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Now that Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading is in galley proofs, the contours of the enhanced digital book are beginning to take shape.

In order to determine the features of the digital book, we have developed a specification document that outlines the nature of the book, its key features and more specific details about how these features will fit into the ecosystem of the enhanced book itself.

Below are highlights from that document, offered here for feedback. In particular, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the social functionality we hope to integrate into the book.

About the Product

A dynamic enhanced digital book that will embed the audio of the eleven podcasts into the digital book itself, enabling readers to listen to the podcasts directly as they encounter them in the text. In order to cultivate a community of collaborative reading, the enhanced digital book will also enable readers to make all highlighting and annotations public if desired. Those annotations and markings will then themselves generate a feed that interfaces with a blog plug-in like Comment Press or some other form of integration by which the annotations and highlights can appear in public in ways that are open to further response. Although readers might decide to publish the annotations on a preferred social media site, the annotations should also be accessible to a blog managed and moderated by the author so that he can respond to and engage with readers as they engage with the book itself. The aforementioned, contributing to a “living” book, should all be designed to reinforce the author’s thesis that reading is a political activity capable of building community.

Developmentally, the biggest challenge is modifying the Cambridge Books Online (CBO) display method to allow full text HTML instead of PDF. The full text HTML will allow for the features mentioned below. Other technical challenges will be to connect social sites such as Twitter and Disqus with CBO for this particular title, as well as prompting users to log in with their social media outlet of choice or to the author’s guided social site. We will also need to display users and their selected comments within CBO, which will require two-way communication from CBO to multiple sites. This feature is found on many mainstream sites today, including Yahoo, CNN, and the BBC in the form of public comments.

Key Features

  • User based annotation
  • Social networking to enable discussions of the book in outside social spaces
  • Author-guided discussion on the author’s own website
  • Embedded podcast links in the full text of the title (Podcasts contained on the authors site)
  • Full text HTML to support social and annotation features
  • Ability to share selected content within the users of various social networks
  • Recognition of both CBO logins as well as external social network logins (login with)
  • User credentialing for community building and to incentivize positive engagement with the text (see section 2 on Social Functionality.)

Feature Specification

User Based Annotation

Once users are recognized by CBO and have access to this title, they will be presented with a tool set allowing them to annotate the text. There will be three main features of annotation:

  1. the ability to take notes by copying text from the title and or writing notes about content, a paragraph, or page;
  2. the ability to create a citation for a selection segment of content, paragraph or page;
  3. the simple ability to highlight text and to make that highlighting public or not.

Social Functionality

Within the annotation tool there should also be a feature that allows recognized users to select a limited set of content and then share that content with their social networks. The annotation tool may contain links to that user’s social network as well as a link to the author’s guided discussion website. Users could then select content from the title in their annotation tool box, select a social network, and post that content on their network. This is a common share feature within many websites available today.  The goal of this feature is the ability for users to be recognized and the ability of users to create annotations, share content, and collaborate within social groups with a tool set similar to Diigo.

In order to cultivate community, reinforce positive social interaction and market the product beyond this specific title, user profiles should be created and a system of credentialing implemented. The profiles should pull avatars from social media sites as desired by user; users should be able to add information about themselves, their position (if any), their ORCID, an links to social media and web presence as desired.

An elegant badge system should be developed and users should be able to earn credit for the following:

  • Percentage of the book completed (small badges for each chapter, full badge for completing the entire book).
  • A “helpfulness” score should be implemented for user comments and users should be able to earn helpfulness badges with different levels depending on the number of helpfulness points they receive ( has a simple implementation of this).
  • A “collegiality” score should be implemented for user comments analogous to the helpfulness score.
  • The author should be able to identify readers as “experts” based upon his knowledge of their work and their interaction with the book. Those readers would have a small letter “E” at the bottom of their profile picture (for an example of this, see Twitter’s verified user icon).
  • Users with earned badges and other credentials would have their comments flow to the top of the CBO landing page (for more on the landing page, see below).

An incentive structure should be implemented. Users would earn rewards for various milestones, for example, when they reach a certain helpfulness and collegiality score they might earn:

  • Varying percentages of discounts on a future CBO book—perhaps with levels here, 10% for a certain collegiality and helpfulness score, leveling to higher percentages for higher scores;
  • Access codes for others to access this enhanced digital book;
  • Hardcopy of the physical book with an autographed note from the author;
  • Users could earn “moderator” status on the discussion forum on the author’s blog.

