Collaboratively Annotate Websites the Open Web Way


5by5 | The Web Ahead #60: Web Annotations with Doug Schepers.

I have been listening to this episode of The Web Ahead that deals with annotations, or ways to leave comments on specific pieces of content across the web—even without the cooperation of the owner of the originating site. Like, they are envisioning an open standard for communicating around content.

They describe how current blog comments work, and how they’re owned and curated by the site owners. 3rd party tools like Diigo allow anyone to highlight and comment content, but those comments are also privately owned and centrally controlled. They are talking about creating an open standard where anyone can run their own server to keep track of their comments, download a copy, and have it be a feature that works in any browser.

Why would this be cool in education?

I have long been a fan of tools like Diigo because they allow you and your colleagues/students to collaboratively highlight and mark up websites the same way you might leave inline comments in a Word Doc or Google doc. These annotations can serve as a jumping off space for class discussions around  content that lives anywhere on the web.

University of Kansas professor Michael Wesch uses Diigo groups for collaborative, inquiry based research by asking students to find and annotate resources all over the web on a given subject. Rather than him providing the links for them, students find and share links themselves, and this drives the discussion.

Alternately, you can use in-text annotation to allow students to ask and answer questions about challenging passages in their reading, right on the page. Imagine the comments as you have students grapple with Shakespeare by producing their own notes and questions. Now imagine pooling your class discussion around that text with hundreds of other classrooms, where the most helpful comments are promoted to the top. The result would be a people-powered version of those annotated classics.

How to get started?

AnnotateIt is the consumer-facing manifestation of AnnotatorJS, a web-native protocol for adding annotations to any content, anywhere on the web. It works now as a Chrome plugin and as a bookmarklet if you want to give it a try. Also, check out, another interesting way of bringing an open-web mindset to the task of commenting on content. For a more powerful (if less open) tool, make sure you check out the many charms of Diigo.

One more thing

Just as a final note, the host of The Web Ahead asked her listeners to spread the word about the show during this episode, so I thought I’d just give a little plug. This show explains various open web technologies in a way that’s both accessible and technical. It’s always just a little bit over my head but intensely stimulating to think about how open, free, web principles are underlying the technology that we use– even if those are consumer-level tools that are mostly aimed non-technical people.

My journey of understanding education technology has gone from using those different consumer-level tools, and then learning how the underlying web technology works. I’d challenge you to read and listen to people who are talking about edtech tools from the technical side as well as the user-centric side, and this podcast is a great place to do that. Enjoy!



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Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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1 Response

  1. July 20, 2016

    […] Curran , Collaboratively Annotate Websites the Open Web Way , March 5, […]


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