Commentpress, Interactive Libraries, and WPMu

Image of a Ping Pong table in the middle of a library
Image used courtesy of Jessamyn‘s CC Flickr photos.

“And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead.”
Captain Kurtz in Apocalypse Now

I saw Will Richardson’s post that Budd the Teacher had set up a working version of the Commentpress theme. I commented there a bit and generally played around, I had already set up a document themed version of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative (read more here), but while posting a comment on Bud’s installation of the theme an idea hit (possibly unoriginal, but what isn’t!): “Why don’t we locate a number of public domain books that folks are reading in their classes and publish them through a blog on our WordPress Multi-User installation as an extension of the library.” These books may be linked with a class, but the library “publishes them,” so to speak, and offers additional resources on the works which in turn might foster an active community of collaboratively reading, commenting, and discussing a number of books in a distributed fashion.

This is part of a more general move we have been making to work more directly with the library folks here at UMW (which makes perfect sense) and the more I think about it the more this seems like an unparalleled opportunity to forge an even deeper relationship between the library, teaching, learning, and technology. And I can’t help but think that this theme was made for the 21st century library, allowing for a unique experience that a library is best equipped to richly frame. Why not publish novels, poems, manuscripts, historical documents, etc. and invite classes, researchers, the community as a whole to engage them online. Just think about it, by working collaboratively with teachers and professors, the library can help lead students to more detailed resources, databases, articles, etc. about a particular text or topic making the relationship between reading, discussion, writing and research that much more seamless.

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6 Responses to Commentpress, Interactive Libraries, and WPMu

  1. Gardner says:

    Right on. A wonderful idea. Here’s my little barnacle to ride on your boat: what if we put e-versions of honors papers and other student e-projects up there as well, for annotation? Gotta be a way to do that….

  2. jimgroom says:

    Exactly Gardner,

    Martha has been pushing in that direction with the library and it makes perfect sense. A publishing platform that they can help organize and control. What’s even sweeter about Commentpress is that everything is published as a post, making the texts all searchable by chapter, section, etc. Not to mention rss, commenting, feeding from the students own blog, etc. It makes total sense and is definitely doable.

  3. Pingback: Mike Caulfield » Blog Archive » Electronic Textbooks and CommentPress

  4. Scott Leslie says:

    So the plus side of commentpress as an annotation technology (for that is what it is) is that it is simply *there* right beside the text, for anyone to use as soon as they load the page. The downside, however, (and this is based on 2 extremely brief glances at the technology) is that the annotation is tied soley to the text and almost not at all (other than the user info that the user inputs) to the user. Meaning, for instance, I can’t easily see “all comments by so and so” or as a user I can’t have a collection of all my comments on texts I’ve made, as just two examples of typical functions of social software that help to motivate its use.

    That’s not meant to discredit it as an annotation technology, only to point out that it is one that is not very much a social software and very content-centric. If annotation is something you are interested in as a potential pedagogical activity, there are *lots* of new ways to do it, some of which, like trailfire, fleck or wikalong, that by locating part of the functionality either on the client-side or on a central (non-text specific) server hold more promise for doing both annotation *and* more social functions like ad hoc group formation.

    Anyways, it is interesting stuff and commentpress is definitely a useful arrow to have in the quiver.

  5. jimgroom says:


    Excellent points. Fortunately, Commentpress does organize comments by author, section, and general comments (link). It is all housed in a page, so there may even be a way to to get your comments fed out via RSS. This would ultimately make this fit the social dynamic you suggest, and I think it could be done. In the short run, however, Commentpress appeals to me because you can publish, annotate, comment, and share ideas all in one space. The issue of keeping and tracking your comments has always been a bane of the blogosphere, and until OpenID is accepted more broadly -we might struggle through these problems for a bit longer. Nonetheless, Commentpress is a good first step for publishing public domain works in a potentially pre-existing social network of a WPMu environment -yet allowing chapters, particular poems, etc. individual rss feeds so that they can be consumed elsewhere -be it a faculty course blog, a student space, or another university site that can handle RSS. The biggest advantage for me is that so many important works of, say North and South American colonial history, will be RSS ready and can be consumed by a host of other folks how want to do something with these texts. How cool would it be to have an aggregator function taking what people have publish around the web from the public domain and making it available to your community and beyond? Pretty sick potential here, making it much more than an annotation tool in that it presents the information quite differently.

  6. Scott Leslie says:

    Jim, cool. You’re right, this doesn’t solve the issue across servers, but even solving it on a single server is a good step. Thanks for letting me know that commentpress can do this on at least a single installation, that makes it all the more attractive. Cheers, Scott

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