what i've learned since posting a proposal for a taxonomy of social reading 11.10.2010, 9:25 PM
posted by bob stein
a little less than three weeks ago in conjunction with the Books-in-Browsers meeting at the Internet Archive, i posted a proposal for a taxonomy of social reading. here's a brief summary of what i've learned from the discussion so far.
People are very resistant to leaving comments in a public space. There was a much more extensive discussion of this draft on the private Read 2.0 listserve than what you see in the public CommentPress version. i begged people on the listserve to post their comments on the public version, but with few exceptions no one was willing. The really sad thing from my pov is that by refusing to join the discussion in CommentPress, people deprived themselves of the opportunity to experience category 4 social reading first hand. I am very respectful of many of the people on the read 2.0 list and would have loved to have had their first-hand reactions to the experience of engaging in the close-reading of an online document with people whose views they value.
The resistance to public commenting isn't surprising; it's just not yet part of our culture. Intellectuals are understandably resistant to exposing half-baked thoughts and many of them earn their living by writing in one form or another, which makes the idea of public commenting a threat to their livelihood. [I've long proposed the inverse law of commenting on the open web -- the more you'd like to read someone's comments on a text, the less likely they are to participate in an open forum.]
Changing cultural norms and practices is a long haul.
The comments I did get, privately and on the CommentPress site, helped me realize that, the first draft needs lots of work.
Several people pointed out that the focus on "reading" obscured the fact that the flip side of "social reading" is "social writing." Think of it this way. When i put the draft up in CommentPress i thought i was offering people a chance to experience "social reading." It's obvious to me now that the public comments people left are not only a permanent part of this draft -- a part of the work itself -- but also extremely helpful to me in terms of making version 2.0 stronger. this is indeed not just not just "social reading." it is also collaborative thinking and writing.
This has interesting rights implications. In my speech at the recent Books-in-Browsers meeting i suggested that readers "own" their annotations and have to have the right to export and transport those annotations to other environments. I now realize that's simplistic. if a reader has made comments in the margin AND specified that those comments should be public, the "ownership" of those comments has to be shared with the author or publisher. Since those comments become part of the public record, the author or publisher should have the right to include them forever as part of the work. However, the reader who made the comments must have the right, in perpetuity, to take those comments with them to other reading environments and places of conversation. if a reader specifies that comments are not to be made public, then it seems that the author/publisher has no right to do anything with them.
The second serious problem with version 1.0 is that its structure strongly implies that category 4 social reading, conversations that occur IN the margin, are the "highest form" of social reading. That's just plain wrong. People read and write in order to play a role in their culture and time. Mysteries or romance novels have a cultural point of view that forms the background for the plot and communicates a world view. From this perspective, even reading "for pleasure" is in part a way of looking at an aspect of society through someone else's eyes. If a central purpose of reading is to engage with the issues of the day, then a platform for close reading is best seen as a valuable tool, useful in helping readers join a broader discussion. put another way; if the comments and ideas someone writes in the margin never make it out, then it's like a tree falling in the forest that no one hears. [note: yes i understand that the private thoughts someone has while reading, may show up later in public forums. i'm trying to make a point about how much more valuable the comments written in the margin become when they escape the private tributary and join the river of public discourse.]
A big thank you to everyone who has chimed in. it's been a wonderful example of how social reading and writing can help elucidate complex problems.
Posted by bob stein on November 10, 2010 9:25 PM
Lisa Montanarelli on November 11, 2010 12:13 AM:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the discussion.
Regarding the reader, author and publisher's joint ownership of the reader's annotations, you write, "the reader who made the comments must have the right, in perpetuity, to take those comments with them to other reading environments and places of conversation."
This is a tricky issue. Say the reader copies her comments from the margins of one text and pastes them word-for-word elsewhere. If she restates any of the author's ideas, she risks intellectual property infringement by inadvertently passing them off as her own. The reader should at least link to her comment in the previous text.
Meredith Greene on November 11, 2010 1:35 AM:
"People are very resistant to leaving comments in a public space."
