Blog-to-Book Tools: TnP? Preservation? Portability?

[pullshow] Posted a “test-drive” yesterday of the new Anthologize tool developed, conceptualized, built, hyped (positive connotations-only, please), and released by the “One Week | One Tool” institute funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s a very good tool. Still evolving. With bugs. With hope. Structured to grow. For what it’s worth, I’m impressed.

So is that all there is to say about it? Nope. [pullthis]There are three reasons I’m paying attention to this tool. I’m a blogger. I’m a humanities scholar. I care about the future of the book.[/pullthis]

As a blogger, this is a great tool. The more tools we have at our disposal, the better. I can’t wait for people to start using Anthologize for all sorts of things it wasn’t intended for. I’ve already fielded questions about this “sort” of technology at the Louisville Conference on Lit this past February. I was giving a paper on Barthes, Blogging, and Authorship. The  most interesting question: Am I going to turn [my] blog into a book eventually? (I don’t want to mis-represent the context of the question. He was asking because he wanted to turn his own blog into a book, not because he wanted to read mine as a book.) I told him that I thought that would be a nice tool, but I didn’t really see the use or necessity. But that was because I hadn’t really thought about it. But I have since. Why would I want to make a book out of my blog?

My first thought was about tenure and promotion proceedings. But I quickly realized that it’s not about print (in TnP discussions); it’s about the peer-review, circulation, and citation. A blog-to-book tool didn’t really address that situation. That’s okay; I’ve never thought about the blog as relevant to TnP proceedings.

I also considered the idea of preservation. Paper never goes obsolete, right? Simple answer: Pretty much. But that doesn’t mean that paper is always the best strategy for preservation. The advent of open formats and hardware/software simulation strategies is making digital preservation less problematic all the time. (see Matthew Kirschenbaum’s work for an incredibly smart discussion of some of these conversations.) But that’s not to say that digital preservation is still unproblematic. It is. It’s fluid, though, and getting better.

And then are questions about portability. One reason the form of the codex became ubiquitous is because it’s incredibly portable. Think about stacks of books in boxes. Thing about trying to transport the same documents loose-leaf, or as scrolls, or (heaven forbid) heavy tablets of various materials. No way. The book is an amazingly powerful, efficient, and durable technology. But wireless technologies are beginning to signal a change undermining the “portability” ground over which books have reigned for so long. (Books are still a much better portable technology in a ton of ways; I’m just suggesting that it’s clear how wireless technologies will eventually claim this facet of functionality.)

My apologies if it seems as though I’m building a case against blog-to-book tools. I actually think they have an important place in the current and future operation of books-as-cultural-phenomena. I just wanted to cover these points of discussion as a way of clearing some ground. I just think that talking about TnP, preservation, and portability as arguments for Anthologize and other blog-to-book tools run a pretty high risk of being specious. And specious arguments almost always get in the way of more productive ones. (Please, let the disagreements, clarifications, and nuancing begin!)

Blog-to-book tools are important and useful technologies. For lots of reasons. But the one I think is most important right now has to do with legacy and transition. The number of people who understand how books work (can of worms) is significantly higher than those who understand the cultural work that blogs do. The blog posts we write today don’t yet exist in the future so many of us would like to claim. Blogs exist in a book-centric world. Which is changing. But hasn’t yet. Fluid. Good. There needs to be better commerce between blogs and books. And Anthologize is a technology which manages, better than any other technology of its kind, to look both forward and backward. Janus with gifts for books’ futures and books’ pasts.

But the next question is: How does this orientation toward blog-to-book technologies inflect the future of digital scholarshop? Of ePubs? Of books? Of blogs? (That’s not a rhetorical question. Well I guess all questions are rhetorical. But still, write up a post at your own blog, and track-back here. Or comment here. Or wait for another post, where I’ll reveal some hopes, some guesses, and some fears about what this blog-to-book momentum portends.)

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