Collaborate and annotate

Share this on social media:

Heather Staines describes the work of Hypothesis, which promotes annotation capability across the web

At a time when researchers are increasingly turning to scholarly collaboration networks (SCNs) such as ResearchGate or Mendeley, for collaboration or to social media sites for public discussions around content, publishers are increasingly looking to provide tools that will enable their authors and readers to collaborate and discuss content on the publisher platform itself. Increasingly, they are looking at annotation to meet this need and offer value to their users.

Hypothesis is a not-for-profit, open source annotation technology company created in 2011 to build and promote annotation capability anywhere across the web. Our open source code is permissively licensed, easily enabling publishers to integrate annotation with their sites. Key functionality allows users to make private and public notes, as well as highlights; to create private groups for research collaboration, education, investigative journalism, or other purposes; and to discover or explore and drill deeper into their own annotations and those of others via faceted search. Our APIs allow organisations and individuals to export and analyse their own annotations, offering a wealth of data from more than 1.5 million annotations to date. Our newest feature 'publisher groups' allows publishers to have a moderated and branded layer visible by default for author and export annotations and post-publication discussions.

Annotation will only become widespread if it is available via a powerful common toolchain – useful throughout the research, writing, and publication process – that can be used anywhere annotators choose to employ it. The days when users would readily accept a proprietary technology that only works in a few places are gone. The days when organisations will pay for a proprietary service that locks them into a relationship with one company and prevents them from extracting their data are gone. Only by staying non-profit can Hypothesis support the annotation community in this way.

By insisting upon the utilisation of an open source code, Hypothesis invites others to build with us, contributing their efforts back into the main code for others to utilise. We partner with other community members to promote interoperability. Our vision remains squarely focused on a future where annotations made with one client can see and interact with those made by a different client, where organisations and users can host their own servers as they like – much like how email works today. This future relies on standards.

W3C standard and Interoperability

On February 23, 2017, the W3C, the standards body for the web created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, unanimously approved annotation as a web standard (, detailing a data model, protocol, and vocabulary that annotation technology creators can take forward to support the creation of a standards-based, interoperable annotation capability. This means that, in the near future, browsers will natively support annotation clients without the need for end users to download plugins or install bookmarklets. Selection of a preferred annotation client will be as simple as selecting your search engine of choice is today.

Hypothesis participated in this key effort from the earliest days of the working group through to the approval of the standard. We look forward to seeing how annotation will be taken up by different constituencies as part of workflows that span numerous use cases. These include scholarly communications, education, research, and investigative journalism.

Annotating All Knowledge Coalition

In late 2015, Hypothesis kicked off the Annotating All Knowledge Coalition (AAK) [], bringing together companies from the publisher, university, and technology spaces that shared a common goal in bring annotation capability to knowledge on the web. The coalition now has 85 members and continues to grow. Free to join, the coalition asks only that members embrace the potential of annotation, experiment with the technology on their content, collaborate openly with others, and allow their names to be mentioned.

The first face-to-face meeting of the AAK was held in Portland, Oregon in the fall of 2016, at the Oregon Health Science University Campus in conjunction with the Force2016 meeting. More than 70 attendees explored progress to date, as well as opportunities and barriers to bringing a pervasive, open annotation layer to all scholarly work. The group will convene next in October in Berlin, prior to the Force2017 meeting. Interested parties should join us in developing practical experiments around annotation.

I Annotate

I Annotate is the premiere conference around annotation.The first I Annotate was held in San Francisco in 2013, with 50 participants. The idea for this event was the desire to bring together participants from many annotation communities to demonstrate new projects, find ways to collaborate, and explore new use cases of annotation in various workflows.

In May 2017, the fifth annual I Annotate again returned to Fort Mason with presenters that represented Wikimedia, Netflix, eLife, AAAS, and more. Around 130 annotation enthusiasts attended from more than 100 organisations, representing journalists, educators, publishers, librarians, and developers. The four-day event included a partner summit, two days of presentations, interactive sessions, and an unconference, as well as a hack day marked by live participation from developers in India. The highlight of the event was a keynote by Esther Dyson, a philanthropist with interests that include technology, healthcare, human capital and aerospace. Details for the 2018 meeting will be announced in the fall.

Moving forward

Hypothesis is partnering with organisations who want to integrate annotation into their workflows. Such collaborations include publishers like eLife, which integrated Hypothesis into its new platform and New York University Press which worked in conjunction with developers at Evident Point to enable annotation on content produced in EPUB. Hypothesis now is working with all major platform hosts to bring annotation capability to their publishers and partners. Other notable projects include an initiative with the Syracuse University Qualitative Data Repository to use annotation to illuminate information in footnotes and Scibot utilised by neuroscientists across 250 journals to display in annotation cards information from the Research Reference ID (RRID) database, a wealth of information on reagents, stem cell lines and other specific information needed for scientific reproducibility.

Our education division supports instructors all around the world who wish to do annotation assignments in the classroom, including close readings, fact-checking, and collaboration projects. Examples of such efforts include the Digital Polarization Project (, organised by Mike Caulfield of Washington State University, recently rolled out across eight universities and colleges, as well as Science in the Classroom (, a project created by the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Annotation is a great tool for fact-checkers. We’re working with communities annotating to bring to light more accurate information in the public interest. The first instance of this is Climate Feedback (, a group of nearly 200 climate scientists organised by Emmanuel Vincent out of UC Merced. These experts, whose specialties range across all aspects of climate science, distribute media articles for fact-checking and then post “feedbacks” scoring the accuracy of the information including detailed commentary, links, charts, and more in publicly viewable annotations. Hypothesis will give this capability to other communities of interest focusing on topics like immigration, vaccination, conflict studies, and public health.

If you are part of one of these stakeholder groups, we would love to learn how you might use annotation to streamline your workflow and increase conversation and collaboration around your content. We learn every day of creative examples of how Hypothesis is being used. We look forward to learning more from you.

If you are considering an annotation technology, please let us know. Join our AAK Coalition and attend the next I Annotate in spring 2018. We look forward to meeting you!

Heather Staines is director of relationships for Hypothesis