::fibreculture:: Design and Open Publishing

Andrew Murphie andrew.murphie at gmail.com
Sun Jun 27 06:48:43 CEST 2010

(fwd. from the Empyre list discussion where open published was  
discussed this month in which andrew talks about the fibreculture  
journals. /geert)

Hi All,

I must admit that, as is often the case, I hadn't had time until the
last few days to read through the discussion. I was amazed when I did.
It's been a very rich month indeed, and has shifted my own thinking
profoundly. More simply, I've just learned heaps! So many thanks to
all involved. Thanks also for inviting Mat Wall-Smith and I to discuss
"design", although I have to agree with Femke when she writes "It
seems almost too much to add 'design' to the mix now, but here we go".

In this spirit .. here I go! The discussion has pushed things along
for me so much of what I might have said is redundant. This post will
have three sections, if your digital-neurological brain needs to scan
(and I have to say the neurological turn is of immense importance to
me but I'll leave that to another time perhaps). In fact, you'll have
to scan as I'm sure this post will be way too long for anyone to read.
I'll discuss "me", then Fibreculture Journal, then design, then add
some of my own responses to other discussions from this month into the
mix in a separate post.

First, briefly


I never know how to describe myself or my research beyond being
"transdisciplinary", which I suspect is probably quite common these
days. I might describe myself as an "accidental publisher". A (very)
long while ago, when we had to study editing and publishing
(Shakespeare!) as part of an undergraduate program in literature, I
didn't see the point. It was "boring". Now I've kind of stumbled into
it big time (sans Shakespeare). It's been a richly rewarding
experience, in part because of all the wonderful people I've met
through various publishing adventures. Yet sometimes I think I might
like to stop publishing taking over my life. It's not my whole life,
not even my whole professional life, though it keeps trying to be.
I'm also not a coder, or even really a geek (maybe a wanna be geek),
even if I find the new convergences (and divergences, which for me are
always more important) exciting for all the obvious reasons. Indeed
though in theoretical terms I'm completely into ongoing
differentiation, in practical terms I find it troubling because I'm
always chasing formats, information architectures, etc. It sometimes
seems like  to much simple hard work towards some kind of goal that
never seems to be reached. As our friend here, Chris Chesher, always
says, the great thing about standards is that there's so many to
choose from! Also since I'm not a coder, or a librarian, there is a
language problem. I have had many meetings with excellent people
concerning new forms of publishing in which it's been like we're all
speaking different languages. Design often means translation here: in
many senses.

I also have an accidental interest in design (probably coming from my
theatre background, but also from ongoing work on digital media and
interactivity). And recently spent a wonderful month at the Kolding
Design School in Denmark, which gave me some sense of the power of
contemporary design.

More practically,  I edit the Fibreculture Journal (more below) ....
among other publishing activities (including a traditional book and
book chapters, less traditional essays and a manifesto concerning
publishing, 'Ghosted Publics - the "unacknowledged collective" in the
contemporary transformation of the circulation of ideas' in Nat Muller
and Alessandro Ludovico (eds.) The Mag.net reader 3  ... this reader
itself is an interesting example of publishing
http://www.labforculture.org/content/view/full/35568 .. I also teach
an undergraduate course with Gillian Fuller on new modes of
publishing) ...

_The Fibreculture Journal_

Since 2002, I've edited the Fibreculture Journal (FCJ) ...

http://fibreculturejournal.org/ but the old site is at

This is an open access, online academic journal devoted to
transdisciplinary critique of digital and network media and cultures.
FCJ was established by the Fibreculture community in 2002 specifically
to play the publishing game better in both traditional and more
interesting directions, and, we thought, to be active in moving things
on, on behalf of what is a loose group of people interested in
critical debates around digital and networked media. By moving on we
mean doing more interesting things, but also making these interesting
things "count" more among the institutions. We have eight issues in
train, and our latest CFP received more submissions than ever before.
In fact, we are somewhat overburdened and, just for the moment,
turning down interesting projects (anecdotally, this is a problem all
round with OA publishing projects ... they're far too successful and
something we haven't discussed is how traditional institutions beyond
commercial or even university presses are reacting to this. My feeling
is that, for example, funding bodies and governments are not too happy
about it).

