''Kairotically Speaking'': Kairos and the Power of Identity

I’ll return to my analysis of Kairos as a project identity later. But first I’d like to consider one other aspect of Jerz’s critique–attention to audience. Kairos’s design (referring to Issue 5.1), Jerz says tongue-in-cheek, “has drastically improved,” making it “no longer an easy target.” The only mention of audience in Jerz’s critique is when he mentions his technical writing students, whom he asked to critique Kairos’s design. While he concedes that they are “not the primary audience” for Kairos, he affords their comments ample room as support for his argument. His instructions to students didn’t seem to include analyzing design, let alone content, with Kairos’s actual audience in mind–writing studies scholars who teach with technology. Through his application of Jakob Nielsen’s laws of web-user experience, Jerz does speak indirectly of an audience, the ubiquitous “users” (see also useit.com). These users, it would seem, include all people with access to the World Wide Web, suggesting that anyone and everyone is a potential audience for the journal just because a page exists in cyberspace. —Tracy Bridgeford”Kairotically Speaking”: Kairos and the Power of Identity (Kairos)

Bridgeford offers an excellent, thoughtful response to my rather blistering 1999 critique of the journal Kairos, which Kairos was brave enough to publish. My main point was that design choices interfered with the journal’s ability to get its content in front of its audience.

Even as I was working on that article, the navigation of Kairos developed and improved, so that my critique was out-of-date before it was even published. And the invention of KairosNews addressed several of the points that I raised in my Kairos review.

My essay did focus on the design and user experience, and I did report what I observed after asking several classes of undergraduates to use the site. While their motivation for reading a Kairos article would differ from the motivation a scholar would have, I don’t think that a student’s frustration in not being able to find a search engine and not being able to find where to click in order to read the whole article would be substantially much different from the frustration a hypertext theorist would feel while trying to carry out the same operations.

In my defense about the audience issue Bridgeford mentions above, I did acknowledge the academic audience obliquely, in subordinate clauses such as “If the purpose of Kairos is to distribute scholarly information…” And elsewhere I argued that the use of consciously “clever” and obscure navigation techniques perpetuates the mythology that hypertext has to be difficult and challenging in order to be effective. Even in 1999, when I wrote the article, hypertext had been around for long enough that hypertext authors who were not consciously informed by hypertext theorists had discovered a separate set of expectations and methods for communication in hypertext, and that that set of techniques was quickly becoming a standard that Kairos was not reflecting. But none of that really affects the value of Bridgeford’s points.

From time to time, I have thought about possibly revising that original review, but Bridgeford’s thoughtful essay does an excellent job following up on the issues I raised, and reflecting further on Kairos’s accomplishments in the 10 years it has been pushing the boundaries of online scholarship.