October 2008 Archives

Usability, Likability, Accessibility

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Chapter 9

"Usability testing has been around for a long time, and the basic idea is pretty simple: If you want to know whether your software or your Web site or your VCR remote control is easy enough to use, watch some people while they try to use it and note where they run into trouble." - Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think

Well that's it in a nutshell.  This chapter finally tackled the nuts and bolts of usability testing; if the chapters up to this point discussed to need for and common issues in usability, Chapter 9 put the theories into practice.  And I like that Krug took the perspective of "Lost our lease, going-out-of-business-sale usability testing," because many corporations who are in need of usability testing don't have the financial means or perhaps the financial willingness to commit to outside usability testing materials, facilities and experts. 

Krug gave many helpful details on how to plan, set-up, implement and review a usability test in a corporate, do-it-yourself atmosphere.  But what I mainly took away is the idea of testing early and testing often.  He even suggested testing rough sketches of web sites.  The illustration on page 139 really pointed out the logic behind this approach as well.  Even if you test more people during one test, you'll yield a greater number of issues if you test a smaller number of people more than once.  Krug highlighted this fact again and again in his disclaimers on using more expensive usability testing tools; use them, he said, if you have the money and if they will not prevent you from doing more testing.

Chapter 10

"I've always found it useful to imagine that every time we enter a Web site, we start out with a reservoir of goodwill.  Each problem we encounter on the site lowers the level of that reservoir."

This quote, and really the whole chapter, reminded me of a marketer's approach to and opinion of a corporate web site.  As I understand it, many marketers consider websites as another medium for expressing a company's image, reputation, goals and products; marketers consider website's primary function promotion of what Krug calls "good will."  (This also relates to ch. 9 and the said tendency of marketers to substitute usability testing with focus group testing.) This is all true, but sometimes marketers don’t see their idea of goodwill and issues of usability as directly connected, or even connected at all.  Krug's personal experience and frustration with the airline website does a good job of showing how these two ideas are in fact connected: Krug used the site to try to find information and the site failed him, which not only frustrated him but succeeded in devaluing the company in his eyes.  Krug puts in best when he says "Their brand - which they spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year polishing - had definitely lost some of its luster to me."  Now if that doesn't speak to a marketer, I'm not sure what will!

Chapter 11

"How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people's lives just by doing our job a little better?"

I have to be honest, when I started reading this chapter I didn't know what "accessibility" Krug was referring to.  I assumed accessibility was synonymous with usability, so I was kind of confused.  The world of the web use for the disabled had never even occurred to me; but I of course quickly realize that this is an issue that applies to so many people on such a fundamental level.  However, then I was left thinking a question similar to the one quoted above.  If web designers have the ability to make web sites assessable for everyone, why wouldn't they do it?!  The extra workload and the inability to identify with the issue at all (like me) are reasons Krug cites, which are someone plausible I guess.  But come on, this issue boils down to something at a basic human level, beyond web design and corporate pressure.  Like Krug says, "it's profoundly the right thing to do, because one argument for accessibility that doesn't get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people's lives." 

 

What's good is bad and what's bad is good

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I had never played Slouching Toward Bedlam or even heard of it before class on Monday.  I was kind of excited to try it though; it seemed like several people liked it. But I have to be honest. It wasn't one of my favorites.  I played it for about an hour and half and after the first hour I used the aid of a walk-through.  But I still didn't get all that far.  The game is deep and intricate, almost too intricate to be interactive.  I would have loved the idea in a traditional novel.  So, as with all my IF play - even with the walk-through's help - I plodded along slowly and probably wouldn't have made it far beyond the office without the help.  This game seems for more expert IF players, who can pick up on subtle puzzle cues.  I'm still on the basic, instant gratification level of IF play; if I find a key, the locked door should be evident or I get frustrated!

 I think I still got a good feel for the game though.  I examined the office, the archives and several rooms from the Panopticon.  I also found Cleve's file and read all about him, after visiting his old room.

But regardless of how much I did or didn't like this game, I do respect it.  Just because it was a little too over my head doesn't make it bad.  Actually, I think this speaks volumes about its great complexity.  It was masterfully crafted, I think.  The backstory is impressive; it is intricately woven and is told in meaningful and motivational increments.  The Bethlehem Hospital setting is also striking. I think the task of creating, linking and describing 5 rooms for homework sounds like a daunting task, so I can only imagine the amount of time, effort and creativity that went into crafting the labyrinth of the hospital in this game.

