Active Annotations of Webpages
by Jakob Hummes (short-biography)
The talk gave an overview about the state of the art of Web
page annotations, discussed several proposals and introduced active annotations,
as a way to merge synchronous group awareness with asynchronous information
exchange through Web pages.
The World Wide Web (WWW) incorporates a huge potential for collaborative
working. This talk focuses on Web page annotations that can enhance
group--working on the Web drastically.
However, the capabilities for using the Web for cooperation are limited. The
information flow on the Web is unidirectional; Web pages are in their current
form read--only data presentation. Feedback and discussions about the contents
take place outside the Web as in email or Usenet News. This lack of
integration leads to a lack of close relation between the Web pages and potential comments. Users in the Web are
also not aware about others and thus cannot easily get in touch to share
experiences. Due to the enormous size of the Web and its anarchic structure, it
is difficult to find the information one is interested in. Although search
engines help the users, a query often reports a huge numbers of links, whereas
only a few are from interest.
Annotations of Web pages address these problems. Annotations can be used for
feed-back, provide interesting links to other pages inserted by different users and
may act as rating mechanism to overcome the information overflow. However,
maybe they are most valuable for groups to provide a platform independent
In small collaborative work--groups, annotations may be used to improve the
quality of documents cooperatively. They can be used to discuss the contents
of documents, but also to point to related work, or to submit a change proposal
to a specific phrase within the document, which is accessible via the WWW.
The talk will discuss different approaches of Web page annotations. Annotations
are useful for a wide range of purposes, including more democracy on the Web,
discussion groups, large and small working groups, teaching environments, and
private reminders. Proposals or prototypes exist for these purposes.
However, it does not exist a general solution to all purposes; what is not
surprising, since they demand often different architectures. The talk will
explain architectural considerations for different annotation services and take
a look on examples. The examples will also be studied in respect of how they
are working with current Web-technologies.
Our active annotation approach differs fundamentally in one way from the
existing proposals: we are looking on the temporal relations between creators
of annotations and their viewers. We argue that in a tightly coupled group,
users should be immediately aware of annotations done by the others. Thus,
active annotations are designed for small groups that may work together at the
same time. Examples are remote teaching (tele-learning), but also shared reviewing processes of HTML documents.
The talk will cover our design goals and explain design considerations, as well
as the decision to use Java to implement the synchronous communication
infrastructure. We have implemented two versions of the active annotation
service. Both versions offer asynchronous notification mechanism, i.e. all viewers of the Web page are
notified as soon as a new annotation was submitted.
The first version needs the preparation of the Web page being annotated, but
offers the possibility to connect annotation applets on different Web pages,
which may be useful in a teleteaching environment, where tutors have an other
view of the course contents
than the students.
The newest version of active annotations combines the strengths of browser
computations through CGI scripts and active code on the client's side through
Java applets. With this version it is possible to annotate each word of an
HTML page. The user interface allows the viewers to decide, if they want to
see a new annotation at the time it
arrives or look on it later.
See active annotations in action: