History of Web Annotation

I wanted to start a resource topic about the history of web annotation.

Back in the day, I hung out with some of the people (centered around Ka-Ping Yee) doing Crit/CritSuite, but much info of which has link-rotted away:

A little later, there was Third Voice:

I remember using Third Voice a little, too.

Nowadays, there is Hypothesis:

One of the wonderments of the WWW for me is that web annotation has never become first class.


Here’s a way to think about this: Web Annotation is totally cool, W3C media fragments finally put to some better use and standardizing the semantics. Hypothes.is doing all the work is a great contribution, but on the other hand, very unhealthy to just have them around as the major implementation, also again a very dumb idea to slap Hypothes.is onto Websites, to become dependent on their server/domain, plus it’s simply avoiding the copyright issues, so what’s the point of annotating restrictively licensed material or such that can simply vanish from the Web, and even if you have a local copy, you’re not permitted to share or re-publish, orphaning the annotations. Instead, better add independent Web Annotation implementations everywhere and annotate libre-freely licensed repositories.

Other than that, Ted Nelson has his Edit Decision Lists around for quite some time as well, even with new implementations of sorts in the form of the xanaviewer and span selector.


Yes, I’m bummed they built a complex/scalable stack instead of something simpler which was focused on being easily/cheaply hosted for a smallish group.

I heard them say at least once that they would like to see other services/tools supporting Web Annotation as well. There are a few libre-freely licensed ones of course, but it would take some work to independently add/support it everywhere, so out of convenience (and centralization effect), Hypothes.is ends up the main place/hoster for/of annotation data. This leaves them with the unresolved copyright issues as the annotations don’t/can’t go together with the annotated source material. Sure they’re trying all kinds of workarounds, like acting as a proxy (is it embedding or is it via their server as a potentially copyright-infringing distributor lacking permission?) overlaying the live source material on the Web, or archiving via the copyright exemptions for libraries to avoid annotations getting orphaned (but that gets the source material stuck/trapped in a library, can’t move out or be redistributed or worked on/with independently from the library – also note that these slides/numbers are from 2015), or there’s an online annotator service based on people uploading the source material (and in the process potentially violating copyright, disclosing confidential information, and orphaning the annotations right away as the source material isn’t public/shareable). In any event, at least there’s this interface to get your own and other’s annotations out from Hypothes.is again. And then, how to apply them independently onto the original sources, if not orphaned already or the result remaining non-shareable/redistributable/publishable? Why then annotate in the first place, if not on your own local copies of your personal archive, at best?

Reminder by Deyan that there’s also XPointer.

Other than that, support for annotations which never got released with Mosaic, but the Web is pretty late and primitive in terms of text/hypertext anyway, so no wonder.