We have virtually no funding beyond a few hundred dollars here and
there, and like many other such journals have relied on the generosity
of both tenured academics and just as often untenured academics,
including many desperately trying to finish PhDs, to keep going. I'm
proud of the fact that we've published many emergent thinkers
alongside many "big names". Through it all, many things have kept us
going, primarily the committed community of people (Lisa Gye, Mat
Wall-Smith, Anna Munster, Gillian Fuller, Ned Rossiter, Esther Milne,
Ingrid Richardson, Chris Chesher, and many, many more, including the
like of Michael Dieter who is one of the editors of our new issue) ...

We were also very fortunate to be taken up as part of Open Humanities
Press. This really was a lifesaver and remains an ongoing lifeline
(I've received maybe 4 or 5 wondrous emails bringing miracles in my
life ... the email from Sigi/OHP was certainly one of these!).

The Fibreculture Journal, then, was designed to be part of shifts in
academic publishing, indeed to push them into new territories. How
much it's done that is an interesting question, precisely because FCJ
has also tried to play several publishing games at the same time, and
we spend as much time negotiating old (and frankly newer reactionary)
regimes as we do heading into new territory. Even more interesting is
the question of how much we will be able to do interesting things in
the future. This is the complex design question we've been trying to
solve. It's been a great trip so far but ...

Recently, in part because I think we were all exhausted, and in part
because there were genuine opportunities in terms of redesigning our
online platform and the opportunities it provided, FCJ decided to
undergo a major redesign (design here in every sense—look but for us
more importantly information architecture and in terms of something
like "service design" - see below). We somehow wanted to be able to
"play the academic game" (refereed journal, high profile board, etc),
so as to support more interesting critical work in the area ...  and,
at the same time, step outside this game in order to foster new
opportunities for fostering discussing, for publishing and so on. We
would like to see ourselves as a kind of double agent I guess, or
that's where we try to head. How to design a platform to do this
became a huge question, not to mention a stumbling block. We had a
great platform, just basic html, very nicely designed and put together
by Lisa Gye. But by around 2007 it was obviously not quite going to
allow us to foster feeds, metadata, and more simply, experiments in
discussion. I thought the changes would take 2 or 3 months to find
solutions for and implement. It has so far taken around 3 years
(although we are pretty much there .. at least at "stage one").

So I guess I'm saying that both FCJ and people like myself are good
examples of the tensions involved in contemporary shifts in
publishing. Trying to live in several worlds at once. Trying to be
able to talk to traditional academic communities, funding bodies,
governments, tenure committees etc, and to transdisciplinary thought,
critical engagements often with the traditions we're also trying to
court, and also talk to Twitter, Facebook, DOAJ, libraries, the
community of other journals, new forms of (un)conferences, new
publishing and discussion formats, etc etc. And if we're going to talk
design, it's many of these tensions that need to be addressed in
design. A simple example. As part of revamping FCJ, we decided at one
point to use OJS (Open Journal Systems). It does look very easy to use
once you've set it up, and indeed it's easy to set up (I've done it,
so you can too!). Lots of people use it very successfully. However,
for us it had two large failings. First up, it was a nightmare if you
were already established. Importing 100 or so articles proved so much
work, and in fact, just so difficult, that it held us up for at least
6 months, when we switched to WordPress Multiple-User (although now
with WPress 3 it's all now MU), assisted by a small grant that allowed
us to pay someone to drag everything across. Second, however, for us
at least, OJS seemed very good at replicating a formal academic
journal online (and this is good). We wanted that but more than that
... FCJ is both a very formal, refereed, etc, academic journal, and a
site at which we want to be open to new forms of communication ..
discussion, but also perhaps sometimes extending into new forms of
writing/publishing process.

In the end, we want to have our cake and eat it too, and why not? WP
seemed more open precisely perhaps because it wasn't quite so
completely tied up with academic publishing standards-though the
problem then is how to reintroduce these (Dublin Core up). Though of
course what we really need is something like OJS/WP .. plugins are I
suspect the answer, although there's been so much evidence of things
moving quickly far beyond this on this list, that I wonder what new
goodies and exciting relationships we can head towards next (taking
into account the overstretched good will of those doing much of the
hard work on the site) ... I had lunch not too long ago with Mat
Wall-Smith, David Ottina, and Sigi Jöttkandt and was witness to a
fascinating discussion between Mat and David about technical standards
... not only what were best, but really how to reconcile the standards
that are going to work in terms of well, standardizing the system, and
a perhaps more open and adaptive approach (Mat might say recursive or
generative, in his PhD work) approach so that publishing process won't
only converge, but allow for ongoing divergence, we might say
ecological adaptation. (interestingly enough this repeats two very
different neurological/cognitive models that are often seen in tension
but more recently are gaining much from talking to each other, for
example in cognitive semiotics impact within design. I've recently
seen work by Thomas Markussen and Jonas Fritsch on this in Denmark,
and hope they might edit an issue of FCJ for us soon).