I also thought the plot was impressive, in that the author seemed to effectively blend the atmosphere of retro-suspense movies/literature with elements of science fiction and time travel. It was as if the author was drawing from several different trends and genres and stitching them into his own, intricate IF quilt.  In particular, when I was reading Cleve's file and learned how he thought he had become "unstuck it time," I immediately thought of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

So just because these elements didn't equate to a "fun" game, as a student in a writing class and just an appreciator of good writing, I have to recognize the strengths of the game's setting and plot.

 

Joe the Web User

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Krug, ch. 7

As a web user, I never truly realized the unique aspects that the homepage of a site had versus its interior pages.  I kind of stumbled upon this idea as I was feeling my way through HTML coding earlier in the semester, but this chapter fully enlightened me on the concept.

"...the Home page is the waterfront property of the Web: It's the most desirable real estate, and there's very limited supply.  Everybody who has a stake in the site wants a promo or a link to their section...and the turf battles for Home page visibility can be fierce." (97)

Krug makes this sound comparison to explain just why the Home page is so unique.  It, after all, has to try to appease every department in a company and every visitor to the site.  As a result, the true purpose of the home page - to express the site's main point (with telling visitors what the site has, what it can do, and why it’s better than other sites coming in as close seconds) gets lost in the shuffle.

To me, a Home page with all content and no focus is like the old saying: You can't see the forest for the trees.

ch 8.

While chapter 8 explained the typical web design conflict and the reasons behind it, I got the most out of one of the final sections in the chapter, titled "The myth of the Average User." 

On page 128, Krug says "...all Web users are unique, and all Web use is basically idiosyncratic."  This quote stems from the belief that web users (which all web designers are) believe all other web users are like them.  An individual web user may like a certain layout, feature, design, etc., but then usually also believes that all other web users like these specific elements as well.  And from there, designers deduce that whatever the most people like is the "best" or "right" decision for a site’s design. 

So I can't help but think, web designers are looking for Joe the Web User aren't they?!

But, Krug's point is to the contrary.  There is no Joe! (well Joe the Web User, anyway) But if there isn’t any typicality between users, if there isn’t an "average" user, then the whole design approach gets blown out of the water.  Krug is therefore telling designers to start from square one when making design decisions.  They should look at the details of their site, their situation, and their site's purpose.  They should evaluate from that perspective, not from the perspective of the great and almighty average user.  This, then, provides the perfect background for the development and implementation of usability tests.

Isn't it great when everything fits together?

 

be mindless and kill the happy

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Krug, chapters 4-6

Chapter 4 - "The point is, we face choices all the time on the Web and making the choices mindless is one of the main things that make a site easy to use."(43)

As a habitual questioner of all things, online or off, I appreciate this rule.  I like anything that will cut down on my reasoning process.  Alright, I'm just plain indecisive sometimes.  Well, a lot of the time.  In life, if I don't feel like I have enough information I'll start asking several other questions.  For example, I'm the one in a restaurant who, when trying to order a salad, reads the menu but then still asks 20 questions.  Does the salad have onions? Are the dressings homemade?  Are they fat free?  Can I get it without the olives?  And this aspect of my personality is just magnified on the internet.  If I can't find what I'm looking for I direct my round of questioning to the website itself - that is, I start searching and clicking everywhere for the information I'm trying to find.  (This also ties into Krug's web audience analysis from earlier in the book, in which he describes users as "muddling through" a website)

Chapter 5 - "If you're not sure whether something is happy talk, there's one sure-fire test: If you listen very closely while you're reading it, you can actually hear a tiny voice in the back of your head saying, "Blah blah blah blah blah..." (46)

This almost made me laugh out loud.  I always think something along these same lines when I'm reading (or skimming for a very brief second) the opening pages of a website I've never been to before.  I don't even bother to read the sites I'm on often; I'm there for a specific purpose.  Take the SHU homepage; usually, I’m there to check my e-mail or log onto GriffinGate.  I couldn't begin to tell you what public address it makes to new visitors, if any.

The next sentence, however, kind of made me cringe:

"A lot of happy talk is the kind of self-congratulatory promotional writing that you find in badly written brochures." (46)

This caught me because of my communication studies.  I definitely don't want to be the author of "happy talk," which is really a nice way of saying "weak writing with no substance or appeal to your audience."  I think if you're just learning (like me) or just not being careful when writing promotional pieces, "happy talk" is an easy trap to fall into.

Chapter 6 - "Navigation isn't just a feature of a Web site; it is the Web site, in the same way that the building, the shelves, and the cash registers are Sears.  Without it, there's no there there." (59)

This chapter packed a lot of punch; it gave you a very concise but detailed overview of effectively designed Web navigation, along with an introduction that explained users’ underlying need for Web navigation. 

