[okfn-discuss] Thinking about Annotation

Rufus Pollock rufus.pollock at okfn.org
Wed Jan 24 19:04:25 UTC 2007

Francis Irving wrote:
> On Thu, Jan 11, 2007 at 10:49:43AM +0000, Rufus Pollock wrote:
>> 1. Addressing and atomisation: Are annotations specific to particular
>> parts of the resource. If so how do we store this address (relatedly:
>> how is the resource 'atomised' and how to we address these atoms, or
>> range of atoms). For example, do we address by word, by character, by
>> paragraph or by section? Do we wish to store ranges rather than a single
>> address? Do we wish to allow a given annotation to be associated with
>> multiple ranges/atoms?
> I know it is stating the obvious, but it is important - ultimately
> what to reference is a problem already solved by URLs. It might
> be possible to come up with something better, but I doubt it'd
> be possible to come up with something as ubiquitous. 
> If you include the # part at the end of the URL (which can refer
> to ids in the document), you can have something precise enough for
> most purposes. (e.g. An annotation in a blog linking to a paragraph in
> a government document, which the government document automatically
> picks up a as a back link)

Like Simon said while urls and urls + anchors might be enough to denote 
individuals resources they might not provide sufficient 'atomicity' for 
the annotation. Of course, where they do provide sufficient 
addressability, one's life is made much easier.

>> 3. Will the underlying resource change and if so are annotations
>> intended to be robust to those changes.
> I'm tempted to say that the meaning of the URL should never change,
> and the annotation will be appropriately redirected by it. Which
> is hiding complications, I know!

I am tempted to agree with you and simply say that annotations should be 
specific to a *version* of a resource and there should be no expectation 
that they be robust to changes.

>> (Given that [commentonpower][] seems
>> to fall neatly into this category with most commentable atoms of the
>> right size for 'blog' entries I wonder why they didn't just implement it
>> as a plugin for wordpress -- perhaps it was such a simple app that it
>> easier to 'roll their own').
>> [commentonpower]: http://www.commentonpower.org/
> We based it on on WordPress, and it didn't even need a plugin. It's
> just a new theme, with maybe one or two other tiny hacks, I can't
> remember.

Interesting -- and that means it does fit into the categorisation I was 

> The code to Comment on Power is here:
> https://secure.mysociety.org/cvstrac/getfile/mysociety/cop
> And the WordPress theme is here:
> https://secure.mysociety.org/cvstrac/getfile/mysociety/cop/web/wordpress/wp-content/themes/cop/
> (I've guessed those URLs, as I'm on a train with no Internet, so may
> not be completely right)

Those urls don't seem to work ...

> To be honest, I wasn't very happy with Comment on Power. It created
> some conversation, but not in my mind *useful* conversation. An
> interesting and long running blog about power (think Ideal Government,
> say) is a much more useful thing than any number of annotatable
> documents.

It depends what you are trying to do. Annotating shakespeare is clearly 
different from annotating a government report (crudely: annotation as 
factual footnote vs. annotation as comment).

>> Of course as discussed above this isn't quite as simple as it looks as
>> your user interface can constrain what you can and can't store (using a
>> blog approach you can't store ranges and from what I have read getting
>> reliable character offsets is problematic). Nevertheless it seems the
>> best place to start.
> I like the idea of using RSS for this, with the body being the
> comment, and the link being a URL to the resource.

Yes it is neat. Furthermore having a nice standard (core) format 
piggybacking on Atom or RSS makes it easy to implement plenty of other 
stuff (different interfaces, different publishers etc etc).



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