Follow-up Q & A on the CfPS Project

>1. How will you gather/develop content both before and after the site is launched?

Most of the musical content for the Center for Peripheral Studies will come from the house band Left Field. Much of this music has been recorded (on ADAT, so it's already digitized) -- certainly enough to build a prototype. This recording process is open-ended, and we expect to continue to add to the inventory of tunes indefinitely (we've got *lots* of tunes!).

As for the rest of the content, initially the team will supply written and spoken-word material whose purpose is to encourage visitors to respond -- both directly, by means of form submission and threaded discussion -- and to contribute their own peripheral thinking by proffering (via e-mail) rants, white papers, thought experiments, and the like. One of the first features of the site will be the convocation of the Problem Development Group, which will issue a call for problems to be considered by the membership. Naturally we will also be on the lookout for material already out there on the web, that can either be leveraged (with permission, of course) to our cause or else whose author(s) may be commissioned to kick in to the proceedings.

>2. If material is being submitted by people other than you/your team, will some kind of selections be made? If so, what will the criteria be? How will the selected material be edited, organized and presented on the site?

We plan to use a process of collective selection on Input from Out There. To begin with, all such material will come to us via e-mail (our mailto: address will be prominently displayed everywhere on the site); it will then be forwarded to the Senior JollyGoodFellows (original team members) for review.

The most important criterion for selection is excellence of expression, either written or performed, but there is no restriction on content.

Once a piece has been selected, one of the Senior JollyGoodFellows will be assigned to edit it (in collaboration with the author), encode it in HTML, and post it at the appropriate place(s) on the site.

>3a. How much site maintenance do you envision once the site's up and running? What does site maintenance mean in the context of your project? Who will be doing it and what in their background has prepared them for the work?

The Center for Peripheral Studies is an ongoing, evolving enterprise, and so apart from providing for archiving old material and taking care of link rot, "site maintenance," in the context of this project, actually means cultivation, in the horticultural sense. Once the prototype is launched, we intend to watch closely to see which features elicit the most -- or the most interesting -- responses from our remote membership, and then to enhance and/or extend these features, whilst pruning and composting those endeavors that come under the heading Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time....

Project Leader Bill Bly will oversee this process (which means that to begin with he will do the Web work himself). Bill is a published author of hypertext fiction and poetry, and teaches a course at NYU on Electronic Literature. All of his classes make considerable use of e-mail (moderated lists, which he owns) and the World Wide Web, where syllabi and other essential documents are posted. In addition he has run a university cabaret, compiled and directed numerous musical reviews, and constructed and taught over two dozen courses on a wild variety of subjects (from Playwriting to Science, Technology and Human Values) in his quarter-century as a grunt in the infantries of academe.

But everyone on the team has extensive experience in putting together and running complex ongoing projects such as this one: Bill Neely and Elizabeth Emmert own Hawk Mountain Media, Inc., which produces video and broadcast programming (including satellite downlinks) for businesses and corporations such as AT&T and Lucent Technologies; Deborah Griffin Bly was Associate Director of Communications for Trinity Church Wall Street, where she co-edited two international magazines, for which she wrote several award-winning essays, while producing two CDs as a member of the musical duo, The Miserable Offenders, who have received considerable airplay on NPR stations across the country; Mark Dann has engineered and produced dozens of professional recordings; Brian Rehr has created, marketed and developed performing and literary arts programming for eleven years for Snug Harbor Cultural Center.

>3b. Not everything "works" right away. What are your criteria to determine whether your project is "working?" (As you probably know, the word "hits" is absolutely meaningless here.)

Since the Center for Peripheral Studies is intended to be an interactive think tank, the volume of e-mail we receive will give us our first crude idea of how well we've set things up. We also plan to use surveys and questionnaires (form-submission) to assess the "performance" of the site and to ask for suggestions and comments, as well as to elicit ongoing content.

>4. Have you researched existing sites that are related to your site in subject? How is yours different from them?

Two kinds of existing web sites relate to what the CfPS plans to offer: what might be called op-ed sites, and music sites.

