I am absolutely thrilled to report that you can now link directly to a specific point within any webfile, most anywhere on the web, using the hypothes.is open annotation tool. In my mind this is a game changer, and I’ll tell you why.
Hypothes.is is a non-profit, open source platform for annotating all knowledge. It effectively adds a transparent layer over the web on which you can highlight, comment, tag, and now also copy a link directly to, any point inside whatever file you are browsing. You can decide if you want your annotations to be private to you or your group(s), or open to the public. You can tag your comments, reply to others’ comments, and share links to any annotations you are privy to. You can use it in your own knowledge domains, with your colleagues, classmates, community, or out on the web the public at large (or any combination thereof).
Browse these examples
Check out the commentary on an official White House document, Wall Street Journal article, or an educator’s impassioned thinkpiece:
- Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address – in collaboration with the National Writing Project, students “flash-mobbed” the address online realtime [full story]
- Wall Street Journal article on climate change – commentary by panel of leading scientists for Climate Feedback initiative – sorry you’ll see just the first screenfull unless you have a WSJ subscription, but enough to get the point [full story].
- Networked Learning as Experiential Learning – recent article by Professor Gardner Campbell in Educause, annotated by his peers.
What are you looking at? In the above file(s), click the  toggle at the top of the right sidebar to hide or show the annotations window, or resize it. Below that, the  eye icon lets you hide or show highlights in the file window. Click on a highlight to see the annotation, or click on any annotation to seewhere in the file it pertains.
Try annotating and linking
I’ve created a scratch file for you to testdrive the features. It’s a copy of one of Doug Engelbart’s early papers where he described the importance of direct linking. (Note the purple numbers and table of contents are not part of hypothes.is, they are standard navigation aids supplied throughout our website).
To do anything more than passive browsing, first create your own hypothes.is account (it’s quick, free, respectful). Reply to thehypothes.is confirmation email to activate.
Now go to this scratch file I created for you, where you can highlight text, comment, tag, copy link, etc. to get a feel for it yourself.
- Select a word or phrase that catches your eye, and click either Annotate or Highlight. This creates an “annotation card” in the sidebar where you can optionally enter a comment. (If you can’t see annotations in the sidebar, click the  hide/show toggle top right). Now you can edit, delete, reply, or share your annotation card.
- To copy link, click the Share icon in your annotation card and copy the link provided, to paste where you will
- For helpful pointers, refer to Making Annotations in the Help file
- Challenge: Create a link to your favorite part of the scratch file, and share it with us here, either by adding it in a Comment at the bottom of this blogpost (the “old fashioned way”), or by using hypothes.is on THIS file to annotate THIS paragraph with a comment that includes the link you created.
- To try hypothes.is on other web page(s), paste a URL next to the Annotate! button on the hypothes.is homepage, and click the Annotate! button. This will add “via.hypothes.is/” in front of your URL (which you could easily do yourself). Copy this extended URL and use that to access the desired web page. For regular use, you can add an extension to your Chrome browser.
Why I think it’s a game changer
Back in the early 1960s both Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbart saw the need for hyperdocument systems to include direct linking to any point in a file, and both implemented the feature early on in their respective feature-rich systems. In 1968, Engelbart and his team demonstrated a full suite of such features to a packed conference hall in what has come to be known as the Mother of All Demos. Engelbart continued to call for such functionality in his talks and papers ever since (as did Nelson and others). In 1990, Engelbart published a technology template for a world wide open hyperdocument system (OHS), along with a call for exploratory pilot applications of evolving prototypical systems, based on his far-reaching experience and evolving vision for augmenting humanity’s collective IQ, which call remained largely unanswered. By 2000, weren’t people even a little curious about what a National Medal of Technology winner might be thinking about the future? (See my recent post The true promise of Interactive Computing: Leveraging our Collective IQ.) By 2006, Engelbart elevated ‘direct linking’ to the top of his list of user requirements, still largely unanswered, until now.
There are now a growing number of annotation tools that address several of the OHS requirements, but hypothes.is appears to me to be uniquely positioned on the best evolutionary path forward.
First, hypothes.is is open in every sense of the word. That’s crucial. From the users’ perspective the tool works seamlessly across the web, users own their links and annotations and can browse them independent of the various files they point to and the apps or knowledge domains those files reside in — i.e. they are not trapped in scattered files and random apps. Open annotation gives the files a powerful permeable quality with the fine-grained accessibility I described in my latest blogpost. The software is open source, which encourages cooperation and innovation from a broad base of developers, and the company itself is open — they’ve even published their development roadmap, which speaks to open innovation or outside innovation, emphasizing user-centered and community-facing design. That’s crucial. They exhibit other attributes of a ‘lean startup style innovation strategy such as iterating a minimum viable product based on customer-centered pilot experiments, and the type of networked improvement found in Bootstrapping Brilliance initiatives.
Second, Hypothesis the company is well positioned for broad-based collaboration, outreach, and support. Watch this short introductory video from their home page:
In their words: “Our efforts are based on the Annotator project, which we are principal contributors to, and annotation standards for digital documents being developed by the W3C Web Annotation Working Group. We are partnering broadly with developers, publishers, academic institutions, researchers, and individuals to develop a platform for the ne
xt generation of read-write Web applications.” As a non-profit, they can presumably form multi-party partnerships and collaborations more readily than their commercial counterparts. Case in point, their recently announced coalition of over 40 leading organizations in the technology and scholarly publishing communities, in addition to the various collaborative use cases in bioscience, education, and civics they have already been cultivating.
Third, the transparent layer over the web, their “platform for the next generation of read-write Web applications”, is in my opinion a godsend. They seem to have done an excellent job through their partnerships ensuring essentials like link persistence, seamless (to the user) cross-platform interoperability, and more. They’re paving the way with this increasingly robust platform to enable more and more participants in the open source community to add value to the open annotation development goals. And one can hope that there’s eventually room/desire to cultivate more OHS-like capability, and enable OHS-inspired end-user communities and open source developers to add additional value in a way that benefits the whole.
Lastly, their vision is, well, visionary. Watch Dan Whaley, Executive Director of hypothes.is, share his larger vision in this impassioned talk:
Unless I’m missing something, we appear to be at a turning point for humanity to acquire the enabling technology needed to begin in earnest to learn how to leverage society’s IQ to its greatest potential, or at least great enough to match the unprecedented challenges ahead (before it’s too late).
Hypothes.is – the company and the tool; see especially their Introductory Video, their Direct Linking announcement, and Hypothes.is Help for basics on how to use, and more. See also Fast Company article Are We Finally Ready To Annotate The Entire Internet?
About OHS – Doug Engelbart’s call for a world wide open hyperdocument system (OHS), includes links to user requirements, video of Engelbart describing OHS, and demos of prior technology; see also OHS Framework: Technology Template, as well as Open Hyper Tools where we’ll be listing relevant supportive technology such as hypothes.is
dougengelbart.org – official website of the Doug Engelbart Institute, steward of the Doug Engelbart legacy – past, present and future