Although free internet archive initiatives like Google Books and Project Gutenberg have made thousands of classic texts available online for free, actually sitting down to read one of these online editions is an oftentimes excruciating experience. They prioritize accessibility over readability, either through uploading works in plaintext format without accounting for the differences between physical and digital reading or through merely hosting scans of a physical edition online as a surrogate for a physical reading experience. Rather than seek out the definitive edition of a work the most popular archive services host “zombified” versions, stitching together preexisting digital editions to bring to life a text potentially riddled with errors and inconsistencies. If internet archive initiatives endeavor to make knowledge accessible to anyone with access to the internet, then they proliferate knowledge that is inherently lesser than paid alternatives.
For my personal project I am interested in grappling not only with issues that arise from formatting digital texts online, but also with problems inherent to digital and internet archiving. Though digital texts do not suffer the wear and tear of physical ones, we might consider them equally as fragile because of the rapidity at which technology and the internet changes. Just as anything data on a floppy disk is almost unusable today because they are no longer the standard for digital storage, so too may changes in website formatting, the obsolescence of certain programming languages, and fluctuations in the price of server maintenance render “future-proof” online texts quickly inaccessible. Keeping these issues in mind, I intend to produce a variety of digital editions of all or part of The Royal Adventurers, or, The Conflict of Love, an 18th century novel in the University of Pennsylvania Library’s Collection that is not freely available online. The goal of some or all of these digital editions will be to present the text in a manner that provides a pleasurable reading experience, and/or preserves the text in a digital format that will be less-inclined towards obsolescence.
There are a few steps that I will need to take before I begin production of my digital texts. First, I will need to OCR The Royal Adventurers and correct any errors that remain in the resulting fulltext (fortunately, the UPenn Library has already scanned the novel, so I will not have to go through with that step in the OCR process). Next, I need to read at least some of the original novel in person in the Kislak Center’s Rare Book Reading Room so that I encounter the text as it was originally intended. I will need to completely read the novel (though not necessarily once in the digital and once in the physical) to understand whether I should a digital edition of all or some of the novel. Fortunately, The Royal Adventurers is already divided into a series of short chapters, a natural fit for the sometimes bite-sized nature of digital consumption.
Currently, I am considering producing about five digital editions of The Royal Adventurers, although this number may expand or shrink depending on how quickly I am able to complete certain editions. Of these five editions, three will embody the main ideas I am exploring in this project. The first is a copy of The Royal Adventurers produced in Scalar, which is a web tool that allows you to create readable website and online presentations with a host of customization options. In this edition, I will experiment with formatting the text to provide the most pain-free digital reading experience possible. The second is an edition of the novel produced in a comparatively “stable” format, such as .txt or MarkUp XML (is this the right name of the format? I can't remember). While this edition will probably be unpleasant to read, it aims to preserve The Royal Adventurers in a digital format that will remain relevant and accessible in a few years’ time. For the third edition, I plan to remediate The Royal Adventurers in an interactive fiction platform, such as Twine. I am interested in seeing if I can recapitulate a linear story in an inherently linear medium, and also interested in presenting an 18th century novel—originally a “low culture” medium—in the currently “low culture” medium of interactive fiction. The remaining two editions are not set in stone, but I plan on using Jekyll for one of them.