At HASTAC, Craig Dietrich Discusses Digital Publishing, Scalar, and the Semantic Web
ANVC Info Design Director and USC Media Arts + Practice Research Assistant Professor Craig Dietrich recently sat down with the University of Maine’s John Bell for a detailed interview. In “Digital Scholarly Production and the Semantic Web,” published at HASTAC, Dietrich frames Scalar’s history involving Semantic Web technology and the Vectors Journal, the latter having published a number of scholarly multimedia projects that provided successful workflow examples during the development of Scalar:
Vectors projects, while not based on Semantic Web technology, have had a similar workflow. Each Vectors project produced internally was a collaboration between designers, scholars, and technologists. Some collaborations might extend for months or even a year. Each project includes a custom user-facing interface and a custom database schema operating in the background. Though I hadn’t become aware of RDF-based databases for most of my time with Vectors, we found ourselves duplicating many of the affordances of semantic data in a more traditional MySQL database environment. I developed a software named the “Dynamic Backend Generator” (DBG), a lightweight application for interacting with a database. Forshadowing our creation of Scalar, the DBG emphasizes and automatically establishes a user interface for creating relationships between content held across multiple database tables. A scholar without much database experience, or myself as the architect of many of the database, could use the DBG as a canvas to enter the data for a project and establish a network of relationships between them. While Vectors isn’t a platform per se (each project is custom), the DBG allowed the MySQL database to become a platform for relational thinking and writing.
Dietrich also details some of his personal endeavors in the community, comparing Scalar’s flattened hierarchy—a feature that facilitates complex relationships between disparate content—to his recently launched Tenants in Action (TIA) mobile app, citing a desire to facilitate enhanced voice for physical and digital community members alike:
As a template system, Scalar offers authors an opportunity to create rich-media scholarship with the ease of writing a blog. While I have seen a number of Scalar projects created by individual authors with good results, the platform can also function as an intermediary and facilitator between designers, technologists and scholars—collaborators with different backgrounds can come together around the common platform. The latter method has provided me with a great deal of access to campuses, classes, and colleague academics. For example, I often visit nearby UCLA to interact with faculty and students there working on digital publication projects. As my interests involve communication with communities (in this case, academic communities), this access has proved invaluable to my research. Seeing first-hand the beginnings of relational thinking that emerge from using Scalar is a transformative experience, not unlike experiencing a neighborhood resident holding the Tennants in Action app in their hand for the first time and seeing the agency that it can provide.