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CommentPress was developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book as part of their ongoing experiments with “networked books”. First instituted in 2006 as part of McKenzie Wark’s GAM3R 7H3ORY 1.1 publication, the software was developed to work with WordPress and intended to reconfigure the nature of blog discussions. CommentPress allows respondents to post comments in the margin of the text, on a paragraph-by-paragraph or “whole page” basis. This breaks down the top-down hieararchy typical of blogs whereby a main post is positioned vertically above any commentary. Instead a reader may view the text and commentary at the same time.

Version 1.0 of CommentPress was released to the general public in July 2007 and the software has been used to generate discussion around Master’s Theses, scholarly articles, and books.


Described as “a wordpress theme for social texts,” CommentPress is a theme for WordPress that reconfigures commenting. The software uses paragraph breaks to divide texts into lexias that can be individually commented upon. Comments appear in the margin of the screen, next to the paragraph to which they are attached:

Gamer Theory Using CommentPress

This allows users to comment upon individual pieces of the text in addition to making global comments on the “whole page.” According to the GAM3R 7H3ORY website, the unique organization afforded by CommentPress “place[s] the book and its discussion on an equal footing” (http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/?page_id=2)

Comments appear in chronological order and are not “threaded,” so longer discussions with multiple participants may be difficult to follow.

In terms of larger organization, CommentPress allows users to choose from two modes: document (for static documents) and blog (for sites that are continually updated with new content). In “document” mode (pictured below), a table of contents appears on the home page, which indexes posts according to the date they were created.

CommentPress Table of Contents

In blog mode, the standard organization of the blog is maintained, allowing the user to choose a layout depending upon the type of text under discussion.

CommentPress has been utilized in relation to a number of different types of texts — everything from books about video games to the January 10, 2007 President’s Address to the Nation. The one commonality of all of these texts is that they are fairly large in scope. In fact, the tool was designed with these sorts of larger texts in mind: “The goal of these was to see whether a popular net-native publishing form, the blog, which, most would agree, is very good at covering the present moment in pithy, conversational bursts but lousy at handling larger, slow-developing works requiring more than chronological organization–whether this form might be refashioned to enable social interaction around long-form texts” (http://www.futureofthebook.org/commentpress/about/).

One recent installation of CommentPress occurred on the Grand Text Auto blog, wherein Noah Wardrip-Fruin published chapters of his upcoming book, Expressive Processing, for feedback from the GTA community. Wardrip-Fruin’s project was conceived with the explicit goal of placing this experience side-by-side with the process of traditional, blind, academic peer-review. Remarkably, he found that both processes gave him similar feedback on the book as a whole, while the review with CommentPress had some interesting results in relation to the more nuanced feedback. In a post after the experiment had concluded, Wardrip-Fruin writes about the difference in a sort of credibility that occurred around the GrandTextAuto feedback. He received multiple comments on the same issue, from a community that he trusts, and was able to engage in dialogue about the issue. This allowed him to gauge the seriousness of the feedback and the extent of the changes that needed to be made. In contrast, during traditional peer review, he writes, “In most cases, when I get back the traditional, blind peer review comments on my papers and book proposals and conference submissions, I don’t know who to believe. Most issues are only raised by one reviewer. I find myself wondering, “Is this a general issue that I need to fix, or just something that rubbed one particular person the wrong way?” (http://grandtextauto.org/2008/04/05/blog-based-peer-review-some-preliminary-conclusions-part-2/)

Wardrip-Fruin’s example makes explicit that CommentPress can be used to not only challenge the organizational logic of traditional blogs, but can also enhance our understanding of many processes of community-based reading and writing. It is important to note that the creators at Institute for the Future of the Book view CommentPress as a step in the process of developing robust tools for online social reading. As such, it provides the opportunity for interesting experiments in shifting existing paradigms.

Research Context:

CommentPress is of interest to the fields of Social Computing, Education and Literary Studies. The community-forming aspects of the tool destabilize the relationship between author and reader in allowing the reader to give instantaneous feedback to nuanced portions of the text. The author can then engage in dialogue with his or her reviewers in a way that is prohibited by traditional anonymous review processes. Additionally, there are potential pedagogical applications of CommentPress. There have already been cases (as cited in a September 2007 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education) of teacher’s placing literary texts in WordPress format and successfully encouraging close reading with the use of CommentPress’ unique organizational structure.

Technical Analysis:

CommentPress is written in javascript and php as a “theme” for WordPress. Its current version (1.4.1) works in conjunction with WordPress 2.3

It is under ongoing development by the Institute for the Future of the Book and upcoming revisions include: valid XHTML code, creating CommentPress widgets, allowing readers to view all comments on a page, etc.

Evaluation of Opportunities/Limitations for the Transliteracies Topic:

CommentPress offers Transliteracies an opportunity to think about reading in online communities, an important facet of the new Social Computing directive of the group. It destabilizes the traditional relationship between author and reader by allowing the reader to be a part of the composition and review process. In addition, in utilizing CommentPress in conjunction with a variety of text genres, we are able to see how different genre-based models of reading and community can be affected by this type of tool.

Resources for Further Study:

Points for Expansion:

  • Sophie – this is the project cited by Institute for the Future of the Book as the next phase in their projects on networked books.

  Kimberly Knight, 05.07.08

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