One of the things that’s still very much on the WriteToReply to do list is to identify and address the various accessibility issues with the site that might prevent government agencies, and other publicly funded bodies, for adopting the platform for the republication of their own documents.
We face a similar problem in education, (the need to conform to quite stringent accessibility guidelines), so I started to wonder whether or not we could reuse tricks and tips from the OU’s Moodle VLE. Now I don’t think that the VLE supports document commenting in the way that we do on WriteToReply, but it does support forums. Which got me thinking: what would WTR look like if we supported inline comments, using a metaphor along the lines of: suppose each paragraph is a forum post, and each comment on a paragraph is like a reply to that post…
Here’s what an OU forum looks like:
And here’s how reply (comment) threads work:
So what sort of layout do we currently have on WriteToReply? Well, the comments are siloed in a floating comment box, with icons associated with each paragraph that allow uses to open up the related comments in the comment box, as well as displaying the number of comments associated with the corresponding paragraph.
The question now arises: can we learn anything from the way forums are presented about how we might render inline comments within a document? It’s important to bear in mind that we are exploring the notion of exactly what we mean by commentable documents, particularly atomised commentable documents, so don’t get too hung up on the idea that we might be proposing things that would make a PDF look clunky…
Here’s my first guess at what inline comments might look like, put forward purely as a straw man:
What do you think? Worth exploring further?
PS on the accessibility question, see also Name that tool: forthcoming ‘BBC Accessibility Settings Tool’ needs you
6 thoughts on “Inline Comments on WriteToReply?”
Alex looked at this in the JISCPress project. I think he even had a working demo, if I remember correctly. I know he favours inline comments over the comment box, for accessibility and other reasons.
Here’s a couple of mockups:
Check your email from 24/10/09. I’ve come around to thinking that if the comment box is styled well, it’s preferable to inline comments. That the Future of the Book did quite a lot of research in this area and ended up with the side comment box, was no accident.
I also tested a version of CommentPress that a Gov department were working on which put the comments inline for accessibility reasons. It wasn’t great. The comments just get in the way. I thought that with Alex’s inline comments, it might work if the comment functions only appeared with mouse over of the paragraph, but I suppose that might interfere with making it accessible??
This was my mockup for inline comments for Digress.it
If you click on the comments link as you hover over paragraph three the comments will slide down and the paragraph highlighted with the other dimmed slightly.
My thinking was rather than have the comments take over the entire page, the comments’ container would have a fixed height and scroll bars appear as needed.
I’m just responding here to Peter’s demo post, linked to in the trackback in this thread. I should say that I’m really pleased to see that other people are also working on document annotations and hope my comments are taken as constructive rather than critical.
digress.it is a WordPress plugin that includes a default theme. The digress.it default theme can be used as a reference theme to develop a different look through the use of CSS. So if you can achieve something in CSS, then you can apply it to the default theme. i.e. See Alex’s work on jiscpress.org
This is just applying CSS to the default theme. Also, WordPress itself has Parent-Child themes, which work in a similar way. Perhaps more needs to be done to make the digress.it default theme a true parent framework theme, but Alex’s work shows that it’s not far off.
I agree with all your other comments about it being WP only and that it doesn’t track changing documents. We did track changing documents at one point during the JISCPress project, using hashes, but Eddie had good reasons for removing that, I seem to recall. You need to ask him. It’s definitely a limitation if you’re looking for a very fluid authoring environment. I’ve badgered Eddie about it multiple times!
We’ve largely concentrated on finished documents, even if they are just finished draft documents, so digress.it is perhaps more of a publishing tool rather than an authoring tool. I also like the fact that you can author documents from your desktop using an XML-RPC client. Once you get used to the environment and know how to work with it, it can be quite satisfying.
When digress.it is used in the WPMU environment, creating a new digress.it document is a trivial, no more than one minute, exercise (assuming the install is already set up with specific blog defaults like the use of digress.it). To set up a bare document site on WriteToReply takes me less than a minute. To delete it and create a new document site takes seconds :-)
I see WPMU blogs as little more than creating a new Word Processor document. A WPMU install can contain thousands of documents. I’m really keen to move away from the concept of a ‘blog’ or ‘site’ even. Technically, creating a new document is simply the creation of a few new WP database tables. I suspect that the same document in Word or as a PDF is similar in footprint data size as the creation of the same document on WPMU. Using BuddyPress can help further this idea, too. I blogged a little about this: http://joss.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2009/08/25/scholarly-publishing-with-wordpress/
Personally, I’m not keen on inline comments. I think Future of the Book got it right with the comment box on the side. I’d like to see that extended to allow for text selection (Eddie has done some experiments with this) and greater ease of use in general, as if I was thumbing through a book marking up text.
Tony’s recent idea of skim.it (http://writetoreply.org/actually/2010/01/28/skim-it-%E2%80%93-like-digress-it-but-with-ratings-rather-than-comments/) is on the right track, I think. I’ve been consciously thinking about this with the book I’m reading at the moment. Personally, I’m in the habit of drawing lines under sentences that are of interest to me as well as lines down the side of paragraphs so I can find them easily when flicking through the book at a later date. Text selection and a ratings systems to the left or right of the text seems like the online version of what I find useful when reading books.
I think your comment about 100 lines turning into 1000 is on the money ;-)
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