Friday 7th February 2003

Several people have suggested something I’ve been thinking about for a while: general pages for background information in addition to the People and Places pages. Given the amount of general information that is posted to diary entries that will be of use again in the future it seems an extremely sensible idea. It should help people who are new to the site find out common information without it having to be repeated too often (although we should accept this will happen nevertheless!).

There are two questions however: What pages should there be? And what should be the policy on annotating the pages? To address these in order…

It may be useful to divide the pages into categories, with more specific pages within each category; these pages should be usable for some years to come, so several shorter pages in a category may be more manageable than a single very long page. Going by things that have been posted so far my initial suggestions for categories/pages would include: money, weather, maps, general reference, London, clothes, food, politics, royalty, religion. I’m not sure whether language should be included though — it’s a huge topic and I’m not sure how such a volume of small amounts of information (word definitions) could be usefully organised to allow annotations. Maybe the search function means there is no need for this?

As for annotating policy I tend to think that fewer “good quality” or “useful” posts would be better than a large amount of chatter and questions, especially given the length of time over which the pages need to be available. I’m tempted to forbid questions on these pages and only allow information/explanation and links to other sites.

So, what do you think about all this? Any thoughts on the annotation policy? What other categories would you like to see?

28 Comments

Kevin Kelly   Link to this

Splendid idea. Whatever the hierarchy of the notes, the most useful way to present them (at least for me) would be to have links made in, or neat, the text. You know, I was reading the diary for several weeks before I even noticed the annotations. All I first saw were the relative few blue links. But its the annotations where all the real stuff now occurs.

At the very least, perhaps a list of terms, concpets, background links could be posted to the right margin, particularly notes that are not explicitly mentioned but are implied, and ideas that would naturally "travel" along from one entry to the next.

I agree with your notion that only vetted material should make it to this stage. Perhaps a "promote this annotation" button would allow readers to promote a helpful note to the status of a link.

Phil   Link to this

Thanks Kevin. I've been getting more concerned that many people are missing the annotations if they only ever visit the front page of the site. I guess I should either make the bit that says something like "Annotations (23)" more obvious, or have the front page contain only the current diary entry and all its annotations (with a link to the previous entry). Any thoughts?

At the moment I envisage the background pages living in the "Background reading" section (see the tabs at the top of the page), and each bottom-level page would probably just be a lot of annotations on the subject at hand. I fear anything more than this would be unmanageable from my point of view.

Eric Walla   Link to this

Re: Annotation message

I was wondering if simply changing it to "Readers' Annotations" would do the trick. I know my first reaction to "Annotations" was that you provided a link to commentary from a source such as Latham and Matthews. Only when I found a phrase that puzzled me and I expected an authoritative note did I click the link ...

michael f vincent   Link to this

You have expanded peoples thinking with this site.
1. references to other sources i.e. web pages refences maybe be consolidated.
2. Reading Material that can be bought or found at a library.
3. words that fail the screening process like one used for email could be dumped and people could annotate them.
If a screening program(me) can parse them in the same manner that you are doing with annotations ... I find that format excellent as one can find new thoughts and view points. So many of your viewers are great at expanding our Knowledge and the rest of us are getting an education, filling in those empty spots that we missed when going after the gold

Pauline   Link to this

Making the Background Accumulation Available
Perhaps the button for going to the Background reading should also be in the "Annotate this entry" area, with a sentence that encourages the reader to look there for the information they are about to type for, telling the reader that many questions have answers already available.

Yes, it must be somehow restricted to the quality stuff. Would a "promote this annotation" button take it to an area where it could be decided on? Are you trying to set this up so that it builds itself without someone having to decide on an annotation being added?

htom trites   Link to this

I, too, thought that "Annotations" meant other texts, until I noticed that those were beside the entry. Maybe "Web Comments" or "Discussion"?

(Umm, maybe two sets, Web Annotation for the "serious" comments, and Web Chatter for the rest. We're not going to have to be come like /. are we?)

A tab at the top that was bookmarkable as being the annotated page would be useful; currently I load the page, skip immeadiately to the annotations, and read the entry off the top of the annotations. This would save you a few kbyte of transfer each day.

harry   Link to this

i really enjoy the annotations,questions and all, and would really miss reading them, if there was some sort of limitation or vetting.

but, it's your site, and you're taking the time and effort to manage it, and i'm sure the site will remain tremendously entertaining whatever you decide.

you could also make access to annotations only available via a personal password, but then contributions may dry up.