I understood the logic behind many of the main concepts, such as including a Site ID (in the upper-left hand corner, ideally), a set of primary navigation tools (sections), secondary navigation tools (subsections), utilities tools, "you-are-here" denotations, search engines, "breadcrumb" tools, and visual to logical hierarchy consistency.  However, I was frustrated because I know I don't know the coding/programming skills necessary to create such design elements.  I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Nevertheless, I don't feel too discouraged because I don't think the point is for me to go out and learn the coding skills because I don't want to design websites for a living.  However, I do want to be a member of the communication profession, and as such it is likely that I will interact with those who do create websites for a living.  At least from reading this book I'll know the background of their field and we will (hopefully) be able to communicate intelligently. 

 

All that comes with 'Common Sense'

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In the introduction of his text Don't Make Me Think: Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug makes the statement:

 "The good news is that much of what I do is just common sense...Like a lot of common sense, though, it's not necessarily obvious until after someone's pointed it out to you."(p. 5)

Too true.  I the majority of the ideas presented in Krug's intro-ch.3 can be summarized in this statement.  After all, the mantra presented in Ch. 1, the "golden rule" of web usability (and aptly the title of his book) is "Don't make me think."  This idea, all about eliminating the questions from web users' minds before they have time to form is common sense; its common sense to design something that is as easy to use as possible.  This is often what we want as web users.  However, this idea sometimes gets pushed to the back as we start to design web pages.  Krug says this is true for all web designers, but I think it is especially true for new web designers...like me!  My head is so filled with content ideas and basic web writing principles that is difficult to remember what I actually act like and look for when I'm using the web.

The major ideas of ch. 2 are also common sense ideas.  The first, "We don't read pages, we scan them," is very similar to what Kilian presented in Writing for the Web 3.0 (p. 22).  We scan pages, so we need "chunked" text and clear presentation of orientation, information and action.

The other two ideas were new, that is, the idea that web users "satisfice" and that web users "muddle through." (p. 24, 26) Again, common sense ideas that weren't so clear until they were pointed out.  I may have thought I picked the optimal choice when I was using a page, but looking back on it I usually click on the first, and most closely related option.  And I always muddle through things; if something works for me, I do it, regardless of whether that's fulfilling the site's official "mission" or "goal."  Why wouldn't we, after all?

Together, I think all these common sense ideas came together to form the common sense approach to design presented in Ch. 4.  Krug says:

"Faced the fact that your users are whizzing by, there are five important things you can do to make sure they see- and understand-as much of your site as possible:

Create a clear visual hierarchy

Take advantage of conventions

Break pages up into clearly defined areas

Make it obvious what's clickable

Minimize noise." (p. 31)

There were two things I noticed about these design guidelines.  The first is that they applied to the critiques I got about my own website on Friday.  Most of the comments my partner and I got fell into one of these five categories.  Second, these guidelines loosely paralleled the guidelines for designing print communication materials; that is, contrast, proximity, repetition and alignment.  Because of the similarity between these two sets of guidelines, I realized the web was more like a communication document than an actual work of literature.  I know we've been building on this idea for a while, but this connection really made me grasp the idea.  It really solidified the idea of just how briefly users really spend looking at and reading websites; truly a lot faster than I imagined originally.

 

IF kicked my butt

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Maybe it was because I spent last Wednesday and Friday reading and listening about the primitive beginnings of Interactive Fiction (IF), or maybe it was just because I thought a game with only words couldn't possibly outsmart me...but for whatever reason I though these IF games were going to be a breeze.  They weren't. 

The first game I tried, Lost Pig, was one of my favorites.  I found it an easy and appropriate introduction, but that still didn't mean I caught that damn pig.  I did earn one point though, which is more than I can say for the other games!

Next, going in order as they were listed on the Top 5 Introductory IF Games article, I tried Ecdysis.  This game was easier to maneuver mainly because it limited your options; you had neat and tidy little links to click on that took some of the endless options away from you.  However, this positive aspect was counteracted by the gross-ness of this game.  I didn't get all that far in the game and had no desire what so ever to return after crossing the first line of real plot, which read:

"The center of the meteorite, the hive nest. Tz'ikk'k lies dead on the ground, defeated moments ago by your powerful jaws to claim mating rights for Sh'usggg'ul, who crouches over the male drone now, devouring his brain. His larvae have slithered further down the tunnel, but you must not allow them to escape or they will surely return for their revenge."

Ew.

Moving on, I tried Tales of the Traveling Swordsman.  This is the one I probably like then best and its the one I used the most of my secondary hour of game playing on.  I liked it because it was familiar.  It reminded me of the Final Fantasy games that used to be on Nintendo and Super Nintendo way back when, and continued on into whatever game consoles came after that (okay, I admit it, when I was about 6 years old I loved to watch my older brother play video games.  I was a weird kid.).  I'm not at all sure, but I'd make a guess that the original adventure IF games like this one influenced the style and scenery in the first graphic Final Fantasy games and those like it.

