It’s too painful to quickly get frequent notes into note taking and related platforms. Hypothes.is has an open API and a great UI that can be leveraged to simplify note taking processes.
Note taking tools
I’ve been keeping notes in systems like OneNote and Evernote for ages, but for my memory-related research and work in combination with my commonplace book for the last year, I’ve been alternately using TiddlyWiki (with TiddlyBlink) and WordPress (it’s way more than a blog.)
I’ve also dabbled significantly enough with related systems like Roam Research, Obsidian, Org mode/Org Roam, MediaWiki, DocuWiki, and many others to know what I’m looking for.
Many of these, particularly those that can be used alternately as commonplace books and zettelkasten appeal to me greatly when they include the idea of backlinks. (I’ve been using Webmention to leverage that functionality in WordPress settings, and MediaWiki gives it grudgingly with the “what links to this page” basic functionality that can be leveraged into better transclusion if necessary.)
The major problem with most note taking tools
The final remaining problem I’ve found with almost all of these platforms is being able to quickly and easily get data into them so that I can work with or manipulate it. For me the worst part of note taking is the actual taking of notes. Once I’ve got them, I can do some generally useful things with them—it’s literally the physical method of getting data from a web page, book, or other platform into the actual digital notebook that is the most painful, mindless, and useless thing for me.
Evernote and OneNote
Older note taking services like Evernote and OneNote come with browser bookmarklets or mobile share functionality that make taking notes and extracting data from web sources simple and straightforward. Then once the data is in your notebook you can actually do some work with it. Sadly neither of these services has the backlinking functionality that I find has become de rigueur for my note taking or knowledge wrangling needs.
My WordPress solutions are pretty well set since that workflow is entirely web-based and because WordPress has both bookmarklet and Micropub support. There I’m primarily using a variety of feeds and services to format data into a usable form that I can use to ping my Micropub endpoint. The Micropub plugin handles the post and most of the meta data I care about.
It would be great if other web services had support for Micropub this way too, as I could see some massive benefits to MediaWiki, Roam Research, and TiddlyWiki if they had this sort of support. The idea of Micropub has such great potential for great user interfaces. I could also see many of these services modifying projects like Omnibear to extend themselves to create highlighting (quoting) and annotating functionality with a browser extension.
With this said, I’m finding that the user interface piece that I’m missing for almost all of these note taking tools is raw data collection.
I’m not the sort of person whose learning style (or memory) is benefited by writing or typing out notes into my notebooks. I’d far rather just have it magically happen. Even copying and pasting data from a web browser into my digital notebook is a painful and annoying process, especially when you’re reading and collecting/curating as many notes as I tend to. I’d rather be able to highlight, type some thoughts and have it appear in my notebook. This would prevent the flow of my reading, thinking, and short annotations from being subverted by the note collection process.
Different modalities for content consumption and note taking
Based on my general experience there are only a handful of different spaces where I’m typically making notes.
A large portion of my reading these days is done in online settings. From newspapers, magazines, journal articles and more, I’m usually reading them online and taking notes from them there.
Some texts I want to read (often books and journal articles) only live in .pdf form. While reading them in an app-specific setting has previously been my preference, I’ve taken to reading them from within browsers. I’ll explain why in just a moment, but it has to do with a tool that treats this method the same as the general online modality. I’ll note that most of the .pdf specific apps have dreadful data export—if any.
Reading e-books (Kindle, e-readers, etc.)
If it’s not online or in .pdf format, I’m usually reading books within a Kindle or other e-reading device. These are usually fairly easy to add highlights, annotations, and notes to. While there are some paid apps that can extract these notes, I don’t find it too difficult to find the raw file and cut and paste the data into my notebook of choice. Once there, going through my notes, reformatting them (if necessary), tagging them and expanding on them is not only relatively straightforward, but it also serves as a simple method for doing a first pass of spaced repetition and review for better long term recall.
Naturally taking notes from live lectures, audiobooks, and other spoken events occurs, but more often in these cases, I’m typically able to type them directly into my notebook of preference or I’m using something like my digital Livescribe pen for notes which get converted by OCR and are easy enough to convert in bulk into a digital notebook. I won’t belabor this part further, though if others have quick methods, I’d love to hear them.
