Social Annotation with

Following David’s lead (and thanks to some great WordPress plugin work by Tim Owens),  I’ve installed a social annotation tool called on this site. Actually, it looks like much more than a social annotation tool, but I’ll get to that in a minute. is a non-profit funded by (among others) the Shuttleworth Foundation (who are funding some very innovative work right now in the education/web space, including the OERPub project and Siyavula). It is a social web annotation platform being developed around web standards proposed by the W3C Open Annotation community group.

A WordPress plugin is just one of the tools. There is also a Chrome browser plugin and (soon) a plugin for Firefox. These plugins allow you to annotate and highlight across the web. So, annotation works in 2 ways, either on the user side via the browser plugins, or on the site builder side via a WordPress plugin.

If you highlight and right-click any text on the page, you should see a little balloon/pen icon pop up. Click on the icon and a panel will slide out from the right of the page. You need a account to highlight and annotate. If you don’t have one, you can create one quickly from the fly out.

If you want to see the comments that are on the page, there are 2 prompts on the page that show you there are comments. First, you can click on the icon in the top right hand corner of the page that looks like this:


Hover over the icon and you’ll see some other icons appear that allow you see the annotations & highlights on the page, or to highlight and annotate yourself.

The second prompt that shows you there are comments are the icons on the right of the page that look like directional arrows:


This one appears in the bottom right corner of the page on posts that have comments on them (like the one you will see on this post if you are viewing the post itself. For some reason, doesn’t seem to be working on the home page of the blog). Click on the icon and you are taken to the exact spot in the post that has been highlighted or annotated.

This is still very much an alpha project, but looks promising as a collaborative annotation tool. One of the concepts that I really like about it is that you have the ability to aggregate all of your annotations and comments under one account, something I tried to do many years ago, but gave up on in frustration as the tools that were around at the time were frustrating to use. I want to be able to have a central place that shows me all of my conversations on the web, and this might be a good option.

There are a few things I like about the project as well. Reading their principles, it looks like they are committed to creating a tool that remains non-profit, free and that works anywhere – important qualities if they hope to garner enough critical mass to make the project a success. The rest of the principles are equally important and you should take a read through.

As more and more websites turn off comments, I can see services like (and existing tools like the Diigo, which is often forgotten as an annotation tool and used by many only as a social bookmarking tools) are going to be important tools to keep the conversation flowing.

As for the more than a social annotation tool bit I hinted at in the lead, appears to be framing itself as a tool for discussion and collaboration rather than simple highlighting and annotating. will be an open platform for the collaborative evaluation of knowledge. It will combine sentence-level critique with community peer-review to provide commentary, references, and insight on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and regulations, software code and more.

I am not exactly sure how this bit works yet. But as I play with I am eager to find out.

Something I learned about the history of the web from the promotional video. Annotations were an original feature of Mosaic, but disabled at the last minute when the browser first shipped. Which makes you wonder what the web would be like today if comments were enabled from the start through the browser right from the get go.


Interactive storytelling with YouTube

As part of my Masters, I am currently reading Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education by Tony Bates and Gary Poole. My cohort is currently working with their SECTIONS model for choosing and evaluating new educational technologies. One of the criteria in the model is Interactivity (I) – what kind of interaction does the technology you are examining enable? As I was reading the chapter, a memory from my adolescence popped into my head – Dragon’s Lair.

Like most kids growing up in the early 80’s, video games were a big part of my life, including a game called Dragon’s Lair. Dragon’s Lair was different than most video games in that the action was high quality animation, not pixelated characters. The gameplay was incredibly clunky and I think it cost a dollar to play (compared to 25 cents for my game de jour Galaga) and since most of the time I ended up falling into a fiery pit of doom within 30 seconds, I didn’t invest a lot of time and money in it. But it made a lasting impression in that it was one of my first encounters with branching video. I loved that I had the direct ability to control the storyline and influence the narrative. It was like I was the Director in some fantastic animated movie.

Just over a year ago, YouTube unveiled the ability to annotate videos and add links to them. While there certainly has been a few problems associated with the annotations (most notably the lack of transparency on where the destination leads to and the possibility of linking to a malware site, as Pandalabs warned about earlier this year), it is really interesting to see how this feature is being used to create interactive stories and games on YouTube, much like the ones I experienced in the arcade hunched over Dragon’s Lair.

A good example of annotations being used to create an interactive story is this recent series of videos done by the Metropolitan Police in London as part of their Drop the Weapons campaign. At the end of each video you are asked to make a decision, which takes you down a different path.

For educators, this ability to link videos creates all kinds of interesting possibilities for creating interactive learning activities. For example, here is an interactive spelling bee.

I can’t imagine how much it cost to develop the Dragon’s Lair video game that sucked up my teenage cash, but I would hazard a guess that it was substantially more than it cost to create branching scenarios on YouTube. The point being that it doesn’t take a big budget to create compelling interactive activities using the technology available to us today. Sure, as the budgets go up so do the production techniques and special effects, etc. But really all it takes is a simple video recorder, some imagination and YouTube to create a bit of interesting interactive content.