Q2 Update

By dwhly | 29 July, 2013

2013 has been an exciting year so far. We last sent out news in January. Moving forward we’ll be providing quarterly updates.

Launch time

We are working on a few remaining features necessary before we begin a gradual release process this fall. Beginning in September we’ll be testing annotation in a number of college classrooms for students and instructors to collaborate more easily around class materials. We’re very interested in both how annotation can be used to foster discussion, aid in peer-to-peer learning and assessment, and improve instruction. The goal is to get early feedback with small groups of students to evaluate basic performance and user experience in a controlled environment where spam and the demands of larger community are not major factors, while we continue to develop additional features.

We’ll also begin inviting some of  those who have reserved a username with us (in particular Kickstarter donors!) to give us early feedback as we work to rapidly make improvements and track down issues.

Our priorities

For a sense of our current development priorities and detail on specific features, see our roadmap and also our current issues list. We’ve organized our roadmap by 1) things we’re working on now, 2) things we’ll tackle next, and 3) everything we hope to do later. We’d love your feedback on whether you think our priorities are appropriate, any other things you think we should include, and also specific comments on our specifications (where available).

Help us test it

If you’re a student or educator in a high school, college or online classroom that you think is a good test case for annotation either this fall or this next spring, please contact Jake Hartnell, our intern from UC Berkeley (jakehartnell@hypothes.is). Also, if you think you’ve got another interesting test case or application, don’t hesitate to let us know. We’d love to get your help in evaluating what we’ve built, and in adjusting our priorities moving forward.

Great press

We’ve enjoyed remarkable coverage in the press this year. Highlights include articles in the New York Times, GigaOM and Fast Company, as well as an excellent piece by Todd Carpenter in the Scholarly Kitchen.

I recently gave a talk at the Personal Democracy Forum on Open Annotation and the past, present and future of the web. Peter Brantley presented at the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) Spring meeting in San Antonio, Texas on Hypothes.is and the potential for annotation to enhance scholarly communication. A video of his presentation is available.

I Annotate

Thanks to generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we held our first annual annotation conference in April. Over 100 technologists, hackers, publishers, scientists, scholars and librarians from around the world gathered in San Francisco over three days for the I Annotate conference. The conference focused on the twin objectives of showcasing progress in the annotation toolbox and exploring how to jumpstart annotation among diverse communities of interest. The final day was a hackathon, bringing together 45 software developers from online annotation systems, journals such as eLife and PeerJ, identity systems such as ORCID, online communities such as OpenGov, and the W3C annotation standards group.

Videos of each of the sessions, including a 30 minute mashup of the highlights are available.

One of our attendees, David Streitfeld from the New York Times, wrote an excellent piece that captured the essence of things– “Speak up, the Internet can’t hear you.”

Tiger teams

One thing that’s been clear to us from the start is that getting the world to adopt new technologies, tools and workflows is hard. We think inattention to this has been one of the primary reasons why previous efforts haven’t achieved their ambitions. As a result we’ve been focused on identifying and reaching out to specialized groups of experts in various domains to help us identify both opportunities and challenges in the application of annotation to their world. We first included a general discussion of this as part of the second day of our April annotation workshop. Since then we’ve begun to organize one day workshops around specific domains of application. We call them Tiger Teams.

Our first event, on July 9, was focused on Journalism. This gathering was highly informative and suggestive of this approach’s value in gathering information. In addition to basic methodological issues – the importance of identifying authors, for example, or producing analytics for discovering what portions of news articles are being read – our discussion highlighted a number of other insights. Using an annotation system as a “smart” highlighting system, enabling tagging and searching, to generate live networked research notes, and to aid the construction and post-publication commentary of articles, echos a use case that now seems to continually recur. Annotation also encourages direct reader engagement with a news publication, rather than diverting their comments to a platform such as Facebook or Disqus.  Finally, the group broached legal issues that are particularly salient to journalism, suggesting that Fair Use applies to the selection of content in annotations, but that development of mechanisms for permitting publishers to endorse or moderate the size of selections to prevent abuse  is worth consideration. We plan to bring these insights into our future events.

Our next Tiger Team event will be focused on the Law. We’re partnering with the Berkman Center, and we’ll be holding it on August 14 in Boston. The Law is a perfect use case for annotation, since law itself is a highly structured formalized protocol. In the U.S. and other countries, the principle of stare decisis – rulings based on precedence imply an inherent system of interlinkage across rulings and jurisdictions. Other law systems, such as those based on Roman law, have their own highly structured and elaborated forms. Legal scholarship is premised on practice that places a citation as the foundation of commentary, highlighting the prominence of annotation through its enactment. Furthermore, exciting projects are in the works that are exploring the publication of open source copies of all US federal and state case law. An open framework for direct citation and annotation that worked on top of this resource would be a powerful tool.

We’re also beginning the early planning for an event focused on Open Government sometime in October in Washington, D.C. If you’re interested in these events, or have one to suggest of your own, please contact us to let us know.


We’ve been writing a lot of code. Thanks to Randall’s leadership, and with the help of Kristof Csillag and Gergely Ujvari, our Hungarian teammates, and Ed Summers from the Library of Congress, we’ve made tremendous progress. Several projects are worthy of special note. Kristof’s work in solving one of annotation’s grand challenges, how to re-attach annotations when there are changes to the original content, has made tremendous progress. The brittleness of annotation implementations thus far has been an obstacle to robust anchoring of annotations particularly in areas (newspaper articles, blogs, wikis) where content can change rapidly. Please read his excellent writeup of our new “fuzzy anchoring” implementation. Also, Ed Summers has been working on our initial support for “cross-format” annotation, trying to address situations where  the same content might exist in several forms (such as HTML and PDF), or where a newspaper article might be paginated in one view and single page in another. Thankfully, due to common SEO practices and more modern microformat support, there are many useful metadata clues that we can use to provide support for a broad set of examples here. Ed’s contribution represents an early first step at approaching this problem– one that will certainly evolve over time.

Help us build it

Any designers or developers who would like to contribute to the effort, we’d love your help.  Our project is completely open source and our organization is non-profit, so contributions from the community are very welcome.  Our contributions page has all the information you’ll need to find the code and connect with us.

Internships at Hypothes.is

It turns out that when you want to solve cool problems as a non-profit, great people want to help. We’re really fortunate to have two fantastic interns this summer.

  • Jake Hartnell is a graduate student in the UC Berkeley I School. He’s an open source and open knowledge advocate, a principal on the epub.js reader project, and is providing substantial help in our UX design thinking, user testing and more.

  • Michael Shavlovsky has a master in applied physics and mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, and is currently a PhD candidate at University of California Santa Cruz in the Department of Computer Science. Michael is working on the various elements of community peer-review that we’ll be implementing, from simple spam controls to more complicated voting systems and metamoderation.

It’s official. We’re a non-profit.

After a 17 month IRS processing backlog, Hypothes.is has received its official US 501.c3 letter of determination, meaning we can enjoy tax-exempt status as a US non-profit corporation. While it’s an administrative detail in support of our larger strategy, it’s a substantial milestone for us and means that we can now accept funds directly without the need for the services of a fiscal sponsor.

There’s still a lot left to do.

And we’re looking forward to it.

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