Notes, Highlights, and Marginalia: From E-books to Online

Notes on an outlined workflow for sharing notes, highlights, and annotations from ebooks online.

For several years now, I’ve been meaning to do something more interesting with the notes, highlights, and marginalia from the various books I read. In particular, I’ve specifically been meaning to do it for the non-fiction I read for research, and even more so for e-books, which tend to have slightly more extract-able notes given their electronic nature. This fits in to the way in which I use this site as a commonplace book as well as the IndieWeb philosophy to own all of one’s own data.[1]

Over the past month or so, I’ve been experimenting with some fiction to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of a workflow for status updates around reading books, writing book reviews, and then extracting and depositing notes, highlights, and marginalia online. I’ve now got a relatively quick and painless workflow for exporting the book related data from my Amazon Kindle and importing it into the site with some modest markup and CSS for display. I’m sure the workflow will continue to evolve (and further automate) somewhat over the coming months, but I’m reasonably happy with where things stand.

The fact that the Amazon Kindle allows for relatively easy highlighting and annotation in e-books is excellent, but having the ability to sync to a laptop and do a one click export of all of that data, is incredibly helpful. Adding some simple CSS to the pre-formatted output gives me a reasonable base upon which to build for future writing/thinking about the material. In experimenting, I’m also coming to realize that simply owning the data isn’t enough, but now I’m driven to help make that data more directly useful to me and potentially to others.

As part of my experimenting, I’ve just uploaded some notes, highlights, and annotations for David Christian’s excellent text Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History[2] which I read back in 2011/12. While I’ve read several of the references which I marked up in that text, I’ll have to continue evolving a workflow for doing all the related follow up (and further thinking and writing) on the reading I’ve done in the past.

I’m still reminded me of Rick Kurtzman’s sage advice to me when I was a young pisher at CAA in 1999: “If you read a script and don’t tell anyone about it, you shouldn’t have wasted the time having read it in the first place.” His point was that if you don’t try to pass along the knowledge you found by reading, you may as well give up. Even if the thing was terrible, at least say that as a minimum. In a digitally connected era, we no longer need to rely on nearly illegible scrawl in the margins to pollinate the world at a snail’s pace.[4] Take those notes, marginalia, highlights, and meta data and release it into the world. The fact that this dovetails perfectly with Cesar Hidalgo’s thesis in Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies,[3] furthers my belief in having a better process for what I’m attempting here.

Hopefully in the coming months, I’ll be able to add similar data to several other books I’ve read and reviewed here on the site.

If anyone has any thoughts, tips, tricks for creating/automating this type of workflow/presentation, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Footnotes

[1]
“Own your data,” IndieWeb. [Online]. Available: http://indieweb.org/own_your_data. [Accessed: 24-Oct-2016]
[2]
D. Christian and W. McNeill H., Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, 2nd ed. University of California Press, 2011.
[3]
C. Hidalgo, Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies, 1st ed. Basic Books, 2015.
[4]
O. Gingerich, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2004.

Hypothes.is and the IndieWeb

A new plugin helps to improve annotations on the internet

Last night I saw two great little articles about Hypothes.is, a web-based annotation engine, written by a proponent of the IndieWeb:

Hypothes.is as a public research notebook

Hypothes.is Aggregator ― a WordPress plugin

As a researcher, I fully appreciate the pro-commonplace book conceptualization of the first post, and the second takes things amazingly further with a plugin that allows one to easily display one’s hypothes.is annotations on one’s own WordPress-based site in a dead-simple fashion.

This functionality is a great first step, though honestly, in keeping with IndieWeb principles of owning one’s own data, I think it would be easier/better if Hypothes.is both accepted and sent webmentions. This would potentially allow me to physically own the data on my own site while still participating in the larger annotation community as well as give me notifications when someone either comments or augments on one of my annotations or even annotates one of my own pages (bits of which I’ve written about before.)

Either way, kudos to Kris Shaffer for moving the ball forward!

Examples

My Hypothes.is Notebook

The plugin mentioned in the second article allows me to keep a running online “notebook” of all of my Hypothes.is annotations on my own site.

My IndieWeb annotations

I can also easily embed my recent annotations about the IndieWeb below:

[ hypothesis user = 'chrisaldrich' tags = 'indieweb']

Webmention + Books = BookMention

Part of my plans to (remotely) devote the weekend to the IndieWeb Summit in Portland were hijacked by the passing of Muhammad Ali. Wait… What?! How does that happen?

igsyU1XmA year ago, I opened started a publishing company and we came out with our first book Amerikan Krazy in late February.  The author has a small backcatalogue that’s out of print, so in conjunction with his book launch, we’ve been slowly releasing ebook versions of his old titles. Coincidentally one of them was a fantastic little book about Ali entitled Muhammad Ali Retrospective, so I dropped everything I was doing to get it finished up and out as a quick way of honoring his passing.

But while I was working on some of the minutiae, I’ve been thinking in the back of my mind about the ideas of marginalia, commonplace books, and Amazon’s siloed community of highlights and notes. Is there a decentralized web-based way of creating a construct similar to webmention that will allow all readers worldwide to highlight, mark up and comment across electronic versions of texts so that they can share them in an open manner while still owning all of their own data? And possibly a way to aggregate them at the top for big data studies in the vein of corpus linguistics?

I think there is…

However it’ll take some effort, but effort that could have a worthwhile impact.

I have a few potential architectures in mind, but also want to keep online versions of books in the loop as well as potentially efforts like hypothes.is or even the academic portions of Genius.com which do web-based annotation.

If anyone in the IndieWeb, books, or online marginalia worlds has thought about this as well, I’d love to chat.

Boffo Socko Now Supports Hypothes.is Annotations

You can now highlight and annotate most of the pages here on Boffo Socko as well as other web pages.

I’d played around with many of them in the past, but a recent conversation with Matt Gross about News Genius and their issues in the last week reminded me about internet annotation platforms. Since some of what I write here is academic in nature, I thought I would add native Hypothes.is Annotation support to the site.

hypothesisIf you haven’t heard about it before, you might find the ability to highlight and annotate web pages very useful. Hypothesis allows for public or private highlights and notes and it can be a very useful extension of one’s commonplace book.

At the moment, I’m not sure where it all fits into the IndieWeb infrastructure I’m building here, but, at least for the moment, I’d hope that those making public annotations and notes will also enter their commentary into the comments either here on the blog or by way of syndicated versions on Facebook or Twitter so that they’re archived here for posterity. (Keep in mind site-deaths are prevalent and even Hypothes.is acknowledges in a video on their homepage that there have been many incarnations of web annotations that have come and gone in the life of the internet.) Perhaps one day there will be a federated and cross-linked version of highlights and annotations in the IndieWeb universe with webmentions included?!

Educators and researchers interested in using web annotation are encouraged to visit the wealth of information provided by providers like Hypothes.is and Genius.com.  In particular, the Hypothes.is blog has some great material and examples over the past year, and they have a special section for educators as well.

As it’s similar in functionality to highlighting on the web, I’ll remind users that we also still support Kevin Marks’s fragmentions as well.

If anyone is aware of people or groups working on the potential integration of the IndieWeb movement (webmentions) and web annotation/highlighting, please include them in the comments below–I’d really appreciate it.