Reading the Archives:
Ten Years on Nonlinear (Kairos) History

Jim Kalmbach

The Kairos Way: Why Editorial Policies are Important

What makes an exploration of the Kairos archives particularly interesting has been the Kairos editorial policy of putting its authors in charge of the appearance of their texts and their corresponding hypertextual structure. Because Kairos has been successfully publishing issues for ten years, it is easy to lose track of just how unusual and distinctive this editorial policy is even among online journals. Here are the guidelines as they are described in the most recent issue:

Kairos publishes "webtexts," which means projects developed with specific attention to the World Wide Web as publishing medium. We do not suggest an ideal standard; rather we invite each author or collaborative writing team to think carefully about what unique opportunities the web offers. Some projects may best be presented in hypertextual form, others more linear, and in some instances multimedia and graphical architecture may be critical, while other projects may be less suited to such approaches. In the course of our editorial review process, you should expect editorial staff and editorial board members to analyze your choices carefully, so please be sure to think them through.

At the same time we do not offer a standard form and format, we do want to provide examples . . .
(Guide for Authors)

They go on to cite a number of webtexts from past issues that suggest the range of hypertext they have published. The important point for the purposes of this webtext is that Kairos' authors are responsible for the design of their documents (visual design, typographic design, web design, hypertext design). Peer reviewers offer their opinions on how to best tweak the design of a hypertext and the appropriateness of the design to the webtext's argument, but ultimate responsibility falls on author(s), not on the editors or the editorial staff.

If you are a frequent reader of Kairos or of C & C Online, you perhaps do not realize how unusual and distinctive the decision to give authors control of their online webtexts is. Far more typically, online journals accept articles as Word documents or in HTML format and the editors and their staff format those articles in a consistent manner. For example, the digital archive and library at Virginia Tech ( publishes 20 active online journals.

The Women in Literacy and Life AssemblyThis example is from the online journal WILLA produced by the The Women in Literacy and Life Assembly of The National Council of Teachers of English. Each journal in the Virginia Tech archive is published in a similar format to WILLA with the DLA logo at the top, the logo of the journal, a navigation bar with a standard set of links, and then the individual articles. Each article is published with generous margins and left-aligned text.

DLA online journals look academic and are quite readable, but authors have no control of the look of their essays other than adding graphics. They can add links, but they can't segment pages or create unique navigational structures.

Other online journals have hipper, more sophisticated visual designs while still keeping tight editorial control over the appearance and hypertextual structure of the essays they publish. First Monday, subtitled "peer-reviewed journal on the Internet" (which also offers a random walk through its archives) publishes its articles as a linear scroll of text with anchor links to subheaders and with occasional graphics. Their guidelines for authors page includes a complex flow chart graphic of stick figures going through the process of submitting and producing a First Monday essay. The issues we are attending to in this webtext—visual and hypertextual design—are subsumed under the step, "Production team performs editing, markup and layout tasks."(Footnote: Vectors: Kairos' Evil Twin)

Other online journals are less adventurous, publishing essays in PDF or Word formats. Their interest is in the World Wide Web as a publishing medium not as a form of hypertext, and as with traditional print journals, authors have no say in the production of their work. Occasionally online journals will publish a hypertextual piece that looks as if it could have appeared in Kairos, as in this webtext by John Barber (2000) that was published in Academic Writing, but outside of Kairos and C&C Online, such pieces are few and far between. Even when the editors say they welcome hypertextual submissions, actual examples in the journal's archives are hard to find.

And yet Kairos has been producing online issues following this policy for 10 years now. How have they managed to successfully go their own way for such a long period?

One answer that should not be underestimated resulted from a redesign of the journal completed for the fourth volume in 2000. For this redesign, the editors implemented a very clever bit of javascript that wraps a small javascript-generated binder frame around individual hypertexts in a way that enables readers to cite URLs for individual pages of the webtext (unlike an HTML frame that suppresses the URLs of individual pages).

One argument for using a rigid publishing structure in an online journal such as DLA is that the editors must either handcraft each page of the journal in order to include their journal branding or wrap the journal in some sort of database-driven CMS publishing system (which results in authors having even less control of the appearance or the hypertextual structure of their texts). The Kairos solution has enabled the editors to retain the traditional power of citation while giving writers control of their texts without requiring so much hand-tweaking of pages that editorial staff would quickly burnt out.

Another answer to the question of how Kairos has managed to survive for ten years is the remarkable community that has grown up around the journal and the dedication of this community to its success. Just as the success of Computers and Composition has been fueled not only by the efforts of Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher but also the support of a strong community of assistant editors, reviewers, guest editors, and authors, Kairos has been blessed by a vibrant community of scholars who have worked tirelessly to make the journal a success.

Interestingly, both of these strengths—technical innovations that simplified the process of publishing and a strong, dedicated community—are echoed in similar editorial practices in the small press community of the seventies and eighties. You can read more about this topic in an extended digression about Assembling magazine, a bleeding edge creative writing journal of the seventies that also put writers in charge of the appearance (and the production) of their pages.

If my Assembling digression doesn't interest you, you can read about my slice analysis of ten years of Kairos, or you can jump directly to my analysis of the types of hypertexts in Kairos. If none of these options sounds appealing, you can always return to the home page.