Much of the early part of my qualifying exam preparation process was consumed with trying to come up with flexible-yet-precise titles for my exam areas. Since all knowledge is interconnected, this is always going to be a big challenge; but in the context of interdisciplinary new media theory and practice, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s extra-super-hard to establish and maintain boundaries. Distinguishing between productive overlap (e.g. “History and Theories of Participatory Culture and Art Practice” is a powerful complement to “Interaction Design for Social Media and Pervasive Computing”) and outright redundancy (e.g. “The Poetics of Collaboration” would work as a subset of “History and Theories of Participatory Culture and Art Practice,” but would double-up on a lot of material if it were conceived of as a separate exam area) requires a whole lot of iteration and reshuffling. Some texts that began in one exam area are now comfortably in the middle of another. Because of the inherent either/or nature of the exam area structure (“text A is either in research area X, or it isn’t”), I found that some texts that were relevant to two or three of my research areas were being arbitrarily forced to exist in just one. What I really longed for was a non-hierarchical relational database that would provide an interface to my research alongside the more traditional “three exam areas” approach. Such a database would evolve as my own thoughts evolve.
Sifter was an effort to model what something like that might look like. The site automatically aggregated my posts from Twitter, Tumblr, my personal blog, several collaborative blogs, and my RSS feed bookmarks. These artifacts were then automatically and/or manually tagged with keywords, categorized, and made discoverable through sitewide searches. Some posts were further tagged so as to appear in the archives for my main research areas. The goal was that this would make visible and usable (to me and to anyone curious about my work) the connections between materials across the totality of my research. While Sifter was eventually retired, the database it created remains partially accessible via the current version of my website.