The Badness Catalog: Digital Essay Draft 1

Yo Woodchucks!

The Badness Catalog is basically live. (Click it to view.)

TBC Draft Screenshot

SUMMARY

While you can read all about the project on the About page (general population) and The Mission page (academic audience), I’ve distilled the salient points here:

This site examines the way a key series of apparent “literacy errors”—errors of established language or custom practices—take on a new life on the internet. Instead of being failures of linguistic proficiency,  these apparent errors in digital discourse take on a metonymic role: they become stand-ins for other ideas altogether, the original apparent error erased and repurposed for new meaning. These “bad” practices—viewed in meatspace as mistakes—become markers of proficiency on the web.

The site focuses on those practices where the experienced writer knows that these behaviors are in violation of traditional literate convention, and uses these “bad” practices to signify in a new discourse community. The focus of this project is to elucidate how this “badness” signifies both meaning and membership: in the words of Michele Zappavigna (thanks Callie!) in Discourse of Twitter and Social Media, how this badness is both ideational and interpersonal, searchable (in that it reaches out to other instances of itself to create new meaning) and indicative of community.

There are basically two major arguments going on here:

  1. “badness” is more often an indication of an unwillingness (or unpreparedness) to read a text. In other words, badness on the internet  is not always the result of a mistake, but sometimes a marker of something other than expected being said.
  2. the process by which apparently bad textual performance is actually expressing something else is not new or unique to the internet. Communication depends on a panoply of external cues  and modes (multimodality) to make it legible–it’s simply that the internet has developed, as all cultural sites do, new cues and modes to suit its needs.

GAPS

In its current state, the framework and scaffolding of the site are complete (the Readings page, notably, is empty as I haven’t yet compiled all my secondary material in one place). About 60% of the evidence/case studies/entries are fully posted at this point–the project will ultimately be longer than 2000 words and will likely not “end” with 685, as I have about a dozen catalog entries of various length planned. By the final submission deadline I plan to have about 10 entries. So keep in mind that while the site’s idea is complete, the project is ongoing and not all the “categories” have been filled out. In short, you could read it in its current state and probably get a very clear idea about the point–but I am going to add more stuff. The posts that exist right now should give you a good idea of what I’m doing–and I wanted to check in before I post more, in case something central isn’t working.

USEFUL FEEDBACK PARAMETERS

The tone is hard to capture here–I’m trying to do intellectual work, but I’m also not trying to crush the thing under the weight of complex prose, except where setup has made that viable. So really, there are three major areas of feedback I’d value:

  • are the entries answering the call I set out, as evidence that badness on the internet is often signficant/signifying? 
  • is the website organized in an easy, but nonlinear fashion? 
  • does it cite sources effectively? There aren’t many, but the affordances of the website make citation a tricky business.

A smaller, more specific question is: should I continue to put a sort of academic-style mission statement as the lead thing in the “The Mission” menu category? Right now it’s “hidden” in the master category itself–meaning you have to click on the words rather than click on an item in the drop-down menu. Should this be more prominent?

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