Recently in CCC Online Category

A brief update

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Still not really feeling like talking about it, but I should mention that I just had a very nice conversation with Kent Williamson from NCTE.

And by very nice, I mean that I had a chance to explain what all has been happening from my end, and he had a chance to explain where he thought communication had broken down. I definitely left the conversation feeling a little better than I had, and that was good.

I know that there are at least a few people who have been writing on my behalf, forwarding my post, etc., and I thank you for that. And now I'm really going to go think about other stuff for a bit. ;-)

CCC Online

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I don't really want to talk about it. But ah well.

Here's how it felt. Imagine that you were in a fixed-term position at a university. You know that your time will be up eventually, but you feel like you've done pretty good work, and you feel some genuine loyalty to the school, and have some ideas about how things might go better. Then, one day, you open the MLA Job List, and find the description for your position. Your school has decided to change the position substantially, and to provide it with a number of benefits that you've never received. And at no point did they ever ask you about it, invite you to talk with them about the position and how it might be improved, or even let you know that the advertisement was going to appear.

You might be understandably disappointed.

The thing is, the CCC Online Archive is up, but it's broken. And it's broken for several reasons.

I made the mistake last summer of imagining that I could upgrade both the front and back ends of the site simultaneously. Shortly into that process, my grandfather passed away. I didn't come back from his funeral until the end of the first week of the semester, already basically 3 weeks behind in my preparation for my graduate seminar. Needless to say, the semester did not go well from my perspective.

On top of that, 3 of our senior faculty were on leave this year, and that's on a faculty of 12, if you count our two split-appointed faculty. In a small department, there is already a massive service load, and that didn't help. Add to that the fact that 2 of our junior faculty are standing for tenure this year, and add to that the fact that 2 of our senior faculty stood for promotion to full. Did I mention that I also chaired our search this year? Also, I made the mistake of following through on my bright idea of back-to-back conference presentations in October. The search itself got started late, although not because of my own delay in starting the semester, and as a result, we were conducting phone interviews the week before Christmas. Thanks to weather, car trouble, and the late timing of our search, I got to spend my first ever holiday season away from my family. But then, I had the joy of turning 40 to keep me warm. And with the turn of the year came the graduate admissions process which, for all of its importance, is effectively a second search committee process.

So yeah, not the best year of my life. One of my very best friends tells me that one of these days, I'm going to have to let myself grieve. I don't know whether to feel relief or despair over that.

I should also mention that, last spring, my college's support for the site was not renewed. It didn't help that my title was changed from Associate/Online Editor to CCC Online Archivist. One of those titles is not like the other when it comes to making a case for institutional support. And that's an observation that I might have made had I ever been consulted about the title change.

So yeah, the site's broken. Part of the reason why I didn't spend more time this summer, or start earlier, is that NCTE decided to overhaul their own site, thereby breaking all of the NCTE-target links on CCCOA. I paid someone out-of-pocket to help me fix those links. And didn't get going on the upgrade as soon as I'd planned.

When I did, I learned the hard way that Movable Type 4 was a good product for some things, and not for others. It is not a piece of software, unfortunately, that is friendly to those of us who prefer to design our own sites. Perhaps I could have and should have discovered this before I upgraded the software, but it also changed the format by which it constructed permalinks, leaving all of the interior links and all of the trackback links broken, with no easy way to reconstruct them. That in turn has rendered all of the links at our delicious page broken. Needless to say, it's going to be a long summer for me.

My issues with NCTE take place in that context, but honestly, their treatment of me has been poor regardless of context. I think that there are some good things about the way they're changing the position. I was never offered a gratis NCTE/CCCC membership, conference fee, or even a copy of the journal, so I'm glad to see that they're offering something, however small, to the person who'll take this over. I'm also glad to see that some kind of tech support will be in the mix, because I never received any. I'm glad to see that they're thinking of the position/site as something to be included in their overall vision, because it's been pretty clear to me that my work has not been.

