Monthly Archives: January 2010

Skim.it – Like Digress.it, But With Ratings Rather than Comments?

A couple of weeks ago, whilst dozing to the ITConversations podcast channel, I started daydreaming around the conversation that was going on in the Mitch Ratcliffe /Booksahead.com episode of Phil Windley’s Technometria podcast.

The discussion was on the topic of the future of the book, particularly with respect to annotating books and ebooks (in a manner similar to the way we support paragraph level comments in WriteToReply).

Annotating text with text (such as comments) requires quite a lot of effort on the part of the reader/annotator, and is perhaps one reason why it can be quite hard getting folk to engage with commenting static documents (I’m sure there are lots of other factors, too! 😉

So if we think of things like the Community Engagement Pyramid:

Yahoo Engagement pyramid

or the Social Technographics Ladder of Participation:

Social Technographics Ladder

then we see that there are various levels of engagement by – and participatory effort required from – visitors to a web site.

If we consider documents published on WriteToReply, one of the things we hope to facilitate is discussion around particular areas of the document. Lively discussions – lots of comments on a particular paragraph, or section – is one way of generating a signal that highlights “interesting” areas of a document. Web traffic analytics showing large amounts of traffic to, and reasonable dwell times on, particular pages provides another source of “interestingness” information; and so on.

But are we missing a trick?

Way back in the days when I used to print out lots of reading material, I used to skim read documents (even then!) and mark paragraphs that were somehow important with a vertical line in the margin so that I could easily return to them, or fold a page corner to “bookmark” a particular page or section. Occasionally, I would also scrawl notes in the margin, or underline particular paragraphs. But the turned page corners and the lines in the margin were the most efficient ways (for me) of marking the important parts of a text so that I could then refer to them in detail at a later time.

The commenting came later…

So what might a corollary be in WriteToReply? Each paragraph has a unique URI, so it would be possible to bookmark interesting paragraphs either within the browser, or using a social bookmarking tool such as delicious. Hovering over the linked paragraph number raises a pop up containing the text of the paragraph and a link to it (Note to self: clicking in the link box should automatically select all the text???)

Clicking through on a bookmarked link takes you to the page the paragraph exists on with the bookmarked paragrah highlighted:

If single item RSS/JSON feeds for each uniquely identified paragraph are enabled, it is straightforward (in Javascript at least) to render a page containing just the content from a list of the bookmarked paragraphs.

But what other low effort routes to engagement are there that might help an individual keep track of areas of a document they may want to return to, or that might allow the crowd sourced discovery of “interesting” areas of a document? How about ratings? How about a complement to the paragraph level commenting that the digress.it WordPress theme we use on WriteToReply offers that offers paragraph level ratings?

And in the same way that digress.it is capable of generating comment streams for each commenter, how about a similar facility that would allow me to look at all the paragraphs, sections or pages that I have commented, sorted either in the order they appear in the document, or additionally by the number of stars I have rated them?

When I read long documents, I do it in an iterative fashion. At the moment, we don’t necessarily make that very easy to do – or obvious how to do it. Maybe a ratings based approach would help?

PS the source code for the digress.it theme is available from the digress.it: WordPress plugins page under a GPL version 2 license. If you fancy creating a complementary “skim.it” theme using ratings rather that comments, post a comment here 😉

Amplification Tracking – bit.ly Stats

As I find less and less people linking to OUseful.info and more and more traffic coming from twitter, it struck me that I needed another source of ego boost juice. So here’s one… how many people click through on links I share on Twitter?

One easy way of tracking this is to use bit.ly. If you get yourself a bit.ly account, you’ll find it also comes with an API key (you can find it on your bit.ly account page). This can be used in some Twitter clients (I use Tweetdeck) to generate a short URL that can be tied back to your bit.ly account. (Configure Tweetdeck by going to Settings, and then looking for the Services tab, where you’ll find a slot to enter your bit.ly API key.)

