Wiki for Hire

In “The Database and the Essay: Understanding Composition as Articulation,” Johndan Johnson-Eilola says, “Collection is a social and political act; there are not mere disembodied facts, but choices” (212). I think this statement delves into the beating heart of one of the largest debates in electronic communication. Who can we trust to provide readers with verifiable information in online environments if all writing is biased and even political in nature? Many Wiki sites like those discussed by Christian Kohl and his colleagues in “History Now: Media Development and Textual Genesis of Wikipedia” are almost without boundaries in terms of writing and editing privileges. They write, “Publicly accessible Wikis hardly have any barriers—in principle all users have the same right to write and read” (169). I think there is a tendency for users to believe that the implications of equal user access mean that everyone can share their knowledge with others, and this is a possibility. However, the choices discussed by Johnson-Eilola also play a role, and that role can sometimes be influenced by monetary gains.

A company known as Wiki-PR provides an excellent example of how monetary gains can be achieved by utilizing the equal access provided on Wiki sites. In this case, the site in question is Wikipedia. Wiki-PR creates, edits, and monitors Wikipedia pages for paying clients. They claim that they respect Wikipedia policies and include only accurate information on client pages while preventing malicious or uninformed writers and editors from tarnishing client reputations. The debate centered upon Wiki-PR’s activities is motivated by questions about whether or not businesses like Wiki-PR destroy the integrity of Wikis or are contributing members of their online communities.

Many have responded with outrage upon learning about Wiki-PR’s activities, and Wikipedia itself is part of the angry horde. In fact, Wikipedia has begun to disable a large number of accounts connected to what they view as suspicious writing and editing activities. Some claim that what Wiki-PR does is little more than paid advocacy while others disagree. Opponents to writing and editing Wikipedia for clients seem to be claiming that the rights for everyone to write and edit on Wikis do not extend to people who are paid to maintain clients’ images. It would seem such opponents think the inevitably biased work of writers and editors described by Johnson-Eilola in his discussion of collection choices goes too far when money enters a situation as a motivating factor.

However, others seem to think that Wiki-PR may not just be a corrupt company hoping to obtain economic benefits. I think the most compelling arguments from supporters are those that provide examples of public relations workers maintaining standards of accuracy while working on Wikis like Wikipedia. After all, these workers have access to the most accurate data and are strategically placed to test information which could be incorrect in order to eliminate errors. It seems counterintuitive to stop workers from improving site information just because of their affiliations.

I do not know what to think of businesses like Wiki-PR making and maintaining Wikipedia articles. Johnson-Eilola describes how “meaning is constructed contingently, from pieces of other meanings and social forces that tend to prioritize one meaning over another” (202). I think that Wiki-PR provides an example of how a company can seek to construct meaning from accurate information while prioritizing the interests of clients. At the same time, Wiki-PR is still often providing good information and correcting misleading errors of other writers and editors. In truth, are other writers and editors who work on Wiki sites doing things much differently than Wiki-PR? If all writing is biased and subject to motivations, than every writer’s work is biased and should be subject to suspicion. All because no monetary gain is achieved does not mean users are not writing and editing information for ideological or moral gains. Who can readers of Wiki sites trust, and what is the value of a site that is subject to the biases of the general populace?



Punctuation and Poetry

I have never considered myself to be especially adept in my use of punctuation. I would certainly not consider myself to be a very creative punctuation user; I have a tendency to use a generic mixture of periods, commas, and semicolons to hold my writing together and create flow. I have noticed the same tendency amongst most of my fellow writers, and few seem to devote a great deal of time to making noticeable alterations in punctuation usage. The main exception to this observation has been my relatively limited experiences with poetry. Poetry seems to be a genre in which a great deal of thought centers around how punctuation will be used. I think pauses and the establishment of tone are even more vital in poetry when compared to prose because of the concentrated and compacted nature of poems. Every word and every punctuation mark must count or be eliminated. The poetry of Emily Dickinson can provide an excellent example of how punctuation influences poetry.

Emily Dickinson’s use of dashes where a vast majority of other writers would use commas, periods, and exclamation points is easily observed. The following examples are two forms of the same poem referred to alternately as “Title Divine – is mine!” or “Title Divine, is mine.” depending on the version discussed. The first was written by Dickinson in 1861.

Title Divine – is mine!

The Wife – without the Sign!

Acute Degree – conferred on me –

Empress of Calvary!

Royal – all but the Crown!

Betrothed – without the swoon

God sends us Women –

When you – hold – Garnet to

Garnet –

Gold – to Gold –

Born – Bridalled – Shrouded –

In a Day –

“My Husband” – women say –

Stroking the Melody –

Is this – the way? (Dickinson)

The second form of the poem above was rewritten by Dickinson In 1865. Pay attention to the differences in punctuation between the two poems.

Title divine, is mine.

