Open Shakespeare presented at NESTA Event

July 8, 2011 in Musings, News

My trip to speak at a ‘digital day’ organised as part of the new ‘Digital Fund for Arts and Culture’ by NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) was eye-opening, to say the least. I thought I’d put a few of my reflections, general and specific, down in this short post.

About halfway through the day I noticed that little had been said about social media: I mentioned twitter in my presentation about Open Shakespeare, but Facebook (even in a discussion devoted to ‘social media and user-generated content’) was largely absent. Thinking about why this might be, I imagine several reasons: first, a lack of understanding about quite how important facebook now is in internet usage; second, the absence of experience in managing a successful facebook-based fan network; and, in relation to this, third, the peculiar language of ‘likes’ and so on specific to Facebook, and the difficulty of communicating what may be an original artistic project in the standardised vocabulary of such a platform. For a more developed reflection about this point, do have a look at Patrick Hussey’s thoughts on ‘community managers’.

Although people weren’t talking about social media, they were talking about the annotator used on Open Shakespeare. Everyone was agreed that it would almost certainly grow very big, yet also that, before it did, a few things needed to be put in place, namely:

– Versioning: i.e. a freely annotatable text, from which annotations gradually moved to a more established version.
– Login: crucial to filtering annotations
– Tagging: for filtering; already in place, but needs to be simplified

If we want to extend the annotator beyond Shakespeare, and really increase its use, one delegate pointed out how well adapted science fiction would be to the tool. First, science fiction readers tend to be more tech savvy; second, science fiction (like fantasy) often teaches its readers about its world as they read, thus providing information for retrospective annotation without too much additional research (as opposed to Shakespeare, who often demands a grip of sixteenth/seventeenth century England); finally, perhaps one of the most famous science fiction writers of all time, H P Lovecraft, is almost completely in the public domain…

Last but not least in this rag-tag post, a point about some of the other things I heard during the day. Andrew Nairne, Director of the Arts at the Arts Council, spoke about how £20m had been allocated for digital/artistic collaborations, for which the NESTA scheme serves as a pilot. He spoke of “digital” as an “operating context” (so both a context in which to operate, and one, I presume, that operates upon the content delivered through it), yet also underlined the ability of technology to serve the arts, “accelerating and enhancing”. Last but not least, he and several others, pointed to the utility of adopting a “gaming” model for online art, partly, I feel, in an effort to overcome one of the many instinctive fears of arts organisations, whose presence resounded through the beautifully modern NESTA suite from time to time throughout the day.

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