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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. The Basics
    1. What is NowComment in a nutshell?
    2. Can I limit who looks at or posts comments on my documents?
    3. What document formats can NowComment handle?
    4. How long can a NowComment document be?
    5. What languages can NowComment handle?
    6. How does NowComment handle document editing?
    7. Can NowComment documents include multimedia elements like images, photos, animations, videos, and audio?
    8. What group sizes are appropriate for NowComment?
    9. Can NowComment be used with our Learning Management System (LMS) or directory system?
    10. How long should it take to upload a file?

  2. Reading and Adding Comments
    1. Why are there “word balloons” in the document text?
    2. Why is a Summary of Comment required?
    3. Can you have a conversation on specific words or phrases?
    4. What are the advantages of the 2-Pane vs. Combined (1-Pane) vs. Sorted Views?
    5. Can NowComment comments and documents have hyperlinks to other web documents?
    6. What are tags used for?

  3. NowComment Compared to Other Tools
    1. Microsoft Word (and other desktop applications)
    2. Blogs
    3. Wikis
    4. Google Docs/Drive
    5. “Sticky Note” Programs

  4. Common “How-to Questions”
    1. How do I remove someone from a Group or Document?

  5. Software Issues
    1. Are there any known NowComment bugs or issues?
    2. What are the most common problems or misunderstandings NowComment users experience?

  1. The Basics
    1. What is NowComment in a nutshell?
      NowComment is a sophisticated group collaboration app for the discussion and annotation of online documents. Its many unique features include a user interface that encourages rich, in-depth conversations by showing threaded comments “in context” with the original document. Group members start or join conversations on whatever passages they find interesting and important, intellectually engaging in ways not possible in face-to-face class discussion.

    2. Can I limit who can see or comment on my documents?
      Unless you specifically change from Private Document (the default when uploading) to Public Document, only people or Groups you explicitly invite to the document will be able to see it or comment on it.

    3. What document formats can NowComment handle?
      NowComment works natively with HTML web content and Microsoft Word documents (after all Track Changes edits and deletions have already been accepted). We also offer PDF uploading, but it's not quite as reliable. If you have a document in another format you can probably do a File | Save-As or use a converter application to get it into one of the formats above. For more information see our file upload hints page.

    4. How long can a NowComment document be?
      There's no absolute limit on size, but we generally recommend keeping documents below 50 pages because:
      1. most users don't like reading long documents online (e.g. eyestrain, lots of scrolling required)
      2. large documents may be a burden on computer systems that have limited memory

    5. What languages can NowComment handle?
      NowComment is built to work with any language whose text characters run left-to-right, including but not limited to English and Romance languages; NowComment displays Unicode characters and diacritical marks and math/logic/scientific symbols properly.

      For right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew NowComment should work fine as long as commenting at the paragraph level, rather than sentence-by-sentence, is sufficient.

    6. How does NowComment handle document editing?
      People usually think of document collaboration as editing someone else's draft document, most often for “right or wrong” things like fixing punctuation and spelling errors. NowComment lets you make such low-level edits too; group members can suggest wording changes or fixes through a comment, and the document uploader can either accept individual suggestions with a single click (which immediately updates the document for the group) or continue discussing how to proceed by replying to the suggestion comment. But NowComment's focus is on higher-level intellectual discussion, and group-edited documents that try to do idea sharing through editing quickly become cluttered and illegible when multiple people are deleting the contributions of others and adding their own thoughts (which others in turn may edit or even delete). Our commenting-based approach builds understanding organically, letting class/group members get clarifications, raise objections, suggest alternatives, ask questions, point out implications, etc. in a way that's respectful of others and also keeps the base document clean and easy to read.

    7. Can NowComment documents include multimedia elements like images, photos, animations, videos, and audio?
      Yes. There are three ways to upload multimedia content to NowComment to do in-context commenting (where you can see which parts of the image or video have been commented on):

      1. Most commonly, as a component in some larger document (text, video, and image content can all be combined in a single document, so you can have an article illustrated with pictures/images and accompanied by relevant videos)
      2. Added to the end of any existing document, e.g. upload an MS Word document, then add a video to it via HTML web content module.

      3. As a standalone document, e.g. you can upload a painting or video and have people comment on it by itself (though integrating text and other elements is generally more powerful/desirable... and it's more convenient and efficient to have all the relevant content in one document, if not too big a document, versus spread out in multiple documents).

