Computer Rhetoric Annotated Links

What is "computer rhetoric"? Many people use the term in many different ways, but I am using it to describe the system of semiotic interplay that exists between human beings and computers.

The rhetorical and semantic systems by which humans and computers interact are fascinating and tremendously important. However, very few rhetoricians or communications scholars seem to be interested in studying, let alone helping to improve, this process. These are some of the links related to computer rhetoric that I have found.


These links provide some insight into the state of rhetoric and rhetorical studies online. Naturally, most of these links favour computer-oriented or computer-mediated rhetoric.


This playful online quasi-journal-cum-online sounding board features a McLuhanesque (as in Counterblast) page design, a bibliography, essays, and a "quote collage" (kind of like the old "fortune file").

Ratings: Usefulness: 3+; Coolness: 3 (for effort); Compatibility: 4.

Reinventing Rhetoric: The Classical Canon in the Computer Age, by Janice R. Walker

This essay surveys some of the problems facing rhetoricians making the transition (very relevant in 1997 when this essay was written) from classical print rhetoric to the different world of online rhetoric. Walker notes multimedia, hypertext's nonlinearity and its effects on argumentation, copyright issues, memory, delivery, and post-print (or print-plus) literacy. The work is a brief but solid overview of rhetorical theory from classical times to modern, and includes a readings list (offline).

Ratings: Usefulness: 4; Coolness: 3; Compatibility: 5.

Neil Randall's Web

Neil Randall teaches in the English department at the University of Waterloo, and has taught courses towards the Master's in Language and Professional Writing programme there. Truth in reporting: I took the MA in LPW, and took a course or two from him. This page includes links to a study he did on online language, and some of his recent papers and publications. Unfortunately, some of his more interesting (to me) work is offline.

Ratings: Usefulness: 4; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

Computers and Composition

This journal features online and offline content. Some of the articles are more rhetorically-based, some of them are heavily into composition theory and pedagogy. The focus of the journal is mostly on teaching writing using computers, but some articles are still generally relevant. Navigation is also a little difficult.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 3+; Compatibility: 3+.

Annotated Bibliography of Metaphor and Cognitive Science

Tim Rohrer's huge page is very similar to this set of pages, only it's much, much bigger. Anyone wishing to get a good grounding in metaphorics may want to browse through here and find things that look interesting. Very little on this page actually has much to do with computers, but this is certainly a background into metaphorics, pragmatics, and other related topics. Even a casual browser through this enormous list will notice a certain amount of overlap both in entries and certainly in authors represented both here and on Rohrer's page. There is really too much information here to go through all at once, so definitely bookmark it, and return several times.

Ratings: Usefulness: 4; Coolness: 4; Compatibility: 5.

Human-Computer Interaction

These links highlight more conventional studies into HCI (from the Computer Science perspective, mostly) but provide a useful springboard and starting-place for the student of computer rhetoric.


The Human-Computer Interaction Resource Network's pages link to an extensive number of internal and external resources on HCI. Sections include A-To-Z, a subscription only alphabetical index of HCI topics; a Job Bank for HCI professionals (using a broad definition of HCI); Reflections, a couple of short essays on HCI in the real world; Resources, "Books, Periodicals, Events, Organizations, and Publishers"; Tutorials, a subscription only introduction to HCI praxis; Links, a great section tying together "Indexes, Archives, Mailing Lists, Newsgroups, and more"; References, their bibliography; and Publications, which tracks HCIRN's contributions to published HCI work. Aside from the subscription only sections, this website has a far larger compilation of HCI resources than I could ever put together in this Linkography.

Ratings: Usefulness: 4; Coolness: 4; Compatibility: 4.

HCI Bibliography

Gary Perlman, the HCI Bibliography's compiler, is a little more high-tech than I. The "Bibliography" is a searchable 'linkography' (or, as found later in the page, a 'Webliography') of over 24 000 records! To make it easier for those who might be overwhelmed by such a wealth of resources, Perlman puts four sections filled with links right up front. Covered topics are: Learn About HCI, The Bibliography, HCI Columns and News, and Developer Resources. Some of the more interesting or unusual subtopics are: accessibility links, intercultural resources, Most Frequent Authors, and Humourous HCI, the last annotated with the ubiquitous :-). It even provides links to Babelfish to translate itself (albeit horribly) into seven languages.

Ratings: Usefulness: 5; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

Explorations In Synthetic Pragmatics: a thesis by Simon Winter and Christian Balkenius.