Could I have done more to promote that connection? Perhaps. But I offered to come to Urbana on my own dime to meet with them and work with them, an offer that was either not taken seriously, or simply forgotten. By now, I suspect that in their eyes, I'm a loose cannon, though. Frankly, my patience was eroded by a long history of non-communication from NCTE, on issues that I should have at least been consulted about. And so yeah, I've lashed out a bit. No one from NCTE has ever contacted me to see if there was anything they could do, they've never contacted me to warn me about site changes that affected CCCOA, and they've maintained a pattern of making decisions about my position and the site and then passing them along as fait accompli. If from their perspective, I've behaved less than professionally, my reason is that I've been treated less than professionally.

I plan on continuing my work on the site, because there is value to it that can't be found anywhere else. Unfortunately for me, this will basically be volunteer work, and much of it will be reconstructive. But I do believe it's worth doing. I still believe in the vision for the site that I originally proposed.

As for NCTE, I hope that the next iteration of the site is more to their liking. And I hope that they manage better treatment of whomever they find to take it over. I'm not interested in spearheading a boycott, or making a big public stink over it. And I certainly don't want anyone to feel bad or disloyal for considering it. My overwhelming mood is comprised of equal parts disappointment and exhaustion. I'm more inclined to wax ironic than outraged. Here's a little something that you may not know: I was on the team of graduate student volunteers who designed the first websites for CCCC. And back in the day, I floated the idea of providing an online database making the abstracts searchable, only to be told that it could never happen. I don't know that I was the first or only person to have that idea, but 7-8 years later, it happened. And my guess is that the functionality I've tried to build into CCCOA will find its way into the NCTE site eventually as well. And our field will be better for it.

All I know is that it won't be me doing it.

And in the grand scheme, this episode is just one among many. I haven't let myself grieve and I haven't let myself really turn 40 yet. As I've been telling people lately (a lot, it feels like), I need to get some distance and figure out, if I don't want it to look like it does now, what I want my life to look like.

Yeah, that's all.

Debbie has an important post up about the latest issue of CCC, which "amputates" the Re/Visions feature on KB in that issue by publishing snatches of it in the journal and the complete versions online.

If there's one thing to take away from this, it's that the journal has problems, ones that aren't going away any time soon. Anyhow, here's the post length comment that I left there:

I almost blogged about this at the time, but elected not to, given that I was hazy on the confidentiality of the conversations. Although I had no role at all in the decision-making process, I was involved in some of the discussions with Deb about how to handle this problem.

The problem isn't just the ridiculously low acceptance rate--it's that rate combined with the fact that the journal has a colossal backlog right now of accepted essays. Traditionally, the answer to the latter problem has been to lower the acceptance rate--accept fewer essays, and the backlog lifts eventually. But Deb's right, I think, to note that that's not a viable solution. The acceptance rate can't honestly go much lower, and even if it could, the editor would have to start rejecting submissions that had been accepted by the readers.

The problem is one I harp on all the time, and that's scale. Our discipline is much larger than it was 10 or 20 years now, and the size of the journal hasn't accommodated the large influx of TT faculty who would like to publish work in what is arguably the flagship journal. And the problem, in my mind, is only exacerbated by a decision-making and election process that pays no attention to professional qualification. Without putting too fine a point on it, there is no guarantee that, in any given year, the people making decisions about the journal have any editorial experience.

There are several solutions that any of us might imagine for this problem, from publishing an extra issue, to temporarily adding pages, to moving to a hybrid of print and POD, etc. I can guarantee that these were all ideas that I suggested, but I don't know how many of them factored into the actual decision. I also talked with Deb about the option that they eventually chose, although my suggestion was to move review essays online, since they're less often the object of the kind of page citation that Nels raises.

