I’ve been musing about the use and value of a shared annotation tool like Hypothes.is. Chris Aldrich kindly responded in detail on my earlier questions about Hypothes.is. Those questions, about silo-effects, performativity if the audience for annotations isn’t just me, and what group forming occurs, are I think the key issues in judging its use to me. Circumventing the silo, integration with my own internal workflows and preventing performativity so fragile explorative learning may take place are the key concerns, where the potential of interaction and group forming in stimulating learning are the value it may yield.

I don’t yet readily see how I can use hypothes.is for annotation, as I think it would largely mean a switch away from annotating locally to doing so in-browser or rather in Chrome which is less a browser and more an adtech delivery vehicle. In general the browser is not a helpful environment for me when it comes to making notes. I now close a browser tab after clipping a web text to markdown which I then annotate locally later.

A first useful step I do see is bringing how others annotate my postings back to my own notes. Currently there are 66 annotations on my blogposts, stretching back three and a half years (mostly by the same person). I should be able to pull those in periodically through Hypothes.is’ API, or from an RSS feed, and integrate them into my local notes or perhaps show them alongside my blogposts (maybe by generating WebMentions about them, as I did here manually). As I have stated often, blogging means having distributed conversations and if Hypothes.is is where some of those conversations originate it is worthwile to make them visible.

I’m taking the liberty to put three questions before Chris Aldrich about his Hypothes.is experiences, after reading Annotation by Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia. Kalir and Garcia make much of the social affordances that annotation can provide. Where annotation is not an individual activity, jotting down marginalia in solitude, but a dialogue between multiple annotators in the now, or incrementally adding to annotators from the past. Like my blogposts are an ongoing conversation with the world as well. Hypothes.is is one of the mentioned tools that make such social annotating possible. I am much more used to individually annotating (except for shared work documents), where my notes are my own and for my own learning. Yet, I follow Chris Aldrich’s use of Hypothes.is with interest, his RSS feed of annotations is highly interesting, so there’s a clear sign that there can be benefit in social annotation. In order to better understand Chris’s experience I have three questions:

1. How do you beat the silo?

Annotations are anchored to the annotated text. Yet in my own note making flow, I lift them away from the source text to my networked set of notions and notes in which emergent structures produce my personal learning. I do maintain a link to the right spot in the source text. Tools like Hypothes.is are designed as silos to ensure that its social features work. How do you get your annotations into the rest of your workflow for notes and learning? How do you prevent that your social annotation tool is yet another separate place where one keeps stuff, cutting off the connections to the rest of one’s work and learning that would make it valuable?

2. What influence does annotating with an audience have on how you annotate?

My annotations and notes generally are fragile things, tentative formulations, or shortened formulations that have meaning because of what they point to (in my network of notes and thoughts), not so much because of their wording. Likewise my notes and notions read differently than my blog posts. Because my blog posts have an audience, my notes/notions are half of the internal dialogue with myself. Were I to annotate in the knowledge that it would be public, I would write very differently, it would be more a performance, less probing forwards in my thoughts. I remember that publicly shared bookmarks with notes in Delicious already had that effect for me. Do you annotate differently in public view, self censoring or self editing?

3. Who are you annotating with?

Learning usually needs a certain degree of protection, a safe space. Groups can provide that, but public space often less so. In Hypothes.is who are you annotating with? Everybody? Specific groups of learners? Just yourself and one or two others? All of that, depending on the text you’re annotating? How granular is your control over the sharing with groups, so that you can choose your level of learning safety?

Not just Chris is invited to comment on these questions obviously. You’re all invited.


Opticks, with marginalia, image by Open Library, license CC BY