“Amplified Marginalia”: Social Reading, Listening, and Writing

“Amplified Marginalia”: Social Reading, Listening, and Writing

“The text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture.”

- Roland Barthes

When Marc Andreessen invented the first web browser in Mosaic (commercialized as Netscape), he intended it to have an annotation mechanism built in. Andreessen describes the feature in an email from the time: “every time you access a document in Mosaic, the group annotation server...is queried with the URL of the document you're viewing; if any group annotations exist for that document, the group annotation server returns to Mosaic corresponding hyperlinks which are inlined into the document just like personal annotations.” Hosting these annotations was no easy task at the time and would have required significant server space. Andreessen and his partner Eric Bana applied for funding from the National Science Foundation, but were rejected.

Last fall, Marc Andreessen’s venture capital investment firm Andreessen Horowitz invested $15 million dollars in a popular rap music website called RapGenius that allows users to annotate their favorite rap songs line-by-line, wiki-style. Even before this major investment, RapGenius had been expanding its interactive archive to include all kinds of texts. As Andreessen writes in a blog explaining the investment, the idea is that RapGenius has developed a powerful model for a community of annotation that can be extended beyond rap music and developed to “annotate the world.” Rap Genius has now officially launched Poetry Genius and News Genius initiatives in an attempt to develop other annotation communities on the Web.

But RapGenius is just one of many groups working to develop annotation capabilities for the web. Academic institutions like MIT have developed annotation technologies specific for the classroom like their AnnotationStudio. And non-profits like The Institute for the Future of the Book have developed platforms like SocialBook for broader intellectual communities.  Recently, the founder of the hypothes.is, Dan Whaley, () organized a conference on annotation called I Annotate that was written up in the New York Times. Whaley explains his belief that now is the moment for annotation: “The Web is more mature. Browsers are better. There’s the potential of interoperability, of openness. We can create a parallel Web that is a conversation about the world as it found through the Web.”

In the twenty years since the invention of the browser, the web has exploded with rich, user-generated multimedia content, and annotation is everywhere online. It is in every comment section of every online newspaper. It is on every blog that excerpts and comments on other texts. It is built into social networking, as people comment, like, share, and pin articles. It is built into every page on YouTube, Vimeo, and other multimedia sites like SoundCloud. Annotation, as a concept and as a practice, is shifting and growing. But real sites of annotation--sites that actively resist becoming havens for comment trolls by rigorously promoting explanation as fundamental to the purpose of the site--are only just beginning to emerge. As they continue to develop, these sites are going to expand our notion of what is possible through annotation.

 

The Classroom:

 

Annotation platforms like SocialBook, HyperStudio, hypothes.is, and RapGenius have harnessed the collaborative intellectual energy of this online world of “amplified marginalia.”

  • How can we use these tools in our classrooms to further both traditional learning goals within the humanities and other disciplines, as well as engage the new digital pedagogies of the twenty-first century?
  • How does social reading change the relationship of the student to the authors and texts they study?
  • How does social reading challenge our students’ and our own conceptions of their writing?
  • How else does reading, thinking, and writing in online communities transform the basic nature of knowledge production itself?

 

The Libraries:

 

This concept of “amplified marginalia” is poised, then, not only to disrupt how we think of the library and the static archive. It also stands to fundamentally transform how we approach and interact with online archives and digital manuscripts. As collation and annotation programs like Juxta go “social,” the lines increasingly blur between owner and user, author and reader, artist and audience.

  • How will the medieval marginalia of Irish monks interact with the scholarly annotation in the 12st century?
  • Will annotation and commentary become a critical part of library searches?
  • How will the very nature of the library change when the user becomes part of the archive?

 

The Commons:

 

Photo from Flickr User Jason A. Howie.

On a wider level, social annotation has become the contemporary mode of public discourse.  On news websites, broadcast news programs, and even print media, content providers makes calls to annotate their content via new media.  

  • But seeing that comments, forums, blogs, social media, and all other user-generated content have become so central, is “annotation” even the best way to describe them?  The word “annotation” seems to displace and decentralize the texts it refers to in favor of a main or canonical text.  Are there better ways to describe user-generated content and its relation to corporate/organizational/published texts?  What kinds of power relations are we emphasizing with different descriptions?  
  • Examining the changing characters of the classroom, the library, and the scholarly commons, this forum asks: What are the consequences when marginalia is demarginalized?

 

The Soundbox

 

Long before an electrical age full of speakers, boom boxes, tape decks, TVs (known informally in the UK as a box), guitar amps, and other box-shaped devices like ipods and computers, stringed instruments used a hollowed out box for amplification through simple physics. The strings, attached to a hollowed out box, would set the surrounding air particles into vibrational motion at the same frequency, intensifying the sound so it could be heard at a greater distance. Emanated from these boxes, sound was a social phenomenon, connecting people together through an act of sonic transfer, social amplification.

 

With the digital turn in sound production, distribution and consumption, this sociality of listening has continued, developing in tandem with emergent forms of annotation that serve to “amplify” sounds in digital environments. (Computer as box!) Free streaming sites like Soundcloud and YouTube allow users to share and publish their aural (and visual) creations in an effort to, as their websites say, "connect with people" or "broadcast yourself."

 

  • In what ways does the connective power of the web (re)form social listening?  
  • What new forms of sociality are possible within sonically-amplified digital environments?

 

Hosted by HASTAC Scholars:

Jeremy Dean, University of Texas at Austin, and RapGenius

William Burdette, University of Texas at Austin

Amanda Wall, University of Texas at Austin

Darren Mueller, Duke University, PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge

Winter Werner, Northwestern University, Northwestern Library

 

Special Guests:

Bob Stein, SocialBook

Dan Whaley, hypothes.is

Kurt Fendt, MIT HyperStudio

Jamie FolsomMIT HyperStudio

Ilan Zechory, Founder, Rap Genius

 

108 comments

Many of the best annotation sites out there are outside academia. The lexicon, grammar, logic, and tone of these sites are all decidedly unacademic. How do we use these spaces without force-fitting our language conventions into them or turning them into creepy treehouses?

102

BTW: The creepy treehouse effect is when you try inhabit or re-create digital spaces that are indigenous to your students. Here are a couple of links about it: 

 
106

They never seemed to reach the point of critical analysis, but Vh1 did a pretty good job of recognizing other investigations like allusions, tropes and historical context, among others. In a way, they were micro-blogging on pop videos well before micro-blogging was a buzz word. Considering these annotations on videos as their content, I think they did a good job of offering informative context to pure pop.

It would be some backend work, but a video editing tool within RapGenius allowing users to annotate videos in the vein of Vh1s might generate some awesome commentary!

101

Matthew, I don't think Pop-up Video gets nearly the credit it deserves for its approach to annotation in the pre-Twitter, pre-Google dark ages. I agree that such a tool would be cool. YouTube has something similar, actually. There is an annotation tool on YouTube which we haven't yet talked about.  

100

I’d like to talk about annotation as commerce. If you dig into the “writing” jobs of any big city on Craigslist, you’re going to find a lot of companies that want people to manage their social media accounts, their blogs, and their online forums.  That’s because these digital annotations--these comments and social media updates--act as a form of currency to these companies.  Experts in search engine optimization (SEO) speculate about whether comments affect their search rankings.

Companies can’t just put up a static page anymore and call it quits.  They need an online storefront, where customers can ask questions about products on Facebook or even just idly chat with your employees via Twitter.  This accessibility makes companies likeable, connected, and oddly enough, human.  Maybe that human feeling is where the commercial value of annotation truly lies; unlike polished articles and advertising copy, annotative social media can read as casual conversation, as the communication of a single, smiling person.  Social media replicates (or is--I wonder why I felt the need to write “replicates?”) person-to-person socialization.

115

I want to pick up on the SEO thread. Is there emerging a rhetoric of SEO? Specifically, I wonder how SEO affects ethos and credibility. Even more specifically, I wonder how paying for SEO, (rather than, say, a blogger doing it herself) affects credibility. 

103

SEO!  My pet project!

