PUBLICATION: The limits of Big Data for analyzing reading

July 9th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Rowberry, Simon (2019), ‘The limits of big data for analyzing reading. Participations. 16.1: 237-257. This was part of a special issue on Readers, Reading and Digital Media edited by DeNel Rehberg Sedo and Danielle Fuller.

Abstract: Companies including Jellybooks and Amazon have introduced analytics to collect, analyze and monetize the user’s reading experience. Ebook apps and hardware collect implicit data about reading including progress and speed as well as encouraging readers to share more data through social networks. These practices generate large data sets with millions, if not billions of data points. For example, a copy of the King James Bible on the Kindle features over two million shared highlights. The allure of big data suggests that these metrics can be used at scale to gain a better understanding of how readers interact with books. While data collection practices continue to evolve, it is unclear how the metrics relate to the act of
reading. For example, Kindle software tracks which words a reader looks up, but cannot distinguish between accidental look-ups, or otherwise link the act to the reader’s comprehension. In this article, I analyze patent filings and ebook software source code to assess the disconnect between data collection practices and the act of reading. The metrics capture data associated with software use rather than reading and therefore offer a poor
approximation of the reading experience and must be corroborated by further data.

URL: [Open Access]

PUBLICATION: DIY Peer Review and Monograph Publishing in the Arts and Humanities

August 3rd, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Butchard, Dorothy, Simon Peter Rowberry & Claire Squires (2018) “DIY Peer Review and Monograph Publishing in the Arts and Humanities”. Convergence. Online First.

Abstract: In order to explore monograph peer review in the arts and humanities, this article introduces and discusses an applied example, examining the route to publication of Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo’s Reading Beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture (2013). The book’s co-authors supplemented the traditional ‘blind’ peer-review system with a range of practices including the informal, DIY review of colleagues and ‘clever friends’, as well as using the feedback derived from grant applications, journal articles and book chapters. The article ‘explodes’ the book into a series of documents and non-linear processes to demonstrate the significance of the various forms of feedback to the development of Fuller and Rehberg Sedo’s monograph. The analysis reveals substantial differences between book and article peer-review processes, including an emphasis on marketing in review forms and the pressures to publish, which the co-authors navigated through the introduction of ‘clever friends’ to the review processes. These findings, drawing on science and technology studies, demonstrate how such a research methodology can identify how knowledge is constructed in the arts and humanities and potential implications for the valuation of research processes and collaborations.

Open Access Version (Stirling Repository)

PUBLICATION: Continuous, not discrete

February 7th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Rowberry, Simon (2018), “Continuous, not discrete: The mutual influence of digital and physical literature.” Convergence. Online First.

Abstract:  The use of computational methods to develop innovative forms of storytelling and poetry has gained traction since the late 1980s. At the same time, legacy publishing has largely migrated to using digital workflows. Despite this possible convergence, the electronic literature community has generally defined their practice in opposition to print and traditional publishing practices more generally. Not only does this ignore a range of hybrid forms, but it also limits non-digital literature to print, rather than considering a range of physical literatures. In this article, I argue that it is more productive to consider physical and digital literature as convergent forms as both a historicizing process, and a way of identifying innovations. Case studies of William Gibson et al.’s Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) and Christian Bök’s The Xenotext Project’s playful use of innovations in genetics demonstrate the productive tensions in the convergence between digital and physical literature.

DOI: 10.1177/1354856518755049

Open Access Version (Stirling Repository)

PUBLICATION: Peer Review in Practice

September 11th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Butchard, Dorothy, Simon Rowberry, Claire Squires, & Gill Tasker (2017), “Peer Review in Practice”. BOOC.

Preface: The report Peer Review in Practice was originally published in beta version during Peer Review Week 2016. It was the first stage in a mini-project focusing on peer review as part of the broader Academic Book of the Future project, and reviews the existing literature of peer review, and builds models for understanding traditional and emerging peer review practices.

