You Are Where? Building a Research Presence in Cyberspace

Rory Ewins

This paper was presented at a Higher Education Research Seminar at the Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh, 20 November 2003, substantially as shown here (some examples were ad-libbed in the talk and added to the text later). Links and references are shown at the end of the page. The atmospheric photos from the accompanying slideshow are given as links here instead.

→ Comments welcome.


This paper examines the challenges and strategies facing academics when building an online presence and making it part of their research activity: what it means to have a “presence in cyberspace” and an online identity; interacting with peers online, and the presentation and ownership of ideas in the online environment; and the practical side of establishing an online presence. Its aim is to encourage academics to become more visible and active online, not simply remain a name that occurs on a few departmental pages; and to explore what that means for researchers.

1. You are where?

The “where” is cyberspace: an unfamiliar term a decade ago, an over-familiar one today. It was coined by a science fiction writer, William Gibson (1984), to describe something part-way between a state of mind and an actual place: a virtual space, a place one’s mind and consciousness can inhabit even while one’s body is sitting quietly in ordinary physical space. A place one can enter and move around with the aid of computer technology, along the pathways and connections of computer networks.

While most of us associate cyberspace only with computers and the Internet, we have been living in it for years. Whenever we pick up the telephone to talk to another person, we meet them in cyberspace, a place that corresponds to neither end of the line and to both. This was less obvious, perhaps, when all phones were in a fixed location; we would imagine our caller sitting at his or her phone in a specific physical space. But in an age of mobile phones, the phone number has detached itself from a specific place and attached itself to a specific individual who could physically be anywhere. When we ring someone now, we are far more conscious of this placelessness in which a phone conversation is conducted (see Goldberger, 2003). We are conscious of it, too, because these portable portals allow us to shift into cyberspace at a moment’s notice—almost forgetting where we physically are, to the annoyance of others around us. We can even walk up behind someone we are talking to on a mobile and, by telling them where we are, cause them to shift from cyberspace into real space unexpectedly.

The telephone network linked us all into cyberspace conversations long before it carried e-mail and Web traffic. But it was not the first network to do that: the telegraph network was also a gateway to cyberspace. Tom Standage (1998) has described how telegraph operators would chat in morse code with counterparts across the Atlantic in a way strikingly similar to the Internet-facilitated conversations of today.

So cyberspace actually predates the “cyber”; we have been shifting in and out of it for as long as we have been communicating at a distance. It’s possible, perhaps, to trace it back even further in the history of communication: long-distance conversations carried out via airmail letters could be said to take place in a kind of cyberspace as much as at either end of the correspondence. As could letters from one side of town to another, or messages carried by couriers. All invoke an imaginative space in which two sides can meet and exchange information.

But to focus only on the communicative side of cyberspace is to miss the bigger picture. As anyone who has spent any time surfing the Web knows, it’s quite possible to spend hours at a time “in” cyberspace even when the only communicating one is doing is clicking on a link every few minutes to get a browser to send a request to a server for a new page to read. Most of our time online isn’t spent talking; it’s spent reading. Yet we still feel as if we are “in” cyberspace as we read words from the screen. Because of the history of the term itself, and the way we access these words via the Internet, we might conclude that computer technology is an integral part of this feeling of being in cyberspace. But as the examples of the telegraph and the telephone show, it’s not the only way of getting there. The technology we use to access cyberspace will surely change in the future, just as it has in the past, so in thinking about what or where cyberspace is we should not tie it too strongly to the transient nature of current technology.

Given the strong overlap in contemporary thinking between cyberspace and the Internet, and the past examples of the phone and telegraph networks, we might be tempted to think of cyberspace as arising out of communications networks, as being the place we meet when we communicate with each other. But that cannot be the whole story. When we play an adventure game on a computer, whether an old-fashioned text-based one such as the original Adventure or a graphical one such as Myst, we find ourselves immersed in the world of that game—and in cyberspace. We find ourselves there, too, when we enter a virtual reality environment (which most of us have little opportunity to do, although the entertainment industry tries to bring us closer to it through surround-sound music, giant Imax movie screens, and increasing experiments with interactivity in entertainment, all designed to create a sense of immersion). These examples don’t have to involve networks at all, even though they can.

When we surf the Web, are a few differences in context—the fact that we read words off a screen rather than a printed page, or click links rather than turn pages—all that is taking us into cyberspace? Do we stay there when we stop clicking links, but instead scroll down a long article on a single web page? Are we still there if we print out the article to read it on paper?

