in fall 1994, i began grad school in american studies at the university of maryland, researching and teaching about a new and obscure technology called the internet.
it was a perfect time and place to study new media. at maryland, i was able to work with and learn from john caughey, debra deruyver, katie king, bob kolker, myron lounsbury, ed martini, jo paoletti, kelly quinn, jason rhody, ben shneiderman, mary corbin sies, martha nell smith, donald snyder, and ellen yu borkowski. it was awesome.
what wasn't awesome was the larger academic community, or lack thereof. in those days, one would be lucky to find a single panel on "cyberspace" or the "world wide web" at an academic conference or to find a single article in an academic journal. these were the old days - before conferences like digital arts and culture (or DAC, first held in 1998) or the association of internet researchers (or AoIR, first held in 2000), before internet clusters like the berkman center for internet and society (established in 1998) or the oxford internet institute (established in 2001). back then, academic interest in the internet was building, but an academic community was hard to find.
in fall 1996, i enrolled in an independent study with myron lounsbury. the goal of the independent study was to build a web site which in turn would help foster a community, an online community, that would connect scholars and students interested in studying the internet. i began by collecting relevant course syllabi and conference calls - the two key ingredients for any emerging field of study - and posted them on the web site. i called the site the resource center for cyberculture studies, or RCCS, and launched it on december 8, 1996.
a few months later, i received a review copy of wayne rash, jr.'s politics on the nets: wiring the political process. i found the book interesting, wrote a review of it, and in july 1997 published the review on RCCS. the idea behind RCCS reviews was simple: review books about contemporary media and culture from any and all disciplinary persuasions. i decided RCCS would review books because, first, books often contain interesting, well-developed ideas and arguments, something a new field of study needs and thrives on, and, second, books, unlike web sites which began to multiple and remix at an alarming rate by 1997, are finite in number. the book reviews quickly became the heart of RCCS.
a month later, fellow maryland grad student will winton's review of gary g. gach's writers.net: every writer's essential guide to online resources and opportunities generated a new feature: the author response. shortly after publishing winton's review, i received an email from gach who was excited to see his book reviewed but eager to explain his side of the story. i invited the author to write a response, he did, and the author response was born. when it worked well, the book review + author response fostered a rich and ripe dialogue - a conversation between reviewer and reviewed.
in 1998, a new feature appeared: multiple reviews of a single book. having received a new batch of books in need of reviewers, i distributed a call for reviewers to various lists. when multiple scholars asked to review richard lanham's the electronic word: democracy, technology and the arts, i asked the publisher for an extra review copy. they said yes, i assigned the book to two reviewers, and the multiple reviews feature was born. later, RCCS would routinely feature two, three, four, and even five reviews of a single book. coupled with an author response, these multiple reviews offer multiple perspectives into a complex topic.
from the start, the book reviews and author responses were free and publicly accessible. they were also written by a range of scholars - from graduate students in their first years to full professors in their last years - representing all kinds of fields and disciplines within the arts, humanities, social sciences, and science and technology. refusing a single disciplinary orientation, RCCS included them all.
on december 1, 2009, i published the last (and excellent!) set of RCCS book reviews and author responses. although there will be no more new reviews and responses, the existing ones will remain online as a free and publicly accessible archive.
it's been a nice run. for help along the way: a big and long-lasting thanks to my maryland peeps who helped launch RCCS; a big, big thanks to john klockner and alex fedosov who helped host and configure RCCS; and a massive thanks to nectarine group who helped redesign RCCS.
but most of all, thanks to the hundreds of reviewers who contributed their time, labor, and good ideas to RCCS and to the readers who took the time to read a review or two.