I've only just started reserach for an article on the rhetoric of SEO, and I am continuously fascinated by the documents I read about it.

For one, the core recommendation of every SEO expert ever is the creation of useful, meaningful, organized content.  They talk endlessly about clarity and good writing.  It's something that should make rhetoric instructors stand up and cheer, because it means that the skills we teach are not just indirectly useful (business people need to be good communicators, blah blah blah); they are directly salable.  "Content creator" or "content editor" is a new job title that rhetoric and English majors can acquire; go check out the writing/editing jobs section of Craigslist for any major city, and you'll see what I mean.  ("Content" is an interesting vocabulary word to talk about writing/composing/etc, but that's for another post.)

But secondly, SEO is about tailoring content so that it is understandable to search engine robots (called "crawlers" or "spiders"), so the difference between writing and coding starts to get blurry.  When you are writing words so that they are correctly parsed by a machine, that's got to be coding, on some level.  That said, the search engine algorithms are designed so that they replicate human reading patterns as much as possible, which makes us step back and take a stark view of how we evaluate things like credibility.  Search engine algorithms evaluate credibility through (a hugely complex view of) links, where links from many sources or especially authoritative sources helps establish a site as more useful and valuable.  If you're a jewelry maker, links to your site from fashion websites will gain you high search rankings than links from HASTAC, for example.  It's a little bracing to see our supposedly subtle views of credibility "reduced" to equations, but it also makes me wonder whether human views of credibility are as subtle as we like to think.

To bring this back to annotation, search engine rankings may or may not (we can't be sure - the algorithms are all trade secrets) be influenced by things like comments.  For an SEO expert or a webmaster, comments are valuable because they add content (hopefully useful content) to the page, meaning more text for a search engine robot to evaluate, but also more content for a human user to read and enjoy, meaning they spend more time on the page.  If a human user writes comments, they're spending even more time on the page and even interacting with it.  That's time and effort that becomes visible in the form of a comment, and thus salable to ad buyers who are considering whether placing an ad on a particular webpage is a good investment.

 

107

Sound is ubiquitous on the web. Streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Slacker allow users to listen to music. Ecologically minded sites like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Western Soundscape Archive allow users to listen to environments from afar. Oral histories exist at sites like Historical Voices and Voices of the Holocaust. Many people also upload their favorite music to video sites like Youtube, Vimeo. Sociality is something built in to many of these places, usually through comment sections located somewhere on the page or share buttons that connect users to various forms of social media. While social listening is an important part of digital culture, none of these sites allow their users time stamped annotations, putting comments and interactions in relation to the sounds themselves. Other sound-based services like Soundcloud approach this type of social interaction, but even their comment features don’t allow for extended and critical citation.

Such an annotation system could exist, but doesn’t. Why is that?

Rapgenius.com is an impressive (and useful) site, but they are primarily text based. Let's take an example like Kanye West’s “Power." Rapgenius, of course, allows people to annotate is lyrics. But what about the distortion on the line “21st Century Schizoid Man” at the end of the first choruses (0:35) and the seemingly related voice distortion used later (1:15), which leads into a repetition of the “21st Century Schizoid Man” line. Yes, Rapgenius tells me that it’s a sample of King Crimson, but there is more to this sonic layering. What about the chorus of “hey-ehs” that run through the song? Kayne is masterful in his production. What would it mean to annotate that?

106

I like this question a lot, especially as it relates to sampling. There has been a lot of talk about sampling as stealing or appropriating. (And also as homage.) Annotation allows not only for citation, but also for more subtle contextual clues about things like context, irony, respect, and influence.

Also, think about the potential of the comment feature in SoundCloud: you can comment directly on a sample of music, not merely on its lyrics. But, right now, this functionality means that people have to be willing to give their music (or other audio pieces) away on SoundCloud. Will there be a monetized, licensed way to do this in the future? (Or will Bandcamp, SoundHound, or Shazam add this functionality?)

110

 

Yes, I agree that annotating sound like this would provide a great way of tracing homage, influence, and reverse engineering sampling. But it also has to possibility to help teaching the skill of listening. Image a Beethoven symphony that has been annotated by a class of students learning about sonata form, or a Miles Davis track that a teacher can annotate to teach students about phrasing, melodic choices, or rhythmic development, or a Led Zeppelin track that points out different usage of guitar effects. Such annotations would help other *hear* specific elements of music or at the very least open up conversations. 

Academically, it would also mean someone could make a podcast and annotate it with references, further discussion, and other ways of pointing outward from the sound object itself. Such annotations would allow for scholarship organized through tangential logic, like many non-sound based DH projects already out there. 

106

I'm a maker, so I decided to make something in response to your comment, Darren.

Also, why can't I embed iFrame things in this forum?

 

111

 

Ok. Got it. Phew. I think you have to actually go to soundcloud to annotate it and see the annotations. 

107

 

Ok, so I went in and made some annotations. As I see it, there are three major problems with the interface. First, longer comments don’t show up while playing the track — you have to go to an entirely new page that lists all the comments in the body of the page. This makes them de-centered from the sounds! Second, the annotations don’t come up on the embedded file on HASTAC. Third, you still have to go to sound cloud to annotate. This was my problem with the annotateit too — we need integrated annotation, which is why rapgenius is so great. So, Jermey, when is rapgenius going to solve this problem for us?!?!  

106

soundcloud does seem closest, as will demonstrates, but i agree with darren that there is much left to be desired here. (and, darren, i will pass your provocation along to the tech team here at rap genius!)

i came across this helpful schematic for audio annotation at the harvard "annotation site." perhaps it could be a model to follow? (hoping that phil desenne will chime in to school us on this and other topics.)

101

Yes the Harvard site is full of interesting stuff. But no useable tools to annotate sounds! I'll keep wishing ...  

85

In 1989 we published the CD Companion to Beethoven’s Ninth which included a text track across the length of the symphony, in which UCLA professsor Robert Winter effectively annotated the entire work. Hopefully this fall we’ll publish similar efforts for a number of pieces in SocialBook which lets anyone annotate and share with others. 

Here's a link to a video showing the cd-companion in action.  Remember that this is 24 years ago when Macs had only two colors (black and white) and a resolution of only 640x480.

 

115

 

SocialBook enables elegantly threaded conversations tied to specific moments in a video file. 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/63633687@N00/8766613366/sizes/l/in/photostream/

97

Rap Genius has a fun beta video annotation platform that's showcased with this "video breakdown" of a trailer for the new The Great Gatsby film--it's still tied directly to the textual content ot the video, though.  

http://rapgenius.com/videos/Baz-luhrmann-the-great-gatsby-trailer-2

110

Rap Genius has a fun beta video annotation platform that's showcased with this "video breakdown" of a trailer for the new The Great Gatsby film--it's still tied directly to the textual content ot the video, though.  

http://rapgenius.com/videos/Baz-luhrmann-the-great-gatsby-trailer-2

111

Lately, I’ve been thinking of the structure of MOOCs versus the structure of the online, annotatable open text. Articles on the topic (such as this in the Chronicle) point to the ways in which MOOCs rely on a small, elite coterie of professors who supply the “original” course content, as well as a secondary, large team of (I assume) TAs, adjuncts, and/or graduate students who (invisibly) support the MOOC in terms of grading, facilitating student understanding, moderating discussion, etc. One could say that the MOOC is “annotated” by the participation of a mostly unappreciated and highly replaceable group of instructors or TAs. This leads me to think about a possible corollary to Amanda’s question: does the structure of open annotation--which encourages and relies upon the public’s willingness to do labor for free--in fact inhibit or restrict the creation of more meaningful authorial jobs or careers? As annotation blurs the line between author and reader, original content and marginalia, who gets paid for what task? How can we realize or fully ensure the democratic potential of social technologies?

107

I think the jury is still out on MOOCs, but I think you hit on a good series of questions:

This leads me to think about a possible corollary to Amanda’s question: does the structure of open annotation--which encourages and relies upon the public’s willingness to do labor for free--in fact inhibit or restrict the creation of more meaningful authorial jobs or careers? As annotation blurs the line between author and reader, original content and marginalia, who gets paid for what task? How can we realize or fully ensure the democratic potential of social technologies?

