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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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UbuWeb: Designing Serendipity

Even by way of design (in addition to the obscure nature of so much of the content), UbuWeb makes its stance clear, as it seems to create a digital environment that is as serendipitous and under-determined as possibleeven if this means flouting the primacy of user experience. Searching, for instance, produces muddled and confusing results which cannot be qualified by advanced search options. The site's means of organizing content is equally evasivethe ambiguously titled category of "sounds," for instance, provides no clues as to what kinds of sounds might be listed if you were to click on this link. Here, you may find a reading of a Patti Smith poem from 1971, a live recording of a Sonic Youth song, or a listing of phonostatic cassette recordings. The point, it seems, is both that you are not entirely sure what you might find, and that while you may stumble across something extraordinary, you may just as well discover something painfully mundane; in this regard, there is little sense of hierarchy.

Other aspects of the site's layout contribute to the experience of serendipity, particularly the "Top Ten" lists provided in the right-hand column that are produced by a wide variety of users and contributors to UbuWebartists, professors, museum curators, composers, etc. This again becomes a means of encountering media you may never have known existed had the site provided a more efficient search feature. Finally, by listing content selections in long dense blocks of text, offering limited search functions, and organizing media under obscure section names, the site can make finding exactly what you are looking for unnecessarily tedious, while at the same time augmenting the chance of fortuitous discovery and perhaps achieving what the entire project in theory sets out to do: by collapsing the gap between artist and academic, it opens up the possibility for a dialogue between them, one that is not mediated (and perhaps not determined) by either institution or interface, but is instead predicated upon an inter-relationality that grants a degree of power to both object and subject, user and interface, the artist and scholar alike.

Author: Emily Smith
Word count: 263
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