Occasionally, my fellow post-bacs and I will write blog posts highlighting different tools that we use in our work with Five College Digital Humanities. There’s no want for sites all over the Internet that offer similar information, many of which are able to go far more in depth than we have space for here in the Sandbox. Rather than offering yet another full-throated defense (or condemnation, as the preferences may be) of Zotero, Omeka, or any of the more common academic digital tools, we’d like to do something a little different.
In these posts, collected under the Tools tag, you’ll find small, free, easy to use tools that surprise, interest, or challenge us. You’ll also get a personal perspective from the author on what it’s like to use the tool in real work, not just in copy-pasted press releases. Of course, take every recommendation with a grain of salt, and try out the tool to see if it’s right for you!
I’m a digital pack rat. Between Twitter (ughhhhhh, Twitter), RSS feeds, newsletters, word of mouth, and (god forbid) actual book, I have too much to read, too much to make sense of—in short, what I’m trying to tell you is that I’m just like everyone else working in academia. So let’s cut the pity-party short and skip to the good stuff—a tool called Rebelmouse that we use in 5CollDH to help us curate links, articles, and images for research programs and public outreach.
Okay, before I get in too deep, I want to get some first impressions out of the way. Go take a look at Rebelmouse’s main page. Have you taken a look? Did you look at icons? Their testimonials? Was it more than a little inscrutable? Did it look a little like a marketing fever dream? Let’s get this out of the way: Rebelmouse isn’t selling itself to academia. It’s too flashy and slick: it’s the kind of site that corners you at a party and can’t wait to tell you how it’s been Leveraging Its Content To Convert Clicks Into Mindshare. Why do I want to be a Rebel? Where, you ask, are the Mice? In not too many words, it looks like the enemy.
But this is one of those cases in which the whiz-bang exterior actually does mask something interesting and flexible underneath. Rebelmouse is essentially a content aggregator. You can direct social media accounts to it, add RSS feeds, post individual links, and then go back and rearrange and re-edit the cards to say what you what you want them to say. There a handful of design options and layouts and ample support for whatever kind of media you’d like to throw its way. In short, it’s a simple way to turn that aforementioned folder of links into something visually engaging and easy to digest—a portal, if you will, through which visitors to your site can see, really quickly, what you’ve been reading, viewing, and thinking about across the Internet.
For example! I run a 5CollDH program called AIRLab (Aerial Innovation and Robotics Lab), which has a web site right over here. The elevator pitch is: we’re going to build a lab at Smith College dedicated to critically engaging with drones in the academy— how to use them in our research, how to do research on them, and how academia can advise and influence the policies on drones that are shaping our political and economic futures. Over the summer, we have a working group that’s meeting and thinking through these critical issues, and we’re collecting interesting articles, images, and art pieces that we find on the Internet.
Over on our Corpus page, you can see an embedded Rebelmouse page with all of these aforementioned articles and pages. This is how we’re making our research process transparent and public—by sharing our raw materials.
Want to take a look at the backend? Let’s take a look at the backend:
This is where I can add feeds of things. Rebelmouse handles most social media services natively, and anything else can go in as an RSS feed. The social media support is Rebelmouse’s bread and butter, but for anything else—like, say, that collection of links in your Bookmark folder, or, more likely, a cascade of open tabs—you can use an easy-to-install bookmarket to add individual pages on the fly. It’s exactly the same as browser buttons that save articles to Pinterest, Pocket, or Evernote. It admittedly takes time, but it forces me to consider each article separately, and gives me more power and intention over the curation of my Rebelmouse itself.
Over on the design side, I can choose from a selection of layouts and fonts. If you’re handy with CSS, there’s also support for custom themes, though I’ve generally found that the options provided get most of the job done, especially given that most of your page’s design sensibility will come from the photos and videos you attach to each card.
Okay, so I can curate stuff. Is there anything else I can do?
But of course!
On this very site, we use Rebelmouse to power our Explore page. It collects our social media feeds and presents them in a more visually engaging (and embeddable!) way.
You can also use Rebelmouse to track particular tags on Twitter, which makes it great for highlighting conference chatter. Below is a Rebelmouse page built out of tweets from a NERCOMP conference at which I spoke last April. In this way, Rebelmouse can function a lot like Storify, but with a bit more of an emphasis on images and non-linearity.
That non-linearity is admittedly where Rebelmouse struggles. It can be difficult to pick individual thoughts of the crowd, and the pages often end up giving more of a general impression than emphasizing specifics. Still! It’s an interesting start, and couldn’t be easier to use.