Monday 10th March 2003

So it seems some people don’t want a discussion forum at all, and some think it might be a good idea. Given there appears to be little immediate demand, it seems a good idea to take a step back and look at what annotations should be. Having done that we can decide if our guidelines leave out other kinds of commentary that deserve an alternate home.

Previously, Pauline suggested some guidelines that seem a suitable starting point for discussion:

  • Every typed annotation does not need to be sent/posted. It can be selected and deleted.
  • “I” statements should be very brief and very related to the entry.
  • Personal experience examples should be infrequent and limited to one sentence of few words, and preferrably be wry, very funny, or moderately disgusting.
  • Quoted material should be briefly referenced, placed in quotes, and edited down to the information you want to present. Link can be included.
  • Avoid copying more than a few pertinent words of the diary entry you are annotating into your annotation.

Is there anything you would add to this? Anything you don’t agree with? I would add some kind of guideline about a suggested maximum length for annotations — not a maximum number of words as there’s no quick way to count them, but perhaps a number of paragraphs (I previously suggested 2-3). And I’d add that a space should be left either side of a link to ensure it works as expected. Other than that… over to you!

44 Comments

Phil   Link to this

Oh, and I'll add something saying that annotations may be edited or deleted by the moderator (me) where appropriate. Talking of which, I'll probably go back to January's annotations soonish and prune them for the sake of brevity and clarity.

john s.   Link to this

Phil,
Think your last, ie pruning, very good as it allows for a certain give and take, perhaps evan wit, knowing that it won't mar the project for the future. Like the goat's head...while fun at the time, doesn't need to travel down through the ages.

Keith Wright   Link to this

Hint: I find it helpful to compose a note on a separate page, where you can see how much you've written---then Copy and Paste it in this window---then preview it to correct those typos or mistakes or redundancies overlooked in the heat of composition---and only then post.
This won't guarantee brilliance, or a permanent addition to knowledge, but it will do other readers a favor.

language hat   Link to this

I don't understand the first point:
"Every typed annotation does not need to be sent/posted. It can be selected and deleted."
What does this mean? Simply that we can have second thoughts before hitting Post?

Phil   Link to this

I think that's the case LH, yes (correct me if I'm wrong Pauline!). Not an essential guideline, but something that would encourage future annotators to consider their postings and not dash them off on the spur of the moment might be handy?

Pauline   Link to this

"...I don

Paul Miller   Link to this

Guideline emphasis on brevity of annotation will help. Discussion groups are a dime a dozen on the web and should be marked "Here Be Dragons" as the old cartographers were wont to inscribe on maps.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

"People" annotations

Should we make an explicit exception to the length guideline for the "People" posts that I and sometimes others are putting up to identify the people mentioned in the daily entries?

The only comments I've gotten on them are positive, so I've been assuming that just about everybody thinks they're acceptable essentially as is -- but please tell me if I'm wrong.

When there are six or eight or even ten people in one annotation, it will inevitably be longer than a normal three paragraphs.

(Incidentally, from now on, I plan on only doing them myself on dates ending in 1 or 5, and I'm hoping others will take up the slack.)

It's probably not necessary to make this explicit in the guidelines, but if you think so, how 'bout these words:
-- Annotations identifying a list of people in a daily entry may often be longer than three paragraphs, although identification of each person should be brief. More extended comments can be made in separate annotations.

I really just want to know if this type of annotation should be considered an exception to the length guideline or if I should be keeping even "People" posts shorter.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

I can't cut and paste into the annotation box. Maybe it's because I'm on AOL. I didn't even know anybody else could do that. I am green with envy. Chartreuse, even.

language hat   Link to this

"People":
David, I think it's extremely unlikely that anyone would object to your People posts. They're not rambling, they're as long as they need to be to get everyone in, and it would be silly to break them up into separate posts to suit an arbitrary rule. Keep 'em coming (well, every few days, that is...).

Pauline   Link to this

Hhomeboy   Link to this

All this middle school rules stuff sounds fine re: annotations...which, btw, means plenty of text re-editing work for the moderator or his minions.