As the book becomes web 2.0, and as we ask more non-professionals (i.e. free labor) to create content, what can we expect of this content? Will content created by those with the time and inclination to work for free really add something meaningful to a text over time? I think it can. People do lots of things for free. But only if someone is being paid to maintain the structure. Take Google, for example. We all generate a lot of free content for them. In exchange, we use their services for free. Fine. But people in the Google ecosystem are for sure stacking that paper. So maybe we should follow the money and talk about what kinds of careers and jobs are valued right now in our culture. 

108

All annotation efforts needn’t be unpaid.  SocialBook enables someone to mark up a  document, pointing out passages and indicating why they are important. And then to “export” their mark-up in the form of a gloss that can be imported by a reader. These glosses can be given away for free or purchased.  Take the example of A Tale of Two Cities. I would be delighted to pay $3-5 dollars for a gloss by a well-informed scholar addressing the novel’s historical context. Or imagine buying a gloss in which two people argue their way through a controversial text. Truth often lies in the interstices of argument. 

102

All annotation efforts needn’t be unpaid.  SocialBook enables someone to mark up a  document, pointing out passages and indicating why they are important. And then to “export” their mark-up in the form of a gloss that can be imported by a reader. These glosses can be given away for free or purchased.  Take the example of A Tale of Two Cities. I would be delighted to pay $3-5 dollars for a gloss by a well-informed scholar addressing the novel’s historical context. Or imagine buying a gloss in which two people argue their way through a controversial text. Truth often lies in the interstices of argument. 

91

indeed, I wonder if this model could be the future of the book rather than the death of the author. there's certainly a number of such well-read experts in tenure-trackless phds still searching for a market the academy cannot provide.

i would pay for such a scholarly gloss--or a gloss of an author discussing his or her process or the historical context of a novel, just as i am always happy to pay top dollar for criterion DVDs that feature such commentary (wink wink).

Rap Genius too is developing such a model through our verified artist program, which began with rappers commenting on their own work but has now been extended to authors. for example, you can read the introduction to sheryl sandberg's lean in annotated by the author on RG.

107

This is another part of amplified annotations where things get tricky. Insightful and recognized readers/critics should be allowed to place a price on accesing their annotations, just as authors are right to put a price on their work. However, the larger impact of social annotation is that it provides exceptional perspectives on content to everyone with internet connection. Thinking of social or open annotations internationally, if annotators are enabled to price their notes, a majority of the community is at risk of being priced out by elite annotators charging for their status.

Perhaps the one way around this is to encourage these annotators to link to a longer essays (under a paywall) where these annotations are expanded upon.

99

This is another part of amplified annotations where things get tricky. Insightful and recognized readers/critics should be allowed to place a price on accesing their annotations, just as authors are right to put a price on their work. However, the larger impact of social annotation is that it provides exceptional perspectives on content to everyone with internet connection. Thinking of social or open annotations internationally, if annotators are enabled to price their notes, a majority of the community is at risk of being priced out by elite annotators charging for their status.

Perhaps the one way around this is to encourage these annotators to link to a longer essays (under a paywall) where these annotations are expanded upon.

113

"I would be deligted to pay $3-5 for a gloss by a well-informed scholar."

And why stop with one expert, right? I would also gladly pay extra for a copy of A Tale of Two Cities that includes annotations by multiple experts, especially if these annotations  are curated by a reader who, from the total body of annotations on the text, selects particularly interesting marginalia to create a sort of analytical playlist, be it on specific topics or broader investigations touching on multiple areas of study.

105

One thing to consider is that as the value of “content” slides ever downward the value proposition — what people are willing to pay for — changes. Increasingly what people will pay for is context and community, specifically in the form of annotation and discussion.

106

 

As any YouTube video’s comments emphasize, the current state of notating the internet can be, in Kanye's words,  "a pretty bad way to start a conversation." Annotation is not inherently virtuous. Graffiti, which I happen to love, is another form of annotation that has been seen as more of a blight than an explanation. As we move our annotation sites outside of the university, we relinquish control. Are we prepared to open up the conversation, and our cherished texts, to trolling, graffiti, spam, and various undesirable “-isms,” (racism, sexism, classism) and phobias (i.e. homophobia)?
 
107

i think this is a really important question for this forum (and those working DH and other D fields more broadly). we talk a lot about opening things up (access, code), democraticizing knowledge, etc., but then we of course want to hold on to our own assumed "expertise" against the rabble.  

at first i found the concept of "verified" artists on rap genius to contradict the site's democratization of the reading of texts. but i think rap genius still does that just wihin a intricately layered community of scholarship in which voices have distinct identities if not priveleges. 

the answer, i think, is that we need to expand editorship within, in this case annotation platforms, but still retain the concept of editorship, and of varied but widened notions of expertise. dan whaley of hypothes.is has a lot to say on this topic. it's an essential problem for any annotation comunity.

101

many years of commenting on Slashdot suggests that the “crowd” can be trusted to indicate who’s worth paying attention to.  the trick is to enable people to rank and then sort in meaningful and efficient ways. having said this though, i’m a big believer in the role fo the editor going forward as the person responsible for building and nurturing the community that arises around a work.

101

are we really having a discussion about amplified marginalia in comments at the bottom of a web page?

 
in 2013?
 
 
113

I know, right? Annotation was supposed to be ubiquitious in hypertext, but here we are--even in a digitally-themed, multivocal forum--at the bottom of a page

109

I know. i want to "like" and "share" your comment, tweet it, annotate it somehow, but it's like microfiche just to find it again, scrolling down and down.

in the spirit of Louis C.K., though, we are STILL having this wonderfully complex conversation across space and time in a remarkable way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpUNA2nutbk

94

 

I don't want to get bogged down in the technologies underlying this particular forum, but I think this is a really great opportunity to talk about who controls technology and how that changes the conversation. To build on Jeremy's reference to Louis C.K., I love the part where he says:

How can that feeling exist? I hate Verizon. Why? Did they fire you and take away your pension? No. Just a couple times it was wierd for a second. I hate them. I hate Verizon. Well make your own then. You go make one. Make your own network. Get some hubcaps and climb some trees. See how close yours is to perfect. Why would it be perfect? Really. It's as good as it is. Why do we expect it to be ... perfect?

I actually think about this idea--this "You go make one" (YGMO is the new YOLO…you heard it here first) idea--a lot in the DWRL. I think it is crucial. In the humanities, much of what we have done in the past is criticism and analysis. But once we enter the realm where the mechanisms that drive the texts we are examining are no longer in our wheelhouse, no longer part of our discipline's area of expertise, then the conversation has to shift a little. 

With annotation, for example, it would be really easy for me to get hung on the superficial aspects of the rhetoric that, say, Rap Genius uses. When I joined, I got an e-mail with the salutation "Wadduuup," not "Dear Scholar." It would be tempting to say, "No thanks. Rap Genius is not really for use in the classroom because it doesn't use our academic dialect." But if you have actually tried to build the technology for a whole class or group of people to annotate a text, or if you have participated in a forum where the scroll is the dominant metaphor, then you get why RG is so powerful. You can see through the vernacular to the technology and appreciate it.

I tried to cobble together such an annotation site for Allen Ginsberg's "Wichita Vortex Sutra." When I showed it to a friend, he said. That's cool, but I really want to see the comments right along side the text. Like can you make it so when you click on it the annotations pop up?" And that is precisely what Rap Genius does. 

I'm kind of freestyling here. And there are a lot of jumping off points, but I feel like there are some key ideas. YGMO and if you don't, someone else will. And whoever builds it gets to build it in their own language. And that is going to alter the shape of the conversation.

 

98

Instead of responding to your thoughtful comments here, I'll just bemone that I can't just annotate one aspect of your post. Particuarly the bit about Louis CK, which reminded me of another lewis--black that is. Here's him ranting about the iPhone, AT&T, Android, and Verizon as only he can. 

