Social annotation ideas

Hi everyone,

I have been experimenting with Hypothesis as a social annotation tool for students, but not everyone can access it and there are some questions about data and privacy. Does anyone know of another tool that is free?
Thank you,


Hello @Lydia!

Sounds like a cool experiment you’re doing with your students! Care to share more? :upside_down_face:

What specifically are your questions or concerns about data and privacy?

In December 2021 @cogdog did an interview with @remikalir who was Scholar in Residence at the company that develops Perhaps there are other folks here who can help answer your questions or point you in the right direction…?

Does anyone know of another tool that is free?

There are a ton of annotation tools that are “free as in beer” (i.e., free of cost), I used to use Diigo which has been around for almost 20 years – if you share what your concerns with are, perhaps other folks here can recommend alternatives.

I like that Hypothesis is open source:

It’s pretty cool when a tool is developed by someone you know personally, or friends of friends (“I know where the author lives, so they better do a good job!”). Having a personal connection feels much better than using a tool made by a faceless corporation only known by the domain name or department aliases, not by full names of humans.

With open source tools, there is an opportunity for a conversation and open feedback (e.g. via the “issues” feature on GitHub). Anyone can openly suggest functionality and (if they’re technical) even contribute their own features / customizations.

So goes beyond “free as in beer” – it’s “free as in freedom”. There are people connected to them right here on OEGlobal Connect. And if the software works for you but you still have concerns about data privacy with the hosted version, your IT department has the rights to install Hypothesis behind your institution’s firewall (thanks to this product’s open source / open license nature).

Happy annotating! :innocent:


Thanks for putting your question out here Lydia, and thanks Jan for jumping in quickly. I am a huge fan and proponent of based on its capabilities and some previous use in classes.

Before jumping down a tool chase, like Jan started with, I’d ask to unpack the issues you mentioned:

What are the limits on access that you describe? Can you elaborate? Is it the issue of needing the browser extension? In my uses, I typically made use of the Proxy service, which sounds nerdy, but means just that it provides a link to a source you want learners to annotate, so that it opens with enabled, whether they have the browser tool or not.

Try this example created when we invited this community to annotate a paper,

It opens the link with tools turned on.

Also, what are the specific concerns on “data and privacy” which certainly are important. No matter what kind of tool you use will require some means of knowing who the contributor is. Whenever I asked my students to create an account, I’d encourage them to create a username that has no personal identification (often online I use my dogs names ;-).

Is it the issue of annotation activity being public? Every account has a profile, and on mine, if I did have privacy concerns, I would not include much detail in the profile.

The usuyal concern is the desire to make a groups or course activity to using public annotation, so that only class members can use. This is typically provided through some course management system integration (requiring tech and $) or getting your students to use the technique to use a private group set up by an instructor (it does work, i practice it calls for extra steps). The question goes to the need for this privacy, which certainly can be important depending on the type of activity you are asking.

I gether then from your question there is an issue that is making you go tool shopping; and I am hopeful other practitioners here can share suggestions.

One that I know has been used by educators I know (but I have never used) is Perusall, which does offer a free usage level, and pledges of data privacy. I know of a useful (though maybe dated since it was 2018) comparison of and Perusall from the University of Washington - I like that there is a narrative from two teachers who speak from direct usage of the tools, so its more useful than just feature comparisons. I know of this because of my colleague @toddconaway who was part of making this available, perhaps Todd might see this post and update us on what the state of usage is of these tools.

Bottom line is that social web annotation is a huge potential benefit, but certainly can have complications beyond the features.

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Thank you for these great posts and resources. I really appreciate this.

I set up a faculty learning community on open pedagogy and had my research assistant attend. In the community we had rich discussions about OP and we also tested tools, read articles etc. We tested together and one person had a Mac computer so had problems logging in. One other person just did not want to set up an account in their name. We spent about 40 minutes trouble shooting. It made me think about how this will look in the classroom.

I have played with this tool in other learning environments and loved it, but never tested in the classroom, so this is where my concern lies.

The other feedback I had from my RA was that it would be great to annotate at the same time. She set up an article in a google doc and we tried this. We talked to our librarian who confirmed the process was not infringing on copyright.

So, there it is. I think the important lesson was that when we test these tools for ourselves, we need to also think about taking time in the class for everyone to be comfortable with them and to trouble shoot. There is much needed extra time for scaffolding the tool itself. Does that make sense?

I completely understand the challenges that can occur when putting to use in a class. You can do much to prepare, but no guarantee there wont be hiccups. I always start tech sessions by admitting things might break.

There’s no compatibility issues with Macs and (years experience here), but things pop up like issues sometimes if they use Safari browser, or just needing a cache/cookie cleansing. I never force people to make accounts if they prefer not, one can always ask them to buddy up, or sometimes I will make a sharable login under a throw-away email. I also try to get people to at least try creating accounts in advance, so you can find out if there is a problem. But indeed, 40 minutes is a huge chunk of frustration,.

The advantage of creating an account is that if you make it part of your ongoing web research toolkit, all highlights and notes you make across different readings can be readily found.

Absolutely there’s a lot to be said for setting up a Google Doc for annotating via commenting, it definitely works for an assignment or activity.

I agree there’s nothing worse than having your plans go astray from tech glitches! I just expect them to happen.

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