Mark Bernstein is chief scientist of Eastgate Systems, Inc. He’s been writing hypertexts and developing hypertext authoring software since the late 1980s. Mark is the creator of Tinderbox and other tools for thinking that “harness the power of the link.” In this conversation, we discuss thinking through connected notes.
representational talkback; the design of taking notes in the present when you’re not sure how they’ll connect to ideas in the (imagined) future; The Tinderbox Way; by force, all research is bottom up.
Part 1: Directed by W. Kamau Bell. With Bill Cosby, Gloria Allred, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Harry Belafonte. In the 1960s Bill Cosby is collecting accolades for his comedy, breaking barriers for Black stunt performers and participating in the nation's sexual liberation and civil rights movement. He also allegedly begins exploiting his power.
I hadn’t known about his history of promoting the underrepresented in the stunt space in entertainment.
I had forgotten about (?) or simply missed (based on my age and exposure) his history with “Spanish Fly”. I don’t recall any of these references during any of the news coverage of his trials or subsequent conviction.
The documentary is very well done and subtle so far, particularly with some snarky/clever images undergirding some of its political position. I appreciate that I’m just a year and change younger than W. Kamau Bell, so I’ve lived in roughly the same time frame he has. I have strong memories of having grown up with Picture Pages, The Electric Company, Fat Albert, et al. I’m curious to see how my experiences are similar and different to Bell’s perspective.
Within the bible publishing space (and especially for study bibles), these features seem a lot more common as people want to write more significant marginalia or even full pages of text against or opposite of what they’re reading within the book itself. Given the encouragement many teachers give for students to actively annotate their books for class discussions as well as people commonly doing this, why isn’t it more common for them to recommend or require texts with ample margins?
Almost all of the published mass market paperbacks I see of series like Penguin Classics or Signet classics have the smallest possible margins and no interlinear space for writing notes directly in books. Often hard covers will have slightly larger margins, but generally most publishers are putting 1/2 inch or 3/4″ margins on their classics series (Penguin Classics, Everyman Library, Signet (a paltry 1/4 inch usually), Library of America, Norton Classics, Wordsworth Classics, Dover, etc.)
For those wanting ample margins for active “reading with a pen in hand” are there any publishers that do a great job of wider margins on classics? Which publishers or editions do others like or recommend for this sort of reading?
Are there any book sales platforms that actually list the size of margins of their books? (I never seen one myself.)
What can consumers do to encourage publishers to change these practices?
I’ve seen only a few select titles from very few publishers that do things like this. Examples include:
- Gladius Books’ Huckleberry Finn
- Annotate Books’ Marcus Aurelius, which has 1.8″ lined margins
- The Folio Society has slightly better margins on their texts, but they’re generally larger hardcover collectors’ editions that are dramatically more expensive than is practicable for students on a budget. ($80+ versus $5-10)
If I can’t find anything useful, I’m tempted to self-publish custom versions of wide margin or interleaved books otherwise. Something in the inch to inch and a half margin size for commonly used texts in literature classes should be much more commonplace.
Some 425 ICM employees will join CAA, with 105 expected to be laid off as the Department of Justice allows the acquisition after an antitrust review.
The term independently-hosted is used here to describe online publishing practices that utilise the World Wide Web (hereafter the Web) as a decentralised socio-technical system, where individuals and communities operate as the owners or controllers of the online infrastructures they use in order to share content. Such practices may be adopted as an alternative of, or as a complement to, the use of centralised content-sharing systems that belong to and are entirely operated by third parties. The term “publishing” is used here in a rather inclusive way and refers to the act of making content available online, rather than being restricted to the editorial processes that characterise, for instance, academic publishing.
Apparently early last year Jim Nielsen (Twitter) cleverly rebuilt an IndieWeb friendly version of readlist functionality! He describes his motivation and provides some examples in his post (Re)Introducing Readlists. You can try it out at https://readlists.jim-nielsen.com/.
