What I learned about transliteracy in Saratoga

At 3Ts 2013: Transliteracy from Cradle to Career in Saratoga Springs this week I learned some new things about transliteracy. 

1. In What I Want, When I Want to Watch It: Brief Thoughts on Television Literacy in the Streaming World with Hollie Miller & Michele Forte, Hollie aka @theotherinside showed us a feature on Hulu Plus which allows you to choose between adverts. That means that when the ads come on – as they invariably do – if you don't like the one they're showing, you can choose a different ad from several on offer. Very interesting ad-based literacy – I've never been asked to consciously choose my own ads before, even though I know I'm already trading off that information on many of my social media platforms. And of course, in the process, Hulu learns lots about your preferences 😉

20130315_1715162. This next phenomenon may be familiar to American readers but I haven't seen it in the UK. In my hotel, the Saratoga Hampton Inn, each room has a transliterate doorsign – a different image for each room on my corridor. I didn't check whether they were duplicated on each floor or if there really are over 600 different images here, but was struck by the interesting idea. I, for example, am not a visual person and although I noticed the pictures on other doors as I passed by, it took me a while before I remembered to check out the picture on my own door. But
20130315_171524 many people, I'm sure, would find the image more memorable than the number. So this seemed to me an interesting translit
erate feature which I don't think I've ever seen before in a hotel. 

 3. Lastly, I started thinking again about MOOCs. I used to teach online a lot – I've taught in MOOs, O'Reilly Webboard, WebCT, on Skype and Blackboard, plus various other long defunct platforms. I set up the revolutionary trAce Online Writing School in 2002, and with Kate Pullinger devised the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media. But I haven't taught whole courses online for quite a while now, and MOOCs have been rather passing me by. In the last few months, however, an increasing number of colleagues have spoken enthusiastically about their experiences of being both students and teachers in MOOCs, and I think it's time for me to get to grips with them. So I'm looking forward to refreshing my transliteracy skills online in an environment which I suspect will be pretty different from those I knew before.

So, three new personal takeways for me from this one day conference – very valuable and energising. Thanks to everyone who came. 

Libraries and Transliteracy


The US-based blog, Libraries and Transliteracy, has put together an excellent 'Beginners Guide to Transliteracy', explaining the history of the concept and how it is relevant to libraries today.  

Thanks to Bobbi Newman et al for this useful brief guide.  

‘A Million Penguins’ Five Years On

Well, without dipping into too many cliches about the passage of time, it is nearly five years since the DMU/Penguin wiki-novel experiment, 'A Million Penguins', took place.  The project ran from 1 Feb 2007 for five weeks, and all of us who were involved with it remember it as a time of chaos and great entertainment.  Yesterday I was down at Goldsmith's College, in London, where I was the external examiner for a PhD candidate, Amy Spencer; her PhD was on the Networked Book.  She built her thesis around three case studies of networked books that are also works of fiction, 'Paddlesworth Press' , 'The Golden Notebook Project', and 'A Million Penguins'. It's a solid and interesting piece of research.  

Reading Amy's thesis promoted me to look at the current status of 'A Million Penguins' online.  We heard early last year that Penguin was going to give up hosting the project, and we didn't have the time, or the resources, to figure out how to archive the massive wiki, with its many many pages, ourselves.  I regret this, though it is hard to see how we could have saved it in time.  So the original site no longer exists.

However, a good portion of 'A Million Penguins' was archived by the amazing people at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, and you can find these pages by searching for it via the Wayback Machine.  

