[Air-L] question: published on the internet

Andrew Schrock aschrock at usc.edu
Mon Jul 11 15:48:51 PDT 2011

On Jul 11, 2011, at 3:00 PM, air-l-request at listserv.aoir.org wrote:

> when is something published on the internet?

I think a distinction needs to be made between "published" (let's just call this the releasing of information via a publication of one sort or other) and merely being publicly accessible (which can happen more informally in many ways). To my mind, the difference lies in the expectations of authors and the publisher (where applicable). A few cases might help illustrate. 

danah boyd's public drafts are clearly not formally published, but made accessible to encourage commentary and collaboration. I would consider most blogs to fit with this kind of aesthetic. Accessible, not necessarily spit-polished-final-state, and not published in the more formal sense. Blog posts might be the beginning of a paper that sees more formal publishing, or it might just be its final state. 

Conference papers are a good example of a gray area. Papers presented at the International Communication Association (ICA) are password-protected but still available online. It's neither made "generally known" nor disseminated "to the public" and not all conference presenters want their papers publicly available. Whether this is "published" depends on the context and discipline. Although most publishers would still consider it unpublished, this isn't a universal. 

Also see: the flap about getting book contracts from dissertations & the recent piece in Chronicle of higher ed. 

> does publishing something on the internet make it public?

Not necessarily, IMHO. Most journal articles are published but not accessible to those without an academic hookup. When I read "public" I think of a work being easily findable and accessible. Most journals - even those with an online presence - are unfortunately not public access. First Monday - yes. Communication Research - no. It's ironic to me that most scholars, once their work has been published online, put versions up on their personal websites (or academia.edu, etc.) so that it can be more widely found and read. Even as peer-reviewed journal publications are the coin of the realm. 

> does making something public necessarily make it not private?
> can private information be published and thus be made public?

There many, many gradients between private and public, which I think was what Michael was getting at. What is the context? The concept of privacy entails a comparison - private from whom and why - so I am pessimistic about generalizations being possible. My driver's license in my wallet might be visible every time I open it, but I would rather not have it posted on a website. I might have a conversation with a friend about a project I'm working on, and its central ideas are audible to anyone within earshot, but I might not be too keen about having myself recorded and posted online. 


Andrew Schrock
USC Annenberg Doctoral Student
aschrock at usc.edu

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