Earlier this month Atlantic Media announced that Quartz, an online publication it launched in 2012, would start accepting comments at the level of a paragraph. The first iteration of the service is sponsored (!) by CitiGroup.
In a report by Adweek's David Taintor, Quartz senior editor Zach Seward describes the comments as "annotations". Seward's characterization brought me back to work that Bob Stein pioneered several years ago, initially developing CommentPress and then later introducing SocialBook.
I've been writing about services like SocialBook and ReadSocial for a while. Book: A Futurist's Manifesto includes a chapter about BookGlutton and Read Social, contributed by Travis Alber and Aaron Miller, its founders. So in that sense, an announcement about commenting at the level of a paragraph is a bit of old news.
The narrow lens of success sometimes forgets that Stein was widely criticized for proposing "A taxonomy of social reading", with many industry experts doubting that there was a place in the world for shared text. It also forgets that Miller and Alber, for all of their efforts, have yet to gain much traction among publishers whose support would help turn an idea into something that increased the value of reading.
Now, we have a revenue-producing version of the idea, applied to online comments. Among blogs that receive a decent volume of comments (not this one, mind you), user-generated content dwarfs the original text. Imagine a book that could claim the same.
I don't think we have to imagine too much longer. Jack Dougherty and Korey Jackson recently announced a proof-of-concept project that combined two open-source tools, CommentPress and PressBooks, "to create a workflow for authors to submit book-length manuscripts for developmental editing and high-quality publication in multiple formats."
Admittedly, that alone doesn't throw the book open to the world, but that openness has already been demonstrated. This new approach bakes social into the creation of a text, and it makes me wonder if anyone who had developed a text in such an environment would ever render it mute. In a world of social reading, print becomes a snapshot in time.
A bit of disclosure: PressBooks was created and is managed by Hugh McGuire, who conceived Book: A Futurist's Manifesto and co-edited it with me. On occasion, Bob Stein and I have discussed CommentPress and SocialBook. Neither had any awareness of or involvement in the development of this post.