008 11:59 am

[…] Grand Text Auto » Expressive Processing: An Experiment in Blog-Based Peer Review – Noah Wadrip-Fruin’s new book, Expressive Processing, is now available for peer review on Grand Text Auto. This is very exciting, and I am eager to read and participate. Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

January 31, 2008 3:55 pm
Christian McCrea on paragraph 7:

Just found out about this process today, looks like a good way to extend the public peer review model. How do you see the process improving/learning from McKenzie Wark’s public review approach?

February 3, 2008 5:33 pm
noah :

Good question. I was drawn into the digital media field, in part, by the ideas of Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbart. Part of what impressed me about the Gamer Theory project was how it made good on one of Engelbart’s key ideas — networked groups being able to respond to each other’s writings in a fine-grained manner (addressable paragraphs, sections, etc).

As I say in this page’s post, when my editor at MIT Press asked who I thought would be good to have peer review my manuscript, I realized I wanted the blog community discussing digital media, and especially the group around Grand Text Auto. I also wanted them to have the addressability provided by CommentPress, and that’s one of the close connections with Gamer Theory.

A couple differences from the Gamer Theory project have come up in many of my conversations. One is that this is being done in collaboration with an academic press. Among other things, this means the project is taking place in parallel with a traditional, blind, small-group academic peer review. I think it will be quite interesting to compare the two forms of response. Second, this project is being done in collaboration with existing online communities, which predate the project and will continue afterward. In particular, it is taking place at this blog, and taking a blog-like form (new material posted regularly, comments and trackbacks, etc). Given how much I’ve already gained from being part of blogging communities, I very much wanted to do the review this way.

February 4, 2008 8:08 am

[…] Noah Wardrip-Fruin over at Grant Text Auto, is experimenting with blog-based, serialized, community peer review. Noah’s book, Expressive Processing (one of a increasingly large number of texts laying claim […]

February 27, 2008 6:38 pm

[…] for Health, Knowledge, Fame: Grand Text Auto has a really interesting experiment going in blog-based peer review. Graphic Engine offers some […]

March 5, 2008 9:45 am

[…] a Noah Wardrip-Fruin,  al blog Grand Text Auto  en el que  se aloja y a su futuro libro Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, para lo cual el autor ha contado con la […]

April 10, 2008 12:28 am

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April 24, 2008 3:56 am
Matt Barton on paragraph 1:

Hi, Noah. This is indeed an exciting and forward-thinking project. I had originally wanted to do something like this for my dissertation project, but lacked the technological means to make it happen.

I have the students in my Writing for the Web course looking at the project now, so maybe it will inspire some of them to follow your precedent with their own research.

Good luck!

April 24, 2008 7:53 am
noah :

Thanks – and glad to have you here commenting! I have a copy of your Dungeons & Desktops that I’ve been meaning to blog about since GDC.

My manuscript for Expressive Processing has to go to the press pretty soon, but I’m hoping you’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on my “Computer Game Fictions” chapter before then. And then I’ll finally get back to meaningful blogging on other topics :-)

April 25, 2008 2:19 pm

[…] CommentPress is blogware developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book. Currently it is available as a WordPress Theme. WRT’s Jeremy Douglass was instrumental in adapting the software for use in the experimental (and successful) blog-based peer review of Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s manuscript Expressive Processing, forth coming from MIT Press. […]

April 28, 2008 10:55 am

[…] course, other examples of what might be called the third or tertiary orality (e.g., expressive processing) suggest another mode of interaction, which attends more to feedback than…hmmm…I want […]

April 29, 2008 6:32 pm

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May 23, 2008 10:03 am

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June 5, 2008 2:25 pm

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January 27, 2009 10:35 pm

[…] Four Surprises by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · May 12, 2009, 3:20 pm 1Last year we undertook an experiment here: simultaneously sending the manuscript for Expressive Processing out for traditional, […]

May 12, 2009 3:49 pm

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