The Wife without the Sign –

Acute Degree conferred on me –

Empress of Calvary –

Royal, all but the Crown –

Betrothed, without the Swoon

God gives us Women –

When You hold Garnet to

Garnet –

Gold – to Gold –

Born – Bridalled – Shrouded –

In a Day –

Tri Victory –

“My Husband” – Women say

Stroking the Melody –

Is this the way – (Dickinson)

One of the first differences I notice between the two versions of Dickinson’s poem is that the exclamation points and question mark present in the first version of the poem are omitted by Dickinson in the second. She must have thought the punctuation of her piece was pertinent enough to warrant revision, and I think the results of the change show why. The first version of her poem is brimming with emotion and eccentricity. I want to read the poem quickly like I would speak if I were responding emotionally and without great contemplation. The second poem seems more deeply contemplative because Dickinson is no longer exclaiming about a highly emotional encounter; she is now pondering it. When I read the second version of the poem, my subconscious signals to me that I should slow down. Instead of rushing through the poem, I stop to consider each fragment of the poem to find meaning to contemplate. This large difference in how I interpret the poem all stems from the exchange of a few punctuation marks.

Dickinson also removes a number of dashes from within the lines between the first and section version of the poem. Once again, I think the impact of this decision is exceptional. I have more of a propensity to evaluate as a whole unit the lines from which punctuation has been removed or altered to eliminate the dash. Once again, a seemingly small modification in punctuation instigates a change in perspective and the way I read. Like Martin Solomon says in “The Power of Punctuation,” “Punctuation directs tempo, pitch, volume, and the separation of words” (282). Changes in punctuation between the two editions of Dickinson’s poem were chosen for specific reasons, and I think the reasons gravitate around the elements mentioned by Solomon.  For more examples of how a dash can affect your reading, you can check out some more Dickinson poems.

The way that Dickinson uses punctuation to alter her poems makes me wonder how much writers should experiment with punctuation and when. Is an academic paper a place where punctuation should be varied, or would such alterations be distracting and unhelpful? Should radical punctuation experiments be left for the poets, or do we all have the responsibility to try to make our writing better by exploring the different rhetorical effects that punctuation can produce?




My Critical Photo-Essay Proposal

I plan to explore a topic that I am relatively unfamiliar with for my photo-essay: fansites. In particular, I plan to analyze fansites created with young adult novels as their basis. Since I am inexperienced in the use of such fansites, my research question will seek to identify key elements of what I view as a new online genre. What are the main elements of fansites stemming from young adult novels and what methods of writing are utilized within these elements?

My interest in fansites created with young adult novels in mind stems from an interest in the way young fans choose to communicate and make connections using new electronic technologies. I have heard a great number of individual statements made by classmates and colleagues about the great value of fansites, and I want to know why some people seem to think they are special. What do fansites have to offer avid readers like myself who may wish to extend the life of a book beyond its actual pages? What mediums for exploration do they provide for their users? I hope these questions and many others are answered as I explore the research question I have chosen for my photo-essay.

The approach I intend to use to gather research for my photo-essay will be complex. The majority of it should consist of my own exploration of fansites devoted to young adult novels. I will need to spend a great deal of time analyzing these sites to isolate the elements that are common amongst them and determine the methods of writing used in these elements. I will also seek to supplement these explorations with some academic research. I intend to find and utilize a number of reliable sources which will help to explain fansites and offer insights into their uses. My hope is that my strategy to pursue this dualistic approach to my research will help to create a more diverse photo-essay.


A Writer’s Tools

This week’s reading from Stephen Bernhardt, Anne Wysocki, and Gunther Kress made me think of some of the more widely known tools available to writers such as fonts and genre selection. We all use these tools, and members of the general populace learn about them early in their educations. However, I still consider them to be some of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal. I think the selection of elements like font and genres are in large part what makes the writing of different authors distinctive and powerful in different ways.

I seldom consciously notice the fonts used in texts, but that does not mean they are unimportant. As Wysocki writes, “Because typefaces are a major visual strategy for a text’s composers to signal the genre into which the text is to fit, and because the choice of different typefaces can signal argumentative moves in a text, it is worth giving typefaces—their categories and histories—some attention” (127). The choice of font can create the mood and atmosphere for a reading or viewing experience. For example, I do not think many academics would take a scholarly article composed using comic sans font seriously. Fonts can also draw attention to certain elements of a text, especially when bold-faced fonts are used. Bernhardt writes, “Figures which are more strongly defined against their field will tend to appear more important than other figures which share the same ground” (72). I think it is clear that the choice of fonts, though seemingly simple, can have a large impact on the rhetorical power of a text.

This conclusion is supported by the vast number of resources available to writers who are attempting to choose a font. It is easy to find a database of fonts organized by genre if a writer has an idea of the typeface he or she is searching for. If the writer needs guidance, he or she is only a Google search away from an article like one that appears in Smashing Magazine which painstakingly describes how one should go about choosing a typeface. A suitable typeface dresses up writing for success; a poorly chosen typeface can distract and disorient readers to such an extent that they will abandon a writer’s text for one which is more visually appealing.

