From Page to Participation

Re-imagining Publishing in the Age of Conversation

  • Paul Pangaro, PhD
  • CTO,, New York
  • Digital Speaker Series
  • Random House, New York
  • March 2, 2011


When verbal language was transformed to written text and printed book, we lost the dynamics of participation: the opportunity to ask and to rebut and to extend. We won over time and distance but we lost the conversation. Little has changed in the printed book for 500 years.

Yet all of a sudden, there is a bewildering change: writing is transformed into digital media, bringing dynamism, connections to vast content databases, and interactions with others across time and distance. Pangaro argues that digital media makes it possible to bring the book back to life—to restore what was lost by moving from speech to page—to return to conversation.

But then, as readers become participants, what do publishers do?

Mock-up of thoughtshuffler on a mobile device, using functions available on desktop version of the same era.

Organizing Principle

Social networking, blogging and commenting, annotation and collaboration systems all strive to connect readers and writers across the digital landscape. But the most important conversation—and, in the current age, the most neglected—is a reader's inner dialog, when written content is brought to life and enacted in the mind.

This vital process makes the content meaningful—and thereby valuable—to the reader.

The richness and interactivity of digital content engenders new ways of enhancing internal conversations, enriching participation in written content.

Digital publishing is re-imagined as a platform for conversation— internal to a reader as well as with others.

Related Materials

DownloadDownload the presentation (PDF)


Thanks to Random House Digital Publishing Division, and to Hugh Dubberly, Walter Lee, and Rich Persaud.


Paul Pangaro works at the intersection of technology and humanities, combining his background in computer science and the cybernetics of conversation, drama and improvisation, research and development, product roadmaps and innovation methodologies. He consults to startups and product groups, mobile device companies and research organizations, creating pragmatic visions for the future role of technology in our daily lives and designing processes that increase the chances of innovation.

Recent clients include Alcatel-Lucent (Paris), Samsung, Nokia, Citigroup, Intellectual Ventures, Poetry Foundation, Instituto Itaú Cultural (São Paulo) and Ogilvy & Mather. He earned a PhD in Cybernetics from Brunel University (UK) and a BSci in Computer Science + Humanities / Drama from MIT. He has been teaching interaction design and conversation theory at the School of Visual Arts, Parsons/The New School and in the Human-Computer Interaction program at Stanford University.

© Copyright Paul Pangaro, 2013.