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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
It's Time for Another Meta-Discussion
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0089  Tuesday, 18 January 2005

[1]     From:   Eric Luhrs <
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        Date:   Monday, January 17, 2005 4:35 PM
        Subj:   It's Time for Another Meta-Discussion

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, 17 Jan 2005 12:02:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0080 It's Time for Another Meta-Discussion


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Eric Luhrs <
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Date:           Monday, January 17, 2005 4:35 PM
Subject:        It's Time for Another Meta-Discussion

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

I'd like to first thank those who have participated in the current
meta-discussion.  Having mulled redesign ideas for the past few months,
often as a pleasant distraction from other responsibilities, it was
helpful to receive direct input from other SHAKSPEReans.

As one of several people to suggest the blog format, my intent was not
so much to advocate its use, but rather to open a discussion of how we
might improve SHAKSPER.  I too prefer email as the primary delivery
mechanism, so I was pleased to be part of such a strong consensus.
After all, I still read email with Pine though a Unix shell connection.
  Yet, I feel that we should always evaluate the usefulness of new
technology, hence the present discussion.

1. SHAKSPER delivery

By switching to the weblog format, I envisioned moving the primary
delivery mechanism to something more like the "current postings" page on
the SHAKSPER website.  This would be, in a sense, the moderated version
of a "web forum", where conversation does not take place in real time,
as in a "chatroom".  Members would submit messages to Hardy through a
web form, which he would continue to edit. The main difference is that
interaction would be through web pages rather than inboxes.  There are
two pros to such a switch: 1) viruses and spoofed messages would be a
thing of the past, and 2) I would be able to automate some of the
formatting and arrangement programmatically.  There are also two cons:
1) such a change would somehow alter our sense of community, and 2) some
members would forget to keep up with SHAKSPER if postings were not
delivered to their inboxes.  After reading your responses, I now realize
that the second con is a bigger issue then I had anticipated.

2. Majordomo vs. LISTSERV

Majordomo performs the same tasks as LISTSERV, but it is free, and the
commands are slightly different. While I still think that Majordomo is
worth considering, I feel that in the face of other big changes, we
should hold off for the time being.  I'll look into it more after the
server and website have been upgraded.

3. Message threading

JD Markel brings up the subject of message threading (SHK 16.0033).  It
is true that to read all messages in the "Macbeth Characters" thread in
Volume 15 (what Markel calls the 2004 catalog), one must click on six
different links.  However, this is by design.  While it might be
convenient to read all "Macbeth Characters" messages at a single URL,
there are several problems with such a design.  Citation is the biggest
of these.  For instance, John Reed started the thread with SHK 15.2089,
Kathy Dent, John W. Kennedy, and Norman Hinton responded respectively
with SHK 15.2105, SHK 15.2113, SHK 15.2121, and then John Reed replied
to Dent with SHK 15.2130, to which she responded with SHK 15.2139.  If
all of these messages were on a single page, how would we succinctly
cite Reed's second post to the "Macbeth Characters" thread?  Right now,
all we have to do is point the reader to
<http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2004/2140.html>.  The current design
is better for searching too. For instance, if I search for a string in
the above URL (say, "c-3p0"), only one message is returned.  The same
would be true if all six messages were concatenated into one URL, but
then I would have to read through I would have to read though all of
them to find the term that I searched for.  The third reason that
individual URLs are better is practical in nature.  Currently, the
entire process is automated.  In other words, once Hardy has sent the
last message of the day, a program automatically converts them into
threaded HTML pages. This is done by tracking the date, time, sender,
and subject of each message.  All of this is done by a free program
called HyperMail, which does not allow for the creation of a single
document for an entire thread.  I'm sure the feature could be hacked
into HyperMail, but clicking on the "thread" link in any message reveals
context, and is far easier to implement.

4. Improved search

Richard Burt points out (SHK 16.0056) that the web search feature is not
as accurate as Google.  This is true.  The website currently uses a beta
version of the free Ht:\Dig search engine, to which there have been a
couple of updates within the past few years.  If I use the same search
engine software for the new website, I will, of course, use the latest
version.  The current inaccuracy is due to the fact that the search
software can only perform basic free-text searches.  This is partly due
to the format of the webserver's files.  To achieve the most accurate
results, one needs either a team of computer scientists (like Google),
or files in a more structured format than HTML-such as XML, or broken
into fields within a relational database.  I will continue to look more
into this problem, but the reality is that our conversion process (from
email to HTML) may not be transferable to a more structured format. This
is a problem that I am aware of, and one that I will try to solve as
best I can.  If I can switch to a structured format, I will, and this
will solve the problem.  If I cannot switch, then I'll test other
software to see if search results can be improved.

5. RSS

Many people have mentioned RSS, which is something that I intend to
pursue.  First, I should mention that RSS and email distribution are not
an either/or choice.  We can continue to receive email posts, and they
can continue to be archived on the website.  All that is required for
RSS support is to create a single structured (XML) file that keeps track
of when new content is added to a site.  I think I can add this feature
to our automated conversion process since it does not require conversion
of individual messages.   This will allow email fans to receive email,
web fans to visit the website, and RSS fans to receive an update feed.
So everyone should be happy.

6. "News" items

Markel also suggested a "News" section.  I think this is a good idea,
and one that can also be automated once RSS is working.  In other words,
I should be able to "push" new content into the News section.  This
would be useful for conference, production, and hiatus announcements.

I've been thinking of these, and many others technical issues for some
time now.  I am finally done with my MLIS degree, so I now look forward
to starting the redesign process.  However, I should caution that the
development phase is sure to take at least a few months (likely more).
Please bear with me as I attempt to fit this in with my current job
tasks, a new job search, and probably relocation as well.

Eric Luhrs

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Jan 2005 12:02:41 -0500
Subject: 16.0080 It's Time for Another Meta-Discussion
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0080 It's Time for Another Meta-Discussion

 >Has any thought
 >been given to obtaining a sponsor for SHAKSPER (like Texaco was to the
 >Metropolitan Opera)?  Could not, say, the Shakespeare Association of
 >America, if Dr. Cook were to agree, "sponsor"  SHAKSPER by paying the
 >fees for the use of the Internet, and perhaps also some well-merited
 >compensation to the Moderator?

The SAA has just sent out an appeal for funds for itself, and would
presumably be less than eager to entertain Martin Green's proposal if
the organization's own funds were to be involved. An alternative would
be to ask SAA to "sponsor" SHAKSPER only in the sense that it would
serve as the 501c-3 (federally licensed non-profit organization) agent
for contributions to SHAKSPER that could then be passed along to Hardy
or his successors. Are any list members on the SAA board and able to
bring this up for discussion when that board next meets?

David Evett

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