Abstract and Figures

Prominent among the social developments that the web 2.0 has facilitated is digital social reading (DSR): on many platforms there are functionalities for creating book reviews, ‘inline’ commenting on book texts, online story writing (often in the form of fanfiction), informal book discussions, book vlogs, and more. In this article, we argue that DSR offers unique possibilities for research into literature, reading, the impact of reading and literary communication. We also claim that in this context computational tools are especially relevant, making DSR a field particularly suitable for the application of Digital Humanities methods. We draw up an initial categorization of research aspects of DSR and briefly examine literature for each category. We distinguish between studies on DSR that use it as a lens to study wider processes of literary exchange as opposed to studies for which the DSR culture is a phenomenon interesting in its own right. Via seven examples of DSR research, we discuss the chosen approaches and their connection to research questions in literary studies.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Digital humanities and digital
social reading
............................................................................................................................................................
Correspondence:
Simone Rebora.
E-mail:
simone.rebora@univr.it
*These authors contributed
equally to this work.
Simone Rebora
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of
Verona, Italy; Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland
Peter Boot *
Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands, Amsterdam,
Netherlands
Federico Pianzola *
Department of Human Sciences for Education, University of Milan-
Bicocca, Italy; Sogang University, Seoul, South Korea
Brigitte Gasser
Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland
J. Berenike Herrmann
Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland; Faculty of
Linguistics and Literary Studies, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Maria Kraxenberger
Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland
Moniek M. Kuijpers
Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland
Gerhard Lauer
Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland
Piroska Lendvai
Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland
Thomas C. Messerli
Digital Humanities Lab, University of Basel, Switzerland
Pasqualina Sorrentino
Department of German Philology, University of Go¨ttingen, Germany
......................................................................................................................................
Abstract
Prominent among the social developments that the web 2.0 has facilitated is digital
social reading (DSR): on many platforms there are functionalities for creating book
Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Vol. 36, Supplement 2, 2021. V
CThe Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of E ADH.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/),
which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
doi:10.1093/llc/fqab020
ii230
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reviews, ‘inline’ commenting on book texts, online story writing (often in the form
of fanfiction), informal book discussions, book vlogs, and more. In this article, we
argue that DSR offers unique possibilities for research into literature, reading, the
impact of reading and literary communication. We also claim that in this context
computational tools are especially relevant, making DSR a field particular ly suitable
for the application of Digital Humanities methods. We draw up an initial categor-
ization of research aspects of DSR and briefly examine literature for each category.
We distinguish between studies on DSR that use it as a lens to study wider processes
of literary exchange as opposed to studies for which the DSR culture is a phenom-
enon interesting in its own right. Via seven examples of DSR research, we discuss
the chosen approaches and their connection to research questions in literary
studies.
....................................................................................................................................................................... ..........
1Introduction
Over the last decades, with growing digitization and
the fast-paced development of social media platforms,
reading has become a more socially interactive experi-
ence than ever before, in which the Internet plays a key
role. Platforms such as Goodreads, LovelyBooks, and
Wattpad are online environments where millions of
people from all over the world share their love for the
written word. Members discuss what they read and
what they judge as good or bad literature, they recom-
mend books to one another, and try their hand at
writing fiction. In the research community, this phe-
nomenon has been labelled in many different ways
(online book discussions, online reading and writing,
(online) social reading, etc.). In our study, we propose
the term digital social reading (DSR) for shared read-
ing experiences which happen either online or offline
but involve some use of digital technology and media,
either for reading or for sharing experiences elicitedby
books. While this label disregards some key aspects of
the phenomenon (e.g., the extensive writing activity in
DSR communities), it still catches the determinant
role of social interactions around the experience of
reading, which are visible through DSR practices
and platforms. Readers on the Web are increasingly
becoming ‘wreaders’ (Landow, 2006), and scholars of
literature are starting to recognize their centrality in
the global system of literary production (Miall, 2018).
One of the first publications exploring the extent of
DSR is by Leveratto and Leontsini (2008), who noted
how the Internet has enabled a whole range of social
interactions revolving around reading. After a series of
articles that highlighted the relevance of DSR for lit-
erary studies (Schreier, 2010;Boot, 2011;Nakamura,
2013), the first extensive survey was accomplished by
Cordo´n-Garcı´a et al. (2013),whodescribed‘social
reading’ by highlighting the increased relevance of
readers and even proposing a connection with the
‘Gutenberg parenthesis’ theory, which sees print
books as just a phase between ancient and modern
(or digital) forms of orality. More recently, Murray
(2018b) coined the term ‘digital literary sphere’, refer-
ring to Genette’s concept of paratext (Genette, 1987)
to locate its characteristic niche, generally ‘in the
(digital) margins’ of books. In national contexts, be-
yond anglophone countries (e.g., Finn, 2013;Barnett,
2015;Thomas, 2020), DSR has received specific atten-
tion in a few other contexts, such as Italy (Faggiolani
and Vivarelli, 2016), Germany (Bartl and Behmer,
2017), and Spanish speaking countries (Cruces
Villalobos, 2017;Centro National de Innovacio´n e
Investigacio´ n Educativa, 2019;Cordo´ n-Garcı´a and
Go´mez-Dı´az, 2019).
Theimportanceofonlinebookdiscussionforrecep-
tion studies was argued by Montesi (2015),whodis-
cusses how social reading sites can show the impact of
books – on readers individually as well as on society at
large. Reading platforms and readers themselves are also
relevant objects of study (i.e., their personal libraries
and their social relations). Rehfeldt (2017) rejects the
tendency of researchers to consider online book reviews
a defective version of literary criticism (cf. Hugendick,
2008) and argues that lay reviews are better than pro-
fessional reviews in showing the effect of the book on
thereader,sinceusersfeelnoneedtobeobjective.
Digital humanities and digital social reading
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In the remainder of this article, we will discuss the
state of the art of DSR research by referring to seven
current case studies. In the first part, we propose a
categorization of DSR research by identifying ten
dominant categories; for each category, we discuss
the disciplines or fields which are studying it (or
may find useful to study it). In the second part, we
present seven case studies conducted by our research
team in correspondence with the categorization.
Together, the case studies highlight the vital role
that Digital Humanities can and should play in the
study of DSR.
2Categorizing DSR Research
Several taxonomies have been proposed for DSR. The
first was by Stein (2010), who identifies four defining
dichotomies in book discussions, which can be used to
categorize types of DSR: online vs. offline; synchron-
ous vs. asynchronous; formal vs. informal; and
ephemeral vs. persistent. A more practical taxonomy,
from the perspective of literary criticism, was given by
Ernst (2015), who focuses on online literary criticism,
distinguishing between online presence of print
media, born online individual criticism (such as
blogs), and social media-based criticism, which he,
in turn, divides into multiple categories. Much more
fine-grained is the taxonomy by Kutzner et al. (2019),
which takes into consideration a total of fifteen
dimensions, from the cultural artefact (print book,
e-book, audiobook, etc.), to the presence/absence of
off-topic communication, the type of author/reviewer
gratification, and many others. These taxonomies can
account for most of the practices and platforms that
have emerged in recent years. However, one of their
main limitations is that they use a purely descriptive
approach that misses some important dimensions of
social reading: first, the impact that DSR has on the
wider cultural and social context; second, the disci-
plines involved in studying these aspects. To fill this
gap, we propose a categorization that groups the stud-
ies on DSR into ten different categories that reflect the
most relevant aspects of DSR.
For each category, we identify the scholarly discip-
line or field with which it is associated (Fig. 1).
Research in each category can either be on DSR itself
or use DSR as a lens to study wider reading practices.
Some categories will lend themselves more easily than
others to this type of generalization: our estimate of
this generalizability is represented by a position fur-
ther away from the centre of the figure. As our main
focus is on literary studies, we ignore research that
uses or investigates DSR from the point of view of
information technology (e.g. Tang et al.,2014), or
legal issues such as copyright or privacy (e.g.
Shipman and Marshall, 2013). We also acknowledge
that historiographic perspectives are frequently
implied in the different categories. However, as DSR
is a new and growing phenomenon, we do not yet see
historiography as a category per se. Due to space con-
straints, our review is necessarily limited, but we also
compiled a broader public Zotero bibliography
(Pianzola et al.,2019).
With reading-oriented research, we mean research
that studies the process, experience, and impact of
reading. The focus may be on the effects of the reading
medium (paper, e-book); the research may use
reviews andcomments on texts to study reading proc-
esses, or it may differentiate among these processes by
(genre of) book, time period, or author. However, in
reading-oriented research, the focus is on the act of
reading itself and not on the interaction among read-
ers, wider social implications, or the digital reading
platforms. The real strength of reading-oriented
DSR research is in unprecedented access to the read-
er’s experience. Driscoll and Rehberg Sedo (2018),for
instance, investigate reading experiences in reviews on
Goodreads, manually coding for experiential language
as well as applying automated sentiment analysis. It is
a good example of the multi-method approach that is
often fruitfully applied in studying reading-oriented
DSR. Manual coding brought out the different emo-
tional registers that the reviews employ, whereas sen-
timent analysis was used for analysis at a larger scale.
The authors conclude that the intimate experience of
reading, formerly elusive to research, to some extent
becomes visible on platforms such as Goodreads.
While such statements do not acknowledge the
achievements in historical reader response research
(e.g., via the study of letters and diaries), they highlight
how the wide availability of reading experience testi-
monies in DSR inevitably opens new perspectives for
the research. Similar analyses have been done with
respect to what readers value in a text (Milota,
2014), to metaphors for reading (Nuttall and
S. Rebora et al.
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Harrison, 2020), or the ethical positions that readers
take in processing a controversial book such as We
Need to Talk about Kevin (Nuttall, 2017). We expect
growth to occur especially in the fields of empirical
literary studies, cognitive poetics, and reading research
in general, when it comes to this area of DSR research.
Under literature as an institution we group re-
search that considers online book discussion as a
form of literary criticism or gatekeeping, looking at
its role in the literary field and its relation to other
actors. Underlying differences in literary values often
play a part in these investigations. Allington (2016),
for instance, compares both types of review for Desai’s
The Inheritance of Loss, manually coding several
aspects of evaluation and some political variables in
the reviews, and then quantitatively analysing the
results. He finds, among other things, that user
reviews are much more negative than professional
reviews, probably because the book is targeted at a
literary rather than a popular audience.
Rather than comparing reviews, Verboord (2010)
asks readers directly whether they trust what he calls
Digital social
reading
(DSR)
Reading
oriented
Literacy
Textual
Theory and
methods
Markets
Community
Society
Source
Reader-response
studies, empirical
studies of
literature
L
Literacy
studies,
educational
studies
Literary
studies,
stylistics
Research
methodology
Marketing,
Business
administration
Sociology,
ethnography
Cultural
studies,
audience
studies
Literary
studies
Literature as
institution
Wattpad sentiment
analysis (Pianzola,
Rebora, and Lauer)
Literary studies,
Sociology of literature,
Book history
Styles of criticism
(Rebora and
Salgaro)
Authority in
online reviews
(Boot)
a
s
Shared reading
(Lauer, Kraxenberger,
Gasser, and
Sorrentino)
Absorption in Goodreads
(Rebora, Kuijpers, and
Lendvai)
Values on
lovelybooks
(Herrmann,
Messerli, and
Rebora)
Wattpad network
analysis (Pianzola,
Rebora, and Lauer)
Disciplines,
subject
fields
Aspects of
DSR
'Case studies'
Site type
New media
studies,
internet
studies
A
DSR as lens
on literature
Fig. 1 Aspects of DSR (in red) with the relevant disciplines, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of DSR research.
Digital humanities and digital social reading
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‘expert’ or ‘internet’ critics. He finds that people with
an ‘omnivorous’ taste in books (‘persons combining
[...] “highbrow” tastes with “middlebrow” or
“popular” tastes’) have less confidence in expert crit-
ics. Stein (2015) discusses ‘lay’ literary criticism as a
‘communicative practice in the literary system’, and
notes its tendency to be intellectually less demanding
and therefore perhaps favouring less demanding lit-
erature. Johnson (2016) on the other hand studies US
book blogs as what she calls ‘the new gatekeepers’, and
positively appreciates book bloggers’ attention to-
wards more popular books. Part of this kind of re-
search has a broader perspective including historical,
societal, and economical reflections, mostly intersect-
ing the field of book history (Murray, 2018b). Murray
(2018a) has also suggested that book historians need
to reinvent their discipline radically if it should be able
to account for the current changes in reading habits.
With reading-oriented research, we mean research
that studies the process, experience, and impact of
reading. The focus may be on the effects of the reading
medium (paper, e-book); the research may use
reviews andcomments on texts to study reading proc-
esses, or it may differentiate among these processes by
(genre of) book, time period, or author. However, in
reading-oriented research, the focus is on the act of
reading itself and not on the interaction among read-
ers, wider social implications, or the digital reading
platforms. The real strength of reading-oriented
DSR research is in unprecedented access to the read-
er’s experience. Driscoll and Rehberg Sedo (2018),for
instance, investigate reading experiences in reviews on
Goodreads, manually coding for experiential language
as well as applying automated sentiment analysis. It is
a good example of the multi-method approach that is
often fruitfully applied in studying reading-oriented
DSR. Manual coding brought out the different emo-
tional registers that the reviews employ, whereas sen-
timent analysis was used for analysis at a larger scale.
The authors conclude that the intimate experience of
reading, formerly elusive to research, to some extent
becomes visible on platforms such as Goodreads.
While such statements do not acknowledge the
achievements in historical reader response research
(e.g. via the study of letters and diaries), they highlight
how the wide availability of reading experience testi-
monies in DSR inevitably opens new perspectives for
the research. Similar analyses have been done with
respect to what readers value in a text (Milota,
2014), to metaphors for reading (Nuttall and
Harrison, 2020), or the ethical positions that readers
take in processing a controversial book such as We
Need to Talk about Kevin (Nuttall, 2017). We expect
growth to occur especially in the fields of empirical
literary studies, cognitive poetics, and reading research
in general, when it comes to this area of DSR research.
Under literature as an institution we group re-
search that considers online book discussion as a
form of literary criticism or gatekeeping, looking at
its role in the literary field and its relation to other
actors. Underlying differences in literary values often
play a part in these investigations. Allington (2016),
for instance, compares both types of review for Desai’s
The Inheritance of Loss, manually coding several
aspects of evaluation and some political variables in
the reviews, and then quantitatively analysing the
results. He finds, among other things, that user
reviews are much more negative than professional
reviews, probably because the book is targeted at a
literary rather than a popular audience.
