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Re: A WWW-annotation protocol (good ideas and bad ideas)

From: Jon Garfunkel <jgarfunk@bbn.com>
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 00:46:31 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: "Bjarni R. Einarsson" <bre@netverjar.is>, www-annotation@w3c.org
At 04:02 AM 8/29/1999 +0000, Bjarni R. Einarsson wrote:
>Since this has very little to do with implementation of a particulaur
>variant of annotation software, and more to do with my opinions on
>what is the right (or wrong) way to implment WWW annotations, I'm
>moving this discussion back to the list.
>I hope you don't mind, Jon. :-)

JG> All we've got is the 3V protocol.
JG> I'd like to have an OpenSource clone to work with the 3V protocols.

Ok. FTR, Bjarni & I were going into the details about my rev-eng'ing the
ThirdVoice protocol.

I got a good head start on the project, but the brash sunny weather for the
last weekend in August drew me outside enough to preclude me from getting
the time to nicely format my notes. Give me a few more days...

I can report that the basic 3V annotation encoding format uses *some* XML.
While the poster, title, and content are wrapped in XML tags, the other
fields are wrapped using the '|' as a delimiter. I have been able to decode
most of these unnamed fields. Pointer-reference uses an XPointer-inspired
system for navigating through tags.

Anyway, I set ThirdVoice another friendly note to see if they could release
their protocol specifications.

>Standardizing on the 3V protocol would be a very bad move, IMHO.  In
>fact, I think use of 3V should be discouraged...

The protocol exists, there must be more than one brand of client and more
than one brand of server which supports it! A protocol, once out-ed, must
not be tied to particular clients! If there is any lesson that the Internet
has brought to me, that is it, and I will not rest!

>I say this, because from what I've read and seen (screenshots), 3V
>seems to have some major problems.  Most of them stem from what looks
>like a genuine wish to emulate "Post-Its".
>One of the values of WWW-annotation would be facilitating critical
>discussions - but you can't have a real discussion using "Post-Its". 
>They're just too small ...

This is the 3V client, not the protocol.
The client alternately can present the threaded posts with the help of a
collapsible-outline GUI.

>Time for a disclaimer.  I'm basing my judgements of 3V on something I
>    The 3V protocol involves sending the annotation itself 
>    (not just an URL) as a reply when the client requests 
>    annotations for a given web page.


>Anyway, this implies that 3V servers either store or directly
>manipulate the content of all annotations.  ...  Censorship on 3V is
>therefore not limited to irritating "potato-filters" - the admins 
>can just delete or edit stuff they don't like!

You have just described the "fascist-server scenario," which is not
inherent to ThirdVoice; it is possible with *any* Internet service. What
defeats the Fascist Server is Comparative Trust. If I no longer trust my
current webserver/mailserver/newsserver, I can simply use the free market
to switch to a server I trust more.

What defeats Comparative Trust are Fascist States, and to some extent
media oligarchies, but that's outside our purview.

>That, in short, is why I don't like 3V.  That and the fact that it is
>a closed-source proprietary windows-only technology... :-)
>I think reverse-engineering the 3V protocol is only useful as a
>method to provide a painless "upgrade path" from 3V to a "real" WWW
>annotation system.

That's my plan.

>OTOH, I do like the Crit model, because it doesn't really have these
> ...
>The client's experience, 3), can trivially be migrated to a local,
>user-run process, such as the the browser or the "local proxy" I
>proposed in an earlier message.

If you can translate the "Annotator" from the CritLink Mediator, to a
client plug-in or local proxy, I'd like to see that.

>The only new standards we really
>need would describe how the client communicates with the link server.
>This involves defining a file format (XML based?), selecting a
>transport/request method (HTTP/CGI?) and a fine-grained link format

Yes, much agreement in that. (Though it is more accurate to say "mime-type"
and "encoding format" than "file format".)

>But I do think the
>standard should require a link to the "source" of the annotation in
>all cases where it isn't actually stored by the link server itself,
>so the user can independantly verify the integrity of the data it

Ok. Comparative trust: I don't think I'm going to trust Ann's annotation
server any less than I do the integrity of the user account of Noah (who
posted the note) on Webster's web hosting service.

If I need better trust, give me Noah's note signed with his DSig.

>(*) Imagine just hitting a button in your browser to transform each
>    and every word on the current page into a specially selected link
>    to the corrosponding entry in one of many online dictionaries...

Back on May 20th, Steve Epstein of Sentius announced a product which can do
 just this. I pointed out that it didn't fit in well with WWW standards, to
which he acknowledged, and to which I took it upon myself to write a
standards-based prototype.

And yes, my immediate career goals are to get a staff to help me write all
this code. :-)

Jon Garfunkel ............................... 
Software Engineer ................................. 
GTE Internetworking /Powered By BBN/ ......
Burlington, Mass ...........
Received on Monday, 30 August 1999 00:56:36 UTC

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