Wikifying Annotations

It’s quite possible that 2015 is to annotations what 2004 was to self-publishing. As annotations move mainstream, wiki can make them better.

Take Pinboard, which can be seen as a rudimentary annotation system. In Pinboard you read a page and write a summary, or disagreement, or whatever. It looks like this:

Screenshot 2015-06-13 at 9.38.27 AM

Pinboard as it stands. You summarize an article and tag it.

That’s interesting, and I’m glad I can find it later. Also, the process of summarizing is good for my comprehension.

Pinboard even goes further, allowing you to create “notes” which are free standing, and not tied to pages. So, for instance, we could tag bunch of articles gdp-education, and write a couple notes on the subject too. When we want to see everything we’ve read and written on the subject we hit the tag and voila!, an instant library.

But why can’t I link? Why does each of these annotations have to be an island?

Consider this small change: Annotations and Notes can linked by name, the same way wiki can. Now I can not only annotate this article, but connect it to other articles and ideas I’ve been working on.

In this next image, we imagine a world where we link this article annotation to another article annotation and to a note in Pinboard that captures our evolving understanding of these issues. We do this based on annotation/note title:

Screenshot 2015-06-13 at 10.02.05 AM

Here we’ve wikified the text. (Again, this is just a though experiment. You can’t do this in Pinboard).

Cross-national data shows no association between increases in human capital attributable to the educational attainment of the population.

This is a confusing finding given [[Barro’s Determinants]] which found education a primary factor. See [[Education and GDP]] for full discussion.

In our thought experiment, “Barro’s Determinants” links to an annotation on Barro’s Determinants of Economic Growth, whereas “Education and GDP” links to a note we’ve been writing and updating every time we read something like this, summarizing our understanding of the relationship and linking to some other annotations and notes.

I haven’t thought through enough the way this might work with newer annotation tools like and Genius. In those tools, there are many annotations for a page, most unnamed. But I think there are possibilities there as well.

Making annotations act like wiki could move annotations from being webpage utility to being a network of their own. Annotation space may soon be the one general purpose open standard read/write space most people have access to. Let’s make it a first class citizen of the web.

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