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.  

Infographic and Pinterest

Thinking about how Pinterest has garnered attention lately. Mashable notes that "most users are even spending more time, on average, pinning than they are on hanging out on Facebook". I thought this infographic would be of interest to readers:


‘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.  

Can you do Twitter by post?


For one month, journalist Giles Turnbull explored this question in his Twitter By Post experiment, which replaced digital tweets with physical post cards.

“Twitter is the contemporary postcard – social updates that are limited by size, but not imagination”

Turnbull used the conventions of Twitter to share updates with fifteen friends via a stack of postcards and stamps. He shared comments, links, videos and pictures, exchanged @replies, re-tweeted some updates and favourited others. The Fail Whale even made an appearance!

When reflecting on the project, he noted: “We write long letters now because we hardly write letters at all, so we feel obliged to make them something special…This makes them long and tedious to write, which means we’re disinclined to write letters; so we don’t write any at all, and post on Facebook instead.”

He compared this to letters from the early 20th century, which were “often kept short and to the point… a bit like social media updates.” This was also true of the earlier correspondence of the 18th century. We often have romanticised, Austen-esque vision of letter writing during this period, but again, letters of the time were often very short. The materials of writing and the postage costs involved in sending more than a single sheet of paper made it prohibitively expensive for anyone other than the very wealthy to send a long letter. Again, there was effectively a limit on the length of a written communication imposed by the technology of the day.

As well as highlighting the historical prescendent for short social messages, Turnbull also reflected on the physicality of the project:

“Now I have a pile of conversations on my desk. I can touch them, or shuffle them.”

Not only is it a tangible conversation, but it comes complete with glue and staples attaching other physical objects to those conversations. This experiment effectively makes concrete what we are doing in a more abstracted way on Twitter. As a method of examining our internet interactions this certainly has appeal and highlights the imagination required to “attach” something and send it across the globe in a digital form.

As Giles reflects in his conclusion to the experiment: “Tweeting by post made me appreciate the online and the offline.”

Photo credit: @gilest

Scooping Transliteracy from around the world

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.

Calling Transliterate Readers! Two new #elit works by @crissxross


Rememori is a degenerative memory game and playable poem that grapples with the effects of dementia on an intimate circle of characters.

Play-read or read-play, however you approach it and whoever you identify with, you’ll become entangled in a struggle for accurate recall, attention and the search for meaning. Inevitably, it’s a contrary game – there can be no winners.

OOT_thumbnailOut of Touch

In our world of perpetual connectivity, touching interfaces that keep us out of reach, we form attachments whilst remaining detached, by turns kindling and dampening emotions. Out of Touch is a short multimedia e-poem created in Flash, with sound.

Conceived as the first in a series of musings on the paradoxical and often poignant nature of human relationships amid networked life, this episode was commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the Third Hand Plays series curated by Brian Stefans, published at SFMOMA's Open Space in August 2011.

Transliterate Effects

In their very different ways, both works encourage the reader to consider transliterate effects and reflect upon how they cope with such effects as individuals and in their relationships with others. Read more about the background to these works in these crissxross blog posts: Rememori – a new work and Third Hand Plays: Out Of Touch.

Modified image of brain: source thanks to Wellcome Library, London.

‘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?

Transliterate Play by Souvik Mukherjee

Thank you for welcoming me into the Transliteracy Research Group. As I have always maintained, I love to read games and to play books. No, I haven’t mixed up my verbs. I work on stories in videogames and like every other player, I play, read and (re)write the stories that I come across in videogames. It’s not something that just I do or am joined in doing by some random gamers from my nearby cybercafé. You do this too. I’m sure you too have picked up your favourite book for the umpteenth time and read it playfully, replayed the story as your own imagination wills and probably turned it into a different story from the one you had read ten years ago in the same book. That is pretty much what you do in a videogame – you replay a story. As one plays a story, so can one read a game.  

Games, and I’m especially interested in videogames here, often demand a high level of transliterate engagement that becomes obvious when one reads a multiple ended narrative (how the story ends depends on how one plays it). I’ve often been asked, ‘so how do you read a nonlinear text such as Grand Theft Auto?’ My answer would be that such a reading  involves different parameters from the traditional set definitions of reading : you re-read GTA every time you play it and you read it with a joystick or a gamepad.  However, even the first time I played GTA: San Andreas, I was also immediately reading what I had read in books or watched in films like Training Day into my experience of the game’s story. The reading that I experience is deeply influenced by the technical specificities of the medium but this experience does not occur in a void.  My experience of GTA’s story is deeply grounded in my experience of other narratives and other media.  It is a transliterate experience and one that is hard to miss.

That is not to say that videogames do something terribly new in this regard or that they involve more of a transliterate engagement.  Videogames certainly make the experience of transliteracy quite obvious though and together with the transliterate, they also involve another of my interests – the transludic (to coin a term).  Within the experience of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, one can also include the experience of playing across a range of platforms as well as that of the overlap of play and reading as we see in the videogame.

Transliteracy has always remained a complex process for me and that’s the fun of it. In a recent research study that I conducted with Professor Sue Thomas, we found that the ‘hidden hand of transliteracy’ was responsible for major positive impact on the improvement of small businesses and communities. Happily surprised as I was, this was another clear indicator of the complex and subtle ways in which transliteracy works.  While videogames make the experience of transliteracy more obvious, they also hold out the promise of exploring the complex workings of the concept much further.

With this in mind, I shall be exploring transliteracy from a Game Studies perspective in my future posts and am very keen on engaging in a discussion that will hopefully spill over into larger contexts of transliteracy. Thank you once again for having me in TRG. I am thrilled to be here.


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.