NewRadial as Map

Posted by on Mar 15, 2013 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping, Projects

[Submitted by Stephen MacNeil]

As we consider the different ways in which NewRadial will work with text the question that the NewRadial team has to keep asking ourselves is “in what ways could NewRadial serve as a meaningful alternative to traditional scholarly editions?” Going forward, it’s important that I consistently remind myself that we require the interface to serve the function, and not just become self-contained entity that loses its objective. These dangers manifest themselves in two ways – feature creep, and a lack of a logical consistency with the interface. Feature creep can occur when too many added features to the software take away from the basic functionality and purpose of the software. Inconsistent logic, in this case, is when the functionality of one aspect the software disrupts other parts. This is precisely what occurred when we realized that breaking down a page of prose into a sentence does not work as well as when a play is broken down into individual lines. We had to figure out a way to specifically tailor it for each textual genre while still retaining a unified sense of usability. We could have NewRadial work differently for each textual genre, but in the end this inconsistency would not only make programming difficult, but also make usability frustrating. There needs to be a consistent logic to the conceptual systems that organize and display data inherent within the application.

Fundamentally, as a social edition, NewRadial encourages three types of work. These are:

  1.  A simple search, sorting and manipulation of database objects in a visual field for the purposes of early scholarly inquiry and curiosity-based research
  2. Initial, raw and in-process commentary on connections and associations between database objects.  Within the database’s visual field, scholars can add comments on such correlations, thus starting conversations, discussions and debates relating to such ideas.  These discussions are hosted and archived by the NewRadial server.
  3. Larger edition projects in which a community is able to centralize and sort specific selections from a larger database.  NewRadial can be used to construct these edition environments, browse such environments, and (if desired) encourage secondary scholarship to proliferate in and around such projects.

(Saklofske and Bruce, et al.)

These three functions all contribute to NewRadial’s overall focus on mapping. In thinking of NewRadial as a map, users are always aware of where they are situated within the edition in relation to other parts. This is the benefit to having works displayed in branching nodes and radials. For instance, giving users the ability to work with the text within one scene of a play, while having other scenes immediately accessible within the visual field offers a flexibility that may be more difficult  to achieve when working with traditional print editions.

Within NewRadial, users have the option to move objects, or make groups, depending on their particular interests or research requirements. In addition, the connections within and between different works are represented as user-created lines (edges) which are weighted depending on the amount of connections between them. Furthermore, the commentary that surrounds the edition is localized by the NewRadial server which gives users immediate accessibility to the commentary based around connections. Users can then engage in a scholarly discussion with other users based on these connections.

To sum up this blog, I want to detail the thinking behind the concept of NewRadial as a map. NewRadial’s mapping aspect allows users to work with a text in much the same way as traditional editions, but also demonstrate where the user is situated within the text. For instance, in recent blogs I described a concept of how NewRadial would incorporate a play within its unique visual interface. Working with a play in NewRadial would allow users to readily have access to various acts, scenes, and lines of dialogue all within the user’s field of view. This gives users access to the work as an entirety mapped out in a way that defies our traditional linear paradigms afforded by print technology. For instance, a user can see their own groups of dialogue passages by the Ghost in Hamlet placed alongside and in relation to the work as a whole. Further, NewRadial potentially can allow users to move to any point in the play that interests them all while persistently seeing where it relates to the entire work. Digital technology and networked communications allow users to not only see an entire work mapped out, but potentially an entire collection. Critical and scholarly work relating to traditional print media often involves correlating and collating different aspects within the same source or between different sources.  However, the nature of print makes this mapping process an often tedious and time-consuming task. NewRadial, then, can offer immediate access to a text, its paratexts and additional contexts, and can also serve as a dynamic map that visualizes a user’s position within the primary text and secondary connections and commentary. Conceptualizing NewRadial as a map has thus become crucial in determining whether our prototype iterations useful and functional as the project moves further along in development.

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