Last weekend, Florian presented our Traversing Networks of Complexity: From Database Artworks to Contemporary Networked Publications, presentation at the Digital Abstraction Symposium at Jacobs University Bremen.

The Abstract

As Lev Manovich argues in his essay “Abstraction and Complexity” (2007), the new image of our increasingly complex world is the one “as the dynamic networks of relations, oscillating between order and disorder” (Manovich, 2007, p. 352). One of the central ideas and abstractions of the digital media ecology is thus the idea of the dynamic network that nowadays is virtually everywhere. And on a very fundamental level the network is at the core of the information society we live in: the network as basic hardware infrastructure of the Internet as network of networks, the controlling the flow of information. The Web 1.0 as network of hypertext-documents, the Web 2.0 as network of data, or lately Web Squared as network of semantics, locations or things. Thus in the end some core elements of our digital environment such as the database as cultural form (Manovich, 2001) or a publication in the widest sense can be abstracted as a network of relations between digital assets, in short data – which is in its nature an abstraction itself. And the idea even reaches out into theories of knowledge-generation and learning such as connectivism.

Besides looking at digitality as abstraction, software-abstraction (Manovich, 2007, p. 346) is also a way to make layers of complexity with its richness accessible in a meaningful and understandable way. The activity of traversing and understanding complex network structures of data and knowledge becomes manageable through software interfaces. In our paper, we will trace different approaches to this task with a primary focus on our Networked Ecologies project. As a case study, the Networked Ecologies project puts our interrogations into artistic/critical practice as we are thinking “through, with and alongside” (Hayles, 2012, p.1) the theoretical and scholarly implications of layered digital abstraction, complex dynamic networks, and scholarly rigor as they are applied to innovative digital publication.

Presented by Florian Wiencek (Jacobs University Bremen), & Amanda Starling Gould (Duke University),

The Presentation

Though Amanda Starling Gould was unable to attend physically, she created  a virtual presence (that, importantly did not rely on Skype or even a working Internet) by recording a slide-by-slide audio presentation that allowed Florian – our fabulous on-site presenter – to remix and creatively perform alongside her voice & slides. Instead of relying on an unstable web connection, and instead preparing a video or a single audio presentation, Amanda created a short audio clip for each slide. Florian could then talk to/with her in his well-practiced performative way. For the first half of the presentation, Florian prepared a comprehensive introduction that outlined one avenue of our project’s theoretical trajectory. In the second half of the presentation then Amanda presented the Network Ecologies Project as a case study that, as we say above puts our interrogations into artistic/critical practice as we are thinking through – and experimenting with – the theoretical and scholarly implications of layered digital abstraction, complex dynamic networks, and scholarly rigor as they are applied to innovative digital publication. By all accounts, the method worked quite well. Many thanks to Florian for all of his hard work!

~Amanda Starling Gould

florian for NE

Florian Wiencek delivering talk ‘Traversing Networks of Complexity: From Database Artworks to Contemporary Networked Publications’ May 8, 2015. Photo: Pamela C. Scorzin



Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogensis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Leonardo. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press, 2001.
Manovich, Lev. “Abstraction and Complexity.” In MediaArtHistories, edited by Oliver Grau, 340–54. Leonardo. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press, 2007.

Network Ecologies Arts in the Edge, Rebecca Norton & Karin + Shane Denson (The Edge, Bostock Library, Level 1, West Campus, Duke University campus map)

The Network Ecologies Arts in the Edge exhibition brings together two collaborative collections that will be featured in the Network Ecologies digital scalar publication. Combining machinic and human agencies in the form of generative sculpture, painting, and augmented reality (AR), the works by Karin + Shane Denson probe the material and virtual valences of “mining” in today’s networked ecology. Rebecca Norton uses affine geometry to explore actions and intuitions of intermediacy – what she describes as a feeling of being suspended in the middle stages of a process. For this exhibition, Rebecca presents a range of works, created in collaboration with Eddie Elliot, Erik S Guzman, and Kari Britta Lorenson, that include paintings, digital interactive artworks, and image stills from her current video project.

