The latest issue of The Chronicle has an article called "Blog Comments vs. Peer Review: Which Way Makes a Book Better?" which describes an interesting experiment: to see which is more effective for reviewing a book, blog comments by a community of online peers or traditional peer review. Noah Wardrip-Fruin is posting portions of his upcoming book, Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies to his blog at Grant Text Auto and with the aid of The Future of the Book’s CommentPress is asking readers to comment.
After browsing quickly through the comments—just to see if they appear in the expected range of nit-picky and expository—I came across the following:
The surface of a work of digital media is not transparent — it does not allow for direct observation of the data and process elements created and selected by the work’s author(s), or of the technical foundations on which they rest. Given this, adopting only the audience’s perspective makes full engagement with the work’s processes impossible. Some systems, through interaction, may make it possible to develop relatively accurate hypothesis of how the internal systems operate (in fact, some works require this on the part of the audience). But this is a complement to critical engagement with the operations of the work’s processes, rather than a substitute.
An a comment from Lev Manovich (whose wondeful book, The Language of New Media was removed at the last minute from the required list for my grad course Writing for Electronic Communities):
To a significant extent, modern thinking about culture can be characterized as “surface studies.” This is true of film studies, media studies, art history, literary studies, etc. Although each of these disciplines produced some work which engages with the production processes which led to the outputs presented to the audiences – films, literature, television programs, etc. – these works are a minority. A great majority of books, articles, and academic papers take these outputs as given; they are then interpreted using different methodologies (Psychoanalysis, Marxism, Feminism, etc.). What is not considered are the theories and concepts of the people involved in production, the technologies involved, and what can be called “cultural logistics” – the organization and consideration of networks of people, machines, media, distribution systems, etc. I think that one of the goals of Software Studies is to focus on all these dimensions and to demonstrate to the rest of humanities why their study is crucial.
If this is the kind of blog-based peer review we can expect, then I think traditional peer review could potentially have a formidable distributed competitor. Obviously the thing that makes it work here is the reputation and quality of the author, the blog, and the blog’s readers’ commitment to devloping new knowledge and exploring new ideas. For blogs with fewer readers it wouldn’t be as effective. But, Noah is starting a discussion that is very much worth having.