While I love a physical book 10x more than the next 100 people, I’ve been trying to stay away from them because I find that though they’re easy to highlight, underline, and annotate the margins, it takes too much time and effort (generally useless for memory purposes for me) to transfer these notes into a digital notebook setting. And after all, it’s the time saving piece I’m after here, so my preference is to read in some digital format if at all possible.
A potential solution for most of these modalities
For several years now, I’ve been enamored of the online Hypothes.is annotation tool. It’s open source, allows me reasonable access to my data from the (free) hosted version, and has a simple, beautiful, and fast process for bookmarking, highlighting, and annotating online texts on desktop and mobile. It works exceptionally well for both web pages and when reading .pdf texts within a browser window.
I’ve used it daily to make several thousand annotations on 800+ online web pages and documents. I’m not sure how I managed without it before. It’s the note taking tool I wished I’d always had. It’s a fun and welcome part of my daily life. It does exactly what I want it to and generally stays out of the way otherwise. I love it and recommend it unreservedly. It’s helped me to think more deeply and interact more directly with countless texts.
When reading on desktop or mobile platforms, it’s very simple to tap a browser extension and have all their functionality immediately available. I can quickly highlight a section of a text and their UI pops open to allow me to annotate, tag it, and publish. I feel like it’s even faster than posting something to Twitter. It is fantastically elegant.
The one problem I have with it is that while it’s great for collecting and aggregating my note data into my Hypothes.is account, there’s not much I can do with it once it’s there. It’s missing the notebook functionality some of these other services provide. I wish I could plug all my annotation and highlight content into spaced repetition systems or move it around and modify it within a notebook where it might be more interactive and cross linked for the long term. Sadly I don’t think that any of this sort of functionality is on Hypothes.is’ roadmap any time soon.
There is some great news however! Hypothes.is is open source and has a reasonable API. This portends some exciting things! This means that any of these wiki, zettelkasten, note taking, or spaced repetition services could leverage the UI for collecting data and pipe it into their interfaces for direct use.
As an example, what if I could quickly tell Obsidian to import all my pre-existing and future Hypothes.is data directly into my Obsidian vault for manipulating as notes? (And wouldn’t you know, the small atomic notes I get by highlighting and annotating are just the sort that one would like in a zettelkasten!) What if I could pick and choose specific course-related data from my reading and note taking in Hypothes.is (perhaps by tag or group) for import into Anki to quickly create some flash cards for spaced repetition review? For me, this combination would be my dream application!
These small pieces, loosely joined can provide some awesome opportunities for knowledge workers, students, researchers, and others. The education focused direction that Hypothes.is, many of these note taking platforms, and spaced repetition systems are all facing positions them to make a super-product that we all want and need.
So today, as a somewhat limited experiment, I played around with my Hypothes.is atom feed (https://hypothes.is/stream.atom?user=chrisaldrich, because you know you want to subscribe to this) and piped it into IFTTT. Each post creates a new document in a OneDrive file which I can convert to a markdown .md file that can be picked up by my Obsidian client. While I can’t easily get the tags the way I’d like (because they’re not included in the feed) and the formatting is incredibly close, but not quite there, the result is actually quite nice.
Since I can “drop” all my new notes into a particular folder, I can easily process them all at a later date/time if necessary. In fact, I find that the fact that I might want to revisit all my notes to do quick tweaks or adding links or additional thoughts provides the added benefit of a first round of spaced repetition for the notes I took.
Some notes may end up being deleted or reshuffled, but one thing is clear: I’ve never been able to so simply highlight, annotate, and take notes on documents online and get them into my notebook so quickly. And when I want to do something with them, there they are, already sitting in my notebook for manipulation, cross-linking, spaced repetition, and review.
So if the developers of any of these platforms are paying attention, I (and I’m sure others) really can’t wait for plugin integrations using the full power of the Hypothes.is API that allow us to all leverage Hypothes.is’ user interface to make our workflows seamlessly simple.
“At the end of each chapter write a few bullet points that summarize what you’ve read and make it personal if you can — that is, apply it to something in your life. Also, note any unanswered questions. When you’re done the book, put it down for a week.”
“Pick up the book again and go through all your notes. Most of these will be garbage but there will be lots you want to remember. Write the good stuff on the inside cover of the book along with a page number.”
“(Optional) Copy out the excerpts by hand or take a picture of them to pop into Evernote. Tag accordingly.”