Next I took a try at Galatea.  This one kind of broke the pattern of the first three in that it was more of a conversation than an action/adventure kind of thing.  You had to think about what you were going to ask and tell rather than see and do.  But, in this way it was also a good introduction on how to interact and form dialogue when playing IF games.  However, I didn't fare too well because I couldn't think of what to ask or tell.  Actually, I think I was trying a little too hard; I was trying to think of really sophisticated and long-winded questions rather than one word/one idea questions.

Finally, I played Photopia.  After reading its introductions and reviews, especially the one that made one player cry, I was shocked by the game's beginning (with two drunken guys seeking some female companionship...) Then, Flash, I'm on Mars.  Wait...What?  Here I was a little frustrated because the only command I could get to work was "E" (which I though meant "explore" or "examine") and then I couldn't get back to my spaceship.  Ugh. I guess this is why I watched the games when I was younger and didn't play them.

 

What IF?

Give me that old time stuff

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I feel like I've just looked back in time!  These were the computer games made for me.  I can remember playing simple games - well, I say simple, but I think they were even more complex than Adventureland because they required a floppy disk drive and I was playing them on an Apple something-or-other - and I loved them!  And, if I remember correctly, they were just dressed up text-based games.  The Oregon Trail, one of my favorites for example, was basically a text game with a rough computer sketch of an ox (well a greenish/white ox, thanks to the screen) or a wagon.

To see the leaps and bounds that gaming has advanced is amazing.  Gaming isn't something I consider myself even mildly interested in anymore (okay, except for maybe Rock Band) because they all seem to have many of the elements mentioned in the readings, like excessive violence, lack of plot and overemphasis on graphics.  Give me the old time stuff any day.  I'd probably play Adventureland if I could get my hands on it!

 

Revising the Web

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Overall, I thought Crawford Kilian's Writing for the Web 3.0 was very helpful.  I am a novice web writer but fairly experienced in writing traditional print documents (as a student), so I liked how Kilian spoke of Web text in relation to traditional text; the comparisons, contrasts and examples used from this point of view were helpful.

The introduction and first few chapters of the book were the ones that impacted me the most; the information in chapter one and chapter two was the most vital to me as someone who knew next to nothing about web design.  From my student perspective, the chapters on blogging and online portfolios were also very helpful; they pertained probably the most directly to my life.  And as society moves more toward the social networking online communication and the role they can play and the influence they can have in the corporate world, it could be helpful to elaborate on such points in a later edition of the text.

Some of the other areas of the book, however, didn't hold my attention so well.  As the book moved into its middle chapters it became increasingly dry and slightly tedious to read, particularly, chapter four and chapter five, on writing web text and editing web text, respectively.  The extent to which Kilian discussed style guidelines and grammar points seemed to be overkill for writers or students who've learned these rules before.  They are important subjects to understand however, so I would suggest either cutting some of the information out and referencing another text or source to consult if readers had more questions or finding a more engaging way to review these points.

As someone who is planning on doing more writing than designing (if any at all) in her career as a communication professional, I found myself a little lost at how to put the skills of Web 3.0 in the context of a role I might be playing in the future.  This book speaks as if whoever is writing the text is also designing the web site for it, but I don't think that is what I'll be doing.  The final question in the FAQ section, which is about how web writers and graphic designers can work together, deals a little with this situation, but it would be even more helpful for people in my situation, I think, If this context was brought up is passing throughout the rest of the text.  It wouldn't have to be something detailed or even dedicated to its own section, just a few sentences on "What if you're not writing and designing..."  For example, I've read the text and understand the basic design principles for effective web writing and web communication, now how do I use that information if I'm not in a position to actually change any of the design elements?

I realize the primary audience for this book is those who are doing just that, designing and writing, so it makes sense that the book does not discuss other situations at great length.  And again, the book as a whole was extremely useful for an inexperienced web writer, and its tips and principles will provide a sound base for further web writing education.

 

I feel like this section of EL236 Writing for the Internet could act as a microcosm for the entire class.  Throughout the latter half of September, I have built on my basic knowledge of HTML coding (which the class covered earlier in the month) by applying web design principles and the learning about the fascinating and diverse world of Electronic Literature.  The literature aspect of online writing was particularly interesting, and challenging, for me because I had no prior knowledge that such genres and works even existed.  So in short, this section of EL236 has covered both ends of the web writing spectrum: the very cut-and-dry design elements and the very experimental and expressive works of electronic fiction.  I have learned that both have their own set of rules (or lack there-of) and both can broaden your range as a web writer; design skills will be helpful for almost any audience, while electronic literature can help express the personal view of a client, your own personal views or challenge or question a literary audience at large.