I'd say this depends entirely on where you post, and what you're posting. Sample chapters for just one eBook I posted on FictionPress have received over 600 public remarks, even after I disabled anonymous posting.
Melanie Shearn on November 11, 2010 4:55 AM:
No comment :)
Ben Gwalchmai on November 11, 2010 10:53 AM:
"People are very resistant to leaving comments in a public space" - naa, they're not. Just the kind of people who are part of the select few to sign up to a closed-system like listserve: Meredith Greene, your point precisely.
"The resistance to public commenting isn't surprising; it's just not yet part of our culture" - once again, please open up your pages to the wider world [i.e. encourage/advertise to non-academics to read through] and you'll see that rapidly change.
Also, with respect to those same academics and your 'inverse law of commenting', methinks there's a big difference between academics who've engaged with the net and those that haven't - we'll probably find that 'those that haven't' are the larger quotient.
I appreciate that in academic and intellectual property terms all of these issues are sticky but one look at 4chan - you giggling at the back of the conversation, why are you giggling? Oh. You deem 4chan to be less of a serious place of cultural study than the rest of the internet, do you? Well, may I suggest a removal of your high-horse? It may prove beneficial to your vantage point - then your taxonomy would be a little bruised:
"Since those comments become part of the public record, the author or publisher should have the right to include them forever as part of the work. However, the reader who made the comments must have the right, in perpetuity, to take those comments with them to other reading environments and places of conversation. if a reader specifies that comments are not to be made public, then it seems that the author/publisher has no right to do anything with them."
Net denizens don't care about the first two of those points - only the latter; they know and accept that a forum is a forum is a forum is a forum [to not quote (Frank)Net-Stein] but want the option to opt-out. That's all, sir, that's all.
[Also, though I'm a tough critic, I do really enjoy reading if:book and especially this blog so please don't take this as destructive criticism - just strong constructive criticism.]
KF on November 11, 2010 11:32 AM:
Bob, as you know from our conversations about these issues, I agree with much of what you say here, especially about the fuzziness of the line between social reading and social writing. But I'm not sure that I'm entirely convinced that people are necessarily resistant to public commenting or social reading experiences. My sense is that those comments and experiences are just more *distributed* than are our texts: you write something on if:book, and I might respond here or I might respond on my own blog. These are equally social processes, but the difference may be that I like my own interface, or I like to keep all my thoughts on my own site, or what have you. The problem that I'm seeing may be less how to get people to participate in particular discussions in specific spaces than how to aggregate discussions that take place across a wide range of spaces in the network in a way that allows their interconnections to become visible...
bob stein on November 11, 2010 2:05 PM:
can you please send me a link to the book you mention. thanks.
Conrad DiDiodato on November 11, 2010 6:21 PM:
Firstly, thanks to Dan Waber for introducing me to if:book and, by extension, CommentPress.
Secondly, I believe in the "social reading" concept and the comments in the margin feature, just the thing for a literary blog like mine. I will be reading and commenting in future.
Bob Stein on November 12, 2010 6:38 AM:
You write: "The problem I'm seeing may be less how to get people to participate in particular discussions in specific spaces than how to aggregate discussions that take place across a wide range of spaces in the network in a way that allows their interconnections to become visible..."
While i think you are absolutely correct in identifying the problem of how to aggregate the traces of a discussion that occurs in a range of places, i'm suggesting that while obviously not all cases of social reading are close-readings, there is substantial value, (extending far beyond, but including efficiency) in conducting a close-reading in the margin of the text being read. I am doubtful for example that extensive online conversation of clips posted in In Media Res, take place somewhere other than the IMR page the clip was posted to.
As you and i have discussed, one of the big problems is the scarcity of time. Certainly there are many cases, e.g. your experience with Planned Obsolescence, where people aren't particularly resistant to the idea of commenting in public, but just don't have the time in their busy days. Perhaps i should have mentioned that in my post, or been more explicit that my comment about resistance was aimed at trying to understand why so many people on the Read 2.0 list commented in the listserve but would not commmit their thoughts to the public commentpress version.