These researchers in Cognitive Science model computer-human interaction as a cumulative system of semantic construction, where meaning aggregates through sequential interactions. This paper is particularly helpful for computer rhetoricians because it examines and exposes some of the underlying (usually tacit) assumptions needed to drive this kind of discourse and/or dialogue. The paper contains a lot of mathematical diagrams and equations, and some footnotes worthy of tracking down. This version loses compatibility points because it's a PDF, but you can access a strange-looking HTML version through Google's cache function here.

Ratings: Usefulness: 4; Coolness: 4; Compatibility: 1.

Pragmatics and Dialogue Modelling

This page is a compendium of research interest abstracts dealing with computer pragmatics and natural-language processing. The Sheffield school is deeply into contextual understanding, and the papers linked here include work on attitude modelling, speech act processing, argumentation and dialogue modelling, metaphorics, and language taxonomies. This page is shy on links to online papers, but does include a fairly lengthy Offline Bibliography for those with borrowing priveleges at one or more academic libraries.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 3; Compatibility: 5.


These links deal with rhetorically-minded programming systems and movements. Also, I believe (perhaps tautologically) that programming should be understood as a system of rhetoric as well as an algorithmic (and/or mathematical) problem-solving schema, so I'm including the subject here.

Computational Linguistics

Although this page, put together by John C. Mallery, is part of AI at MIT's Natural Language Processing section, I'm going to file it under programming because it does have a fairly extensive programming-related selection of links. This page is mostly just a list of links divided into general headings: Conferences, Frequently Asked Questions, Information Resources, Journals, Professional Associations, Programming Languages, Research Laboratories, Departments and Projects, and Usenet/Netnews Groups. Of particular interest to computer rhetoricians are the links on linguistics, speech, and natural language.

Ratings: Usefulness: 4; Coolness: 4+; Compatibility: 5.

(Extra coolness points for those rainbow-coloured page dividers!)

Don Knuth's Homepage

By the man who wrote The Art of Computer Programming himself! Knuth has a very good set of pages including a FAQ, information on his recent projects, and various other Knuth-related stuff. The pages also contain a good deal of humour, such as the title of a talk Knuth gave, called "Totally Acyclic Digraphs (Spiders) and how to squish them," and a tiny-type link captioned "don't click here." If you click on it, you're greeted by a jumbled page starting with the words, "¿Hey, whatcha doin on this page?", upside-down question mark and all.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

The Feyerabend Project

Richard Gabriel's brainchild for revolutionizing programming and its methodologies. Particularly salient are some of the extracts from the quotations on the Project's main page: "[S]ome thinkers either decided not to be bound by certain ‘obvious’ methodological rules, or because they unwittingly broke them." (Paul Feyerabend) "Millions for compilers but hardly a penny for understanding human programming language use. ... The human and computer parts of programming languages have developed in radical asymmetry." (Newell and Card) This looks like an outfit to watch.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

Literate Programming

Yet another one of Don Knuth's projects, Literate Programming proposes integrating code and documentation into a seamless whole. This approach gives a slightly different cast on the computer rhetoric problem. The page includes documentation, examples, downloads, and enough information and software to launch your own Literate Programming project. Many of the example documents are in PDF format, and one of them crashed my browser.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 2.

Teach Yourself Programming In Ten Years

This article is a semi-satirical reaction to all those "Learn -your-programming-language-here- In 21 Days (Or Less)" books. This article makes a plea for craftsmanship in programming, time, care, and attention to detail, as the hallmarks of turning out decent programmers. For all us non-programmers, and all who are trying to learn, this article shows why a long-term commitment is better than a short-term smash-and-grab approach.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 4; Compatibility: 5.

Interfaces and Operating Systems

Although in many cases, interface and/or operating system studies lapse over into visual rhetoric (itself a legitimate field of inquiry), since interfaces and operating systems provide the user with the template and structure for the majority of his or her meaningful interactions with computers, both interfaces and operating systems form the majority of my inquiry into computer rhetoric thus far. These links delve into interfaces and operating systems. You may notice a slight pro-Unix/Linux/BSD bias here, which exists for three reasons; first, because the information is there (Microsoft design decisions -- or anything else, for that matter -- are not well-documented), secondly because of personal interest, and thirdly because of the greater focus on language and rhetoric in the Unix paradigm.

"The Evolution of the Unix Time-sharing System"

This is Dennis Ritchie's original paper on Unix history, as "first presented at the Language Design and Programming Methodology conference at Sydney, Australia, September 1979. ... This rendition is based on a reprinted version appearing in AT&T Bell Laboratories Technical Journal 63 No. 6 Part 2, October 1984, pp. 1577-93." (Please see the Offline Bibliography for the rest of the citation.) For early Unix history, Ritchie's are the papers to read; he was there and did a lot of the work. This paper discusses the "the evolution of the file system, the process-control mechanism, and the idea of pipelined commands," plus, most interestingly, some passim discussion of the social context surrounding Unix's early history.