This exhibition is an extension of Amanda Starling Gould’s multipart Ecology of Networks project which has already produced an online scholarly conversation (2012), a successful in-person Network_Ecologies Symposium at Duke University that featured keynotes Mark BN Hansen and Jussi Parikka (2013), a live-blogged digital scholarly publication design sprint and a second round of contribution accompanied by an innovative internal, ‘networked’ peer review process (2014), and plans to culminate in a multiauthored curated digital scalar publication, co-designed with Florian Wiencek, to be completed in winter 2015. The Ecology of Networks project has been sponsored by the Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI) and the Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, and generously supported by various Duke University departments.

The core Network Ecologies Arts in the Edge exhibition will be open from April 20, 2015 – August 2015. On April 20, 2015 we will have an opening event with artist talks, hands-on demonstrations, and one-day exhibitions by our artists that will include a giant AR gnome, an AR treasure hunt, and a screening of a networked video that will be projected onto the walls of the Duke Edge Digital Research Commons. The Network Ecologies Arts in the Edge exhibition and event will be co-sponsored by the FHI, the Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, and Duke Libraries Digital Scholarship Services.

Scenes from the Exhibit:

*Note: Karin has uploaded to her website digital images of her hand-painted QR code canvases and you can actually scan the images to experience the AR!

network ecologies exhibit poster

Rebecca Norton:
Shane Denson:
Karin Denson:
Artist Bios

~Amanda Starling Gould

CFP for new work posted!

Invitation to Contribute to the Network Ecologies Digital Scalar Publication

(Listed also on HASTAC and in HASTAC Opportunities)

The Network Ecologies project has been a multi-year, multi-stage, multi-format, multidisciplinary venture exploring the object and idea of the network and the networked. The first stage was an online forum where invited scholars posted content for comment and critique by their fellow featured scholars. Stage two was an exciting two-day symposium at Duke University that included presentations from an architect, a data scientist, a media philosopher, a multimedia artist, a classicist, a speculative lab performance group, and a pair of game designers. It culminated in a keynote + response from Jussi Parikka and Mark BN Hansen. Stage three involves tracking and tracing the data threads from the previous stages in order to produce a digital publication using the Scalar publishing platform. My design partner, Florian Wiencek, and I dedicated the last week in May to an N_E design-sprint of sorts and, with the help of Scalar’s Craig Dietrich, we mapped a prototype. A few highlights: our content nodes will be networked by keywords and will allow readers to slip into and out of interdisciplinary research threads; our reading paths will be multiple so as to suit a variety of reader-preferences; our conference videos will be annotated with time-matched tweets; and upon release we will open the publication for comment and will integrate the most exciting comments into the text as featured annotations. We live-blogged our data-centered design process and you can see that on our Network Ecologies website. The project will initially be published by Duke’s FHI but we are excited to pursue several other publication prospects that are in the pipeline.

During this Scalar production stage, I am inviting a select group of scholars to contribute original pieces for publication. We’d like the publication to be a ‘living’ publication and the purpose of this call is to further perpetuate both the research conversation and the publication’s interdisciplinary reach.

I ask only two things:

1) That your piece engage the idea or object of the network or the networked.

2) That your engagement be particular to your research. You need not follow any prescribed theoretical trajectory or particular iteration of the network(ed). The very point of this project is for each of us to bring our own research – developed and delivered in its own unique vernacular – together around a to  converge around a single keyword. The assumption is that through transdisiplinary co-mingling and collaboration, both our individual research projects and the Network_Ecologies publication, as a living research hub, can gain new dimension. We hope that by putting diverse minds in dialogue with each other, we can facilitate a more robust understanding of the network by way of merging and (re)mixing multidisciplinary understandings. You also need not follow a prescribed format. Our current data sources include tweets, video, audio, images, text, powerpoint presentations. The beauty of a digital publication, especially one using the Scalar platform, is that we can publish – and annotate – a multiplicity of media forms. For the format of your piece, consider a long- or short-form essay, consider an annotated text, consider a video, consider an audio recording, or consider a hybrid. The Network_Ecologies project appreciates the media-specific materialities of data presentation so if a deliberate and/or particular text/media arrangement is part of your piece, we can work together to realize your vision.