Also, Will just taught me that you can copy the URL at a specific time on a youtube clip. Of course you can, though I don't know why I didn't know that before. Amazing. Thanks Will! 

109

 

I think one of the things we are doing here, apart from referencing comedians, analyzing  technological features/bugs, and finding out new tips and tricks, is performing a sort of tangential logic. Bob weighed in early with a comment directly related to both the topic and the form of the forum. Then the conversation quickly moved from marginalia to comedians to how language and technology shape one another to a tip for linking directly to a specific time in a video. All of this is cool. I think tangential logic tends to rule the internet. But it can be hard to remember how we got to where we are. Why are we talking about comedians in a forum ostensibly devoted to marginalia? I think this is one of the "problems" (depending on your perspective) with the annotation-as-bottom-comment model. (Insert commenters-as-bottom-feeders joke here.)  As we scroll down, we literally get further away from the topic around which the forum was centered. 
 
To bring it back around to Bob's initial point--which has turned out to be fairly brilliant in its brevity, meta-ness, and performativity--this particular technology is structuring our conversation, perhaps more than we are even conscious of. We are behaving like commenters, going off the rails the further we get from the topic. I wonder how a different structure would alter the shape of the conversation? 
98

 

wonderful remark, will. and thanks for bringing it back "to the text."

haven't i said that in class before, when conversation has ranged from the actual object of study into a perhaps still interesting but nonetheless off-topic tangent?

i believe more highly developed annotation mechanisms than this commentary thread demand that readers/students to stick to the text. the problem of noise--sorry, darren, but i'm speaking metaphorically here--has been mentioned before (above?) in terms of how public discourse online can become a cacophony if we empower everyone to comment. but annotation, at least in pricinple, requires SLOW reading. this is why we teach it in grade school. and this is why, forgive my idealism, collaborative annotation is so important to digitial citizenship.

106

Great thought, Jeremy. I'm wondering how filters or hashtags can help users stick not only to the text, but to a investigation/conversation on that text, a lens as we kow it. Subtext does a particularly good job at this with their tags, but I haven't seen it yet on a public annotation platform. I cant wait for the day when I can search RapGenius not only by song, but by an annotation's investigation, such as all annotations regarding Christianity or Ichabod Crane in Kanye West's music.

Similarly, Domeo Annotation Toolkit, a browser plug-in from Mass. General Hospital allows all annotations on a text, mostly science articles in this case, to be filtered by annotation type (note, question, comment, highlight, etc.)

110

thanks for this comment, matthew (and for all your recent comments). i think you are really on to something here. in fact, i'm going to screen shot your comment and send it to our tech team re: "tagging" and "advanced search." these features really do aggregate content in new, dynamic user- and community-specific ways that shape inquiry and transform the research process. i think we need to teach our students about the craft of the tag (as well as intelligent searching) to facilitate the transition away from the table of contents and the index.

102

When I taught a class called The Rhetoric of Flame Wars, studying online public discourse, particularly in comments, my students were really thrown off by that tangential logic.  I was asking them to perform academic rhetorical analysis on arguments that seemed to them irrational, tangential, off-topic, and so on.  They saw a real mis-match there.  I suggested to them that maybe commenting isn't, as you suggest Will, designed/meant for orderly, academic responses to a text.  I think it's closer to conversation.  I think something about the form of commenting--maybe the fact that it's in alphabetic text--is tricking us into thinking that it should produce different kinds of discourse than it actually does.  Why do we imagine that people will compose careful responses to a text, when they could just talk about it, letting the conversation flow more freely (and more tangentially)?  

103

I think alphabetic text plays a lot of tricks on us. I think alphabetic text plus anonymity plays even more tricks on us. We are programmed to be civil here because our real names are attached to these comments. but what happens when you have anonymous marginalia? Think of how many unsigned sketches of penises you've seen in the margins of shared textsbooks. If this is more like a conversation, it's a NSFW conversation. Most reputable publications have someone to monitor comments for this very reason, right?

99

Ah yes, the "penis doodle problem." It's a real one: any successful annotation system would seem to need some kind of accountability for comments, some kind of editorial oversight, or both. At Rap Genius we try to incorporate both these things: notes are crowdsourced but subject to editorial approval, and contributors' usernames/profiles are associated with their comments (though the exact nature/extent of each user's contribution isn't always clear).

The problem is basically the same as for online comment threads--if they're anonymous AND unmoderated, they rapidly devolve. On the other hand, of course, heavy-handed moderating can be stifling, hopelessly biased, etc. The best websites strike a reasonable balance (hence "moderation"!); the best annotation platforms will do the same.

101

How value is placed on moderator's input is interesting.  I understand RapGenius is moderated by users with high RapIQ, those who annotate frequently and well. Similarly, I give kudos to Dan at hypothes.is for having a system where reviews on annotations are weighted to favor moderators who have built reputation in related material. Perhaps a blend of the two (high value placed on moderation from frequent valuable annotators w/o niche expertise and less frequent users, with annotations focused on a specific investigation) is where the reasonable balance might be?

 

107

Here's a draft design doc for our reputation model-- there's also a fair amount of info on our github wiki.  Suffice to say it's absolutely a blend between a variety of factors.  Frequency, topic-clustered weighting, reputation, are all important, as are other elements.  

https://docs.google.com/a/hypothes.is/document/d/1mnTV6dOouHD9SM7ATHTSxW...

104

What's cool about hypothes.is, Dan, is the option for pseudonymity. While, as noted above, anonymity has encouraged spam on other sites in the past, pseudonymity is very important in international use, to protect and amplify opposition voices. I am curious about the benefits or repurcussions of allowing multiple users access to a shared pseudonymous account. A modern Federalist Papers or "Federalist Annotations" of sort, which opens up more questions about linkability, security, privacy of user informaiton, etc.

98

I see no issues at all w/ shared pseudonyms.... in fact, I very much like the idea. First, there's no way you can stop it--so embrace it.  Second, the reputation of a collective as the sum of the participation of the individuals makes perfect sense.  It's up to the one that creates the account and shares it to choose well.  

106

This goes back to the earlier question about form influencing content. While f2f conversation is almost always ephemeral, once you know that your words are being captured there is a tendency to be much more deliberate both in your thinking and in the formulations of your responses.  For this reason, I’ve begun to think of well-conceived social reading sites as examples of a nascent category i refer to as “thinking processors” — i.e. places to think and reflect more than places for reading and writing. if you draw a Venn diagram, the intersection of reading and writing is the space for thinking.

101

Amanda, I think you hit on something here by relating the activity of conversation with tangential logic. To me, tangential logic is the way most typical conversations work. One person says one thing, someone reacts, keeping things on the same track or shifting slighty, maybe disrupting completely. I also think that Will is right, this is how logic often works on the internet which can be both liberating and confusing. Take the organization of this forum for example -- I find it bewildering to follow. Then again, do I have a better idea of how things should work. Nope! 

105

One of my favorite Alan Kay quotes is “point of view is worth 80 IQ points.” This borne out time after time in SocialBook discussions where one student makes a comment, a second student says “Wow, I never thought of that” and then moves the discussion forward by taking a 30 degree tangent. Then a third student makes a synthesis that none of the participants would have likely made on her own. This the power and excitement of collaborative thinking.

90

you wrote: "I wonder how a different structure would alter the shape of the conversation?"

my answer: dramatically!

92

I agree with Amanda Wall... and would like to give the example of Amazon Mechanical Truck.


https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome


Amazon found out it could make a lot of money mediating pieces of these gigantic business. I've saw some jobs are to evaluate comments online, type information from business cards into databases... it helps small business that could not have someone to do that job (or don't want to) and people that are available to work on these things...

100

I'm not clear on how Mechanical Turk represents social reading or annotating, though.  Workers complete small tasks and are paid, certainly, but there is no public discourse going on in the sense of comments or updates or conversation.

116

Sure beats saying: "third paragraph, second sentence, last word..." Plus, I can see your annotations as well. Thanks!

104

ack

99

ack indeed

102

Great conversation.