I'd be much happier to see annotations purged after say 60 days and lots of things consistently and deftly transferred into background postings with additional words and names in the posted diary text UPDATED whereby extra words in the older entries receive new blue, background section links...

But the joy of using this site for me is to read it with the fresh annotations--so while I'm reading it, the more the merrier is my motto...after 60 days, I don't give a damn as I've had my fun and there is no way this site will ever be confused witha scholarly hypertext.

Having said that, I want to take a whack at all you frustrated class monitors out there....pithy posts for pithy points are great...but the best stuff in L&M is often fairly lengthy; as for someone with blinkers on attempting to adjudicate relevance or tangentiality, look at the recent posts about groats...by Arwel Parry...

http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1660/03/07/#ann...

...you will appreciate the details and the sharply original synthesis he put together to make a better thumbnail explanation of mints and coinage circa 1600-1680 than I've ever read anywhere...which then caused KVK to weigh in with another "tangential" but terrifically well-read explanation of the hypocrisy of the parliament and its official stance toward the king--an impromptu, thoroughly cogent political science lesson which evolved from the 'chemistry' (alchemy???) achieved via the groats Q that day (a Q which had been asked before re: prior diary entries with less satisfying or accurate answers forthcoming)...this was then followed by the coinage circulation Q 'n 'A--ie. 'spontaneous scholarship at its best and really energizing to watch and experience a series of epiphanies from having asked a couple of basic questions, which were, in turn, prompted from reading a prior post in a quotidian diary annotation string....ie. this is how 'interactivity' is achieved--interfere in a heavy-handed or narrow-minded fashion and you kill the chemistry/alchemy/spontaneity, which have been the qualities lauded variously in these discussions by Keith Wright, Pauline, Glyn, DQ and other 'quality' posters, who together and in uncontrollable, unpredictable permutations & combinations have spun pure gold here...'Great stuff and even better than what Phil had expected might ensue from his original 'novelty' concept.

Finally, all vibrant democracies are bright shining lights because the majority feels secure in the knowledge that minority rights are always equally respected/protected...so don't get hung up about what is the majority view here as its most often the minority view which gets overrepresented in chat forum exchanges....

...Since several of the women who have contributed valuable insights to these deliberations e-mailed me (only 1 to berate me) first, I encouraged people of either gender to go back and try to persuade Phil to listen sensitively and with an entirely open mind to their sincerely expressed points of view...I bring this up only because I made an awkward reference to "fellow" posters "which included women" and have received a lot of grief because I tried to qualify the word 'fellow' so as to negate any purely masculine connotations....

N.B. fair warning: if Quid Nunc's Cavaliers vs. Puritans dula-mode concept is not implemented, I shall steal it for sure!

Pauline   Link to this

"...middle school rules stuff..."
Oh, not rules. "Guidelines" suggests leeway and discretion. The groat interchange is a good example of what we don't want to lose.

Yes, the "best stuff" we quote in or paraphrase may be lengthy, but that is a different category than our personal reactions. The personal stuff works best when it is quick and when it engages a return response. You have described this very well in "spontaneous scholarship at its best and really energizing to watch and experience a series of epiphanies from having asked a couple of basic questions, which were, in turn, prompted from reading a prior post in a quotidian diary annotation string.

Esme   Link to this

Please make giving an email address (or at least having it appear on the website) optional. I feel bad about giving a dummy email, but I really don't need more spam.

Simone   Link to this

"Cavaliers vs. Puritans"
A lot of people liked this idea, and I've been thinking of ways it could be implemented. The simplest would be a form of tagging, i.e. the first "word" of the annotation could be a [C] or [P] tag to indicate the type of annotation.

Obviously I'm not suggesting that this should be rigidly adhered to, but for regular posters / readers it may be useful.

The background info pages still seem under-used. The "groats posts" referred to above were valuable, but could be even more valuable if posted to the money background info section with a note on the main entry page saying they were there.

Phil   Link to this

Esme: I completely understand, but I'm afraid Movable Type requires an email address. However, some people do disguise their address. For example I could enter something like phil@NOSPAMgyford.com. Humans should be able to work out the real address OK.

