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February 01, 2006


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We've been thinking about this theme too ;-)

Here is an annotation tool that we have been working on:

This one is designed to work w/in the plone content management system, and this problem takes a slightly different shape when you control both the client and the server... But the javascript is real clean and is fairly general purpose.

Also see:



(but just to clarify, we had nothing to do w/ mystickies.com and though it looks similar and has a very similar name, it is unrelated).

Notes from today's meeting:

Rob explained that he had started using a tablet PC and thus was using the various readers (Microsoft, Adobe) and marking up content, noticing that the marks he was making were personal only and could not be shared (like, say, bookmarks could be shared via Delicious). Advantages include:
Individual comments help you organize your thoughts
Commenting in threads on other people's comments -- helps put content in context for readers
Early test show that it increases the number of people doing the reading - the fact that it leaves a visible trail seems to spur participation by users.
Helps maintain focus of discussion on the text itself
The big readers (MS, Adobe) do not yet support this type of interaction. To be determined whether some of the emerging e-book readers will.

Example: www.hylighter.com
In Beta state -- developed at Florida State by David Lebow.
Rob walked us through marking up a document -- can create:
* "local" markups (just for you)
* "global" markups (shared, can be compared)
* "embedded" -- become part of master document

Color scheme:
* Your hylights = yellow
* Others' hylights = blue (varying in intensity depending on how many comments are there)
* Overlap = green, etc.

According to David Lebow they use open source software to convert docs to XML (X-docs), while PDFs are more complicated -- contracted with MA-based Cambridge Docs to convert.

Professors can access table views to see comments of how many users have contributed.

The team is now working with Univ of Florida and hope to ramp up development/rollout.

Example: PBOS -- The Processed Book Project

Talked a bit about the history (see main blog entry). Good place to investigate more "big think" aspects about where publishing is going, etc. This is an open-source initiative with grant funding -- after 3 years plan is to drop it and hope appropriate parties pick it up.


HBS is a very wired campus but cases are still distributed hard-copy -- students want that hard copy for portability, ability to mark up, etc. Would they embrace something like this? Could envision study groups wanting to use this to either distribute workload, review for exams, etc. Group discussed that students do this anyways and hand down notes in a "black market". Coudl bring this in-house, moderate access, ensure more full participation, and remove access at end of year.

Hal (Baker Library) pointed out that he took a distance learning course and much of what you did was type on discussion boards but first had to define what the content was that you were referring to. This social annotation idea could address that problem.

Larry (HBS ETMM) recounted that HBS did have an experiment in distance learning that contained some Hylighter-ish features. You could hi-lite links on a page that then would pop out a threaded discussion page where you could define groups that would have access to that discussion. It worked but technologies were more primitive at the time so there were some challenges.

Group discussed how tablet PCs could really make this idea more attractive. And next-gen of e-readers (see eInk on main entry) could really revolutionize the use of utilities like this.

Rob noted that there is one factor that could limit this. These utilities rely on separating content from annotations -- but the tablet PC w/ PDF writer allows you to literally draw in a manner that is a "picture" above and beyond what could be done with these social annotation utilities. Group then chatted about technical challenges associated with this.

Dave G. (HBS IT Group PM) talked about the differences between books and web pages. Book represent a much deeper read and may necessitate a different set of utilities than would be used for annotating web pages. This reminds Dave of "Stickies" applications (see earlier comment to this blog entry).

Peter L. (HBS IT Group PM) noted that this could be used for cross-course learning teams of students that are now being formed (with collaborative projects assigned) at HBS.

Dave H. (HBS Multimedia) noted that benefiting students should be primary driver -- then we will figure out controlling mechanisms, etc.

Group discussed how tablet PCs could lead to more advanced readers could then start to lead to even more benefits for utilities like this. Readers and software are getting more advanced. Perhaps we could work with student Tech Committee to pilot some ideas.

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