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Navigation/Live Discussion

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Lower Navigation/Reader-Contributed Links

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Manuscript Selection

Wide Aperture Reader

When I attended the MiT6 conference in Boston in 2008, one of the presentations that captured my attention was a talk by Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book, in which he presented an experiment by the institute in which users read a book online using a Web application that let them carry on discussions with other readers, and at times a manuscript’s author, in the margins of each page of the book as it was presented online.

What struck me, beyond Stein’s description of the lively conversations that ensued, was that the software they were using looked like (a) something I could build myself, (b) an application that would test and extend my current skillset, and (c) something that might prove immensely useful for discussing papers and manuscripts with students and colleagues.

So, in 2008 I set out to build an online reader, and this was the result. On it, an administrator can post books and papers, and set dates upon which different sections will be made available. The result is that groups reading together can step through a book in manageable chunks (e.g., a specified number of pages or chapters per day).

Users have a dashboard from which they can select manuscripts to read, see a list of users who are online, as well as one of those who have visited recently. The dashboard also shows a list of recent activity by others reading the same texts, so they can jumpt to current discussions on the site.

The reading experience is intended to be social and seamless. Comments and discussions threads are executed using an AJAX-powered interface, meaning that discussion threads update live as new comments are posted, allowing for synchronous conversations between readers. In addition to comments, users can also make private notes to themselves on any page or contribute links to Webpages that relate to the material they’re reading.

Readers have many options for navigating a book, including paging forward and back, jumping to a specific page, jumping to the beginning or end of the days reading, and marking their place in the text for future visits. They can also jump to the page on which the most recent user activity is occurring. An additional navigation menu allows users to navigate the book by selecting from a list of chapters or from a list of recent user activity.

Due to the fact that some of the texts I’ve plugged into the reader are copyrighted, and the fact that it’s sometimes used for discussions of unpublished manuscripts, this software installation isn’t currently available to the general public. However, I may use versions of it in the future for teaching online courses, discussing my own manuscripts, or creating an interactive experience around texts for which the software is appropriate.

Developers who are interested in the source code and others with questions about the software should feel free to contact me.

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