Phil   Link to this

Hhomeboy: As Pauline said - these are guidelines, not rules, so there will always be welcome exceptions (such as David's People postings). The guidelines are more for people who aren't familiar with the customs of the site's old hands.

Unfortunately it is a laborious process for me to copy/move annotations to Background pages so I won't be doing it often; it's down to annotators to put things in appropriate places I'm afraid.

I think you're saying there are plenty of people who want a separate discussion forum. I have a completely open mind and am happy to be convinced of the need for one. But so far more people have said they'd prefer to keep things as they are.

Glyn   Link to this

I agree with all of Pauline's suggestions EXCEPT those to do with limiting comments based on personal experience. I think that would swing matters too far towards the academic study of the diary.

I find it interesting to see how people relate their diaries to their own modern lives. To take some examples from other contributors: Monday morning still being the regular day for washing laundry; how to kill turkeys on farms when a child; eating fritters in Malaysia and how they differ from pancakes.

All would fall foul of Pauline's rule, and many contributors and historians would consider these trivial, but I find that they all enhance the text and should not be discouraged - and I would imagine that they would also do so for any teenage or school-age readers as well.

Glyn   Link to this

Simone and others have suggested that the Background Pages seem under-used, or sparse at present. Surely that's a inevitable consequence of being only 3 months into a 10 year project, and nothing to be concerned about. Later arrivals will contribute their own expertise and knowledge when they arrive on the site.

For example, I researched three annotations about Pepys pubs in Westminster - I'm now badgering some CAMRA friends to research Pepys pubs that were in the City of London. They might not contribute for several months if at all, but eventually someone will. This site is a very useful historical resource, bringing a lot of disparate threads together. No need to fill links unnecessarily early.

maureen   Link to this

Message for Hhomeboy - why this obsession with the gender of the contributor? As far as I know NONE of us is operating a computer with her/his genitalia.

If it's just sloppy thinking then it should be edited out before posting. If it is full-blown misogyny then it is a grave discourtesy to all readers.

Simone   Link to this

"Sparse backgrounds"
I in no way meant to imply that I think the background info section is sparse. On the contrary I am overwhelmed at the amount of information already available. The mind boggles to think what a treasure-trove it will be in 10 years time!!!

I was referring to the fact that annotations to daily diary entries often contain those that may have been more appropriately posted in the relevant background section.

Laura K   Link to this

"All this middle school rules stuff"

"all you frustrated class monitors out there"

I was under the impression that personal insults were no longer being tolerated on this site.

I think each annotator/reader should be able to express his or her opinion without including sarcastic characterizations of others.

If this unnecessary nastiness is tolerated, we'll go down the same path again and again.

And yes folks, I'm the (supposedly only) woman who emailed Hhby to berate him. I could not abide his insults to our esteemed host.

Emilio   Link to this

My 2 cents on BG postings
Annotations often do get put up in the diary that would be useful in the BG section - the problem is that the information will not be read by most viewers in the BG section. I speak from experience, having tried putting a couple of general entries in BG first, only to find the info being asked about and repeated in the diary a few weeks later.
This situation is inevitable as far as I can see - the diary is why people come to this site, and the BG pages will only be checked by the relatively few who want to go to the trouble to do further research. That's why it's up to all of us to take the trouble to PUT an annotation onto the correct BG page if we feel it belongs there. It can even be useful to use a diary annotation as a "rough draft" of what eventually goes up in BG - I've done this a time or two, and doing the diary annotation first gave me a better idea of how to get to the main point and where it belonged in BG.
I also want to emphasize w/ Glyn the sheer TIME it takes to put together a BG entry - w/ the research, the composing, and possibly the retyping of sources, they can often take quite a long time. I'm thus also knocked out by the sheer amount of effort people have put into filling out the BG pages so far - long may we all continue.

