MLA Variorum Challenge -- Thanks!
(See post about building Bill-Crit-O-Matic)
Many thanks to the committee, and to the various folks who gave it a quick look during the process of building it!
I especially want to thank the MLA for creating this challenge. Over the past few years, I've become quite a fan of spurring innovation through this kind of challenge. I participated in Mozilla's Jetpack for Learning Challenge a few years ago, prompted by ProfHacker, Jason Jones, Jeff McClurken, and others. The result was Rubrick, which completely crashed at the final presentation and hasn't gotten attention since then.
That's not to say, though, that my work in that challenge was a failure -- or if it was, it was a fortunate failure. The challenge structure wonderfully encourages people to push their creativity, insights, and imagination and then building -- making real and visible -- that intellectual effort. It's necessary that challenges have some monetary reward, but that's generally the least of the motivations for participating. Instead, the motivation comes from having a semi-formal structure that explicitly fosters that creativity (and yes, the hope of having that creativity publicly shared!)
And so MLA's choice to create this kind of challenge is a hugely important step toward encouraging creativity in and around literature. Traditional forms of encouragement and sponsorship -- research grants, scholarships, etc. -- have fostered and will continue to foster innovation in literary studies that might not have happened without them. The digital challenge, I think, represents the same spirit being widened to a broader set of participants and approaches to "texts" taken broadly.
Over the next few months, I'll be thinking over the future of Bill-Crit-O-Matic. I don't want it to go the way of Rubrick. But the sustainability question is inevitable with this kind of challenge, and is something to consider (the same is true of products from grants, by the way). I'll want to talk with lots of people at the MLA convention, online, and everywhere to hear what improvements and utility it could afford. Expanding it to include all the plays published in XML is an interesting possibility. Building out the social and interactive features is another.
Whatever happens, it will be prompted and motivated by how all of you out there want to see it work -- and by how you use it. By what you build with it. What you make real and visible through it.
"Any medium powerful enough to extend man's reach is powerful enough to topple his world. To get the medium's magic to work for one's aims rather than against them is to attain literacy."
-- Alan Kay, "Computer Software", Scientific American, September 1984
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