Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Context is Key

Blogger's Note: Again, from my publications management class. I think posting this item here helps prove my point that some individual blog entries, like this one, can't be considered publications on their own, because there just isn't enough context here.

The temptation with a question like this is to create a list of what is a publication and what is not. Probably what is more helpful is to develop a philosophy of what a publication is. My definition is going to hinge a lot on context.

A publication is any photograph, illustration, text or other communicative medium or combination of media that with little or no additional context successfully communicates its intended messages to an audience.

Thus, websites are publications. Some individual website pages are publications. Individual photographs are publications. As are some e-mails, some book chapters, some illustrations. Then there are the obvious: Books, indeed, are publications. We can dicker a lot here. In the original French, for example, Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo" is published in two thick volumes, not the skinny book we all read in high school. One volume, without the other, does not make sense contextually, so only both volumes together are a publication. Yes, you may have one volume, it's all bound and neat and pretty and full of way too much information about Napoleon, but without the other volume, the data in only one volume isn't complete. You need both to have the needed context, so only both, together, are a publication.

I know from experiences in thise coursework that context is critical. I have, for example, a photograph of graffiti showing the face of a monster, done on a stalagmite in a cave. When I used it in a class project this summer, though I understood the context well, the rest of the class had no idea what they were looking at. It was too abstract on its own. Only when I explained the context, and showed other photographs, did the class understand what the picture was.

But there has to be room in the definition of abstraction in publications, or else we get things like Edvard Munch's "The Scream" or Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase," or even Chuck Jones' "Nude Duck Descending a Staircase" falling outside the realm of what is or is not a publication.

So it all comes back to context -- If the audience has enough context, you have a publication.

So, for most messages in this class -- I'll say at least those that start discussion threads -- they could, independently, be considered publications. The added context of comments is great, but not entirely necessary. Those comments, taken individually on their own, don't work as publications, because the context is not there.

For those outside the class, however, more context than individual threads is needed to understand our "publication" here. So, if we were to publish what takes place in this class, we couldn't just cut and paste what appears here and hope it would be understood, because it would not. We'd have to add more context.

Then I want to talk about value. This ties in with the “successfully communicates” part of my definition. Most of us here blog, for example. Maybe we have a few individual posts that can stand on their own as a publication. But to successfully communicate with our audiences, we depend on them to read many, many posts, on differing subjects, each bearing their own levels of context. Those who read many posts get more value out of our “publication,” so for the most part, I’ll argue blogs as a whole, and not blog entries, are publications.

This idea of value also applies to the cave photos I’ve mentioned. While the monster graffiti photo is striking, it’s more valuable to the audience when presented as a photo set, showing the photo in context with the rest of what’s in the cave.

Same applies for the postings in this class. To us, we can pick out the value in more minute portions of the publications management class as a whole. But for others, the value isn’t on that micro level.

I'll stop here because I’m on the verge of babbling.

No comments: