True confession: I treat conference panels as competitive events. Whenever I’m participating in a multi-speaker panel my secret goal is to “win” the panel. This doesn’t mean I try to take down my fellow panellists: it’s not like wrestling or ice hockey, where you’ve got to crush your opponent in order to take home the gold. It’s more like rowing or cycling or maybe figure skating, where the goal is simply to turn in the best performance.*

Today I did not win my panel, because I had the privilege of being part of a totally kick-ass conversation at AOIR with 3 smart people doing very cool work on reading and publishing in the digital world, fluidly woven together by Janet Salmons. More amazing still, our work all intersected (not something you can take for granted) in ways that were incredibly constructive for my research, and I hope for others’ as well.

So who were these crazy digital rock stars, and what did I learn from them?

  • Peter Boot talked about how online communities enable new kinds of conversations about books, which go beyond reviewing to content creation and identity construction, and made me think about how that kind of identity work could happen within an ebook if it offered a community to its readers
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick talked about how we can get over the conventional model of peer review, already, and start editing in ways that actually enrich scholarship — and made me think that is a universe in which I could get pretty excited about academic publishing
  • Tim Laquintano talked about the stigmatization of “vanity publishing” and how it’s giving way to “indie publishing”, and saved me about $5,000 in future psychotherapy by convincing me to just get over this obsession with being published by an Official Imprint

My own talk shared some of the ebook research we’ve been up to at Emily Carr, where I’ve been part a team of designers and researchers including Jonathan Aitken, Celeste Martin and Ron Burnett. In particular, I talked about our interest in creating social ebooks — ebooks that support not only collaborative annotation and highlighting but fuller social experiences in which readers converse and even contribute to book content. To think about how an ebook might deepen reader engagement, I’ve been drawing on the reader-to-leader framework of Preece & Shneiderman, which has been used to study many different kinds of online communities:

Reader to leader framework shows 4 levels of participation


If we think ebooks can act as some form of community, then perhaps the reader-to-leader framework can apply to ebooks. Based on the work we’ve done so far, here’s how different ebook features might map onto this framework — along with a minor adjustment to the framework that makes it a little more useful in this context.

eReader to Leader adds a "user" layer above "reader"


It’s going to take me at least a few days to digest the ways in which these talks fit together. When I have something semi-coherent to say, I’ll follow the spirit of the panel and share it digitally, as fodder for further conversation.



* Yes, I am using a sports metaphor — a move that is guaranteed to cost you crucial points in any panel performance I might be judging. And yes, I said “ice hockey”.