Web Marginalia

Marginize for Web publishers launched today on Boston.com, Xconomy.com, and eight other Websites. Xconomy’s Wade Roush says: “the technology creates a new ecosystem of user-controlled social spaces right here on our existing pages. In the process, it reunifies conversations that are currently fragmented across multiple social-media channels.” Marginize founder Ziad Sultan tells Wade, “The first incarnation of the Web was the publisher pushing content out to individual users. The second incarnation was the social Web. The third wave should be a space on the page itself that belongs to the users.” Scott Kirsner calls it “a communal, Internet-age update on marginalia.”

Making comments in the margins have been with us since the days of hand-written manuscripts. Early printed books imitated the physical features of manuscripts, leaving room between the lines and in the margins for students’ notes. Erasmus advised his students in On the Method of Study (1512), “Carefully observe when reading … whether any striking word occurs, if diction is archaic or novel, if some argument shows brilliant invention or has been skillfully adapted from elsewhere, if there is any brilliance in style, if there is any adage, historical parallel, or maxim worth committing to memory. Such a passage should be indicated by some appropriate mark.”

But already in the eighteenth-century poet George Crabbe lamented (in “The Library”) the rise of light reading and the decline of the tradition of annotating books in the margin:

“Our patient Fathers trifling themes laid by,

And roll’d o’er labour’d works th’attentive eye;

Page after page, the much-enduring men

Explor’d the deeps and shallows of the pen;

Till, every note and every comment known,

They mark’d the spacious margin with their own …

Our nicer palates lighter labours seek,

Cloy’d with a Folio-number once a week;

Bibles with cuts and comments thus go down,

E’en light Voltaire is number’d through the town;

Thus Physic flies abroad, and thus the law

From men of study, and from men of straw;

Abstracts, Abridgments, please the fickle times,

Pamphlets and Plays, and Politics and Rhymes.”

Not that everybody was in favor of these annotations. Samuel Johnson declared that readers who habitually mark up their books “load their minds with superfluous attention, repress the vehemence of curiosity by useless deliberation, and by frequent interruption break the current of narration or the chain of reason, and at last close the volume, and forget the passages and the marks together.”

Are you a marginal reader? And do you think Marginize will succeed in updating marginalia for online readers?

About GilPress

I launched the Big Data conversation; writing, research, marketing services; http://whatsthebigdata.com/ & https://infostory.com/
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