Below are some links to recent blog entries that illustrate what I have learned.

Coverage:

Although I have blogged for every assignment, those listed below directly engage the text.  In them I've quoted the text and linked to the reading, if possible, and also linked back to the EL236 homepage.

Designs - On the first couple chapters of Crawford Kilian's Writing for the Web 3.0

Nightmares - My reaction to Lanuage points in Kilian

Authority - Reactions to writing tips in Kilian

Consumer - Writing for corporate audieces as discussed in Kilian

Mazes - My reactions to an introduction to Electronic Literature

Illusions - Reaction to The Body

Dreams II - An essay on the literary elements in The Dreamlife of Letters

Killian - A comprehensive review of Writing for the Web, with possible suggestions for improvement

Timeliness:

To learn, you have to do your assignments in an appropriate and timely fashion.  I try to make a strong effort to get my blogs done 24-hours before class, but if that doesn't happen, I always finish every blogs the day before class (just after 11 or 12). For larger assignments, I complete my blog in an adequate time before class begins.  Here, though, are some blogs I finished about 24-hours before class.

Authority

Questions and Answers - Kilian reading on blogs, resumes, and propaganda

Consumer

Mazes

Illusions

Hypertext and Beyond

Dreams I - An inital, personal reaction to The Dreamlife of Letters

Dreams II

Interaction:

Hardly anyone learns in isolation.  So these blogs demonstrate my ability to interact with others in my class.  That could mean that my blog attracted a lot of comments or that I linked to someone else's blog in my blog.  It also requires that I follow-up on comments others made on my blog.  I made a conscious effort this time around to try to improve my follow-ups, especially when I missed one class meeting.

Mazes

Designs 

Nightmares

Depth:

It's important at times to investigate beyond the bare minimum.  In these blogs, I try to do just that.  I think of these blog entries not only as the ones that had more words, but ones in which the quality of work implies that I did some more critical thinking.

Mazes

Illusions

Dreams I 

Dreams II 

Voting

Kilian

Discussion: 

Just as others comment on my blog, I return the favor.  Here, I comment on my classmate's blogs to spark a coversation.

On Jed's Blog - A lengthy conversation

On Kevin's Blog & Danni's Blog - Sometimes you yave to get the comment ball rolling!

On Maddie's Blog - Making some connections

 

 

A close reading: The Dreamlife of Letters

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The poem "The Dreamlife of Letters" uses unique poetic structure and personification in its most simplistic forms to convey three major themes about human life, including the unavoidable chaos of life, the multidimensionality of life and the interconnectedness of life.

The structure of this poem is intentionally hap-hazard.  In fact, the poem was given life by a round table response (to an essay by Dodie Bellamy) originally authored by Rachel Blau DePlessis.  Thus author of "Dreamlife," Brian Kim Stefans, deconstructed DePlessis' response into an alphabetical listing of all its words.  The only unifying element behind the poem's structure, then, is alphabetical order.  Words seem to crash into one another with no order, syntax or meaning.  However, this structure, or lack there of, really speaks to similar elements found in human life.  For one, people constantly crash into one another for no real reason, especially when they are unceremoniously ripped from their surroundings and familiar contexts.  Taken from their familiar surroundings, people naturally reach for human connection and contact, just as these letters, taken from their original essay, are streaming into one another. 

The structure of the poem also parallels the multidimensionality of human life.  Although the words in the poem and the words in the original response are exactly the same, they take on two completely different roles in each form, thus comprising almost two completely different "lives".  Likewise, people can take on two completely different personas when they are placed in two strikingly different situations; the woman at the bar Saturday night is wild and vivacious, while the same woman at church on Sunday morning is calm and reserved. 

However, because the two structures will always be linked by their shared vocabulary they parallel the interconnectedness of all human life. Humans, although they may attempt to wear multiple guises, can never escape their whole selves; thus the woman who bar-hops on Saturday and hail-Mary’s on Sunday must still reconcile these two conflicting selves at the end of each day. 

Essential to the understanding of the themes in "Dreamlife" is another literary element, personification. These very real-life similarities can only be drawn because the poem's structure also allows the letters and words take on a life of their own.  Thus, the poem utilizes a form of personification.  However, unlike traditional personification, in which inanimate objects directly perform a human action or express a human emotion, this poem utilizes a kind of implied personification. 

