Monday, September 20, 2010

Thoughts on Annotated Webliography and its Relatives

[ Once in a while it is good to revisit an old idea we decided not to pursue, to see what has emerged instead…MHB]

Ten years ago the ISCC approved a Project Committee to establish an Annotated Webliography of Color. The goal was to point to excellent Web sources of color information. The scope was daunting: Criteria to select a website for annotation/citation, a first selection of websites for citation, rules for updating the resulting Annotated Webliography, and transition of the effort to a standing committee that (ever vigilant) would update the webliography.

As the chair, I started to compile a list of websites, and several people added to it. But soon enthusiasm waned. Also, some URLs on the list began to fail. I resigned as committee chair in 2002 because the Web medium seemed too transitory to justify ever-vigilant ISCC checking. Ironically, the Project Committee description is fossilized at If nothing else, it proves we were among the first to coin the term “webliography”!

Where has the Web gone since 2002? Aside from installing more toll gates so you have to pay for information (in my opinion a bad thing), it has moved in two directions, attempts at objective truth (often consensus-driven, exemplified by Wikipedia) and undisguised opinion (blogs). The goal of our Webliography was more like Wikipedia’s model. I will now discuss two excellent websites as examples and try to classify them. My classification doesn’t follow ISCC interest-group stereotypes.

First consider Jill Morton’s “Color Matters”. It addresses artists and designers, but there are also stories relating to color science. My favorite from “Color Matters” is about a red-tailed hawk named Windwalker who, from a perch on the author’s arm, removed and discarded all the strawberries from her strawberry short cake, presumably because “Windwalker had never seen me eat anything as bloody red as the meat that he himself consumes on a daily basis. He was using a delightful combination of memory, loyalty and his ability to discern colors to intelligently correct a situation that in his mind was not normal.”

Is “Color Matters” more like Wikipedia or more like a blog? Most of its content makes it more like Wikipedia, even though it has a small, carefully labeled blog section and a forum called “Color Tales.” Outside these sections, I don’t see much editorializing, but lots of information gathering. In one way it is not like Wikipedia: Its structure makes it hard to locate particular material. If you want to find the article on Windwalker, it’s best to type “Color Matters” “Windwalker” into Google.

Now consider the “Mostly Color Channel”---which I abbreviate as MCC. MCC is the vision of Giordano Beretta (an innovator in color printing technology), but with contributions by Nathan Moroney and three others. MCC cross-references to many sites, including CIE activity reports, the ISCC historical translations and Hue Angles. But it offers much more, including videos, slide presentations, historical essays and blog entries---a huge amount of work! One of the historical essays quotes a letter to Science from toymaker Milton Bradley describing a telephone-controlled color wheel to “telephone a color”---an 1892 ancestor of Ralph Stanziola’s VCS-10! There’s also a video showing a display comprising a 3D swarm of individually controllable lights. Among the blog entries, Giordano offers book reviews---some in Italian. Try his review of Snakes in Suits on for size!

The site originated under the auspices of Hewlett-Packard, but now is independent of HP and represents the untrammeled opinions of its authors. You will see lots of color technology, as well as cultural artifacts that involve color. But also you will see intellectual tangents and corners of knowledge---interspersed with passionate editorials. The site is not organized for easy access to targeted information, but if you just click on anything you will be fascinated, as I was. (Again, Google will help you find a particular item.)

I think MCC is the Whole Earth Catalog of color---but with no price-tags. Interestingly, Steve Jobs called the Whole Earth Catalog the forerunner of the World-Wide Web---a sort of “Google in paperback form”. I disagree, because unlike Google, the Whole Earth Catalog purveyed a vision---to enable people to develop a self-sustainable lifestyle.

MCC also has a vision, conveyed in the footer of Giordano’s blog: “The Internet is an amalgam of forms blurred under epistemological pressures. In Søren Kierkegaard’s words, under this flat shower of leveled information, where everybody is interested in everything and nothing is too trivial or too important, people just accumulate information and postpone decisions indefinitely, i.e., nobody takes action and nobody is responsible for truth — there is no mastery, just gossip. He called this the æsthetic sphere of existence, exhorting us to evolve to the ethical sphere, where we do not just accumulate information but take action and make commitments. Blogs are instruments to overcome flatness by creating opportunities for vertical activities. In this sense this blog is a view from my window — a collection of tidbits I judged relevant to computational color science and in general to the promotion of scientific excellence in areas of strategic importance for the future of research, economy and society.”

That’s a hard act to follow, Giordano. Bravo!