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Even if you don't agree with aspects of an author's work, as I did recently with The Language of Websites by Mark Boardman (Routledge, 2005), you can appreciate how scholarly activity fosters the preservation and circulation of digital ephemera. For example, I found an image of this webpage in Boardman's book, which I appreciated both for its subversive political content and the creator's attention to highly specific web conventions. (Click on image to enlarge.) This parody error page that reads "These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed" plays with form and content in a number of ways by turning a failed search into what seems to a starting point for research, although the links that are followed lead only to cues for consumption on Amazon.com.
I admire the fact that Boardman's book close reads web pages for their typographical, syntactical, and metadata features. What's valuable about the book for me is his discussion of web genres, but it's also where I took issue with overly broad generalizations that immediately suggested multiple counterexamples.
In particular, Boardman suggests that "institutional websites" are less significant to critics, because personal websites are where the "real publishing revolution has come." Boardman claims that institutional sites are more like traditional print media, because the institution has the legitimating power to wield corporate authorship and thus publish only approved and internally consistent versions of text. This may be generally true, but it is an oversimplification, given the complexity and density of many institutional sites. There is plenty of subversive content on institutional websites: one can find everything from Bertolt Brecht poems to Al Jazeera transcripts on URL's from the federal government. Furthermore, based on my own research, I would argue that institutions are characterized by ideological tensions and battles between competing stakeholders: that's what makes them of interest to me as a rhetorician.
Websites are expected to do a lot more than simply provide PR for an institution: they provide reports, speeches, hearings, open letters, and even certain statistics that are mandated by law to be disclosed. Even when authorship of a policy document appears to be masked by an anonymous collective of bureaucracy, embedded code can contain information about rhetorical and compositional history. For example, Frank Rich of the New York Times recently wrote in "It Takes a Potemkin Village" that a few keystrokes worked upon the original National Strategy for Victory in Iraq PDF that was released by the White House indicated who the real author was: "Peter Feaver, a Duke political scientist," whose specialty is public opinion not nation building.
Boardman gives the example of of the homepage of Salford University (which of course has been subsequently completely redesigned) to show how stuffy institutions want to signal "permanence and tradition" with serif fonts, while still impressing the visitor as "contemporary and modern" with sans serif ones. Although it is true that institutional websites often use what Boardman calls "syntactic minimalism," there are also many fully developed specimens of rhetoric, often highly modulated through an individual ethos. For example, a controversial speech about women in the sciences by Lawrence Summers, the president of my undergraduate alma mater, is located on the university website, as is his mea culpa from a few days later. (The whole genre of apologies on institutional websites is actually quite fascinating.)
There are more problems with Boardman's book than his summary dismissal of the vibrancy of these venues for public rhetoric. With the advent of gaming and other participatory web applications, I would say that digital media do more than simply exist in relation to print media, which is where Boardman largely keeps it. And by often looking at webtexts without historical and rhetorical contexts, I think Boardman is missing a fundamental paradigm shift, one that I have characterized as a move from knowledge culture to information culture.
Lastly, books about the World Wide Web are invariably dated by the time that they are published, so I can't complain about the antiquated material on search engines or the integration of audio and video. But Boardman also uses a very outmoded "website as building" analogy in his chapter on institutional websites that has long ago been exploded even by its former proponents, such as architectural critic William J. Mitchell.
That said, there is a lot to like about this book as well. Boardman's material on domain name branding, which I can understand as a member of "uci," is useful. He also connects the accepted taxonomy of blog subgenres to particular linguistic markers in original ways. Finally, the end-of-chapter extension activities and the chapter on writing for the web show an admirable pedagogical orientation and how the work should be judged more leniently as a blended genre: part textbook and part scholarly monograph.