Rather than comparing reviews, Verboord (2010)
asks readers directly whether they trust what he calls
‘expert’ or ‘internet’ critics. He finds that people with
an ‘omnivorous’ taste in books (‘persons combining
[...] “highbrow” tastes with “middlebrow” or
“popular” tastes’) have less confidence in expert crit-
ics. Stein (2015) discusses ‘lay’ literary criticism as a
‘communicative practice in the literary system’, and
notes its tendency to be intellectually less demanding
and therefore perhaps favouring less demanding lit-
erature. Johnson (2016) on the other hand studies US
book blogs as what she calls ‘the new gatekeepers’, and
positively appreciates book bloggers’ attention to-
wards more popular books. Part of this kind of re-
search has a broader perspective including historical,
societal, and economical reflections, mostly intersect-
ing the field of book history (Murray, 2018b). Murray
(2018a) has also suggested that book historians need
to reinvent their discipline radically if it should be able
to account for the current changes in reading habits.
Research focusing on society looks at larger social
issues that DSR may exemplify or contest, such as
(in)equality, participation, democracy, feminism,
and inclusiveness. It also includes research that sees
readers as an audience that may be passive, resistant,
or that would rather request an active role, as in
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discussions of reviewers as ‘prosumers’ (Toffler, 1980)
or ‘produsers’ (Bruns, 2008). Do¨rrich (2014) investi-
gates audience rebellion in the realm of the book, by
interviewing LovelyBooks users, noting that there will
always be a tension between corporate control and
consumer participation, expressed for instance in
some users’ concern for ownership of data and privacy
(see also Albrechtslund, 2019). Steiner (2008), too,
expresses doubts about the democratizing potential
of the Internet, which could be ‘the worst kind of
fraud, since it makes people believe they have the
power to influence the public sphere, when in reality
the web is only another way for capital to profit.’ In
the context of fan fiction studies, researchers have gen-
erally taken a more positive approach towards users’
active role in online writing. Pugh programmatically
called her book on fan fiction The democratic genre
(2005), mentioning among other things that readers
become co-creators and consumers become less pas-
sive. Fan fiction scholars have also stressed the femin-
ist character of much work in fan fiction (e.g. Leow,
2011). In general, however, it is fair to saythat in other
domains (such as news production) web 2.0 has had a
heavier impact on society than in the domain of read-
ing and writing.
With research focusing on literacy we move from a
literary to an educational viewpoint. Literacy-oriented
research considers DSR mostly as a tool for education
in reading, writing, literature, and personal develop-
ment, including uses of DSR in library and classroom
environments (Blyth, 2014;Kalir et al., 2020). Indeed,
some of the earliest research came from digital library
studies. Kaplan and Chisik (2005), for example, use a
process of participatory design to create a digital book
prototype in which young readers could interact
through annotations. They motivate their research ex-
plicitly by the desire ‘to preserve the values we perceive
in the notions of reading for pleasure’ (p. 8). Later
attempts to get readers to discuss books moved online,
into specifically created book clubs (AuYeung et al.,
2007) or existing platforms such as Goodreads
(Thompson, 2010;Merga, 2015). For example,
Miller’s thesis (2011) investigates whether blogging
about young adult literature influences adolescent lit-
eracy development. Moving from reading response to
creative writing, Korobkova’s thesis (2017) investi-
gates affordances for literacy development built into
Wattpad. One of the most important conclusions is
that on these sites users ‘gain self-efficacy and a posi-
tive disposition toward literacy as a result’ (p. 102).
Affinity, authenticity, and affect are what motivate
their involvement on these sites. Korobkova also notes
that not all users are equal, they need ‘differential
routes to participation and success’ (p. 152), a point
echoed by Taddeo (2019).
Research in the community category looks at the
interaction between users on DSR platforms and spe-
cific platform cultures, be it with ethnographic meth-
ods, network analysis tools, or other methods. For
example, Rehberg Sedo (2011) uses participatory ob-
servation methods to study an online group of pro-
fessionals (teachers, publishers) discussing young
adult books. As in face to face book clubs, discussions
are influenced by the authority recognized by mem-
bers on the basis of their cultural capital. In these on-
line affinity spaces, readers act not so much as
independent agents but rather as members who learn-
ed strategies that allow them to be part of a commu-
nity. The importance of community is also stressed by
Lukoschek (2017). The need for exchange between
like-minded readers often crosses the boundaries be-
tween individual communities: the same people who
have book blogs also meet each other on Facebook,
Twitter, LovelyBooks, and elsewhere. In a landmark
study on Goodreads, Thelwall and Kousha (2017)
investigated (among other things) the relative import-
ance of the social and book-related features of the site.
They concluded that ‘Goodreads seems to be a book-
based social navigation Social Networking Site (SNS)
rather than being primarily either a book website or a
general SNS’ (p. 981). Book-based discussion sites can
also be conceived as ‘boundary objects’ that enable the
establishment of community and structure (Worrall,
2019), processes in which moderators often play a
crucial role (Thomas and Round, 2016).
With the market label, we refer to studies that con-
sider the relevance of DSR platforms, texts, and par-
ticipants for commercial purposes. This is the focus of
the work by Sutton and Paulfeuerborn (2017),who
evaluate the impact of book blogs on the (German)
market through an online survey, producing a pur-
chase decision model that might be beneficial for both
publishers and bloggers. Much more critical is the
approach by Moody (2017), who emphasizes how
market needs can support practices such as sabotaging
and bullying, which are generally overlooked by
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research focused solely on the positive aspects of par-
ticipation. The complexity of this context is confirmed
by Murray (2016), examining the ways in which read-
ers’ evaluations on Amazon and practices like book
trailers and blog tours are drastically transforming
marketing strategies. Traditional methodological
frameworks might prove inadequate to study them,
if not supported by an understanding of the algo-
rithms that are used to filter and aggregate readers’
evaluations, or of the digital environments where they
flourish. This implicit call for DH methods finds only
partial realization, such as the study by Faggiolani et
al. (2018), who adopt network analysis to visualize the
relationships between Italian publishers on the DSR
platform aNobii. Much work still needs to be done on
this aspect of DSR. A combination of marketing re-
search and DH methods might throw new light on its
internal dynamics.
Textual-oriented DSR research is another category
where DH can play a key role, in particular through
computational linguistics and stylometry. This cat-
egory of research is mostly interested in textual fea-
tures characteristic of DSR platforms, such as style and
wording. Inevitably, it has strong connections with the
‘literature as institution’ category, as the identification
of a distinctive style generally derives from the con-
frontation with a model. Harada and Yamashita
(2010) do precisely this, comparing online book
reviews to reviews in newspapers. The focus here is
not on the possible effects on traditional criticism, but
rather on what distinguishes DSR per se. In Germany,
Neuhaus (2017) points to distinguishing elements
such as the lower quality of writing, the absence of
specialized language, and frequent references to the
I. Using also computational approaches, Mehling et
al. (2018) identify the dominance of emotions, sus-
pense, and enjoyment in the evaluation of books. In
the English context, Hajibayova (2019) uses the LIWC
software (Tausczik and Pennebaker, 2010) and man-
ual annotation to devise a model for the language of
Goodreads reviews.
