Redesigning PECE Founder Interview Notes - Mike Fortun


What led you to come up with idea for PECE?

Hard because they’ve written about it several times, it’s turning into a standardized history, which is one of the things they study; so it’s funny to be in that position

He’s thinking

Starting to talk about it in terms of the tryptic: archive, analysis, communication

It was hard to know which one of those, or if one of those came first

We had all of those in mind


Maybe not fully articulated

If we knew what we were after at the beginning, we may not have undertaken it, because in the end we discovered the real ambition of it

To do all of those functions

In part because we saw, now 10 years ago, there were some platforms that were doing some of those, I remember distinctly some of the first comparisons we had that we were looking at a lot was omecca, because we were all users of Zotero, and Zotero and omecca were coming out of George Mason center of new media and history thing

I remember looking at Omeka and thinking this is kind of, this is something we want to be doing, mainly having a place where you created kind of, they call them collections, and image centric,
Omeka as i remember looking at the ones first off the bat, were all very photographic centric, one on the Bracero program, a couple of others

It was kind of digital museum ish

I don’t think even really video, just a lot of images

Some text, mostly in a kind of image format

Not in a way that you were adding to it or contributing interpretations or analyses or any of that

So… that was the kind of archiving and communication part

We wanted something forward facing

We knew that there were kind of library programs, or library oriented things, so Islandora, that was using Drupal as an interface… Despace? 

[we hadn’t heard of it]

MIT open source thing

Never question that they’d not do open source project

Where the third piece of analysis came in was having at that point … and this we tell  a lot… we were using powerpoint as a prototype for doing this - each slide was a reference to a particular, not so much a… with Asthma files… a particular file, a researcher, a problem area, a city, any of those things… but it was a delimited powerpoint slide space, and we used that in talks and in demonstrations

And we tried to make those slides sharable, at that point thought the powerpoint files started getting so large with the images that they were crashing and unwieldy to share, before Google Drive

That was the other part of the motivation

The different slides representing different facets of problem, say, like asthma, were also meant to be and were worked on and researched b y different people 

And those different people came to occupy or were already in very different places

And the research project itself kind of became global in scope

And there were no … there wasn’t anything that allowed for geographically separated researchers to work on the same site

Omeka was always, a museum ran it, or it was a particular project

All very individualized, or siloed - 

And that became part of the agenda - the research agenda - infrastructure building project - to have it open ended, where people could contribute a lot or a little, long or short period of time, from wherever

The archival place would be there

Then there’s the analytic - we never really worked … archival and analytic part took all of the resources, thinking power and time, that we never really focused on the delivery and presentation communication part.

What’s now the Pece essay was one of the last things that came into play

We had photoessays earlier, we knew we wanted timeline

The presentation always took a backseat to the other things which required more effort

The analytic part is its own story….

Hear about it now or later?



Have written about… 

Need to continually articulate it

It’s difficult to describe what it was we were after with Pece as different than other forms of qualitative analysis software or computer assisted qualitative data analysis software


Quick version is they realized tha t they had a different language ideology (understanding of way language works) - from poststructuralist theory - emphasis being o n all meaning is unstable - stabilized through practices and habits - and other texts going on around it - but always prone to turning into another meaning - sometimes contradictory, but always generative - that’s how systems of meaning never closed but always had at least the potential to emerge into some other kind of thing

So the way to put it was, qualitative data analysis - as conventionally conceived - was all about coming to consensus, or it was about stabilizing a certain set of meanings

Because you have to do that

But at the same time, there seems to be something about software and qual data software in particular is predicated on code, binary arrangement, either or sort of proposition, that becomes limiting - our kind of guiding questions was always, how do we develop kind of analytic infrastructure that of course allows meaning to be articulated and presented and stabilized by the data that is archived underneath it - to use unsatisfactory directional metaphors - but also is there a software system and mechanical language that allows for both the settling and unsettling of meaning, or takes advantage of meaning’s propensity to do both 

How to design something that could be unsettled

At the same time, there was a guy - Jim Hendler - at RPI when we were there - he published this paper called the ?? surfer - before AI underwent its dramatic changes in the last 10 years - and AI took over that conceptual space - but they wanted to build a search engine that gave you not exactly the results you were searching for.

Google gives you matches

They were like that’s not very creative - if we want internet search tools to be creative and facilitate creativity - maybe there’s a way to build that in - went through thought experiments for how to design a search tool that gave you something close but not random - but just one off

That was encouraging to us - we’re not crazy, there’s actual computer scientists that kind of understand this other language ideology - that says that language can be used or is good for different things

So building … earliest sketches and wireframes for PECE always had this kind of 1) wasn’t coding structure, changed code into question, and we hope that small shift, not putting tag on something, but create space that was open to any kind of response - and yet the question could be shared and reshared and added to - 

Another thing - most people thought of qualitative data analysis - have to get study right - esp with survey - had explicit set of questions - then generate data - not go back anda dd questions - unsuited for ethnographic studies, where 

Not all sociologists are locked in but anthro has that more - not knowing questions at beginning

So keeping that question coding structure open - anybody on platform, not one who set it up - could contribute a new question - that anybody else could again respond to


Hillary asked about forward facing?

Funders, speeding up the feedback loop between research in the community and communication of results to larger world and community

That… rather than do research, then do analysis, then years later you have a manuscript… [long journey to see the light of day. ]

Also wanted to keep - how best to do it? Different ways - keeping that peer review or community review aspect to it to differentiate it from let’s say a blog


Anybody visiting the platform, non research would find materials to read and think about


Meant for wider audiences, and faster turn around

Infrastructure for academic scholarship more than anything else


Still mostly infrastructure for academic scholarship?