Either way, we’re reading—and reading takes us into an imaginative state, a state shaped by the author of the words we read, and by ourselves as readers. As readers we know what it feels like to be in that state; and we know what it feels like to slip out of it. We have all felt our minds wander as we read words on a page, and found ourselves having to go back and re-read them—forcing ourselves into a focussed, “reading” state of mind—immersing ourselves in those words, giving our attention over to them, quietening our own inner voice to listen to the voices of others.

What is this mental state? Where are we when we are in it? I would argue that it’s cyberspace; we simply didn’t have a name for it before. It’s a virtual place—the place where our mind meets another’s; where reader meets author. It’s the place we find ourselves in when we read a friend’s email; the place we meet when we hear their voice on our mobile phone. We have less opportunity when reading a printed page to respond to their words in a way that they will hear, but communication is still taking place, even if one-way.

While it might seem strange to speak of reading as taking us to a place, even a virtual one, readers and reviewers have been using these metaphors for years. We talk of authors transporting us to another world; of really “being there”—being there, not “in that imaginative state”. We read to escape—but to escape what? Our physical selves, our physical location, our physical world. We yearn to escape to a place of pure imagination, pure thought. To cyberspace.

So cyberspace is not something new. We have been building it for centuries, book by book, letter by letter, web page by web page. Or rather, we have been building gateways to it for centuries, because that’s all any of these are: means of access to the real cyberspace, which is invoked by our minds. Cyberspace is an imaginative state—a state of reading, of communicating, of thinking—which we have made more and more a part of our lives through advances in technology, from writing to printing to telecommunications to television to the Internet.

We have almost reached the point where technology combines all of our previous ways of reaching cyberspace into one: where books and films and phone calls and letters come together in one virtual environment. The Web is almost but not quite that holistic environment; taken together with modern operating systems, various forms of communications software, and personal computers hooked up to a global network, it’s very close. Close enough that it can seem more immersive than any of its predecessors.

Books can take us into the reading state, but can require a level of concentration and a degree of imagination that many find hard to sustain. Movies and television engage more of our senses and consequently draw a wider audience; they, too, offer a way to lose ourselves and shift into this imaginative state. Computer environments, from games to the Web, add interactivity to the mix of images, sounds and stories found in other media, and with it an extra level of engagement, an even stronger sense of exploring and being in another environment. And on the Web, the knowledge that real human beings are not only responsible for the words and images we are reading, but are potentially contactable by us at any time, adds another layer of intrigue again.

We can see in the progression of these media and communication technologies, from books and letters to the Web and email, a steady increase in their level of engagement of our senses, in the number of different ways they can engage us, and in the speed with which they can deliver new information to hold our attention. A future technology that engages our senses of smell, taste and touch as effectively as we can engage sight and hearing today would seem even more virtually real. But even as old a technology as the book can harness the power of our imagination and take us out of ourselves.

Cyberspace, then, is an imaginative state that feels like a place because our imaginations construct and interpret it that way; reinforced, in its computer technology incarnation, by the efforts of designers and developers to make it seem more place-like. We “visit” a web “site” and “navigate” its information “architecture” by going “home”, “forward” and “back”.

2. Are you there?

So if cyberspace is a place, what does it mean to be in it? What sort of presence does one have in cyberspace?

If we think of cyberspace as an imaginative state—as a form of the reading state—we can see that we have always imagined ourselves as having a presence in relation to what we read: the presence of a member of the audience. We talk of getting “caught up” in a story, “wrapped up” in it, “engrossed”, “carried away”. Even though we cannot change the text that plays out in that imaginative space, we are the ones who bring that space into being through the act of reading, and mentally inhabit it for as long as we read. But when we read a book, watch a movie or listen to a record, we’re always lurking.

Add the elements of interactivity and communication, though, and our presence in cyberspace becomes different. Even if we rarely make contact with the authors of what we read online, whether it’s a web site, a comment on Usenet, or an email from a mailing list, the fact that we can makes us potentially more than a member of the audience. We can now be contacted directly via email, so our presence in cyberspace has become something more significant.

This combination of the author-reader relationship and the ready ability to communicate from and with either side makes the online form of cyberspace particularly engaging. Our presence as audience members has always been important, but the ability to have authors and audience members talking to one another, and for all of them to be, to varying degrees, both at once, brings together all the different ways of accessing the imaginative state of cyberspace into one powerful whole.

