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Annotate/deface websites with Trailfire
November 14, 2006 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Remember Third Voice, the controversial browser plug-in that let you add public notes to any website? Enough webmasters complained and it was shut down in 2001, after only two years in operation. Maybe attitudes have changed, because the folks at Trailfire are trying this idea again. Available for Firefox or IE.
posted by Who_Am_I (43 comments total)

 
Annotation support for pretty much anything is such a cool idea. People who complain about it "defacing websites" or "infringing copyright" are morons, but it's not that strange, I suppose.

If this catches on in a big way, and the annotations are open (wiki-style, perhaps?), it could potentially change the whole web. People could discuss everything openly without anyone being able to remove comments they didn't like, etc.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2006


Of course it doesn't modify the original sites, but it's not just modifying your local copy either - it's also reporting your notes to central servers and retrieving others' notes from them. So it amounts to a form of spyware, albeit voluntary. It will be popular with the people who don't mind this sort of thing. They already install toolbars, etc..
posted by jam_pony at 8:42 AM on November 14, 2006


they'll love this at certain political websites ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:42 AM on November 14, 2006


I'm barely familiar with it, but doesn't Diigo do something like this too, but maybe in a more limited way? This kind of sharing of annotation moves things in a pretty interesting direction.
posted by tula at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2006


Finally, people who don't want to pay the 5 bucks to comment on Metafilter can do so for free!
posted by taursir at 8:52 AM on November 14, 2006


There's already at least a couple of extensions in firefox that do this: try purplebunny and I think stumbleupon. I haven't used them, so they may not have quite the same features, but the description reads pretty identically.
posted by jacalata at 9:01 AM on November 14, 2006




People who complain about it "defacing websites" or "infringing copyright" are morons

No, people who think it's OK to deface other people's websites are morons, if we're using that sophisticated form of argument.
posted by languagehat at 9:41 AM on November 14, 2006


jam_pony writes "it's not just modifying your local copy either - it's also reporting your notes to central servers and retrieving others' notes from them. So it amounts to a form of spyware"

I don't think that satisfies the definition of spyware. If it did, then by the same token, email programs are spyware, bittorrent programs are spyware, and Metafilter is a spyware site.
posted by Bugbread at 9:47 AM on November 14, 2006


Joakim Ziegler writes "People who complain about it 'defacing websites' or 'infringing copyright' are morons, but it's not that strange, I suppose."

languagehat writes "No, people who think it's OK to deface other people's websites are morons, if we're using that sophisticated form of argument."

False dichotomy. This doesn't deface sites or infringe copyright, therefore people who complain about it doing so are morons (or, at the least, just plain incorrect). AND people who think it's OK to deface other people's websites are morons (or, at the least, not nice people). I suspect that the overlap between these two groups of morons is vanishingly small.
posted by Bugbread at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2006


There's a little bit of moron in each and every one of us.
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 9:55 AM on November 14, 2006


languagehat: I can't tell if you're taking on the seriously anti-annotation position or just attacking a bad argument, but... haven't you ever scribbled in the margins of a book?
posted by Leon at 10:05 AM on November 14, 2006


I used to work for a (failed) company which designed a comment system like this, integrated into a (Windows-centric) full-fledged user environment, meant to sort of replace the AOL experience, but without the ISP and with custom branding. I liked the notes idea, although it all ended up looking too cartoonish, but I had no illusions about the success of the company. I knew this concept would find a home elsewhere, simply because it was so obvious.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:05 AM on November 14, 2006


Metafilter: There's a little bit of moron in each and every one of us.