In response to Bob's, and others' point about the limitations of the page-end comment modality for conversations, and for those who want to try out an annotation tool:

  1. Go to http://annotateit.org.
  2. Register and install the bookmarklet.
  3. Come back and annotate this page. 

That tool/architecture is being used in http://hypothes.is, our own http://annotationstudio.org and elsewhere, to allow annotations on any web-accessible document.

I'd be curious to see if/how that changes the conversation on this page, vs. the comment mechanism.

107

Hi, this your friendly HASTAC site administrator chiming in. I installed AnnotateIt so I could see what people were saying about this page, and I added some annotations myself.  I noticed that someone annotated a typo in hypothes.is (hypthes.is) in the forum prompt, so I edited and fixed the content. Now all the annotations are gone!

So sorry about that, and also what a concrete reminder of the challenge of annotating content that can change.

CORRECTION: The annotations are still there! Impressive.

107

 

transferred from annotateit comment:

well, at first i thought: oh no, there's a secret conversation going on behind my back, correcting my typos, whispering about the functionality of my annotation mechanism...
But now that i am IN the cool kid group, it is quite cool.
Still though, in this instance, aren't we are now making this conversation much smaller with this not-so-secret, but still somewhat closed layer. Until everybody downloads this bookmarklet there seems to be an advantage in being a webpage like rap genius that allows annotation to be more fully public.
also, my gif won't animate here:
 

 

98

Excellent points. Everyone knows where to look for comments, most don't know how to enable annotations, what they are or why they would/should. It's the cold start problem, as Dan calls it. 

One advantage of controlling the whole platform is you don't have to worry about those things (as much), although you do have to bring people to you, rather than meeting them where they are.

96

It needn’t be an either/or.  My sense is that for longform texts (which might mean symphonic works and full-length movies as well as novels) custom-designed platforms will enable much richer conversations than simply pasting the content onto a web page. That said I can’t wait till we port SocialBook’s feature set to the open web so that complex threaded conversations can take place anywhere — in pre-defined discussion groups and/or open free-for alls.

89

I'm having a hard time seeing why having another shell on top of an already difficult to follow conversation is useful. I'm sure Annotateit could be put to good use (I'm not offering a critique of Annotateit in particular), but we are already over saturated with passwords/longins on our various sites, academic and non. Adding another layer that only some can access seems, I dunno, uneccesary. What am I missing?   

91

Good question:

1) to allow conversations on pages that don't natively support it.

2) to allow conversations inline... helpful on long documents.

3) to allow portable identity, and powerful social features, like the ability to follow my conversations around the net

4) to begin building long term infrastructure for conversation that is open source, based on open standards and has a chance of providing a long legacy of the conversation around knowledge for humanity.

99

Sure, your reasons all makes sense. But as you say, it is to "begin building long term infrastrcture" rather than actually having it. We must sign up for yet another account somewhere else and hope that others that have this same account will also be annotating what we want to annoatate. That's a whole lotta "ifs" "maybes" and "hopefullys." You must already be apart of a community using this, which places some significant limits on our communication potential. 

90

I'm afraid the various annotation tools that are browser plug-ins might scatter all annotations on a text across multiple platforms, preventing a true web Talmud; RapGenius avoids this by using content they can host. Maybe this scope is changing with NewsGenius?

This gets me thinking about a different platform, but one that applies in this particular conversation: Kindle's PublicNotes feature. There's a ton of great notes being made on a common text through the Kindle, but when that text is updated, the notes are not being included in the new edition's margins. With each updated version of a text, you lose the marginalia from the last generation, so you're seeing a fraction of the total public notes on the text you're reading.

92

Matthew,

Had to comment on this one. :)

"I'm afraid the various annotation tools that are browser plug-ins might scatter all annotations on a text across multiple platforms, preventing a true web Talmud"

I think what's important to recognize is that conceptually-- making a copy of all knowledge at another domain is not necessarily a solution for annotating that knowledge.  Will rapgenius have a copy of the web?  To me, this feels like a cold-start problem.  After all, if annotation is broadly adopted, why don't we just annotate the copy of the web we already have?

Remember, if you're out surfing around, it's kind of a pain in the ass to have to go to a different page to see whether there's a conversation going on about it.  

There aren't any "right" answers, and I applaud the RG experiment.  But I also think we need to think about what kind of web we want moving forward over the next 10 or 20 years, and then work on building that.

97

Dan,

I appreciate your desire to concentrate the discussion around a text in one place. And for texts born in the browser, that should be the goal; that is we should avoid taking the text to multiple silos representing different annotation schema.
 
However the bulk of our culture, created before the digital era or in pre-digital art forms (cinema, music, novels etc.) does not have a single web implementation. Books have kindle, ibooks, kobo, and a myriad of other digital versions, some in the browser, some not. TV shows live on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes etc. etc. Music on Spotify, Rdio, Soundcloud and on and on.
 
Limiting annotation only to those works which are born on a specific web page doesn't make sense. The really crucial issue is how do you make the annotations in one platform available to another. We need interoperability.  This is a tall order but one worth working toward.
 
92

Bob-- I think we vigorously agree.  Went back to see where I might have suggested that I think only works born in web pages should be annotated!  Did not mean to suggest that if somehow I did.

Rather....

1- We need to support PDFs, EPUBs, .mobis, images, video, data, ancient manuscripts, you name it.  Where we can leverage in-browser implementations that support these formats, like Mozilla's PDF.js project, or the EPUB.js reader that our intern, Jake is working on, then great-- but these formats need to also be supported by native readers as well.  It's great that w/ the W3 OA work we finally have an open, interoperable standard that stands a chance of facilitating this.  Maybe sometime in the not too distant future, folks in the walled gardens at Amazon and Mac might begin to open their platforms (not holding my breath).  Till then, perhaps more forward thinking folks like yourself can at least get us part of the way there.

2- And of course, it would be great if we didn't have to make a copy (fork) of this material to do so in the meantime.  No disrespect meant to RG here, but it's the way I feel.

3- We also need to support cross-format annotation where when you annotate one format, it's visible on the other. We have released an early version of a library to support this functionality.  It also for instance supports surfacing annotations made via paginated versions of content back on the single page view, etc.  There's still a lot of work to to here.  http://hypothes.is/blog/fuzzy-anchoring

Dan

108

I agree, it's a pain in the ass to leave the content. Remaining in the flow is vital and I value how a browser tool lets me see multiple, unique annotations (and discussions developing from those annotation) on a specific line within the body of text. What I also want (and this is a purely selfish consumer demand here, I'm sorry!) is for the plug-in to also have a great domain that communicates the activity of the tool's broad community and its enclaves of specific interests. A base where I can find annotations, find annotators, see what folksonomies are trending, what people are saying in my groups, learn about texts that are attracting attention within a topic...it would be heavenly. I'm sure it's a design challenge that's hard to mitigate, especially when content on websites is constantly being updated throughout the day.

97

"What I also want (and this is a purely selfish consumer demand here, I'm sorry!) is for the plug-in to also have a great domain that communicates the activity of the tool's broad community and its enclaves of specific interests. A base where I can find annotations, find annotators, see what folksonomies are trending, what people are saying in my groups, learn about texts that are attracting attention within a topic...it would be heavenly. I'm sure it's a design challenge that's hard to mitigate, especially when content on websites is constantly being updated throughout the day."

We're building exactly that. The companion site that lets you see the annotations being made across the net, from people you follow, on pages or domains of interest you care about, etc.

And it's all built on open source software.

103

"What I also want (and this is a purely selfish consumer demand here, I'm sorry!) is for the plug-in to also have a great domain that communicates the activity of the tool's broad community and its enclaves of specific interests. A base where I can find annotations, find annotators, see what folksonomies are trending, what people are saying in my groups, learn about texts that are attracting attention within a topic...it would be heavenly. I'm sure it's a design challenge that's hard to mitigate, especially when content on websites is constantly being updated throughout the day."

We're building exactly that. The companion site that lets you see the annotations being made across the net, from people you follow, on pages or domains of interest you care about, etc.