For example, one line in the written poem reads, "character?/chimneysweeper Christ." From these few short words, readers begin to imagine that a word or letter is actually questioning the "character" of the person, which they describe as a "chimneysweep Christ."  The words no longer represent an idea, they are the idea; the words are performing what they are representing.  And because they are acting human-like, they are thus facilitating the aforementioned parallels to human life.

Another example of personification in "Dreamlife" includes the repetition of the words "I," "I'd" and "in." This repetition conveys the human characteristic of urgency and emphasis; because it is repeated so many times, the word “I” seems to come alive, yelling, "I, I, I!"  The word “I” feels urgent and is actively looking to place emphasis on some point.  The word “I,” like humans, is feeling, thinking and expressing itself.  Likewise, the word "in" is actually moving, attempting to burrow "in, in, in." 

Even the title implies the personification of letters and words.  In order to have a "Dreamlife," the letters and words must indeed have dreams and be alive. Moreover, this particular example of personification directly ties into the human themes the author is presenting; dreams are often the medium through which humans can explore and experience extreme examples of heightened chaos, multidimensionality and interconnectedness which ultimately help them learn more about themselves, their lives and the world around them.  

Beyond the personification that is deduced from the written prose and structure, the added element of animation also enhances the effectiveness of the poem’s personification.  Although the sense of life and motion can be seen in reading the mis-matched words on a page and then applying and reacting to learned cues (e.g. repetitiveness implies urgency), the animated poem can elevate this sense of personification by showing the letters and words in actual motion, movement and action.  In other words, readers can more easily deduce the author’s use of personification when the poem is in motion.  As an animated poem, the letters and words grow, shrink, fly, fall and spiral, in addition to countless other motions.  Readers can see the poem moving just as people do, and thus are more open and readily exposed to the literary personification of the letters and the human themes they help convey.

Ultimately, "The Dreamlife of Letters" uses a poetic "non-structure" to convey three very basic principles of life, but is only able to do so by eliciting a sense of personification from the words and letters, through both the traditional, written format of poetry and electronic, animated format.

Discussing Electronic Literature

 

Analyzing my dreams

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Part Two: Taking a longer look at The Dreamlife of Letters:

When I went back to investigate this electronic poem, I looked more closely at the context in which it was written.  The author wrote the poem as part of his response in an e-mail roundtable to literature and sexuality.  As the number to position, his response came in direct response to the person in the number one position, a woman who wrote a traditional response to the text at the center of the roundtable discussion.  However, the author of Dreamlife took a decidedly different approach to his response.  The words in his poem are an alphabetical arrangement of all the words in the response written by the number one seat.  He wrote his poem originally as a print poem, with sections and stanzas, and then only later illustrated it and animated it as part of the video that was included in the Electronic Literature Library. 

So, I think I can see a pattern, or at least a common idea emerging out of all of this that speaks to the interconnectedness and cyclical/developmental nature of all literature and writing.  The words of the original response were born for a specific purpose, but then by deconstruction and rearrangement they comprised a new work, completely different.  Then, the same words were again changed by artistic flair, adding a new illustrative element to it all.  We see one set of words, three different ways, producing three unique final products.  We may all be constantly creating "new" work, but is it ever really original work?  Even if we don't realize it, there some that influenced our ideas, or train of thought, our critical thinking process that made us make the decisions we did.  This poem and its history help us look at that idea from a different perspective.

In my second main response to this poem, I couldn't help but imagine myself in the position of some of the other roundtable participants.  If I were there, I'd be like the female author in the number one position and write a traditional literary response.  How surprised would I be then, to see the number two position come a long and jumble my work into some crazy poem.  What kind of answer is that?! I guess this reaction is showing me the stereotype I might have for creativity - sure, experimental work is great but within its proper parameters, within the proper time and place.  Here, the author breaks those boundaries by turning a traditional response into a very nontraditional work amidst a very traditional atmosphere and setting.

 

 

 

Hypertext is only the Beginning

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Soliloquy - Kenneth Goldsmith - My initial reaction was something along the lines of "Uh...What?  Why?"  Goldsmith's Soliloquy is a copy of every word he spoke in a week, and it was first presented as a gallery exhibit, and then was published as a book.  So I when I read the introduction to this piece, I was really wondering why anyone would bother to do this.  But I discovered that reading one man's words, exactly as he spoke them, reveals a certain cadence.  I started to read the words in rhythm, almost like they were a rap or set to music.  The text reveals the cadence that we forget we have, or forget to listen to, when we speak.  So from here, you can form many conclusions and arguments about speech, text, human nature and the interaction between them.  However, I don't think the electronic version adds anything to the text that couldn't otherwise be deduced from reading it in print.

