Say Hello to Anno

By dwhly | 18 August, 2022

It’s been 11 years since we launched Hypothesis. It’s gone by so fast.

During this time, we’ve accomplished many things: We defined a vision for open web annotation, we built an open source framework to implement it, we helped form and lead the working group that shipped the W3C standard, and we launched a service that’s now used by over a million people around the world who have made nearly 40 million annotations. In higher education, more than 1,200 colleges and universities use Hypothesis. And we’ve grown from a handful of people into a team of more than 35 passionate web builders.

We’re not stopping here.

We’ve always had our sights set on the bigger idea: that this still-nascent effort can blossom into a true network of interoperable services — a rich ecosystem of collaboration, conversation and community over all knowledge. We believe that when incentives are aligned toward quality and away from monetizing attention, we can produce something of profound social importance. A utility layer for humanity.

Since launch, the Hypothesis Project has been incorporated as a nonprofit. And while our nonprofit was an excellent home for our mission, it also limited us to grants and donations. Though we were beginning to provide services that we could charge for, we still needed capital to expand. Frustratingly, while our needs were growing, several of the key funding sources we’d relied on were no longer available to us as they shuttered programs or changed strategies.

In 2019, we and others formed Invest In Open Infrastructure (IOI), an “initiative to dramatically increase the amount of funding available to open scholarly infrastructure.” We recruited Kaitlin Thaney to that effort, and she has been doing a terrific job laying the foundation for this.

But all this would take time we didn’t have.

In response, and to better position us to achieve our long-held mission, we’ve formed Anno, a public benefit corporation (aka “Annotation Unlimited, PBC”) that shares the Hypothesis mission as well as its team. We’ve done this so that we can take investment in a mission aligned way and scale the Hypothesis service to meet the opportunity in front of us.

Anno is funded by a $14M seed round that includes a $2.5M investment from ITHAKA, the nonprofit provider of JSTOR, a digital library that serves more than 13,000 education institutions around the world, providing access to more than 12 million journal articles, books, images and primary sources in 75 disciplines. Also participating in the round are, Triage Ventures, Esther Dyson, Mark Pincus and others. ITHAKA’s president, Kevin Guthrie, has joined Anno’s board as an observer.

Watch our full interview with Kevin Guthrie

Our Public Benefit

Like all public benefit corporations, we have an impact statement or “public benefit purpose” registered with the state of Delaware, where we’re incorporated. Ours is:

“To build new open, interoperable infrastructure connecting the world’s people and ideas over all content on every platform. We’re using a new unit of speech — the digital annotation — to enable a world of diverse collaborative services for the benefit of humanity.”

We think this perfectly reflects what we’re focused on, and our performance against this is something that we’ll regularly measure ourselves by.

What all this means — and what it doesn’t

Anno will help us scale Hypothesis in the higher education and research markets. We believe there is no better way to bring annotation to the larger world than through institutions of learning and the students, faculty, scientists and scholars that rely on us. The nonprofit Hypothesis Project will focus on advocacy, standards and the development of the larger paradigm of open annotation beyond our implementation.

While our organizational structure might be evolving, our approach remains the same. We’re still the same Hypothesis: We’ll still develop open source software based on open standards, we’ll still champion the same principles we were founded on, and we’ll still speak up when we see things that just aren’t right. Importantly, a Hypothesis account will remain free for individual users.

For our institutional customers in higher education, nothing will change — not the product, not the support you receive and not the way you do business with us.

The partnership with ITHAKA

Our relationship with ITHAKA is a powerful next step in growing the value proposition in the academic and scholarly worlds.

I’m excited to share that one of the first outcomes of our new relationship with ITHAKA will be a pilot integration that enables our users to engage with JSTOR’s library of scholarly content directly within the Hypothesis interface.

As Kevin Guthrie, President of ITHAKA, puts it: “Our mission is to improve access to knowledge and education so that people can learn, grow and thrive. Engaging students in their learning through annotation and social reading is a compelling capability made possible by the web, yet to be fully realized. We are therefore very excited to connect Hypothesis and JSTOR and accelerate the beneficial use of annotation by faculty and students all over the world.”

Watch our full interview with Esther Dyson

Back to work

We’ve always known that in order to achieve our mission, we would need substantial capital.

Now with the benefit of that support, I’m excited to get back to what we care about most and the challenge we’re uniquely positioned to address: fostering engagement and conversation across the world’s knowledge, something we all need more than ever before.

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