During Amy's viva we talked a bit about the phenomenon of the networked book itself.  Amy pointed out that during the noughties there were a significant number of projects that called themselves 'networked books', both fiction and non-fiction, my own on-going project, 'Flight Paths: a Networked Novel' among them of course.  Amy wondered if the networked book concept has had its day.  I think that we are now seeing trade publishing approaching publishing fiction in a manner that owes much to the networked book concept, although of course, all in the service of marketing.  Social media marketing campaigns are now being built around books; these campaigns include bespoke web content, games, extra content, author interviews, etc.  These campaigns aim to foster reader engagement around a newly published book, whereas the networked books of the noughties all sought to foster creative engagement with text and other forms of media.  The networked book emphasis was on collaboration and contributing, whereas, of necessity, a trade publishing networked social media campaign is about sales.  

Reading it later #transliteracy

ReaditlaterDavid Carr's piece What Writers Are Worth Saving? Web Service Runs the Numbers (New York Times, 8.12.11) sheds interesting light on the relatively new phenomenon of marking articles to read at another time. Nat Weiner, founder of Read it Later, an app which allows you to save articles with one click and return to them at your leisure, regularly analyses the data his app collects. A year ago he noted that new technology, notably the iPad, is changing not just where we read, but also when. 

When a reader is given a choice about how to consume their content, a major shift in behavior occurs. They no longer consume the majority of their content during the day, on their computer. Instead they shift that content to prime time and onto a device better suited for consumption. Initially, it appears that the devices users prefer for reading are mobile devices, most notably the iPad. It’s the iPad leading the jailbreak from consuming content in our desk chairs. As better mobile experiences become more accessible to more readers, this movement will continue to grow. Readers want to consume content in a comfortable place, on their own time and mobile devices are making it possible for readers to take control once more. [1]

Now Weiner has reported on the most-read writers, those most commonly saved in the Read it Later app. Unsurprisingly, since this is an early-adopter activity, Lifehacker comes out top. Carr reports 

Nine out of 10 of the most saved worked there — Kevin Purdy, Adam Pash and Adam Dachis came in first, second and third — which indicates a strong Silicon Valley/West Coast bias and a very narrow one at that. That makes sense, given that clicking-to-save is a techie sort of thing to do. The other writers who round out the top 20 bear that out. They include MG Siegler of TechCrunch, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing and Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo.

But it's early days, and I'm sure the habit will soon spread beyond the early adopters. It's yet another way in which the web facilitates an increase, not a reduction, in what and how we read.

‘Why don’t people write on toilet walls anymore?’ ‘Because they are too busy Facebooking or texting.’ #transliteracy

Toiletwall Couldn't resist taking a photo of this interesting example of transliterate change in our lavatories. Sorry it's a bit indistinct – you may need to click to enlarge. 

The writer on the left asks 'Why don't people write on toilet walls any more?'

And the commenter on the right replies: 'Because they are too busy Facebooking or texting instead'.

I think this is probably true. Any thoughts? Is the same change happening in mens' loos?

Talking #transliteracy with @dajbelshaw @PatParslow @hrheingold @daveowhite @ambrouk

First posted at my personal blog

Today, the looming start of term requires grant and report writing but I cannot settle to it without first referencing one of those complex Twitter conversations that suddenly burst out last night and needs to be addressed. This is where Twitter quickly becomes annoyingly much too constraining, but this post will also be short as time is limited today.

Last night @dajbelshaw @ambrouk @PatParslow @hrheingold @daveowhite and I were discussing a new post by @dajbelshaw on digital literacies, open source and Google, a conversation which led us in all kinds of directions including digital and analogue cultural normalization, crap detection, and the post-digital. This morning I followed up on suggested reading via 2 pieces by @daveowhite from 2009 – one on the post-digital and an earlier one on preparing for it

I'd like to make a quick comment on the notion of post-digital, or post- anything for that matter.  My research into transliteracy has convinced me that thinking linearly about literacy is seldom a good idea. Literacy should be thought of as a holistic ecology, not a linear series of events and changes. Yes, we can trace all kinds of 'first uses' to dates or moments in time but what is much more important than a first use is the way that a tool or skill becomes integrated and unified within the greater sphere of all literacies – nonverbal, visual, grammatical, alphabetical, interpersonal, cultural, interactional and so on. 

