The living text

A living text is one that attracts and becomes surrounded with living activity. Societies of humans annotate them, discuss them, even live by their ideas. The Qur'an, the Bible, etc. are living texts par excellence. Some would say they're too alive.

The web provides collaborative tools that can create the structure upon which a living text can thrive, thereby "leveling the field" for more numerous and diverse texts to come alive.

Content management systems can be specialized into collaborative, or social, book annotation systems. Here are some of the specialized features:

  • The ability to store the original text and to display it
  • The ability to create conversations that contain references to hierarchical subdivisions of the text
  • Tools to index and search the text
  • The ability to store translations of the text and display them in conjunction with the original
  • The ability to attach semantic annotations (classifications, notes, etc.) to any unit of text
  • A bibliography component
  • Linguistic tools

Each of these features obviously needs significant drill-down. Some of the existing systems I've seen that fulfill part of this vision (as part of their own vision) are ironically (and perhaps not surprisingly) centered around religious text: BibleWebApp, Tanzil Quran Navigator, the Qurani Arabic Corpus, and more.

None of these however offers the social annotation aspect which I think is crucial to bring the text to life - to be fair these texts are already alive and well. That said, this level of democratic annotation might rejuvenate the debate surrounding them.