So while I'm sad that this happened to you, and wouldn't have been happy had it happened to my R/V set, I also think that there's a larger problem with the journal that needs to be solved. And so I'm also sympathetic with Deb, who's had to struggle with this for some time now. There are several contributing factors--the acceptance rate, the backlog, the growth of our field and subsequent increase in the number of submissions, the obvious and warranted interest in features like Re/Visions, the fact that the average length of a CCC essay has steadily climbed over the last 20 years, the desire to keep the page count consistent, the desire to keep the price of the journal low and accessible, and so on. It's a huge problem that has very material consequences for all of us, and yet, we don't really have the organizational means to deal with it well.

Sigh. So I'm sorry, not in the it's-my-fault way, but in the damn-that-sucks way.


Soapboxy enough? If D's post accomplishes one thing, I hope that it sparks some sort of open and frank discussion, beyond the walls of the EC meeting, of the role that the journal plays and should be playing in our field. And how the journal might adapt to a changing economy of scale that is obvious to anyone who cares to look.

We'll see.

Jenny already stole most of my thunder, so take what thunder I express in this post, and multiply it by most to get some sense of my frustration. Imagine my surprise yesterday, learning for the first time at Clancy's blog, that CCCC is shopping around for a web editor.

Why might this be insulting? Well, for the last 4 years or so, I've been working on the CCC Online Archive as the Associate/Online Editor for the journal. A few weeks ago, I was informed that my title, without any consultation from me, was now the CCC Online Archivist. I don't really care much about the title, but I do care about being treated like a peon by people (the Executive Committee) who are my colleagues, and for whom I am essentially performing volunteer work. So yes, having my title unilaterally turned from something that sounds official to something that sounds made-up, without even the courtesy of being consulted, is something I construe as insulting.

I presume now that the change was to minimize confusion between my own position and that of the new CCCC Web Editor, which makes a great deal of sense, since this person will be responsible for editing the Web. Oh wait. Never mind.

What is most insulting, though, is that my title was changed as part of a conversation to which I might have had something to contribute, and to which I almost certainly should have been invited. As I said, I first saw the ad yesterday, the day before the deadline.

Why should I be involved? Well, one thing that set back my ongoing redesign and restructuring of the site was the small matter of CCCC changing their link formats, which invalidated hundreds of permalinks on my site. I was never informed of this--I got to find out that my site was broken by testing it. I answer dozens of email inquiries per year on behalf of NCTE related to functions of the journal outside of the purview of my site. I made what I felt at the time were very strong arguments about what CCC and NCTE should be doing with their web presence--a vision that I'm implementing and that our "leadership" seems (at least from the text of their ad) to be ignoring. So yes, even though I host the site externally, my site is impacted by the various decisions that NCTE makes, even when they don't see fit to inform me of them.

I am mildly encouraged by the fact that, some ten or so years into the existence of their website, that CCCC has finally seen fit to consider the site a worthy area of development. I am less encouraged by the fact that no experience appears to be necessary to actually contribute. I am less encouraged by the fact that they ask for a writing sample (?!) as part of the application process. And I am less encouraged by the prospect of a whole new set of CCCCreepy treehouses springing up on the web.

So, since my work on CCCOA hasn't seemed to have made any lasting impact on our "leadership" beyond that of the journal (with whom I've always worked well and happily), allow me to forgo the application process, and offer my vision of what the CCCC website almost certainly will not look accomplish in the near future:

1. The strength of a central, organizational website is directly proportional to its ability to aggregate the interests and contributions of its members.

2. Those interests and contributions are not going to be in the form of legislated community.

The attempts at legislated community on CCC Online failed. The attempts at legislated community on the CCCC blog failed. We are already a community, and we already are full to the brim with locations where we engage in community. There is no nascent community activity waiting breathlessly for a CCCC Facebook page.

3. CCCC is in a position to provide centralized, aggregated content, unavailable anywhere else on the web.

This content could include a great deal more valuable information about the conference, job postings, syllabi, program information, teaching resources, etc. We don't need CCCC to blog, email, tweet, post Facebook pages, host wikis, or anything else like that. All that stuff is already being done by us, for us, better than our organization could ever handle.