Emilio   Link to this

One more guideline
And while I'm here, one more suggestion before posting is that people scroll down to make sure someone else hasn't already posted your information in the time you took to compose it. There isn't a lot of duplicate information in the annotations, but it can be embarrassing to post your entry only to find a few moments later that you've been 'scooped' by someone else.
Checking this is also very easy, as the posting page gives you an up-to-the-moment list of all previous annotations below the posting field.

Keith Wright   Link to this

One intentional repetition:
Bylines at the head of postings would relieve many headaches.

Phil   Link to this

Yup, this will happen within the next week.

Hhomeboy   Link to this

Software issues:

One non-Pepysian learning experience I have appreciated fromthis site is Phil's impelementation of "movable type" which is still under development.

There are several site software suites out there which would deal with problems and desires expressed here:

eg. e-mail addresses available to moderator only (good netiquette) with private "inboxes" available so handles can leave each other messages anonymously...

Another feature that is highly desirable on a membership info viewing and password protected discussion site (which can automatically log you in because it reconizes yr. e-mail address) is the ability to designate some posters so that their posts are not visible to you--this is usually called an ignore feature and allows for personalized or preferential reading of info sources...if you join up (it's free) at Stockhouse.com, you'll see how this works.

By going the licensed software suite route, the webmaster can integrate all functions via the same site and/or server, which makes it much stickier and holds the interest/allegiance of members over time (and that is definitely a consideration re: Pepys blogiary adherents).

N.B. I've told Phil that one of the top-of-the line site software suite developers will be glad to offer him a complementary license in return brand badge plugs/links on his pages.

P.S. If so many like it the way things are but others are distracted/annoyed by some lengthy ruminations, then both camps will be hugely well served and wholly satisfied by David Quid Nunc's ingenious solution to my "bifurcation" suggestion...I like the viewing options choice of ying vs. yang--and they don't necessarily have to run side-by-each split columns format: the "puritan" annotations (with managed guidelines) could continue to run as Phil runs them now and the "cavaliers" could be accessed by hitting a link button placed below the entry and on the entry/annotations pages. Simple and accomodating to all.

Q.E.D.

Phil   Link to this

Yup, Movable Type isn't ideal for this site, given the number of annotations - it's never been intended for use with lengthy discussions. If I could have forseen so many annotations I'd have used another solution, but hindsight is perfect! While MT isn't perfect for us, it's OK.

BTW Hhomeboy, http://www.phpbb.com/ is a free solution that would require a minimum in the way of branding and cost (or being beholden to a commercial company).

The trouble with most potential solutions is the large amount of work involved. While I'd love to do the work, it would take a lot of time and so there would need to be a larger demand for a change than there appears to be at the moment.

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

re: BG postings and simplicity

Emilio, I wonder if a solution to the problem you describe would involve people first taking the time to create background entries and then, as the need presents itself, simply providing a link in appropriate day's annotations to the BG entry. That will save space in the annotations and will drive people toward the BG sections. Accompanying such annotations with a gentle reminder to use the search engine or check the BG sections before asking questions may also help increase use of those sections and cut down on the repetition of questions (though, due to the arrival of newcomers, we'll never get completely away from that).

Like you, I'm in awe of all the contributions people have made to the sections, and I think things will only get better and more comprehensive as time goes on.

As for Hhomeboy's suggestions about increased functionality, I'd suggest we strive for simplicity in all things. Yes, all these things *can* be done, but given contraints of time and energy, it seems to me that the better route is toward ease of use and access. Despite people's protestations to the contrary, I really don't think this thing is broke, so let's think twice before trying to fix it!

dichroic   Link to this

One further guideline suggestion: if you're only forwarding information that is contained in great detail elsewhere, don't cut and paste, just provide a link. Summarizing, of course, should be encaouraged (along with the link for those who want the detail) as should collating info that is scattered in various places.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

Length

Before the words "two to three paragraphs" in the guidelines should be the word "generally" or "usually" or the phrase "with occasional exceptions." There will and should be times -- not too often -- where we go beyond that length.

Background pages, which are almost always shorter than the daily pages, have much less of a problem with lengthy entries. For one thing, people looking at a background page presumably have more interest in the subject of the annotation. So I'd really rather have more leeway to post a longer annotation on one of those pages.