      4. Some relevant notes:
        • images/photos can be in jpeg, png, gif, tif, and svg formats. See our image commenting documentation.
        • you can embed video and audio players by pasting their embed codes (sometimes referred to as “Share” or “Sharing” information) into the data entry box of our Upload Web Content module. See our video commenting documentation. Note— MS Word doesn't support video or audio, but you can use the next method to overcome this limitation.
        • Text within images and videos won't be converted to commentable text via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of PDFs

    8. What group sizes are appropriate for NowComment?
      NowComment has been successfully tested with both very small groups (e.g. 4-5 people collaborating on writing projects) and large groups of 50+ users. There are no size limits per se; the software is designed to accommodate hundreds, even thousands, of readers commenting on a single document.

    9. Can NowComment be used with our Learning Management System (LMS) or directory system?
      Yes! NowComment can be integrated with Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, Canvas, and other school LMSs via LTI authentication. In general, NowComment is very standards-compliant and plays well with other applications, e.g. the University of Virginia (UVA) integrated NowComment with the Sakai LMS in 2009 using Shibboleth and with Canvas in 2013.

    10. How long should it take to upload a file?
      The speed of your Internet connection (broadband upload speeds are usually slower than download speeds) and the file size are the main, but not the only, factors. Network congestion on occasion can dramatically slow Internet throughput… and while our server can handle many uploading documents at a time, it's possible that it could become overloaded. It never hurts to retry the upload in a minute or two if you run into a problem.

  2. Reading and Adding Comments
    1. Why are there “word balloons” showing in the document text and in the margins?
      Word balloons mean that there are existing conversations; the number of comments is given inside the balloon. Paragraph balloons are square and appear at the end of the first line of a commented paragraph. Sentence balloons appear at the end of a commented sentence once you have clicked on something in the document. Clicking on a word balloon scrolls the screen and highlights the conversations already underway on that passage, image, or embedded video. Two things to note:

      • The word balloons aren't distracting after a minute or two using NowComment; you don't even notice them until you want to click on them to see the comments!
      • General comments not related to specific passages appear at the end of the document.

    2. Why is a Summary of Comment required?
      Summaries let group members skim the comments to find the ones most interesting and relevant to them (minimizing “information overload”). Summaries also encourage commenters to organize their thoughts; if you're having trouble finding a good Summary that covers all your points you may want to consider making several more focused comments rather than one.

    3. What are the advantages of the 2-pane vs. Combined (1-Pane) vs. Sorted Views?
      • 2-Pane: The comments, though easily available to you by clicking the word balloons, are off to the right so you can read the document with minimal distraction.
      • Combined: Both the text and all the comments are together in one window; no clicking is needed to see all the comments, you just need to scroll. This view is good if you know you want to read all the comments and are already very familiar with the document (i.e. so all the comments won't make you lose the thread of what the document is saying). Combined is also good when documents have multiple columns, e.g. tabular data.
      • Sorted: Looks like 2-Pane, but the comments show in the order that you specify (sorted by commenters' Last Name or First Name, by Comment Date, or by Tag) rather than based on where in the document the comment was made. For example, you can sort by Name to quickly and easily grade/assess each person's contributions to the discussion.

    4. Can you have a conversation on specific words or phrases?
      Yes. Just start a new Sentence-level conversation with the key word or phrase at the beginning of the Summary of Comment line (we suggest using quotation marks to make it stand out).

    5. Can NowComment comments and documents have hyperlinks to other web documents?
      Yes to both. In comments, all you have to do is type the full URL (including the http:// or https:// prefix). Hyperlinks that are already in the documents you upload will work fine. To add new hyperlinks to a document:

      • In Microsoft Word, edit the document before uploading it to NowComment and use Word's own “Insert Hyperlink” menu choice to specify both the URL and the display words.
      • For HTML copy-and-paste upload, insert an HTML hyperlink tag into the document, e.g.:
        <a href="url">displaywords</a>
        where “url” is the destination web page address and “displaywords” are the word(s) users should click on to go there.

    6. What are tags used for?
      Both documents and comments can be given tags (keywords) to make them easier for others to find. Tags can be free form, or your group can come up with preset categories, e.g. a writing class may want to categorize comments as grammar, style, or content… or a political science class might want to tag all comments made by Democrats vs. Independents vs. Republicans so they can be sorted that way). Administrators and executives might want to see comments tagged/sorted as financial, management, marketing, or other.

