“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.
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?
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?
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?
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:
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
Dan Whaley, hypothes.is
Kurt Fendt, MIT HyperStudio
Ilan Zechory, Founder, Rap Genius