4. If CCCC wants a professional web presence, one which does things and offers content that no one else can, and which no individual or group can, I am all for it. And I have no shortage of ideas as to how that can be accomplished. I am currently engaged in the process of accomplishing it.

5. Asking a volunteer to do this is deeply offensive to me, when the expectations that we should have of this position are professional. I am embarrassed for my organization, and I am embarrassed for those on the EC who should know better than this. To imagine that anything worth doing can be done in 5-10 hours a month is to misunderstand the potential value of bringing our organization out of the late 90s.


Like Jenny, I am increasingly frustrated with our organization. I believe that the organization itself is broken in several ways, and this is only the most immediate and recent example, unfortunately.

That is all.

Re/Visions are Live

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I'm assuming that the issues themselves are going into the mail soon, but if you visit the NCTE site (which I seem to be doing a lot lately), you'll find the most recent issue of CCC available, which includes the Re/Visions piece from Anne, Jeff, and I.

The issue index is here, and the article itself is available here. You'll need to be a subscriber to download it, though. If you want a free copy of the Janangelo article, it's available on the front page of the CCC Online Archive.

I'm just heading out; otherwise, I wouldn't violate the rule against deictic linking. Sorry about that.

Then I could tell you that those letters stand for "crushing seasonal headache." The news round these parts is that the temperature reached into the low 60s today, which has been good for The Melt, but bad for My Head. When seasons change, the corresponding shift in pressure typically renders me unable to focus for 2-3 days at a time, bringing with it dull, throbbing headaches of the sort that quite literally make my eyeballs sore. Needless to say, sleep becomes something of a chore, rivaled only by the effort that goes into being awake. Not the happiest of times.

I've been giving some thought to the presentation I'll be giving at CCCC this year. Inspired in part by last week's snarky little entry, which itself prompted me to add "snark alert" to my categories, I've been dialing back my expectations for what I'll accomplish in this presentation. It's hard, having been working on CCCOA for two-plus years now, to imagine that there aren't folks in our field who remain unfamiliar with it, and yet, my guess is that this is actually a fair description of most folks in our field. The speed of change in the 'sphere--and on the net more generally--outpaces that of the run-of-the-mill discipline, perhaps exponentially. And so, what I think I need to do in my talk is to actually introduce the site and what it contributes.

Right now, I'm thinking of an unofficial subtitle for my talk that would be something like "13 Ways of Looking at a Journal." Mostly it would be an introduction to the site, running from the most basic and obvious features to some of the trickier stuff we've built into it, and finally to a couple of disciplinary questions that a site like this can provide us the evidence to work on.

I've been thinking about this a little harder after seeing Tim Burke's post about what he describes as "search as alchemy." To wit,

But there are other times where I want search to be alchemy, to turn the lead of an inquiry into unexpected gold. I’m hoping that the rush to simplify, speed up, demystify and digitize search doesn’t leave that alchemy behind.

It seems like such an obvious point to me, that academic search functions in much different ways than "regular" search, but what's come clear to us over the past couple of years is that we need to figure out better ways of getting the word out, to make the case that CCCOA is a site for search, yes, but also a site of invention. I think that message is both clear and obvious to many of you, my fair readers, but to the field-at-large, it still needs saying.

So I think that's part of what I'll be saying next week.

You may recall how, once upon a time, certain of us (blogeurs) were, shall we say, disinterpellated by particular long-time members of a disciplinary listserv? Well, you'll be pleased to know that, compared to that lovely episode, the following marks a real step forward. In the process of discussing some recent upgrades to CompPile, one loyal user remarks that it would be nice if that site included the 7 most recent years of scholarship:

can you find a way to update to more recent years? I know that the CCCC project is doing that, sorta, but I never do get around to checking it after the great convenience of comppile. Maybe some kind of link, so as not to duplicate effort?