I fondly remember the original ReadLists site, and I too have desperately missed my account and the ability to more easily create and share “mixtapes, but for reading” from my own site or in formats like .epub, .mobi, and .pdf. I still remember the now missing textbook I made with ReadLists because I foolishly relied on an embeddable widget to display content on my website.
Just a month ago I wanted to pull out all the archived articles of Manfred Keuhn’s excellent and now memory-holed blog Taking Notes and turn them into an e-book. The process was just too painful and tedious, in part because some of the individual articles weren’t individually archived though they were archived on monthly archive pages.
With Jim’s tool the process has now gotten a bit easier.
Brainstorming improvements and other options
It does make me wonder how we might make the the process of doing this sort of thing easier. What sorts of formats and building blocks could mitigate some of the work? Are there an potential standards that could be leveraged? How could one take linkblogs and convert them into a book for reading offline? Could one take an
h-feed and pipe it into such a tool? Or RSS/Atom to e-book tools? Could I take collections from tools like Zotero and pipe them into such a service to bundle up journal articles? Could the idea be expanded into something along the lines of Huffduffer and provide similar sorts of native APIs? How could it be made more IndieWeb friendly? Micropub support, perhaps? Could Microsub readers take inputs and provide e-book outputs?
I know that there are a handful of browser extensions that will help one convert URLs into e-books. Some even take lists of open browser tabs and automatically convert them into an e-book, but these don’t allow one to easily share the lists so that users can pick and choose what to omit, or add other content to them.
How might we encourage community curated readlists?
How might this all tie into the rise of the prominence of the newsletter over the past several years? How could I more easily pipe subscriptions into such a tool to give me daily/weekly/monthly e-books of content?
What else are we missing?
I do wonder if StoryGraph are planning on making the ownership of your own data on your own site easier? That might be a reason for some buy-in.
In an age of print-on-demand and reflowing text, why in goodness’ name don’t we have the ability to print almost anything we buy and are going to read in any font size and format we like?
Why couldn’t I have a presentation copy sized version of The Paris Review?
“I could fit this in my pocket,” I thought when the first newly re-designed @parisreview arrived. And sure enough editor Emily Stokes said it’s was made to fit in a “large coat pocket” in the editor’s note. pic.twitter.com/tra25GOk6e
— Marc Geelhoed (@marcgeelhoed) December 8, 2021
Why shouldn’t I be able to have everything printed on bible-thin pages of paper for savings in thickness?
Why couldn’t my textbooks be printed with massively large margins for writing notes into more easily? Why not interleaved with blank pages? Particularly near the homework problem sections?
Why couldn’t I buy my own hardcover, custom edition of Annotation with massive five inch margins to really make having a handwritten #AnnoConvo easier? (C’mon MIT Press, I know it’s part of a pre-existing series, but editorial considerations should have necessitated leaving at least an inch!)
Why can’t I have more choice in a range of fonts, book sizes, margin sizes, and covers?
When are publishing platforms going to give us this?!?
Uhhh my boss just asked me for Twitter engagement numbers... Who loves books? Like if you love books, reply if you hate them— ECW Press (@ecwpress) Dec 2, 2021
Handwriting to Website #FTW
While browsing today I ran across an awesome concept called PaperWebsite.com. It allows you to write on paper, take a photo, and then upload it to a website. Your handwritten words published to your website. A tactile writer’s dream.
My immediate thought—I need to have this now!
Articles written by hand in my journal to my website? Short notes that I write on index cards published as microblog updates. How cool would that be? I was also talking to someone this morning about voice-to-text as a note taking concept. What about that too?
Of course, as you may know, I’ve already got a website. Do I need another one like this for $10/month? Probably not.
But this has got me wondering “what the value proposition is for Paper Website as a company?” What are they really selling? Domain names? Hosting? Notebooks? They certainly seem to be selling all of the above, but the core product they’re really selling is an easy-to-use interface for transferring paper ideas to digital publishing. And this is exactly what I want!
The problem now is to buy this sub-service without all the other moving pieces like a domain name, hosting, etc., which I don’t need. Taking just the core service and abstracting it to the wider universe of websites could be a major technical hurdle (and nightmare).
