[Humanist] 25.509 where the thrill is

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Nov 25 07:05:39 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 509.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 24 Nov 2011 11:50:33 +0000
        From: D.Allington <d.allington at open.ac.uk>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 25.504 where the thrill is
        In-Reply-To: <20111123084815.EDCD020969B at woodward.joyent.us>

>As I like to ask, what sorts of
>people do we call "users"? Do we really want to be positioning our
>audience at the end of a production-line?

This is something that bothers me. Releasing a program without a GPL/BSD-type licence automatically places the audience at the end of a production line. But then again, if what one is releasing is a large, fully-functioning program with a user-friendly GUI, then most of the audience will end up in that position anyway because the skills needed to make anything of the source code will be so far from universal that it might just as well be closed. I wouldn't even bother looking at the sources for GIMP, for example (though don't get me wrong, I'm certainly grateful that it exists!).

When people release libraries, on the other hand (as with the Natural Language Toolkit), they're doing something rather different. There's no 'end user' of a library - the implied audience consists of people who are going to make use of its resources in producing their own programs, which they may or may not choose to distribute. And if the library is sufficiently well designed, then the skills necessary to kludge together a script that makes use of those resources are likely to be far more widespread than the sort of skills necessary to work with the sources of a mega program like GIMP. Moreover, if it's written in a relatively accessible language like Python, then the existence of a library may motivate people to acquire those skills. (I'm a bit resistant to the idea of learning Python, for example, but I'm going to have to do so one of these days because there are so many incredibly useful Python libraries out there!)

I guess what I'm saying is that it would be a good thing if more DH projects aimed to release useful, well-documented libraries that would encourage humanists to develop the skills necessary to make use of them in producing new programs. However, I know that there are pressures towards manufacturing a visually appealing finished product that requires minimal technical expertise from the (end-user) audience.

Best regards


Dr Daniel Allington
Lecturer in English Language Studies and Applied Linguistics
Centre for Language and Communication
The Open University
+44 (0) 1908 332 914


The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).

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