Have you seen people walking around talking to their iPhones like they were alive? Do you think it’s creepy? Or do you wish Siri loved you the way she loves them? Tom, Amanda, Dan, and I speculated about what the Siri phenomenon might mean (or more likely not mean) for digital humanities in the most recent edition of Digital Campus. Of more substance, we also discussed the future of academic publishing, libraries, and archives in some detail, given such trends as the rise of alternative publishing models and the increasing likelihood that the Digital Public Library of America is actually going to happen. And for you long time listeners to the podcast, I made a shocking request that has yet to be answered…Want to know what that’s all about? You’ll have to go listen.
On Wednesday, the first of the four forthcoming PressForward publications launched: Digital Humanities Now. This publication is a re-launch of an older attempt to aggregate what digital humanists were discussing in real time…the prior version was focused primarily on Twitter feeds and for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t a huge fan.
My criticism at the time was that there was too much posting of “re-tweets” and so a lot of interesting stuff was getting lost under the weight of the most tweeted items. [You can see an early 2010 version here, but need to realize that the WayBack Machine didn’t capture the page formatting.] The new version of the publication has not only solved that older problem, but has also substantially upgraded what is on offer.
Now there are “editors’ picks,” which are selections from many hundreds of blogs concerned with the digital humanities. There are categorized news items, and a “top ten tweet” list. In addition, you can see the entire “river” of digital humanities information flowing into the site’s back end and can sign up to join the community of digital humanists whose content is being considered for publication. These enhancements, in my view, make Digital Humanities Now a real go to site for anyone interested in the field.
In the interest of full disclosure, it’s more than a little possible that I’m biased in favor of this project for three reasons. First, I work at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, which is home base for the project. Second, I am one of three executive editors of another PressForward publication, Global Perspectives on Digital History. Third, I’ve completely lost control of my RSS feeds of late and so Digital Humanities Now is like a lifeline being thrown to a drowning man.
Here’s what neither Digital Humanities Now nor Global Perspectives on Digital History is going to solve: neither publication is going to eliminate the need for human intervention in the process. Where the original version of Digital Humanities Now was intended, at least in part, to be an algorithm-driven publication requiring little to no human intervention, these new publications will continue to require a fair amount of editorial effort. We still need/want someone to sort through the river of content flowing into the sites to select “editors’ picks” or “top ten tweets” for us, because that means we can be more efficient in our reviewing of the information. It’s possible to imagine an algorithm that will learn from what the editors on the back end are doing, eventually mitigating the need for quite so much human intervention, but (a) we are a ways off from that, and (b) it will be a long time before an algorithm can decide on an editors’ pick. That kind of choosing is much more complex and driven by intangibles that algorithms still aren’t very good at.
Until the machines get smarter, humans will still have an important role to play in the publication of digital content online (good news for me!), but PressForward and other similar projects bode well for a future where the river gets wider and deeper and struggling digital humanists will need platforms like these to help sift through all that content for them.