Is Annotation a Game Changer for Online Dialogue?

I’ve been wondering about the best way to enable dialogue in the contentious space of faith/science, especially when communities are isolated and do not engage with one another.

Now, I just discovered, an open project that enables anyone to annotate anything on the web. It functions like an offsite comment system, one that cannot be moderated by a site owner.

This project is open source, oriented towards research, and it is well backed. It enables comment on PDFs and on specific parts of HTML pages. It might be a game changer. Here is what I can do with it:

  1. Remember back when Nathaneal Jeanson misrepresented me on AIG’s webpage? I asked, Would Jeanson Please Correct A Clear Misrepresentation?. Now I can annotated Jeanson’s article itself with the correction
  1. Back in 2011, NPR asked Dennis Venema if we all descend from Adam and Eve, and he answered, " “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.” I can now annotate that statement is false, and provide a reference.
  1. Remember when @Winston_Ewert published the Dependency Graph of Life? We can now link ENV’s article on this to our discussion with him.

Of course, these annotations are not visible unless you have the right plugin, but it seems that this particular tool could get wide adoption in critical communities, such as students, teachers and scientists. I think it could be a game changer for the dialogue, allowing much more fine grained discussion of critical points that current possible, and doing so directly on websites that are otherwise tightly controlled.

What do you think?


A particularly compelling use case for annotation is within the world of journalism, fact-checking and civic engagement. The potential for community-controlled annotation layers over the web to facilitate collaborative investigations between experts and by citizens is unprecedented.

One group that is using Hypothesis in a particularly effective way is Climate Feedback. A non-profit effort run out of UC Berkeley, it represents a group of nearly 200 high-profile climate scientists that use web annotation to mark up climate change media articles, adding contextual information and highlighting factual inaccuracies and faulty reasoning.

Climate Feedback is paving the way for a new kind of fact-checking, crowdsourced directly among scientists with relevant expertise, providing in-depth analysis on a whole article, as well as “fact-checking” a number of claims at once.

We should do the same thing for origins and more.

The Cambridge University Press guidelines especially for the public layer extend the Hypothesis conduct guidelines but also hint at problems of moderation


Google briefly offered a public annotation service like this some years back, but it never got much attention.

It might be a game changer if it can reliably offer good information or corrections. In the current political climate the potential for abuse is huge.


Yes, but they also have something call “restricted groups.” I’m looking to get us set up with one. I also think that focusing first and foremost on automated annotation might be the best strategy.

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