New Text - New Conversations in the Media Landscape

by Jussi Karlgren

New text - that is, new forms of textual communication - such as blogs, instant messages, and Wikis contrast with traditional textual genres in some respects and remain true to them in others. This calls for new research methodologies and provides new challenges for text research.

Recent advances in publication and dissemination systems have given rise to new types of text - dynamic, reactive, multi-lingual, with numerous cooperating or even adversarial authors and little or no editorial control. Many of these new types of text remain true to established existing textual genres. Others break new ground, moving towards new emergent textual genres made possible by the dramatically lowered publication threshold and faster distribution mechanisms.

These new forms of text, with a considerable amount of attention from traditional media, most notably include blogs - texts written as a timely running commentary of public or private matters. Another well-established and remarkable new genre is the Wikipedia - an encyclopaedia built through the cooperative efforts of its readers. New forms of communication such as these raise questions for researchers in a variety of fields, and this past spring has seen no less than two international workshops held on the analysis of new texts -bringing together several topically similar research projects around Europe.

One of the first questions in this research field is how new text is different. How new is 'new'? Have we never had new text before? What, in fact, is the difference between 'new' and 'old'? It is quite clear that authors of both newand traditional texts are aware of linguistic styles of various sorts and use them in ways they deem appropriate. When new genres emerge, such as blogs or Wikipedias, they may pattern themselves on existing ones, such as diaries or encyclopaedias, thereby drawing on the prestige and position of those existing genres. Alternatively, they may cast around for forms suitable for their intended impact and stature. How to achieve this form where none exists is a matter yet to be resolved!

Figure 1
A newspaper reader - how new is 'new'?

New texts are more than simply revamped traditional texts however: they have features that traditional texts lack. They are interconnected by a network created by authors and readers in a complex interplay of explicit textual references; they also position themselves much more explicitly within a context of other texts than has previously been the case. Studying this fabric of textuality is just the first step in this area of research.
In view of the less formalized publication process, the credibility of new texts can be called into question. When traditional texts are published in paper form, a number of steps - variable from one mode of publication to another - involve satisfying editors or publishers of the veracity, relevance, quality and impact of a text. (Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a different discussion entirely!) New texts lack this guarantee of having passed many pairs of eyes en route from author to reader. There is no simple measure of the impact, the variable perceived intellectual status and quality of new texts. Understanding credibility, authority and other facets of quality are central to any attempt at analysis of the impact of new texts.

Underlying the issue of credibility and authority is the question of who the author is and why. What makes a blogger blog? Why do people devote time and energy to editing Wikipedia pages? Understanding the motivations and intentions of authors is not incidental to the task of understanding the texts. Integral to the blog is who and why; integral to the Wiki is purpose; and no-one can pretend that the texts are analysable in isolation. While texts remain texts, even with new syntactic patterns and new lexical items, their contextuality is so great as to dominate many other content features. And this, in fact, is truly new!

What services can be expected to emerge from the analysis of new text? Several information access services already use Wikipedias to extract facts and relationships for better understanding of other texts. The analysis of public opinion on issues, or of consumer attitudes towards products and services on the market, has found a rich vein of data in blogs. To do this with any level of reliability however, our processing tools, tuned to newsprint and other well-edited texts, need to address the challenges of variable or multi-lingual texts, containing register swings and formality melanges - not shoddy, but New!

We are currently in a transition phase, which is exceedingly interesting both philologically and industrially. Similar phases have been seen before, for example with the introduction of inexpensive printing processes, publishers put out compilations of private correspondences as one form of written communication assumed to be of public interest. The only certainty we have today is that in the future, people will find creative ways of using the technology we are introducing today ? again, not unpredictable, but New!

These new movements will be discussed in coming research events. Those interested are welcome to join the discussion at!

New Text Workshop:
Int. Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, March 26-28, 2007, Boulder, Colorado, USA:

Please contact:
Jussi Karlgren, SICS, Sweden
Tel: +468 633 15 00