Lessons Learnt from an Asynchronous Book Club

Gareth Bragg
Nov 25, 2020 · 3 min read
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Photo by Alex Zamora on Unsplash

Book clubs are a popular way for groups to work through a book or article together and share their insights.

The obvious way to do that, remote or in-person, is to agree what to read, set a deadline, then get together to discuss your thoughts. But can working remotely bring extra benefits?

Enter hypothes.is.

Hypothes.is is a simple online tool, available for any browser (but far easier to setup with Chrome) to help people asynchronously share their thoughts on any article, paper, or eBook you can find online.

So the Coaches tried exactly that.

How did it work?

Well, here’s what we did:

What did you get from doing it this way?

That doesn’t sound too different from a regular book club, so why bring in an extra tool?

Sharing comments in advance lets people process them in their own time. Working in an asynchronous fashion can help us to embrace more neurodiversity. Some people — myself included — can struggle to take in rich swathes of information and quickly contribute to a conversation about it. Others get far deeper insights from private reflection. We found this upfront sharing put everyone on a level playing field to contribute to our conversation.

You can jump straight to the valuable conversations. While it can be nice to share your thoughts face-to-face, it can be a time-consuming way to learn everyone is in vigorous agreement. By sharing all your thoughts upfront, you can identify and talk about the most interesting or divisive comments, and really learn from people’s different viewpoints. Facilitation tools like lean coffee try to encourage this, which is why they’re so popular.

You can share insights you wouldn’t otherwise talk about. Collaborative notetaking in a tool like hypothes.is also means comment threads! Many of our comments didn’t get discussed in great depth, but threads let us share ideas and links with each other, and to riff off each other’s ideas:

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What’s next?

We’ve only done this once, but found it worked superbly for us. Redgate are using the same approach for an internal book club, reviewing There’s also an ongoing book club reviewing the Architecture of Open-Source Applications.

We found hypothes.is little clunky at times, and it will only help with going over online content. However we got great value we got from being intentionally asynchronous with our sharing.

The coaches at Redgate have a healthy backlog of similar articles to read and reflect to help us better support our teams and our company. We’re surely be taking a similar approach for our future articles.

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