[humanities-dev] Couple of TEXTUS design questions

Andrew@FinalsClub.org andrew at finalsclub.org
Wed Mar 14 13:00:36 UTC 2012

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the great consolidation of this UX issue.  I won't grapple with everything you've written, but I will weigh in with my experience.  When we built our annotation tools for FinalsClub.org, we chose to break books down by chapter and plays by scene.  That was four years ago, however, and tech considerations make serving a single page with several hundred annotations easier and easier.  

Obviously the best option would be to offer the reader/user both options.   Whatever you choose, be aware that most people will want one key feature: _printability_.  In truth, it's hard to read a whole play (with or without annotations) on a computer screen.  In almost every circumstance, people asked for the ability to print out the play with annotations appearing (like comments in MS Word) in the margins.  

Ironically, the act of printing constrains annotations to the boundaries of physical space, which the Internet obviates, but it is simply the way people are used to reading.   Organizing texts into sections makes the most sense for printing purposes, because it affords space at the end of each section for _overflow_ annotations.  

In short, I'd encourage you to break texts into sections with a single _view all sections_ option.  Though be wary that books like the Bible may need to be excluded from the _view all_ functionality for sheer size reasons.

I hope this helps.  Also, please stay tuned because you're about to get a few thousand Shakespeare annotations from us in the next month or so.  


On Mar 14, 2012, at 7:48 AM, Tom Oinn wrote:

> I've been hacking away at the reader interface for TEXTUS. This is the
> component which presents a text, along with typography and annotations
> and allows users to read it (it also allows for the creation of
> annotations, but that's easy so I'm not going to talk about that
> here). The currently online project which also does this is
> openshakespeare; this works but has a few issues and I'd like to get
> some thoughts on whether we actually care about them.
> Firstly openshakespeare loads the entire text into a single web page
> (i.e. http://openshakespeare.org/work/hamlet). With modern computers
> and browsers this is probably fine, it's a relatively small amount of
> data and loads rapidly (or at least it does at home - trying to access
> it on my phone over a flaky gprs connection is not so hot). For TEXTUS
> though I was originally envisaging an interface which presented pages,
> where a page was 'however much can be put on the screen at the moment'
> rather than an underlying page in a transcribed text. There are pros
> and cons to both approaches:
> Entire text visible
>  + Free text search works trivially with browser CTRL+F or similar
>  + Easy to copy / paste large sections into other documents
>  - Expensive with large numbers of annotations, unless annotations
> are loaded based on viewport
> Single 'page' visible
>  + Better UI for actually reading text, creating bookmarks etc
>  + Maps simply onto a sensible UI for tablets
>  + Easy to only retrieve and render applicable annotations
>  - Search has to be implemented through back-end service (not
> entirely a bad thing, can be more flexible but not as quick)
> It would be possible to do either, so it's really down to what people
> think is a preferable presentation style?
> Secondly there's the issue of how we present annotations. In this
> context annotations include attributed free text comments, links to
> other texts or sections of texts, external links out to images of
> scanned manuscripts and potentially many others. Because of this it is
> guaranteed that annotations will overlap with one another, something
> which the OKFN annotator allows but handles poorly (try creating a few
> overlapping annotations on openshakespeare.org and you'll see the
> problem). We can avoid some of these issues by making annotations
> visible on the 'breadcrumb trail' bar in the UI (a component which
> locates the currently visible sub-section of text, i.e. 'Hamlet > Act
> II > Scene I'). We will have filtering for annotation types (i.e.
> 'show me all scanned image links', or 'only show me annotations from
> <set of users>') but we're still hopefully going to end up with much
> denser annotation than a naive approach will handle. I propose a few
> different mechanisms, which would work in concert, to mitigate this:
> 1) Annotations pertaining to large sections of text, i.e. much more
> than currently displayed in the viewport of the browser, will be
> indicated by a control on the breadcrumb trail. For example, the
> metadata for the entire text (author, title, edition etc) would appear
> as an indicator under the root part of the breadcrumb trail. This
> allows for annotations which apply to all the document, or all of a
> chapter, without polluting the actual text display too much.
> 2) Some annotation types would not have their location within the text
> shown by default, simply being presented if the text to which they
> pertain is visible. This would work well for links back to scans of
> the original manuscript, for example - you would see icons for the
> scanned images corresponding to whatever text was visible, I don't
> think we'd need to specifically say 'scan 1 is from this word to this
> other word' as it would be obvious from the scans themselves (we might
> even have a specific view to show all scans for the currently visible
> text in sequence)
> These two ideas both serve to reduce the number of annotations we
> actually need to display in the text itself, but we'll still have
> quite a few...
> 3) Overlapping annotations are trickier - annotator's approach
> (inserting spans with particular styles) doesn't work for this. One
> option would be to render the markers indicating annotations in a more
> sophisticated way, for example using an HTML5 canvas behind the text
> itself and drawing lines or boxes around annotated text and out to a
> marginalia style display. This also has the advantage that multiple
> annotations can have their text visible at the same time rather than
> using pop-ups. A paginated approach to text display makes this more
> practical, but it's possible with the scrollable full text view as
> well.
> Thoughts?
> Tom
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