Infinite Ulysses was the 2014-15 Winnemore Digital Dissertation project of Amanda Visconti, who created a participatory digital edition of James Joyce’s difficult but rewarding novel Ulysses. This project built on her master’s thesis work at the University of Michigan School of Information, where she explored user testing for the digital humanities, and how digital archives and editions might be designed to include a public audience.
The Infinite Ulysses website creates a community for discussing the text; users can highlight sections of the text to add a comment, question, or interpretation, as well as read, upvote, and tag others’ annotations. A variety of sorting, filtering, and toggling options customize the experience to an individual reader’s needs, whether that reader knows Church Latin, wants to avoid spoilers, needs extra help as a first-time reader, or is a scholar studying Ulysses‘ puzzles or the function of written material (letters, poems, etc.) throughout the novel.
As part of her process, Visconti conducted user testing to gauge the use, usefulness, and usability of the edition. Digital editions are a key humanities scholarly form, but often we don’t base our understanding of how they are read and used on data gathered through formal user testing. She used test and analytics data to support the speculative design of the edition as an “infinite” Ulysses conversation. Could the site still produce customized reading experiences while storing an “infinite” quantity of annotations of various quality? What happens to complex texts—especially those authored to be hypertextual, chaotic, and encyclopedic, like Ulysses—when a participatory digital edition places them under “infinite” annotations and conversations? Visconti gathered data on reading behavior—such as what pages of the book take users the longest to read, or receive the most annotations, or the most contentious (both up- and down-voted) annotations—as part of her research.