Redeeming features

Around this time last year, I started writing about using the web to offer "a living representation" of a particular content object – a book, for example. In part I said:

I think we're inexorably moving to what I'd call a "pre-book world": a living representation of the development, refinement and extension of a particular work. At various points, an object – a book or an eBook, as examples – may be rendered, but as a subset of the greater representation.

In the time since, I've incorporated this idea into a handful of other posts, notably the presentation-length version of "Disaggregating supply" last April. The depth of a web-first publishing model can be seen in projects like "The Iraq War: A History of Wikipedia Changelogs", a twelve-volume set produced by James Bridle to capture all changes made between December 2004 and November 2009 to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War.

A smaller example of the web's dimensionality is made visible by Paul Ford in his Medium post, "Hedgefox Buys Metayacht". In it, Ford offers his take on Jeff Bezos acquiring The Washington Post. It's worth your time to read, but I want to focus on something Ford does to amplify his points.

If you are familiar with Medium, you know that it offers readers the ability to comment on a subset of a published text – a paragraph, for example, or even a word. The interface is simple and intuitive, and the individual comments are seen only when a reader chooses to make them visible.

Without dismissing the value of comments from readers, what intrigued me about Ford's post is his use of the annotation feature to offer comments from the writer. Ford is not just responding to comments; he is amplifying his own work.

Take a look at the comment attached to a word ("insane") in the paragraph that begins "Why would such a man want to own the Washington Post?" Scroll down a bit and view his two additional comments on the paragraph that starts "As we were screechingly informed".

There are other notes, other insights into how Ford thinks about his subject and even his own work. Ford's comments create a level of intimacy that is hard to obtain in an unadorned post. Moreover, the notes aren't a single moment. They could have been created at inception, upon proofing, after hearing some feedback or months later, in a reconsideration of the work.

I don't want to come across as breathless, but as I wrote last month, annotation is probably the new black. As Medium evolves its platform, one of its redeeming features may be the opportunity it affords authors to deepen their conversations with readers.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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