Building a presence in cyberspace, then, has been a long historical process. It has involved the development of language, the written word, the printing press, mass education and literacy, movies, radio and television. For most of history, the ability of most people to access cyberspace has been limited; and even when they have been able to, their presence has been limited to that of an audience member. It took a series of parallel developments in communications, from the penny post to mobile phones, to change what it means to be present in cyberspace from being an audience member to being part of a conversation; and with it, to change the feeling of cyberspace from being something you imagine to somewhere you are. Computers connected to the Internet are the best tools we have to access and explore this new, improved cyberspace—so new and so improved that we only recognised it for what it was once we had them.

The fact that we can all potentially now have an active, accessible presence in cyberspace is one of the key things that makes the Internet and the Web so significant. It’s worth considering what that presence can be.

Several years after William Gibson first wrote about cyberspace, another science fiction author, Neal Stephenson, wrote about the concept of avatars. “Avatar” is a religious term for the physical forms taken by deities when they visit earth, but Stephenson used it in his book Snow Crash to describe a person’s virtual presence in cyberspace: a part of cyberspace called the Street, a cross between a convincing virtual reality world and a giant all-connecting network. Characters in Snow Crash—particularly the main character, the aptly named Hiro Protagonist—would don a headset and be mentally transported from their mundane surroundings to the exotic Street, where their own avatar could interact with the avatars of other real people. These avatars could be very detailed in appearance, and quite different from their real bodies, with different “physical” characteristics—though they would, of course, contain the same mind as the real person they represented.

Snow Crash was popular in science fiction circles in the early 1990s, and struck a chord with net users. The concept of avatars soon entered the terminology of the net and the web (Stephenson was not actually the first to use it in a computer context—see Walker, 2003—but he was certainly the one who popularised it). Nowadays it is used to mean any persistent graphical representation of a specific user online, rather a weak version of Stephenson’s idea, that of a representation of oneself with which others can interact. Stephenson’s avatars are denizens of a super-cyberspace, where all the senses are engaged to create a totally immersive virtual environment.

It seems a less radical concept than it did ten years ago, because since then we’ve all been introduced to the most famous avatar of all: Neo of The Matrix, who attained enlightenment when he learned how to see beyond the illusory world he inhabited into the streams of code that underpinned it (a character bound to appeal to the teenage hacker).

The Web is not the Matrix, or the Street; it’s a different, less immersive form of cyberspace, though still far in advance of older forms. The presence we have on the Web will not be an avatar like Neo’s, but we can create avatars of a kind there, as we shall see.

3. Why go there?

But why would we want to? And in the educational context, why would we want to build a research presence on the Web—inside this ultimate form, for the time being, of cyberspace? I will list some of the reasons now.

i. Being author and audience

As I have discussed, the online environment enables us to be both author and audience, and to communicate readily with our peers as either or both. This is what we have always done as academic researchers: we read and write, and discuss ideas with one another. Previously, we would read and write books and articles and dissertations, and respond to them in published or unpublished letters, in books and articles of our own, or in conversation at seminars and conferences. The online environment allows us to do all of those things within the same context, increasing the chances of discussion and allow for greater cross-fertilisation of ideas.

ii. Making connections

The hypertext nature of the Web enables us to make the sorts of intellectual connections we have always striven to make, more efficiently—not just as readers using search engines to unearth new sources, but as writers referring to other sources or past works of our own. The hypertext link combines elements of the footnote and the citation, allowing us to lead readers to such sources far more easily than if they had to look up a footnote, write down a reference, and remember to look it up the next time they visit the library.

iii. Gathering and preserving our thoughts

Giving our thoughts a home online helps them to endure. This is nothing new: we have all read books by authors who were long dead, and engaged with their ideas across a gap of years or even centuries. But the question is not just one of keeping our thoughts around for longer than a few months or even years—in that respect, books are a much more proven medium than the Web, despite the attempts of organisations such as to preserve snapshots of old sites.

Where the Web has the advantage is in bringing and keeping together a wide range of disparate material, and in conserving snippets of thought that might never have been worked up into a book or an article but are still worth recording. If we were, hypothetically, able to put everything we wrote online, however major or minor, we could create a presence comparable to that invoked by a set of our complete published works—something which, in the case of most of us, would only otherwise exist in our personal collections. The presence in intellectual culture of someone like George Orwell stems not just from a single work but from the fact that all of his books, articles, broadcasts and letters are still in print, and create a strong sense of the man and his thought. We may not be able to match the stature of an Orwell, but unlike the vast majority of authors throughout history, it is now theoretically possible for any one of us to keep everything we have written available to the public—“in print”, or the online equivalent—all of the time, for as long as we maintain it on the Web. We can create an enduring presence for ourselves and our work that is hard for any print author to replicate, apart from the most successful whose entire work stays in print, or unless readers have access to a well-stocked library.