Andrea   Link to this

great idea - it would be such a waste if all this disappears. i think Pauline's idea 'promote this annotation button seems good.

the whole thing needs to be a format where entire new subject areas can easily be included, expanded and divided.

the question is how Phil can handle this - is there a way for us to assist him? sorry don't know anything about the technology involved.

love this site

maureen   Link to this

The annotations by date are people's reactions to the text as they read it - in many cases for the first time. The spontaneity is part of the delight and I would hate to lose that.

If Phil can cope with this and we all ask a great deal of him, then perhaps we could have

* for key places, a link to the 1746 map as well as to the modern one (great find, Susanna!)

* a limited number of links in the text added after a week when we see how the discussion goes to a page which says something like "see discussion of money at such and such date" or "political situation explained at ...:" but not so many of these that our brains seize up!

* links to key on-line resources - 1746 map, Stow, etc.

* a bibliography - useful sources which are not on line but probably accessible to buy or through a library, Tomalin, Pickard, Evelyn and others.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

I second htom trites idea for separate types of daily annotations.

As a guilty chatterer in the daily annotations, I'm pulled in two directions: Yes, annotations that don't annotate can distract from the serious topic; on the other hand, they can have a lot of entertainment and instructional value. I think we can all agree that some of the more interesting -- and useful -- posts have started out "I'm sorry this isn't about today's entry, but . . ."

Comments that go off on a tangent or express interest in a particular Pepys topic or that point out something interesting that isn't on topic, or even just express some emotion that a reader wants to share -- for me, these are actually one of the joys of this site. And they allow for some good thinking to go on that doesn't fit into the serious annotations straightjacket.

It would be nice to have two categories of postings under each daily diary entry: Call one "Annotations for information on today's entry" or something similar for more serious annotations. The "Puritan" side of all of us would be satisfied (and I'm not trying to dismiss that serious purpose -- it's the fundamental reason we're here).

Call the other category "Comments and general questions." This would be for the postings that are more "cavalier" ("free and easy . . . casual or indifferent toward matters of some importance") where we can get down and boogie.

Personally, I'd like to see the "cavalier" postings in a parallel column to the right of the annotations. It seems to me that the comments category is easily disposable and could be erased after a few weeks, but whatever's easier for Phil.

There is a basic human urge for frivolous postings, and accommodation of it is much easier in the long run than prohibition. Since the only real problem with these cavalier postings is that they clutter the more serious annotations (even if you dislike them, you have to admit that they're only a crime among consenting adults), let's just shunt them off into their own Red Light District. It will protect the real-estate value of the serious annotations area with much less work than policing would. And I think Sam would approve.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

"straitjacket" not "straightjacket"

I misspelled that word in my post above. "Straitjacket" appears right above "straitlaced" in my dictionary. (I guess this would be a "cavalier" post. Sorry.)

Pauline   Link to this

"puritan" v "cavalier"
I'm with David overall, but wouldn't want to have to click up two separate sets of annotations. Maybe something like one annotation area but clicked for permanent and temporary addition to the log? The temps could be eliminated after 24 or 48 hours. I also wonder how things will sort themselves out over the coming weeks if no change is made?

There is also a problem in where to draw the line between the puritan and the cavalier. We have some pretty literal readers who seem exasperated by questions about what Sam might mean.

Three categories: information, critique, and silliness?

We could self-label by selection when we post and each annotation could come up in the log with a symbol or label of its type.

Hey, anything that will make this real hard for Phil!

Phil, you're an absolute peach. Thank you so much for your good work!

Jennifer   Link to this

I'm for the two track approach,too. I don't know how other guys manage to read it at work. For me it's an evening treat, often around midnight and the frivolous postings are a joy. I often go back to the serious comments later in the week. I'm all for serious stuff, but not an unleavened diet.

sharon kregg   Link to this

i agree "readers annotations" at the bottom of each day would help the new comers.

on my computer it will say posted by ... on .... then a line and a purple "link" i never get anything when i click on that "link.

i was the one who typed in all caps before, sorry.
sqk

David Quidnunc   Link to this

Ideas for new annotations pages:

Theatre -- Pepys will see a lot of plays in the course of the diary, and he'll see them at more than a dozen locations around London. I think at least the more popular venues should have their own pages, and probably the several playwrights that he sees again and again: Shakespeare, Dryden, Orrery, Jonson, Beaumont & Fletcher are some. Come to think of it, I'm not actually sure what we'd post on those pages. Maybe a bit of information on the authors and the plays.

Health category (it takes up three and a half pages in Latham's index volume): ague, the plague, physicians and surgeons, smallpox, gout, pregnancy and births, remedies and treatments, miscellaneous ailments.

