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It’s been well over a month since I blocked annotations (Hypothesis and Genius) on my websites. I’m a little taken aback that some folks are still muttering about it. Perhaps I need to restate a couple of things:

  • You can still annotate my work. Just not on my websites.
  • My work here and on Hack Education is openly licensed. As long as you follow that license – CC BY NC SA – you can copy and redistribute my articles without my permission.
  • The CC license on my work also means you can post my articles in another file format or medium – that is, they needn’t stay in HTML. You can publish my articles as PDFs. You can hit “print.”

Jon Udell, who now works for Hypothesis and who I finally met face-to-face at NMC last week, has suggested the possibility of using an HTML meta tag to identify annotation preferences. Rather than simply blocking annotations as I’ve done with a bit of Javascript, his idea would allow an author to point to another URL where annotation can (or should, even) happen.

It makes sense, but I think I’m much less committed to having one canonical “place” for annotations than Hypothesis is. (I have quotations there because its annotations are overlays that appear to be in “place.”)

Udell recently announced that Hypothesis supports DOIs (digital object identifiers) so that a “robust connection between articles and annotations” can be maintained. That is to say, Hypothesis annotations of a PDF can be centralized, no matter where the article is hosted or whether it’s a local copy.

I’m not sure I care much about federated or centralized annotations – as a researcher or as an author. Actually, as an author, I do not care at all. Funnily enough, one of the accusations lobbed against me when I blocked annotations here was that I was attempting to exert some sort of “authorial control” over my work. Wrong. I was exerting control over my website.

We seem to have telescoped authorship and scholarship into the digital in ways that are remarkably unhelpful. People become “content,” and calls for easier, more “permission-less sharing” seem to encourage folks to make demands on writers online (even in their own personal spaces), thinking they’re simply querying texts.

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Audrey Watters


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Audrey Watters

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