One of the strategies I use for reading long documents that I want to comment on take detailed notes from is to read through the document quickly, marking or highlighting the parts I think are important (or quotable), and then doing another pass where I dwell on the parts I marked.
With the publication via WriteToReply of a comment soliciting speech from Ed Vaizey on public libraries yesterday (Remodelling Libraries, [press release]), I started thinking again how we might support a highlighting approach in WriteToReply. In a post earlier this year (Skim.it – Like Digress.it, But With Ratings Rather than Comments?), I briefly considered how we might publish documents in a paragraph atomising way (as we do using the digress.it WordPress theme) and then allow readers to add ratings (rather than comments) to the document at a paragraph level. Something like this, maybe:
Another factor that I think needs to be taken into account is the ability to read documents on mobile devices. A variety of mobile themes are available for WordPress, from the “run anywhere WordPress mobile edition to the iPhone/Android loving WPTouch.
So what I’ve started thinking is that maybe iskim.it should be a mobile theme to complement a desktop browser theme along the lines of digress.it and the mooted skim.it, that would allow users to “favourite” or “star” paragraphs they think are important so they can return to them later, maybe on a desktop or portable computer, rather than a mobile device (hmm… desktop, portable, mobile…). For exampe, the iskim.it should:
0) work on mobile devices;
1) atomise docs into paragraphs;
2) allow a user to “favorite” a paragraph;
3) allow a user to review a list of the paragraph they have favourited;
4) allow a user to optionally comment on the paragraphs they have favourited;
5) allow a user to look at the paragraphs favourited by another user;
6) allow a user to look at a list of the most favourited paragraphs across all users.
(Note that similar functionality (1+) should also be made available on the parent website via a parent skim.it theme.)
The aim of doing this is to identify quickly, and without the need to comment, those paragraphs that are deemed “important”. (I did wonder whether the “favouriting” should offer two options – “important”, and “needs challenging”?)
Unlike the 5 star ranking scheme sketched in the image above, we’d only need a single star:
It might also be worth considering indicating how many other people had favourited a paragraph? For example:
In the above example, the star/count appears at the end of the paragraph, because you ant to signal the importance of the paragraph after you have read it…
ALternatively, we might try to signal the perceived importance of the paragraph at the start of the paragraph, and then allow to the reader to make their own signal after reading it:
The aim of the skim.it idea is to provide a way for readers to flag those sections of a document that are worthy or requiring of comment, and thus be capable of acting as a precursor to commenting on those sections. For mobile users, where time may be tight, the keyboard interface fiddly or difficult to use, the simple interaction – click to star – means that users can read a document and bookmark those parts of it that are important to them.
The ability to view the document via a filter of “most heavily favourited” provides a crowd sourced alternative to an executive summary of the document.
PS I am using the star as a way of signaling the importance of particular paragraphs. It’s not hard to extend this idea to social signaling, where for example a user clicks to tweet the link to that particular paragraph, or clicks to share the link to that paragraph on a social bookmarking service such as delicious.