Op-ed web sites, many of them predictably concerned with cyberculture, proffer opinions and commentary on issues of the day. (A few favorite examples: Spumco, The Robot Wisdom Pages, Suck, Entropy Gradient Reversals, and The Center for the Easily Amused.) All such sites seem to welcome response at least by way of a mailto: address, some offer threaded discussion, and many have contests, quizzes, polls, and other interactive features similar to what we have in mind.

The Center for Peripheral Studies will certainly involve this kind of interactivity, in that we wish to provide a kind of cyber-sandbox in which our members can entertain themselves and each other. The biggest difference between such sites and the CfPS is the emphasis we place on music, of which more in a moment.

Quite a few music and/or virtual radio sites exist on the Web. Most music sites we've visited either provide artist information such as recordings, gigs, bios, and the like, in similar wise to fanzines and enhanced CDs, or else serve as resource centers for artists, fans, promoters, and other music industry people -- i.e., the Web is used primarily as an extension of already existing music venues.

Virtual radio sites tend to be just that -- i.e., you can use your computer "tune in" to your favorite radio program, no matter where you live or what time of day it is. Recently, quite a number of new sites (VirtualRadio and Kaleidospace were among the earliest) provide both services to music lovers, with an index of artists (including song samples in various formats), a front row seat at a virtual nightclub, even a form/page where you can compile your own CD.

At the CfPS music is more than just something pleasant or fun to listen to, and we're not interested in the music industry per se. For us, music is not only an essential ingredient of the enterprise, it is our organizing principle. Whatever its general virtues by way of calming the savage b(r)east and being the universal language, music also has a direct and immediate (though volatile) effect on thinking, and thinking is our raison d'etre (Cf. our motto: Thinking is too important to be left to professionals).

This effect has been demonstrated in numerous experiments, such as the one at U. Cal. Irvine in 1993, where undergraduates who listened to ten minutes of Mozart did 10% better on a standardized test than others who listened to a relaxation tape, or the control group who sat for ten minutes in silence. (Other examples abound, including that of the twelve-year-old boy discovered (or so we seem to recall) by Charles Kuralt on the road -- a precocious scientist who, instead of a relaxation tape, subjected his pet rats to ten minutes of MegaDeath; not only did these poor subjects fail to navigate the water maze, they went berserk and started tearing each other apart. So we promise to be careful...)

It is our immediate aim to extend this experiment to the world at large, and to that end we will make available, at every concourse of the site, a toolkit containing an array of what we've come to call (perhaps unfortunately) musical viruses, strands of musical DNA we've customized to act like scrubbing bubbles that eat away the sludge from the contact points in your brain. (A sampling of these musical viruses is included on the cassette tape enclosed with the rest of our support materials.)

In our very first peripheral study, we will encourage our visitors to try the following experiment at home: play one of the viruses while doing anything else, monitor whatever feelings of enhanced smartness arise, and e-mail us an anecdotal report of the results. (In fact, you can test the efficacy of this notion by putting on the tape right now, while you consider our proposal.)

>5. If you're breaking new ground, you're doing something that no one has done before (including you). What challenges and/or difficulties do you foresee, and how do you plan to deal with them? (For example, if you're planning a dialogue between people who may be antagonistic, how will you try to maximize real exchange and minimize personal attacks?)

The first challenge we have to meet is to design the site's interface so that visitors can easily navigate about the "center" entertaining themselves. Using frames might be a good way to do this, but we've also toyed with the idea of an image map ground plan of a virtual conference center, though this may lock us into a metaphor we'd rather avoid. Another idea is the Observation Deck -- a kind of cross between the top of the Empire State Building and a car wash: each window would open on a different section of the periphery, where some interesting experiment, discussion, or garage sale is going on. To join the party (or whatever), you "go through the window." On every page would be a button to take you back to the Observation Deck. Well, it's an idea.