The Dreamlife of Letters - I thought this was really interesting!  I was starting to feel a sense of monotony in the electronic fiction works, with all their short passages, links, and almost predictably confusing text.  This "text" was a poem in video form, and it conveys the sense of electronic fiction in more of a presentation than an interaction.  Although you aren’t clicking on links, there is still a definite feeling of unpredictability, exploration and interpretation.

Faith - Now this I really loved.  It is another multimedia poem, but it took all the elements I like about the Dreamlife of Letters, and put them in a more traditional poem, creating a very interesting and engrossing juxtaposition between traditional and contemporary poetry.  I thought it was kind of ironic too that not only a was traditionally formatted poem being presented in such a modern form, but that the poem's subject was so traditional as well - Faith, a subject as old as time itself!  But there it was, flashing, moving, twisting, contorting, and posing fundamental intellectual questions all through my computer screen.

Regime Change -  This strikes me as hypertext "nonfiction."  If The Heist, The Body, and The University of Yellow Paper are works of electronic fiction, Regime Change is the non-fiction version; more specifically, it's like the quasi-journalistic version of electronic literature.  It investigates a political issue, the nation's initial attacks on Iraq, in a hypertext format delivered right to computer screen.  You get the freedom of investigation and non-linear reading, while still being able to re-read without clicking the back button; the boxes are all there for you.  So it is a more guided version of electronic text, providing more guidance to compensate for its nonfiction and more complex subject matter. 

 

Illusions, Delusions, Reality?

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(As I was writing this, I think my personal feelings started to combine with aspects of a close read...)

At first impression, this text reminded me of the style of writing in Girl, Interrupted or Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.  Like these texts (or at least my interpretations of these texts), The Body is blurring the lines between what is real and what is not.  The author's use of the first person, and this narrator's personal interaction with the seeming contradictions in the world, are especially helpful in establishing an idea of fluidity about the world; nothing is concrete, nothing is what it seems.  Take for instance the eyes, how they can each reveal "two completely different worlds."  And although the author chooses one “world” over the other, he has "ever since...been haunted by the feeling that this world is insufficiently real."  Similarly, the nose establishes a sense of contradiction: it can perform many different, contrasting tasks, as the narrator says: "I can wrinkle it in distaste. I can wiggle my nostrils rhythmically. I can 'make a long nose.' I can thrust it into small, tight places. I can nuzzle things softly. I can blow streams of bubbles underwater. I can make a loud reproachful sound, like a krummhorn."  But in another world, from another view, there exists a world without noses, where all the helpful tasks of the nose are absent, and the nose is reduced to a "blemish."

And because this text is written in hypertext form, unlike The Bell Jar or Girl, Interrupted, its sense of blurred reality and surrealism comes effortlessly; whereas the other texts had to fight against the traditional, linear mode of the novel.  In The Body, a complex, almost multi-dimensional world flows effortlessly from the hypertext.  At the same time, however, I think the author is able to establish a sense of interconnectedness and coherency with the opening page; the use of the picture of the body and its links is the one constant running throughout the contrasts and the oppositions of reality that comprise the rest of the text.  This, of course, would be ineffective in traditional text, if not altogether impossible to recreate.

 


A Hazy Maze of Mirth and Muck

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Thanks to Maddie, I used an approach similar to her's in responding to these readings.  (I was unsure how and where to write what!)

My feelings:

I got the strong image of walking through a maze as a read The University of Yellow Wallpaper. At every turn, several different paths presented themselves.  Some of them lead me back to places I've already been.  Some of them gave me the option of going back to a familiar place, and some of them lead me to completely new places.  Not only did the hyperlinks in the text, in other words, the essential structure of the text, make me feel in this maze-like state, but the text itself also made me feel this way.  Some of the text seemed to be forming coherent links between one another (but I never seemed to read these texts in successive order), while others seemed completely unrelated.

Another, less metaphorical realization I had while reading this text was the inherent differences between it and the web writing suggested by Killian.  The two couldn't possibly be any different.  Kilian wants simplicity, in words, sentences, and paragraphs.  Kilian wants orientation.  This text, meanwhile, takes the notion of orientation and throws it out the window.  Readers must orient themselves, use their mind, their reasoning to make connections; but this doesn't seem essential.  Wandering the maze in complete ignorance is just fine as well.