I like it.
posted by MikeMc at 10:20 AM on November 14, 2006


This looks like a clever way to make absolutely every site on the web NSFW.
posted by dreish at 10:36 AM on November 14, 2006


Or, as Will Rogers approximately put it, "Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects."
posted by pax digita at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2006


languagehat: From the article, it seems no defacement of the original site occurs. Where's the defacement argument coming from?
posted by kaemaril at 10:48 AM on November 14, 2006


languagehat: It's not defacing anything. It's placing comments related to a website on another site, and letting other people download them if they so choose. This isn't copyright infringement or defacing any more than taping over half your TV screen with paper with text on it and then watching CBS is.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:03 AM on November 14, 2006


The firefox extension had some rendering issues. I uninstalled it after about three minutes of unusability.
posted by odinsdream at 11:15 AM on November 14, 2006


It sort of puts me in mind of a participatory Mystery Science Theater for websites, only the kibitzers aren't very interesting.
posted by cairnish at 11:17 AM on November 14, 2006


Dear Joakim Ziegler,

I write on behalf of my client, CBS. It has come to their attention that you have been subverting the technology designed to ensure that customers watch only our product in full-screen format, rather than using technological endeavours to repurpose our product, thereby using it for something other than it's intended format.

As you probably know, such actions are in breach of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and my clients have employed me to take care of their interests where such breaches occur.

Please leave us $500,000 in unmarked bills in a large suitcase, at a venue that we will announce shortly. Failure to agree with this out-of-court settlement will result in your being flown to Abu Gahraib prison, where Lynddie England will do terrible things to your genitalia with electric probes.

Thanking you for your assistance in this matter,

J.R. Runne, LLB.

Sue, Grabbit and Runne
IP litigation specialists.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:21 AM on November 14, 2006


By all appearances this is 100% opt-in. Nothing to do with any sort of defacement. If you want to let a bunch of strangers scribble on your monitor with a Sharpie, go ahead.

Personally I think with everyone having their own blog these days this will pretty much amount to a do-it-yourself trackback system in the end.
posted by facetious at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2006


This isn't defacement, any more than those stupid plugins that offer direct links to wikipedia for every stinking word are defacement.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 12:03 PM on November 14, 2006


I did a similar project [browser-based annotation application] for a course and the most enlightening thing to come out of the project wasn't seeing the second-party annotation encoded in RDF superimposed on web pages. It was that, even amongst a small and tightly controlled user community, internecine conflict could render certain pages useless as the level of noise generated overpowered any signal. Same thing happens in useful Mefi threads that spawn hundreds of comments. The on-topic tidbits get lost in the wash of tangential conversations, interpersonal conflicts, and spurious commentary. At some point the purpose of annotation is forgotten and the annotation medium becomes the human equivalent of a fire hydrant to dogs.

Still, this sort of annotation has great potential with user groups and document spaces that are tightly controlled.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:08 PM on November 14, 2006 [2 favorites]


languagehat: I can't tell if you're taking on the seriously anti-annotation position or just attacking a bad argument, but... haven't you ever scribbled in the margins of a book?

Just irritated with a blunderbuss attack, and I freely admit that "deface" seems a vast overstatement in this particular case. To answer your question: sure, I do it all the time. But:

1) It's my book.
2) I do it in pencil, so if somebody else ever winds up owning the book and doesn't like the annotations, they can erase them. I buy books with annotations in pencil but not in pen.
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM on November 14, 2006


W3C Annotea Project: Annotea enhances collaboration via shared metadata based Web annotations, bookmarks, and their combinations. By annotations we mean comments, notes, explanations, or other types of external remarks that can be attached to any Web document or a selected part of the document without actually needing to touch the document.

Annotations are a great idea in search of a proper implementation -- one that maximizes end-user control and protects privacy. The user should be able to run his own annotation store and it should be possible to form ad hoc federations of stores, so as to facilitate true organic online communities.

That, and in-browser web page editing (not wikis) will get us to Web 3.0.
posted by oncogenesis at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


1) It's my book.
2) I do it in pencil, so if somebody else ever winds up owning the book and doesn't like the annotations, they can erase them. I buy books with annotations in pencil but not in pen.


The difference between your copy of a book and your copy of a webpage being? Other people can't see your annotations without stopping by for coffee?

And surely users will be able to filter out annotations they are not interested in.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:39 PM on November 14, 2006


I can't tell if you're taking on the seriously anti-annotation position

I think you're being hoodwinked.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:54 PM on November 14, 2006


languagehat : "But:

"1) It's
my book."