This would require:

  1. Ability to log in from your social network;
  2. Ability for authorized users to select text and post a comment to CBO, their social site(s) or both;
  3. Author updates and comments visible in this section;
  4. Links to authors guided discussion / comments from users of author’s site;
  5. Social comments are directly linked and created from the full text HTML of the book;
  6. Ability to create a user profile;
  7. Ability to credential users via an elegant badging system that confirms to the Open Badges standards (

CBO with Social

Author-guided Social Space

The key social network for this content is the author’s digital community, “The Digital Dialogue.” Users of this site will be encouraged to view the title within CBO and then discuss the aspects of the work in the author’s guided and monitored social site. To merge CBO and the author’s site a feature similar to the comment section of many news sites such as BBC News and CNN would be added to the CBO landing page. Recognized users will be able to see current threads of discussion on major social networks and in the author-guided and monitored site from the CBO book landing page. From the comments area, the network that the comment has been posted to will be displayed, encouraging additional users to join the discussion in that social space.

The best way of thinking about this is a running list comments created by users or the author contained on the book-landing page. Users will also have the ability to suppress their comments from being displayed if they so choose. We would also like to see all comments approved by the author before they are posted to the CBO landing page. In addition we would also like to have the ability to approve and or remove any comments from any users posted to the CBO landing page. (see mock-up below)

CBO Landing Page

Embedded Audio

The author has created 10+ podcasts that discuss sections of his book and we would like to contain links to those podcasts within the full text. The ideal functionality would be to add links or icons within the text to alert a reader to their availability. The function would allow the reader to click the link and have their default audio player on their computer open and begin playing the podcast. We would also like the podcast link to be available to the annotation function so the user could make a comment or take notes about the audio as well as the text. A recognized user could also take the link to the podcast out to a social network of their choice or begin a discussion on the author-guided site if they are a member of that community.

Content in Full Text HTML

The presentation of the content in Full Text HTML within CBO will allow for easy linking of the audio files as well as other key features, such as annotation and exporting selections of content to social network sites. Thus far, this title has gone down the XML workflow path and additional work may be required to add links and tags to meet the feature requirements.

Ability to Share Selected Context with Users of Social Networks

A decision needs to be made regarding how much content can be taken out of the full text HTML and placed on another social site. This rule is not so much about piracy but about the amount of data held in storage and transferred to another site. The Press also must consider what information should accompany content leaving the CBO site—i.e., copyright statement, a graphic, a URL and link back data, bibliographic information associated with the content, etc.

Recognition of CBO Logins and External Social Media Logins

This is the most complex feature and will require discussion as the best way to handle the requirement. Presently, product recognition of use on CBO is based on institutional IP authentication, which will allow the user to read the title. More advanced features will require CBO to recognize an individual so citations and annotations can be created. Also, if the user is to take selected content out of CBO for use on their social network and for that information to be displayed on the book landing page, another layer of authentication will have to be recognized.

Further Reflection and Commentary

The above text was prepared for Cambridge’s development team in Manila. It articulates the basic vision behind the digital book. I am struck, however, by the extent to which the process by which this book has come into production privileges the printed over the digital. Even with very strong support within Cambridge from people like Robert Dreesen, Mike Chaplin and Simon Ross, the digital book continues to be seen as supplemental to the printed book.

Obviously, Cambridge has a long history of book printing, a history I am more than honored to draw upon for this project. Part of my decision to publish this project with Cambridge was determined by my own recognition that digital projects still don’t have the academic gravitas that traditional print scholarship has, particularly when published by a major university press like Cambridge.

The final results of this endeavor are still to be determined, and we will see how much we are able to implement of what is articulated here. Still, for me, this book is really a born digital project because it has been rooted from its beginning in dynamic, public online conversations mediated by digital media. The open question is if this can be translated into a published book and if the conversation can continue and be amplified and enriched by ongoing public communication facilitated by a major university press.

The experimental dimension of the project is as daunting as it is exhilarating. It is perhaps not unlike Socratic politics itself insofar as it involves at its heart a kind of assaying. And like Socratic politics, this project too opens itself to failure, but I am confident that if it fails, much will be learned in the process.

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