Deadlines will be rolling. The first deadline for final projects is September 20. The second is December 20. If you’d like to contribute but cannot make these deadlines, let me know and we’ll work out a third.

If interested in contributing to one of the first two deadlines, please email me at amanda[dot]gould[at]duke[dot]edu a statement describing your research or project idea by Oct. 1, 2014.


Amanda Starling Gould

Today we were gifted with the enormously vast pleasure of having Scalar‘s Information Design Director Craig Dietrich join us virtually in Duke’s PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge for a consult and conversation.

Florian and I were joined today in the lab by our colleague Dwayne Dixon, whose digital Scalar dissertation was recently featured on HASTAC.

The three of us were greedy: we asked questions about Scalar’s past and future; we asked about personalized design possibilities and about specifically-tailored functionality; we asked about assurances as to Scalar’s longevity and about our options for sustaining our digital publication; and we asked for tips about how we might introduce Scalar as a digital dissertation platform to Duke U deans and administrators.

Our greed was well-rewarded. Craig enthusiastically addressed all of our questions in stride and offered not only comprehensive but surprisingly satisfying answers. It is indeed rare to find a digital publication platform that fills both needs, wants, and pie-in-the-sky desires. Our faith in – and enthusiasm for – the Scalar publication platform was undoubtedly confirmed today.

In addressing Scalar’s future, Craig responded by way of covering various angles:

1) Craig said the recent media server crash “opened their eyes” and they’ve made quick progress to not only remedy the issue but also to prevent its re-occurrence;

2) Scalar is actively working to create new features, designs, and functions that promise to be thrilling for publishers, authors, archivists and artists (we were treated to an example of this and are excited for its forthcoming release);

3) The Scalar folks want, and indeed insist, that Scalar live on for decades. Craig believes that if Scalar did somehow fail or fold or was in any way ‘taken down’, it would not just be a loss for Scalar authors and publishers but would also be a “catastrophic” blow to digital scholarship writ large (I thought this a profound and important statement);

4) Scalar evolves with automatic updates and innovative new features;

5) Scalar actively supports projects that solve, or at least speak to, the issues that drove the need for Scalar to be created.


In addressing issues about digital scholarship, digital dissertations, and publication persistence, Craig reminded us the following:

1) the Scalar software can be downloaded and hosted on a user’s own server. In this way, it can be a persistent environment. What if universities like Duke downloaded Scalar, tweaked it so as to suit a standard set of required ‘digital dissertation’ specifications (mimicking current dissertation submission regulations but acknowledging the affordances and the limitations of the digital format and thus satisfying the need for dissertation submission consistency), and hosted student-designed dissertation publications?

2) Using a Scalar API, with one call, an author can download the entire archive of his/her Scalar book in an RDF (Resource Description Framework) format.

3) Each Scalar content element is a page itself and has a URL. Each content piece then – from text and media element to annotation and public comment – can have its own unique identifier thus making archiving an interesting but not an impossible operation.

When we asked about the community of practitioners, Craig pointed us to  several impressive projects and people and I wanted to share those here as points of inspiration that we’ll be following.

Media Ecology Project Mark Williams & John Bell

Jentery Sayers

Duke Press’s collaboration with Scalar

We were honored by Craig’s generosity and expertise and we look forward to many (and many more) future conversations and collaborations.



After clarifying our ideas and goals for the publication on Monday, and thinking about the role of keywords in the publication and explaining the reasoning behind Scalar as platform of choice on Tuesday it is time to think about the design of the Network[ed] Ecology publication.

Design of a digital publication is not only about the visual look and feel but also about the interaction with the content. To not invent the wheel anew we asked

  • What existing infrastructure and readymade interfaces can be reused to create a digital publication easily?
  • What features and functions are missing and needs to be created, that allows easy scholarly publishing?

