A couple of weeks ago, whilst dozing to the ITConversations podcast channel, I started daydreaming around the conversation that was going on in the Mitch Ratcliffe /Booksahead.com episode of Phil Windley’s Technometria podcast.
The discussion was on the topic of the future of the book, particularly with respect to annotating books and ebooks (in a manner similar to the way we support paragraph level comments in WriteToReply).
Annotating text with text (such as comments) requires quite a lot of effort on the part of the reader/annotator, and is perhaps one reason why it can be quite hard getting folk to engage with commenting static documents (I’m sure there are lots of other factors, too! ;-)
So if we think of things like the Community Engagement Pyramid:
or the Social Technographics Ladder of Participation:
then we see that there are various levels of engagement by – and participatory effort required from – visitors to a web site.
If we consider documents published on WriteToReply, one of the things we hope to facilitate is discussion around particular areas of the document. Lively discussions – lots of comments on a particular paragraph, or section – is one way of generating a signal that highlights “interesting” areas of a document. Web traffic analytics showing large amounts of traffic to, and reasonable dwell times on, particular pages provides another source of “interestingness” information; and so on.
But are we missing a trick?
Way back in the days when I used to print out lots of reading material, I used to skim read documents (even then!) and mark paragraphs that were somehow important with a vertical line in the margin so that I could easily return to them, or fold a page corner to “bookmark” a particular page or section. Occasionally, I would also scrawl notes in the margin, or underline particular paragraphs. But the turned page corners and the lines in the margin were the most efficient ways (for me) of marking the important parts of a text so that I could then refer to them in detail at a later time.
The commenting came later…
So what might a corollary be in WriteToReply? Each paragraph has a unique URI, so it would be possible to bookmark interesting paragraphs either within the browser, or using a social bookmarking tool such as delicious. Hovering over the linked paragraph number raises a pop up containing the text of the paragraph and a link to it (Note to self: clicking in the link box should automatically select all the text???)
Clicking through on a bookmarked link takes you to the page the paragraph exists on with the bookmarked paragrah highlighted:
But what other low effort routes to engagement are there that might help an individual keep track of areas of a document they may want to return to, or that might allow the crowd sourced discovery of “interesting” areas of a document? How about ratings? How about a complement to the paragraph level commenting that the digress.it WordPress theme we use on WriteToReply offers that offers paragraph level ratings?
And in the same way that digress.it is capable of generating comment streams for each commenter, how about a similar facility that would allow me to look at all the paragraphs, sections or pages that I have commented, sorted either in the order they appear in the document, or additionally by the number of stars I have rated them?
When I read long documents, I do it in an iterative fashion. At the moment, we don’t necessarily make that very easy to do – or obvious how to do it. Maybe a ratings based approach would help?
PS the source code for the digress.it theme is available from the digress.it: WordPress plugins page under a GPL version 2 license. If you fancy creating a complementary “skim.it” theme using ratings rather that comments, post a comment here ;-)