I Annotate 2016

Our I Annotate conference has, since 2013, brought together users, developers, and standards-makers who share a common vision of an annotation-enabled web. In 2013, 2014, and 2015 we held the conference at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. This year we moved the venue to the Microsoft Atrium in Berlin. Why the change? Partly because three of our highly distributed team of thirteen live and work in Berlin. But mainly because we wanted to honor and include European organizations active in the annotation space. Presenters and participants hailed from Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.S.

As was true in 2015, the event coincided with a face-to-face meeting of the W3C Web Annotation Working Group whose co-chair, Rob Sanderson, delivered an overview of the standardization effort, an update on recent changes to the working draft, and a call to action: “Please let us know about your implementations, test them, and contribute the results!” The Working Group is chartered to deliver recommendations in July for key ingredients of annotation technology: the data model, which defines how to represent annotations, and the protocol, which defines how to exchange them.

During the course of the two-day conference, presenters showed a diverse set of implementations that will yield valuable feedback. One key theme that emerged was semantic tagging and linking, core features of many systems including:

  • neonion, a “user-centered, web application for the collaborative annotation of texts developed at the Human-Centered Computing group at Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin.” (Watch video.)

  • Pundit Annotator Pro, “developed in 2010 in the framework of several European-funded projects dedicated to the application of linked data technologies to the field of Digital Humanities, and in particular to Digital Libraries.” (Watch video.)

  • Europe PMC, “new Europe PMC service that allows text-mined annotations from any source to be displayed on full text articles. Various types of annotation – named entities (concepts such as genes or organisms), relationships (such as genes & diseases) and phrases (text snippets) can be modelled” (Watch video.)

  • Argo, “a web based platform for text mining, i.e., the transformation of unstructured textual data into structured knowledge.” (Watch video.)

  • DFKI, “several different types of language technologies (for example, automatic summarisation, machine translation, named entity recognition, information extraction and crosslingual search)” (Watch video.)

  • Huygens Institute for Netherlands History, “annotation should refer to structural and stable objects (verse lines, words in lines, paragraphs, document sections, etc.) in the edition’s source files that cannot necessarily be identified from the HTML representation of the text.” (Watch video.)

Journalists approach annotation from a very different perspective. To Mark Lee Hunter, a practitioner and researcher who participated in the panel discussion on investigative journalism (video), annotation looks like a way to empower stakeholders to focus attention and wield influence. For Climate Feedback‘s Daniel Nethery, we’re all stakeholders in a global issue that requires effective media scrutiny. In his talk (video) he explains how scientists are using web annotation to deliver that scrutiny in a scalable way.

Teachers and instructional designers bring yet another set of perspectives on annotation:

  • Lacuna, “meeting learning objectives in arts, humanities, and social science classrooms, courses which often encourage close reading and seminar-style discussion between co-learners.” (Watch video.)

  • Remi Holden, “how playful patterns in online margins constitute expert learning practices at the intersection of academic discourse and emergent social collaboration.” (Watch video.)

All conference videos are (or will be) posted here.

The diversity of uses on display at I Annotate 2016 shows why annotation should be a core feature of the web platform, integrated natively into browsers. It is a large ambition. But we couldn’t help but be encouraged to see Microsoft’s Danielle Ellbogen, who gave an opening talk on the Edge browser’s Web Note feature (video), in deep discussion with members of the W3C Web Annotation Working Group. And we note that the Annotating All Knowledge Coalition (video and slides of Maryann Martone’s progress report) now comprises 70 organizations (publishers, platforms, and standards bodies), a number of whom attended a focus group at the conference.

It’s often said that it takes 20 years to become an overnight success. Web annotation has, in fact, been percolating for that long. I Annotate 2016 shows that it’s ready for prime time.