Cybersquatting My Alternate Identity

My Problem with the Curator’s Code

Posted on: 16 March 2012

Let me say, first of all, that I am completely in sympathy with the goal of the Curator’s Code, to increase attribution across the web. I’m an excessive footnoter and compulsive linker. When I taught history, I told my students that I would never penalize them for too many footnotes, and that there was as much originality and analysis in the way they arranged and presented evidence as in writing sentences about the evidence.

The Curator’s Code’s main innovation, to honor “the rabbit hole of the Internet” and credit the act of discovery by linking the sites that led you to a link, is exceedingly interesting. I’ve occasionally done this myself, for instance including multiple RTs in a tweet to show how the idea circulated, or spelling out my path in a blog post. More support for that would be great. What if Twitter showed “RTed by” as a network tree instead of a flat list, for instance? This is a wonderful idea.

However, I find the site confusing and unconvincing on both a conceptual and visual level.

There are multiple metaphors used and illustrated—the rabbit hole, the universe, the moving eye (the eye is explained in a blog post by Maria Popova, the main creator). It’s difficult to read. Typewriter style fonts do not generally score high in legibility. Trapping that wide bar at the top obscures the textual explanation. In short, it seems like the site creators got carried away with visuals at the expense of making their point.

Most people understand hat tip and via as basically equivalent, to show attribution. Why suddenly try to repurpose one? And the repurposing is counter-intuitive, at that. “Via” is literally a road, a way of travel, and thus would fit indirect discovery far better than a “hat tip”, which is a direct connection between two individuals (similarly, the arrow used for hat tip actually suggests movement like via, while the superscripted waveform used for via resembles the action of a hat tip).

The notion that we should credit not just the place being linked to, but the place that led us to that place, is far less familiar than the idea of citing your sources. So create a new signifier for it, instead of trying to change an existing one. Why not run with the rabbit hole metaphor, especially since Lewis Carroll already did all the work of making that charming and attractive? Use a rabbit icon. Make rabbit a verb. Or something.

If “the goal here is not to mandate how to attribute, but to encourage to attribute” (from the FAQ), then why devote so much time to explaining how to use the unicode symbols, and so little to expressing what it means to credit indirect discovery? Why make the pledge conflate the act and using the standards?

The site’s goal is to get readers to buy into a system. I wish the creators had done a better job of selling it.

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