A reflection on annotations and context at OLC Innovate & Liquid Margins

It’s fascinating to look back on the Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” that a group of us annotated this morning in the context of exploring Hypothes.is as part of OLC Innovate and Liquid Margins.

Reviewing over some notes, I’m glad I took a moment to annotate the context in which I made my annotations, which are very meta with respect to that context. Others’ annotations were obviously from the context of educators looking at Hughes’ work from the perspective of teachers looking back at an earlier time.

I’ve just gone back and not only re-read the poem, but read through and responded to some of the other annotations asynchronously. The majority of today’s annotations were made synchronously during the session. Others reading and interpreting them may be helped to know which were synchronous or asynchronous and from which contexts people were meeting the text. There were many annotations from prior dates that weren’t in the cohort of those found today. It would be interesting if the Hypothes.is UI had some better means of indicating time periods of annotation.

Is anyone studying these contextual aspects of digital annotation? I’ve come across some scholarship of commonplace books that attempt to contextualize notes within their historic time periods, but most of those attempts don’t have the fidelity of date and timestamps that Hypothes.is does. In fact, many of those attempts have no dates at all other than that they may have been made +/- a decade or two, which tends to cause some context collapse.

Crowdlaaers may provide some structure for studying these sorts of phenomenon: https://crowdlaaers.org?url=https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47880/theme-for-english-b. It provides some time-based tools for viewing annotations to help provide context. Looking at it’s data, I’m particularly struck by how few people today took advantage of the ability to use taxonomies.

As always, it was fun to see and hear about some uses of annotation using Hypothes.is in the wild. Thanks again to Nate Angell, Remi Kalir, Jeremy Dean, and all of the other panelists and participants who spoke so well about how they’re using this tool.

Read How and why to tell your story online, revisited (Jon Udell)
I wrote this essay in 2006 as part of a series of Internet explainers I did for New Hampshire Public Radio. It never aired for reasons lost to history, so I’m publishing this 15-year-old time…

Thomas Mahon is a Savile Row tailor. His shop in London caters to people who can spend two thousand pounds on a classic handmade suit. I’ll never be in the market for one of those, but if I were I’d be fascinated by Mahon’s blog, EnglishCut.com, which tells you everything you might want to know about Savile Row past and present, about how Mahan practices the craft of bespoke tailoring, and about how to buy and care for the garments he makes. 

I went down a rabbit hole just the other day on this topic. Bookmarking this for for some future journeys.
Annotated on February 06, 2021 at 12:38AM

We’ve always used the term ‘social networking’ to refer to the process of finding and connecting with those people. And that process has always depended on a fabric of trust woven most easily in the context of local communities and face-to-face interaction. 

Too much of modern social networking suffers from this fabric of trust and rampant context collapse. How can we improve on these looking forward?
Annotated on February 06, 2021 at 12:40AM

Read Why we're making the age of our journalism clearer at the Guardian (the Guardian)
To improve transparency and contextualise our journalism accurately even off platform, we’ve introduced two specific changes
I’ve noticed how they highlight these changes in the past. Pretty cool that they’re working at creating this sort of additional context.

I wonder how they’re doing the portion for the images on the social media cards. Are they simply replacing them outright or doing it programatically somehow?

Eight: Data types and Structure

There’s lots of data I want in my commonplace: likes, bookmarks, things I read, annotations, notes, quotes, watches, listens, etc. 

I implement them with Post Kinds Plugin to provide both structure, presentation, and context to most of my notes.


Each post can have its own category and tags for a variety of taxonomic and (most importantly) search purposes.



Another plugin I love is Post Kinds Plugin (Classic editor only at present) which automatically parses URLs I want to reply to, like, bookmark, etc. and saves the reply context to my website which helps prevent context collapse. My commentary and notes then appear below it.

(I also use a plugin that saves the content of URLs on my site to the Internet Archive, so I can reference them there later if necessary.)

