February 14, 2016

8 Questions with Peter Brantley on Hypothes.is

Peter Brantley

Peter Brantley

Peter Brantley, until recently Director of the Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive (IA) and previously the Director of the Digital Library Federation, has just accepted the position of Director of Scholarly Communication at Hypothes.is. LJ caught up with him to find out what this new project is all about and why it has captured his interest.

What is Hypothes.is, and why is it needed?

Hypothes.is is a not-for-profit implementing an open-source platform to facilitate the peer-reviewed annotation of the world’s knowledge. The project leverages work on interoperable annotation standards at the W3C, and collaborates with existing efforts that address specific formats and functionality. We seek to enable the collaborative annotation of information across a broad spectrum of web content, together with new ways to point to and share passages inside documents and other media. We want to bring forward the vision of building open peer-review into the Internet.

What will your role be?

As our work progresses, the scholarly community looms large as an important target group. Members of this community are avid consumers of software for collaboration, research, note taking, and other tools directly bearing on annotation. Moreover, they represent a high-quality participant base for developing an early group of active users. I will help guide the development and execution of a strategy to deploy open annotation in the community.

Looking at Hypothes.is’ principles, there are some that are self-evident and some that may not be as obvious to all. In particular, why did you/they feel that “without consent” and being pseudonymous were important?

Our goal is to realize a vision long held by the pioneers of the web, where we all create, consume, and collaborate interchangeably and easily. This capability needs to be a function of the tools we use and not be reliant on those hosting content to turn it on. Also, sometimes it is important to be able to have a discussion with one’s peers around a document or a piece of information without the consent of those that created it. The internet should enable that, and it can.

Identity is a critical element of this. We believe that stable identity is the only way towards a community with high integrity. However, we also realize that there are often times—particularly in countries under repressive regimes, and in many communities (including scholarly ones)—where people do not feel free to speak openly. The choice of whether to associate our real identity with our online identity should be for each of us to decide for ourselves. Many feel that pseudonymity, properly implemented, leads overall to higher quality online discussions.

How is Hypothes.is funded? What is the total funding goal and where are you in reaching it? What is the strategy for sustainability thereafter?

Our funding comes via grants and individual support at present. Current funders include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Shuttleworth Foundation. Our goal is to raise approximately $3 million over the next several years, of which we’ve raised a significant portion. Long term, we have a comprehensive strategy to generate sustainable revenues from users as well as commercial services in support of our non-profit mission.

So far, the photos on the team page are a very white and mostly male bunch. What, if anything, is Hypothes.is planning to recruit a more diverse team going forward?

We’d love to bring some diversity to our team! As is the norm with open source efforts like ours, we’re highly disposed towards those that show up and start helping (you can find the code on github and hypothes.is on IRC). Designers and developers of any sort that are interested in helping us solve this problem should please reach out. We’re a friendly group!

Hypothes.is logo

What is Hypothes.is’ timeline for progressing to a prototype and ultimately a functioning application?

We are looking to release an alpha somewhere around mid-year 2013. Everything we release will be fully functional for the features that version incorporates.

Does Hypothes.is plan to partner with specific publishers or institutions as a system of open peer review, and if so, are any already on board?

These questions are central to our strategy. After all, that’s why I’m here! We’ll be looking at potential partners in the weeks ahead and working to obtain the most mutually beneficial collaborations possible.

Looking back, what were you proudest of accomplishing with IA?

Probably the work on open standards for discovery and access, like the Open Publication Distribution System. OPDS is a specification that enables portable bookshelves and lightweight, flexible online catalogs of digital media. We developed it alongside many other partners including O’Reilly Media and Feedbooks. It’s how IA makes its 3 million public domain books available for Nook, Kobo, Asus, and other ebook readers.

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Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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