  3. NowComment Compared to Other Tools
    1. Microsoft Word
      Microsoft Word (like Google Docs below) is not very powerful for commenting/discussion; its commenting capabilities are tacked on to a program built for editing. It can't handle true discussion (organization of comments into threaded conversations) and it doesn't scale well beyond a handful of people; the screens get too cluttered and it's hard to tell who's saying what. NowComment offers an interface built for discussion with editing and suggest revision (like track changes) capabilities.

      Note that emailing or otherwise circulating files for commenting in Word (or any desktop application) has inherent and very significant disadvantages:

      • Inefficiency: The editor has to gather and review each person's submission separately, so they're wasting time reading/skimming the base document over and over! If there's no editor then everyone has to read everyone else's drafts, an even bigger waste of time!
      • Redundancy: Since no one knows what their peers have already said you get lots of redundant comments, a big waste of time for both the writers and all the readers.
      • Delays seeing new comments: The group's project/goal is delayed because no one sees anyone else's comments until they get compiled (a really big problem if the compilation has to wait until everyone turns their comments in).
      • Version control problems: If any group members turn in their comments late, after a new draft based on the on-time comments has been created, then integrating comments made on the old draft with the current draft can be a nightmare.

      NowComment eliminates all these problems: you can ensure that people are always commenting on the current version, and their comments appear right away for everyone to see; no one ever has to compile the responses!

      NowComment's workflow also simplifies the logistics of getting everyone's input on group projects. In Word, every group member can make changes on the Word document, which makes the document hard to read… and not everyone will agree with every change made by colleagues; in NowComment, everyone suggests changes (and can comment on pros and cons of others' suggestions) but then leaves it to the document owner, acting as the editor, to decide which changes to accept.

    2. Blogs
      Most blogs aren't designed with commenting in mind; comments are usually shown out-of-context at the bottom of the page, not shown or connected to the text passages they relate to. And they lack features related to commenting (e.g. sorting by person). NowComment is specifically designed to elicit and organize reader comments; use our blogging tool to get both NowComment's in-depth discussion capabilities and the conveniences of a blog (e.g. organizing documents through compilation, blog subscription for notifications of new material).

    3. Wikis
      Wikis let anyone change the content of a document. NowComment lets anyone comment on the document but only lets the person who uploads a document make changes (including 1-click acceptance of changes like Microsoft Word's “track changes” feature). For more information see Changing a Document That's Already Online.

    4. Google Docs/Drive
      Google Docs (now Drive) allows you to share documents with others, but its discussion capabilities are limited. Like Word, its screen gets crowded and hard to read when there are more than a few comments.

    5. “Sticky Notes” to show comments
      None of the programs we've seen have worked well when more than a few people are making comments; the screen gets very cluttered, the notes aren't easily organized into coherent conversations, and there aren't good (if any) sorting capabilities. NowComment organizes and sorts comments without cluttering the document screen.

  4. Common “How-to Questions”
    1. How do I remove someone from a Group or Document?
      Start at your MyLibrary Page. If removing someone from a Group, go to the corresponding Group Page; if removing from a Document, go to that Document's Invite page. From whichever page, click on the gray minus sign button next to the person's name. Note:

      • Removing a person doesn't remove any comments they've already made on any Documents
      • if an email address has a “typo” or other problem you should remove that person from the Document or Group immediately and add them back only after the problem email address is fixed (via the procedure described here). If problem emails aren't promptly fixed our standard email notifications will “bounce” and our email providers may think we are sending spam and penalize everyone on the system! To avoid that, we require that you keep your email address lists accurate and up-to-date to maintain your free access to NowComment.

  5. Software Issues
    1. Are there any known NowComment bugs or issues?
      All software has bugs and issues, but NowComment is extremely reliable and stable; we disclose known issues if we can't fix them right away (our norm), and our list is very short (all minor). In the unlikely event that you run into a problem see our tech support tips page.

    2. What are the most common problems or misunderstandings NowComment users experience?

    1. I signed up for a new account but haven't received the validation email yet.
      NowComment's new account process is very reliable. In the rare cases there is a problem, here are the likely culprits:

      1. You and/or your school/organization are running a spam filter that mistakenly quarantined our email. Check all possible spam filters. Note that some organizations' spam filters will accept a certain number of emails from an unfamiliar domain (“rate limits”) but start blocking emails exceeding that number. Schools occasionally run into this when a teacher who's been testing NowComment starts using it with all his/her students.

