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New (Social) Structures for New (Networked) Texts

commentpress

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 And academics, unsurprisingly, often want to talk. After their first successful experiments with CommentPress, the Institute began receiving numerous requests from academics and other authors hoping to use the templates to publish their papers. They agreed in a few cases, using CommentPress to help Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg publish a HASTAC working paper, as well as using a modification of the theme as the engine behind MediaCommons’s ongoing video discussion feature, In Media Res.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 screenshot 4

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This growing demand spurred the Institute on to further development, working on compiling the various hacks and templates that, to this point, they had been tweaking manually into a releasable, documented, open-source theme easily installable and usable with any WordPress installation. CommentPress 0.9, a development release, was first made available to testers on 21 July 2007. The following day, I used my web hosting provider’s one-click install function to load a new installation of WordPress, installed and set up the CommentPress theme, loaded in the draft text of this article, and did a bit of tinkering with formatting and the like, taking this article from a draft Word document to “published” (including, arguably, founding the publisher!) in under three hours.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Since July, the Institute has advanced CommentPress to release 1.4, adding a number of features along the way. CommentPress provides two “skins” from which users can select: one more traditionally blog-like, in which excerpts from posts appear in reverse-chronological order on the site’s front page, but full post pages provide paragraph-level commenting parallel to the original text; and one for “documents,” which presents a table of contents on the front page linked to each of the document’s sections. In either skin, comments may be read in multiple modes: a reader can click on a small dialogue bubble to the right of a paragraph to read comments on that paragraph, or a combination page/bubble icon to the right of a page’s title to read comments on the whole page. Readers can also browse all comments, either organized by commenter or by section of the text; browsing in this way provides links back to the portion of the original text on which the comments were made. CommentPress is also now “widgetized,” which allows users to rapidly customize their site’s sidebar. Most excitingly, however, CommentPress has been released as an open-source project, which has not only helped get the theme quickly into use — one might see, for instance, the CommentPress version of the recent Ithaka report, “University Publishing in a Digital Age”[17] — but will also no doubt encourage other developers to modify the theme in ways that will enrich the possibilities that CommentPress presents for electronic publishing.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Among those possibilities, one might imagine a slight modification of CommentPress that would allow for the coordinated publication of multiple texts, whether by individuals or by groups of authors, permitting the development of electronic “journals” in which individual essays are linked together into “issues,” and issues into series. The discussion spaces provided by CommentPress could be used by authors who want feedback while a text is in draft form, but they could also be used by authors who have completed a text and are seeking peer review, thus helping to create the sort of peer-to-peer review system that we at MediaCommons hope to develop. Moreover, though the “pingback” feature of WordPress is not, as yet, fully implemented in CommentPress, with a bit of future tinkering texts published in this format will be easily linked to one another, with inbound links visible as another mode of commentary on a text, and another metric of its significance within its field. A more difficult but extremely desirable feature for the project’s future development would be the merger of true wiki-style versioning with the blog’s format; such a merger is a problem that certainly needs to be solved at a higher level than that of a WordPress theme, but the implementation of versioning would allow authors of CommentPress texts to continue revising and updating them, while maintaining the availability of previously published versions within the text’s history. And finally, though CommentPress has gone some distance toward imagining social interaction within and around texts, it can’t yet displace the pleasures of the codex; the fact that CommentPress still relies upon scrolling text windows suggests that, though we’re beginning to solve those larger-scale structural problems of native digital textuality, we still have miles to go before our interactions with the screen have the ease of our interactions with the book.[18]

  • [17] See “University Publishing.”
  • [18] Thanks to Shana Kimball for sharing this observation with me.
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    Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/cpfinal/commentpress/