Some thoughts on highlights and marginalia with examples

Earlier today I created a read post with some highlights and marginalia related to a post by Ian O’Bryne. In addition to posting it and the data for my own purposes, I’m also did it as a manual test of sorts, particularly since it seemed apropos in reply to Ian’s particular post. I thought I’d take a stab at continuing to refine my work at owning and controlling my own highlights, notes, and annotations on the web. I suspect that being able to better support this will also help to bring more self-publishing and its benefits to the halls of academe.

At present I’m relying on a PESOS solution to post on another site and syndicate a copy back to my own site. I’ve used Hypothesis, in large part for their fantastic UI and as well for the data transfer portion (via RSS and even API options), to own the highlights and marginalia I’ve made on the original on Ian’s site. Since he’s syndicated a copy of his original to Medium.com, I suppose I could syndicate copies of my data there as well, but I’m saving myself the additional manual pain for the moment.

Rather than send a dozen+ webmentions to Ian, I’ve bundling everything up in one post. He’ll receive it and it would default to display as a read post though I suspect he may switch it to a reply post for display on his own site. For his own use case, as inferred from his discussion about self-publishing and peer-review within the academy, it might be more useful for him to have received the dozen webmentions. I’m half tempted to have done all the annotations as stand alone posts (much the way they were done within Hypothesis as I read) and use some sort of custom microformats mark up for the highlights and annotations (something along the lines of u-highlight-of and u-annotation-of). At present however, I’ve got some UI concerns about doing so.

One problem is that, on my site, I’d be adding 14 different individual posts, which are all related to one particular piece of external content. Some would be standard replies while others would be highlights and the remainder annotations. Unless there’s some particular reason to do so, compiling them into one post on my site seems to be the most logical thing to do from my perspective and that of my potential readers. I’ll note that I would distinguish annotations as being similar to comments/replies, but semantically they’re meant more for my sake than for the receiving site’s sake. It might be beneficial for the receiving site to accept and display them (preferably in-line) though I could see sites defaulting to considering them vanilla mentions as a fallback.  Perhaps there’s a better way of marking everything up so that my site can bundle the related details into a single post, but still allow the receiving site to log the 14 different reactions and display them appropriately? One needs to not only think about how one’s own site looks, but potentially how others might like to receive the data to display it appropriately on their sites if they’d like as well. As an example, I hope Ian edits out my annotations of his typos if he chooses to display my read post as a comment.

One might take some clues from Hypothesis which has multiple views for their highlights and marginalia. They have a standalone view for each individual highlight/annotation with its own tag structure. They’ve also got views that target highlights/annotation in situ. While looking at an original document, one can easily scroll up and down through the entire page’s highlights and annotations. One piece of functionality I do wish they would make easier is to filter out a view of just my annotations on the particular page (and give it a URL), or provide an easier way to conglomerate just my annotations. To accomplish a bit of this I’ll typically create a custom tag for a particular page so that I can use Hypothesis’ search functionality to display them all on one page with a single URL. Sadly this isn’t perfect because it could be gamed from the outside–something which might be done in a classroom setting using open annotations rather than having a particular group for annotating. I’ll also note in passing that Hypothesis provides RSS and Atom feeds in a variety of ways so that one could quickly utilize services like IFTTT.com or Zapier to save all of their personal highlights and annotations to their website. I suspect I’ll get around to documenting this in the near future for those interested in the specifics.

Another reservation is that there currently isn’t yet a simple or standard way of marking up highlights or marginalia, much less displaying them specifically within the WordPress ecosystem. As I don’t believe Ian’s site is currently as fragmentions friendly as mine, I’m using links on the date/time stamp for each highlight/annotation which uses Hypothesis’ internal functionality to open a copy of the annotated page and automatically scroll down to the fragment as mentioned before. I could potentially see people choosing to either facepile highlights and/or marginalia, wanting to display them in-line within their text, or possibly display them as standalone comments in their comments section. I could also see people wanting to be able to choose between these options based on the particular portions or potentially senders. Some of my own notes are really set up as replies, but the CSS I’m using physically adds the word “Annotation”–I’ll have to remedy this in a future version.

The other benefit of these date/time stamped Hypothesis links is that I can mark them up with the microformat u-syndication class for the future as well. Perhaps someone might implement backfeed of comments until and unless Hypothesis implements webmentions? For fun, some of my annotations on Hypothesis also have links back to my copy as well. In any case, there are links on both copies pointing at each other, so one can switch from one to the other.

I could imagine a world in which it would be nice if I could use a service like Hypothesis as a micropub client and compose my highlights/marginalia there and micropub it to my own site, which then in turn sends webmentions to the marked up site. This could be a potential godsend to researchers/academics using Hypothesis to aggregate their research into their own personal online (potentially open) notebooks. In addition to adding bookmark functionality, I could see some of these be killer features in the Omnibear browser extension, Quill, or similar micropub clients.

I could also see a use-case for adding highlight and annotation kinds to the Post Kinds plugin for accomplishing some of this. In particular it would be nice to have a quick and easy user interface for creating these types of content (especially via bookmarklet), though again this path also relies on doing individual posts instead of a single post or potentially a collection of posts. A side benefit would be in having individual tags for each highlight or marginal note, which is something Hypothesis provides. Of course let’s not forget the quote post kind already exists, though I’ll have to think through the implications of that versus a slightly different semantic version of the two, at least in the ways I would potentially use them. I’ll note that some blogs (Colin Walker and Eddie Hinkle come to mind) have a front page that display today’s posts (or the n-most recent); perhaps I could leverage this to create a collection post of highlights and marginalia (keyed off of the original URL) to make collection posts that fit into my various streams of content. I’m also aware of a series plugin that David Shanske is using which aggregates content like this, though I’m not quite sure this is the right solution for the problem.

Eventually with some additional manual experimentation and though in doing this, I’ll get around to adding some pieces and additional functionality to the site. I’m still also interested in adding in some of the receipt/display functionalities I’ve seen from Kartik Prabhu which are also related to some of this discussion.

Is anyone else contemplating this sort of use case? I’m curious what your thoughts are. What other UI examples exist in the space? How would you like these kinds of reactions to look on your site?

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9 responses on “Some thoughts on highlights and marginalia with examples”

  1. Thank you so much for writing this post Chris. I was actually going to ask your process and will enjoy reading how you use RSS to curate it. I have always liked the idea of Hypothesis, but felt frustrated by the way that it shows up on my site randomly. I did find an aggregator, but wondered how it could be incorporated within comments like on Medium. This might also be another step for me in leaving Diigo, time will tell.

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