A Directory of born digital writing needs to be more than a collection of discrete works. The work of literature, a process more than a set of objects, has to be located, tagged, and preserved at a particular moment in its history while being kept distinct from ephemera. Authorship in new media environments needs to be recognized by peers, and authors need to have their work documented and available in the context of other works. The critical discussion around works, by other creators as well as critics, allows the work’s value to be recognized and establishes an e-lit author’s credentials.
The ELD, in this respect, answers a general call for knowledge management that is becoming more urgent with each year of new cultural production in digital media. The need to develop techniques of credentialing and the establishment of “networked evaluative systems” is the topic of an article in The Economist (March 14, 2009) celebrating the twenty-year anniversary of the World Wide Web. In this article, Michael Nielsen, “an expert on quantum computers who belongs to a new wave of scientist bloggers," notes a reluctance among established and aspiring scientists to weigh in with respect to work done by colleagues. Neilson "thinks the reason for this reticence is neither shyness nor fear of reprisal, but rather a fundamental lack of incentive" (page 75).
The ELD is designed to answer this call for knowledge management and value creation. The Directory pursues, and works important variations on, a number of experiments in peer-to-peer reviewing. Notable among these is the initiative taken by ELO board member Noah Wardrip-Fruin (along with the Institute for the Future of the Book), to submit his book manuscript simultaneously to a University Press peer-review system and to the bloggers at Grand Text Auto. ELO board member Joseph Tabbi, for his part, has enabled the contributors of the literary journal, electronic book review, to function as a distributed peer-to-peer network, any of whom may evaluate, gloss, and formally respond to edited essays prior to publication.
The traditional academic review system in both of these instances is brought into the open, and made subject to the dynamics of networked communication.
The key variation on earlier blog, Wiki, and p2p process is to establish at the start, a seed entry on each work accepted for inclusion in the ELD. Unlike a Wikipedia article, the ELD entry does not change – which does not mean that the entry represents the final word on the work under consideration. Rather, by fixing the initial entry, the ELD facilitates commentary, confirmation, and contention as readers coming to the work decide for themselves questions of quality (the work’s intrinsic value, and what about it is literary). It is possible – even desirable – that the seed entry will be supplemented, as a result of discussions under way.
With the gathering of e-lit works, and with the presentation of critical discussions surrounding works, the creators of the ELD (version 2.0) are attempting to define the uniqueness of the literary object in electronic environments: each work is something readers can go back to, for more, over time. The incentive for those who draft entries is to establish the lasting value of work produced in a networked environment, using affordances specific to electronic networks to do it.
Many e-lit authors would like to build careers based on their work in the field, both creative and critical. In an attempt to influence the institutional credentialing context, ELO has created a Consortium for Electronic Literature (CEL). At least one member of every organization affiliated with the ELO participates actively in the editorial network set up to vet entries and monitor discussions. The submission of works and contribution to discussions, while operating within this institutional context, can originate anywhere. Contributions are welcome from readers with any level of interest in the field.