With the source category, we refer to research that
is most interested in what DSR activities say about the
text that they comment on. Often this research uses
reviews as a way to highlight a possible reception or
interpretation of a work or genre, with a focus on the
received work, not on the recipient. One clear example
is the work of Gutjahr (2002), which focuses on the
Christian book series Left Behind. Through analyses of
Amazon reviews and interviews with readers, Gutjahr
investigates the reasons for the success of the series,
suggesting how it puts into question the very distinc-
tion between literary fiction and sacred texts.
However, one of the most representative cases for
this category is the research on Jane Austen’s novels.
While statistics on DSR platforms like Wattpad con-
firm that Pride and Prejudice is the most read (and
most commented) classic among contemporary teen-
agers (Rebora and Pianzola, 2018), studies like that of
Mirmohamadi (2014) investigate the ‘digital after-
lives’ of the British author, focusing both on the read-
ing/commenting activities and on the creative
reinterpretations of fan fiction. Subjects can also be
successful novels like Gomorra in Italy (Brugnatelli
and Faggiolani, 2016) or more generally disregarded
titles like the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by
Marc Twain (Harris, 2019). In all cases, the main goal
of these studies is to show how DSR can constructively
contribute to literary criticism.
A large number of studies can be collected under
the site type category. With this term we refer to re-
search that describes the working logic and function-
alities of one or more platforms, generally focusing on
a single aspect (e.g. the reviews), without necessarily
drawing conclusions about other aspects. One of the
first examples is the work by Nakamura (2013),who
provided a brief introduction to the then-under-
studied Goodreads platform. In a similar way, studies
on platforms like LibraryThing (Pinder, 2012)andon
phenomena like ‘bookstagram’ (book reviews on the
Instagram platform, cf. Jaakkola, 2019)stimulatedthe
interest of the research community towards DSR prac-
tices. The importance of such studies is undeniable,
especially when they provide ample overviews (e.g.
Cordo´n-Garcı´a et al.,2013,pp.16789;Cruces
Villalobos, 2017).
To conclude our categorization, the studies
grouped in the theory and method category focus
both on the methodological needs of DSR research
and on the theoretical impact it can have on disci-
plines such as book history and the history of reading.
Among the first to highlight the possible relevance of
the phenomenon, Maryl (2008) analysed reader
responses on the Polish platform biblioNETka with
the main goal of understanding if and how they can
be useful for reading research. His conclusion was
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mainly positive, but with awareness of all the risks and
limitations that come with the analysis of such mater-
ial (i.e. frequently noisy, unstructured, and unreli-
able). Bridle (2010), referring to Benjamin’s
philosophy, proposes a re-conceptualization of the
‘aura’ of books (shifting from paper’s physicality to
the text itself); Costa (2016) tries to re-define a phe-
nomenology of reading, where the commenting and
rewriting activities become an essential part of reading
itself. While perspectives are generally positive and
stimulating, Rowberry (2019) makes a relevant critical
note about the future of theory and data-driven DSR
research, adopting software criticism to highlight the
inability of modern e-book technologies to provide
relevant data for the study of reading.
3Case studies
As shown by our overview, multimethodology is one
of the main characteristics of DSR research.
Methodological richness can sustain its development,
but it might also hinder its coherent evolution, if no
disciplinary framework or central research field is
identified. We propose that DH may provide this
bond in at least two ways. First, like other subjects
in the humanities, it can provide the tools for struc-
turing and interconnecting the entire research field
(cf. Es et al.,2018;Herrmann et al.,2019).
Figure 2, for example, shows how a simple combin-
ation between a digital bibliography and network
technologies can provide an efficient visualization of
our categorization, highlighting the connections be-
tween categories. Second, and more importantly, its
research interests and methodologies are epistemolog-
ically coherent with the goals of DSR research, as the
seven case studies presented in this section will
demonstrate.
In what follows, we discuss research conducted by
our group and pertinent to the multi-methodological
approaches to DSR that DH can provide. Inevitably,
not all relevant aspects will be covered here. One im-
portant dimension is for example the historical per-
spective, working with retro-digitized materials and
examining diachronic developments through time in
terms of continuity and rupture (see, e.g., Chang et al.,
salgaro_measuring_2018
nuttall_online_2017
stein_taxonomy_2010
cordon-garcia_social_2013
naumann_model_2015
mcgurl_everything_2016
effe_lettura_2013
effe_lettura_2011
emerson_reading_2014
faggiolani_reti_2016
anderson_publishing_2017
neira-pineiro_reading_2014
nelson_impact_2009
carr_shallows_2014
clark_childrens_2015
coughlan_young_nodate
costa_tempo_2015
rowberry_commonplacing_2016
baudo_strategia_nodate
brown_beyond_2001
baudo_il_2015
faggiolani_text_2017
lee_assessing_2013
barnett_social_2014
allington_power_2016
biersdorfer_new_2017
maity_understanding_2018
socken_edge_2013
ohalloran_deconstructing_2015
dimitrov_goodreads_2015
worrall_like_2015
albrechtslund_negotiating_2017
matthews_professionals_2016
bruns_quantitative_2012
dodson_highlights_2017
boot_towards_2011
raimondo_sex_2016
despot_social_2016
ramdarshan_bold_marginalia_2017
thelwall_goodreads:_2017
ramdarshan_bold_return_2018
nakamura_words_2013
vlieghe_twitter_2016
vlieghe_rhetorical_2013
vlieghe_social_2016
vlieghe_everybody_2016
miller_what_2015
sesek_reading_2014
bridle_walter_2010
ellis_building_2013
costa_il_2016
rebora_new_2018
driscoll_faraway_2018
murray_digital_2018
braslavski_large-scale_2016
fuhr_ten_2016
vasquez_discourse_2014
korobkova_navigating_2016
bal_reading_2018
korobkova_variety_2018
merga_are_2015
kutzner_characterising_2019
ramdarshan_bold_is_2019
thomas_what_2011
barnett_platforms_2015
barnett_distributed_2018
jatowt_estimation_2013
rowberry_limits_2019
rokha_using_2019
tiidenberg_single_2019
nuttall_wolfing_2018
faggiolani_rete_2018
taddeo_meanings_2019
swann_reading_2009
thomas_trickster_2015
magnifico_words_2015
rutherford_contours_2017
rebora_reader_2018
thomas_booktubing_2019
ehret_role_2018
perez_camacho_usos_2015
garcia_canclini_leer_2015
rahman_blending_2019
dantas_lectura_2017
lluch_com_2017
pianzola_wattpad_2020
nuraeni_digital_2019
gutjahr_no_2002
gruzd__2012
fister_reading_2005
finn_social_2011
ernst_user_2015
degidio_how_2015
domsch_critical_2009
burns_how_2017
caballero_influence_2005
brendel-perpina_video-rezension_2017
bois_critique_2016
bachmann-stein_zur_2015
angemeer_reading_2012
albrechtslund_amazon_2019
albrecht_positioning_2017
achtermeier_drei_2017
bickart_perceived_2010
trilcke_ideen_2013
van_loo_interactive_2014
van_putten-brons_june_2017
verboord_legitimacy_2010
verboord_cultural_2011
verboord_peer-produced_2009
wallace_my_2016
watts_and_2020
montesi_lectura_2015
wiart_prescription_2015
worrall_back_2013
worrall_connections_2019
zeising_buchblogger:_2015
zeising_was_2016
zeising_woher_2016
thompson_extending_2010
sutton_influence_2017
steiner_private_2008
stein_laienliteraturkritikcharakteristika_2015
sedgman_when_2018
steiner_personal_2010
spiteri_affective_2016
schmitt-maas_gesprach_2010
sakunkoo_analysis_2009
sairio_no_2014
rehfeldt_ganz_2017
rehberg_sedo_i_2011
ritchie_librarything:_2009
ridenour_leveraging_2016
