Chris Gulker

Back in the early days of the web, the photojournalist and media sage Chris Gulker made a significant contribution helping drag newspapers into the digital age. He also helped define blogging as a network medium.

Chris learned a few years ago that he was suffering from a rare and fast-spreading yet inoperable form of brain cancer. In July this year, at the age of only 59, he was informed by his doctor that he had a few months to live, at best. He went through with a photo show (YouTube) at the local cafe regardless, and he has displayed an admirable stoicism in the face of adversity.

I started the Wikipedia article on Chris Gulker a month ago today and nursed the piece through a nomination for deletion that was brougt by somebody who didn’t think Chris met Wikipedia’s notability criterion. Happily, the article withstood the challenge. It’s still fairly rough, but I’m sure it’ll improve over time.

Wikipedia-style citations in web writing

Scott Rosenberg has just made the suggestion of implementing Wikipedia-style versioning for news stories. Publicly accessible version histories, he reckons, would render post-publication edits transparent and increase accountability. This sounds sensible enough.

It also reminds me of something else that Wikipedia does very well and that, as far as I’m aware, isn’t supported in today’s crop of web writing applications: citation. I was going to research the matter a bit more thoroughly before saying anything about it, but Scott has asked me to elaborate on a late-at-night, spur-of-the-moment remark I made, so here goes.

Wikipedia’s editors are required to cite reliable sources for everything they put into an article. This practice is supported by citation templates that are placed into the body of a Wikipedia article’s source code and that pass through a rendering engine when an edit is saved, resulting in nicely formatted citations, complete with a references list at the bottom of the article. What’s especially attractive about Wikipedia’s handling of citations: the finished HTML page will have hyperlinks that go back and forth between the in-line citation and the bibliographic data in the references list. In a word processor, neither “Save as HTML” nor “Save as PDF” will do that.

On this site, I’ve emulated Wikipedia-style citation in a few pieces about the history of blogging:

The gory details

I do academic research. As things stand, the “primary” form of my textual output is expected to be in word-processed documents, and I do most of my academic writing and note taking in OOo Writer on a Linux machine, saving it in Open Document format (indexed by Beagle), exporting it to Word or PDF format as required. I also use the Zotero citation manager, which maintains a database of works I might cite. A plugin allows me to access this database with a few key-strokes whenever I want to insert a citation, and Zotero will yield up the required data and insert it into my document, correctly formatted in accordance with a chosen citation style, which currently happens to be APA more often than not.

Fine, that’s word processing sorted. But what if I want to share a paper or a shorter piece with citations on this site? I cold export to PDF, sure, but PDF’s real merits lie in pre-print. As a publishing format, PDF can’t compete with plain HTML. Save as HTML, then? This has resulted in atrocious code for as long as word processors exported to HTML. Neither method results in hyperlinks between the in-text citation and the bibliographic data in the references list.

So, just to embarrass myself about its awkwardness, here’s the workflow I’ve been using to create Wikipedia-style citations on this site. In each case, I saved the underlying word-processed document as plain text, then exported the document’s citations from Zotero as Wikipedia citation templates, inserted the templates manually into the text file, then put the resulting file through the Wikipedia page renderer; edited the output somewhat, then copied and pasted it into my content management system‘s posting textarea.

Yes, I know.

To get this process automated, I think I would have to talk to the citeproc-js folks, whose citation processor will ship with Zotero’s next big release. They could create Wikipedia Source as an export format, with citation templates correctly in-lined in the running text. Then the Wikipedia source renderer would need to be available as a WordPress or Drupal plugin, so the Wikipedia Source output could be piped to it directly…

Unsolicited

The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) sports a logo that combines an umbrella with a representation of the northern hemisphere, which has always struck me as less than felicitous. Now that there’s a site overhaul in the works, I found myself thinking about alternatives. So: why would the ADHO acronym be set in Eurostile, the typeface that says “space age” like no other typeface? ADHO is a humanities organisation, and some of its members work with medieval manuscripts, so why not celebrate some historic letter forms and use, say, an uncial script in the logo? Here’s a few rough takes on the idea: one, two, three (PDF).

Update: four (PDF)

HotWired: The fifth iteration of the front door

Between May 1996 and 30 June 1997, the Web zine HotWired used a front page design that prefigured the weblog interface.

Uncharacteristically for HotWired, the design launched to no fanfare in May 1996. Lexis Nexis has neither a press release nor any other contemporaneous mention in its archives.

I’ve started a list of the known references to the design. If you are aware of any other sources, online or off, please do let me know! More…

Blogosphere 1998: chunked diagram

The big network diagram [PDF] I first offered in a provisional analysis of the Blogosphere 1998 is awkward. It may take a long time to render in a PDF viewer, and once it has rendered, zooming in for the smaller node labels and zooming out for the general lay of the land is too fiddly.

