Smashing Magazine and Networked Research

As we start planning out our Blogging as Composition syllabus (see also me and Wishydig and Mrxk), I've been thinking about what kind of research assignment we could have students work on. The obvious project to me is a two-phase wikipedia project: first fact-checking an existing page, then providing a re-write (with detailed synopsis of changes) of the page.

But I've also been thinking of other ways that research appears on the web. I am particularly interested in Smashing Magazine, which at times has found itself in a bit of controversy. For those not familar, Smashing provides reviews, tutorials, research on web design and technologies: from font choice to microformats, color theory to linkbaiting. What's the controversy? Well, Smashing often collects wisdom from around the net--bringing information from a variety of sources into proximity with little original contribution. Take, for instance, Smahsing's recent article on linkbaiting.

After a brief introduction, the article isn't an article as much as a collection of lists. Something in my old Socratic-Augustan brain cringes at this--shouldn't there be more synthesis to count this as research? And something in my Derridean-Complexity brain says: maybe. In the networked, digital scene, collection, linking, relating, selecting, mixing is high level intellectual activity--it is turning the desert into the rainforest (Steven Johnson's metaphor), helping to build the eco-system. Thinking of Spooky, its the digital writer as DJ, spinning information harmoniously together--a symphony rather than a synthesis. Its Rhythm Science.It also presents information in a wreaderly way (we can assume that digital readers are interactive? that they expect to engage rather than consume?), a Levinasian way, a way that invites others to offer their own interpretation.

Therefore, I think the Smashing format could be incorporated into the wikipedia-research project: the step that shows the student can find and organize the voices on their subject area: that they can, in a sense, capture some of the parlor's exchanges, map the conversation, (etc.).


Wishydig said...

There's of course value in a list like the linkbaiting "article" and certainly a lot of work goes into it. As far as research goes it's a great first step. But doesn't synthesis require more than simple juxtaposition?

The list of links is presented well: it's clear and easy to follow, it looks good, it even has decent organization. But I'd definitely listen to the Socratic-Augustan voices.

Sure there might be some research DJing going on here. But there's a reason very few DJs impress me at all.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

I think what I'm looking for, what I'm always looking for from students, is more self-awareness. DJ Spooky obviously qualifies (since he wrote one of the more interesting theoretical books I have read), but I'm not willing to grant that level of sophistication to every DJ.

As far as "lists," I create quite a few (both personally and with my classes)--but the pedagogical point of list making is a criteria building exercise. As Nathaniel and I discuss very often in regards to Mike and Mike in the Morning: most debates end once we agree on the criteria. I think lists can be very powerful, but students should be forced to hierarchize their lists, detail their process, and defend their results (assignments are forming here...)