rehfeldt_leserrezensionen_2017
rehberg_sedo_readers_2003
pinder_online_2012
orthofer_complete_2016
moody_bullies_2017
neuhaus_leeres_2015
neugirg_online-strategien_2018
naik_finding_2012
murray_reading_2018
murray_selling_2016
miller_talking_2011
mcdonald_death_2007
martens_reading_2016
lukoschek_ich_2017
milota_compelling_2014
mehling_leserrezensionen_201
8
maryl_virtual_2008
kuhn_lesen_2016
krysta_unwritten_2017
knipp_gemeinsam_2017
kellermann_laienrezensionen_2017
joosten_nederlandstalige_2012
laquintano_online_2012
kint_effect_2017
kilgarriff_bookaholics_2007
huang_study_2010
johnson_new_2016
jaakkola_re-viewers_2019
hugendick_jeder_2009
huang_internet_nodate
huang_dissemination_2010
hoffert_every_2010
harris_whohoo!!!_2019
harada_analysis_2010
golsteijn_facilitating_2010
finn_social_2010
hajibayova_investigation_2019
finn_becoming_2013
ernst_leser_2018
elsayed_arab_2010
dorrich_book_2014
david_six_2006
danescu-niculescu-mizil_how_2009
duvall_authentic_2017
buchanan_everyones_2005
boot_database_2017
champagne_networking_2017
butler_redefining_2010
boot_dimensions_2014
boot_desirability_2013
bachmann-stein_demokratisierung_2014
auyeung_book_2007
bendel_user-generated_2009
bae_analyzing_nodate
mirmohamadi_digital_2014
faggiolani_gomorra:_2016
thomas_moderating_2016
chisik_social_2006
korobkova_writing_2017
black_publishing_2008
witte_thats_2007
kaplan_company_2005
thomas_canons_2007
rosen_people_2006
petersen_loser_2008
pugh_democratic_2005
leow_subverting_2011
alvermann_why_2008
chaves_war_2008
audunson_social_2011
lendvai_identification_2019
dsr-society
dsr-community
dsr-reading
dsr-textual
dsr-site-type
dsr-literacy
dsr-method
dsr-lit-inst
dsr-markets
dsr-source
Fig. 2 Network based on the DSR Zotero library (Pianzola et al., 2019). Edges represent connections between texts and
categories in our categorization.
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2020 on the relation between genre and book reviews).
Each case study will be presented by following a tri-
partite structure: first, presentation of the research
question that needs to be answered in DSR studies;
second, introduction of the DH methodology that can
be applied to it; third, discussion of the obtained
results or of the encountered issues. Overall, the seven
case studies will offer an exemplification of how fruit-
ful the integration between DH methods and DSR
research can be. Additionally, they will also provide
a series of insights into the practical aspects of such a
research.
3.1 Wattpad—network analysis
(Pianzola, Rebora, and Lauer)
The first of our case studies explores Wattpad, the
most popular platform for reading and commenting
on fiction. It offers millions of stories written in more
than thirty languages ranging over different genres,
including literary classics, fan fiction, and original fic-
tion. It is mostly accessed via smartphone and the
average audience is between 12 and 25 years old.
Previous research has mostly focused on the identity
and activity of authors (Mirmohamadi, 2014;
Ramdarshan Bold, 2018) and the possible educational
applications of Wattpad (Korobkova and Rafalow,
2016;Taddeo, 2019). Using digital methods, namely
network analysis, we were able to focus on readers and
analyse the comments written by 300,000 users in the
margins of twelve English novels. In this way, we
reconstructed the network of social interactions
related to reading Classics and Teen Fiction
(Pianzola et al.,2020). The goal was to see whether
there is any difference in how teenagers read different
genres socially on Wattpad. Given the huge quantity
of data available—in the form of comments linked to
the respective paragraphs/chapters/books and to the
replies by other readers—visualizing the networks of
interactions helped us to select users and comments
that we wanted to observe more closely. Mixing dis-
tant reading with close reading of comments, we dis-
covered that when the linguistic and cultural
complexity of texts increases (Classics), readers tend
to interact more, helping each other to understand the
writing style and the historical context of the novel.
However, with teen fiction stronger and more pro-
longed interactions between readers emerge, even
extending across different novels. Therefore,
Wattpad can be considered both a community of
peer learners and a social bonding tool, aspects that
can be leveraged by educational projects that aim at
promoting reading. In general, users comment much
more actively on teen fiction novels than classics, con-
firming that Wattpad is a platform mainly used to
read original stories written by teenagers (Contreras
et al.,2015;Taddeo, 2019).
3.2 Wattpad—sentiment analysis
(Pianzola, Rebora, and Lauer)
In a second case study on Wattpad commenting prac-
tices, we looked at how comments in the margins of
paragraphs enable us to investigate the progression of
readers’ response to a story, linking the verbalization
of aesthetic, cognitive, and emotional reactions to spe-
cific text passages (Rebora and Pianzola, 2018;
Pianzola et al.,2020). Main goal of our project was
that of testing if there is a match between the emotions
represented in the story and those perceived (and ver-
balized) by readers. The method we have employed to
explore the relationship between text and comments is
that of sentiment analysis for the creation of the emo-
tional arcs of stories (Reagan et al., 2016;Jockers,
2017). Besides the text of the novels, we also applied
this technique to the dataset of comments, creating a
plot of the emotional valence of readers’ response
along the progression of the story (Fig. 3). By compar-
ing the two plots we discovered a statistically signifi-
cant positive effect of the story sentiment on the
comments’ sentiment, meaning that positive emo-
tions in the story elicit readers’ positive utterances.
This effect is weaker with classics, probably because
there are more user-user interactions that tend to have
neutral values, since they are a more cognitive-ori-
ented kind of activity aimed at understanding the
text rather than expressing emotions. Moreover, look-
ing at the intervals where the two sentiment values
have extreme peaks or diverge the most allows to iden-
tify text parts that trigger stronger emotions, or reac-
tions contrasting with the story events. This technique
allowed us to semi-automatically select which text
parts to perform close reading and further explore
what elicited a certain reader response. For instance,
we found that teenage readers love witty characters,
conflicts of affects and values, and cultural references
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that are familiar to them (Pianzola et al.,2020).
Overall, this kind of data and computational analyses
can provide large-scale empirical evidence about the
link between textual features and readers’ emotional
response to stories, thus offering a new resource to
literary theory, cognitive stylistics, and reading
research.
3.3 Shared reading (Lauer, Kraxenberger,
Gasser, and Sorrentino)
In a follow-up study, we explore by questionnaires the
reading and writing behaviour of young people on
online literature-platforms, such as Wattpad,
Archive of Our Own, or Fanfiktion.de. Starting point
of this project is the assumption that reading literature
will not decrease because of digitization. Rather, the
way(s) literature is dealt with is changing and new,
digitally coined practices arise (Lauer, 2020). In par-
ticular, this applies to the social aspects of reading and
writing, since online literary platforms, just as other
social media, promote active participation and inter-
active exchange among their users. Accordingly, the
focus of this still on-going project lies in identifying
the practices of online reading and writing, as well as
its (social) functions. Following a multi-method ap-
proach, the project pursues both descriptive and
quantifiable approaches.
