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.
I’m very excited. Since the beginning of this blog in 2008 I’ve been encouraging skeptics to get involved online and most of all to build tools for others to use. The programmability of Web 2.0 means that we no longer need to treat websites as static islands of data to be consumed as-is. With the right tools, you can mash up data from multiple sites, filter that data and do many other exciting things.
Ever since my TAM6 presentation on this topic (which was the kickoff point for this blog) I’ve been building and expecting to see others build tools that take advantage of these techniques for applied skepticism. There have been a few, but not as many as I would like to see. (Why that is, is something I may address in another post).
But there seems to be a change coming on this front, and to a degree it is coming not from skeptics but from journalists. Read on for more details.
Back in October I wrote about Hypothes.is, a project to allow sentence-level peer review of virtually anything on the Internet. It is an exciting tool still under development. The Hypothes.is team recently held a workshop on reputation systems, and posted a number of videos from that session. The software itself should appear later this year.
Skeptics impatiently awaiting the arrival of Hypothes.is got a welcome surprise recently. That was the appearance of another tool with a similar aim which is closer to reality – i.e. it is already in beta test. This tool was developed in Australia and it is called RBUTR. (In the style of sites like Flickr and Tumblr, the name is intended to suggest the word “rebutter”).
It has several similarities to the other, as yet unfinished project. It allows you to see skeptical material right in context while viewing the original web site. It does this through software that plugs in to your web browser. It allows new material to be submitted by third parties and voted on for merit. And it should be a valuable tool for skeptics.
But there are some significant differences. I’ll get into those and more after the jump.
I’ve been thinking a long time about the idea of tools that could help people be more skeptical about information they encounter. It is one of the core goals of this blog.
I’ve always thought that the endpoint of this quest would be some sort of tool you could point at any piece of information and have it tell you whether it was true or false. It would be a computerized “skeptic-in-a-box” so to speak. I’ve done a bit of research on what it would take to build it. I’ve always thought that crowdsourcing and a reputation system to weight contributions by value would both figure prominently in any successful design.
Today I’m simultaneously very excited and just a little bit angry. Excited because I just got word that a project has been launched to build something very similar to my skeptic-in-a-box. (I’m angry only because it’s not my personal project.) But if this thing comes anywhere close to achieving its ambitious goals, I can definitely get over the angry part. It aims to go way beyond what I had in mind.
When Hypothes.is launches next year, it could be the most important piece of software ever created for applied skepticism. More details after the jump.