What is a website inside a university?

That every major city on the planet has to have a university. We are going back a few hundred years, for that statement to be true. Today every major city has many universities. It is almost a given that universities and cities go together. 

There are as many types of universities as there are cities. Does it mean that the university has the character of the cities? Absolutely. But within a city, the suburb where a university is located often determines the character of that university. The University thinks it is another place. It forgets that it is the collection of the thoughts, words and deeds performed each day. It forgets that it is only alive when it is pulsating with teachers & students, researchers & staff. People working in the cafes. People doing the administration. 

Each university can be likened to a very specific biodiverse ecology. It is possible that some of these universities have become devastated landscapes, to use an ecological term. It is possible that many universities have become devastated landscapes of urban buildings and bureaucratic procedures. It is possible that universities are not as lively as they could be. If its buildings become billboards. They stand mute, on sale. For inspection by the buyer.

It is possible that universities have actually forgotten that the biggest asset is the student. Much like some teachers forget that when they walk into the class they are one, and in front of them are many. And those many are either dynamic & activated, loud & pulsating. Or they can be switched off and rendered passive to sit in rows and listen as the slides flick by on the screen. 

This is a preamble to me. Of remembering a two decades long journey. It is the story of a website. If a university is a landscape that needs rewilding. Then a website is also a biodiverse universe. The website can also be likened to an ecology, teaming with life. A website is also a repository that contains. A website is something that can be mined for resources. 

What is a website? What would a website have been in the world of hypertext?

This is a silent MP4 of a ppt that I made to record the story of a #hypertext project.

A website today sits in the cloud. It is imaginable that a deep and cavernous website brings people to it. If a university program, such as a department, documents itself and makes itself or it’s mind accessible on the internet. Then people, when they search and use a search term, if those search terms correspond with the thoughts that are there in this website, they will come to visit. They will come there, they will spend some time there. They will make links in their own websites, to come back or to send other people here. So the website in that sense is a mall, it is a city centre. It is a neighbourhood. It is a locality and it is a collective brain. But sometimes people look at a website as a billboard. As a poster. As something flat, as a communication device. That you just see. The website then is a metaphor for a pamphlet, a poster, an advertisement, and in this way the university is a metaphor for a retail store. So this is the devastated, taking the form of the website. 

But if we were to imagine a hypertext universe?

When I got my first blogspot blog (these days rebadged as Blogger) there were others who sneered at blogs. They were the wiki people. These days blogs and wikis have retreated because the big monsters – websites and Wikipedia – have muscled them aside. It is like what happened to everyone singing as they walked, bathed or socialised. Now the amateur is locked away as second rate, displaced by the professional. Everything has to be well done. For imagine a world full of badly done stuff. I imagined that world. It is a good world a world of sketches. You learn when you fall.

A wiki is a what? Well there used to be wikis. It was main way you built something collaboratively. “A wiki is a site that is designed for groups of people to quickly capture and share ideas by creating simple pages and linking them together.” LINK Not quite, but this is how we speak of wikis. Wikis were exciting! a few of us could get together and make knowledge – a way, a description, a plan. Anything.

voodooPad: Then there was my favourite way to collect my thoughts. Made by flyingmeat (yes, lovely?) this was the most exciting software in my laptop arsenal. Check this out; if you took two words and mashed them together – say PanSupport – remembering to capitalise the second work. If you did this voodoopad would make that a link – a hypertext. And would create a new page with the name PanSupport, or panSupport. Yes I am addicted to concatenated words. Now you know why. ChemoExplore, HuntingWajima. Remember the two words have to come together – inexplicably. Also remember how they sound – it has to be sonorous and mellifluous and edgy and all the things sweet and sublime. Are you feeling rising love for voodoopad?

voodooPad is genius

CMS, php and other tools we salivated about

But a site that is a content management system is different. What you see is a skin. The theme of a site. This skin has a built in robot. This robot can query, can assist and can perform routine functions to produce something to look at on the screen. It asks you to type, in its search space. It takes your query, and in turn queries the archive and produces data. As a visual feast. As a gallery.

If it has been set to produce only current information then that is what it does. But if it is set up to produce random information, then it can show you works or information from 10 or 15 years ago, just on the side. This, the sheet, the flat screen, that you see. This can be called the website. 

It’s a site but it is a site that, in the way a capped oil well is just the place from which the oil comes out. The well however goes deep into the soil and it connects to the fossil remains of organic matter from the past. It is full of data. And goes back thousands of years, millions of years.

The #cms is teaming with information and that thing, the thing in the front, the screen can be the place to sell oneself. To look good. The website can be likened to the clothes that you wear. Richer still is the metaphor of the window – the website is a window for people to get in. It is not something to push out at people. It could be, but that would be like the metaphor of the devastated landscape. 

The look of the website can be off-putting! What is the appropriate look for a website? Can you be minimalist? Can you, can a website, be the white linen shirt. It was that – white – for many years. It was de-identified, quiet and small. White, natural, linen, and a bit crumpled.

And social and underground. What are the only clothes you wear in an ethical space? For to show, to use big fonts, to use bold colours would be using the language of the market. Using this on the face as something sort of commercial – is that okay? For the intellectual hub to look like a shop. Is that okay?


The Geniza

During the day he poured over medieval letters sent to India from Cairo by Arab merchants.”


This quote is from the blurb to the book “In an Antique land”. A book I read years ago. Before my move to Australia.

Imagine a writer chasing a trail of letters housed in museums in Washington, London and St Petersburg. All ancient, nay just old, letters that were scooped up from the Geniza of the great synagogue of Cairo. These letters are a window into the lives of people a long time ago.

Goitein, S. D. “Portrait of a Medieval India Trader: Three Letters from the Cairo Geniza.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 50, no. 3 (1987): 449–64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/617736.

Can a website be likened to a Geniza? If we were to do so, things would start to look very interesting indeed. Inexplicably, the Cairo Geniza extended the notion fo the Geniza to include anything written in Hebrew. Not just texts. Often the general, common and universal description of the Geniza is that of a repository of sacred texts. But the Cairo Geniza stores anything written in Hebrew. And thus we have an invaluable repository of letters. Letters written by ordinary people, with completely ordinary feelings and ordinary lives. This is how I first encounter the Jews who were located in Sicily. Inexplicable, serendipitous, exquisite. Is how I felt about new things I learn ed, as I read Ghosh.

Can the website be likened to a Geniza? Hell yeah, to use a local expression.

ja mata ne

By Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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