And it's all built on open source software.

99

I agree, it's a pain in the ass to leave the content. Remaining in the flow is vital and I value how a browser tool lets me see multiple, unique annotations (and discussions developing from those annotation) on a specific line within the body of text. What I also want (and this is a purely selfish consumer demand here, I'm sorry!) is for the plug-in to also have a great domain that communicates the activity of the tool's broad community and its enclaves of specific interests. A base where I can find annotations, find annotators, see what folksonomies are trending, what people are saying in my groups, learn about texts that are attracting attention within a topic...it would be heavenly. I'm sure it's a design challenge that's hard to mitigate, especially when content on websites is constantly being updated throughout the day.

101

Matthew, like Dan, you seem to only reference material that occurs natively in the browser which leaves out the vast majority of our annotatble cultural production; even ones that have been converted to digital. I've no problem with a scheme that deals only with born-in-the-browser items, but understanding the value in such platforms shouldn't be an excuse to dismiss other platforms which are dealing with a much bigger and messier universe of cultural artifacts.

88

Regarding Annotateit. Some are trying it out on this page, but only those who have registered/installed the bookmarklet are seeing that conversation. Like a private channel.

That said, most if not all sites require an account now before allowing comments, if only a facebook or twitter account. Those that don't are plagued by spam and trolls.

On the other hand, those of us who have registered with Annotateit can now comment anywhere, and not just on the HASTAC site.

Regarding embedded media, links, replies, group visibility, etc. -- Annotateit, or rather the annotator behind that service allows for, but does not implement those features. Some who are building on that tool have implemented those features.

For example: "discoverability" is an issue. If I don't know there are comments on a page, I have to click the bookmarklet, scroll all the way to the bottom looking for yellow highlights. Hypothes.is is working on that problem among others.

 

90

Here's a link to an annotation of the previous paragraph in YAAT (Yet Another Annotation Tool).

https://test.hypothes.is/a/0X06mCwyQN6vEjG5-50N7A

99

And there ought to be a way for the average person to manage his/her chosen tools and the identities they offer/require.

userscripts.org and greasemonkey are models for only the geekiest. How can the average person find not only the user-generated content, but the tools they need to participate in generating it? Sounds prohibitively pocket-protector-y or tool-belt-y.

I don't doubt there are elegant solutions for helping people assemble this self-organizing "platform", but I haven't seen the model yet. To me it's surprising that people are willing to have all their tools chosen for them, and their data locked up, in return for more or less seamless experiences.

I think that's because the upside of the alternatives hasn't been demonstrated clearly enough. We still want faster horses.

86

a core principal of SocialBook is that users can always “take their annotations to other systems.” In order to facilitate this we have committed to support whatever world-wide standard emerges for annotation.

91

Have any of you used these tools or ideas in your assignments? Or in lectures / workshops? Can you elaborate on how we might use this with college students in classrooms, or other learning environments? 

92

Rap Genius ranks users as "scholar" for songs, albums, and artists

Thanks for keeping it pedagogical, Fiona! I hope that the conerns of the classroom remain a central part of this forum throughout. 

I've made extensive use of Rap Genius in the English classroom. I uploaded much of the reading for an American literature course to the site, beginning (perhaps appropriately given Baz Lurhmann's new hip-hop take on the great American novel) with The Great Gatsby. Here's my original Rap Genius assignment--anyone is welcome to the content if they're interested in experimenting with the site in their classroom. I had students annotating texts on Rap Genius for homework, but the research and debate that began online definitely informed and energized class discussion as well, and I often had the site open on an overhead projector during class.

Annotation is obviously a basic close reading skill that most teachers would like their students to practice, but a wide range of 21st century pedagogical possibilties are also opened up by collaborative online annotation technologies like Rap Genius and AnnotateIt, et al. The integration of multimedia technologies into reading and writing can obviously inspire the process for young people. I've also described Rap Genius in particular as a social network for close reading, and I think that the powerful force of social networks in our lives (Facebook and Twitter, of course, have their own forms of annotation) can be transferred to engagement with coursework.

One of my students, Louis Lafair, published testimonial about his experience on Rap Genius's literary brother site, Poetry Genius.

Here are some examples of my students' writing on Rap Genius/Poetry Genius:

From Herman, Melville Bartleby The Scrivener, a Story of Wall Street

From Stephen Crane, Maggie, Girl of the Streets - Chapter IX

From F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby - Chapter III

From Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again"

From Gwendolyn Brooks, "kitchenette building"

From Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (excerpt)

In the interest of full disclosure, I am now working full-time as the Rap Genius "Education Czar," developing the "genius" platform for educational uses--I was still in grad school when I joined the HASTAC Scholars program, before I got this awesome alt-ac job. We have had a number of classes already annotating their coursework on the site, ranging from high school to college and across the disciplines, from a freshman English class in Toronto, Canada reading Siddhartha to an upper division biology course at The University of Texas at Austin studying scientific research in PLOS-One

I know that AnnotationStudio has obviously gotten a lot of use in the classrom at MIT, so hopefully Jamie can talk about that...

- Lucky Desperado

A non-student user commenting on a classroom text

95

I'll just quickly chime in as a student from Dr. Dean's class. Admittedly, I haven't had much experience with other annotation platforms, but here are a few of my thoughts regarding Rap Genius in the classroom:

Just about all of the students I've encountered have really enjoyed using the site. There's something highly gratifying about interacting with the RG platform, whether as a result of the sleek user interface or the larger community or the "gamification" aspect.

Of course, not everyone fell instantly in love with RG, but the vast majority became fully engaged. We were only required to create around ten annotations over the course of the term, and yet some of my friends went ahead and created far more; indeed, a few currently have 75+ in depth annotations.

For the sake of context, in addition to using RG, we also wrote blogs. Although both online mediums taught us digital literacy, RG had a much more profound impact on the class since we were directly contributing to an open sourced database of knowledge. While our blogs have been read by other students from our class, our Rap Genius annotations have been read by students and teachers from other schools and by a much broader range of people from across the world.

Ultimately, RG is a remarkable classroom tool because it provides not only an annotation platform but also a larger community that we can continue to explore and interact with. Instead of stopping once we've reached a certain grade or threshold, we can keep contributing.

Our profiles serve as lasting testaments to our annotations, such that we can easily look back on all the work that we've done. Unlike standard papers and assignments, our annotations on RG are part of a living and evolving database, visible for the world to see. With Rap Genius, we're able to explore literature beyond just the traditional classroom.

Those are just a few reflections. For some more of my thoughts, feel free check out the testimonial that Dr. Dean mentioned above.

91

Lucky Desperado's a hard act to follow. Really innovative, out-of-the box thinking and teaching, that clearly connects with students.

MIT instructors have been using annotation in literature, poetry, writing and history of science courses as well, both with Annotation Studio, and with Rap Genius and other tools.

The results they've seen with their assignments provide good evidence of the potential of annotation to support close reading, analysis, discussion and writing.

We've invited a few of those instructors to chime in here with more detailed comments.

107

MIT developed a social annotation tool in 2009 called NB. It allows professors to assing a text and see the annotations their students make in the margins. Students can also answer another classmate's questions or comment on an annotation that's visible to the class. An inspiration to the project was a math textbook that included questions and insights in the margins. These annotations were originally comments made by students reviewing the book before it was published.

Interestingly enough, a majority of the professors that continued using NB after its first iteration (10 universities, 55 classes)  decided to discard the annotations developed from the previous semester's class. Most thought it was beneficial for students to have the same struggles as the students that came before them. This is a very fascinating debate I'd love to see in this forum. Does collective annotation turn users into lazy critical readers (if they see the typical interpretations of previous readers they will mimic or copy), or encourage them to be progressive individuals- see what's been done before, and make an effort to contribute original commentary that survives into the next iteration.