📖 I’m 4% done reading Economy, Society, and Public Policy by CORE Team

Read sections 1.0-1.3. I’m loving the graphs, charts, videos, and supplementary interactive material they’re including in the book. It’s completely fascinating and quite a different reading experience on a computer versus either paper or e-reader.

Having immediate access to data like this make for a more interesting Economics experience.

Annotations from Unit 1 Capitalism and democracy: Affluence, inequality, and the environment

Cyril Ramaphosa

Annotated on January 30, 2020 at 12:00PM


PPP stands for Purchasing Power Parity
How to Calculate and Use Purchasing Power Parity – PPP
Annotated on January 30, 2020 at 12:07PM

But some have taller skyscrapers at the back, meaning a greater disparity between the top 10% and the rest of the population, whereas others have a less steep profile.

It might be more interesting if the top decile in each country were broken into tenths to show the even more severe disparities. I suspect that some of the height differences would be even more drastic if we could see the top 1% or even the top 0.1% on these graphs.
Annotated on January 30, 2020 at 12:36PM

A thousand years ago, the world was flat, economically speaking.

I don’t think we have to go back even this far. If I recall correctly, even 150 years ago the vast majority of the world’s population were subsistence farmers. It’s only been since the 20th century and the increasing spread of the industrial revolution that the situation has changed:

Even England remained primarily an agrarian country like all tributary societies for the previous 4,000 years, with ca. 50 percent of its population employed in agriculture as late as 1759.

–David Christian, Maps of Time (pp 401) quoting from Crafts, British Economic Growth, pp. 13–14. (See also Fig 13.1 Global Industrial Potential from the same, for a graphical indicator.
Annotated on January 30, 2020 at 01:03PM

If you have never seen an ice-hockey stick (or experienced ice hockey) this shape is why we call these figures ‘hockey-stick curves’.

I’m glad they’ve included an image of a hockey stick to provide the context here, but I’ve always thought of it rotated so that the blade was on the ground and the sharp angle of the handle itself indicated the exponential growth curve!
Annotated on January 30, 2020 at 01:18PM

Read A return to blogs (finally? sort of?) by Joanne McNeil Joanne McNeil (Nieman Lab Predictions for Journalism 2020 )
One reason we might see a resurgence of blogs is the novelty. Tell someone you’re starting a new newsletter and they might complain about how many newsletters (or podcasts) they already subscribe to. But tell them you’re launching a blog and see how that goes: Huh. Really, a blog? In 2020? Wow.
I almost want to call her to task, but Joanne has got her own website that looks like it’s part of tilde.club including an under construction image at the bottom of the page! How cool is that?!

I do find myself wishing that she kept her own writing in a blog so I could subscribe to her longer form work there. She’s also got a fantastic sounding book on the history of the internet from the perspective of the user called Lurking that’s coming out in February!

Her piece doesn’t tacitly tie back to journalism as directly as many in this series generally do, but I feel like she’s suggesting that by getting back to the roots of the old (non-corporately owned and controlled) web, journalism has a better chance to recover.  Much like her, I also think there is a beginning of a blogging renaissance that is brewing on the interwebz. It’s quite interesting to see people noticing and writing about it in contexts like the Nieman Lab’s annual predictions.

I’m not sure that I agree with her assertions about context collapse. Some of the most sophisticated information consumers are aware of it, but I don’t think that Harry or Mary Beercan are aware of the general concept.

Highlights and Annotations

But tell them you’re launching a blog and see how that goes: Huh. Really, a blog? In 2020? Wow.

It’s been long enough now that people look back on blogging fondly, but the next generation of blogs will be shaped around the habits and conventions of today’s internet. Internet users are savvier about things like context collapse and control (or lack thereof) over who gets to view their shared content. Decentralization and privacy are other factors. At this moment, while so much communication takes place backstage, in group chats and on Slack, I’d expect new blogs to step in the same ambiguous territory as newsletters have — a venue for material where not everyone is looking, but privacy is neither airtight nor expected.

