WP Social Reader – socialising the reading experience
Sharing digital artefacts and engaging in conversation about them is the core practice of the social web. While many are used to regularly sharing photos, “status updates” and locations, longer text documents are living in a niche. Blogs provide reasonable dialogue options for shorter texts, but there is hardly any tool that would support detailed discourse over a longer text, such as a scientific publication.
The WP Social Reader is the conceptual exploration for a web-based application that allows author and readers to engage in online discussions about specific paragraphs of a text. The idea is to enable comments on a per-paragraph basis, which allows the reader to comment, complement or correct the statements of the author.
While wikis allow for collaborative editing of texts, one of the core features of this concept is to preserve the original text – making static, finalised texts the key use case for the product – and keeping the community interaction in the sidebar.
Another aspect of the concept is the possibility to deep-link into single paragraphs or quote/share them through social media services such as Twitter. Ideally, the comments sidebar should also aggregate public commentary from elsewhere on the web, such as Tweets about a certain part of the text.
The following demo briefly introduces an early prototype of my software solution, a WordPress hack built during the “Open workshop” at TaiK Media Lab (Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland):
Two existing implementations of a comparable concept served as benchmarks for this prototyping exercise, the collaborative annotation system on djangobook.com and another WordPress solution, called digress.it (formerly CommentPress).
The decision to build the Social Reader on top of WordPress has been made as WP offers all the required backend and database functionalities out of the box – allowing to concentrate on the design and development of the user experience. The technical solution is quite simple, using WP’s “blog posts” for the individual paragraphs (i.e. one paragraph equals one “blog post”) and grouping them into documents using “categories” in WP. All of this is currently achieved through a single installable theme, with many options for further development.
A prototype version of the application is available for exploration at socialreader.sebastiangreger.net
The idea for this concept was born during the annual thesis presentation sessions at Media Lab Helsinki (Aalto University, School of Art and Design), where every thesis contains so much work and thoughts that it really is a shame these are wrapped into 100-pagers and never really trigger a wider conversation within (or beyond) the institution. This concept aims at raising the question whether a school specialised in New Media could consider more “interactive” modes of consumption for its academic output.