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Expanding the Pathfinders Methodology: Capturing Live Stream Traversals & Social Media Conversations
A discussion about the methodology underlying Rebooting Electronic Literature
How can we make an interactive, multimedia work of born digital media created on outmoded hardware and software accessible to today's readers in a way that preserves the experience of that work?
That was the question driving Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop's research with their Pathfinders project. They answered this question by developing a methodology that included detailed documentation of the work along with video recording author-reader performances of a single path into the work using time-appropriate hardware and software. They called their methodology, Pathfinders, and the videotaped performance, a Traversal. They used this method for documenting four early works of electronic literature: Judy Malloy's Uncle Roger, Version 3.3, John McDaid's Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse (1992), Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl (1995) and Bill Bly's We Descend (1997). They compiled all of their data into an open-source, multimedia book, entitled Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature, and published it on June 1, 2015. To date, the book has had over 25,000 views from readers from 58 countries representing 275 universities, centers, libraries, and schools. They followed this project with Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Digital Writing (The MIT Press, 2017), a book of critical essays about the four works.
Rebooting Electronic Literature expands upon the Traversal methodology by streaming it live and engaging the audience in real-time social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube Chat. We did so in order to experiment with reaching a larger audience and provide an opportunity for that audience to participate in real-time in the Traversal experience.
Capturing a live Traversal introduces a few new challenges. First, because there is a audience viewing the Traversal both onsite at the lab and online via YouTube, role of the reader, the one who is navigating the work, is performing for two distinctly different audiences. Second, since the live broadcasts removes the option of splicing together multiple takes in post-production, the reader’s role requires more preparation and rehearsal. Additionally, the video and audio mixing process requires more camera angles and microphone positions, as the live performance does not allow for the set to be taken down and re-arranged between reading, author interview, and audience Q & A portions of the Traversal.
Capturing live social interaction enables us to capture audience participation during the Traversal process. Undergraduate researchers working in the lab cultivated audiences and captured conversations taking place on Twitter using the #elitpathfinders hashtag, on Facebook using the eLit Pathfinders page, and YouTube's live chat mode￼. These social media networks allowed us to add live conversation to the Traversal that involved scholars, interested viewers, and the authors themselves. After the event, the content of these three social media feeds, plus photographs taken during the live event, are gathered and saved using the Storify service.
Performing Traversals of e-lit live, online, and using social media channels adds a participatory aspect to the existing Pathfinders Traversal model. We are able to keep these seminal works alive by sharing their existence with a wider audience, capturing more of the depth and richness of the scholarly conversation surrounding these works, and recording the ensuing conversation for posterity.￼
Like with the Pathfinders project, we have collected background on the works, author information; photographs of all of the material components of the work; critical essays; and resources. Along with these, however, we have videos of all live Traversals and screen captures of the Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and YouTube chat that took place during the live performance. Taken together they document the work as well as the readers' and audience's experience with the works.￼￼
Social Media for Judy Malloy's "its name was Penelope"
Facebook, Twitter, Storify and YouTube Live Chats for Judy Malloy's "its name was Penelope"
The social media component changed slightly with the Live Stream Traversal of Malloy's its name was Penelope due to Grigar's participation as the Traversal's performer. The rest of the event unfolded as the previous ones did: The undergraduate researchers had notes from Grigar's research on hand to feed content into the social media conversations; and they took photographs, mixing in prepared research on the work and its criticism with observations, comments, and interactions with other participants. Schiller stepped in to moderate the live YouTube chat and the moderation of the question and answer session. After the event Schiller prepared the screen captures of the YouTube Chat. Because Storify had ceased to exist by this date, readers of this chapter will not find one for this Traversal.
We used three locations on Facebook to post for this event: 1) the site Grigar set up in 2013 for the Pathfinders project, entitled "elitpathfinders," with 245 followers, 2) the Electronic Literature Organization's page with over 1600 members, and 3) Grigar's personal site. ELL Team members with a Facebook page also posted to their personal sites.
The first two posts we put on Facebook, introduced the event to the general public on the day of the event.
The next three post introduced the performer and offered information about the author of its name was Penelope.
This post announces to the Facebook audience that the Traversal is live.
The next few Facebook posts share background information on its name was Penelope.
The following posts detail how the work was made and offer scholarly sources to seek more information.
The last two posts conclude the live Traversal by announcing the Q&A portion and thanking the author for participating.
We used two accounts to tweet this live traversal: 1)ELL Team Member Veronica Whitney, with over 175 members and 2) Nicholas Schiller's account, with 2,200 followers. Whitney was in charge of posting and reposting on Twitter during the event. The hashtag we used was #elitpathfinders, the same hashtag developed for the original Pathfinders project.
The first posts offer the Electronic Literature Lab's work as a source of information to those tuning into the Traversal.
The next four posts announce that the Traversal will begin shortly while offering a link to the live stream performance.
The next two posts share information regarding the production of its name was Penelope.
The following posts offer background information on its name was Penelope.