In a first step, the content and formal character-
istics of the literature platforms Wattpad and
Fanfiktion.de and their usage were described, using
anonymized German user-content as examples. This
description provides a general overview of the practi-
ces of these platforms and allowed for an identification
of their functional characteristics. Based on a frame-
work from social psychology (Kietzmann et al., 2011,
see also Glu¨er, 2018), a location of primary, tertiary
and secondary functions of the investigated literature
platforms was derived. Among others it could be
shown that, although interactivity is of central import-
ance for both platforms, they differ in particular with
regard to the importance of the function of self-pres-
entation as fan, reader, and/or writer. This function is
of special relevance for the ‘wreaders’ (Landow, 2006)
of Wattpad and the predefined publication channels
of successful texts within this media machinery
(Kraxenberger and Lauer, 2021).
In a second step, an explorative, qualitative study
was conducted to find out why young people use
Fig. 3 Graphs with the emotional arcs of story and comments for six classic novels.
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online literature platforms. Young people between the
ages of 12 and 17 years from the German-speaking
part of Switzerland were to be asked in problem-
focused, guideline-based interviews. Participants
were sought through libraries, teachers, social media,
and posts on literature platforms. For data protection
reasons, parents/guardians had to agree to the inter-
views. This was probably the reason why most inter-
views were eventually cancelled by the interviewees.
Apparently, the young people consider these plat-
forms as something private or part of their youth cul-
ture separated from the adult’s world. Nevertheless, in
terms of research methodology, these obstacles give
already an insight into the social role of online litera-
ture platforms.
In a third step, this case study includes a larger quan-
titative survey to better understand the demographics
of these users, their practices, motivations, and social
interactions with each other. Data were collected in an
online survey conducted in German and English, focus-
ing on rather young users (13 years and above;
N¼315). Participants were recruited through postings
on various social media sites (Reddit, Instagram,
Facebook, Twitter). The underlying rationale was that
media and art exposure is typically self-sought, and that
self-motivated users of literature platforms are also
more likely to visit groups, sites, and fora specifically
targeting such users (cf. Sarkhosh and Menninghaus,
2016). The aim of this survey is to test the validity of the
initial description of DSR platforms and to gain a better
understanding of users’ practices on such platforms,
the communicative behaviour between users, potential
socio-cognitive benefits that users experience when
reading and writing on literature platforms, as well as
the underlying motivations to use them. Preliminary
results indicate that literature platforms are not exclu-
sively used by teenagers, but are also frequently visited
by older users. Different age groups exhibit only minor
differences in terms of their practices and motivations.
Rather, the individual preference for either reading or
writing on literature platforms appears to be the deter-
mining factor for the latter.
3.4 Evaluation on LovelyBooks
(Herrmann, Messerli, and Rebora)
Whereas Wattpad affords its users the option to edit
the epitext of the literary texts they are reading,
LovelyBooks and Goodreads are examples of social
reading platforms that invite their users to review
and rate literature on a separate platform. Another
of our case studies assesses LovelyBooks as the most
prolific German-language online platform (with cur-
rently more than 350,000 registered members, cf.
LovelyBooks, 2020) to describe literary evaluation at
a large, collective, scale. While it has been shown that
metric literary evaluation dates as far back as the 18th
century (Spoerhase, 2014), and the underlying values
of literary evaluation have been linked to reviewers’
linguistic practice (Heydebrand and Winko, 1996),
this study is the first to bring both dimensions to-
gether, assessing a large-scale review platform for the
complex relation between evaluation as represented in
the written reviews and the users’ ordinal evaluation
in the ‘star-ratings’.
To answer the question of how the ordinal scale
rating maps onto lay reviewers’ communicative prac-
tices of evaluation, a corpus of approx. 1.3 million lay
book reviews by more than 54,000 users was harvested
from the LovelyBooks platform. To describe an overall
statistical association between the reviews’ evaluative
diction and the ordinal scale of the star ratings, we
applied sentiment analysis to the reviews, rendering
mean sentiment values for each rating category (one
through five stars). We found that the variables rating
and sentiment (SentiWS; Remus et al.,2010)aresig-
nificantly associated (v2(4) ¼227,469, p <0.001;
Cramer’s V ¼0.08). While there is a predictable over-
all association of low sentiment and low ratings (and
high sentiment and high ratings), our detailed analy-
ses per rating category reveal that sentiment and users’
quantitative ratings are associated in a non-intuitive
way. Pearson residuals in Fig. 4 show that positive
sentiment is only overrepresented in the highest cat-
egory, five stars (indicated by the blue boxes), while
clearly underrepresented in Categories 1–3 (red),
which simultaneously overuse negative sentiment
(blue).
We interpret this finding to question the typical
positivity bias for online reviews (Hu et al., 2009).
While a four-star rating may intuitively seem ‘posi-
tive’, or a three-star rating ‘neutral’, the voices of the
platform members themselves tell a different story:
They overuse negative sentiment for anything other
than the full five-star rating.
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Our post hoc analysis of features (based on a log-
likelihood ‘keyness’ analysis of word-tokens per rat-
ing-category; using R-package ‘polmineR’ version
0.7.11) indicated that five-star reviews comparatively
prefer intensifying expressions (including exclamation
marks and lexical intensifiers such as utter(ly) and
marvelous(ly)), are more likely to make general state-
ments (every,full(y)), and more often use the first-
person plural subject (we). Furthermore, they more
often suggest effect-oriented underlying values (beau-
tiful(ly),captivating) and refer to body parts (heart,
hand), potentially indicating a close figurative and
material relation to the books as artefacts (supported
by overuse of verbs such as set/put).
By contrast, already four-star ratings exhibit a
more differentiated stance, expressing degree (some-
what,some,little), concession and limitation (however,
nevertheless), as well as references to the ‘star rating
system’ (deduction,four). Also, non-five-star reviews
more often refer to acts of criticism and deliberation
(weakness,point of criticism), and, while friendly, ap-
pear more distanced (interestingly).
Our analyses present a more nuanced view on
evaluative practices in the DSR context, profiting
from a combination of DH methods such as senti-
ment analysis and keyness analysis, and allowing first
informed inferences about the relation between
diction and the ‘metric’ evaluation of online reviews.
Further research is needed to flesh out these observa-
tions and link them to theories of valuation in literary
criticism as well as community- and self-related
dimensions of DSR.
3.5 Sources of authority in online reviews
(Boot)
With the advent of sites such as Wattpad and
LovelyBooks, mentioned in the previous case studies,
traditional authorities in the literary field are said to
have become less important (McDonald, 2007). The
research question in this case study asks which persons
or institutions are considered authoritative by online
reviewers. This is a question that takes an institutional
approach to the study of literature; we look at which
institutions are trusted by readers. Our interest is in
today’s reader in general and so uses DSR as a lens to
study wider reading practice.