Maybe I should print it out as a poster eventually.

While preparing slides for a presentation at the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group later this month, I decided to chop up the diagram. Here’s a fairly random selection of bite-sized chunks [Flickr set].

Source texts on link attribution

Did link attributions raise the blogosphere in 1998?

When Jorn Barger discovered Chris Gulker’s “whole list of other weblogs” 5 Jan 1998, he returned from his exploration with a handful of URLs that he listed on Robot Wisdom Weblog as “cribbed links” without further attribution. By the middle of February, however, Barger instituted a system of link attribution on his site that arguably founded the blogosphere by converting Gulker’s list of sites into a functional, cross-linking network.

I’m compiling a page of archival source texts on link attribution. Ordered chronologically, the page aims to reconstruct the discussion of link attribution in the nascent blogosphere.

Feel free to suggest further additions from the year 2000 or prior. More…

The UCL DH logo: A brief history

DH UCL logo, rich red

Congratulations to Claire Warwick and Melissa Terras for getting the UCL Digitial Humanities Centre off to a good start: yesterday’s launch party was a blast.

The Centre’s logo has attracted some favourable comment. If you pardon the indulgence, here’s a short reconstruction of how it came about.

Melissa contacted me on 9 November last year and asked if I would like to design the logo — I agreed to do it and worked with Claire and Melissa during the coming weeks, almost right up to the Christmas break, when the design was eventually done and approved by the executive committee and the communications people — in time for a little season’s greetings card to be based on the design.

We never met face to face during that period and exchanged more than a hundred e-mails over the matter instead.

In one of the earliest exploratory design suggestions I pulled a pixel grid logo from my archives that I had previously used for a cartoon mutt named Dottweiler:

DH UCL logo proposal, pixel grid

Claire and Melissa were taken by the pixel grid but I was reluctant simply to recycle prior work (earlier uses: one, two, three).

An alternative design was inspired by the conductive traces on printed circuit boards:

DH UCL logo proposal, circuit board

The conductive traces design pleased me greatly, but it was deemed too similar to a logo that King’s College had been using for a while, so it was voted down, much to my chagrin.

By now I was sure I wanted to have the typography on three lines, and suggested a purely text-based design:

DH UCL logo proposal, circuit board

Trying to evoke binary code and mono-spaced mechanical typewriters at the same time, this one was clearly too clever by half.

Claire was getting impatient at this stage and wanted to submit the two previous designs, minus the conductive traces, to the executive committee for approval, especially the one with the pixel grid. But I held out and declared I was going to do something that I liked as much as the conductive traces design.

While tinkering with the Kaliberuckus typeface (of K10k fame) and trying to fit the three lines of type with the letters DH set in the 6×6 pixel typeface, I discovered that the typographer Matt Desmond has done some experimentation based on a 3×3 pixel grid: Amber. Bingo! This was what I needed: the grid was a perfect fit for my three lines!

Having meanwhile discovered UCL’s regulations on corporate identity (cf. 2005 critique), I decided to set the three lines in the prescribed typeface, the not-so-well-beloved Arial. The final version of the logo, as displayed at the top of this posting, is to be coloured using UCL’s official palette (PDF), from which I chose “rich red” in this instance.

However, Claire and Melissa’s enthusiasm for the pixel grid had clearly come from the idea of having the pixels coloured in a great variety of different hues, each representing a different institution or methodological approach that was to be gathered under the umbrella term of “digital humanities”. While sympathetic to the intention, I was also aware that the idea didn’t go well with the economy, if not austerity, that is conventionally expected of logo design.

I sidestepped this issue by allowing for offbeat variations on the regular logo; trippy remixes can be used in settings that aren’t constrained by the usual rigours of logo design. The trippy remix that especially resonated with Melissa is based on the Macbeth Color Checker, a device she uses extensively in her work digitising images. Here, then, is the Macbeth Trippy Remix:

DH UCL logo, Macbeth remix

Also, there are mugs and tee-shirts available for purchase, just in case anyone wanted to express their support in the medium of branded hardware.

Colophon: the designs presented above were created in Inkscape on a machine running a Linux operating system.

Blogosphere 1998

Some work in progress: I’ve been doing research towards a State of the Blogosphere in 1998: the preliminary analysis is based on a data set that requires some commentary.

The data set attempts to be an exhaustive catalogue of all the links that passed from one weblog to another prior to 31 Dec 1998. While that ideal is impossible to attain fully, the current list is, I believe, a good-enough approximation that will afford some insight into the process through which the blogosphere first came into being.

Still, it could be better than it is, and I would like to ask all interested parties to contribute towards resolving any of the known issues – or, indeed, raise other issues and point out omissions.