Back in the fall of 2011 I wrote about a new web annotation tool called hypothes.is. At that time it was just a Kickstarter project that I recommended everyone support.
But since then it was successfully funded to the tune of $100,000, it has received additional funding and support from major foundations, and the software has been successfully completed. The tool launched this past October 27! It can now be used in most desktop browsers – it has plugins for Chrome and Firefox and a bookmarklet for Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera. I highly recommend it to all skeptics.
So what is web annotation? It’s very simple – it’s a way of attaching comments, criticism and so on directly to original content on the web. Unlike conventional comment threads, which are often a distant scroll away from the text to which they refer, annotations appear right next to the original. And since annotations reside in hypothes.is, they are not subject to the censorious whims of the owner of the original content.
As you can imagine, this could be a boon for skepticism, as it allows skeptics to directly respond to claims exactly where they are made. Anyone who has the hypothes.is plugin installed would be able to see the original content and the skeptical commentary too. That solves the crucial problem (also solved by other tools such as RBUTR) of how to lead readers from the misinformation to the correction.
But of course, there’s the additional problem of deploying skeptics to create good annotations on content that needs it. There’s an opportunity here for curation projects along the lines of the Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia. GSoW has set its sights on improving content on Wikipedia, and targeted particular articles for improvement. Similar groups of skeptics could take on the task of creating web annotations pointing out misinformation online. To be effective, such groups should definitely plan to target their efforts, perhaps by topic area.
Well, for one specific topic – climate change – someone’s already formed such a group.