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Thoughts on how to comment on documents

Last updated on October 5, 2019

My workflow for this reply was to copy your full comment into Author and write from there, then post as a new article linking to the old one. There has got to be a better way to do this workflow. I have only commented on sections warranting comments–anything I agree with I have left out. This is a real flow of consciousness, I’ll edit something clean when I come out of this I think. This large ramble is based on my desire to retain the conversation I am about to start with Andy van Dam and which I have just started with Raine Revere.

The Conversation

Raine sent me comments to blog post which I have marked with ‘RR>’ below and my replies with ‘FH>’.

FH> (she did not directly refer to a basic sentence so I am not reflecting it here)
RR> The structure (textual system) on which I have converged with em…
FH> Author has no inherent structure expect for paragraphs and headings. At this point.

FH> Let’s also split reading and writing since they are different activities. And further, let’s split the goals: For reading it’s to support curiosity and for writing its to support thinking and clarity of presentation.
RR> I would be hesitant to create this division. Writing as a practice inevitably involves editing which involves re-reading. Reading is a process of creative apprehension (interpretation). Magic Margins and annotations of all sorts speak to the need to express while reading. So I wouldn’t draw a strict distinction between reading and writing myself outside of discussions of concrete processes in which the limits/usefulness of the abstraction are clear.
FH> I agree that both tasks are very active, or at least should be, when reading serious material, not a simple linear novel. However, I do think they are distinct, same as baking and eating a cake. Same cake product, but one is for production and one for consumption. It should absolutely be easy to access both reading and authoring spaces but I the the use case as being on a laptop/desktop so switching between reading and writing is quite quick and easy. If you are thinking mobile, then yes I see the distinction needs to be smaller.

How to Design Document / Post Based Conversation

The issue is readily shown here, in this reply I am writing to you. If I had one single thought to reply to/with, it would be easy to simply cite/link to your comment blog post and type away. However, you have made several points which deserve proper replies and it gets messy. This is where I am leaning towards agreeing with you; for replies, especially multiple replies, to articles. I am mostly thinking about starting a new document which may or may not be inspired or in response to another.

For comments in another article I would ideally like to comment inline and have flexible settings for how to view this in the original document/post and also in a document/post I ‘own’.

This, I think , can be an interesting design project: How can I indicate what parts of your document I want to comment on, then write my text and later you or I or another visitor can then choose to see your document plain, with my comments, with someone else’s’ comments or a new document/post based on my comments which then refer to your document? This is of course the Medium/wordpress/server model way of looking at it.

If it’s document based then how would my comments on your document reach you? I would have to create a new document, as I am doing here for this but it would loose the connection and the fold-ability. I think.

Maybe have a model where we have high resolution addressing so that when I cite something from your document the document will be pinged or can do a search online for who has cited sections and highlight that? A bit like Amazon Kindle social highlights.

I’ll think I’ll have to sleep a bit on this. The server vs document models have hit each other in my head for decades now. It’s time to take a stand on what to prioritise and how.

New Day

Good morning

So I was thinking this early morning about maybe following an annotation model: Document is exported to PDF and reader annotates and sends back, but annotates inline if possible. Picture this: I get a PDF and I want to make some comments. I highlight what I want to comment on and I type (yes, I know this can be done). I then send the PDF back/to someone and the recipient can

Aside: I DO think that having reading and writing in one environment is ok if the published material is locked since the substrate changes. The substrate is ‘empty’ on authoring a new document but the substrate is the published document when it is read/annotated. Otherwise I feel that we can get bogged down in Word or Docs style multiple colours to explain edits and it gets messy.

Back to the edit. I am reading a document and I want to make a comment so I have a choice: Click where I want to type or select text and type, meaning I create some context? If I can select and simply type, that would be an interesting interaction. So where would the text appear? It could be in a dialog and then go ‘into’ the document on ‘enter’ or it could reflow the document. (Remember: This is for dialogue, not for proofing so should not be optimised for spelling errors and showing grammar etc., a different mode should be there for that, since that is still part of production, this is–again–for dialog).

Reflow for a PDF would be a bit of a gimmick and could create problems. Maybe use the margins?

The margins in Author in designed for flowing documents, not only for authoring but also as a visual/dynamic ‘find’ so maybe use the margins in the reading application different?

I think the speed of the reply matters. If it’s a blog post then quick and if it’s a PDF then usually I would expect a much slower time period and more time being used to craft the reply.

A key problem here is the nesting of comments.

  • Author says this thing in this sentence.
  • Reader chooses to comment in this sentence.
  • Author replies to the comment here.
  • But Reader does not agree and writes this as well.

Are we stuck with the nesting of old forums or can we make a more beautiful and coherent whole? Can we make the dialog separate from the initial text, as I kind of assumed it would–the problem them becomes that, just like in the example I am looking at, Raine commented not on the article in general but on two things, can you imagine that?! Two things! It’s crazy.

Maybe the original document should only host links or single sentences for the dialog, where any reader can click for more exposition?

{new coffee has been made}

So why not simply make the process of citing from a PDF very easy, as we have with copy and paste as citation right now?

What would be needed would be an addressing scheme whereby I could comment on Raine’s document in a way that when someone reads my document in the future they could easily click-to-open her original document. This would be interesting if we worked by document/PDF. But where would we host them? How about adding a ‘Share as PDF to WordPress’ option so that the document would be posted to a new WordPress post with an addressable name and known URL and that when someone needs one of these documents the reader software will first search local machine for the name of but if it is not found it will go by the URL to download the PDF.

Maybe not use WordPress but ?


We could of course reverse this and make the main ‘content’ the WordPress Post and upload PDFs almost like backups but add high-resolution citation to WordPress to make it easy to link to WordPress posts. Which Author kind of has.

In Closing

The main point of all this is that I am looking to create a system where each reply is it’s own post or document, not just a scribble on the bottom of a WordPress post–that is is something of value which can be independently authored properly and interacted with later.

This is all for today. I’ll hammer some more soon, but Emily is about to go see some friends so I’ll be hanging with the little man this evening. It’s been a wet and wonderful day, with plenty of rain. ;-)

Edgar and Emily on the lawn in rain. Hegland, 2019.

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