iv. Opening up our intellectual history

Interacting with an online representation of someone—a presence, an avatar—is in many respects inferior to interacting with their actual self, their actual body: our current technologies cannot invoke a convincing Matrix-like world that engages all the senses and convinces in every detail, and communication technologies are still inferior to talking in person in terms of speed of communication, or the ability to convey nuance through body language and style of delivery. But the fact that an online presence can contain or link to things we have written in the past—perhaps even everything we have written—is an enormous advantage for academics, since so much academic endeavour is concerned with adding to bodies of knowledge and, on a personal level, building a reputation for our own contribution to knowledge. If others can see not only our presence in the sense of a contactable representation of ourselves and what we are saying now, but also the things we have said in the past, it’s easier for them to get to know us and our thoughts. In effect, everyone has access to our back catalogue.

v. Spanning time and space

An online presence allows conversations that fall neatly between the real-time of a face-to-face discussion or a phone-call, and the drawn-out conversation of private international airmail letters or replies back and forth in the letters page of a journal. We can talk about a subject over a few days—quickly enough that it stays uppermost in our minds—without feeling we have to reply as soon as the other person has stopped talking. These discussions can stop and start, with periods of intense discussion broken up by long breaks of silence, while still maintaining the thread of an ongoing discussion about a particular subject by linking back to archives of past comments.

Just as significantly, these discussions can span space as well as time in a way that is not easily replicated offline. It takes a major conference to bring together academics from all over the world, and they can only ever last for a few days; but bringing them together in discussion online is possible at any time.

These obvious advantages of the online environment are often used as selling points for online teaching, with students being sold the benefits of “asymmetric conversation” (that is, a conversation carried out in the manner just outlined, not in real time) and of studying alongside peers from all over the country or the world. But unless one is studying at a distance or part-time, these advantages are often outweighed by the advantages of face-to-face contact.

Academics, though, are in a different position to students: our peers, at least in our areas of specialization, are spread around the world, and opportunities to converse with them are sporadic. We don’t always have a fixed time and place to meet with colleagues every week to discuss our particular intellectual concerns. The online environment allows us to regain some of the opportunities for discussion we enjoyed as students.

vi. We already have a presence online

We already have a presence online—which probably is not all that it could be. Every academic has an email address nowadays, and almost every academic employed at a university will be mentioned somewhere on the Web, even if only on a departmental staff page listing his or her contact details. The question is what sort of impression we want to make—and what sort of different impression we could be making—when someone encounters us online. Do we want them to know us as an email address? As a single staff webpage with a photo and a brief CV listing publications they would have to search in a library to find? Or as something more substantial—a presence that reflects a wide range of our interests? When someone types your name into Google, would you rather they find a “what”—or a “who”?

Assuming that the answer is the latter (although there are reasons to be cautious about putting more of ourselves online, as I will discuss later), I will turn now to ways of building a stronger presence online.

4. Being there

In the early to mid 1990s, the Web was still in its infancy; having an online presence meant having an email address, and perhaps being signed up to mailing lists or a regular poster to Usenet. Our presence was established by what we said in those venues over time, not by what we had written in the past. While there might have been archives somewhere for a particular mailing list, they could be difficult to access. Usually, a person’s presence was felt by other members of the list only cumulatively over time. On a busy list, active members could still make their presence felt to an impressive degree, but the picture that others formed of them was necessarily incomplete.

One feature of the time was the widespread use of email and Usenet signatures, files of several lines of text appended to every message. Nowadays these are usually attached only to business emails, and contain contact details and perhaps a company disclaimer; but once they carried short quotes, jokes or snippets of ASCII art, in an attempt to convey a little more information about what sort of person was sending this message.

Eventually, email signatures began to include links to home pages, often just a single page containing a few photos and some facts about where its owner worked and lived, his or her hobbies and interests, and so on. They may not have been much, but they gave the chance to find out more about the person behind the message.

Some of these early homepages grew into something more substantial: personal sites containing various writings, photographs, drawings, and other creations. Those who built them learned that in order to keep visitors coming back, sites needed continual updating. If the focus of a website is you, people will only keep visiting it (assuming they like what they see the first time) if they can see that you are still working on it—that you’re still present. A sense of online presence is strongest when it feels in the present: the newly arrived email; the newly updated web page.

