Yes, it was bound to happen eventually, I suppose. But the relentless barrage of “get with the program” comments finally wore me down. I have, in fact, signed on to Twitter at last. Here’s what is NOT me. Whoever created that fake Mills page years ago never stepped forward when I asked on DigitalCampus to claim it months ago. And, for what it’s worth, Twitter is IMPOSSIBLE when it comes to trying to claim an account someone else set up in your name. All they did was suspend the account and then tell me that there was no possible way I could ever claim it for myself. So, I am now officially EdwiredMills instead of Edwired.
On Friday I spent a very energizing day at the one-day conference Geschichtswissenschaften und Web 2.0 in Basel, Switzerland, an event sponsored by Jan Hodel and Peter Haber of hist.net, the excellent Swiss history portal and infoclio.ch, another history portal in Switzerland. If you haven’t visited these sites, they are must reads.
In the morning session we heard from Prof. Manfred Thaller of the University of Cologne, one of the most important figures in digital history in the German-speaking world. In his presentation, Thaller argued, among other things, that historians have to begin paying much closer attention to the ways that historical information is being created, shared, and recreated online or risk becoming completely irrelevant to the larger public. Although he was preaching to the choir at this meeting, his focus on the multiple ways that historical information is now available and how malleable it has become reminded everyone that we have to be paying closer and closer attention to they ways the general public interacts with that information. I also appreciated his point that as the speed of the exchange of historical information increases, the amount of time we have for interpretation of evidence decreases. But, as he pointed out, more and more of that interpretation is taking place outside the academy. Sometimes the results seem strange or misguided to those of us who consider ourselves professional historians, but as Thaller pointed out, that very strangeness challenges us to think about our evidence in new ways. In short, his endorsement of the impact of Web 2.0 on history was a bit back-handed, but nevertheless stimulating.
Following Thaller was Prof. Sacha Zala of dodis.ch, the online portal of Swiss diplomatic documents. As he presented their work I was reminded of our Papers of the War Department project, but he pulled me up short when he reminded the audience that in the Swiss case, all these documents need to be available in German, French, Italian, and English, the latter to make them more generally acceptable. Given the nuances of diplomatic speech, making sure all these documents are translated perfectly is one difficulty, but the other is the complexity of full-text searching across multiple translations of the same text. Now I’m thinking the War Department project has been a bit easier than it seemed to an outsider.
The afternoon session began with three young German language history bloggers who explained how it was they had begun blogging in the first place and why it is they continue to do so. Each gave a similar reason to the one offered by all the history bloggers I know — they started blogging because they wanted a place to play around with ideas and they’ve kept doing it because it has been (a) useful to them personally and (b) has connected them with people and ideas they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
My keynote, which I will post up online when I get home, was titled “If I Stop Blogging, What Will You Tweet About.” To find out what I said, you’ll have to wait until my next post.
When I first heard about Digital Humanities Now, “a real-time, crowdsourced publication [that] takes the pulse of the digital humanities community and tries to discern what articles, blog posts, projects, tools, collections, and announcements are worthy of greater attention” I thought that, at last, there might be something that would get me tweeting.
DHN went online in early November using the Twittertim.es service to aggregate posts from more than 350 people tweeting away about digital humanities topics. As my friend and colleague Dan Cohen explains on his blog, he dreamed up DHN to “aggregate thousands of tweets and the hundreds of articles and projects those tweets point to, and boil everything down to the most-discussed items, with commentary from Twitter.” I wish I could have ideas this good.
Fortunately for me, DHN isn’t the thing that’s going to push me over the edge into the Twitterverse after all. I love the fact that DHN provides me with a convenient way to see what others are thinking about in my own area of interest. That’s the real tangible value of this experiment and I’m really glad my CHNM colleagues have made this happen. But the current version of the interface betrays all the hallmarks of people who have drunk the Twitter Koolaid in huge gulps.
Consider this item from December 2 letting readers know that the Zotero blog has announced a way to expand your storage on the Zotero servers. I needed to know that and because I read DHN before diving into the other feeds in my reader, I learned something I needed to know. Score one for DHN.
But the “commentary from Twitter” that is supposed to add value to the item reads like this:
Posted by these editors:
sherah1918: RT @zotero: Zotero storage accts now available up to 10 GB! Sync PDFs and other files to personal and group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.13
edmj: RT @zotero: Zotero storage accounts now available up to 10 GB! Sync PDFs and other files to personal & group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.26
clioweb: RT @zotero: Zotero storage accounts now available up to 10GB! Sync PDFs and other files to personal and group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.11
ryancordell: RT @zotero: Zotero storage accts now available up to 10 GB! Sync PDFs and other files to personal and group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.41
zotero:Zotero storage accounts now available up to 10 GB! Sync PDFs and other files to personal and group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.08
jcmeloni:RT @zotero: Zotero storage accounts now available up to 10 GB! Sync PDFs & other files to personal and group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.10
digitalhumanist:RT @zotero: Zotero storage accounts now available up to 10 GB! Sync PDFs & other files to personal and group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.28
amndw2: RT @zotero Zotero storage accounts now available up to 10 GB! Sync PDFs and other files to personal & group libraries http://bit.ly/5RF6L5 02.12.2009 21.15
Posted by others:
mdiggory: GMail = 7GB free / 80GB for $20, Zotero’s 100MB free / 1GB for $20? Its more affordable just to email the files around! http://bit.ly/5pC6dF 03.12.2009 00.51
I got it the first time and really didn’t need the additional seven additional tweets and re-tweets of storage “now available up to 10 GB!” The only “commentary” in this item was the item posted by a non-editor. A quick scan of the other items in DHN betrays this same level of tweet-speak…chatter repeated without much discernible value being added. Maybe it’s just because I don’t tweet that I find all that “commentary” annoying and really just so much clutter on the screen.
It seems to me the whole enterprise would be vastly improved by having the first five to ten lines of text from the item everyone is tweeting about with two links reading “Tweets from editors” and “Tweets from others”. Then those of us who still haven’t drunk any of the Koolaid can get what we want — news from the world of digital humanities — and the tweeters out there can get their fix of endless re-tweets with a simple mouse click.
So count me in as a devoted reader of the DHN feed. But you can still count me out of Twitter.
It’s hard to believe, but Tom, Dan, and I have revisited the world of eBooks on Digital Campus. The biggest part of our discussion was on the merits or lack thereof of the new Kindle reader about to debut from Amazon. Of course, we have to speak speculatively, because none of the three of us actually has a new Kindle, but we were pretty convinced that it’s a loser when it comes to the kinds of teaching, learning, research, presentation, and collection of history that interests us here at CHNM.
More interesting for historians, it seems to me, is the debut of Google Books Mobile, which gives people with iPhones or Android Phones access to hundreds of thousands (some day millions) of books right there on your phone. I find Google Books incredibly useful for both teaching and research and before too much longer I expect that a very large number of my students will have access to this vast library of old books from their own mobile devices.
Whether you like eBook readers or not, give the podcast a listen and let us know what you think. Just don’t use Twitter…I’m still holding firm and so won’t see your comments there.