We recently caught up with Peter Brantley to learn more about Hypothes.is. Peter is the Director of Scholarly Communication at this not-for-profit open source organization seeking to provide annotation services for the web. Previously, he was the Director of the BookServer Project at the Internet Archive, where he developed new business models in distributing digital books and fostered the publication, distribution, and access to digital content based on open formats and standards.
Q. What is Hypothes.is and how will it serve the scholarly research community as well as the public at large?
A. Hypothes.is is a small, not for profit organization that seeks to develop an open source software stack enabling the annotation of web documents. These documents are not limited to just text, but can include images, audio or video. The intent behind Hypothes.is is to broaden the conversation about published materials on the web. I think one of the primary audiences for this kind of engagement is the scholarly community.
Q. What has the response been to the launch of Hypothes.is from the academic community?
A. There has been a great deal of interest in annotation technology, generally. Hypothes.is is one of many organizations in the academic community pursuing annotation; in some ways we take on a role as a coordinator for a lot of these activities, particularly those that are based on the original software that was developed by the Open Knowledge Foundation called Annotator. What has been most interesting to us, just over this last year, has been a fairly significant burst of interest in the utilization of annotation in a research context. For instance, among the scholarly communication grants The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is considering for funding this summer, approximately half involve annotation in one guise or another. This is quite striking.
Watch the video below to learn more about Hypothes.is.
Q. When do you plan to roll out Hypothes.is and will scholarly research be a starting place?
A. We anticipate that scholarly activity is definitely going to be one of the leading edge adopters of annotation technology. There is quite a bit of interest in incorporating annotation into various kinds of workflows associated with scholarly objects. There are some very straightforward use cases, where scholars can integrate annotation into post publication discussion, where articles or research objects that have been published can invite commentary either from specific communities or from a concerned general public on their attributes, soliciting additional information or clarification and so forth. We are also seeing quite a bit of interest in prepublication use of annotation, primarily to augment or refactor traditional peer review practice. In this case, we are very sensitive to established customs in how peer review is conducted and to the fact that peer review is usually highly integrated into the heart of the publishing workflow. I think it will take a little bit more time to pursue experiments with publishers and scholarly societies to determine how broader engagement through online annotation might facilitate this kind of critique and commentary. We anticipate being able to roll out a browser extension for annotation that is acceptable for broad consumer use in mid to late summer. But, specific communities that are receptive to annotation such as scholarly, education, journalism, open government, and online education are probably going to adopt software prior to the widespread adoption of a consumer version.
Q. Why is the non-profit nature of Hypothes.is important?
A. We really believe that a not-for-profit status is necessary in order to produce software that can be utilized easily and openly by others. When we examined the possibility of coming out with a for-profit model, which might have made it easier to attract funding in Silicon Valley, we realized it would have frustrated potential adopters and impacted our ability to engage with a wide range of communities. Being able to provide open source software solutions that have input from a wide range of professional areas has been critical for growth and maturation of annotation technology.
Q. How will annotation be adopted to serve the needs of different communities?
A. There are three different paths of adopting annotation. One is fully public annotation where any web browser user can annotate any public content. Certain types of news or social sites might endorse this style of annotation. The second, on the opposite end of the spectrum, allows annotation within fully private communities. For example, a biopharmaceutical company might support internal annotation of clinical trial research and data, with their researchers having access to the annotation of external scholarly literature, yet not wanting to publicly expose internal company proprietary annotations. The third path, where most communities probably sit, falls right in the middle. An organization, such as a scholarly society or a large publishing platform, might incorporate annotation into either their co-publication or prepublication peer review processes, but do it in a community mandated fashion, so if you are a member of that society you have access to participate in an annotation layer that may only be accessible to other community members. This way, an organization can elevate the value of annotation for its membership. Similarly, an online newspaper might support an annotation capability feature that may only be accessible to subscribers. That would not stop public annotation, but would provide incentive for subscription in order to gain access to these value-added layers, which are inherently more embedded within the site.
Q. Annotator pseudonymity is also a principal of Hypothes.is. What are the potential advantages and pitfalls of this?
A. We think that supporting a minimal degree of pseudonymity is important because an association between annotation commentary and a persistent account ID is the only viable, straightforward way to establish reputation metrics. There are other ways of establishing and maintaining reputation over transient IDs but that becomes more difficult and more fragile. The appeal of pseudonymity over real names is the obvious fact that commenting on news or pending legislation might carry professional or personal risk to an individual’s life or property. We want to acknowledge that peoples’ voices have consequences and that there is value and weight to speaking. We are trying to figure out the best ways of safeguarding an individual’s ability to speak while ensuring that there is some evaluation possible and responsibility inherent in the conversation.
Q. Do you have plans to partner with publishers or institutions? What will the nature of those partnerships be?
A. We are already partnering with several groups and we’re in conversations with others. We were just awarded a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation to start experimenting with annotation in various peer review contexts with our grant partners: The American Geophysical Union, eLife, and the arXiv repository at Cornell. This grant will also likely lead to exploration with secondary partners as well. We are also hoping to announce another grant this summer that would involve a broader set of societies and be more humanities-oriented. We are definitely pursuing these kinds of engagements and have found there is great interest within the scholarly community in beginning to experiment with how annotation can either resolve difficulties in feedback or enable new forms of commentary and engagement.
Thanks for talking with us Peter.