Annotation Evangelist Heather Staines Reveals Hidden Treasures Online

On a recent webcast sponsored by Emerald Publishing, three internet innovators discussed new techniques to foster engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration. One participant was Heather Staines, the Director of Partnerships for the cutting-edge nonprofit Hypothes.is. Heather explained with delight how her company’s annotation tools will transform academic publications into “truly living entities.” 

Hypothes.is Offers Pioneering Engagement Tools for Academic Publishers

On a recent webcast sponsored by Emerald Publishing, three internet innovators discussed new techniques to foster engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration. One participant was Heather Staines, the Director of Partnerships for the cutting-edge nonprofit Hypothes.is. Heather explained with delight how her company’s annotation tools will transform academic publications into “truly living entities.” 

Hypothes.is has created open source annotation software that enables sentence-level annotation of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, journals, and more. It allows users to take notes or leave their thoughts behind anywhere. In their own words, Hypothes.is is “a conversation layer over the entire web that works everywhere, without needing implementation by any underlying site.”

With brilliant exuberance, Heather Staines explained her new powers. “I’m a Harry Potter fan,” she said, “Finding annotation is like living as a muggle, then discovering this yet unseen layer of magic over the entire world.” Hypothes.is allows users to engage with content and with other annotators on an ongoing basis. Settings allow for flexible control over access from an individual to a single college class to the entire world.

Staines uses annotation to organize her thinking and memory: “It’s like my brain on a page. I used to say that I could not retain material I read on the web. Now I can. I don’t even like to pick up a physical magazine at the hairdresser’s anymore.” With her annotation tools, the entire internet awaits her thoughts, notations, and reminders. In the age of paper, we might imagine marking up an entire library with a highlighter pen and Post-it notes. 

For academic publishers, Hypothes.is opens marvelous new frontiers. A single article immediately leaps into the new dimension of active engagement. Annotators become participants who interact with content and create a conversation. Like popular DVD film commentaries, the audience can access multiple layers of information all at once. The ongoing colloquy amongst readers expands the reach and potency of each article. Every piece becomes its own perpetual town square.

Staines cited her team’s collaboration with the American Diabetes Association. Using the Hypothes.is software, the ADA can continually add vital detail to articles between their publishing cycles. Each new article generates valuable community response to augment the initial Version of Record. In a discussion of new treatments, doctors or patients can add post-publication annotations onto a public discussion layer to report specific responses.

Hypothes.is pledges to remain “free, open, non-profit, neutral and lasting.” The trailblazing service cannot be commercially acquired and soon will come built-in to common browsers. In the same way various e-mail providers build on a standard, Hypothes.is software will soon work universally and automatically. The internet could soon register everywhere a person looks and every thought they choose to record.

For individuals leery of this limitless online enhancement, Heather Staines has three words: “Don’t be scared.” There is already a vast population of annotators quietly leaving their marks like Banksy. Any publisher that ignores this new technology will be left behind. Slow-adopters and doubters, according to Staines, “are blind to something that is already there.”

Heather Staines began her publishing career as a book acquisitions editor for Greenwood Publishing Group/Praeger Publishers. Most recently she served as a Director for the ProQuest Global Content Alliance team where she managed content licensing for Discovery and Course Materials initiatives. Prior to that, she was Vice President for Publisher and Content Strategy for SIPX (formerly the Stanford Intellectual Property Exchange). With her wide experience and joyful nature, forward-thinking academic publishers pay attention to Heather Staines.

Staines spoke to Library Journal on her way to Europe to meet with other technological dreamers and visionaries. She has extensive experience with association programming and panels. Her international network is moving towards omni-annotation and there is no turning back. With the help of Hypothes.is, the multiverse of human thought is uploading now.

As future readers enjoy this article, they might see Heather Staines’ annotations alongside this very paragraph. Who knows how vivid marginalia might praise or decry the choice of the words “vivid marginalia.” Perhaps one of Heather’s colleagues will add key insight. Or maybe a stealth provocateur will rant in opposition. Will universal annotation create an eternal symposium of angels? Or unleash a rolling tide of academic vandals?

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