Commentpress lets readers comment on each paragraph of a document or respond in-line to other comments. Developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book, it is a terrific way for writers to solicit and track critiques of their work, from either a controlled or open group of readers:

Annotate, gloss, workshop, debate: with Commentpress you can do all of these things on a finer-grained level, turning a document into a conversation. It can be applied to a fixed document (paper/essay/book etc.) or to a running blog.

The documentation for CommentPress  (written using Commentpress) shows how documents can be structured (title page, table of contents, pages, posts, numbering, etc.) and is a great resource once you’ve got the tool up and running.

Getting Started with CommentPress

CommentPress is a WordPress plugin. To get started, activate CommentPress Core on the Commons. Once activated, your theme will automatically switch to the CommentPress Modern theme. We recommend using this theme.  (Your other choices are the Default CommentPress theme and the Flat CommentPress theme.)

CommentPress will only work with themes created by CommentPress.

If you deactivate CommentPress Core, your theme will switch back to the Commons default theme (currently, Twenty-Twelve).

To configure CommentPress, go to Settings>>Commentpress. Be sure to check the box to “Create All Special Pages.” All the other default settings are fine to begin with. You can always come back to the setting page to fine tune your site. By default, CommentPress uses pages as chapters for its Table of Contents.

Readers may comment on an entire page or post, or on a specific paragraph within the page or post. There is no approval process for comments, but members must supply their name and email address (and optionally, their website’s URL) to comment. To avoid spam, make sure to install and configure Akismet or some other spam filter. To control the pool of responders, you might want to set up your site as private, and invite the readers you want to join.

A CommentPress Example

by Mitchell Stephens, Professor of Journalism, New York University

“This paper is designed to be a conversation. I am presenting a collection of some of the more controversial ideas from the early chapters of my book on the history of disbelief. The ideas are organized loosely around a single theme: the Roman leader Pompey’s forced entry into the most sacred place of the Jewish temple. At issue are the origins and prevalence of doubt, even at the heart of religion.

The paper is also an experiment. The Institute for the Future of the Book has devised a new format, through which readers can engage with me and with each other, directly alongside the text. This site is a rough prototype. Each of the paper’s twelve sections has a dynamic margin to the right of the text. There, you can post responses to individual paragraphs, and also annotate the text with links and references to related materials. … “

Ivanhoe is a game in which players take on roles within or around a shared text. Through those roles, players embody a position, and by making moves from that position, expose myriad adjacent possible understandings. Ivanhoe grew out of dissatisfaction with limitations inherent in existing forms of critical interpretation. Performing one’s perspective encourages playful engagement with the shared texts as well as with other players.”

Getting Started

  • Create a site on the Commons and install the Ivanhoe Theme.
  • Select a common text (for example: Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw) or a current or historical event
  • Create a game (i.e. “The Turn of the Screw”)
  • Invite your students to join your Ivanhoe site
  • Have students read the text(s)
  • Have students pick a role
  • Start playing…

Players can use text, images, or videos to enhance their moves.  They can keep journals to rationalize their characters’ actions.

“The first mature Ivanhoe Game was played on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. (See an excerpt of the original game!) The players assumed roles, made moves, evaluated each other’s moves, assigned points, and kept role journals for reflection. More than simply fan-fiction, the game was designed to generate insight into a literary work by asking players to take an active role in the rewriting of the text (see Drucker and Rockwell, “Reflections on the Ivanhoe Game” in TEXT Technology 2003).”

The Ivanhoe theme has great documentation to further explain how to play the game.

Under the hood, the Ivanhoe theme creates four custom post types: Moves, Games, Roles, and Journals.  Once you use the WP Dashboard to create the game, all the action happens on the front end of the site.  Players “Make a Move” and provide their rationale for the move.  Colleagues “Add to Move” by responding – often questioning the character’s language and motivation.

A project created by University of Virginia’s Library Praxis Program and Scholars’ Lab, Ivanhoe can “uncover alternative narratives and readings by intervening directly in the text: adding to it, reordering the plot, or deleting scenes or characters.”

Students are challenged to get inside the head of a character and understand how s/he thinks and makes decisions.  They use the characters’ strengths and weaknesses to re-imagine hypothetical or real situations.  Writing is enlivened when students collaborate, perform, and reflect using Ivanhoe!

For an example of Ivanhoe being used on the Commons, see Jeff Allred’s English 494 at Hunter College in Spring 2017 called “Blackness and Inscription.”  Students transform some of Charles Chesnutt’s “conjure tales” from the 1890s into an Ivanhoe game.  See screenshot below:






What’s a Responsive Theme?

Responsive themes use fluid layouts, flexible images and media queries to make your site look and act great on a variety of devices.  Sidebars and navigation menus collapse gracefully, and retain functionality.  Approach designs vary, and you should check out how each theme handles display when real estate becomes narrow.  Many themes provide live demos that show how a site would look if the width was very narrow.  On a desktop, you can experiment by narrowing the browser window for these themes to see how they respond.

See more about Responsive Design.


Responsive Themes Available on the Common?

To find all our responsive themes, go to Appearances >> Themes on your blog dashboard and search our installed themes for “responsive.”  Most of our current theme selections.  If you have questions about the theme you are using, try minimizing the display width and see if you like the way your content displays.  If not, maybe try a more modern theme.


Themes control the look and feel of your WordPress site.  When you first create a site, you pick a site template and that template controls which theme is automatically activated. No matter what template you choose, you can still change your theme at any time by going to Appearance > Themes.

Thousands of themes have been developed for WordPress, and the Commons provides a small subset of those to choose from. We try to ensure our themes are up to date and look good on all devices, but we also ask that when you select a theme, make sure it is designed to responsively fit your content to smaller displays.

With such a variety, how can you choose the right theme for your site? One way is to simply page through the selections and preview ones that look good. When you are shopping around for themes, there is a preview button available which simulates what you’ll get. If you like it, simply click to activate.

When you go to Appearance > Themes, there is a search box:

All the metadata the theme developer(s) have provided for the theme can filter our themes. Try “two column,” “three columns,” “magazine,” “photo”, “journal”, or “parallax” search terms and see what themes show up.

Another option is to look at other sites on the Commons. If you find one that you really like, scroll down to the bottom and find its name. (If you can’t find its name, go to view source and search for the  “/theme” and you should be able to discover its name.  Then go back to the Appearance > Theme tab and search for that name.

Customization and Personalization

Don’t want your site to look like someone else’s? Some themes offer additional configuration options on the dashboard, including ways to change pictures, logos, and fonts. Each theme offers at least one way to customize it by manually overriding its CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). This “Custom CSS” option is not for everyone, and requires some knowledge of the way CSS is used to “style” HTML. But if you find a theme that you really like, but don’t like the background color or the font, you can use this method to modify it to your liking.

Adding A Theme For Your Site

If you purchase a premium theme and want to use it on your site, please contact us. If the theme doesn’t present any security issues, we can install it for your site only. The same is true of free themes and child themes – we will work with you to validate the theme, and install it for your site only.