Commentpress (and the problem of speaking of blogs on paper)

Cheryl Ball posted on tech-rhet a link to the future of the book project commentpress1.0, which is a WordPress theme that allows for “paragraph-by-paragraph commenting in the margins of a text.” The reason for this, says this post, is to help address this:

This little tool is the happy byproduct of a year and a half spent hacking WordPress to see whether a popular net-native publishing form, the blog, which, most would agree, is very good at covering the present moment in pithy, conversational bursts but lousy at handling larger, slow-developing works requiring more than chronological organization—whether this form might be refashioned to enable social interaction around long-form texts. Out of this emerged a series of publishing experiments loosely grouped under the heading “networked books.”

I’m going to have to absorb that for a while. I don’t know if this is actually a problem of blogs, or if blogs are necessarily better (or about?) presenting pity, conversational bursts and not larger and slower texts. The if:book people might be right; I’m just not sure.

I will say this for now though: first, while I have spent only about 5 or 10 minutes with it, I find the example on the if:book blog site, like this one, to be kind of confusing. Maybe it would be less-so if I spent more time with it or if I was smarter/groovier/etc. I do think the comments along the side there are not a bad idea though.

Second, this is exactly one of the things I was taking notes on/thinking about today with the BAWS project. I have a section/chapter that is going to try to contextualize the technology/tools of blogging as I collect my data/make my arguments, and innovations like this are precisely why. I mean, I don’t know where something like Commentpress is going to go, though, if I were to be a betting man, I’d say it’s likely to remain an interesting experiment and that’s about it. But I am pretty sure that by the time I actually finish my research, finish a book, get someone to publish it, and get it out in the world for people to read and respond to– which, the way that sentence feels to me right now, will be in about 83 years– there will be some changes in what we think of as a “blog.”

This is probably why most book/print projects on technology tend to avoid discussions that are too specific about technology/tools, but it is also one of the reasons why it is so important to describe the technological environment. After all, if you can successfully have a multi-layered blog-like text like the one the Commentpress folks are suggesting, doesn’t that change the theory/assumptions about how blogs function, as a writerly space or whatever else?

One thought on “Commentpress (and the problem of speaking of blogs on paper)”

  1. Good questions about how Commentspace fits into the blogging landscape. My sense of the tool mirrors yours in that it has seemed less than ideal from an aesthetic/functional perspective as I have looked over some of the texts. I almost want something more like a comment wiki where users can link out from specific phrases in a text but not to new pages but comment areas.

    But, I think it’s important to look at the texts and the tool in more detail. The Gamer Theory text for instance deserves to be marked as a seminal online writing experiement because of the buy-in of participants, the shifting of the production process for a scholarly text, and, facilitating this, the technology. The tricky part, though, I think is untangling the technology from the cultural elements of the project–the authority of the author, the institutionality of the site/support, the topic, the community logistics put into place, etc. It seems like the kind of innovation that could be viewed ala Latour as a piece of technology that tells us more about the social than the technical.

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