By which you mean, you either paid or got for free a copy of someone else's copywritten work, perhaps by going to a bookstore. And when you go to a website, you get a copy of someone else's copywritten work, by typing a URL in your browser and having it fetch a copy of the html file or the like. Either way, it's your copy of a copywritten work. And?
posted by Bugbread at 1:04 PM on November 14, 2006


Clearly, this is not like defacing, but like any one of a huge number of metaphors.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2006


I'm amazed that people are focusing on the "is it annotating or defacing" argument as if that's the most difficult hurdle to overcome here. Both sides of that argument assume, falsely, that comments on a website will be at least somewhat relevant to the actual content of the website.

The real issue that any such project must overcome is how to prevent spam. I tried out Third Voice for a little bit when it got a lot of attention via a Wired article, and even within a few days of that article it seems like the Third Voice comments on major websites were as much spam as legitimate comments.

If such a system is overrun with spam--as any such system will be without some means of preventing it--then it doesn't matter whether the website owner should be able to prevent annotations or not, as no one will use it for its originally intended purpose.

People could discuss everything openly without anyone being able to remove comments they didn't like, etc.

You seem to think that's a positive thing. What if my comment on the latest astronomical discovery is "Drink Pepsi Blue?"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:12 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


DevilsAdvocate : "I'm amazed that people are focusing on the 'is it annotating or defacing' argument as if that's the most difficult hurdle to overcome here. Both sides of that argument assume, falsely, that comments on a website will be at least somewhat relevant to the actual content of the website."

Either you or I are reading the argument wrong.

From what I can tell, people aren't focusing on any "is it annotating or defacing" argument (in the sense of "it's one or the other, but which"). We're focusing on "Is it annotating? Is it defacing?" The answers could be "Yes, yes", "Yes, no", "No, no", or "no, yes". As such, there are at least four sides to that argument.

I'm on the "'I guess, but it depends how you define it', and 'No'" side (hey, now there are 5 sides!), and I'm certainly not assuming that comments will be even remotely relevant to the actual contents. I suspect I'm not the only person here whose arguments don't make that assumption, either.
posted by Bugbread at 1:23 PM on November 14, 2006


I'm all for this kind of technology (I should be, "Web Augmentation" was the topic of my PhD thesis), and I certainly welcome this new version. However, I would be hesitant about the centralized nature of Trailfire. If anything, earlier large scale experiments of this kind of system have demonstrated the fragility of having all annotations/links/etc available and public by default. Annotea was and is a nice system, but I find it telling that it mainly consists of test comments on W3C's page.

I think that the real breakthrough will building an effective and adaptive filtering system, that can defeat the noise. I don't think there were anyone in the hypermedia community (around the time we created this kind of technology, say 1995-2000) that envisioned the staggering amount of spam, that would haunt the Internet later on. Add to this flame wars, sociopaths, and defacement, and you have a real mess.

One approach would be to be highly selective about which comments/links/etc you would be willing to look at (just as you select which blogs to read), and to combine this with various IR techniques not too dissimilar from PageRank (if memory serves, that algorithm was originally designed for tracking comments). It would be well, if such a system could be designed to be decentralized.

Much of this of course comes down to the lacking link support in the Web today - most of these systems would be superfluous, if efficient bidirectional linking was generally supported. Sure, we have trackback, but that is so darn primitive. While certainly not a perfect standard, XLink compliant Web browsers (and an infrastructure in place to support it) would have been quite neat. The amount of blogging etc going on certainly shows that there is no lack of willing authors and commenters.
posted by bouvin at 1:27 PM on November 14, 2006


From what I can tell, people aren't focusing on any "is it annotating or defacing" argument (in the sense of "it's one or the other, but which"). We're focusing on "Is it annotating? Is it defacing?" The answers could be "Yes, yes", "Yes, no", "No, no", or "no, yes". As such, there are at least four sides to that argument.

I was, perhaps, oversimplifying, but my central point still stands. If Trailfire cannot prevent spam, it will become a medium for only spam.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:54 PM on November 14, 2006


I think it's more like putting a folder beside each book in a library for the purpose of adding comments about the book. You don't have to read the folder, you're only allowed to add to the folder not remove anything (although the librarian might remove something if you convince them to), and you can't write in the book itself.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:04 PM on November 14, 2006


sonofsamiam wrote "And surely users will be able to filter out annotations they are not interested in."

