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Annotea futures? Annotation standards in 2009...

From: Dan Brickley <danbri@danbri.org>
Date: Fri, 22 May 2009 16:00:41 +0200
Message-ID: <4A16B009.4050406@danbri.org>
To: www-annotation@w3.org, public-annotea-dev@w3.org, marja@annotea.org, Semantic Web <semantic-web@w3.org>, Eric Prud'hommeaux <eric@w3.org>, jose@w3.org, "Ralph R. Swick" <swick@w3.org>
(I'm cc:'ing 3 lists, rather warily; if the thread gets long, please 
consider trimming it to just use semantic-web@w3.org)

Hi all

I'm involved in helping advise a new not-for-profit project that is 
close in approach to the old Annotea project, looking at annotations 
within pieces of Web content, and their cross-linking, threading for 
discussion etc. It's now 2009, over ten years since the original Annotea 
designs. The Web has changed a lot since then, but the need to annotate 
it doesn't seem to have gone away.

See http://annotea.org/ 
http://www.w3.org/2001/Annotea/User/Tutorial/quicktutorial and nearby 
for an overview of Annotea.

Since then Web 2.0 has happened, and now many of the original themes of 
Annotea are part of the mainstream Web developer perspective. And yet 
... looking at the comments to this 2007 techcrunch survey - 
http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/04/10/5-ways-to-mark-up-the-web/ - I see 
project after project, startup after startup, exploring this space 
without any great emphasis on data exchange standards. I guess many of 
them have APIs, probably a lot of them use RSS or Atom feeds. But we 
certainly haven't yet to the place imagined by Annotea: an annotation 
layer for the Web that allows comments, scribbles, reviews, discussions 
to be freely interlinked and overlaid using open standard formats and 

So I'm mailing the relevant (and pretty quiet) lists but cc:'ing 
semantic-web@w3.org too to ask where folk thing this stuff is heading.

When is an annotation an annotation, versus a page that happens to be a 
review, or happens to have as it's primary topic another page? For 
annotations at the page level, it might be that mainstream RDF work 
(linked data etc) has fulfilled some of the early promise of Annotea.

But for the "annotating parts of a page" scenario that lies at the heart 
of many people's notion of annotations, there doesn't seem to be much 
happening in terms of practical and widely adopted standards. Lots of 
startups, experiments etc but they all seem to be islands. And since 
annotation systems are only really interesting when you have enough 
annotations to get decent coverage, this seems a pity.

Thoughts? Am I missing some developments? What would Annotea look like 
if rebuilt for the Web of 2009? If it's in RDF, the query part would 
just use SPARQL, and topic classification would be SKOS. What else? Is 
there implementation experience from Annotea adopters and implementors 
gathered somewhere? Is there consensus for example on the best bits of 
information to keep if you want a robust reference to a piece of a 
potentially evolving page? How well do modern Web design habits (CSS, 
Ajax etc) interact with the overlay of 3rd party annotations? Is 
everyone using Firefox addons, javascript bookmarklets and Web proxies 
or is there some hope for a cross-browser approach on the horizon?

thanks for any suggestions, thoughts, links etc.


Received on Friday, 22 May 2009 14:01:33 UTC

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