98

i've become obsessed with this question you've raised here, matthew. i too would love to see it debated in this forum.

rap genius has set out to "annotate the world," become the "internet talmud" as you quoted elsewhere. but as this exciting public humanities project continues, doesn't it become less and less interesting, at least from the pedagogical perspective? i firmly believe that anything can be annotated infinitely. but even with a ph.d. in african american literature, i find it hard to get a word in edge wise on any jay-z track on rap genius. they are really well annotated!

i started on rap genius by adding the great gatsby and having three sections of an english class annotate the text there. it was an awesome experience all around. but i know that if i did it again with the same version that has been annotated it would be a completely different experience, even if interesting in new ways. teaching our students how to enter in to ongoing intellectual conversation is crucial. but there's something about the recurring "struggles" with a text that you mention above that is also valuable. 

i'm just going to repeat you question here, because i think you capture the tension wonderfully: 

Does collective annotation turn users into lazy critical readers (if they see the typical interpretations of previous readers they will mimic or copy), or encourage them to be progressive individuals- see what's been done before, and make an effort to contribute original commentary that survives into the next iteration.

100

...and I wonder how RapGenius can be used to flip the classroom. I know that expression is getting annoying, but what if your students could only see half or a third of the annotations on The Great Gatsby? They read the first half with annotations, talk about them in class the next day and get the hang of it, understand the slang and cadence of critical reading, and then they're on their own to annotate the rest of the book. After finishing the novella (and maybe answer some comprehension questions) they can see the total body of annotations from previous classes.

In Subtext, teachers can annotate a text they're teaching and limit the annotation's visibility to other teachers across the country who are also teaching that text and interested in what other educators are thinking about. Students, however, cant see these notes.

Subtext is primarily focused on middle-school students, but it goes to show how this question generates different views depending on the reading audience it regards.

If I knew one of my professors was part of a global forum where other professors regularly discussed a common text... and I couldn't access it, I'd be really bummed.

96

 

I think this is a neat idea (and have actually had discussions about similar concepts).

However, it seems as though it would be hard to execute well.

The closed nature of the "total body of annotations" would probably frustrate students (it would certainly frustrate me just like you), and it would defeat, in my eyes, one of the primary aspects of open sourced annotations: the fact that they are "open."

I originally hoped that there would be private pages for each class but have since come to love how Rap Genius is completely open to the world - it's such a neat classroom tool because it brings us outside of the classroom.

97

Fascinating question here and above, Matthew.

The number one comment that I've heard from other students who use Rap Genius is some iteration of the following: "This is great! But how are future classes going to use it?" 

Our class was the first to annotate Gatsby, so we were able to approach the text with a clean perspective and to easily contribute "original commentary."

Now that there have been a significant # of annotations, the dynamics are definitely changing. It's become more collaborative, with a greater emphasis on building off of one another's annotations. Granted, this does make it more challenging for certain students to contribute, especially for those students who aren't as inclined to break down obscure and complex lines. The already-present annotations may turn those particular students into "lazy critical readers." However, annotating on an already-used slate also develops some pretty vital collaboration skills -- the real world isn't blocked off into just a classroom.

So all in all, I'd say that being able to see and build on others' annotations is a trade-off that will (like most other classroom tools) benefit some students and not others.

91

soundcloud does seem closest, as will demonstrates, but i agree with darren that there is much left to be desired here. (and, darren, i will pass your provocation along to the tech team here at rap genius!)

i came across this helpful schematic for audio annotation at the harvard "annotation site." perhaps it could be a model to follow? (hoping that phil desenne will chime in to school us on this and other topics.) 

95

Reading through these threads I'm curious what others think about listening/speaking and reading/writing being conflated. Unless I'm misunderstanding what these tools do--there's a number of tools mentioned--they don't seem to do the same thing. Most seem to allow a alphabetic response to a predefined audio or alphabetic text. Are folks using Rap Genius to orally/aurally discuss audio versions of texts? I'm trying to clarify as I'm very interested in finding tools where students can record their responses to alphabetic or visual texts as they encounter them. In speakng to a Pearson rep I found that their e-textbooks in conjnction with MyCompLab allow me to record audio and place it wherever I'd like in the textbook, but they only allow students to respond with written comments. I'm not a huge fan of Pearson, and I'm looking for smilar functionality for dealing with other alhpabetic texts. I am looking for a tool where I can embed audio at various anchor ponts, but where I can also allow students to respond verbally to these points or add commentary/annotations at any pont of their choosing. You all seem to be more knowledgable about some of the tools out there. Do you know of any tools that do this?

 

 

84

at rap genius we've had teachers make extenseive use of the embed possibilities on the right side bar of all "lyric" pages. you can embed a youtube video or soundcloud file there (as well as spotify). and we may in the future allow direct video and audio upload from computers.  

while for most rap songs, these embeds are used for the audio of the songs and music videos, there's no reason they can't be used for audio or video "headnnotes" created by either a teacher or students!

one teacher recorded students lecturing on chapters of moby dick and then uploaded the audio files to soundcloud for embed on RG.

another teacher recorded video introductions to chapters within siddhartha on RG.

obviously the same embed functionality is possible within line by line annotations as well.

94

at rap genius we've had teachers make extenseive use of the embed possibilities on the right side bar of all "lyric" pages. you can embed a youtube video or soundcloud file there (as well as spotify). and we may in the future allow direct video and audio upload from computers.  

while for most rap songs, these embeds are used for the audio of the songs and music videos, there's no reason they can't be used for audio or video "headnnotes" created by either a teacher or students!

one teacher recorded students lecturing on chapters of moby dick and then uploaded the audio files to soundcloud for embed on RG.

another teacher recorded video introductions to chapters within siddhartha on RG.

obviously the same embed functionality is possible within line by line annotations as well.

92

I've been quite taken with the annotations on the Jezebel articles. Here are a few of the recent examples:

 

An Annotated Guide to the Best and Worst Places in the World for Moms (to see the image and article)

(Click image for a high res version)

 

And the somewhat insane:

 

Woman Enters Stylish Unborn Fetus in Beauty Pageant (click to read article)

(Click image for a high res version)

It appears that registered users can annotate the headline images for the main blog posts. Most images don't seem to have many annotations though - the one with the map has the most, by far, and the post itself seemed designed to encourage them. 

I'm not entirely sure what my question is, but I'm wondering about the politics and use practices of annotation in these kinds of public and mainstream spaces. Who would feel the most at home at 'marking' or 'annotating' a public image? Are some people more likely than others to partake in that practice? If so, how can it be encouraged for other marginal voices to participate in the same way? I'm sure that in theory, annotation is a really useful way of thinking about marginalized voices being able to 'talk back' to certain images or texts, and the communities reading them. But in practice, in my own experience, power dynamics are at work as much in these kinds of semi-anonymous situations as they are in face-to-face life. 

Any thoughts on this? Or the practice of annotating images in general? 

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Fiona, if there was a +1 button, I'd make use of it right now. I've also been enjoying the new look of the gawker media sites (which include Jezebel, gizmodo, deadspin, life hack, and a few others), which present a fairly new type of user interaction within their webpages (maybe not new, but new to mass media?). I'm guessing that people are still trying to figure out how they want to participate in this new web-world. 

But I wonder how we could implement such an interface into the classroom or in our scholarly productions. It would be possible, I presume, to edit together a few images (or text or something else) and then create several annotations that point in several critical directions. The interactivity might create some worthwhile discussions. 

Anyone more-web-savvy-than-I know what plugin/scrips these sites are running?    

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Here's a good article on Kinja, the bundle of technologies that makes the Gawker image annotating and commenting possible. 

As far as implementing such an interface in our classroom, you could do it with image maps. I whipped up a quick and clunky example of how this might work. Click on the right front corner of the stove-top for a special message. 

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You can do image maps by hand with html. But Photoshop makes it super easy. If you want a tutorial on how I create this image map, let me know. 

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I'd love the tutorial on creating Image maps.

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Fiona and Darren- Recently, I've enjoyed reading Medium. The icons in the righ margin indicate where annotations are. I enjoy the content on Medium and these annotations are an experience bonus. I think this a good design practice in terms of displaying annotations.

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Fiona and Darren- Recently, I've enjoyed reading Medium. The icons in the righ margin indicate where annotations are. I enjoy the content on Medium and these annotations are an experience bonus. I think this a good design practice in terms of displaying annotations.