She doesn’t have the technical terminology many use, but she’s describing the IndieWeb community pretty well here.

Read Well, That Escalated Quickly (meyerweb.com)
This post is probably going to be a little bit scattered, because I’m still reeling from the overwhelming, unexpected response to the last post.

The people who I envisioned myself writing for—they got what I was saying and where I was focused.  The very early responses to the post were about what I expected.  But then it took off, and a lot of people came into it without the context I assumed the audience would have.

Definitely a good example of context collapse here.
–December 10, 2019 at 12:20PM

Listened to The internet we lost by Matthew Yglesias from The Weeds | Vox
Function's Anil Dash joins Matt to discuss how Big Tech broke the web and how we can get it back.

Some recent discussion relating to Anil Dash’s overarching thesis of the Web we Lost. He’s also got some discussion related to algorithms and Weapons of Math Destruction. He specifically highlights the idea of context collapse and needing to preface one’s work with the presumption that people coming to it will be completely lacking your prior background and history of the subject. He also talks about algorithmic amplification of fringe content which many people miss. We need a better name for what that is and how to discuss it. I liken it to the introduction of machine guns in early 1900’s warfare that allowed for the mass killing of soldiers and people at a scale previously unseen. People with the technology did better than those without it, but it still gave unfair advantage to some over others. I’ve used the tag social media machine guns before, but we certainly need to give it a concrete (and preferably negative) name.

Bookmarked on December 06, 2019 at 09:54PM

Lurking, Twitter, The Commons, and Private Posts


Yesterday I was catching up on chat logs and ran across a stub for lurking on the IndieWeb wiki. I cleaned up the formatting a bit and added some additional material. Later Ton Zijlstra dropped a link to his excellent article from 2004 on the topic: Lurking and Social Networks (though honestly, I first came by the link courtesy of our good friend Jeremy Cherfas who added it to the wiki page).

Lurking is the quiet watching/listening that what many people of the web do in chat rooms in order to begin gauging culture, learning jargon or lingo, and other community norms or unspoken principles before diving in to interact on a more direct level with other participants.

While the word lurking can have a very negative connotation, online it often has a much more positive one, especially in regard to the health and civility of the commons. Rather than rehash what Ton has done an excellent job of doing, I won’t go into the heavy details and history of online lurking, but instead, let’s take a look at where it isn’t in today’s social media landscape.


Since 2004, Twitter and a slew of other social media has popped up on the scene and changed many of our prior behaviors concerning lurking. In particular, Twitter’s interface has made it far easier to either like/favorite a post or retweet it.

In comparison the the preceding era of the blogosphere represented by Tons’ post, Twitter has allowed people to send simple notifications back and forth about each others’ posts indicating a lower bar of interaction than writing a thoughtful and measured comment. Now instead of not knowing about dozens, hundreds, or thousands of lurkers, a (micro)blogger would more quickly know who many more of their readers were because they were liking or resharing their content. Naturally there are still many more potential lurkers who don’t interact with one’s posts this way, but these interactions in some way are like adding fuel to the fire and prompt the writer to continue posting because they’re getting some feedback that indicates they’ve got an audience. Twitter has dramatically lowered the bar for lurkers and made it more socially acceptable for them to make themselves known.

A mid-century imagining of a Twitter company sign on the side of a commercial building, but aged to the point that the sign is rusted, broken, and decaying from neglect
Twitter image from the collection Social Decay by Andrei Lacatsu

Of course, not all is rosy and happy in Twitterland as a result of this lowering the social bar. Because it’s so easy to follow almost anyone and interact with them, naturally everyone does. This means that while before one may have lurked a blog for weeks or months before posting a response of any sort, people are now regularly replying to complete strangers without an resistance whatsoever. While this can be valuable and helpful in many instances, oftentimes it comes off as rudely as if one butted into the private conversation of strangers at a public gathering. At the farther end of the spectrum, it’s also much easier for trolls to tag and target unsuspecting victims. As a result, we have the dumpster fire that Twitter has become in the past several years for many of its users.

