hypothes.is for web annotation

A while back I went to the OER annotation summit where I learnt about hypothes.is, a tool for adding a layer of annotation on top of the web. If the idea of annotating the web sounds like one of those great ideas that has been tried a dozen times before and never worked, then you’re right and (importantly) the hypothes.is team know about it. It’s also one of the great ideas that is worth trying over and again because of its potential. Today I took a quick look at how they’re getting on, and it looks good.

hypothesisButtonI installed the Chrome extension and registered, it took about 2 minutes, so I don’t mind if you try it right now. That gives me a small icon on my browser that activates a sidebar (which is collapsed by default) for annotations.  This lets you add comments to the page, highlight sections of text, add comments to those highlights, and view other people’s highlights and comments on that page. Annotations can be private, only visible to the annotator, or public and visible to everyone. Where annotations are public it is possible to reply to them, leading to conversations and discussions.

There’s also a WordPress plugin which adds annotation functionality to individual websites, I haven’t looked at that, but it could be a very useful addition to the WordPress for education tool kit.

I was worried that comments on specific phrases might be fragile, breaking if the page was changed, but a bit of experimenting showed they are reasonably robust, surviving small edits to the text annotated and changes to the preceding text that had the effect of shifting the annotated text down the page. I’m sure you can break it if you try but I think their fuzzy anchoring works for reasonable cases.

I like hypothes.is because it has the capacity make all the static content on web into the focus of reflective and social activity for education. Whether such activities are manageable and scaleable I don’t know,–how many open conversations can you have going on around around a single web page before everything just becomes swamped?–how many annotations can you save before finding your notes becomes harder than finding the content again. If there are limits, I guess that reaching them would be a nice problem to have.

I also like hypothes.is because it is an open project.I don’t just mean that it allows the content of annotations to be shared creating open discussion, though it does, an I like that. I don’t just mean that it works on the open web rather than within the confines of a single site, though it does, and I like that. I just don’t mean that it’s Open Source, though it is, and I like that. And I just don’t mean that it’s supporting open standards, though it is, and I like that.  What I really like is the openness in discussing the projects goals, approaches, plans that can be found on the project wiki and blog.