The Institute for the Future of the Book has an elegant page-by-page Web interface that allows viewers to comment on specific pages or paragraphs of a given article or book. Now it’s started an experiment with Lewis Lapham, formerly of Harper’s:  it supplies an annotatable Iraq Study Group report, and he supplies a variety of experts to comment on it (as of Friday afternoon only Helena Cobban and M.J. Rosenberg have written). Sometime in mid-January, when Bush is expected to announce an escalation of the war, they’ll open comments to the rest of us.

Lapham sees this as a way to translate a bureaucratic gesture into an understandable message.  “What we hope will take shape on short notice and in real time is the publication of a report that should prove to be a good deal more instructive than the one distributed to the members of Congress and the major news media.”  If you’re like me, you’ll skim the comments and then work back to the text if it sounds interesting.

The question of balance does arise.  Additional expected commentators are Anthony Arnove, Joshua Cohen, Jean Daniel, Raghida Dergham, Joan Didion, Mark Danner, Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Engelhardt, Stanley Fish, Robert Fisk, Eric Foner, Christopher Hitchens, Rashid Khalidi, Chalmers Johnson, Donald Kagan, Kanan Makiya, William Polk, Walter Russell Mead, Karl Meyer, Ralph Nader, Gianni Riotta, Gary Sick, Matthew Stevenson, Lally Weymouth, and Wayne White.

Read about it at if:book and see it here