This would require that the central server not only keep track of all of the comments, but to also keep track on an individual user basis of the specific comments or users each person would not want to see. This would also require one to manually mark individual comments from users (or users themselves) as unwanted. Like deleting spam after it is in your inbox, you still have to see it before you can remove it. I doubt that such a system is in place or that it would be very easy to deal with as an end user. I would find it amazingly irritating, but there are folks who don't mind that sort of thing.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2006


I wasn't really serious about the defacing thing, but the spam thing is a killer. This will be useless unless that's solved, and I don't expect it will be anytime soon.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2006


Trust networks could probably solve the spam problem, both on a centralized site, and on a P2P-based decentralized system. But I suspect that when/if that happens, it'll be as part of a wider standard/system for relating the website you're browsing to a P2P network that can provide additional content, caching, etc.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:53 PM on November 14, 2006


Well it may not be defacing, but it is placing content on someone else's intellectual property that the original authors didn't intend to have there.

It's also not at all like scribbling in the margins of your own copy of a book. If you do that, you are the only person likely to ever see such scribblings; at worst, maybe one or two subsequent owners see the scribbles.

With this sort of thing, anyone with the extension can see what has been added by random strangers to someone else's web site.

As an analogy, what if there were technology to splice in, seamlessly, content into a movie playing in a nationwide theatre chain? What if you'd made a movie specifically designed to convey a certain message, say, about global warming, and people who disagreed with your message spliced in content that completely warped and turned around your argument? And thousands of people saw this version instead of the version you'd intended? And there was nothing you could do to get rid of the spliced in material?

Free speech you say? Not really. If your opposition wants to put out a counter argument, let them make their own movie, not destroy the one you have made.
posted by Zinger at 4:04 PM on November 14, 2006


As an analogy, what if there were technology to splice in, seamlessly, content into a movie playing in a nationwide theatre chain?
An apter analogy is that you sit in a movie theater with an optional headphone plug in the seat divider, out of which (should you choose to listen) come the commentaries, snarks, praises, &c. of everyone who has chosen to make one. You may also plug in one of those neat microphones which picks up your voice by detection of muscle potentials, so that you can make your own commentary, scholium, marginalia, snark, or whatever, without disturbing anyone else watching the movie.

Zinger's analogy does point out an issue with open-content releases, though, as any message might be subverted, any reputation ruined, by malign editing. If we want the law to help us, one can always legislate the requirement to specify if and what editing has been done to a work; technologically, a system involving P2P, hash algorithms, digital signatures, and a system of tubes would help. In any case, the point of any such interventions would be to effect in the viewers the same knowledge that anyone participating in an annotating system already has: viz, that the commentary and the source are separate, and may come from different authors, and may be to different ends.
posted by adoarns at 4:20 PM on November 14, 2006


Nice post oncogenesis, after looking at the W3 Annotia project I had a recollection of an even earlier implementation that was part of the original NCSA Mosaic -- I seem to remember it involving an "annotation server" which was not readily available in 1993. Here is the story from the NCSA access magazine.
posted by cgk at 6:27 PM on November 14, 2006


I'm a little bit surprised that Armitage actually said "hoodwinked" above, but was not referring to hoodwink.d, a Ruby web proxy adding underground annotation support.
posted by marsipan at 6:59 PM on November 14, 2006


This reminds me of, way back when I had way more free time and curiosity about such things, VR -- Virtual Realms. A chat program with rooms, but you can take your avatar out of the prefab environment and use any page of the web. You could also, using various vehicles (a motorcycle held two, a small car three, a bus many), tour others who jump into the passenger seat through whatever web pages you wished. The VR architecture came with, so you had chat space at the bottom of any page. So people took others on gallery tours, and so on. It was pretty cool.

Natch just temporary commentary and only for those using the program so it didn't open up all the potential problems being discussed here.
posted by dreamsign at 12:27 AM on November 15, 2006


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