Changed only  for being better at 3rd component - just having the PECE essay - and then… first we knew we wanted it, but not sure what you could do… and then, it might have been Angela Okune who put an essay within an essay, and we should have thought of that, and we clearly designed it so that was possible, but i don't think we ever got what that nesting structure allowed for

So people started using it for different things

Kim has led that kind of charge

Changed in the sense that we figured out and got better at the part we always wanted to do anyway

Had more the social protocols for working that out

Feeling with nesting?

Surprised, then surp[rised he was surprised

Because it was possible

When building the menu - also can include other essays


I tried to ask about how he thought PECE would be used or ought to be used to support collaboration with the 3 categories


Grad students

Use Atlas T - as a way to manage data and begin developing analysis

To do that the need a license - or buy it themselves

So, we knew that was a feature, and also that that was one of the way sin which research immediately got individualized or remind / settled in that individualized mode - most research in the humanities and ss takes on in that vein

So that was part of, and a big part of how/why we wanted to build this other infrastructure that didn’t do that

Because it was free

Although though we soon learned that nothing is actually free - but still - idea that anyone who wanted to use it, we could make that happen more easily than having money transacted… so 


But because the first projects that ran on Pece were already collaborative - that was the model, the example from the beginning

So anyone who has learned of Pece have only learned of it from collaborative projects

I think that worked well - it didn’t … created particular design demands, other than having people to make accounts, and then dealing with the spam that comes with having that capacity - which we eventually got a handle on that… but it is still kind of longer term - not problem but there’s things we know we have to work on - 

These instances sit in a library - in the digital space of a library - which takes care of the longer term sustainability problems - that having an active research site and active # of researchers - potentially growing - all accessing in a way that’s changing - that becomes more effort to figure out how to make that happen

The collaborative side has always worked and always been there and never been a dramatic problem but something we’ve had to consciously work with and continue 


Collections on Omecca?

Not much more to say


Making everything available -d own to the ‘primary’ data - like oral historians - possibility of things becoming more accessible - in more rapid response manner

Always refer to my data

Interviews have tangents, so much more that could be done than what the individual researcher wants

LIsten to other people’s data - like interview data

Bigness of data - but not sharingness of the data as much

Structured, saved, findable, interoperable, repurposable

Lots of work to make that dat asharable

Even if not know immediate purpose of it



Assume no one wants to look at that data

But you don’t know that

Wouldn’t it be good if people got interested in reading it

Or listening to ethnographic interview

Wouldn’t that be good to make it possible?

Hmm what am I asking

What does it mean for researchers to be collaborating on archiving?

What does it mean for researchers to be collaborating on analysis?



  • Input data to share - broadly or invite - like to check 

  • Browse data - as an academic or as a public person - with purpose, by invite, or just out of curiosity

  • By design - unsettle - make it so you are distracted, see other things, poke around…. 

  • Social protocol for page - friendlier to reader/user who doesn’t know what project is and is just there for whatever reason

  • Had to work at…

  • Thought it would be tags but now is superfluous - search is better

    • Tags only to artifact or project

    • Only search will take you to annotation

  • Link out ot NYT article

  • REason to make a copy and stick it in and call it fair use - is because some collaborators in India can’t see NYT article

  • Mike says they haven’t envisioned how someone uninitiated would find anything; the way it works is for people who already know what they are looking for to search something they know is there, because their collaborator put it there and told them it’s there

  • Mike is a big proponent of the random thing

  • General readers becoming contributors - but problems of spam, individual account approval

  • STS people - wanting cross disciplinary interactions

  • Design logics

  • Collage idea not technically feasible

  • Juxtaposition - already contradicting self - but difficult to even figure out what you are saying before disrupting yourself


Summary Notes

  • Randomness - He might be resigned about this

    • Structure - resignation about structure being necessary, including social norms, that make it so people can actually get meaning out of it

    • Collage idea too

    • How to add structure without overdetermining everything

  • Discoverability - Something that they haven’t “envisioned” yet, according to Mike

    • Right now it mostly works by searching for something you already know is there, like something another researcher put in there 

    • Tags not working well, he said

    • Hierarchy? How to work against hierarchy but still increase ability to find things

  • Prioritizing the question not the answer - in general as a philosophy

    • How do we get actual conversation or collaboration, vs. a proliferation of questions such that you only look at your own or add your own without knowing similar have already been asked

  • Communication part of the tryptic - 

    • Funders, fund-worthy

    • Different audiences

    • Faster feedback loops

  • Archive

    • [Living] archive - allows for settling and unsettling

    • Wanting to make a copy to stash things so they don’t get lost because of unstable links

    • The work of adding metadata is a barrier

    • Who is the archive for?

    • How do you find anything that’s been archived? [@discoverability]

  • New Contributors

    • Aspiration that every reader could become a contributor

    • Spam / approval barriers, but what else; 

    • Ease of use - fundamental contradiction??

  • Animal Crossing????

    • Prezi - visit different islands and grab a linked copy of what you want

  • Power laws and popular content vs. never interacting - for unpopular content 

    • Visibility 


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

December 16, 2020 - 10:05pm

Critical Commentary

These are notes supplementing the interview conducted by Lucy Pei and Hillary Abraham of Mike Fortun on April 13th, 2020 as part of the Redesigning PECE project. The audio recording of the interview can be found here.

Cite as

Anonymous, "Redesigning PECE Founder Interview Notes - Mike Fortun", contributed by Lucy Pei and Hillary Abraham, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 16 December 2020, accessed 24 September 2021.