Bolter InterMOO

Juggling MOOs and Multimedia:

An InterMOO with Jay David Bolter

Conducted by Dean Fontenot and John Chandler


Jay David Bolter has been at the forefront of hypertextual research: along with Michael Joyce, he developed Storyspace software used to create hypertextual documents. He is currently on the faculty at the School of Literature, Communication and Culture at Georgia Tech University where he is working with other professors on the use of MOOs as pedagogical environments. He and Andreas Dieberger created Juggler, a Web-based MOO client that allows a higher degree of user interaction than standard text-based MOO environments. His publications include books (Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing and Turing's Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age), numerous articles, and several book reviews. Bolter's enthusiasm for using technology as a tool for teaching allows those of us who also teach a chance to go beyond the traditional classroom and into a realm of adventure. This InterMOO on the subject of the Internet and MOOs is hopefully the first of many with Jay David Bolter.

Dean says, "Jay, Thanks for taking time to talk to us about hypertext and MOOs."

Bolter says, "It's my pleasure to be here."

Dean [to Jay]: "More and more educational institutions, as well as more industrial sites, are using MOOs for classroom discussions, conferences, etc. Other than the convenience of not having to physically travel from one place to another for meetings or classes, what are the benefits of meeting in MOOs?"

Bolter says, "Well, the benefits would seem to be of two types: The first is the obvious act that students are communicating through writing. They are using the medium of writing for the whole of communicative experience. And that in itself is interesting, perhaps unique about electronic real-time environments. The second and related point is that, again obviously, MOOs are interactive so that students are thinking about written communication in a different and more complex way, perhaps, than they are used to."

Dean says, "Do you think that MOOs are more interactive than say chat rooms?"

Bolter says, "No, not always. Chat rooms are very similar in this respect. The difference would be -- and perhaps this is yet a third order of difference -- is that MOOs can be restructured by the users."

JohnC says, "Jay...When you say writing for the whole communicative experience, are you referring to features of the MOO such as the ability to emote and to create and interact with the surrounding environment?"

Bolter says, "JohnC, yes all these features, and then the simple fact that students respond to one another in short written communications-- just as we are doing now."

Dean says,"Why does the short written communication seem to make for a better communication atmosphere? Can the restructuring by the user be destructive?"

Bolter says, "I'm not sure I would say 'better' but certainly different from what we knew before."

Dean says, "It seems more like oral communication to me because it's short"

Bolter says, "The use of short communications is limiting in one sense and liberating in another. I agree that it is more like oral communication.So the MOO (and the chat room) help to redefine the balance between oral and written communication in our culture."

Dean says, "How is it limiting?"

Bolter says, "I meant limiting in the sense that it does not encourage the kind of writing that we used to regard as normative -- periodic writing for print."

". . . these technologies may well have an important impact on education. . ."

Dean says, "I see... "

Dean says, "How do you see MOOs contributing to the changes in our educational environments?"

Bolter says, "I see MOOs as one element in a whole set of technologies to encourage interactive verbal and visual communication across networks. Together these technologies may well have an important impact on education over the coming years."

Dean says, "Care to speculate on what that impact will be?"

Bolter says, "I think that many people have foreseen a range of possibilities. Forms of distance learning are likely to become part of the curriculum."

Dean says,"For instance, I know that you are working with others on developing a MOO application that allows the user to access information that is buried in the program, like being able to actually see an image of a room. How do you think visual or aural stimulation in a MOO effects the environment of the MOO? "

Bolter says, "The notion of the classroom and the conventional class that meets at predetermined times will be supplemented by other kinds of meetings in virtual spaces. Oh, I think that the visual MOO is a very different environment. In fact, my colleagues and I have suspended our work on an educational MOO until we can figure out what to do about the visual."

Dean says, "Would you explain visual MOO for our readers."

Bolter says, " Well, we had in mind a very simple visual MOO, in which pictures were delivered to a web browser while the user communicated in text over a MOO client. Similar things have been done elsewhere I think, for example, at Diversity University."

Dean nods her head

Bolter says, "Now there are other interactive technologies on the internet that give similar capabilities The new generation of browsers from Netscape and Microsoft, for example..."

Dean nods

Bolter says, "In fact, everyone is rushing to provide video conferencing and collaborative capabilities over the Net. But the question then becomes: why use verbal text at all? Why not just speak into a microphone and use a video-camera?"

Dean says, "But doesn't that take us back to the "written" communication issue?"

Bolter says, "Exactly. What does become of written communication when these new perceptual technologies are widely available on the Internet?"

JohnC says, "Are you talking about browsers increasing capabilities to interpret VRML driven environments...with streaming audio & video?"

Bolter says, "JohnC, I wasn't thinking of VRML, although that is another dimension of the visualization of the Internet, isn't it?"

Dean says, "Don't you think there will always be a need for written communication and electronic written communication will be the predominant way to communicate?"

Bolter says, "I think the former but not the latter. Surely there will always be a need for written communication, but I don't think it will predominate."

Bolter says, "Or did you mean that electronic written communication will be the predominate form of WRITTEN communication?"

Dean says,"Yes, that's what I meant"

Bolter says, "Then I do agree."

Dean nods

Bolter says, "But what concerns me is how important will any form of writing be in comparison with these other technologies. I wonder for example, whether the textual MOO has much of a future."

Dean says, "Do you feel that something like CU-SeeME take over textual communication. Isn't that type of communication limiting, also?"

Bolter says, "Yes, perhaps. The browsers will have video features built-in. It is limiting to those of us who see the rich possibilities of textual communication. But with any new technology, the older generation will be suspicious precisely because we are sensitive to what can be done with the earlier technology."