It’s no surprise, then, that some began experimenting with a new form of personal site: the online diary, written not just for themselves alone but for an audience, however small it might be. The regular addition of new diary entries, indicated as being new by the date at the start of each, reinforced a sense of online presence.

At the same time, the links page—simple lists of links to amusing or interesting pages around the Web—was merging with “what’s new” pages (listing updates on a specific site) and turning into something else: the weblog. Although sites which we can now recognise as weblogs existed almost from the inception of the Web itself, they only really began to take off—and acquired the name “weblog” and its shortened form of “blog”—in the late 1990s.

Since those early years, blogs have enjoyed the status of “next big thing” on the Web more than once, but despite a continuous influx of new readers and writers, and growing media awareness of the form, have yet to achieve the same widespread familiarity among web users as online auctions, search engines, or mainstream news sites, although frequent users will almost certainly have encountered them in Google searches.

What exactly is a blog? There have been almost as many attempts to define them as there are bloggers, so any attempt at a definition faces thousands of potential critics before it’s even made. Here’s mine:

A weblog is a series of entries arranged on one or more web pages in chronological or reverse-chronological order in such a way that the reader’s attention is drawn to the newest. In this context, an “entry” is a piece of text, a link, an image, a sound or video file, or a combination of any of these.

The weblog is first and foremost a format, just as the diary is a format, and one with certain conventions—almost any of which can be ignored by any individual blogger. One convention is that the front page of a weblog carries more than one entry—usually something like a week’s worth, or the dozen most-recent entries—in reverse-chronological order, so that the most recent appears at the top of the page, where it is most prominent. (Some weblogs contain only the latest entry on the front page, and a few show entries in chronological order.)

Another convention is that entries are time-stamped or date-stamped; this is almost an essential feature of a weblog, although it would be possible to imply the newness or oldness of a particular entry in some other way.

Another convention is that older entries are archived on separate permanent pages, so that readers can see what was posted previously; and every entry has a “permalink” attached to it which leads to its permanent home in the archives (and so can be bookmarked or linked in turn by other bloggers).

Beyond these basics, other features have emerged: blog entries nowadays often carry a “comments” link leading to a form where readers can enter their response and have it appear as a permanent footnote to the entry; blogs usually carry a list (on a separate page, or down the side of the main page) of blogs that the author reads; entries are sometimes assigned to subject categories which are then accessible via category archive pages as well as the regular date-based archives. None of these features is essential, but all are widespread.

Some examples of weblogs:

  • Planned Obsolescence by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, associate professor of English and Media Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California, who writes about a range of topics relevant to her discipline and academic life in general;
  • by Greg Restall (associate professor in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne), regularly plays host to group discussion of finer points of philosophy, as well as his own work;
  • Invisible Adjunct, by an anonymous assistant professor of History in America, hosts debates on the current state of North American academic conditions [but has closed since this paper was written];
  • jill/txt, by Jill Walker, associate professor at the University of Bergen, Norway, regularly comments on developments in her field of electronic literature and art;
  • Crooked Timber, an example of a group weblog with multiple bloggers (and a large community of readers who leave comments), looks at issues of politics and political science, economics, law, sociology, linguistics and philosophy;

Although these are all examples of academic weblogs and webloggers, they show a variety of different approaches to the form, using some or all of the conventional features mentioned before. More importantly, even these screenshots [as shown in the slideshow] give a sense of the authors’ different tastes and interests. Something of their personality is already apparent; something of their online presence. Which leads to the most important feature of weblogs: The single-author weblog is perhaps the ideal format for creating a sense of individual presence on the Web.

The weblog format and weblogging tools allow people over time to build up an archive of thoughts and writings. When regularly updated, a weblog gives its readers a sense of the author being present, at the present time. When it allows reader comments, it facilitates the sort of discussion between author and reader mentioned before as a particular strength of the Web; even without a special commenting facility, it can advertise its author’s email address. And weblog authors can comment on each other’s entries in their own blogs, linking to relevant permalinks so that others can follow the conversation.

Note that I have not specified what weblogs are about. For good reason: they can be about anything. The weblogs of the late 1990s were focussed on links, with editorial commentary kept to a minimum—particularly links which appealed to web designers, which most webloggers were at that time. Most of the coverage of weblogs in the news media has concentrated on the soapbox variety which emerged after September 11th.