Most background annotations will be 2-3 paragraphs no matter what we say in the guidelines, but I don't think a string of annotations weighing in at 4-5 paragraphs is too much of a burden to scroll through on a background page -- together with an occasional longer annotation.

For the most part, people who go to background pages are hungry for information, and for the most part, especially this early in the game, people are disappointed. Let's encourage the enthusiastic annotators and not put anything in their way. Yes, an annotation at chapter length would be too much, so some guideline limit would be a good idea, in principle.

Extremely few background pages are likely to get very long, even over time.

Keith Wright   Link to this

To get the most out of the Background pages, the reader should seek out the Advanced or Complex Search function. Perhaps relabel the "Help" button? (Bigger button required!)

However, those working from the Companion or Index might also try to judge the best place for an explanation from the number of citations. For instance: paragon, the name of a fabric, mentioned a few days back, apparently appears just that one time. It seemed better to explain it right there, under the applicable entry, than to embed it in the Background, searchable though it is.

On March 6th, following up a discussion started by Martin K. Foys, KVK gave an excellent explanation of Pepys's repeated use of "in comes" (present tense) during a past-tense narration, complete with examples from Shakespeare. Might a "Language" page be a worthwhile Background addition for matters such as syntax, idioms, &c.?

Hhomeboy   Link to this

Phil...

My last post on this string...

I'll be charitable here and say that perhaps you overlooked my point...you can keep things as they are now, issue some annotations guidelines and just create a cavaliers option with link buttons on the entry and entry+annotations pages...almost no work--except tag and tree creation and formatting-- and both pros and cons are totally satisfied...

(Unless of course this 'debate' is really more of a symbolically charged 'who's in charge' tug of war or control issue...which, despite some innuendo posted, is certainly not my agenda; I just deplore censorship--especially when it's counterproductive to the overall mission...which, granted, may be different than what had been originally conceived--but then the site is already a good deal different, as you have cheerfully expressed.)

As we know, movable type will soon be issued in a 'pro' format and you could actually implement a membership/registration/check-in feature wih automatic log-ins which is separate from movable type.

Finally, if your time is as limited as you indicate, then it would make excellent project management sense to form an editorial board and really get a teamwork ethic going (with folks such as Pauline, Susanna, Glyn, LH, DQ, Graham T, Foys and others) wherein delegated individuals or small working groups of 2-3 could start task identification and then working directly on content organization (other than the diary entries), thereby getting more info resources online and avoiding the moderator as bottleneck syndrome.

Please note that I make these comments as someone who works as a project planning consultant and and as someone who sets up & then trains teams to do new-media product launches and roll-outs--ie. no slurs/slights intended.

Eric Walla   Link to this

I would like some input for the future ...

... as I'm not entirely sure how my posts ( as well as others) are read in the context of our suggested guidelines. My general take on Pepys has been to read the diary as literature, reacting (gleefully, in most cases) to the true ageless mirroring of life captured in the work. This certainly hasn't been a scholarly investigation on my part, and if this manner of reacting to our boy Sam is in fact a distraction I would be willing to refrain from posting in the future.

I guess it comes down, in large part, to a definition of what I consider my "in" into this process, "Rule #2" above: "Personal experience examples should be infrequent and limited to one sentence of few words, and preferrably be wry, very funny, or moderately disgusting." I find few people are accurate judges of their ability to be wry or humorous. Likewise, I would suggest I may have trouble distinguishing a post I consider both wry AND an addition to the diary entry at hand.

Thus my question: should I (and others like me) simply err on the side of caution, or continue to feel free to speak up? I would hate to think that several posters may decide to remove themselves from the process when that removal in fact may mark a downturn in the enjoyable nature of the experience.

