A great way to get feedback -- but will anyone use it? Quick Topic Document Review

by Richard Seltzer, seltzer@samizdat.com, www.samizdat.com

This article was heard on the radio program "The Computer Report," which is broadcast live on WCAP in Lowell, Mass., and is syndicated on WBNW in Boston and WPLM in Plymouth, MA.

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Go to www.quicktopic.com  There you have two choices -- Start a Topic or Start a Document Review. If you choose "Topic", you create a forum-style discussion, on free, hosted space. If you choose "Document Review", you'll find yourself in a new kind of information space, where it is very easy to share your thoughts with authors and with other readers.

As explained at the site, "Quick Doc Review (SM) gives you an instant private space for gathering comments on any HTML document (Microsoft Word documents too). Your group can comment on each paragraph, using Quick Topic's easy private forum. Comments are all in one central place -- no more mailing documents around and consolidating feedback. And it's private, but still easy to access. You can start your document review in about one minute. It's even easier for your readers -- they don't have to register or sign in."

In default mode, your document has "comment dots" in front of each paragraph. Click on a dot and you can add your comments right there, or view the comments that others have submitted about that paragraph. You also can submit general comments that apply to the entire document.

To convert a document to this format and make it available on the Web, you just follow the online instructions and upload any document in HTML format that's less than 1 Mbyte. To comment on a document, you just go to that document's URL with your browser, click on the paragraph that you want to respond to, and enter your text.  To receive comments to a particular document by email (either whenever posted or all ganged together as a single message sent to you once a day), click on Comment Forum, then choose to "subscribe".

There is no central index of such documents -- people will only know that yours is there if you give them the URL. And, apparently, many people use this application in private mode -- posting a document and then only giving the URL to the handful of people that are involved in writing and approving it.

This tool is very easy both for authors and readers/commenters, helping them to interact effectively, and, with a minimum of hassle, arrive at a consensus regarding the text in question. In that mode, this software is "groupware" -- a tool to help teams/small groups work together. Then the document with all its comments is just an intermediate stage of your joint collaborative work. Once you've decided on your final text, you can simply delete this collaborative version, if you like.

But I'm more tempted by the possible public uses of this tool. I have articles at my site where I invite reader reaction by email and, with permission,  convert the best responses to HTML and post them with the article. For examples, see "Why Bother to Save Halloween" http://www.samizdat.com/hallow.html, "DEC, not Digital -- doing the right thing An experiment in human engineering" http://www.samizdat.com/dec.html, and the "Internet Business Group Alumni Page" at http://www.samizdat.com/ibg.html.  Six months ago, I tried to encourage readers of those pages to post their comments in forum space that I had set up using SiteScape Forum as a platform, in an area intended for discussions related to my forthcoming book from Wiley -- Web Business Boot Camp. You can see that attempt at http://www.webworkzone.com/bootcamp  Unfortunately, I've had very few takers so far -- plain old email worked better, even though I ended up with the time-consuming work of converting and posting the replies I got.

Now I'm testing Quick Topic Document Review, and hoping that it will generate more feedback and interaction related to key articles I have at my site. Go to my home page http://www.samizdat.com and scroll down to "Seminal Articles in a Variety of Formats" or go straight to http://www.samizdat.com/#seminal Each of those articles has a Quick Topic link which takes you to the Document Review version, where you can leave your comments. I'm hoping that visitors will dive in and contribute and each of these articles could become the centerpiece for a content-oriented, online, community-style discussion. Ideally, over time, the responses could become more useful, interesting, and informative than the original articles, with the Quick Topic approach making it easy and fun to participate.

Similarly, Quick Topic Document Review would be a natural for distance education -- providing students with opportunities to ask questions and comment on their reading assignments or the teacher's or on one another's papers.

I'm also testing this approach for getting feedback to fiction. Unless you are well-known, it is very difficult to get people to read your work and react to it; but that is the best way to learn and improve; and it's also a reward -- writers thrive on audience response. So I've posted Quick Topic Document Review versions of several novels which I have posted at my site: Orestes in Progress http://www.samizdat.com/micah/orestes.html and A View of Toledo
http://www.samizdat.com/micah/toledo.html, both by Roberta Kalechofsky, a little-known but accomplished novelist who deserves a wide audience; and also several works by my son, Michael Seltzer, an undergraduate at Northeastern -- The Eyes of a Child http://www.samizdat.com/eyes.html, Life http://www.samizdat.com/life.html, and Behind Locked Windows http://www.samizdat.com/window1.html  I'll be very interested to see if people comment, and if they do, the quality of their responses. I believe that this format has great potential for making reading a more interactive process -- benefiting both authors and readers. But will people use it, use it often, and use it well?

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