Now, I'm not exactly sure what the "CCCC project" is, but since our site shares 3 of those C's, and we are a project, I can only surmise that "sorta" is meant as a grudging acknowledgment of our efforts over the past 2 years. We sorta belong, at long long last! Why, we might even rate a link, if we're lucky.

Yes, I'm chock full of sarcasm, because apparently the inconvenience of say, bookmarking our site, is apparently too much to ask of this user. I can only imagine that it's too much, because once you arrive at our site, there are only 10 or so different ways that you might search for scholarship:

  • by typing an author's name into the search bar
  • by typing a word or two from the title into the search bar
  • by typing a keyword into the search bar
  • by using the search bar to track down something in a bibliography
  • by following a link from something that has cited the thing you're looking for
  • by following a link from something that the thing you're looking for has cited
  • by using the drop down menu that links to the last 15 years of issues
  • by exploring the CCCC categories, each of which contains dozens of articles
  • by clicking on a tag, and seeing all of the other articles that are similarly tagged
  • by visiting delicious, where all such tags can be ordered by frequency or alphabetically

I don't talk a lot about CompPile, because I really respect the efforts of the individuals who maintain it. The model that they're working with, on the other hand, is unsustainable, except through Herculean effort, and it only scratches the surface of what databases could be allowing us to do in this field. Heck, we're only scratching the surface, but at the very least, we're getting beyond the "bob for apples" model of search that still seems to dominate a lot of the discussions I see.

Mainly, I have to remind myself that they're not responsible for what said loyal user posts to the list. And I'm content to work along, to improve our site, and to make it a tool that rewards the efforts of both new and experienced researchers. Heck, if we keep at it, by the end of the decade, he might even acknowledge us by name.

Snarkography complete.

The off-4Cson

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My title only works when you understand that 4Cs is pronounced "four seas." I'm just saying.

Unless you happen to be involved with the behind-the-scenes work of the conference, there are basically 2 times during the year when the dreams of rhetcompers turn to their annual conference. The first, and most elaborate, is March, when the conference itself happens. The second, though, is right now, the week when notifications are made for the following March. Word on the street is that the conference acceptance rate is now hovering somewhere around 33%--that there were maybe 600 accepted out of about 1800 submissions. Hard to know exactly how those numbers play out--some proposals are for 3-5 person panels and some individual--but still, it's a pretty big deal.

So it was a little aggravating this week, as everyone was receiving their notifications, to not receive my own. I did hear about a panel that I'm chairing, but that only served to confirm that my email was indeed working. As I noted a couple of years ago,

Notification is always something of an odd season around grad programs--on the one hand, CCCC is selective enough that you expect a little bit of congratulations; on the other, no one really asks anyone else, for fear that they didn't get accepted.

So I pretty much just kept my mouth shut, and vowed to give it a few days, figuring that if I hadn't heard by this weekend, I'd fire off a Monday email to see. Well, my patience was rewarded with the news today that Deb Holdstein, Derek, and I will be doing a Featured Session at the 2007 CCCC, one where we talk about the relationship between the journal, both print and online, and the discipline. Rock. Roll.

I think the plan to is to do some revising to the text of our abstract, and perhaps even the title, so once that's done, I'll be sure to post it here. In the meantime, I'm just going to sit back and bask in the glow of the fact that our work on CCCO is going to be featured in disciplinary primetime. CCCC was really the last piece of a speaking puzzle for the year that includes four (four!) different conferences and perhaps a job talk or two. Hence the whole lot of talking that I referred to a couple of days back. And hence the recent addition to my speakerly arsenal. I can't guarantee that I'll be good, but I'll almost certainly be better.

That's the plan, anyway.

CCCO thoughts

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Over at if:book, Ray Cha relays and recommends an upcoming chapter from Clifford Lynch, about moving beyond "reader-centric views of scholarly literature." It has much in common with Franco Moretti's work on literary history, and is worth reading for that reason alone.