IndieWeb and Micropub
Perhaps I could try find an OCR solution and wire it all together myself? I’d rather see the original developer run away with the idea though. So instead I’ll quietly suggest that they could take their current infrastructure and add a small piece.
Since PaperWebsite’s already got the front end up and running, why not add on Micropub support to the back end? Maybe Ben Stokes could take the OCR output and create a new Micropub client that could authenticate to any website with Micropub support? I have to imagine that he could probably program it in a couple of days (borrowing from any of the pre-existing open source clients or libraries out there) and suddenly it’s a product that could work with WordPress, Drupal, WithKnown, Craft, Jekyll, Kirby, Hugo, Blot, and a variety of other platforms that support the W3C spec recommendation or have plugins for it.
The service could publish in “draft” form and allow editing after-the-fact. There’s also infrastructure for cross-syndicating to other social services with Micropub clents, so note cards to my website and automatically syndicated to Twitter, Mastodon, or micro.blog? Yes, please.
And maybe it could be done as a service for a dollar a month or a few dollars a year?
I made a short mention of the idea in the IndieWeb chat, and it’s already a-buzz with implementation ideas… If you’re around Ben, I’m sure folks there would lend a hand if you’re interested.
The website, commonplace book, note taking, stationery, and fountain pen nerd in me is really excited about where this could go from a user interface perspective.
How Moleskine, Leuchtturm, LiveScribe or the other stationery giants haven’t done this already is beyond me. I could also see serious writing apps like iA Writer or Ulysses doing something like this too.
In particular, I quite enjoy the micropub client IndieBookClub for posting reading updates to my WordPress site (it supports other platforms with Micropub support too.) More details: https://indieweb.org/indiebookclub. Here’s an example of how I’m tracking what I read on my own site: https://boffosocko.com/kind/read/ or if you want just the books.
If you’d like a non-WordPress hosted solution, you might take a look at Manton Reece’s excellent Micro.blog platform which has a nice book/reading UI: https://micro.blog/discover/books or https://micro.blog/discover/books/grid. (It uses IndieWeb technologies including micropub, so you can use IndieBookClub with it. You can also syndicate to it from your WordPress site if you prefer to have your own infrastructure and just join the community there for the conversation.)
I’m happy to help if you’d like further tips/pointers for any of the above.
If you hate them, it’s not your fault.
A🧵 of annotations
What any individual infers about their hopes and dreams for an e-reader derives from their understanding of reading in the first place. You can’t have books without bookiness. Bookiness. That’s the word Glenn Fleishman, a technology writer and longtime bookmaker, uses to describe the situation. “It’s the essence that makes someone feel like they’re using a book,” he told me. Like pornography or sandwiches, you know bookiness when you see it. Or feel it? Either way, most people can’t identify what it is in the abstract. ❧
Does this only come out because there’s something that’s book-tangential or similar and it needs to exist to describe the idea of not-book, book-adjacent, or book-like on some sort of spectrum of bookishness.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:28PM
The ancient Romans sometimes connected wax tablets with leather or cords, suggesting a prototype of binding. Replacing the wax with leaves allowed many pages to be stacked atop one another, then sewn or otherwise bound together. ❧
early book prototypes
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:30PM
In other words, as far as technologies go, the book endures for very good reason. Books work. ❧
Aside from reading words to put ideas into my brain, one of the reasons I like to read digital words is that the bigger value proposition for me is an easier method to add annotations to what I’m reading and then to be able to manipulate those notes after-the-fact. I’ve transcended books and the manual methods of note taking. Until I come up with a better word for it, digital commonplacing seems to be a useful shorthand for this new pattern of reading.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:33PM
If you have a high-quality hardbound book nearby, pick it up and look at the top and bottom edges of the binding, near the spine, with the book closed. The little stripey tubes you see are called head and tail bands (one at the top, one at the bottom). They were originally invented to reinforce stitched binding, to prevent the cover from coming apart from the leaves. Today’s mass-produced hardcover books are glued rather than sewn, which makes head and tail bands purely ornamental. And yet for those who might notice, a book feels naked without such details. ❧