So what sorts of stats do you get back? Summary ones like these:

and these:

and more useful conversation tracking stats at the link level, like this:

You’ll notice for this link that several bit.ly URIs have been minted for the same web page (the total number of clicks exceeds the number of clicks from my link). So I can track the extent to which the bit.ly link I generated drove traffic, either directly from my tweet or other folk retweeting the link (or sharing it on without referencing @psychemedia back), or from other folk who generated a shortened link to the same post.

Let’s see who those people might be, in the context of the conversations surrounding this bit.ly shortened link (and other bit.ly variants that resolve to the same page):

So what’s all this good for? A couple of things spring to mind:

1) tracking conversation around OUseful.info posts that are reference the post via a bit.ly short link;

2) monitoring the extent to which I have managed to amplify a post, by virtue of the number of people who have clicked on it;

3) monitoring the extent to which other people have in turn amplified the bit.ly link I minted;

4) identifying other conversations around the same linked to web page via other bit.ly URIs that resolve to the same web page.

I can’t think why I didn’t sign up to bit.ly sooner?

PS note to self – how might we make use of this in a WriteToReply context?

PPS could this info be used as part of a “link community” tracker, cf. hashtag communities?

Comment on “Wanted: consultation platform, £1m reward”

[What follows is a republished comment I made to Simon Dickson’s Puffbox post Wanted: consultation platform, £1m reward about the recently announced competition that the Consrvative Party might run to source a citizen’s platform if they win the forthcoming, and as yet unannounced, election.]

I’d noticed the call when it came out too via some of the press coverage it raised, but being offline over the holiday couldn’t dig much further.

A full copy of the original press release appears to have been posted but a more detailed brief is still lacking (maybe they should have posted a wiki to let the crowds develop the brief? 😉 – it seems like we’ll have to wait till after the election – and presumably a Tory victory? – before that appears, if this quote is anything to go by: “the specifications that we will be publishing alongside the official opening of the competition following the election”

As to the vague mention of “an online platform that enables large scale collaboration”, I’m not sure what that means either, in several different senses?

Technically, would a WordPress extension or WordPress/Mediawiki configuration count, that could be deployed across departments, local councils and/or initiatives, maybe automatically generating related links between then? Or “to win” would a hosted 1-click WPMU installation that could launch a pre-extended/pre-configured site be the sort of submission that’s required?

Benefits wise, what would a successful community collaboration result in? A popular idea floating to the top of a voting pile (but how would that feed into the policy development or consultation process?) A flexible data powered platform (like Geocommons or Many Eyes) that provided people with access to data that could inform, support or deny the ideas that are put forward on a suggestions part of the platform? (An loosely coupled system of independent apps might suit that approach better? In which case, might a particular orchestration of independent systems/APIs qualify as a prizewinning entry, (though it would probably require a shiny interface to win!;-)

One of the things we tried (albeit largely unsuccessfully) around the Digital Britain Interim Report was the Fake Report on a wiki Wikipedia has shown that it is possible to collaboratively author documents, with each wiki content page showing a consensus NPOV view (sometimes!) and the related Talk page capturing elements of the discussion and rationale for why the content page is as it is. It may be that for developing policy documents, this diptych/dual view approach would capture a an argument in a more convenient way than a list of comments?

(One thing I’d like to explore is whether a Commentpress style theme could be used to pull wiki talk elements in to a wiki page as comments/discussion at a section level. As well as working for policy document formulation, a similar approach might also be useful as an authoring tool for closed communities, such as standards authoring (e.g. BSI Drafts ) or drafting Government bills.)

Votes are another way of compressing opinion, as is sentiment analysis, in order to summarise a large body of comment in order for it to be usable by the poor sod charged with the task of taking on board the opinions of the masses!

Or maybe you need a platform that can offer something to, and draw from, a wide range of visitor types: folk who might cast a vote but not comment, or comment but engage in discussion?

PS This reminds me of an essay I never did gt round to writing about the structure and role of state sponsored grand challenges and prize challenges in driving innovation in a particular direction (notes)

PPS in the short term, how about a comment platform for party manifestos as and when they appear, maybe on, I dunno, WriteToReply? 😉