But weblogs need not be about politics or web design. The format can encompass any subject: including, naturally, any academic subject. Already there are linguistics bloggers, philosophy bloggers, political science bloggers, anthropology bloggers, literature and cultural studies bloggers, mathematician bloggers, and computer scientist bloggers. Every discipline is represented, and these bloggers are finding one another in cyberspace, talking to one another, and engaging with each other’s online presence.

If you would like to be part of this sort of discussion, and this place called cyberspace—if you want to build an online presence that is more than just other people’s memories of your postings to a mailing list—how do you go about it? Do you have to be an expert on web design?

Obviously, it helps, but it certainly isn’t essential. Because so many weblogs have commenting facilities, it’s even possible to take part in weblog conversations by leaving comments on other people’s sites.

Those who want to go further, will find some of the tools at their disposal already. Home internet access usually includes free webspace, and various web design programs—including the Netscape and Mozilla browsers, which have a webpage editor built-in—make it straightforward to create pages without knowing any HTML. But if even this seems too daunting, various sites let you create and update a weblog and host it on their servers, all from within a web browser—and in many cases, for free:

So there’s nothing to stop you from experimenting—almost.

Traditionally, academics have sought to publish their work in books or respected journals, as that was the best way of getting it to an audience of their peers. Nowadays there’s an alternative—publishing on the Web. Major journal publishers, meanwhile, are dealing with the challenge of the Web by locking up as much intellectual property as they can, and keeping tight controls on access to electronic versions of texts. In effect, they are renting the work back to the very people who gave it to them.

To get published in most academic journals, an author must assign copyright to the journal. Once this has happened, the author has no control over what is done with it. If it’s a publisher chooses to make an article available only to those whose institutions subscribe to the relevant journal, the author can do nothing about it; his or her work may be online, but most people will not be able to see it.

Many would like to see the online environment used to its best advantage by academics, not only in teaching but also in research and the dissemination of research. Yet many journals will not consider submissions that have already appeared online, because they wish to control all rights in the work. So academics have reason not to put work online before print publication, when it has the best chance of appearing fresh and sparking interesting discussions with their peers; and can’t put it online after print publication, because someone else will own the copyright and want to rent it back to their university library.

The main reason to acquiesce to this situation is, unfortunately, fairly compelling: traditional forms of print publication are the main basis on which research performance is judged, which in turn determines one’s prospects for academic appointment, renewal of contract, and promotion.

In the long term, if enough people rejected this state of affairs, the quandaries would disappear; and one way of rejecting it is to explore new forms of academic writing and discourse, such as weblogging. A weblog is different enough from a book or a journal article that it should be possible to reuse ideas from one to the other without recycling the same text, which keeps copyright conflicts to a minimum. One could also seek to place articles and books only with those publishers who display a more liberal attitude to copyright (see Willinsky, 2002).

The other threat to academic copyright is from universities themselves, some of which are making increasingly broad claims to intellectual property produced by their employees, particularly as it relates to online education. These claims are problematic enough when they relate to teaching material (with academics being forced to give up all rights to courses they have developed), but if applied to research would be even more so. Our online rights to our own research work are best defended by exercising those rights—that as, by building a research presence online. It is also probably wise to do so in one’s own private web space rather than on a departmental server.

Tim Berners-Lee, in his 1999 book Weaving the Web about its invention and development and the philosophy behind it, gives a sense of why these strategies for building a personal presence in cyberspace ultimately serve the interests of us all, in academia and throughout society (2000: 218-19):

Our minds hold thousands of ephemeral tentative associations at the same time. To allow group intuition, the Web would have to capture these threads—half-thoughts that arise, without evident rational thought or inference, as we work. ... This all works only if each person makes links as he or she browses, so writing, link creation and browsing must be totally integrated. ... The new Web will make it much more likely that somebody somewhere is browsing one source that has half of the key idea, and happens to have just recently browsed the other. For this to be likely, the Web must be well connected—have few “degrees of separation”. This is the sort of thing researchers are always trying to do—get as much in their heads as possible, then go to sleep and hope to wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea and rush to write it down. But as the problems get bigger, we want to be able to work this brainstorming approach on a much larger scale. ... If we succeed, creativity will arise across larger and more diverse groups. These high-level activities, which have occurred just within one human’s brain, will occur among ever-larger, more interconnected groups of people acting as if they shared a larger intuitive brain. ... Perhaps that late-night surfing is not such a waste of time after all: it is just the Web dreaming.



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Walker, Jill. “Weblog Definition” [online]. Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. Forthcoming, accessed 29 June 2003; available at

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Weblog Tools and Hosts

Links posted: 20 November 2003. Full paper posted: 22 July 2004.


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