It is an odd circumstance that tail bands are still used on modern books that don’t need them. From a manufacturing standpoint, the decrease in cost would dictate they disappear, however they must add some level of bookiness that they’re worth that cost.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:37PM
One site of that erosion, which may help explain ebook reticence, can be found in self-published books. For people predisposed to sneer at the practice, a lack of editing or the absence of publisher endorsement and review might justify self-published works’ second-class status. That matter is debatable. More clear is the consequence of disintermediation: Nobody takes a self-published manuscript and lays it out for printing in a manner that conforms with received standards. And so you often end up with a perfect-bound Word doc instead of a book. That odd feeling of impropriety isn’t necessarily a statement about the trustworthiness of the writer or their ideas, but a sense of dissonance at the book as an object. It’s an eerie gestalt, a foreboding feeling of unbookiness. ❧
Having helped others to self-publish in the past, I definitely do spend a bit of time putting the small sort of bookiness flourishes into their texts.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:41PM
The weird way you tap or push a whole image of a page to the side—it’s the uncanny valley of page turning, not a simulation or replacement of it. ❧
This may be the first time I’ve seen uncanny valley applied to a topic other than recognizing people versus robots or related simulacra.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:44PM
The iPad’s larger screen also scales down PDF pages to fit, making the results smaller than they would be in print. It also displays simulated print margins inside the bezel margin of the device itself, a kind of mise en abyme that still can’t actually be used for the things margins are used for, such as notes or dog-ears. ❧
It would be quite nice if a digital reader would allow actual writing in the margins, or even overlaying the text itself and then allowing the looking at the two separately.
I do quite like the infinite annotation space that Hypothes.is gives me on a laptop. I wish there were UI for it on a Kindle in a more usable and forgiving way. The digital keyboard on Kindle Paperwhite is miserable. I’ve noticed that I generally prefer reading and annotating on desktop in a browser now for general ease-of-use.
Also, I don’t see enough use of mise en abyme. This is a good one.
In Western art history, mise en abyme (French pronunciation: [miz ɑ̃n‿abim]; also mise en abîme) is a formal technique of placing a copy of an image within itself, often in a way that suggests an infinitely recurring sequence. In film theory and literary theory, it refers to the technique of inserting a story within a story. The term is derived from heraldry and literally means “placed into abyss”. It was first appropriated for modern criticism by the French author André Gide.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:49PM
Ebook devices are extremely compatible with an idea of bookiness that values holding and carrying a potentially large number of books at once; that prefers direct flow from start to finish over random access; that reads for the meaning and force of the words as text first, if not primarily; and that isn’t concerned with the use of books as stores of reader-added information or as memory palaces. ❧
Intriguing reference of a book as a memory palace here.
The verso/recto and top/middle/bottom is a piece of digital books that I do miss from the physical versions as it serves as a mnemonic journey for me to be able to remember what was where.
I wonder if Ian Bogost uses the method of loci?
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:53PM
So do all manner of other peculiarities of form, including notations of editions on the verso (the flip side) of the full title page and the running headers all throughout that rename the book you are already reading. ❧
I do dislike the running headers of digital copies of books as most annotation tools want to capture those headers in the annotation. It would be nice if they were marked up in an Aria-like method so that annotation software would semantically know to ignore them.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 12:56PM
Skimming through pages, the foremost feature of the codex, remains impossible in digital books. ❧
This is related to an idea that Tom Critchlow was trying to get at a bit the other day. It would definitely be interesting in this sort of setting.
(Why yes I am procrastinating my to-do list. You?)
— Tom Critchlow (@tomcritchlow) September 17, 2021
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 01:03PM
“We’ve been thoughtful,” Amazon continued, “about adding only features and experiences that preserve and enhance the reading experience.” The question of whose experience doesn’t seem to come up. ❧
They’re definitely not catering to my reading, annotating, and writing experience.
Annotated on September 18, 2021 at 01:04PM