Readers have been scribbling inside of books for centuries, the page margin serving as a private canvas for the recording of notes, reflections, elucidations and reminders. Writing helps us understand what we read, and so naturally the two activities have always been bedfellows, fitting together like puzzle pieces on the page.
Think of this digital “networked” book in the same way, only here the margin is a public space where readers can congregate, discuss and debate the book together, in intimate proximity to the text. Here’s how it works…
On the home page is our table of contents. Hover over the number grid to read the opening snippet of each chapter and to see how many comments it has received so far. Click the numbers to go to their corresponding chapters.
We believe that most good discussions require a little structure to really get off the ground, so we’re opening up comments to the public in stages over the two and a half month period of this project, letting commissioned commenters, or “gardeners,” first plant seeds for broader discussion.
You’ll notice the table of contents has some color coding. These colors (green, yellow, blank) refer to the state of the text at the present moment. At the beginning of the project, most chapters will be blank, meaning commenting has not yet commenced. Chapters that are in focus on a given week, receiving their first comments from their assigned gardener, will be marked green. Chapters that have already been cultivated and are open to the public are marked yellow. Commenting status is also indicated on numbered chapter tabs found on the left sidebar of each internal page.
Back to the book itself…
Each chapter looks more or less like this, Voltaire’s text to the left and a comment panel to the right. You can go forward or backward in the book with the next/previous buttons below the chapter title. You can also jump to chapters in the tab menu on the left.
Scroll down the page and the comment panel travels with you. Click one of the comment bubbles next to a section of text and the comment panel will open up to reveal comments for that section. You can also click the section bars within the panel and browse comments there. There’s a bar at the top of the panel where you can leave general comments on the chapter, as opposed to comments on particular sections.
And of course, the whole idea is to post a comment of your own. We don’t require registration of any kind, you can start right away. The first time you submit a comment, however, it will be held for moderation, just so our editors can make sure you’re not an evil spam robot and that things are civil. From then on you can fire at will.
TIP: Try to type your name the same way each time you post so that the system recognizes you and permits your comments to appear in real time. We welcome you to slip a biographical tidbit into your signature so other readers can know where you’re coming from — i.e. “Name: Ebenezer Macintosh, English professor, Fordham University” or “Name: Mildred Mabel, Bronx”.
TIP: If you want to link to a particular passage within a chapter from a blog, Twitter or any other site, click the little number on the upper left corner of the section and copy the URL from your address bar. When a reader clicks the link from elsewhere, the chapter will load with that passage selected and its comment thread open to the right.
When reading comments, you can click a commenter’s name to view other things they’ve said inside the book.
That will take you to this page where you can browse comment histories for all readers who have written in the book:
You can also browse comments by chapter:
And that’s pretty much it! If you’re having trouble using the site, or would like to send comments on the interface or other aspects of the project, feel free to email benjamin_vershbow [at] nypl [dot] org. This is very much a prototype, so we welcome all kinds of feedback.