Ratings: Usefulness: 5; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

The Unix Time-Sharing System, by D.M. Ritchie and K. Thompson

This paper of lengthy lineage dates back to 1974, originally. This paper introduces and describes Unix as it was when it was "a general-purpose, multi-user, interactive operating system for the larger Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-11 and the Interdata 8/32 computers," and describes its 'unusual' (for the time) features. For the computer rhetorician who shares my conviction that Unix flavours represent something different and distinctly superior in calibre concerning human-computer communication, this is a good, although very technical, introduction to where it all started. Note, though, that this paper falls more under the purview of computing history than current knowledge; even the glacial Unix is very different from the system described here.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

The Creation of the UNIX* Operating System

The official Lucent/Bell Labs pages on Unix history. These pages don't go into a lot of detail, but they cover some unusual aspects of Unix's creation (ie. syntax), and feature quotations from original sources, and from Unix's creators themselves. On top of which, this site is rather wittily written, featuring "cliffhanger" links with captions like, "Next: Before Multics there was chaos, and afterwards, too." Someone put a lot of love, care, and humour into these pages.

Ratings: Usefulness: 4; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

In The Beginning Was The Command Line

Neal Stephenson's essay on computing and computer interface history, informally and humourously written. If you haven't read this one already, it's a classic and contains some of the best computer metaphorics to be found outside of operating system humour pages. This rendition of the essay is a bit hard to read, though, as it's all in tiny sans-serif type.

Ratings: Usefulness: 2; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 4.

Shell Help

This page is a fairly advanced tutorial on authoring Unix shell scripts. Beginner or intermediate users of Unixes may have some difficulty with this page's writing style, which sort of reads like a standard Unix man page. I'm not sure how useful this page really is, because any user who can actually understand the instructions in this page probably already has mastered shell scripting.

Ratings: Usefulness 3; Coolness, 2; Compatibility: 5.

Doom As A Tool For System Administration

Apparently this page isn't some clever satire, but actually someone's project at one point. However, given my hearsay experience with the Adventure Shell, anything is possible. There is apparently a conference paper and source code to go with, so draw your own conclusions. In any case, Dennis Chao, the author of the essay and its associated program (runs on Linux), makes a fairly interesting case for using a Doom-like engine for visual systems administration. From a rhetorical perspective, this essay is an interesting exercise in metaphorical transferrence and congruence, as well as in shifting visual rhetoric paradigms.

Ratings: Usefulness: 2+; Coolness: 5; Compatibility: 5.

Computer-Mediated Communication

I wish to stress that my area of interest is not CMC. Communications scholars, pedagogues (and andragogues) of all stripes have expended much energy on CMC, and it is vaguely related to my area of interest, so I include it here, adding this caveat: Communication and language scholars and researchers tend to view computers as tools which merely facilitate human-to-human communication, and seemingly ignore the language processes by which human beings interact with computers. Computer-mediated or -facilitated communication could not take place without the underlying rhetoric that changes computers from inert hunks of hardware into functioning systems.

The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

JCMC is the premier journal in the field. If you are already interested in CMC, you probably already read JCMC. If not, make it your first stop. The most current issue is not online (although an online abstract is available), but every issue from 1,1 onward is.

Ratings: Usefulness: 5; Coolness: 4; Compatibility: 5.

CMC Links

This site gives this link list as a subdirectory of its "IT and Telecoms" section. Although that seems to me to be a strange place to put it, it has a comprehensive list of article links. Unfortunately, the article links seem to go nowhere, and especially not to the articles in question, so this site loses points. Most of the links don't even feature complete enough citations to make article tracking easy. On the other hand, some of the other informational non-links give enough detail for Google to haul up the real thing.

Ratings: Usefulness: 1; Coolness: 1; Compatibility: 4.

IT and Society

This link takes you to a directory listing of Stanford's quasi-electronic journal (PDF format) on CMC and related topics, now apparently defunct. In order to read the articles, you need to download the whole issue, which may be a disadvantage if you want to read only one article per issue. The topics seem varied, and not as generally interesting as JCMC, but still worth a look.

Ratings: Usefulness: 3; Coolness: 3; Compatibility: 2.

Computer Mediated Communication Magazine

This magazine is more of a trade journal with a corporate focus than an academic resource, and reads as such. Any article that I wanted to click on was freely available (non-subscription), although the page design and the overall tone (mauve; slightly cluttered; a little heavy on cutesy marketing-speak buzzwords) makes this a site one to which I would not willingly return.

Ratings: Usefulness: 1; Coolness: 0-; Compatibility: 1+.