I ran across a Chrome extension for highlights, annotations, and tagging tonight. It’s called Learning Paths. It works roughly as advertised for creating and saving highlights and annotations online. With a social silo log in process (I didn’t see an email login option), you’ve quickly got an account on the service.
You can then use the extension to highlight, tag, and annotate web pages. One can export their data as a .csv file which is nice. They’ve also got an online dashboard which displays all your data and has the ability to see public data from other users as well.
One of the interesting pieces they support is allowing users to tweet a thread from all their highlights of a piece online. Upon seeing this I thought it might make a useful feature for getting data into one’s personal wiki, website, or digital garden, particularly now that ThreadReaderApp supports posting unrolled Twitter threads to one’s Micropub enabled website.
So the workflow goes something like this (with links to examples of my having tried it along the way):
- Use Learning Paths to highlight an article;
- Use the sharing interface to share the highlights as a Twitter thread;
- Make any modifications to the Twitter thread and then post;
- Go to the thread and reply to one of the tweets with “@ThreadReaderApp unroll”;
- Log into your ThreadReaderApp account to see the thread;
- Go to your “My Authored Threads” tab;
- Click on the “Publish n Tweets to Blog” button for the appropriate thread (and handle any authentication/authorization workflow);
- The thread of highlights should now be on your website;
While this works relatively well, there are a few drawbacks:
- The UI for the annotations is a bit flaky at times and in my experience often disappears before you’ve had a chance to save them.
- The workflow misses out on any of the annotations and tags you might add to each of the highlights (unless you manually add them to the thread, and even then you may run out of space/characters).
- The appearance of the thread on your site is simply what you get.
While the idea works roughly in practice, it isn’t as optimal as the workflow or data fidelity I’ve found in using more robust tooling like that found in Hypothes.is for which I’ve also built a better UI on my website.
Still others, might appreciate the idea, so have at it! I’d love to see others’ ideas about owning their highlights, annotations, and related data in a place they control.
I suspect that a reasonable WordPress user could probably set up a free Hypothes.is account and use the RSS feed from it (something like
https://hypothes.is/stream.atom?user=username) to create an IFTTT.com recipe to post it as a public/draft to their WordPress website.
My version presented here has also been augmented by also using the Post Kinds Plugin to which I’ve manually added a custom annotation post type along with some CSS for the yellow highlight effect. These additional coding flourishes aren’t absolutely necessary for those who just want to own the data on their website.
If you want to get even fancier you could also do RSS to IFTTT to do a webhook post to an Micropub endpoint or custom code your own solution using their API. Lots of options are available, the most difficult part may be knowing that something like this could even be done.
I often pull my own annotations to my personal website similar to your own Memex and publish them there (example: https://boffosocko.com/kind/annotation/)
Incidentally you can also annotate documents stored locally on your computer, but viewed through a browser as well as collaboratively annotating with others.
Recently, I made my 100,000th annotation with Hypothesis. I know what you must be thinking: Doesn’t she have a life? Why would anyone make 100,000 annotations? Just a few short years ago, I would have dismissed this prospect as preposterous. I disliked reading online and abandoned most online tools at the first hurdle. Yet, here I am, a self-diagnosed annotation addict. (For those of you who don’t know me, I used to work for Hypothesis. Leaving to build open infrastructure didn’t mean that I left the tool behind — far from it!)
I hadn’t included it at the time, but private groups are also an interesting way to share ideas and private posts with small groups of people. You could also use those groups as taxonomies for keeping private notebooks as well. While the primary instance of Hypothes.is that many use would technically be considered a silo, keep in mind that it’s open source, so you could technically host it for yourself as an IndieWeb project! Now to get support for Webmention and Micropub! 😉
I’d also recently done a quick survey of some of the bigger accounts I was aware of and suspected that there must be one or two edge cases in the 10,000+ range. I knew a bot user or two were likely way ahead, but figured there was at least one person with a huge number of posts hiding out there. Great to know my hypothesis was right!
I’m still tinkering with mine and should have a Micropub based version using IFTTT and Webhooks done soon.
Since I only had 13 highlight posts versus 121 annotation posts (plus various additional annotations and highlights which I’ve rolled up into the body of some of my read posts) over the last year and a half, I felt it seemed redundant and bothersome to maintain two separate, but nearly identical post kinds. Semantically one may think of a highlight on some text as an annotation anyway, thus the idea of annotation subsumes that of a simple highlight.