Close Reading:

Author Caroline E. White uses multiple symbols and extended metaphors to represent the birth, evolution, and struggle of creative hypertext to break the standards of both print literature and web-based text and establish itself as a new genre.  The much repeated phrases, "I know this is a wonderful moment," and "Dwelling in this present moment" relates to the benefits of reading hypertext literature; focusing on the present text, one page at a time, free from chronology.  The use of the "infant" and the "womb" convey the novelty of hypertext, while the struggling student, written in the first person, represents traditional literature and the threat that hypertext seemingly poses, which is captured in phrases like: " I crawled through the kitchen window, where the light was on, upset and unable to move, I knew not where to go for terror brought me to my senses again and, realizing I was lost, I went back to class. " and "it seems I am right on the verge of deletion."

 

Kilian, exercises 4 and 5

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I put forth some effort when I orginially completed these exercises, so I've posted them word-for-word.  First, are two revised writings from exercise four, followed by exercise 5, the review of three corporate websites.

Revising for the Web

 

1. If you go into the work force without a university degree, you’ll lose money.  You’ll be making only $1 million dollars over your working life. And you’ll be stuck in a boring, insecure job. 

However, if you do pursue a degree, you’ll have more job options, more rewarding experiences and millions more dollars over your lifetime. The bottom line is: the more education you have the more choices you have.

After graduation high school, you have several ways to earn a degree.  First, you need attend post-secondary courses at a university or community college. After a year or two, you can then:

·         Take  more university classes

·         Switch to a career program

·         Enter the workforce

 

 

Your initial years of study will improve your chances of getting accepted into a career program or getting a job.  Today, some career programs offer degrees as well.

Also, if you decide to transfer from a community college to a university, your courses will easily shift.  This option is also smart because most community colleges have lower tuitions than universities.  So, you’ll save money in your first years of education.

Today, most employers accommodate students.  Students can work and study part-time, and after graduation they can be sent back to school by employers for special job certification.

We can’t always get what we want.  But in this case you have the power to improve your future.  So do it!

Word count: 233 Readability: 8.2

 

2.  Although a website can act as an archive for printed work, most Web surfers aren’t looking for long documents, and don’t bother to read them.

            Web readers prefer to scan a screen of text for keywords and links.  They avoid scrolling.  To adapt to these styles, web writers use “chunks” of text.  A “chunk” is enough text to fill a screen and is no more than one hundred words.

            To make “chunks” from printed text you need to half the original text.  Then you should divide this text into two or three chunks.  Each chunk should be two or three short paragraphs, making your text easier to read through a computer screen.

 

Web writers also have three main jobs:

·         Orient readers

·         Supply information

·         Promote action

If Web writers fail in these tasks, readers will be driven away from their sites.  However, if they keep these principles in mind, they’ll create a site worth visiting and revisiting.

 Word count:156 Readability: 5.4

 

Analyzing Corporate Websites

On the web links page of the CD, you’ll find a number of corporate sites: companies, government agencies, charities, school districts, and universities. Select two or three comparable sites and write a brief review of each, using the criteria set out at the end of Chapter 3. Assume you are doing this on behalf of one of the organizations; your purpose is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your own site in comparison with the sites run by your competitors.

     1.     Website:  FedEx          

Review:   The appearance is initially eye-catching; the graphics help convey a theme for the site.  Organization is clear and extensive, with tool bars along the top and bottom.  These also help explain the site’s purpose, because each heading on the tool bars is for a different action the audience can take. The site is also easily assessable and loads quickly.  However, the content of the site is a little confusing.  Although graphics were helpful on opening pages, the inner pages’ content seems to be in competition with graphs and boxes.  Also, the font-size is set smaller than needed.                                                                                                        

         2.     Website:  EcoScribeCommunications                                                              Review:   Here, the purpose of the site is very clear. That is, to gain business and cliental.  The sense of audience is pretty clear as well; the company is directing itself towards potentially clients in the business world, and makes good use of directly speaking to the audience and encouraging action from them by contacting them directly, as well as visiting sites on the blog to improve their internet marketing tactics. The graphics are simpler than the FedEx page and help divide content-related text from advertising text along the right side.  However, the pictures and designs didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose.  Organization is simple and clear, but the blog’s placement on a long, scrolling page seems to invite some kind of break. The contact information listed at the bottom helps convey a sense of orientation in connection with the content information listed at the top of the page.                                    

        3.     Website:  eMercedesBenz.com                                                                 Review:   The purpose of this site is initially unclear because it lacks any title other than the name of the page, but its purpose can be deduced from the list of articles that comprises the site’s content.  However, the site is very obviously directed at an audience of Mercedes Benz enthusiasts.  The organization of the site exemplifies the idea of chunking in its headline, photo, text, link pattern.  However, this pattern extends into a very long scrolling page, which kind of defeats the purpose and effectiveness of the chunks.  Other organizational tactics, like the links to the right side of the page are very helpful and clear.  And although the list of articles extends very far down the page, the headlines for each do help break up the length.