Screens, Research and Hypertext

Powered by 🌱Roam Garden

Annotating the Web that Could Be

The easiest way to annotate a webpage is still printing it out and using a pen.

Annotating online is largely a kludge. But there are a few places trying to do it better. Medium’s inline comments are brilliant in this regard: Highlight a passage and add some marginalia. The comment sticks directly to the highlighted passage and automatically generates a running list of all those comments in your own account. It’s marginalia and a note taking app all in one.

Screenshot showing the user interface for creating inline comments on a Medium post.

Too bad it’s limited only to things written in Medium.

While some research organizations blog at and/or syndicate to Medium, it’s by no means the main source for serious research content.

But there are other options. I’m especially intrigued by Hypothesis, a set of open source tools that “adds a layer over top of the web,” allowing users to add sentence-level annotations to anything. Hypothesis saves these comments as a separate layer, rather than embedding them directly into a specific website. It’s like the linkbases of old, but for comments rather than just for links.

Vannevar Bush would be giddy.

For more context

The current state of online annotation is ... not good.

What to read next

Better annotations are just one aspect of a web that is better suited for research.

Other items of interest

Who is Vannevar Bush and why would he care about a linkbase?

What even is a linkbase?

Tell me about your own history with annotation.

Referenced in

A Brief History of Hypertext

Vannevar Bush publishes "As We May Think" in The Atlantic. Bush proposes a device he calls the Memex, which would store content on microfilm. Each frame of microfilm could be tagged, and the Memex could use those tags to index and cross-reference all of the content. Each user would be able to create their own web of links and annotations.