Keith Wright   Link to this

May one demur against being too Puritanically self-denying about posting? If the bar of inhibition is raised too high, who’s going to risk saying anything? Of course, then the new Guidelines for Annotations could be greatly simplified to the single injunction: “Don’t.”
It would be a charmless prospect to do without the comments of those who, like Eric W., approach the Diary from the "human interest" angle: would Pepys be Pepys without it? Most folks who survive to the age of discretion develop a pretty good idea of the effect they’re having on others, and how it is being received. The only thing a site as civilized as this should reject is any persistent Spoiler of the social contract.
My view: judge where your words will work best on the site, consider your audience, write as well as you can, keep a sense of proportion (and humor), and post when the spirit genuinely moves.

Laura K   Link to this

I'm glad Eric Walla said that...

and I'd like to second what Keith Wright said in reply. I hope the comments on our human condition that the Diary inspires still are and will be welcome.

Todd Bernhardt   Link to this

Bravo, Keith.

I third your reply to Eric, and agree completely with your commonsense approach to, and advice about, the site.

David Quidnunc   Link to this

I'm with Cavaliers Eric & Keith, too

Yes, most folks have a pretty good idea of when they're becoming a burden in company. The most frequent problem with that, in my personal experience, is when people don't know when to conclude. So I agree with the principle of keeping it brief, even a bit briefer than more factual (scholarly/Puritan) annotations.

But the suggestion of "one sentence of few words" seems much too restrictive to me. I can't imagine anybody having real trouble scrolling past a paragraph or two. The guideline should only say, "Please keep annotations of personal reactions brief, the briefer the better" and the general 2-3 paragraph length guideline will take care of it.

We don't need to say "Personal experience examples should be infrequent." I don't think frequency is a problem.

We're right on the border of being too restrictive when we say "preferrably be wry, very funny or moderately disgusting." By the way, I think "ONLY moderately disgusting" was meant here, or "NO MORE THAN moderately disgusting." (There's a annotation toward the end of the Elizabeth Pepys page that would have benefited if the annotator had kept this in mind.)

There's also a definite value -- both in terms of entertainment and knowledge -- to annotations that keep us aware of how other human beings react to the experiences that Pepys writes about. I particularly like Eric Walla's and Todd Bernhardt's reactions and Michael Vincent's references to similar experiences. This kind of thing is a spice, of course, not a main dish, so I also appreciate the way they use it sparingly (that is, briefly).

David Bell   Link to this

Annotations in the long term...

I just hope that, whatever else happens, this site gets safely archived. Ten years from now, it may be as much of an historical document as Pepys original diary.

Pauline   Link to this

You know, my short list was put together elsewhere with the intent to hold some line of humor in the midst of a fracas and to doggedly stay "on topic." Here they are being taken too literally. They were quite personal and to be quite general they would very much bloom out to take in all the things you all are saying about liking the way the annotations have worked. I like things the way they have worked.

Keith's view at 2:23pm are great. And his is the spirit in which my views were written.

Nix   Link to this

At this point, I think the fewer "guidelines" the better -- this is an awfully good website and forum, and part of the fun is watching it evolve. If it gets so popular as to be unwieldy -- 100 posts per day -- then there will be problems to deal with. But at 20-30 posts per day, it is still manageable. One possible improvement would be to have a topic line on annotations (especially if the volume increases). But the blend of scholarly resources, personal experiences, educated speculations, etc. is really fascinating. I emphatically oppose a 60-day purging -- this dialogue will be the basis for someone's PhD thesis someday!

Phil   Link to this

Nix: I think 20-30 is too many annotations myself (although not always), but maybe that's just me! *Some* guidelines will be valuable, if only so anyone new can't complain too much when they get told off for posting a 1000 word rant about their pet topic! But it'll be a guide, not rules.

I think a 60-day purge (or whatever) would help a PhD student an awful lot if any obviously useless annotations are removed (I know, "useless" is subjective).

Keith Wright   Link to this

Might volunteer Quidnuncs (thank you, David) adopt an "orphan"---a person with a page to their name but no text as yet---especially the lesser-known folk---and provide a basic blurb, which could be added to, as the Diary or further research permits?
Nothing proprietary, to be sure; but having made a start with Luellin, another of the Council Clerks, I shall be watching out for him---he turns up again next month when Sam . . . .

PHE   Link to this

Ow - I think I've got a headache!

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