The problem for the continued health of the commons is how can we maintain a bar for online lurking, but still provide some feedback? How can we keep people from shouting and yelling at passer-by from their proverbial front porches or vice-versa? How might we encourage more positive lurking online before directly jumping into a conversation? 

Read Posts and Private Posts

For several years now, as a part of the IndieWeb movement, I’ve been more directly controlling my online identity and owning my content by using my own domain name and my own website (boffosocko.com). While I still use Twitter, I’m generally only reading content from it via a feed reader. When I post to or interact with it, I’m always publishing my content on my own website first and syndicating a copy to Twitter for those who don’t own their online identities or content and (sadly) rely on Twitter to do that for them. 

Within this setting, since roughly late 2016, I’ve been posting almost all of what I read online or in books, magazines, or newspapers on my own website. These read posts include some context and are often simply composed of the title of the article, the author, the outlet, a summary/synopsis/or first paragraph or two to remind me what the piece was about, and occasionally a comment or two or ten I had on the piece.

screencapture of a read post on my website
An example read post with context from my website at https://boffosocko.com/2019/06/02/lurking-and-social-networks-ton-zijlstra/

In tandem with these posts, I’m also sending webmentions to the websites of those pieces. These (experimental) read webmentions are simply notifications to the originating site that I’ve read their piece. In our prior framing of lurking or Twitter, I’m sending them the simplest notification I can think of to say, “I’m here lurking. I’m reading or looking at your work.”

I’m not saying that I liked it, favorited it, disliked it, bookmarked it, commented on it,  or anything else, but simply that I read it, I consumed it, I spent the time to interact with it. But in contrast with Ton’s older method of looking at server logs to see what kind of traffic his posts are getting, he can see exactly who I am and visit my website in return if he chooses. (Ton’s old method of sifting through those logs was certainly not a fun experience and the data was usually relatively anonymous and useless.) These newer read notifications could potentially give him a much richer idea of who his (lurking) audience actually is. Then when someone shows up with a comment or reply, it’s not completely from out of the dark: they’ve previously indicated that they’re at least somewhat aware of the context of a potentially broader conversation on his site.

These read notifications are semantically different from likes, favorites, or even bookmarks on other platforms. In fact many platforms like Twitter, which has moved from “stars” (with the semantic idea of a favorite) to “hearts” (with the semantic idea of a like), have so few indicators of reaction to a post that the actual meaning of them has been desperately blurred. Personally I’ll use Twitter’s like functionality variously to mean: “I’m bookmarking this (or the linked article within it) for reading later”, “I like this post”, “I’ve read this post”, or even “I’m acknowledging receipt of your reply to me”. That’s just too much meaning to pack into a silly little heart icon.

Because I’m using my own website over which I have complete control, I can make it do a better job of unpacking some of this semantic tom-foolery. I’ve written about it a bit in the past if you care to see some of the details: Thoughts on linkblogs, bookmarks, reads, likes, favorites, follows, and related links. See also: the read-posts tag on this site.

If they choose, some website owners display these read post notifications in one or more ways. Some sites like Aaron Parecki’s or Jeremy Keith’s will show my interactions as bookmarks. Others, primarily WordPress-based websites that support Webmention (via plugin), will actually show these interactions in their comment sections under the heading “Read” and display my photo/avatar as an indicator that I’ve interacted with that post. In the case of read posts on which I’ve written one or more comments, the receiving site also has the option of showing my interaction not as a read/bookmark intent, but could also show my comments as a reply to their post. I’ve written a bit about this and its potential for large news outlets before in Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internet for A List Apart. There are also some older legacy sites that might show my interactions as a trackback or pingback, but these seem few and far between these days, particularly as those systems are major targets for spam and the Webmention protocol has a richer interaction/display model.

