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.
Looking at Hypothesis, Genius and Google Docs
A 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.
There are potential solutions to the recent News Genius-gate incident, and simple notifications can go a long way toward helping prevent online bullying behavior.
There has been a recent brouhaha on the Internet (see related stories below) because of bad actors using News Genius (and potentially other web-based annotation tools like Hypothes.is) to comment on websites without their owner’s knowledge, consent, or permission. It’s essentially the internet version of talking behind someone’s back, but doing it while standing on their head and shouting with your fingers in their ears. Because of platform and network effects, such rude and potentially inappropriate commentary can have much greater reach than even the initial website could give it. Naturally in polite society, such bullying behavior should be curtailed.
This type of behavior is also not too different from more subtle concepts like subtweets or the broader issues platforms like Twitter are facing in which they don’t have proper tools to prevent abuse and bullying online.
A creator receives no notification if someone has annotated their content.–Ella Dawson
Towards a Solution: Basic Awareness
I think that a major part of improving the issue of abuse and providing consent is building in notifications so that website owners will at least be aware that their site is being marked up, highlighted, annotated, and commented on in other locations or by other platforms. Then the site owner at least has the knowledge of what’s happening and can then be potentially provided with information and tools to allow/disallow such interactions, particularly if they can block individual bad actors, but still support positive additions, thought, and communication. Ideally this blocking wouldn’t occur site-wide, which many may be tempted to do now as a knee-jerk reaction to recent events, but would be fine grained enough to filter out the worst offenders.
Toward the end of notifications to site owners, it would be great if any annotating activity would trigger trackbacks, pingbacks, or the relatively newer and better webmention protocol of the W3C which comes out of the IndieWeb movement. Then site owners would at least have notifications about what is happening on their site that might otherwise be invisible to them. (And for the record, how awesome would it be if social media silos like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Medium, Tumblr, et al would support webmentions too!?!)
Perhaps there’s a way to further implement filters or tools (a la Akismet on platforms like WordPress) that allow site users to mark materials as spam, abusive, or “other” so that they are then potentially moved from “public” facing to “private” so that the original highlighter can still see their notes, but that the platform isn’t allowing the person’s own website to act as a platform to give safe harbor (or reach) to bad actors.
Further some site owners might appreciate gradable filters (G, PG, PG-13, R, X) so that either they or their users (or even parents of younger children) can filter what they’re willing to show on their site (or that their users can choose to see).
Consider also annotations on narrative forms that might be posted as spoilers–how can these be guarded against? For what happens when a even a well-meaning actor posts an annotation on page two which foreshadows that the butler did it thereby ruining the surprise on the last page? Certainly there’s some value in having such a comment from an academic/literary perspective, but it doesn’t mean that future readers will necessarily appreciate the spoiler. (Some CSS and a spoiler tag might easily and unobtrusively remedy the situation here?)
Certainly options can be built into the annotating platform itself as well as allowing server-side options for personal websites attempting to deal with flagrant violators and truly hard-to-eradicate cases.
Do you have a solution for helping to harden the Internet against bullies? Share it in the comments below.
- Genius Wants To Let Readers Annotate Any News Article. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Jessica Goldstein, ThinkProgress 2016-03-30
- Genius responds to Congresswoman Katherine Clark’s letter on preventing abuse by Noah Kulwin, Re/code 2016-03-29
- Misguided Genius by Chelsea Hassler, Slate 2016-03-28
- The Genius Problem by Chuq Von Rospach 2016-03-28
- Genius Web Annotator vs. One Young Woman With a Blog by Brady Dale, The Observer 2016-03-28
If 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.
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.