But I'm also on the lookout for ways to articulate just what it is we're trying to do with CCC Online, and Lynch's piece fits the bill. Namely...

We would also see an explosion in services that provided access to this literature in new and creative ways. Such services would also incorporate specialized vocabulary databases, gazetteers, factual databases, ontologies, and other auxiliary tools to enhance indexing and retrieval. They would rapidly transcend access to address navigation and analysis. One path here leads towards more-customized rehosting of scholarly literatures and underlying evidence into new usage and analysis environments attuned to the specific scholarly practices of various disciplines.

We would also see a move beyond federation and indexing to actual text mining and analysis, to the extraction of hypotheses and correlations that would help to drive ongoing scholarly inquiry. Indeed, the literature would be embedded in a computational context that reorganized and re-evaluated the existing body of knowledge as new literature became available.

That excerpt separates nicely into what I think we're already doing at the site, although not perhaps to the extent that Lynch imagines it, and the second half, which in many ways is the prize that we've got our long-term eyes on. If you don't think we're watching projects like this and this, well, you don't know us very well. Heh.

I'm less worried about the potential objections that Cha raises at the end of his post--"Purists will undoubtedly frown upon the use of computation that cannot be replicated by humans in scholarly research"--than I am about getting to the point where such objections can be raised. In other words, I believe that such work, if it can generate compelling results, will override knee-jerk complaints. I think it's also going to be necessary, in our own field at least, to be very careful to qualify the value of this work appropriately. Not that that's always been enough, especially when it comes to quasi-statistical work, which tends to run afoul of the old "me humanities. me hate math." goofiness.

Two other points. First is one that I'm guessing some people will not appreciate, and that's that, to an extent this work is fairly easily decoupled from the "open access" that appears to drive Lynch's piece. That is, the value of data mining is offered as a consequence of open access, and while that is true at a very large scale, I think it possible to do quite a bit in this area without it, honestly. We're able to work around providing the metadata we wanted without having to open up the journal's content, even if we might have preferred it otherwise. And I think that some pretty entrenched attitudes will need to change for what Lynch describes to be more than a thought experiment. Not that they shouldn't change, but I'm not sure how far they actually need to, for this at least.

Second point is that we use a fairly small, fairly simple suite of tools to do what we're doing now. We had to cobble stuff together, and we've done so fairly successfully, but it shouldn't go unmentioned that a couple of good programmers would go a long way towards making this a lot more doable. Personally, I have enough ability to tweak, and I'm pretty good at making MT modules do what I want them to, but we spent a fair bit of time just cobbling. I'm conscious of how much more efficient our system could be.

And yeah, it's only one journal that we're working on, and all things considered, we really have to pace things more slowly than I'd like. But it's also our flagship journal, and if nothing else, we tackled the biggest job first, in designing and testing it on CCC. There's going to be some real value in what we're doing, even if it doesn't hit the scale that Lynch imagines. And we're a pretty solid model for how to accomplish these goals on both a small scale and approaching it from the bottom up.

That is all.

The CCC Top Ten

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Okay, not really.

The list below is of the top ten CCC articles as measured by the number of times that they are cited by subsequent CCC articles. It's not exactly the be-all, end-all of bibliometrics, but rather a single dimension of what would have to be a much more extensive data set (if I wanted to start making substantial (and substantiable) claims).

But from my perspective, it's another of those little pieces that makes CCC Online interesting for me to work on. I've set up a page that will update as we add/index more content both forwards and backwards in time.

If I have a little time in the next day or two, I'll add a column in the table with the year that the article was published as well, although rolling over the links will flash their month/year combo. Interesting to note, perhaps, that the most recent article on this list comes from December 1997 (Ball & Lardner). It makes sense that there would be some lag between publication and subsequent citations, but the majority of articles on this list are more than a decade old. I leave it to you to hypothesize what this might mean...

At the very least, I suppose, a list like this would be a place to begin for someone new to the field--there are worse ways of figuring out where to start.

That's all...



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