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RapGenius looks like an awesome site for enticing students to interact with literature readings before class. How does one access the public domain texts on your site? I only saw music tabs.

Have you thought of adding any texts in Spanish?

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The site is in the process of reorganizing, so for now the best way to access that content is to search for it in the search bar. Soon, though, these texts will be easier to navigate.

There are some foreign-language works on the site, including some Lorca in both English and Spanish:

http://rapgenius.com/artists/Federico-garcia-lorca

Some of our French users have added texts in French, and so on. As editors our main priority/capability right now is English-language works, but that will undoubtedly change as the PG project expands!

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These 3 tracks by Bebe were annotated by students in a Spanish class at Williams. To this point, most of the foreign language classroom work on Rap Genius has been in French, though. These Baudelaire poems were annotated by Harvard students:

"Le chat"

"Le mort joyeux"

"Le portrait"

"Les aveugles"

 

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These 3 tracks by Bebe were annotated by students in a Spanish class at Williams. To this point, most of the foreign language classroom work on Rap Genius has been in French, though. These Baudelaire poems were annotated by Harvard students:

"Le chat"

"Le mort joyeux"

"Le portrait"

"Les aveugles"

 

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I cannot begin to say how much I'm enjoying this Forum and its f2f redaction in the form of a live visit to the central HASTAC offices by Jeremy Dean.   I've written before about the collaborative textbook my students have written on open learning and peer-teaching:  http://hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2013/05/03/score-another-one-open... We'll be meeting tomorrow night to discuss the final version, where we will publish it, and, in addition to publishing it on HASTAC and perhaps on Lulu and Amazon, I hope we'll publish a version on Rap Genius.  It would be amazing to have an open community join us with multimedia annotations.   This is a very exciting new tool for open learning.  

 

I'm also thinking of ways that my Coursera course next year might be supplemented in yet another way.   I'm planing on using that platform to try as many online experiments in open learning as possible and one migt be putting a text on Rap Genius and inviting tens of thousands of students in "The History and Future of Higher Education" to do crosscultural annotations, to take a text, for example, that is mostly U.S.-Centric and expanding it to an international audience.  

 

Thrilling!   Thanks so much for showing us in this Forum, even in the limited forms allowed here by our Drupal 6 (about to be Drupal 7!!) website, what is possible. 

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Thanks to Cathy and others for the kind words about Rap Genius. Per Cathy's last note, I wanted to add that a huge wealth of public domain texts is currently being added to Rap Genius--everything from the Federalist Papers to Treasure Island. These texts are not yet featured prominently on the site, but they are there, with more being added each day--I encourage teachers to search for their favorites! Also happy to field suggestions for what to add next: our list is literature-heavy but we would like to add more in the realms of science, law, politics, etc.

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I want to bring the forum's attention to some relevant texts on Rap Genius through which folks could experiment with the functionality of the site and offer comment and critique.

Hackeducation's "A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age" (featuring Cathy Davidson!)

Rob Sanderson's "Designing the w3c Open Annotation Data Model (with verified annotations!)

"The Mozilla Manifesto"

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act

Stop Online Piracy Act

If anyone wants to add relevant texts, whether relevant to HASTAC and DH generally, or to this specific discussion of annotation, please do so. Just sign up for a Rap Genius account and click "Add new song." Share any texts you add with the forum in this thread. And send me your username if you sign up, I'll "editor" you!

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Dan,

I appreciate your desire to concentrate the discussion around a text in one place. And for texts born in the browser, that should be the goal; that is we should avoid taking the text to multiple silos representing different annotation schema.
 
However the bulk of our culture, created before the digital era or in pre-digital art forms (cinema, music, novels etc.) does not have a single web implementation. Books have kindle, ibooks, kobo, and a myriad of other digital versions, some in the browser, some not. TV shows live on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes etc. etc. Music on Spotify, Rdio, Soundcloud and on and on.
 
Limiting annotation only to those works which are born on a specific web page doesn't make sense. The really crucial issue is how do you make the annotations in one platform available to another. We need interoperability.  This is a tall order but one worth working toward.
 
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As Jeremy pointed out in the AnnotateIt backchannel, we should make an important note on the title of this forum: "Amplified Marginalia" alludes to Jennifer Howard's article "With 'Social Reading' Books Become Places to Meet"  in The Chronicle of Higher Education It is the perfect phrase to describe what we are talking about here, and it is in quotes because we recognize it as part of the "tissue of citations" (to quote Barthes) that makes this forum possible. The quote marks came through all our planning documents, suggesting the allusion. But it is important to use annotation as a way to give credit to the actual source. In doing so, we are not just adding replies and other forms of annotation to clarify the citation; we are also demonstrating the power of annotation to rectify omission. This kind of thing happens all the time with sampling. A phrase or loop will be made popular to a whole bunch of people who find out, through annotation or quotation or referencing, the source of the sample only after its appropriation has been performed. 

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This is kind of a thought in progress as I consider the annotation of the title of the forum. Here's what I'm thinking. 

I fret a lot about plagiarism. I think most word people do (or should). But gathering information in the digital age is, as Richard Lanham writes, like "drinking from a firehose." Of course we do our best to cite appropriately, and we hope our students do, too. But we have to recognize that, in a post-internet world, it is hard to even know if your words are your own, (if such a concept is even possible,) or if the words came to you, say, in a subliminal tweet. So you have to figure out a way to live with the probability that we are all kind of using the same pile of words and phrases. That doesn't excuse us from the responsibility of rigorously citing everything we can. But there is an order of operations that has been inverted by digital technology. In a "publish-then-filter" world (to cite Clay Shirky), determining credibility is part of the filtration process. This credibility is, in no small part, determined by the thoroughness of one's citations. A piece can actually become more credible over time through this filtration process if annotation is part of the equation. I think annotation has the potential to mitigate a lot of the negative energy around plagiarism in the academy. This is where it comes back to the classroom. Plagiarism and incomplete citation are not the same thing. Plagiarism always includes a motivation to pass off someone else's work as one's own. This motivation can be a hard thing to demonstrate, but annotation is a powerful tool when it comes to demonstrating the difference between a document in the process of becoming credible and a document intended to pull one over on the teacher or audience. When in doubt, annotate. When you doubt students, make them annotate.   

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This article on annotation has my mind in a flurry (bad metaphor, but I can't think of anything else right now) over all the issue raised here. I am compelled to respond to so mcu, but I am going to limit myself to two (at this point):

  • Annotation is critical to engaging in a conversation with a text--in fact, some argue that the annotation extends the original text into a completely different "being" (again, I apologize for this metaphor, but it is the best I can think of now.)  If we can extend annotation to Web 2.0, think of the implications of a text we could begin to create. And the real advantae of the annotation (as noted above) is that annotation preserves the context of the comment! However, we have two stumbling blocks in embracing this "brave new world" of annotation:
    • At least in the way we have approached annotations in the past has been to make comment on the page. Our public school system--in one of the largest ironies in my life--discourage annotation, yet confess to teaching effect reading! How can I engage in a text if I cannot interact with this text? Thus--we have to change the outdated thinking of American education.
    • Annotation takes times and thought. Our students today are living only in the present, thus they are convinced that they do not have the time to "annotate." How can we begin to liberate MEs and the next generation of digitial natives from the prison of the now?
  • I am enchanted by the notion of the "rhetoric" of an SEO! But I have to confess, I do not fully understand the SEO term. I understand the function--I beleive: to increase the ranking of a webpage so that it is likely to appear in the first page a Google or Yahoo or MSN search.  I had been under the impression that "metatags" helped to increase the position on a web search. I concede this assupmtion is mis construed and I am eager to learn more about SEO! But I do understand rhetoric. My PhD is in rhetoric and composition. The tradtional definition of "rhetoric" comes from Aristotle: "the discovery of the available means of persuasion." I can recognize the "persusive" part of the increasing my ranking on a web search, but what is the "discovery" process? How does the process work? These questions are intriguing for me!
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