Executions.

Books that Pepys reads.

A "further reading suggestions" page could be set up for books or magazine articles that we recommend.

Jobs and Professions Category: Servants, Lawyers, teachers?, government clerks?, seamen, maids in waiting (at court), turners?, joiners?

Government bodies and agencies: The Exchequer (we have that as a location now), Excise office, House of Commons, House of Lords, Privy Council?, Council of State, Lord Chancellor.

The Money category (if it's worth setting up as a category) should be broken into at least two pages: English currency units and prices.

Glyn   Link to this

I'm amazed at the way the number of annotations is mushrooming, especially by so many new people. So I understand that you need to lay down ground-rules before it's too late.

But I have three points:

QUESTIONS: Please don't ban them. If someone is puzzled about something then how else will they find out the information? It's also likely that numerous other people will be puzzled by the same things but will be too timid to ask about them. I think it's rather like being able to read a difficult book and immediately be able to ask a friendly teacher what's going on, without feeling shy or foolish.

Also these questions may seem too trivial to be important but yet be baffling to the listener, especially in view of the very wide range of readers you have here. For instance, a Londoner may know that the Tower of London is only a short stroll from the City of London, but some schoolkid in (say) Arizona might not understand that.

CHATTER I can see why you would need to ban it, otherwise information tends to get swamped. But it's a pity because, as one of the principal culprits, I would miss it - it gives me a picture of each of the contributors.

Perhaps we could arrange a compromise? Both would need someone else to share the workload with Phil though.

(a) Either establish a separate link for some sort of MESSAGE BOARD (not a chatroom)where such messages could be posted directly or else could be transferred from the Diary. Does anyone have the facilities or expertise to do this?

(b) Or leave all messages exactly as they are for about one month - Then get Phil (or someone that he nominates) to trawl through them and delete all those messages that are obviously out-of-date or that will be of no interest to new readers.

But in either case I am suggesting Other People should do work rather than myself, so these are only very diffident suggestions.

LINKS etc. I think I disagree with many of the other contributors. It's very easy simply to cut-and-paste entries from other books, but I'd prefer people to try and explain things in their own words. For sometimes the 17th-century verbiage in these pasted documents is totally incomprehensible to me.

But in immediate contradiction to that, some of the links that have been provided have been superb: I am particularly thinking of SUSANNA'S ancient maps of London site. (You can actually see the gallows marked out at Tyburn - triangular to hang 24 people at a time!)

Anyway, that's my stream of consciousness contribution to the debate. Congratulations as always on a terrific (and future award-winning?) site

Larry Bunce   Link to this

I like the combination of chatty and truly informative comments on this site. It has occurred to me that we will be here until 2009, so the volume will get out of hand. One possibility is for someone to set up a Yahoo email chat group where regulars to this site could chat, freeing up this site for serious historical research. Pepys' Diary is fun just on the surface as a bit of time travel, allowing us to glimpse life in 17th century London without the down side of life in those days, but without annotations, we of the 21st century read Sam's words about the way I read French.

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

A simple solution?

Talk of various areas for different types of discussions and posts seems needlessly complex to me and, as others have pointed out, could take away a lot of the charm and value of the interaction that we currently have going.

I propose a simple solution: Create a FAQ section. The section would have various headers (such as Money, Dress, Politics, etc.), and the answers (such as the breakdown of monetary units) would reside on a page that you'd get to by clicking on the appropriate FAQ header.

Then, you simply have a reminder above the "Annotate this entry" area to first check the FAQ to see if your question's already been answered.

I think Eric's suggestion to call the annotations "Readers' Annotations" is a good one, as is Kevin's suggestion to create a process to "promote" an annotation to a permanent entry as a FAQ.

Of course, this would require someone to compile and post the FAQs ... sorry, Phil. Maybe, to take some pressure off you, you'd want to share this duty?

Derek   Link to this

Thanks, Phil, for pointing me to the discussion here. I hadn

Andrea   Link to this

FAQ

I think with a FAQ section this site would loose quite a lot of the spontaneity, which is what I love about it. Sometimes one only has a few minutes but got hooked on a subject - do you really want to read through a whole list of FAQs?

It's the mixture of thoughts, chatter and facts which makes this site enjoyable. Quite often I prefer the comments which give a bit of info mixed with little stories - that's how I remember stuff. It's often not the huge quotation but the little snippet of knowledge which is the real revelation.

I also think it would be quite nice if the annotations could stay below the diary entry as they come in for a while (2 weeks or so) because one gets a real feel for how the discussions went...

