This introduction is also a hypertext suitable for printing. For the purposes of page numbering and University submission requirements, this paper document has slight changes in subsection format. It is available [on-line] at: [FOD0837.html].

1. Expectations

Mutation and change are characteristics of on-line work. Evolution is driven not only by alterations in content but by developments in technology. In such a fluid environment, works, such as The Flight of Ducks , may have as many purposes as they have versions.

The hypertexts provide insights into these purposes and locate the project within a larger context. They are also the body of a research report for the University of RMIT. This University accepts the presentation of such a project as an assessable outcome of candidature for the award of a Higher Degree. For the purposes of assessment and the University's need for a cut off date, these hypertexts drill into a snapshot of material taken in November 1997.

A lack of understanding of this medium by the University has caused a delay in the assessment process. For this reason the work has been `on-hold' for seven months while issues of academic censorship and on-line submission have been resolved. Planned upgrades of the work, that would transform its look and feel, have also been delayed.

For ease of reading, these hypertexts (on-line essays) are designed to printed out as single files without the need for special software. They are linked to each other and to the material they describe. The order in which you read them [on-line or off-line] is up to you. My expectation is that after reading a printed version, you will return to these essays [on-line] as hyper-texts and use the links as a convenient and structured way to explore some of the material they describe.

The potential for cultural sensitivity in certain areas of the work means that some content is restricted (even to examiners) and cannot be accessed without a password. Because this is also a digital preservation project, it is important that this content be carried into the future with the rest of the work, but it is not important that anyone access these screens - unless they have a convincing reason.

4. Some Background

I came to this new medium because I wanted to use the web as a scripting tool. I had in mind a digital documentary based on a collection of historical/archival material relating to an expedition into the Central Australian frontier in 1933. The aim was to render this material accessible and compelling without losing historical rigour.

Like many people in 1995, I thought this was going to be a CD-ROM project but when faced with the hardware and software dependence of the fixed world of CD-ROM, I realised that the web site development was part of the journey as well. It was a journey into unmapped territory where the medium and the content combined to impose a form of writing that not only reflected its own action but displayed it own making.

It soon became obvious that the World Wide Web would be a more durable and versatile presentation medium than CD-ROM, as well as being a wonderful documentary tool. The construction of an infrastructure that could support long-term access also provided a means of building a contextual world in which to present this material.

It is easy to forget that in 1995 (when work began on this project) the idea of a web based poetic was unfathomable to most people. There were very few on-line photographic databases, metadata was barely understood, and most writing took little account of the implications of having two way communication over mutable digital material. There is still little understanding of the preservation infrastructures necessary to support this type of work.

A review of the web, as it existed at that time, revealed several initiatives such as The Memory of the World program (launched by UNESCO in 1992) which sought to safeguard the world's documentary heritage by digitising original documents. But I could find no practical examples of evolutionary on-line documentaries with the transparency, the scope, and mutable structure of The Flight of Ducks. Most digital preservation initiatives clung to the idea of CD-ROM as a storage and delivery medium. For many University and Museum administrations, this is still the case. They are yet to understand the connection between access and preservation.

To my delight, the World Wide Web revealed itself to be a medium through which other people can and do talk back. This not only provided a means of working in a wider context among experts but also allowed others to participate.

5. Working on the web

For research to be carried out in a medium in which other people can participate, it is necessary to re-define concepts of the published work in order to be responsive and accommodate change. Most activities in The Flight of Ducks have been concurrent, public, and in a continuous state of evolution. This has meant that a methodology with the fluidity of improvisation has had to evolve. It is more artistic than scientific. In essence, conversation with myself and my participants has been re-purposed into a composed line of narrative, The National Library of Australia call it an evolving monologue .

I think of The Flight of Ducks as more like a camp fire. It has become a communication between its stories and its audience or participants. A collection of digital objects is given meaning, not just because they have historical significance, but because these stories are still unfolding.

In the real world, bandwidth is limited and machines are out of date. The Flight of Ducks is therefore, by intention, a technically simple work without any of the bells and whistles which often characterise sites of less substance.

While soundscapes, moving images and other forms of data recognition will eventually transform the look and feel of the work, my concern has been to keep the content accessible and not restricted by any software or hardware dependence.

This is RMIT University's first experience of the submission, examination and storage of an [on-line] Ph.D.. As a result, there is little administrative understanding of either process or issues. Traditional approaches to managing academic work at this level are wedded to the idea of the paper thesis, as object, rather than accessible content. The presentation formats of The Flight of Ducks for submission and examination reflect a profound mistrust (at an administrative level) of electronic media. Ironically, the Higher Degrees Committee have insisted that the work be submitted on a combination of the most ephemeral form of storage media - the CD-ROM, and the traditional paper thesis.

The paper Research Report has been difficult to produce in the required format. All files have had to be transferred into a proprietary word processor and reformatted. However, such a document was always seen as integral to the research project. The CD-ROM, on the other hand:

6. Navigation

{Here, you will need to be looking at this text through a browser.]

You may have noticed that a flying duck (top left) appears on every screen. Press this [flying duck] and you will find the primary site index . Locate this paper beneath [ words ] then [ Essays and explanations ]. I suggest, that in order to become familiar with the conventions of site navigation, you press the flying duck (above) and then press [about]. Remember - the flying duck will always take you to this primary index.

7. Protocol

I am more than happy to answer any questions. Usually I will answer within 24 hours. An email envelope (see below) can be found at the foot of most screens. During the University examination period, Examination Protocol requires that all questions from examiners and my replies be sent through the Chair of the Examination Panel.