Saturday, January 17, 2009

textual curation

I had the opportunity to listen to a very smart person talk about the nature of automated authoring. Specifically, she briefly discussed the concept of authorship as it relates to Wikipedia bots that collect, compile, and correct textual information.

I found most interesting the striking similarities between Wikipedia bots and technical communicators. The bots’ activities of surveying, filtering, compiling, and evaluating are the same activities performed by practicing technical communicators. Like the bots, the technical communicator (functioning as author) works with a range of content sources (human, digital, etc.) and decides what goes in, how it goes in, and what stays out – a textual curator.

Maybe this is just another fancy way of looking at TC’s long-standing identity crises. Like Information Architect and Content Wrangler (and any of the many different labels technical communicators wrap themselves in), Textual Curator attempts to neatly bundle the myriad of activities performed by the technical communicator. The problem, however, is that technical communication activities are not neat and clean. Like all communication processes and efforts of meaning making, technical communication is packed with murky processes, borrowed practices, cloudy theories, and wispy tethers to almost every other known discipline. The issues and problems of authorship, ownership, and value within TC will always exist, regardless of what we call the activities of the practicing technical communicator.

I can’t over-simplify the discussion I attended because the issue of authorship is complex and compelling – regardless of the context in which it is discussed. I will say that we can no more consider a bot an author of a text than we do the technical communicator who performs the same rote tasks of data collection, organization, compilation, formatting, and publication.

For me, this is an extremely interesting topic because it helps to frame discussions of identity, worth, and technology within TC. It’s also another lens through which practicing technical communicators can consider the future of their practice.


Krista said...

Wow, I somehow managed to miss this at the time! (Actually, not "somehow," since I started purposefully ignoring the web sometime during my search.)

Which is to say: thanks for posting it, and I'm looking forward to talking more with you about this. I've been wondering about the differences between automated and human textual curation for awhile. During my proposal defense, my outside committee member suggested that perhaps all encyclopedic writers, whether human or automaton, were bots because of the reasons you list... But I'm thinking that sentience is a big dividing line here, as well as levels of agency. And, of course, the wonderful messiness you allude to.

See you soon-ish! We'll be up in late spring to find a house and plan to move mid-summer.

Mike said...

"The wonderful messiness" - I love it!! Have a safe and productive trip. CNY is a beautiful place in late spring. We'll have plenty to talk about when you settle in :-)