screencaputure showing how Jeremy Keith displays my read post as a bookmark. The relevant section reads: "# Bookmarked by Chris Aldrich on Thursday, April 11th, 2019 at 1:31pm"
How Jeremy Keith displays shares, likes, and bookmarks (including my read post) in the comment section of his website.
Facepiled Likes, Reads, and Mentions in the comment section of the online newspaper with a heading "Reading" under which appears an avatar indicating one person has read the article.
The display of a read post on ColoradoBoulevard.net

A new itch

But as I think about these read posts, lurking, and being more civil on the internet, I have a new itch for some functionality I’d like to add to my website. I very frequently use my website as a digital commonplace book to collect links of things I’ve read, watched, and listened to. I’ll collect quotes, highlights, and even my own marginalia. As I mentioned above, my read posts sometimes have comments, and quite often those comments are really meant just for me and not for the author of the original post. In many cases, when my comments may be too egregious, sensitive, or perhaps even insulting to the original author, I’ll make these posts private so that only I can see them on my site.  Of course when they’re private, no notifications are sent to the site at the other end of the line.

Sometimes I would like to be able to send a read notification to the site, but also keep my commentary privately to myself. This allows me to have my notes on the piece and be highly critical without dragging down the original author or piece who I may not know well or the audience of that same piece which I haven’t properly lurked (in the positive community-based sense indicated above) to be as intelligently and sensitively commenting as I would otherwise like. Thus I’d like to build in some functionality so that I can publicly indicate I’ve read a piece (and send a notification), but also so that I can keep the commentary on my read private to either myself or a smaller audience.

I suspect that I can do this in a variety of meta-fields on my website which aren’t shown to the public, but which might be shown to either myself or logged in users. In some sense, this is a subset of functionality which many in the IndieWeb have been exploring recently around the ideas of private posts or by limiting the audience of a post. In my case, I’m actually looking at making a post public, but making smaller sub-portions of it private.

To begin with, I’ll most likely be looking at doing this at a small scale just for myself and my commonplace book, as I can definitely see second and third-order effects and a variety of context collapse issues when portions of posts are private, but others who may be privy to them are commenting on those pieces from the perspective of their public spheres which may not be as private or closed off as mine. i.e.: While I may have something marked as private, privy readers will always have the option of copy/pasting it and dragging it out into the public.

For those interested, I’ll briefly note that Sebastiaan Andeweg just wrote Private posts: the move of the checkins which has some useful and related background to private posts. (Of course I remember exactly when I read it.) I also highly suspect there will be a private posts related session(s) at the upcoming IndieWeb Summit in Portland in June (tickets are still available). I’m interested to see what others come up with on this front.

Read Lurking and Social Networks by Ton ZijlstraTon Zijlstra (Interdependent Thoughts)

Lurking, although the word seems to imply a negative connotation, has usefull aspects nonetheless. It is a way of determining rules of behaviour for new comers to a group.
The most obvious characteristic of a lurker is that he’s at the fringe of a group, listening and observing. Being at the fringe may seem like a bad place from the core, but in fact is a good position to build bridges to other groups, and be aware of other groups in the vicinity. In a face to face setting like a pub or a meeting of some kind, a lurker is visible, often shortly introduced after which the focus of attention shifts to the established group members again.
In on-line settings things are different. In some fora lurkers are encouraged to introduce themselves and then adviced to lurk, i.e. observe and learn for a while. But at all times there is no way of knowing how many lurkers are there that you are unaware of.
As lurkers are possible bridges to other groups, I as a blogger, would like to know:

  • How many lurkers I have, who read my blog but don’t comment or post.
  • Who they are
    Serverlogs can give some clues, and I keep a close watch on them. Dave Winer’s RSS-tool also brings new info to light.

network diagram with strong ties and numerous weak ties, preventing echo chambers

network diagram with strong ties and numerous weak ties, preventing echo chambers
Replied to Context challenges between and social media silos by David MeadDavid Mead (David John Mead)

My utopian dream of owning all my content would be to post it on my blog first. Syndicating to whatever social media silo's I choose afterwards.

