We’re back in Pisa after three exciting days in Berlin for the iAnnotate 2016 conference. It’s always nice to spend time with so many people who are dealing with the same ideas and projects. There’s always a lot to talk about and never enough time. There was in fact a lot of discussion around web annotation, from design to use cases, from philosophical to technical questions, and each aspect plays a fundamental role in the overall vision we are developing together.
Open! Open! Open!
The mantra of the whole conference was the word “open”. This is applied to many concepts like open software, open access, open data…. In one word, it’s about open science. We’ve always embraced the concept of openness and our Annotators and our Annotation Server are open source projects. We also think that the openness of users’ data is much more important and our first step is to enable our users to download all of their data in different open formats, to reuse them and possibly to import them in other similar platforms. But we also want to do more.
Interoperability and the future of web annotation
In fact we envisage a full interoperable technology which will enable users to switch the annotating client and server depending on their needs and preferences. This is the same paradigm of the web with its many clients (the browsers) and the data from different servers. Many technical details still need to be sorted out but this is the overall idea, which we fully embrace. Some of the main players at the conference were proposing this and we totally agree with them. I personally feel this is a prerequisite to the success of web annotation, since it’s the only way we can provide users with an experience that satisfies their needs, guarantees the permanence of their data and doesn’t make them feel like they are locked in a closed and impermanent system. I also believe that social interaction will play an important role since it’s evident that nowadays web users are mostly driven by social motivations. If we provide web annotation with an accurate system of social interactions, we could move some of the conversation happening only on Facebook and Twitter back to its original context, the web page.
Abuse and the author upfront
This also leads to some important issues regarding abuse on the web, which also applies to web annotations. There was an important panel on this and some interesting ideas came out of it. We support the idea of enabling the owner of a web page to choose how web annotation is applied on her/his page, so the actual technical details must still be discussed. We also think we should implement an ux pattern like Medium.com where the author of a page is always upfront and is notified when “something” happens on her/his content. Apart from being good practice against abuse, this will play a major role in engaging the author of some content, who’s also clearly the most interested person in that content and the mostly engageable in a discussion about such content.
The panel on Education was an eye-opener. The presented projects and tools were amongst the best uses of web annotation we’ve seen around. Education is a field we must focus on and continue applying our ideas, as students can benefit from web annotation and we can learn a lot from them.
Annotating All Knowledge
The Annotating All Knowledge Coalition was one of the most interesting projects presented. Launched by Hypothes.is, it involves approximately 60 scholarly publishers, platforms, libraries, and technology organizations and has a well-planned three-year roadmap to bring web annotations into the field of scholarship world-wide. We support the project and we’ll be providing our experience and tools. We have worked in the field of Digital Humanities for more than ten years, working with scholars and researchers on a daily basis and the Pundit Annotator Pro is the direct result of this long-term interaction. We plan to support the AAK coalition both by providing Pundit as an interoperable set of tools and discovering use cases and fields of application. We’ll start by providing our partners with details on how Pundit has been used in our past projects as we feel this could be a good starting point to replicate successful experiences.
Societal call to actions and expert criticism
The possible use cases for web annotation came out of rethinking the Climate Feedback model. The web is packed with information and on each topic there is often a considerable number of articles, blog posts and opinions that often state contrasting but equally convincing opinions. Readers are stuck in a sea of information and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to form their own opinions. In Italy we recently had a popular referendum and trying to form an opinion on the web was almost impossible. Web annotation could help in these cases by providing expert criticism on complex themes which require a lot of expert knowledge. The same application made for Climate Feedback could be applied in many other contexts.
Pundit, where next?
What are our next steps? We have a roadmap focused on finding use cases that we can apply to our clients. Pundit is a tool in the galaxy of the Muruca project and we provide it as a professional web annotator for scholars in the Digital Humanities.
We’ll be releasing our annotation server as an open source in the next few days and we’ll be deciding what we need to do to implement a fully-interoperable architecture of our system.
There’s a lot of stuff to do… but we’re back from iAnnotate recharged with enthusiasm and ready to continue doing our best.
My personal congratulations to all the Pundit team members for all their great work over the last year.