Scalar as a platform already takes away a lot of the decisions on the side of the backend of the project and offers a standard reading interface, where the author can decide on a default view for the page, which are distinguished in an emphasis on text or on media, the positioning of the media content affiliated to a page as well as a range of data visualizations, that visualize the content / network structure as well as tags or metadata. The default view can in the “reading” process be changed by the reader. This standard interface can be adapted like most website-theme by for example setting custom background images and sound, custom CSS styles, custom JavaScript or JQuery functions to enhance the behavior. But besides the default interface provided by Scalar the system offers the possibility to use the data edited and structured in its backend in a custom interface by accessing the data through the Scalar API.

We used two starting points to think about the design.

  1. design research on electronic publications and digital storytelling – both produced employing Scalar and other backend technologies
  2. our data corpus and its specific needs for mediation.

1) Design Research

Already before the meeting we started to look into diverse practices of digital publication and digital storytelling, and focused on practices which would transform “reading” into exploration of a content network. In a second step we looked at the showcase on the Scalar website, in order to see best practices and get a feel of how other scholars employed Scalar for their publication. We will leave the analysis and a deeper dive into the mechanics, aesthetics and interface grammar of digital publications for a later post. But at least some projects, we discussed today should be mentioned here.

Visually we were absolutely struck by the narrative structure and aesthetics of projects like the Highrise Project, which is an audiovisual interactive narrative with various vantage-points to dive deeper into more detailed information layers branching off the main narrative. Where the narrative structure is interesting we also realized that this particular format would not fit our data. A much better role model for our project is Performing Archive: Edward S. Curtis + ‘the vanishing race. It acts as a “meta-archive” and interpretive layer to archive material through essays from several scholars (see project description on Scalar showcase) and does not only make use of bold visuals, good readability and making the network character of the project explicit through using a visualization of the content network but also has an open ended character through being open for future contributions.


2) Starting from the data corpus

Each data corpus has its own needs in terms of how to make it explorable and how to mediate it. There is no “generic” design if you are aiming at a sophisticatedly edited publication which needs to bring different streams of content together – as our publication does. Decisions need to be taken on how the user can interact with the content; how to structure the different data streams to make them explorable, to form meaningful connections and slipping points while leaving enough “gaps” to be explored.


Design decisions taken:

We decided to re-use a experimental new reader interface for Scalar, that is also employed in the project “Performing Archive: Edward S. Curtis + ‘the vanishing race” and adapt it to our needs. It already offers a modern and clean design, bold use of images, a clear and straightforward navigation, a better readability than the standard interface and a navigation feature called “pin-wheel”, which uses a visualization of the content-network as for traversing the data-network of the Scalar-publication. Tomorrow we will clarify with Scalar, how to work with this new interface technically.

We decided on three entry points into the data:

  1. topical paths, which make data around a specific topic accessible
  2. 2 sections: essays and symposium
  3. Keywords and annotations as “slipping points” for the transition between different content layers.

Moreover we decided to use the Twitter stream of the symposium as annotation and additional layer over the video material captured at the Network_Ecologies Symposium. That way they act as enhancement and contextualization of the audiovisual material and on the other hand offer vantage points to other layers of content.


ToDo for tomorrow, Thursday:

We will Skype with Scalar representative Craig Dietrich to discuss several questions with regard to the production of this particular publication but also about the future of Scalar as a publishing platform.

Why Scalar? Well, here’s why…

1. Because it gives the reader multiple reading interfaces: the reader is permitted to traverse the network of content as s/he chooses

2. Because of its vast annotation possibilities -, annotations can provide slipping points

  • Our annotations will work both as traditional annotations – as footnotes, comments from fellow scholars, as captions, as subtitles – AND as networked and networking paths linking our pieces of content.
  • Also allow commenting. Might we consider continuing our editorial grab by graduating some of the public comments into the document? Or do we want to publish the project as-is and give it to the public as a finished-beginning. The living-content.
  • Idea: Present an incentive by saying that comments for the first year will be considered for in-text publication. After the first year, we end our editorial control and the piece lives on (hopefully) through the public commenting)

3. Because it is a network of data with architectures built atop and within that permit one to ‘read’ the piece as a network(ed) publication

