Taxonomy of network* writing

Screen capture of comment thread from discussion board

Figure 1: Screen capture of comment thread from discussion board. (7ghost, 2008)

Here I describe three practices of network* writing: network writing, networked writing, and writing networks. Although I would not argue that there is a neat one-to-one correspondence between network* power and network* writing, the various dimensions of network* power can be helpful for understanding different varieties of writing within networks.

What I will call network writing explicitly replicates the logics or form of networks in their structure or content. This writing can exist both in print and online, and it is distinguished by its attempt to replace linear or hierarchical textual logics with the logics of networks. As Jeff Rice (2012) put it, networks emphasize not particular objects or “the singularity of place,” but rather the multitude of “items and details” collected in a network (p. 12). That is, network writing replaces the linearity of a text or its focus on a singular subject (Faigley, 1992, p. 191; Kemp, 1995, p. 186) with the logic of hypertextual linking within a group of related subjects. Such writing can take the form of networked exchanges characteristic of discussion boards (Fig. 1) or chat transcripts (Rice, 2009) or a single text organized by networked concepts like the set (Ulmer, 2004, p. 64) or the database (Brooke, 2009, p. 92). Johndan Johnson-Eilola (2012) described such writing as a “box of curious, conceptual objects,” and the arrangement and categorization of information within network writing is seen as a primary form of its rhetorical invention and networked production (Rice, 2012, p. 31).

Where network writing replicates the logics of networks, regardless of the explicit connection between the text and a particular network or set of networks, networked writing operates within the program of a particular network, and that network—people, protocols, tools—constitutes the audience for the text. Perhaps the most prominent examples of such writing is that of search engine optimization (SEO) specialists, those who tailor web texts to the programmatic constraints of networks like that of Google (Mager, 2012; Spinuzzi, 2010). Networked writing attempts to engage the explicit (or implicit) program of a network to gain competitive advantage over other communications, and perhaps for this reason it remains less theorized within rhetoric and writing research than network writing (although fields like marketing, advertising, and computer science have a significant body of research devoted to this topic).

There is, I argue, another, less fully theorized aspect of network* writing. This writing does not simply engage the network as a concept or potential audience, but instead creates new networks, either through acts of switching or programming or both. I call this practice writing networks, the act of writing networks into being and using them as a vehicle for persuasion, either by critiquing existing networks or challenging their dominance.

I do not intend the items in this taxonomy to be considered mutually exclusive. Just as a single text can contain multiple rhetorical appeals, multiple varieties of network* writing can be engaged at once. For example, a text can use a network-esque structure (network writing) and be designed to conform to the program of Google so as to be more prominent within search results (networked writing). Instead of using the terms above to suggest rigid distinctions between texts—this text is network writing while that one is networked writing—I use them to explore inventional resources important to effective network communication. This taxonomy and the examples I have provided serve to illustrate different methods of engaging networks as concepts within writing and rhetorical practice. By drawing attention to the different purposes of this writing, writers can more effectively engage appropriate practices in their own writing.