Trying to distill some of the above, design here has to be ecological
.. by which I don't only mean sustainable (which itself means adapting
to convergence and divergences), but mean that which takes into
account the publishing equivalents of Felix Guattari's "Three
ecologies" of the self, socius and environment (including the
technical aspects of this, and their actual complexity and more
importantly virtual complexity .. that is to say, relational
potentials, the "complexity to come" .. well that is coming at us all
the time). I'll try and simplify. There are three aspects to design
and I see very few projects that manage all three well:

* look

* information architecture

* something like service design ... although the term is so loaded
I'll just call this the truly ecological part of things. But it means
designing so that people like me can not only publish, but allow for
the flexibility of engagement with other platforms, people, groups
etc, both within out publishing platform and between ours and other
platforms. It also means thinking in terms of how (very different)
people enter and exit publishing experiences, how these experiences
are engineered on the way through, and how they might in turn
contribute to an ongoing reengineering (Mat Wall-Smith's point). Many
of the points I found most interesting in this discussion have been
heading in this direction. A kind of push towards "publishing to come"
... it's very hard to know what either publishing or "publics" (the
publishing's "people to come") will actually mean, or mean now ...
when pushed by many of the projects discussed during this June .. and
that's a good thing. One of my favourite responses to the iPad
captures this kind of things, in which Adrian Miles writes a post in
which as he held the iPad he "thought of a novel" ... meaning in large
part that the iPad as a platform required a completely different form
of video production/publishing because of the different relationship
people had to the iPad.

The problem is integrating all three of these aspects of design. I
won't say too much more here. And I'll actually make my other
responses to previous discussions in another post (except that I've
been too tricky with myself and lost a lot of it ... lucky perhaps!).

all the best, Andrew

_Some Links_

Online academic (or related) journals I like, and which many people  
will know:

http://www.horizonzero.ca/ (wonderful look in what is perhaps now an
old-fashioned aesthetics but I love it)
http://www.ctheory.net/home.aspx (a founding publishing exercise for
us all in this area)
http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal (Paul Ashton edited
journal, a great journal that using OJS .. Open Journal Systems)
http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm (another very important
founding journal, edited by Dave Boothroyd, Gary Hall and
Joanna Zylinska)
(this is a great example of what you can achieve when you really do
step outside of the "system", academic system that is .. more
invention, more freedom with design and sometimes ironically higher
level discussion of ideas perhaps?)
http://www.parrhesiajournal.org/index.html (another OHP journal ... )
http://vagueterrain.net/ (what you gain with a little informality)
http://www.plos.org/ (there is so much going on in science publishing
.. especially when it comes to information architecture design and
research culture .. it's interesting we haven't discussed this very
much this month, especially as for my money the sciences are way ahead
of the digital humanities ... see also

and other basic links I've put together


of course, like many of us here, I probably get more research
information etc via Twitter (andrewmurphie), delicious (ibbertelsen)
and even, yes, the dreaded Facebook .. than from journals. Old
fashioned person that I am, I still read a lot of (paper) books. I
have a kindle but haven't been seduced by an iPad yet (in part because
Apple "design" is not so corporate egocentric that it's killing the
publishing ecology).

someone else might have mentioned this but here
http://openreflections.wordpress.com/ there is a great article by Ted
Striphas on contemporary academic publishing in Cultural Studies
(although relevant way beyond that). His new book is also downloadable

"A traveller, who has lost his way, should not ask, Where am I? What
he really wants to know is, Where are the other places" - Alfred North

Andrew Murphie - Associate Professor
School of English, Media and Performing Arts, University of New South
Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2052
Editor - The Fibreculture Journal http://fibreculturejournal.org/>
web: http://www.andrewmurphie.org/  http://dynamicmedianetwork.org/

fax:612 93856812 tlf:612 93855548 email: a.murphie at unsw.edu.au
room 311H, Webster Building
empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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