There are some who find transliteracy annoying because it is too much like a theory of everything. I appreciate their irritation, but point out that it was not until we developed the unifying concept of 'the environment' that real progress started to be made in terms of collaboration towards ecological sustainability. I predict that the same will be found to be true of literacy once we realise that theconnections between varieties of literacies are endlessly more fascinating and productive than the differences.


Welcome to new contributors Souvik Mukherjee and Bobbi Newman

I'm delighted to announce that two new contributors have agreed to write for the Transliteracy Research Group. Souvik is writing from India, and Bobbi from the USA. I very much look forward to their perspectives. Meanwhile, here are their bios. Read about the whole team here.

Souvik Mukerhjee

Mukherjee Souvik Mukherjee is an independent research fellow working on digital game narratives. Besides his reearch on videogames, Souvik has also been involved in analysing the impact of social media projects on communities, especially in relation to transliteracy and business innovation., as a research fellow in the Film, Media and Journalism department of De Montfort University.  He completed his PhD on storytelling in New Media, especially  focusing on videogame narratives, and has published and presented papers on a range of related topics. Besides New Media, Souvik also takes a keen interest in e-learning and has been involved in analysing online media and virtual learning network usage in a higher. After completing his project at DMU, he has returned to India, where he hails from, to develop New Media research networks. Souvik writes about his research on his blog Ludus ex Machina and tweets as @prosperoscell

Bobbi Newman


Bobbi is dedicated to helping libraries find their place in the digital age. She is passionate about 21st century literacies and the role of all libraries in equal access and opportunity for all. Her professional interests include digital and technology based services, the digital divide, and improving existing services through expanding traditional methods, while creating innovative new practices. On the personal side, she is on a never-ending quest for the perfect pair of shoes. Bobbi was named a Mover and Shaker by Library Journal in 2011. Her professional involvements and accomplishments include founding and coordinating the semi-annual Library Day in the Life Project. She is a frequent caller on T is for Training and a contributing editor and advocate at Library Renewal. In 2010 she co-founded Transliteracy Interest Group, LITA, ALA and served as Chair from 2010-2011. Bobbi co-founded and writes for the Libraries and Transliteracy Project. She was recently appointed as the LITA representative on the ALA OITP Digital Literacy Task Force and serves as an ALA Councilor-at-Large and on the OITP Advisory Committee. She shares her passions by consulting and speaking at local, national, and international conferences. She writes at Librarian by Day and Libraries and Transliteracy and lives in the USA.

Story Gardens: 3-D, immersive, interactive, social and offline

During our MA studies, it was suggested that digital storytelling is non-linear whereas text-based storytelling is linear, and that engaging with online stories is immersive, active, interactive and social, as opposed to offline reading which is less immersive, relatively passive and often solitary.

Those of us who since childhood have known the pleasures of immersing ourselves in a book, imagining our own versions of scenes described, placing ourselves in characters’ shoes, and engaging our friends in repeated acting out of the stories in our own gardens or living rooms (accepting with good or bad humour the inevitable story variations that arise when actors, props and locations do not exquisitely reflect the text), initially found it hard to accept these distinctions.

In one online discussion with classmates, I said,

I was quite startled to realise that … new media art might be defined by non-linear narratives. Is it always a requirement that the reader not be offered, or be able to choose not to follow, a linear storyline? … when I think about the interactive possibilities of the new media, I can see ways to engage the reader and enable them to contribute, but still have them follow a narrative chosen by the writer.