Genres are often much more readily acknowledged by readers than fonts. It is hard for them not to be acknowledged when genre indicators like the one to the right are splashed all over large signs in bookstores and libraries. The awareness of genres in our society means that an author’s choices in this regard will help to define his or her audience. If an author writes a traditional academic article, he or she can expect that the only people to read it will be other academics. If he or she crafts the writing to fit into the genre of romance, the audience attracted would be very different.

I think one of the most powerful tools a writer has is the ability to manipulate genre to fit his or her needs. Kress forwards the idea that all genres are mixed genres (52), and I think he is right in regard to most texts. For example, many texts that would be grouped under the heading of mystery also include romance. A novel can also mix elements which seem to conflict to great effect. The clip below is from a movie based on the classic novel Jane Eyre.

It is easy to see elements of both gothic horror and romance within this clip, and one could also say the mystery genre is utilized. Jane Eyre is an excellent example of how one who is accomplished in the use of rhetoric may use an audience’s expectations of genre as a tool to glean success. When I first read Jane Eyre many years ago, I was enraptured. I found the mix of emotions invoked by the influence of different genres captivating. The ability to create such feeling amongst readers should not be underestimated, as it is a powerful writing tool.

I think tools like fonts and genres are in large part what makes certain texts more powerful than others. Those who can conceive the best strategies for the use of fonts and mixing of genres can attract more audience members. For this reason, I think it is of vital importance to remember the basics even whilst expanding one’s abilities as a writer to include ever more complex rhetorical devices.

Images, Simulations, and Manipulation

After reading Punyashloke Mishra’s “The Role of Abstraction in Scientific Illustration: Implications for Pedagogy” and Mark Wolf’s “Subjunctive Documentary: Computer Imaging and Simulation,” I cannot help but wonder about the implications of the powerful rhetoric they discuss. More specifically, I found myself considering how such rhetoric could be used by people whose objectives would be considered disturbing by the standards of modern American morals.

Mishra discusses how graphics are powerful methods of communication which are strongly influenced by social factors. She writes, “Knowledge is socially constructed through collaborative efforts to achieve shared objectives in cultural surroundings, and that information is processed bet-ween individuals and the tools and artifacts provided by culture” (150). So, what happens when the politicians and thinkers who control much of the knowledge in a society decide to exert their rhetorical power by using the graphics discussed by Mishra to achieve an inhumane goal? We need look no further than the common historical example of Nazi Germany to provide an example of just such a circumstance.

Nazi propOne of the objectives of the leaders of Nazi Germany was to stigmatize the Jewish population. One of the methods they chose to do so was a propaganda campaign orchestrated through the use of both text and graphics like those discussed by Mishra. The graphic to the right shows one piece of propaganda personifying the Jewish people as an obese woman intent upon consuming the benefits of the labor of common workers. Those who orchestrated the campaign were attempting to eliminate sympathy for the Jewish people to allow Germany to better accomplish the systematic destruction of the stigmatized group. It appears their efforts paired with historical context and other contributing factors were exceptionally successful. About six million Jews were slaughtered during the Holocaust without any large scale rebellion against the leadership of Nazi Germany.

Wolf warns that computer simulations are beginning to occupy a similar niche and can twist the nature of reality. He writes, “Computer simulation’s speculative nature blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction and complicates the question of how far an indexical link can be stretched and displaced and still be considered valid in society, as facts get skewed, left out, misinterpreted, or filled in by theory and speculation” (429). The relatively new technology employed in the design of computer simulations means that it is difficult to point to commonly known historical examples of the power of computer simulations being abused by users of rhetoric who intentionally leave out or misinterpret information. However, the realm of fiction provides a wealth of applicable examples. The following video clip is from The Matrix.

In The Matrix, the line between fiction and nonfiction has become so obscure that most people are not even aware of its existence. All of the details of the world that most people think they live in are skewed or entirely fictional. People live in a computer simulation and do not have the wherewithal to recognize the situation. Of course, I do not mean to claim that we are living in a world like the one depicted in The Matrix. However, Wolf notes the unquestioning faith with which a large part of the population views computer simulations (427). It is important to consider how simple it would be for a person of decent intelligence and skill to manipulate a computer simulation and therefore the perceptions of those who put so much faith in them. As Wolf writes, computer simulations “can be made from whatever point of view is desired” (427). It is possible that certain computer simulations are already being designed to consciously manipulate the perceptions of their audiences. If not, I doubt it will be long before someone decides to use computer simulations and the trust people have in technology to attempt to accomplish some potentially harmful objective.

In spite of my thoughts about the way graphics and computer simulations can manipulate audiences, I would not advocate a course of action that would discontinue their use. They are too valuable of educational and scientific tools to be lost because of the possibility they could be used in a destructive way. After all, language can also be used to bring pain and disaster upon others and few would suggest that humans should not speak. However, I think it is vitally important to remain constantly vigilant for possible abuses of graphics, computer simulations, and other modes of rhetorical persuasion. Only then will we have an improved chance of identifying threats before they sow seeds of disaster amongst the population. The problem is that it will always be difficult to identify threats before they are thoroughly established.