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Title:The Importance of Failure
Author(s):Unsworth, John
Subject(s):electronic scholarly project
hypertext projects
Abstract:If an electronic scholarly project can't fail and doesn't produce new ignorance, then it isn't worth a damn. Contrast the spirit of this assertion with the rhetoric that characterizes much of what we say, write, and read about the subject of electronic text, the World-Wide Web, and information technology in general: the trope is one of change, invention, evolution, with overtones of progress and improvement, and with undertones of inevitability and universality. We meet this trope in mass-media news and advertising about computers and communications, in the promotional literature of our educational institutions, in scholarly books and articles about hypertext and digital libraries, and in grant proposals for electronic scholarly projects which aim, or claim, to break new ground, undertake pilot projects, provide models for the future. Featured Lessons: Collaboration Takes More Than E-Mail A Catechism for Digital Publishing Solving the Dilemma of Copyright Protection Before Its Time Pioneering an Online Newspaper Elucidated: Under Evolution Lieb: S-l-o-w Pages Front Page My focus here will be on the academic part of what is clearly a larger cultural trend, and specifically on hypertext projects and hypertext theory, as they address the subject of transformative change, but I will be holding these projects and this theory to an extrinsic standard, a standard suggested by the rhetoric of invention, discovery, and progress -- namely the standard of science. I think I can predict the objections to this exercise, but in spite of those, I believe this is a worthwhile experiment, and a worthwhile discussion, because it may help us to sharpen distinctions among different kinds of writing about hypertext, and because it may help us to arrive at some principles for evaluating both theoretical and applied work in this area of research.
Issue Date:1997-12
Citation Info:The Journal of Electronic Publishing, 3.2
Publication Status:published or submitted for publication
Date Available in IDEALS:2007-01-21

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