Dean smiles

Dean says, "I guess we don't want to become obsolete"

Dean says, "What about archiving?"

Bolter says, "You can archive video."

"Students would learn to think of video and audio as experiences to be related to and in a sense defined by textual responses."

Bolter says, "In fact, I am starting to work on a project to relate video and text -- to allow students to annotate streaming video with textual annotations."

Dean says "True, but doesn't it currently take up a lot more disk space."

Bolter says, "It takes more disk space. But space will become available -- DVD for example"

Dean nods

Bolter says, "I just think it will be hard for people to resist the stimulation of video and return to textual representation, if they have the choice."

JohnC says, "How will that work Jay...will you have a split screen with the textural annotations shown as the video streams to the video screen?...I'm having a hard time visualizing the environment...interesting idea though."

Bolter says, "My project? We have a hard time visualizing the environment too...."

JohnC nods his head

Dean laughs

JohnC grins at Bolter

Bolter says, "We will be working on a good interface for probably several months. To start, I just used Storyspace. I used its interface for the annotation part and ran the video in a separate window..."

JohnC says, "What value do you see in students being able to annotate video?"

Bolter says, "First, it allows them to index and return to portions of a video. For example, students could be studying Citizen Kane in a film class. They could make notes on the film as it was playing, and then return to those portions of the film later to elaborate their notes into an essay. In the larger sense, I am interested in attempting to preserve a role for text in this electronic environment that is becoming dominated by video. Students would learn to think of video and audio as experiences to be related to and in a sense defined by textual responses."

Dean says,"Wouldn't that enhance the learning process, too?"

Bolter says, "Yes, we hope so."

Bolter says, "Yes. Actually we can think of any medium being used to annotate any other..."

Editor's Note: Both JohnC and Dean lost their links for a few minutes. You will notice that it didn't impede the discussion; another nice aspect of electronic communication.

Bolter says, "I am here."

JohnC acks loudly at losing his link

Bolter says, "Well, a visit to a MOO wouldn't seem authentic without technical difficulties."

Dean laughs

Dean says, "True"

Dean says, "I think we're back in business now. "

Bolter says, "So on the question of media annotation..."

Dean nods

Bolter says, "We can imagine a student annotating a text using video, rather than the reverse."

Dean says, "Using video to illustrate the points in an interesting concept"

Bolter says, "Or using one video to illustrate (annotate) another video. This would be hypertextual video."

"The WWW is already an enormous multimedia essay"

JohnC says, "I don't know if you got my last question Jay, but I asked if you were suggesting that students would not only use the annotated videos as heuristic devices, but could come to see combining text, video, and audio as writing...sort of a multimedia essay, if you will?"

Bolter says, "It's not new. Our project is to try to make a good interface so that students could be doing this all the time as they work on the Internet."

Bolter says, "Yes, JohnC, that's the idea beyond multimedia annotation, where any medium could be regarded as annotating another medium."

Dean says, "Wouldn't this force students to analyze why they are annotating the video, text, etc.?"

Bolter says, "It seems to me that that is an interesting way to think of a multimedia essay."

Bolter says, "Yes, Dean, that would be one goal - to make students aware of the media that they are confronting, to insist that they develop a critical sense for these perceptual media, to insist that they recognize that they are writing with these new media, not simply experiencing them."

Dean says, "It seem to me that it would also give the student the control, for lack of a better word, in his/her own learning process...choosing the media which best suits his/her learning style"

Bolter says, "And that is certainly a worthy educational goal."

JohnC says, "Students will still have to consider issues of audience and purpose...they'll just have more practical choices in how they deliver the goods in their "writing?""

Bolter says, "Yes. All the rhetorical issues would still apply in a multimedia essay."

Dean says, "How soon do you think teachers will be ready to handle the multimedia hypertextual essay?"

Bolter says, "Well, some teachers are now..."

Dean nods

Bolter says, "Don't you think that the WWW is already changing many teachers' expectations about what constitutes legitimate communication? The WWW is already an enormous multimedia essay."

Dean says, "Yes it is."

JohnC says, "Jay (I can't resist asking)..._Writing Space_ is considered such a seminal work by so many of us because it speculated how hypertextual environments might effect us culturally...Now hypertextural environments such as the WWW are relatively common, do you think hypertext as a force for cultural change (as in our perceptions) played out as you originally envisioned it?"

Bolter says, "The problem with Writing Space is that I did not understand the importance of graphics and the host of visual digital technologies. It's precisely that failure to consider perceptual technologies that I am trying to remedy now -- both in my writing and in practical system development."

Bolter says, "I'm afraid I need to sign off very soon."

JohnC says, "It's interesting that Writing Space was only published ..what 6 years could you have anticipated the explosion in computer-based video & audio technology"

Bolter says, "I could plead justifiable ignorance. Computer graphics had been around for a long time..."

JohnC laughs

Bolter says, "But it was only beginning to become available on the desktop. And of course, the Mosaic browser (the first graphical browser for the Web) only appeared in 1993, and changed everything."

Dean says, "Jay, thank you very much for taking the time for this InterMOO. You've given us even more to think about regarding MOOs, hypertext, and virtual reality. We are looking forward to your new MOO interface. Maybe next time, we can conduct the InterMOO using it."

JohnC agrees with Bolter

Bolter says, "Thanks. I look forward to another virtual meeting soon."

Dean smiles

Dean says, "Good luck with your work"

JohnC says, "Nice meeting you Jay..."

Dean says, "Bye"

Dean waves to bolter

Bolter says, "Nice to talk to both of you. Bye."

You hear an electrical sizzling sound; Bolter has disconnected.

© Dean Fontenot and John Chandler, February 1997