4. Because we can author passages wherein a reader can intentionally slip between layers of content.

5. Because we can author passages wherein a reader can unintentionally slip between layers of content – this lends an element of emergent discovery. Through unintentional slips (that the reader can always escape if s/he chooses) the reader can fall into an unexpected path

6. Because we can do both 4 AND 5 AND at the same time also author a prescribed reading path that acts as do the more traditional publication navigation markers and systems

7. Because pages are paths and paths are pages. Pages can have specific roles – paths, comment, annotations, tag, etc

8. Because it permits public commenting


Amanda’s Tuesday Morning Keyword Manifesto:

1. This is an authored and edited collection. The project began from a set of keywords – network(s), networked, ecology, ecologies – and sought interdisciplinary understandings of each. These keywords are at the center of the project- they were indeed the very guiding ethos of the project – and I believe they must remain there.

2. To these originary keywords, we’ll add others that emerged throughout the project. These are:

  • time: temporality, dates, times: future, past, history, synchronized, simultaneous, repetition, continually returns, reiteration, immediate, persists, current etc
  • digital humanities
  • architecture/infrastructure
  • data, metadata
  • database
  • information
  • connectedness/connectivism, relation(s)/relationships (associations, attachement/detachment), intersect(ion), interaction(s)
  • protocol(s), policies
  • communicate/communication
  • emergent, evolving
  • code/encode
  • programming
  • uncertainty, ambiguity, abstract
  • platform
  • nonlinear
  • interdisciplinary: across disciplines, spanning disciplines, etc
  • archive
  • [digital] scholarship
  • co-creative, co-generative, co-emergent
  • culture/cultural
  • art
  • body/bodies
  • sense(s)/sensation(s)
  • scale
  • medium/media: letters, text, videogames, painting, books, notes, etc
  • experience
  • memory (computer and human)

3. We will then put these into dialogue with computer-generated keywords that reveal themselves by way of computer-driven text analysis. Because our publication is a born-digital publication, we want to acknowledge the computer’s perspective vis-a-vis keywords but we do not want to privilege these keywords over and above those created in & for steps one and two.

We will edit these keywords then and curate navigation paths, slipping points, access entrances into and through the content of the digital Scalar publication.



What we did today, Monday April 28, 2014

We addressed our Main Goals as were yesterday outlined for today’s session:

1. Write short concept paragraph describing the publication purpose and design

**Our short paragraph turned into a rather long and detailed document, which is here in its evolving entirety.

2. Begin by doing text analysis of data and do some sample keywording on one specific case so as to think about how we might use the digitality of the medium to digitally analyze our data. We want to integrate digitality at all stages.

1. We’ve published and opened our collaboratively-authored Network[ed] Ecologies Digital Publication Concept Document to allow for further public collaboration. We invite you to view our document and to join our project by adding comments, questions, and critiques.


When thinking about how we might manifest our Network[ed] Ecologies publication, we thought about the project on multiple (networked) levels: the idea was not only to create a digital publication on the topic of networks but at the same time to rethink the possibilities and potentials of digital and digitally-networked publication.

…a digital publication about networks, which lives in a networked environment, can only be properly presented as a network in itself. Thus this digitally-born publication does not only reside in the network environment of the internet, where any context is only a click on a hyperlink or a search away, but has to be thought of as a network of data in itself – as a networkED publication.

We want Network[ed] Ecologies – A Living Publication to be an open publication and a living conversation. This digital publication, that will use the Scalar publication platform, will house the born-digital content created during Stage One of the Ecology of Networks project – an online exchange that merged original content from an interdisciplinary group of invited professionals with born-digital media content to form an online responsive dialogue – and Stage Two – a live-blogged, live-tweeted, and video-captured in-person symposium at Duke University that featured both our online scholars and new invitees.

Network[ed] Ecologies – A Living Publication will use the affordances of the digital to remediate all of our content – from video and text to tweets and images – into a living but persistent and carefully curated publication, and will  present a multimodal, multiply-interactive, poly-interfaced ‘reading’ experience.

Many parties from author to reader to publisher  have an interest and a stake in the challenge to create an open publication that is still professionally composed, editorially rigorous,  thoughtfully – and provocatively – authored and dynamically maintained. This is our challenge.

