Zen and the Art of Immutable Comments


When teaching in group situations that use online collaborative tools, we tend to rely on text-based transcripts and comments as a documentation of what took place. This session explores an approach that deals with how to address ideas about authenticity within those online texts versus the need to re-edit and revisit our intentions.


A way of thinking about online comments and texts, that respects the ephemeral nature of conversation, and the permanent nature of the transcript. An approach that attempts to answer the question of "why can't I edit my tweets?", and how to deal with corrections and clarifications in a collaborative online space.


"If a tweet posts with a hashtag and no one is around to favourite it, does it help it trend?"

The permanent nature of blogs, comments, and status updates allows us to preserve accurate records of communication, but this is often at odds with the conversational and spontaneous nature of how and what we write. Should our words be editable once they are posted, and allow the possibility of complete rewrites that change context, or should our mistakes and grammatical inconsistencies be fixed in stone? One of the most attractive features of the web is that mistakes can be rectified after the fact, but where is the line drawn between fixing your "there", "their" and "they're"s in a comment on Facebook, and historical revisionism within a newspaper article?

Technical systems offer to answer this for us, through wikis, complicated threaded histories and time-delayed editability, but often these systems introduce more inconsistency and confusion into a process that our existing face-to-face communication seems to have evolved adequate solutions to.

Through thinking about these questions whilst developing technology that works in relation to student feedback and journaling, and drawing on experience that takes in ideas from physical sketchbooks and fifteen years of blogging, we have come up with an approach that attempts to address this issue ‐ a system that allows for changes to be made to texts whilst preserving their authenticity, and a way of thinking about these conversations that accepts them as permanent ephemera. This presentation will set out this approach, the context in which it has been developed, how it relates to recent developments in non-permanent communication and instant messaging, ways in which it can be adopted in group collaborations, and will attempt to answer the question "Why can't I edit my tweets?".