This isn't a reality as some of these silos (Instagram) don't allow posting apart through their apps.

This forces me to accept their context for my content if I consume it into my site, from them.

This context piece David Mead is talking about is a far bigger issue than most people might give it credit for. Most don’t even notice it because their lives are split up so tragically online that they simply have never had any other experiences. Seeing things from a different perspective, I can guarantee that they’re missing out.

I’m reminded of chef Alton Brown who regularly gives the cooking advice that one should never buy unitasker kitchen tools, but instead get multi-taskers that can do a variety of jobs. This typically cuts down on a lot of the mess and fuss in one’s kitchen and generally makes it a nicer place to prepare food. Nine times out of ten the unitasker is a much more expensive and infrequently used tool and ultimately gets lost in a junk drawer. More often than not, there are one or multi-taskers that can do a better job for far less. 

In some sense social silos like Twitter (with functionality for notes and bookmarks), Instagram (photos), Facebook (notes, photos, links, etc.), Swarm (locations and photos), etc. are just like those unitaskers in the kitchen. They only do one (or sometimes a very few) thing(s) well and generally just make for a messier and more confused social media life. They throw off the mise en place of my life by scattering everything around, making my own content harder to find and use beneficially. On my own website, I have all of the functionalities of these four examples–and lots more–and its such a much better experience for me.

As time goes by and I’m able to post more content types (and cross link them via replies) on my own website and even to others’, I do notice that the increased context on my website actually makes it more interesting and useful. In particular, I can especially see it when using my “On This Day” functionality or various archive views where I can look back at past days/months/years to see what I had previously been up to. This often allows me to look at read posts, bookmark posts, photos, locations to put myself back in the context of those prior days. Since all of the data is there and viewable in a variety of linear and non-linear manners, I can more easily see the flow of the ideas, where they came from and where they  may be going. I can also more easily search for and find ideas by a variety of meta data on my site that would probably have never been discoverable on disparate and unrelated social sites. That article I read in July and posted to Twitter could never be grouped again with the related photo on Instagram or the two other bookmarked journal articles I put on Diigo or the annotations I made with Hypothes.is. But put all that on my own website, and what a wonderful exploding world of ideas I can immediately recall and continue exploring at a later date. In fact, it is this additional level of aggregation and search that makes my website that much more of a valuable digital commonplace book.

I’ll note, as a clever bit of of search and serendipity to underscore the discussion of context, it’s nearly trivial for me to notice that exactly two years ago today I was also analogizing social media and food culture. Who knows where those two topics or even related ones from my site will take me next?

📑 Context challenges between #indieweb and social media silos | David John Mead

Annotated Context challenges between and social media silos by David MeadDavid Mead (David John Mead)

On my blog it has context. You can see all the other eat/drink posts on thier own or mixed in with everything else. I can include links to the place where I bought it, who makes it, or related posts.Instagram's context is its a photo with an optional description. It doesn't matter what it's of. It won't contain links to anything.  

👓 Assumed Audiences | Chris Krycho

Read Assumed Audiences by Chris KrychoChris Krycho (chriskrycho.com)
“The Internet” is far too broad an audience for, well, basically any post I write. My current best solution: “Assumed Audience” headings on posts.
This isn’t a bad idea at all, particularly in a more nascent rising independent web. It may be far too late to attempt this with Twitter and other means of social media however.

👓 Note about context collapse | Greg McVerry

Liked a post by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry (INTERTEXTrEVOLUTION)
Just added an article about context collapse on the wiki with @kevinmarks as we study open v privacy in . Perfect example of how open pedagogy works in the wild.