2. For our second goal, we scraped the text from our initial essays and conversations and processed those through several open-source digital text analysis tools. Stay tuned for more details about the computer-generated keywords these tests revealed.

Goals for tomorrow, Tuesday April 29, 2014

1. Discuss content & keywords

Do keywords represent an index? a chapter organization?
How fine-grained do we want our annotations to be?
Do we want to do annotations ourselves?
How can we automate annotation? (do we want to?)
Can we open annotation to the readers?
Role of annotations: provide access to content as navigation points
What steps do we need to go through to make the navigation points available?

  • Keywords as layers:

1) editor’s keywords that motivate the project at the beginning stages
2) keywords that emerge as content comes in (inductive annotation/coding method of text and video)
3) keywords that are computer-generated (automated? text-analysis) – computer generated analysis should be in dialog with but not replacements for the human-generated

2. Continue discussing how we will accomplish the goals outlined in our Network[ed] Ecologies Digital Publication Concept Document. This is, of course an ongoing evolving discussion.




What we did today, Sunday April 27, 2014:

Florian Wiencek and I (Amanda Starling Gould) started our PhD Lab Network_Ecologies Scalar design project ‘residency’ today by inhabiting the lab and adopting it as our home base for this week’s open working meetings. This is stage three of the Network Ecologies project whereby we curate our born-digital and our in-person conference content into a digital publication using the Scalar publication platform.

Our discussions began today by talking about data, data relations, keywords, and content, and by brainstorming an architecture and infrastructure for their digital presentation.

Notes from our meeting:

Our First steps: Begin with the data

  1. We’ll investigate our data and how we’d like to make it explorable  (what layers of data do we have as basis for the publication and how should the ‘reader’ to be able to interact with the data?)
  2. We’ll investigate the relationships: relationships between the text, relationships we want to bring out, relationships we want to create
  3. We’ll brainstorm how we can use digital tools to aid our investigations and to create new data for our digital publication

Next Steps: How do we curate, present, (ab)use, open, provoke, and interact with that data?

  1. We’ll brainstorm possible architectures for creating a network from these
  2. We’ll think about how we can curate further by adding annotations (more data)
  3. We’ll think about how we mobilize the affordances of digital publication platforms – and Scalar in particular – to  integrate interaction into the ‘reading’ experience
  4. We’ll map out our possibilities for  various reading paths?

We chose Scalar precisely because it encourages various ‘reading’ paths. It allows for a reader to intentionally or unintentionally slip into another content path. We plan to build the following navigation paths:

-keywords as navigation element, as what I call a ‘slipping point’
-media – including text AND annotations as slipping points
-A & F devise a more traditional – a more “authored” reading path as scalar allows

Questions to keep in mind as we work:

  • What would be desirable as a digital reading/interaction interface for a networked publication?
  • How can we mobilize and/or co-opt digital (analysis-) tools in the production of our digital publication?
  • What is the role of the editor in this type of project? We are doing fundamentally different work here as digital publication editors. We are authoring data – and data layers (e.g. metadata), relations, infrastructure, architecture, interaction, annotation… How does this define our role?
  • Digital curation as filtering – what are our filters? What role do our filters play? And what is at stake here vis-a-vis digital publication?
  • Our data is digital and we want to remember that at every stage. How can we best do this? How does thinking digitally alter/enhance the digital publication? How does thinking digitally challenge the idea of publication writ large?


Goals for tomorrow, Monday April 28, 2014:

  1. Write short concept paragraph describing the publication purpose and design
  2. Begin by doing text analysis of data and do some sample keywording on one specific case
    1. We want to think about how we might use the digitality of the medium to digitally analyze our data. We want to integrate digitality at all stages.
    2. If we want to create a keyword navigation structure, we can think about keywords from the human perspective and can use digital text analysis methods so as to see the keywords a computer-perspective might generate.
  3. Think about what it means to think about human-created keywords vs computer-generated keywords
  4. Compare our human-perspective text analysis methods and those deduced by the computer-perspective



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