Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Reading :: Together with Technology

Together with Technology: Writing Review, Enculturation, and Technological Mediation
By Jason Swarts

Jason Swarts has done some very solid work in technical communication (including a great piece in a TCQ special issue I edited), focusing on genre and writing technologies. This 2008 book describes a study in how writers and subject matter experts at five organizations engaged in writing reviews. But the real news here is a technique, textual replay, that he introduced as part of his study:

A textual replay is closely related to the “instant replay,” although instead of recording and replaying a sports event, textual replays capture and replay online writing activity. Textual replay is a term to describe the product of a screen capture program that takes multiple, successive screen shots of onscreen writing activity and splices them together as a digital movie, played back in a way that approximates the writing performance. (p.61)

Swarts used Camtasia, but makes clear that one could use other technologies to enact the technique and enable

a different kind of writer-reviewer interaction that moves more easily between practice- and artifact-oriented views, while providing perceptual and representational evidence to which review participants can attach their explanations. It will also create a surface on which writers and reviewers can work jointly, so that the reviewer’s experience can guide the writer’s practice at the moment of performance as well as after. (p.61)

In sessions using this technique, writers and reviewers seemed to learn from each other – more so than in sessions that didn’t involve the technique (p.123). In particular, writers were able to exert more control in the textual replay sessions (p.128), the writers and reviewers coordinated more, and their coordination involved more attention to constraining rhetorical circumstances (p.134).

In the last chapter, Swarts tells us that “Textual replay does not exist, at least not yet. … Textual replay is an idea for a technology that would provide useful mediation for writing review by allowing presentation of the text as a particle and stream of writing activity” (p.145).

And at this point, I placed a sticky note in the margin with the word WAVE on it.

Textual replay is a technique waiting on a technology, and technologies such as Google Wave can easily surface how documents evolve while accommodating writers’ and reviewers’ notes on them. The technology has perhaps caught up to the technique.


Brian J. McNely said...

Seems like recently so much of the stuff I've been thinking through involves *surfacing* writing activity. Part if this loops back to the panel that Jason, Shaun Slattery, and I formed for this year's SIGDOC. Jason and Shaun's work on exploring the collaborative creation of "fact" on Wikipedia does much of this "replay" work, for example.

Jason engaged in some rigorous coding and analysis of different (distributed) textual moves in Wikipedia "Talk" and "Edit History" pages, and combined with Shaun's work, revealed some significant insights into the complex give and take in the collaborative construction of knowledge through writing work.

One of the reasons I've been so interested in Twitter is that it allows us to surface other forms of writing work; in concert with robust aggregation and persistence, we can now trace streams of writing activity within and across one's social graph in ways that simply weren't been feasible just a couple of years ago.

Most interesting to me, though--in terms of "textual replay"--is Google's acquisition of Appjet, makers of Etherpad. For me, no application has done "textual replay" better than Etherpad (see the video here for a brief example). Wave's playback function has proven to be worthless in the large, complex waves I've been working on.

Let's hope Etherpad's developers improve Wave's playback function so that we can increase our ability to track and code interorganizational writing work!

Clay Spinuzzi said...

True - I haven't used Etherpad, but I have heard a lot about how it facilitates collaboration. What I'm now wondering is to what extent Google will consolidate its engines underlying its different writing platforms - Wave, Docs, Sites, Blogger, GMail. All of them could use a good way to surface history, at least for the individual author.