As of this evening, I’ve changed all the custom highlight posts to be of the annotation kind. Other than the one word visual difference of the post kind text changing from “highlight” to “annotation” this change won’t affect much except for those who may have been subscribed to the highlight feed. Going forward you may consider subscribing to my annotation feed instead.
I had created highlight posts first, but in the end annotation posts have won the day. And for those that don’t have them, fear not, because honestly annotation posts are really just glorified bookmarks with custom text in the context. (The glorification only entails a highligher icon instead of a bookmark icon and a bit of CSS to color the text yellow.) I do find having them delineated for my personal research purposes useful though.
A great look at our new feature for saving highlights from physical books— Readwise (@readwiseio) January 10, 2020
This is one of the coolest apps I've seen in a long time from @readwiseio— Farza (@FarzaTV) January 7, 2020
1. Take a picture of a page from a book.
2. Drag and drop markers to literally highlight the passage right on the picture and extract the quote.
3. Store the quote, take notes, attach it to the book. pic.twitter.com/Dzb2x6NQIa
President Trump sent a letter on Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing his “most powerful protest” against the impeachment process. The House is expected to vote on two articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump on Wednesday.
In general I don’t think for a moment that he actually wrote any of this. I suspect some of it was dictated or pulled from prior communication/thoughts. It definitely sounds like his “voice”, but I can’t imagine that it came from him in the same psuedo-logical structure, which I highly suspect was imposed on it after-the-fact by someone else.
He really used 8 exclamation marks in a six page letter?! Has any president used this many in an entire term I wonder?
–December 20, 2019 at 09:00AM
Impeachment Fever ❧
There are several instances in this document where words are improperly capitalized, presumably in an attempt to make them stand out and make them more memorable. Or possibly to provide them more emphasis than they deserve.
–December 20, 2019 at 09:17AM
American People ❧
Here’s another case of the mis-capitalization. American should be capitalized, but people should not.
–December 20, 2019 at 09:18AM
I started some research and work into creating a plugin to effectuate making “vias” and “hat-tips” easier to create on my site since I often use them to credit some of my sources. I was a bit surprised not to see any prior art in the WordPress repository. Sadly, there’s nothing concrete to show off just yet. I think I’ve got a clear concept of how I want it to look and what will go into the first simple iteration. It will be my first “real” WordPress plugin, so there’s some interesting learning curve along the way.
On a more concrete front, I made a handful of CSS tweaks and fixes to the site, and particularly to some of my annotation/highlighting related posts, that I’ve been meaning to take care of for a while. Now on read posts where I’ve aggregated some annotations/highlights, the highlighted portions should appear in yellow to better differentiate them in portions of text and represent them as highlights. This prevents me from creating a read post for the content and one or dozens of related, but completely separate, follow-up annotation posts. Now they’re combined, and I think they provide a bit more contextualization for the original, but still include the timestamps for the annotations. I’m sure there’s some more I can do to tweak these, but I like the result a bit better than before. Today’s post about a research paper I read on food is a good example of to highlight (pun intended) some of the changes. Ideas for further improvements are most welcome.
I also slightly tweaked and then further experimented with some of the CSS for my reply contexts. I’ve been considering reformatting them a tad to try to highlight the fact that the content within them is context for my responses. In some sense I’m looking at making the context look more card-like or perhaps oEmbed-esque. I still haven’t gotten it the way I’d ultimately like it, but perhaps one day soon? I played around with changing the size of the context with respect to my content as well as adding some outlines and shadows to make the context look more like cards, but I haven’t gotten things just right. Perhaps some more research looking at others’ sites will help? Which sites do you think do reply contexts incredibly well?
I’m glad there’s a holiday coming up so I can spend a bit of time catching up on some of the sessionsand notes and hopefully see some of the demos from the camp.
Dissenter acts as a workaround for people wishing to comment on websites, even those without a comment section. One user, Cody Jassman, describe the plugin as “like the graffiti painted in the alley on every web page. You can take a look around and see what passersby are saying.” The plugin was launched in beta at the end of February by Andrew Torba, who co-founded Gab, a far-right social network. Gab is well known for being the platform where Robert Bowers, the suspected Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, published anti-Semitic comments before he allegedly killed 11 people and wounded many others at the Tree of Life synagogue.