I went on to say,

I think of the non-linear approach as more ‘poetic’, in the sense of the genre of poetry. The best way to engage with this kind of work is in a meditative frame of mind, where one takes the time to dwell with sounds, images and associations and follow these imaginatively. A poem may, of course, have a strong narrative structure, but much of the pleasure if offers is found ‘along the way’, before one reaches the conclusion or the resolution of any ‘plot’. Even in a linear story, attempts to evoke the emotions and perceptions of characters or of the reader may create ‘poetic’ moments during the story. If one maximizes these moments and reduces the linking narrative, even to the point where it is implied rather than described, one may produce a relatively ‘non-linear’ story (although the idea of story inevitably contains linearity).  I suppose that this is my perception of how Inanimate Alice works. There is a linear chronology, but this is suggested rather than detailed, and my experience as the reader is of poetic moments at intervals along that chronology.

This was my limited view of new media’s potential at the time and, of course, it turned out that there was some sense in what our teachers were saying and we learned to identify and value the different kind of immersion, as well as the relative autonomy, creative freedom and social discourse offered to the reader by many online stories.

However, I still felt that these comparisons, necessary though they might be, could devalue the power of text-based stories. I longed to hold on to them while still embracing video games, MMOGs, cross-media narratives and all the other online possibilities… I did not want the new literacies to supplant the old.  Thus, I was delighted when a recent visit to a Story Garden (“Gan Sipur”) in Israel suggested a way of creating and maintaining a transliterate approach to the enjoyment of stories.

Holon, a large city south of and adjacent to Tel Aviv, has 31 of these Story Gardens. Along with the Children’s Museum, the Mediatheque Cultural Center and various other youth-friendly initiatives, they contribute to Holon’s growing reputation as a “children’s city”. Hana Herzman, managing director of Holon Municipality, and Moti Sasson, Mayor of Holon, are credited with originating and driving the development of the Story Gardens project. They explain the concept further in this video:

Story Gardens of Holon (view on YouTube)

In other words, Story Gardens are landscaped sculpture installations where the sculptures are characters, objects or abstract representations of thoughts and emotions from well-loved children’s stories.

Each garden (there may be several within a park) is a visually identifiable, cohesive space for one particular story, but offering unlimited points of access and egress.  A path suggests the author’s original linear progress through the story, but nothing prevents the experiencer from being attracted to or seeking out alternative routes through the story.

Thematic and aesthetic cohesion for a particular story is established by having one sculptor per story, so only one artist works with a particular writer or text to interpret that story, but these unique story gardens are then united by tasteful, spacious landscaping in and between each “storyverse”, as though an editor had placed them in an anthology. See some more examples in Yair Karelic’s photos here:

Holon’s Story Gardens (1 of 2)

Holon’s Story Gardens (2 of 2)

Besides the simple pleasures of experiencing the gardens themselves, from an analytical point of view, the collaborative creation and the confluence of literacies here is wonderful.  In creating a story garden, an author’s text is interpreted by a selection committee, a sculptor, and architects, environmental planners and engineers (often in live discussion with the author), and then re-interpreted with great satisfaction by teachers, parents, grandparents and, most importantly, by the children at whom the entire exercise is aimed.  And taking transliteracy a step further… some of the stories have even morphed their way into the world of philately through photos of the sculptures!

And the text is never far from the story experience, despite its outdoor, 3-D, immersive, flexible and very social nature: apparently the most popular books in Holon are those featured in the Story Gardens. They are borrowed from the Mediatheque library and are taken to the gardens to be read aloud or home to be enjoyed again, by parents, teachers and children.

In a recent wide-ranging post, Reading in the Digital Age or Reading How We’ve Always Read, Kassia Krozser of Booksquare muses most engagingly on the technological developments required to facilitate social reading in the online environment, but what struck me is her assertion that reading has been a social activity for much longer than it has been a solitary one. She reminds us that

Social reading is normal reading. …  Even after the invention of the Gutenberg press, the possession of books was outside the reach of most people. …. The tradition of people reading to each other remains alive and well. …  It wasn’t until mass market books became available that reading, as we know it, was identified as a (almost-solely) solitary activity (overall literacy rates had to catch up as well, but that’s another issue).

