The project studied emergent models of multi-authored digital publications (or ‘digital manuals’). In the digital environment, artists and practitioners routinely co-create computer programs, mobile applications and web-based platforms which function as resources for themselves and others to use and manipulate digital technologies. These resources, particularly when open source, can be then employed for a variety of digital collaborative activities including both creative expression (writing and publishing cross-media content -Fake Press || Art is Open Source; doing a networked performance – UpStage || make-shift) as well as sharing of information and knowledge (documentation on using open source software – FLOSS Manuals, communication of farming practices in small-scale agricultural holdings – Sauti ya Wakulima).
We inquired (through interviews and focus group) why and how these digital resources are created and shared, the nature of communities that develop and use these resources, the power and voice of the persons involved (e.g. any shifts in authority and control, authorship and ownership of the output created by the various types of collaborators) and the role of openness in these activities. The project resulted in a research workshop, a weblog with project documentation and formation of a multi-disciplinary research network of academics and practitioners that aims to further study models of multi-authored digital publications.
The project helped in a number of ways to develop our initial understanding of the Digital transformations theme:
In the project, we adopted a reflective approach and queried the meaning of the term ‘digital manual’ itself as well the suitability of terms like “text, book, and publication” for digital creation and output. Questions to this effect formed part of both the scoping study and the workshop.
The project was aimed at engaging primarily with the issue of “text”, albeit in an expanded form (as such it also looked at performance and creativity e.g. the case studies involved utilization of technology to provide and improve possibilities for performance). However, one important finding in this respect was the need to look beyond the concept of ‘text’ itself, as well as the ‘manual’ as a ‘textual object.’ The terms “text, book, and publication” have broad yet entrenched meanings within various disciplines and practices and an inter-disciplinary project may benefit from the use of language of ‘the digital’ rather analogue as well as a focus on the ‘practices of making and remaking’ rather than the output itself e.g. a publication. In this way, the project helped us in understanding as well as moving beyond our initial definition and contextualization of the term ‘digital manual.’
In the digital environment, building trust amongst digital practitioners and their audience and equally between academics and non-academics was also found to be an important challenge in itself.
The project helped confirm the importance of several issues that were explored within the case studies as well identify new related and relevant issues:
There are several challenges in co-creative projects that are based around utilizing the potential of digital technologies to transform practices of creation and publication. Some examples of relevant issues are: a) while there is presence of expanded notions of authorship and ownership in collaborative practices, there is lack of clear or settled norms at the moment b) there are several areas of tensions between assertion or exploitation of authorship and ownership with the purpose of community formation in digital co-creative activities c) while there is no one model to fund co-creative practices, there are important tensions between economic sustainability in open collaborative projects with fairness and reciprocity amongst the participants d) the role of Intellectual Property rights in co-creative practices (not just copyright but also patents and other rights) is pertinent and should be explored further particularly with a view to charting out emergent models of their exploitation in collaborative scenarios.
Although our initial scope was to look at online ‘communities’, the project showed that the focus should move towards ‘networks’. For example, the keyword ‘community’ is limiting in its scope and definition as the scope of the projects of some case studies’ participants is not to form communities but rather to enable and/or strengthen multiple voices within networks of users through sharing knowledge practices digitally.
Several relevant issues that were not explicitly within the scope of the project also emerged. Some examples are: censorship and identity and purpose of censors in co-creative scenario; inclusivity and exclusivity in process of community formation; language barriers and translation; trust among community members; and, readability and accuracy of digital manuals.
While the project focused on the process of “creation and publication”, it emerged that this process cannot be segregated from “consumption and user experience” (e.g. because consumption is no more linear and the meanings involved are varied and continuously evolving). As such, a broader and more holistic scope which combines ‘the creation and production process’ with ‘consumption, meaning making and further creation’ would be useful in any further study on issues of authority and power in the digital environment.