The methodology that we applied was to count
references to possible authorities, such as traditional
critics, newspapers, prizes, television programs, the
book trade (publishers, booksellers, libraries),
authors, teachers, websites, and private contacts. For
a pilot investigation, reviews were downloaded from
Dutch weblogs, mass review sites such as Crimezone
and watleesjij.nu (What are you reading now?), an
Fig. 4 Association plot of polar sentiment (‘SentiWS_neg’; ‘SentiWS_pos’) across rating categories (‘one to five stars’; s1–
s5) in the LOBO corpus. The colour codes correspond to the sign of the residuals (the differences between observed and
expected frequencies), with blue indicating an over-representation, and red an under-representation.
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online magazine (8weekly), and the NRC Handelsblad
newspaper (Boot, 2013). We investigated which
authorities were mentioned, what their role was, and
whether the reviewer agreed with this. We used col-
lections of search terms and regular expressions to
search the downloaded reviews. Irrelevant hits were
removed, 1,500 relevant hits were annotated.
Because of many limitations (for instance with re-
spect to representativeness), the results are still tenta-
tive. The main findings however are summarized in
Fig. 5. The four most frequently mentioned author-
ities are authors, companies and institutions, online
critics, and prizes. This is noteworthy for a number of
reasons: first, in the view of readers, the author is cer-
tainly not dead; second, commercial institutions are
frequently mentioned, which is not quite the democ-
ratizing influence that is often expected; third, online
critics, by and large peer critics, do play an important
role; but fourth, the importance attached to prizes
may be the revenge of the traditional critics, because
they are often members of the juries that award these
prizes. Finally, the question of whether our culture in
this domain is switching from a vertical, hierarchical
orientation into a more horizontal, and peer-oriented
orientation is important. It deserves fundamental
investigation and online book discussion offers
important insights into the question. It can only be
studied in conjunction with the style that different
groups of reviewers use, which is the subject of our
next case study.
3.6 Styles of criticism (Rebora, in
collaboration with Massimo Salgaro)
In this case study, we use a corpus of Italian book
reviews (Salgaro and Rebora, 2018;Salgaro and
Rebora, 2019) to understand how professional
critics, journalists, and passionate readers differ in
writing reviews and what features can be used to
identify them.
The corpus is divided into three subsets: reviews
published on DSR platforms (source: aNobii), in
paper magazines (Il Sole 24 Ore), and in scientific
journals (Between,Osservatorio critico della germanis-
tica,andOBLIO). All sub-corpora have an approxi-
mate size of 650,000 tokens. Considering the high
variance of text length (mean ¼259 words; SD ¼
363 words), the reviews in the three sub-corpora
Fig. 5 Mentioned authorities in the collection of downloaded online reviews.
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were split and/or concatenated, generating a series of
artificial text chunks of the same length. In this setup,
we ran a series of experiments in machine learning
combining a total of nine features. The first three
were the results of a stylometric analysis (divided
per category), using Cosine Delta distance and 2,000
MFW (Evert et al.,2017). The remaining six were
based on simple word counts, using as resources:
an extensive lexicon of literary criticism (Beck et
al., 2007);
selections of terms related to mental imagery and
emotional aesthetic response, derived from tools
in empirical aesthetics (e.g., Knoop et al., 2016);
the ‘social’, ‘emotion’, and ‘body’ dimensions in
the LIWC Italian dictionary (Agosti and Rellini,
2007).
First, we tested the efficiency of machine learning
methods in assigning the reviews to the three catego-
ries. Notwithstanding the limited number of features,
results are promising. See Table 1 for an overview.
Second, we evaluated the relevance of features in
the classification (using Logistic Regression for 250
word-long chunks). Figure 6 shows how stylometric
distances (represented by the reddest cells for each
category) are the most effective features. Interesting
outcomes are also the ineffectiveness of the lexicon of
criticism for scientific journals and the effectiveness of
mental imagery for both DSR and paper magazines.
These results suggest that the shared opinion accord-
ing to which professionalism in book reviews is a mat-
ter of content more than a matter of form might be
wrong, as stylistic features (at least those measured by
stylometry) prove more efficient in the classification.
Such conclusions will need to be verified via close
reading and via a more thorough confrontation with
the theories of literary criticism. However, the out-
comes of this case study confirm the relevance of
corpus-based machine learning approaches for the
textual study of DSR and for its comparison with
more institutionalized forms of criticism.
3.7 Absorption in Goodreads (Kuijpers,
Rebora, and Lendvai)
In the last case study, an instrument developed in em-
pirical literary studies to capture the experience of
story world absorption was used as an annotation
tool to investigate Goodreads reviews (Rebora et al.,
2018). Story world absorption is a multi-faceted ex-
perience, comprised of deep focused attention that
results in loss of awareness of self and surroundings
and the track of time; emotional engagement with
characters, vivid mental imagery of what the charac-
ters and the story world look like; and the experience
of deictic shift of the reader from the real world to the
story world (Kuijpers et al.,2014). As the experience of
absorption is hard to simulate in a lab and instru-
ments like the Story World Absorption Scale
(SWAS) are used to retrospectively assess reading ex-
perience based on an experimenter-selected story, we
focus on developing ways to study absorbing experi-
ences in ‘the wild’ in a data-driven way, i.e., compar-
ing the statements in the SWAS to unprompted
reviews on Goodreads.
Apart from the benefits for instrument validation
in empirical literary studies (i.e., do readers use similar
language to describe their absorbing reading experi-
ences as researchers do when they are trying to capture
these experiences in experimental settings?), one av-
enue that this type of data-driven research allows us to
explore is large-scale genre comparative studies on
absorption as it naturally occurs during reading. To
study the issue of genre differences, we adopted
manual annotation as a comparison tool.
This work raised the issue of shared interpretation
(i.e., between researchers and readers), in particular
concerning the extent to which it is possible to identify
and adjudicate text spans that reference absorption
experiences in unstructured natural language input.
Five annotators were trained to annotate a corpus
of pre-selected reader reviews from the website
Goodreads with an extended absorption tag set
(counting 145 labels) based on the eighteen statements
that compose the SWAS. Each annotator freely estab-
lished the boundaries of a relevant text segment and
Table 1. Accuracy values for the classification of book
reviews in the corpus (using a leave-one-out strategy for
training and testing)
SVM Logistic regression
250-word-long chunks 0.94 0.938
500-word-long chunks 0.96 0.964
1,000-word-long chunks 0.976 0.978
Digital humanities and digital social reading
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was allowed to assign more than one tag to the same
text segment. The main criterion for assigning a tag
was semantic or conceptual similarity between the
statements in the tag set and a text segment. The an-
notation work was divided into a total of ten rounds of
60–200 reviews (about thirty per week) and after each
round the tag set was further specified and the guide-
lines sharpened. At the end of the annotation process,
a total of 1,025 reviews were annotated, with inter-
annotator agreement increasing from fair to substan-
tial (mean Krippendorff’s alpha ¼0.73 in Round 9;
for all details, see Rebora et al., 2020a,b). Annotated
reviews were also used to train a machine learning
classifier, with promising results that suggest a pos-
sible automization of the task (see Lendvai et al.,2019,
2020).
