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Haskell Book Author Adapts to Reader Comments While Writing

Yesterday’s post about writing a book with Google Docs was about improving collaboration among authors (as well as working without the cruft of word-processing features that aren’t germane to many manuscripts). But writing on the Web also means you can collaborate with your readers, long before anything is ready for print.

Bryan O’Sullivan recently posted his thoughts on the feedback mechanism he built for the upcoming Real World Haskell:

As for our response to comments, my own way of dealing with them has changed over time. Initially, I was overwhelmed by their sheer quantity. Although I read every comment, I rarely responded to any individually, because it seemed like such a huge mountain. After a while, though, my attitude changed: I concluded that if someone was going to take the trouble to tell me something they thought was important, the least I could do was acknowledge what they said and thank them. That’s now my usual default. (I can’t tell if readers like this, but hey, I’m doing it for me.)

This kind of collaboration with readers while a book is being written may well become the norm.

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  • http://toc.oreilly.com Mac Slocum

    That’s a fantastic commenting system. Wouldn’t it be great if similar functionality was ported into Google Docs? Copy editors could do line edits paragraph-by-paragraph.

  • http://kfahlgren.com/blog Keith Fahlgren

    Mac: It might be nice to have the functionality in Google Docs, but the Haskell AUs are smart to be thinking seriously about their content is stored.

    How in the world do you get content reliably _out_ of Google Docs (say nothing of in a format-neutral medium)? By always storing their content in a good format (DocBook, in this case), the Haskell authors are just as ready to publish in a variety of media:

    * on the web (with their nifty comments)

    * in print (as they will be to feed into O’Reilly’s DocBook production toolchain)

    * on mobile devices (via the soon-to-be-beta’d DocBook to .epub stylesheets)

  • Mac Slocum

    Keith: That’s an excellent point. This sort of commenting would require an on/off switch to be truly useful in a copy editing environment.

    I guess I’m thinking about it more from the conceptualization and writing side. I’ve seen similar efforts done through strict blogs, and what always bothered me about it is that the comments are pushed outside of the contextual material.

    But you’re right — any sort of functionality needs to work with all aspects of production, including easy output to multiple formats.