      2. The email address you entered has a typo (easy to check if you still have that browser window open).

      3. You gave us one email address but you're checking for new email for some other account. If this is the case you can change email addresses if you want once you've activated your account.

      4. There's a problem with our site and it's temporarily down. To see if that's the case see if our homepage loads.
      5. If it doesn't, look up NowComment on a site like IsItDownRightNow?.

      6. If none of the above identifies the problem, contact our Tech Support Desk via the Help menu at the top of each page and we'll look into it.

    2. I copy-and-pasted some web content, including an audio or video media player, and the media player didn't make it into my NowComment document. [Or… I have a picture of the media player but it won't play anything.]
      To make video and audio players work properly in NowComment you have to copy-and-paste the media player's “embed code” into NowComment's web content data entry box.

    3. I invited someone but they can't access the document.
      Is your document a Public or Private Document? Click the “i” icon on your My Library page or on the document page's blue navigation strip header to find out.
      • Private Document (the default and the most common) — only people and Groups who you've shared the document with via the site's “Invite” link, and who are logged in to the NowComment site will be able to access it.
      • Public Document (not common) — emailing someone the document URL will work, as Public Documents are intended to be open to everyone.

      For more on inviting people and Groups to your documents see Sharing Your Documents.

    4. I have extra lines of white space where I don't want them and want more white space where there isn't any.
      The key to both issues is differentiating between regular carriage returns, which are used to mark the end of a paragraph or block of text (e.g. a postal street address), and line breaks which should be used to go to the beginning of the next line without ending the paragraph or block of text. So you'd want a line break at the end of each line of a poem within a stanza but a regular carriage return to separate stanzas from one another. For details see our discussion of line breaks here.

    5. I uploaded a document but the paragraphs are being broken up into individual lines (not necessarily sentences).
      • This usually means you copy-and-pasted from a PDF file, which have carriage returns at the end of each physical line. We have a separate blue PDF upload button for PDFs
      • A few HTML web documents (especially old ones from the early days of the web) have this problem too. Copy the document to Microsoft Word or another application, delete all unwanted carriage returns contained within paragraphs, save the document as .docx (probably best) or PDF, and then re-upload the edited document using the blue button appropriate to your document format.

    6. The top of the screen (right pane of 2-Pane view) says there are comments but they aren't showing for me.
      The document owner (uploader) can control whether, or as of what date, those invited to the document can comment on the document and/or see existing comments (the document owner can always see all the document comments). Look for information about the number of comments and any applicable date controls at the top of the right pane (or mouse over the “i” icon in the light blue toolbar, or choose the “Document Properties” option from the “More” menu in the same toolbar).

    7. I imported a student roster file into NowComment but one student was left out. There are two radio buttons in our File Import module that ask whether the first row of the file contains header information (e.g. First Name, Last Name, Email Address) or actual data. You probably left the default “Header” button checked even though the first row had data. Just redo your import and all should be well, but for more information see our File Import documentation.

    8. I know I uploaded a document to NowComment but I don't see it on the My Library page. There are three possible explanations for this:
      1. If you have uploaded a lot of other documents, or others have invited you to a lot of documents, the document you're looking for may be pushed off the first MyLibrary page. You can scroll through MyLibrary page-by-page to find your document, or you can put a distinctive keyword from the document or document title into the site search box (in the top toolbar near your name and picture) and find your document that way.
      2. Similar to above, if older documents you have access changed (edited or have material added) MyLibrary treats them as new documents (their edit date and time is used as the uploaded date and time), so edited documents could also have pushed your document off the first page. Changed documents will have a small filled-in or empty bullet/circle next to them as a flag of a change.
      3. Maybe you have another account on NowComment and your document is there?

    [Last updated May 29, 2017]


© Copyright 2018-2024, Paul Allison.
"NowComment" is a registered trademark of Paul Allison. All rights reserved.

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Quickstart: Commenting and Sharing

How to Comment
  • Click icons on the left to see existing comments.
  • Desktop/Laptop: double-click any text, highlight a section of an image, or add a comment while a video is playing to start a new conversation.
    Tablet/Phone: single click then click on the "Start One" link (look right or below).
  • Click "Reply" on a comment to join the conversation.
How to Share Documents
  1. "Upload" a new document.
  2. "Invite" others to it.

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