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[Updated: 4/28/08…project still in planning stages]
In several postings, WRT has blogged about Diigo social annotation software (1, 2, 3) and CommentPress blogware. Both are about to go head-to-head over Jonathan Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet–and how to stop it. Zittrain’s book has already been published online with the CommentPress system in place. Now one researcher has called in the Diigo commentators to apply a browser-based system to the business of annotation.
Editor-in-Chief of and Director of openDemocracy.net, Tony Curzon Price has invited Diigo users to join him in annotating Zittrain’s book using that system “because of diigo’s nice research-centered features.” To participate, users will contribute annotations to two lists: one focusing on summaries, the other on commentaries. However, Price is still working out the details of using Diigo for the project….Updates to follow.
In a recent presentation to the Digital Educators Consortium at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy at USC, Jeremy and I considered the relative merits of both systems — speculating about how one might serve communities differently than others. One key difference is who presents the moment for critique — is it the blog, inviting and providing a forum for feedback, or are the readers deciding to apply their comments in a group or independently. The second, more complex difference, stems from the way the two systems operate: CommentPress has thread-like comments for each paragraph while Diigo comments are individual sticky notes and in-situ annotations. This project will be an interesting test case and will no doubt be a useful contribution to the longer questions of communal annotation.
Although these two systems are not in direct competition, the experiment offers insight into the different kinds of feedback that blog-based and browser-based annotation offer.
CommentPress is blogware developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book. Currently it is available as a WordPress Theme. WRT’s Jeremy Douglass was instrumental in adapting the software for use in the experimental (and successful) blog-based peer review of Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s manuscript Expressive Processing, forth coming from MIT Press.
In the Grand Text Auto experiment, numerous readers participated in extensive conversations on the chapters and paragraphs of Noah’s text.
Diigo is a social annotation browser plugin, now in version 3. In addition to providing users the ability to save, share, and store bookmarks online (as in del.icio.us), the system also facilitates the annotation of texts. Any web page you encounter (or almost any) can be annotated with either in-situ annotations that appear on the left side of your browser (anchored in specific lines of text on the page) or as float over sticky notes.
The latter inspired my metafiction: Marginalia in the Library of Babel, in which a narrator meditates on the relationship between Borges’ infinite library and the very finite (but still potentially bottomless) Internet.
In its version 3 release, Diigo has also added some nice social features, helping users more easily see who else has bookmarked and even visited a given page.
An early comparison
Both systems allow for commenting on specific sections of text. The grain is a bit finer on Diigo, since you can anchor a comment to anything over 3 charactes. But both still anchor the comments to a section of text. [As a result, changes to the posted text can lead to potential conflicts with the annotations.] Both systems also enable whole-page annotations.
The display is slightly different. Comment Press offers the floating sidebar of comments that follows you as you scroll, while Diigo adds a left-column frame. But the difference seems minimal.
Also, in CommentPress, the comments are in a thread-style dialogue with one another, where Diigo annotations are merely listed.
Diigo offers a few more paths to retrieval, since pages can be tagged differently by different users. That ability could contribute to confusion — since all the commentators might not use the same tagging system. (You tag the page “Internet” and I tag it “WWW”, for example). To combat this confusion, Tony Price has gone through great lengths to specify the labeling format for adding opinions and summaries. Otherwise, a person would have to navigate the side bar to see who else has annotated that page.
On the other hands, since the annotations are controlled by the commentator (rather than the blog itself), users could group their comments together in new ways — for example, all those who wanted to focus on one aspect of the book could join a group and share comments under a different tagging system, freeing them from the blog’s structure.
This post only begins to detail some of the differences between the systems, but I will offer more posts as the experiment progresses. Since we do not have a CommentPress theme at WRT, you will have to annotate these using Diigo or leave a comment below.