An Interface in Lieu of An Introduction

An Interface in Lieu of An Introduction

2001-11-17

A note on the origins and development of ebr version 3.0, End Construction!

Two years ago, when we had just completed our millennial issue, Writing Under Constraint, the editors decided that despite a number of design innovations and original literary uses of the web environment, we had relied for too long on the “issue” itself as a way of organizing ebr content. For a number of years - in fact right from the launch in 1997 of Image + Narrative, we’d known that there was much more to be done toward making the journal interactive, and we sensed - without being ready yet to commit the time, resources, and collaborative energy it would take - that a database architecture would be the only way to fully integrate image and text, literary expression and media constraints, in a fully realized web-based publication.

The ebr editors cast about at first but programmers in the arts were hard to come by in those heady days, when IT ruled and commercial tech jobs were plentiful. Eventually, though, we met up with Ewan Branda, a Canadian and an MIT alum living in Los Angeles who was intent on building a hybrid practice in architecture and computing similar to the combination of writing, teaching, and editorial design that Anne Burdick, Mark Amerika, and I had been working towards in our own careers. But with Ewan, we finally had the programming element that had so far been missing from the mix.

Another two years would pass - and two reluctant “issues” would be published - before we would have a version of the new interface ready for launch. That version is presented here, as End Construction! ebr 3.0. In keeping with the self-generating, autopoietic practice of having ebr enact what it critiques, and vice versa, the initial interface presents an in-house, editorial discussion of the site redesign, whose outcome has been the design itself.

The title, End Construction!, and the icon for this new thread derive from a treated street sign photographed by ebr art editor Daniel Wenk. The exclamation point (!) was taped on, using electrical tape the same width as the sign’s black lettering, and thus turning a statement into an imperative - a celebration, and a plea. In the year 2002 (an appropriately palindromic year, whose end is its beginning), after a full generation of constructivist thought, after close to a decade of Internet construction and nearly as long a period of activity at ebr/altx, we’re ready, at last, to put an end to the construction of periodical issues. Instead of working within an unconsidered paradigm inherited from print media, we intend to construct our own ends, over time and on terms that we set for ourselves (within the constraints of the web environment).

Over the coming months and through the summer of 2002, the editors will be adding new content as well as re-introducing essays, reviews, and web projects from past issues into the new design. Hence, as Anne Burdick proposed in her initial in-house post (“New ebr Interface”; lettercode: “introductory”), the entire ebr archive will soon be “current” - and available to readers who are able to design their own table of contents while navigating the site, and while reading, viewing, and listening. The riPOSTe section, a key feature of the former ebr, is also being rebuilt and will soon be re-integrated as part of the new interface. In essence, the interface is ebr’s response to the spirited and substantial Cybertext debates initiated by Nick Montfort’s 2001 review of Espen Aarseth, and sustained by Markku Eskelinen, N. Katherine Hayles, Marjorie Luesebrink, Jim Rosenberg, Scott Rettberg, and Matt Kirschenbaum.

In anticipation of the reformatted riPOSTe section, we invite further contributions to the cyber-debates: your posts, and any general correspondence, can be sent to the editor@electronicbookreview.com.

Joseph Tabbi