Naturally we must also be concerned about the complexity of the site, both in terms of keeping navigation simple, and in managing an interactive enterprise that will not only grow but will also elaborate and evolve. At the beginning it shouldn't be too difficult to manage the flow of e-mail, but once we add questionnaires and surveys, they will need to be collated, analyzed, and the results posted. This probably means adding staff to do the clerical work, and maybe retaining some kind of pollster/consultant to interpret all the data.

But once the site is built, our most important challenge at this stage is packaging and marketing. As you may have gathered, we've had the idea for the CfPS for quite some time, but we've also had difficulty pitching it to others, mainly because, before the World Wide Web, we were never sure what form it would take. Now that that problem is solved (at least in theory), we'll need to let people know that we're here, and what we're here for.

To begin with, we will need to capitalize on the reflected glow from WebLab itself. Brian Rehr, the CfPS JollyGoodFellow who occupies the Folding Chair in Marketing and Development, will prepare a marketing plan which will involve mailings, a modest amount of radio and TV advertising, and getting the CfPS included in various WWW hotlists.

>6. If you're proposing to do live "chat" on your site:
>- have you done it before?
>- with what results?
>- how do you compare "chat" to asynchronous dialogues like threaded discussions and listservs?

It's not appropriate to do live chat at the start, at least not until we have established substantial asynchrounous communication with our remote membership. Furthermore, the kind of discourse we're seeking to promote is more like writing letters (or e-mail!) than real-time conversation, requiring time for participants to do some head-scratching and revising before hitting the Send button.

Once we're well underway, however, we may wish to offer guest-forum type chats on a limited basis.

>7. If you're proposing to use streaming video on your site: What do you see as the main advantages for your project? Disadvantages?

We don't plan to do streaming video, at least not at first. Streaming audio will obviously be necessary to incorporate, given the importance of music to the project.

>8. We have good proposals from people with long experience creating Web sites and people with no experience at all. We're considering projects where team members have been immersed in the subject, and others where they want to explore an issue they care about but don't know much about. We want to provide advice, technical assistance and even Web design services for people who want them and need them, but stay out of the way of people who don't. What kinds of non-financial support would you like from us? Please be as specific as possible (e.g. feedback on a site as it's being developed; suggestions about outreach or dialogues; audio or video encoding; design services; etc.)

The answer to this question is pretty simple: all of the above. Although collectively we have modest experience in building Web sites, it has come only on an as-needed and auto-didactic basis. A project this complex will require a real Web designer's skill to execute. Naturally, as the CfPS is intended to be a highly interactive site, we want as much feedback during development as possible, and suggestions about outreach are equally welcome. We'll also need to rely on you for audio encoding, at least at the start.

>9. Please do a final review of your budget and make sure it reflects as much detail as possible (e.g. hourly, daily, weekly or monthly rates for people's work, multiplied by the amount of time they'll be devoting to the project.) Please include the current status of your matching funds. If you're looking for cash (as opposed to in-kind or donated services), please provide details of commitments and/or or a list of funding sources you're approaching, when each proposal was submitted and the projected dates for decisions. "Funny numbers" won't help your project.

See attached budget (which has been formatted in a fixed-pitch font [Courier 12 {Mac}] so that the numbers line up). If for some reason the transporter malfunctions, I will be happy to fax or hand deliver a copy.

>10. We had a problem with the program that processed submissions and all of the project titles were dropped. Please tell us the "official" name of your project.

The Center for Peripheral Studies.

>11. This is the time to send us anything else you think will induce us to support your project: writing samples, editing samples, screen shots, design elements, etc. Send these on hard copy to the street address below.

A small package containing a dozen sheets and a cassette tape was mailed to your office on Saturday 3 January. Should it not arrive, please contact me and I'll hand deliver another (lotta people going postal these days...)

Thanks once again for this opportunity, and for selecting the CfPS for further consideration. This process has helped us clarify our own thinking a great deal.

Bill Bly
CfPS Project Leader
172 St. Paul's Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10301
718.981.5887 vox
718.447.7015 fax

Back to About the CfPS

Back to CfPS Home

Last updated: 6/7/98