Some Thoughts on The Future of Text Symposium 2017

By Chira Tochia (PhD Researcher, Web Science, University of Southampton)

The Future of Text symposium took place over two days last week at the University of Southampton, co-hosted by W3C UK & Ireland Office. In attendance were over 20 speakers, including Vint Cerf, Doc Searls, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Professor Les Carr, Mark Bernstein and chaired by Frode Hegland.

Professor James Wilkinson, Associate Dean of UoS kicked off the annual event, which is in its 7th year, and opened the floor to the speakers from a variety of backgrounds representing several different institutes and companies. With only 10 minutes each to present and 5 minutes for Q&A it kept the talks concise and punchy yet jam-packed with content. I was honestly blown away by the diversity of speakers and unique style of presentations from some of the greatest minds of the Web community on Monday. With the overarching theme, ‘Future of Text’ we touched upon topics such as the original book and written word, 12 year old girls publishing fan fiction and digital preservation.

Key themes for concern that reoccurred in several presentations were the issues of ‘storage’ and ‘archiving’, particularly the perseveration of articles, which were juxtaposed with the excitement of the rapid creation and development of text itself. There was even a discussion about how we document this event; through tweets and blogs and the video recording so others could stream it at a later date that was convenient to them. How can we be certain this will all be accessible in years to come?

The big issue that we seem to be facing is that substrates, systems, formats, and generally technology keeps evolving at such speed we can no longer access previous data from articles only 20 years old! Many of the speakers mentioned old floppy disks and other contraptions I’d not even heard of before that had old research on it that they would never see again.

It was a very enjoyable day, leaving everyone, I’m sure, with something to go away and have a long think about (and projects they can potentially collaborate on).

Questions for thought:

  • Where is it all going? I think this question is directed in terms of preservation but also the bigger picture of innovation and developments is a curious one too.
  • How do we preserve social media with links in?
  • How will future generations decipher what is fake news? • Are we ready for transclusion in scholarly text?
  • Who are we to decide what is important to save and what we should throw away for future generations?

If you’d like to see more about the event you can visit its website or follow the conversation on Twitter: #FText17.

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