How to cite this paper

Renear, Allen H. “Markup ethics: Trolley problems for text encoders.” Presented at Balisage: The Markup Conference 2018, Washington, DC, July 31 - August 3, 2018. In Proceedings of Balisage: The Markup Conference 2018. Balisage Series on Markup Technologies, vol. 21 (2018).

Balisage: The Markup Conference 2018
July 31 - August 3, 2018

Balisage Paper: Markup ethics: Trolley problems for text encoders

Allen H. Renear

University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign

Allen Renear is the dean of the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include information organization and access, particularly the development of formal ontologies for cultural and scientific objects and the application of those ontologies in information system design, scholarly publishing, and data curation in the sciences and humanities.


We are engineering; we are solving problems, improving reliability, effectiveness, efficiency. But more generally encoding decisions determine whether, how, how much, when, and for whom the information in our documents will be useful. This seems to be important not just instrumentally, but with respect to larger human interests as well, or even to the very largest human interests. Just how else to explain the earnestness, anger, fear, and tears one sees at Balisage? But problems abound, and some tradeoffs appear not just incalculable, but incommensurable. Left track or right?