I sometimes think of reading as “story absorption” to remind myself that stories were not always bound in books, but I am also glad that, at this point in the evolution of storytelling, when “wreading” happens in a Story Garden (because analysis, comment, reinterpretation and embellishment are inevitable parts of creation and of play), texts may still be part of the discussion.

The Shallows and how I stopped reading it in favour of gazing out of the window

Shallowscoverthumb2Last week I was very pleased to get hold of a copy of Nick Carr's new book The Shallows just in time for a long train journey. Great. I'd have time and space to really absorb it without distraction. The reality, however, was rather different, because for the first time I became acutely aware that it was actually the book itself that was distracting me from the real world. This is how it happened.

The flyleaf of The Shallows, subtitled 'How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember' states that the book is a 'revelatory reminder of how far the internet has become enmeshed in our daily existence and is affecting the way we think'. Carr spends the first hundred pages or so outlining the history of writing and reading along with a summary of recent neuroscience research.

It was an enjoyable survey but as I read I was also aware that something was really nagging at me. It was a beautiful late summer afternoon as my train wound its way south through the English Midlands, but I wasn't seeing any of it because, as they say, I had my nose in a book. Green meadows and golden fields passed along my peripheral vision in a moving ribbon of countryside but I didn't really absorb the view because I was reading a book about how distracting computers can be. In one sense you might say that I was proving Carr's point that the wired condition makes it difficult to focus any more, but in another sense I ask myself whether that really matters.  Early in the book, Carr quotes a brief aside by Duke University Professor Kate Hayles about the reading habits of her students, but I don't think he refers to her work on hyper and deep attention in which she notes that "it is not far-fetched to imagine that the trend toward hyper attention represents the brain’s cultural co-evolution in coordination with high-speed, information-intensive, and rapidly changing environments that make flexible alternation of tasks, quick processing of multiple information streams, and low thresholds for boredom more adaptive than a preference for concentrating on a single object to the exclusion of external stimuli."

This was my problem. I wanted to read The Shallows. I was enjoying reading it. But I was acutely aware that I was missing what was going on outside that narrow range of vision. Eventually I realised that I wished I'd bought it as an audiobook so I could listen whilst doing other things, rather than be confined to a reading posture for hours on end.

As we passed through Basingstoke, I finally closed the volume I'd been leaning over for three hours, took out my iPhone and earplugs, and tuned to my collection of podcasts. While I listened to an episode of The Forum, I checked my email now and then. Beyond the train window, rabbits came out to feed. People walked their dogs through meadows. Roads began to fill up with rush-hour cars, and early evening lights shone in the distance. With all this going on simultaneously, I finally felt like I was back in the world again.

Postcript: I'm looking forward to finishing The Shallows very soon but admit I am somewhat bemused by the fact that it was this, of all books, which for the first time jolted in me a real sense of dissatisfaction with print.

Vacancy: Impact Research Fellow, De Montfort University

Impact Research Fellow, De Montfort University
Part time 0.5 FTE, Fixed term for 6 months

Dmu_logo_small This post is a unique opportunity to analyse the impact of a group of key social media projects in relation to business innovation and the growing field of transliteracy research. It is ideally suited to a scholar wishing to examine the importance of impact in relation to a substantial example of social media practice. The material to be researched includes archives of the NLab business and social network, including CreativeCoffee Club, and of Amplified Leicester, a city-wide experiment in social media. The Transliteracy Research Group originated in the Institute of Creative Technologies at DMU and is led by Professor Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger. The post is managed by Professor Thomas and situated within the Faculty of Humanities. You will also work closely with the Institute of Creative Technologies.

You should already hold a PhD in a related topic and have previous experience of working on research projects including gathering data via interviews and surveys. You should be able to communicate complex information, orally, in writing and electronically, and be able to communicate material of a specialist or highly technical nature. It is essential that you are a regular and experienced user of social media and have practical skills in social media applications in either business or academic contexts

Closing date 11 October 2010. The post begins on 10 January 2011. More Information