Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Multi-dimensional Approach to the Study of Online Annotation

Rick Kopak, Assistant Professor, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, UBC
Chia-Ning Chiang, PhD Candidate, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, UBC
Thursday, July 12, 2007
9:40 AM - 10:40 AM in SFUHC, Canfor Policy Room


Presentation (Powerpoint/PPS file)

Rick Kopak’s major research interest is in human information interaction focusing on how semantic or meaning cues derived from the use of information can be used to improve navigation in distributed information environments. He is currently investigating the role of annotation and typed linking in providing useful navigational aids in discursive digital texts.

Chia-Ning Chiang's research focus is on mediated user-interface design in human-computer interaction.

A Field Study of Online Annotation

Rick Kopak and Chia-Ning Chiang study online annotation using a multi-dimensional approach. They carried out a field study and analyzed the resulting data to improve system design.

Their study seeks to increase critical engagement of the users in the online reading environment. Using the Open Journal System (OJS) as the reading environment, they have a prototype of reading tools built on the platform. With the tools, they are aiming for the users to perform active reading, in which they are not only reading but also writing. Readers of printed books or papers have been doing this naturally, for example when they annotate on the margin of the books.

Annotation and Linking

Aim: to explore behavior, cognition, and social dimensions
Multi-dimensional: form, function, and role (audience)
Context: to create a digital annotation environment to investigate the dimensions

Prototype of Annotation and Linking in OJS

The audience had a chance to see some screen captures of the prototype. The annotation area, where users type in their annotations, is on the right side of the article’s text (the margin). The audience also saw a demonstration on how it works. A user can highlight an area of the text, select from a drop down menu the type of link to create (called a link type), and then typing a note on the margin. A user can also create a link between two articles in OJS, which points exactly to the text of interest.

Evaluation of the Study

The 15 participants of the study, comprising of graduate students and faculty members, were asked to do general (go through each article and see what they are about) and directed reading task (looking for a specific aspect/meaning from the article).

The study uses multi-dimensional approach to investigate online annotation:
  • the relative value (combining frequency of use and user rating) of online annotation according to combinations of form (behaviour) and function (cognitive state) in relation to the prospective audience for the annotations (i.e. private, work group, and larger public)
  • the patterns of behavior and cognitive states of readers while annotating


The study looks at a number of aspects:
  • Happy highlighters or meager markers - result is all over the map, no pattern of distribution
  • Text annotation by task (do people create notes more or less when the tasks are different) - no pattern discovered when comparing results of general vs directed reading
  • What was highlighted - general reading vs directed reading
  • Links and link typing - general reading vs directed reading

Feedback and Wish List from the Study Participants

About difficulties encountered when using the tools:
  • highlighting is easy but the next step is not too obvious
  • note-writing widgets wanted

About links and link typing:
  • need more obvious link creation and representation
  • need to maintain coherence when linking back and forth between articles
  • not clear what the link type means

About sharing annotations:
  • selectively share (when it is meaningful or helpful to others, they want to share the annotation)
  • enable revision
  • enable others to comment (to encourage dialogue and give information via linking)
  • search capability (search public annotations by topics/functions or by section of the article)

Wish list:
  • Toggle between viewing a clean copy or an annotated copy
  • Turn on/off annotation easily
  • Distinguish own annotations from other people's annotation when in public view mode
  • Highlight (icons to mark the text)
  • Note-writing (a place for writing long notes, drag and drop text, content description)
  • Linking (one to many links, live link to non-OJS Internet resources)

Future Directions

  • Separate workspace: personal and shared
  • Support reading tasks: skip complex function for general reading, more complex ones for directed reading
  • Integration with reading tools: look-up terms, check Internet sources


Among the questions asked by the audience, one person put forward an interesting idea of adding a feature to the system so that users can look at and follow one person’s annotations on all articles that the person have read (a la


Online annotation and linking enable scholarly communications to take the most advantage of the online format. With this kind of reading tools available, readers of online scholarly journals can find out what other readers think of a particular journal article and can even follow the discourse around a certain scholarly enquiry in a new way made possible by the online reading environment. They become actively engaged with their readings as the tools allow them to "write on the margins" and link the reading materials in ways that make sense to them.

In the spirit of increasing the circulation of knowledge, the result of the study would continue the tradition of scholarly publishing that Henry Oldenburg has started with his journal the Philosophical Transactions.

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