Aggregating the annotations across Rounds 2–9,
we were able to group 204 reviews of fantasy books,
324 reviews of romance novels, and 170 reviews of
thrillers. Preliminary analyses of these annotations
per genre (see Fig. 7) showed that the dimension of
Emotional Engagement is used most often by people
reviewing romance novels, whereas Attention is used
mostly by reviewers of thrillers. These are also the two
dimensions of absorption that are used most often in
general to describe absorbing reading experiences on
Goodreads. Thrillers slightly dominate also for Mental
Imagery, while no significant differences (p-values
always >0.05) were found for the dimension of
Transportation. These findings show the usefulness
of combining methods from natural language proc-
essing with those from empirical literary studies to
extend the research on a particular topic like
absorption.
4Conclusion
In this paper, we presented a categorization of the
research on DSR and discussed seven case studies
that show the key role of DH in the study of the phe-
nomenon: while a unique, shared approach cannot be
identified, it is indeed the multi-methodology brought
by DH that made the advancement of our case studies
possible. DH is notoriously a hard subject to define
(Terras et al.,2013)—if it is a subject, and not a prac-
tice, field, or discipline. What many definitions have
in common, however, is that they define DH research
as the union of digitally-supported research into trad-
itional humanities subjects with research into digital
culture or artefacts (Gibbs, 2013). Research into DSR
fits into both aspects of this definition. For example,
data collection and database structuring are at the
basis of almost all case studies: advanced knowledge
of markup languages, web technologies like APIs, and
computational techniques like web crawling are
Fig. 6 Importance of features (absolute z-values) for the classification of book reviews, using Logistic Regression on 250
word-long chunks.
S. Rebora et al.
Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Vol. 36, Supplement 2, 2021ii244
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fundamental for the very feasibility of the projects.
Expertise should not be limited to technical aspects,
though, as approaches like stylometry, sentiment ana-
lysis, and semantic annotation require the discussion
of theoretical frameworks like stylistics (Herrmann
et al.,2015), theory of emotions (Hogan, 2016), and
conceptual modelling (Flanders and Jannidis, 2019).
In addition, as our categorization has shown, connec-
tions can also be opened to disciplines like sociology,
new media studies, educational studies, and many
others. Advanced methodologies such as network ana-
lysis and machine learning can be involved only after
having defined these frameworks.
It is especially the accessibility to research of DSR
which can be a game-changing factor for reading re-
search. The digital, online, textual, and massive nature
of DSR allows researchers access to evidence of read-
ing on a scale that was unimaginable twenty years ago.
As is apparent from our case studies, this scale will
require us to use all the technologies that in DH we
have come to associate with ‘distant reading’: with
respect to our material, in fact, we face the same situ-
ation of abundance that led Moretti (2005) to coin
that phrase in the context of researching world
literature. The steering of our focus towards the socio-
logical aspects of reading research, then, can be seen as
a confirmation of the strict connection between the
concept of distant reading and sociology of literature,
as already highlighted by Ted Underwood (2017).
We are just starting to understand what this will
mean for DSR’s potential for literary studies. The
only way to increase this understanding is through
analysis and exploration, through theorizing and test-
ing, being aware of all the limitations of both the study
subject and current methodologies. With our work,
we hope to have cast the groundwork for all this,
by indicating a study area where DH can find new
stimuli, new challenges, and new opportunities
to grow further.
Funding
This work was partly supported by the Swiss National
Science Foundation [grant numbers 10DL15_183194,
10DL15_183012, 10DL15_183221]; and the European
Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation pro-
gramme [grant number 792849].
Fig. 7 Percentages of annotated sentences in fantasy, romance, and thriller reviews.
Digital humanities and digital social reading
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... studies have shown the value of these resources in understanding reader reception [1][2][3]. These comments can provide useful insight into how readers imagine the main storylines of a novel, how they understand the fictional struggles of characters and how they develop varying impressions of the work. ...
... The advent of social reading sites on the Internet that allow individual readers to join in wide-ranging discussions of individual works of fiction through reader-generated reviews and comment threads on those reviews has enabled a revisiting of fundamental questions of how people respond to literary fiction [1,4,7,8]. Perhaps best known among these sites in the USA is Goodreads that, along with sites like it, represents an online attempt to reproduce the face-to-face space of book clubs and library groups, where there is no 'right' answer to reading the work (as there might be, at least implicitly, in a classroom), nor any hierarchy of critical insight (as there might be in a forum where professional reviewers or literary critics might dominate the conversation) [7,9]. Because these sites archive the reader reviews and the ensuing comment threads on those reviews, they offer an opportunity to explore computationally how people respond to individual works of fiction, and how they explore such a work as communities of interpretation emerge [4]. ...
... Social reading platforms offer an opportunity to explore these aspects of reader response and narrative structure outside of the laboratory or classroom setting [1,2,4,[32][33][34]. Work on these platforms has focused on an ethnography of online reading [35], considerations of reader review sentiment [36], how gender and intimacy are intertwined in reviews [37] and broader linguistic characteristics of the reviews [38]. ...
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Social reading sites offer an opportunity to capture a segment of readers’ responses to literature, while data-driven analysis of these responses can provide new critical insight into how people ‘read’. Posts discussing an individual book on the social reading site, Goodreads , are referred to as ‘reviews’, and consist of summaries, opinions, quotes or some mixture of these. Computationally modelling these reviews allows one to discover the non-professional discussion space about a work, including an aggregated summary of the work’s plot, an implicit sequencing of various subplots and readers’ impressions of main characters. We develop a pipeline of interlocking computational tools to extract a representation of this reader-generated shared narrative model. Using a corpus of reviews of five popular novels, we discover readers’ distillation of the novels’ main storylines and their sequencing, as well as the readers’ varying impressions of characters in the novel. In so doing, we make three important contributions to the study of infinite-vocabulary networks: (i) an automatically derived narrative network that includes meta-actants; (ii) a sequencing algorithm, REV2SEQ, that generates a consensus sequence of events based on partial trajectories aggregated from reviews, and (iii) an ‘impressions’ algorithm, SENT2IMP, that provides multi-modal insight into readers’ opinions of characters.
... Reception is socially constructed, made up of interwoven interpretations and conventions situated in a given sociocultural context. A discussion forum provides a context for 'digital social reading' (Rebora et al., 2021;Rehberg Sedo, 2011;Rowberry, 2016;Swann & Allington, 2009). As in reading groups and book clubs, interpersonal relationships, group dynamics, cultural authorities, and politeness may influence reader responses (ibid.). ...
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David Miall was, for many scholars, the person welcoming them into the field of empirical literary studies. The research he conducted together with Don Kuiken on the effects of stylistic features on reading, with a central role for (self-modifying) feeling (cf. Miall, David S. & Don Kuiken. 1994. Foregrounding, defamiliarization, and affect: Response to literary stories. Poetics 22(5). 389–407) has been the inspirational foundation for much of the research conducted in this and other fields, such as cognitive poetics. By combining methods from traditional literary reading (such as close reading), with methods more commonly used in psychology (such as experimental designs and self-report questionnaires), he gave new depth to the concept of reader response research (Whiteley, Sara & Patricia Canning. 2017. Reader response research in stylistics. Language and Literature 26(2). 71–87), concerning himself with actual readers’ testimonials. In honour of David, this paper will present a close reading, not of a literary text, but of a particular reader testimonial, namely an online book review. By applying a close reading informed by Text World Theory, I attempt to show how the social context in which this review was written influenced the expression of narrative absorption the reader experienced during reading. Consequently, I argue for an expansion not just of the methodological toolbox we use to investigate absorption in online social reading, but for an expansion of the concept of story world absorption itself.
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