Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Social Media Content for Sarah Smith's "King of Space"

Performing Traversals of electronic literature live, online, and using social media channels adds a participatory aspect to the existing Pathfinders Traversal model. We are able to keep seminal works like Sarah Smith's King of Space alive by sharing their existence with a wide audience. This captures more of the depth and richness of the scholarly conversation surrounding these works and allows for recording the ensuing conversation for posterity. 

On the day of the Traversal for Smith's work the undergraduate researchers, the ELL faculty and staff, and Dr. Amber Strother gathered in the lab. The undergraduate researcher curating social media feeds had notes from their research and from Grigar’s critical study on hand to feed content into the social media conversations. While Strother performed the Traversal, Grigar moderated the live YouTube chat and later the question and answer session. The undergraduate researchers documented the event on Facebook and Twitter. They also took photographs--mixing in prepared research on the work and its criticism with observations, comments, and interactions with other participants. After the event, we used Storify to gather social media posts and took screen captures of the YouTube Chat. All of this material helps to further document the work and also captures the audience experience with the work.

The research question underpinning this book, “How can a live internet broadcast and social media effort extend the reach and increase participation in a Traversal of a work of early e-lit?,” helped us discover that the use of social media channels did, in fact, extend the reach of the Traversal. The interactions gathered on Twitter differed from those gathered on Facebook. The chat conversation from the YouTube channel had the most interaction and the fastest paced conversation. Using the Storify service to gather Twitter and Facebook, plus photographs, together was a useful way of providing a lasting documentation of the conversation threads. Monitoring multiple channels during the question and answer session allowed for a broader, more varied, and richer conversation. 

We posted to three main sites on Facebook: 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 own site. ELL Team members with a Facebook page also posted to their own sites. 

This post, the first we put on Facebook, introduced the event to the general public days before the event.

On the day before the live Traversal we held a rehearsal with Amber Strother and posted a photo of her practicing with the work.

The morning of the event, we posted this photo of Greg Philbrook setting up the equipment for capturing the live Traversal on YouTube.

Just before we started, we posted a reminder to those on the elit-pathfinders site to join us at the event.

The next seven posts contained information about the work for the audience since most of them had never experienced King of Space and so had limited knowledge about it. In some cases the posts feature the ELL Team posting and/or monitoring sites.

We announced the Q & A to the audience so that those following us on Facebook could post questions to the performer and moderator.

We also announced that we would create a Storify site for the Facebook and Twitter posts. 

One final photo we posted was this one of the onsite audience and ELL Team after the event ended.

We tweeted on two Twitter sites: 1) Grigar's own site that had over 2800 followers, and 2) ELL Team Member Veronica Whitney's site, with over 175 members. 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.

Grigar posted announcements on her site about the event ahead of time and the first post that used the hashtag was one showing Strother rehearsing for the Live Traversal.

Next was this photo of Grigar and Strother Skyping with author Sarah Smith in the Electronic Literature Lab on the day before the event. 

The next two posts introduced the start of the event and highlighted the onsite audience in the lab.

The next eight posts followed the approach we used for Facebook by posting Strother's comments about the work during her Traversal and information gleaned from Grigar and Strother's Skype interview with Smith the day before.

Once the Traversal ended, we announced on Twitter that the Q & A would begin so that the audience could post questions to us to raise to the audience on the YouTube Chat and in the lab. We also continued to post information about the work we learned from the Live Traversal.

We found Storify useful as a tool for pulling together all of the Facebook and Twitter posts into one interface. While our story could have been exported as a PDF document or made into a screen capture, the output is not an accurate representation of the original format and presents other display issues. Instead, Nicholas opted to export the story to HTML, save the content locally, and then host it on our web server. Weeks into our project, the developers of Storify announced that the site would not be continued after May 2018, which means we will not have access to this tool in future stages of our project.


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