The report underwent its own peer review. The beta version allowed readers to make comments upon the report, and a peer review was also commissioned by UCL Press. The former are still available on the beta version, while the latter is available here. The author of the latter (Professor Jane Winters of the School of Advanced Studies, University of London) made her peer review anonymously, but agreed on request that her comments be made public and her identity revealed.

The comments we received on the beta version were from a small number of individuals, and provided some useful additional resources and suggestions. As discussed in much of the literature of peer review, however, it was difficult to encourage substantial numbers of scholars to participate in the open, post-publication peer review. We also noted that the comment function led to responses being made about individual sentences or paragraphs, rather than providing overall analysis of the report. Overall, as an experiment in open post-publication peer review, we had hoped to receive more responses that would enable the report to develop further an ongoing core of knowledge and analysis of peer review. This current version of the report also has a commenting function, and we encourage the scholarly and publishing community to engage further with our report, in order to make it a useful ongoing resource.

One of the points made in the traditional peer review was about the lack of information about monograph publishing, something which we flag up in the introduction to our report. There is little research currently written on this subject, although as part of our mini-project, we are working on a forthcoming journal article focusing on peer review and monographs publishing in the Arts and Humanities. There are also further research projects focusing on peer review, including that encapsulated in a report by Fyfe et al., Untangling Academic Publishing: A History of the Relationship Between Commercial Interests, Academic Prestige and the Circulation of Research (May 2017), and the forthcoming project on ‘Reading Peer Review’, headed by Professor Martin Eve. The next stage in our own research into peer review is examining the language of peer review in Arts and Humanities journals.

DOI: 10.14324/111.9781911307679.15

Repository Version

PUBLICATION: Commonplacing the public domain: Reading the classics socially on the Kindle

August 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Rowberry, Simon (2016), ”Commonplacing the Public Domain: reading the classics socially on the Kindle”. Language and Literature. 25.3. 211225.

This was published as part of a great special issue of Language and Literature on ‘Reading in the Age of the Internet’ edited by Daniel Allington and Stephen Pihlaja.

Abstract: Amazon leads the market in ebooks with the Kindle brand, which encompasses a range of dedicated e-reader devices and a large ebook store. Kindle users are able to share the experience of reading ebooks purchased from Amazon by selecting passages of text for upload to the Kindle Popular Highlights website. In this article, I propose that the Kindle Popular Highlights database contains evidence that readers are re-appropriating commonplacing – the act of selecting important passages from a text and recording them in a separate location for later re-use – while reading public domain titles on the Kindle. An analysis of keyness in a corpus of 34,044 shared highlights from public domain titles suggests that readers focus on words relating to philosophy and values to draw an understanding of contemporary society from these classic works. This form of highlighting takes precedence over understanding and sharing key narrative moments. An examination of the top ten most popular authors in the corpus, and case studies of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, demonstrate variation in highlighting practice as readers are choosing to shorten famous commonplaces in order to change their context for an audience that extends beyond the original reader. Through this analysis, I propose that Kindle users’ highlighting patterns are shaped by the behaviour of other readers and reflect a shared understanding of an audience beyond the initial highlighter.


July 1st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Rowberry, Simon Peter (2017). “Ebookness.” Convergence. 23:3,  289-305

Abstract: Since the mid-2000s, the ebook has stabilized into an ontologically distinct form, separate from PDFs and other representations of the book on the screen. The current article delineates the ebook from other emerging digital genres with recourse to the methodologies of platform studies and book history. The ebook is modelled as three concentric circles representing its technological, textual and service infrastructure innovations. This analysis reveals two distinct properties of the ebook: a simulation of the services of the book trade and an emphasis on user textual manipulation. The proposed model is tested with reference to comparative studies of several ebooks published since 2007 and defended against common claims of ebookness about other digital textual genres.

PUBLICATION: Indexes as Hypertext

June 1st, 2015 § Comments Off on PUBLICATION: Indexes as Hypertext § permalink

Abstract: Digital media presents several challenges to the index, but this ignores the fact that the index has played an important role in the development of the computer. Hypertext, or links between chunks of text, is a vital concept in computation, and one which can be traced back to the index. The author explores the link between indexes and hypertext through three case studies of novels with indexes: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale fire, Mark Z. Danielewski’sHouse of leaves and Steven Hall’s The raw shark texts. This analysis reveals how indexes can be used as a subversive part of experimental fiction that authors employ to encourage the reader to move beyond superficial forms of reading.