Roger Miller   Link to this

I'm just wondering what it going to be like five years on when someone asks for the 752nd time how many pence there were in a pound or whatever.

Perhaps a 'new readers start here' page would be helpful with a resum

Phil   Link to this

Phew, thanks for all the comments. I'll try and answer as many points as possible without going on for too long...

Promoting annotations: This kind of feature could be useful but it would require transferring annotations from Movable Type to some kind of forums system. When I built the site I was only anticipating around 5% of the number of annotations we have and Movable Type is fine for this. But we're certainly testing its limits on this site! It's only really geared for commenting, rather than lengthy discussions.

Different kinds of diary entry annotations: I'm not in favour of this as I think it will make pages more confusing for a relatively small gain. Technically it could also be tricky. I'm hoping that an expanded section of background pages with annotations will remove the need for some of the current annotations, such as repeated questions.

Making diary entry annotations more obvious: I don't want to change the links to "Discussions" as this changes the tone and only encourages more chatter. Some chatter is fine and often fascinating, but the site isn't really able to cope, in many ways, with huge discussions. "Reader Annotations" might work. Or I'm still thinking about making the front page of the site only contain the current entry, with annotations, with a link to the previous entry.

Background pages: Thanks for the category suggestions David -- great stuff. Some people asked for an FAQ, and this is the purpose of these pages. To hold information that will come up over and over, leaving diary entry annotations more open for topical and less repetitive matters. I'm thinking of putting links to the pages in the right-hand column, below any diary entry footnotes. This way the topics will always be obvious to anyone reading the entry.

Annotations on the background pages: Because the pages will be useful for the duration of the diary I do want to limit the annotations somehow to prevent the pages becoming overwhelming. I have no intention of deleting annotations from diary entries, but a policy of removing questions (after they've been answered) and only leaving useful info/links on the background pages would probably work.

Another general discussion forum: I've considered this since the beginning, but I'm wary of separating any discussion from the site and the content it's referring to (whether it's diary entries, people, places, etc). On the one hand I don't want to inhibit discussion, but on the other I don't want to risk losing valuable information and thoughts in a separate forum or email list.

I hope that all makes sense... feel free to post more thoughts!

Paul Miller   Link to this

I think perhaps waiting awhile before making to many radical changes might be wise. As months pass and the publicity about the site dies down the number of annotaters may slow down and fix some current problems.

Phil   Link to this

I know exactly what you mean Paul, but I think many of these changes would be of use (and wouldn't be too much work) even if/when traffic and annotations drop off dramatically.

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

I think you're on the right track, Phil.

Using the background pages as "a beginner's resource" (to paraphrase Roger), where beginners can easily find the answers to frequently asked questions, and making access to these pages easier by posting the links under the footnotes would IMO help a lot. I also think some judicious editing of annotations on the background pages, as you describe, would also be perfectly appropriate.

Richard Lathom   Link to this

The most important change proposed (IMHO) are the FAQ/background/beginner pages because this promises to slay the dragon of irritation caused by questions that have been answered repeatedly. I agree with Phil that annotations (or your preferred term for them) should remain mostly wide-open for all comers. I second the suggestion that part of the annotation form be a note asking that the FAQ (or whatever it ends up being called) be searched for previous answers before posting.

D Menchaca   Link to this

I heartily agree that there needs to be a "New Readers Start Here" link prominently displayed. I also think that Phil's idea of deleting questions that have been asked and answered many times is a good one, as long as the useful answers stay -- the beginning of the turkey questioning was fun, now we've got the leftover bits in the back of the fridge waiting to be tossed out.
IMO the beginner's page should explain in more detail how the site works, with a gentle warning to check a separate searchable FAQ page ("Pepys's World"?) which would be broken out under the categories already mentioned (and I'm sure some more to come). Phil -- most of us don't know the technical limitations of the site -- if there isn't capacity for long discussions, maybe the most interested parties should set up a discussion group linked to the diary. The chatters there could then glean the useful contributions and post them to the site to make sure no info is lost.
It seems there is a core group of contributors forming here -- let us know what we can do (yes I read the how to help monetarily page...), but some of us must have time and labor to give as well if you need.

steve h   Link to this

First, appreciation for all you've done. This site is already taking up a good amount of my time -- it must devouring yours. I think you last post here was right on target. As this site is addictive for many of us, I expect the chatter to keep growing, so a rational way of handling it would be important now. It's nice day by day, but gets in the way of rereading older annotations.

I'll volunteer tiem to help you in any way I can.

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