Simon Rowberry, “‘Indexes as Hypertext.” The Indexer. June 2015, pp. 50-56

PUBLICATION: Reassessing the Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon Wiki: a new research paradigm

July 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: Since the Against the Day Wiki launched in October 2006, the Pynchon Wiki collection has received over twenty thousand edits, making it one of the largest, dedicated literary reference Wikis. One can now view and add annotations to all seven of Pynchon’s novels – only Slow Learner and his non-fiction remain sans Wiki -, and a loose community of over four hundred contributors have done so. This paper will assess the importance of the Gravity’s Rainbow Wiki in transforming understanding and interpretation through asking four different questions: does the Wiki count as a disruptive force in the Pynchon interpretive industry, who contributes to the Wiki, what types of contribution they make, and how do they exploit the hypertextual features on offer through the MediaWiki package. I will suggest that the Pynchon Wiki does not fully depart from old media forms of interpretation and remains fragmented in both community, resembling a symphony of soloists, and potential connections. This is a version of Web 2.0 synthesizing both Darcy DiNucci’s original dystopian vision of fragmentation (DiNucci) and Tim O’Reilly’s utopian idea of harnessing ‘collective intelligence’ (O’Reilly).

Simon Rowberry (2012), ”Reassessing the Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon Wiki: a new research paradigm?” Orbit: Writing Around Pynchon. 1.1 (2012)

PUBLICATION: His and my reader: rereading Pale Fire hypertextually

May 1st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: Traditionally, Pale Fire scholarship has focused on the question of authorship, ignoring the markers within the text referring to various readers of the text. Kinbote explicitly refers to both the Shadean and the Kinbotean reader, but there are also a few implicit references to the Nabokovian reader, who rereads the text in a non-linear manner, following their own intuition, rather than accepting Kinbote’s cross-references. This paper will argue that the Nabokovian reader is strongly promoted throughout the text as Nabokov’s ideal reader, and as an extension to this, is utilized in order to teach the reader how to explore the hypertextuality of the text. This hypertextuality plays an important role throughout the Nabokov corpus, but no more so than within Pale Fire, where Nabokov has introduced enough multiplicity and ambiguity in the text that the text is a triumph of the reader over the authority of Nabokov. This paper will consider why Nabokov a hypertextual methodology suits Nabokov’s aims in the novel, despite the fact that it presents the reader with a greater role both the production and interpretation of the text.

Simon Rowberry, “‘His and my Reader’: Rereading Pale Fire hypertextually.” Nabokov Online Journal. 6 (2012):

PUBLICATION: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire: the lost ’father of all hypertext demos’?

June 8th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: In the mid-sixties, Ted Nelson worked at Brown University on an early hypertext system. In 1969, IBM wanted to show the system at a conference, and Nelson gained permission to use Vladimir Nabokov’s highly unconventional and hypertextual novel, Pale Fire (1962) as a technical demonstration of hypertext’s potential. Unfortunately, the idea was dismissed in favor of a more technical-looking presentation, and thus was never demonstrated publicly. This paper re-considers Pale Fire’s position in hypertext history, and posits that if it was used in this early hypertext demonstration, it would have been the ‘father of all hypertext demonstrations’ to complement Douglas Engelbart’s ‘Mother of All Demos’ in 1968. In order to demonstrate the significance of Pale Fire’s hypertextuality and Nelson’s ambitions to use it, this paper will explore its hypertextual structure, the implication thereof for the novel and evaluate its success as a hypertext compared to electronic systems.

Simon Rowberry (2011), “Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire: the lost ’father of all hypertext demos’?” in Proceedings of the 22nd ACM conference on Hypertext and hypermedia., 319-324. HT ’11. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2011.