An Open Annotation Fund

By dwhly | 6 June, 2014

UPDATE: February 16, 2017. The Fund is not accepting new requests at this time. We are reviewing our approach to helping inspire and encourage the annotation ecosystem, and will update when that changes.

Today we are formally announcing the availability of a $50k USD fund for Open Annotation software projects.


Interest in annotation is making big strides. Specifically Open Annotation, the web-based, implementation of an interoperable, standards-based annotation paradigm that promises to become a new layer over human knowledge. In just a few short years a worldwide community of developers, implementers, funders and new projects has emerged that have resulted in a wide range of libraries, applications and products that incorporate web annotation for domains ranging from the sciences to education, journalism, government, law and business.

The Need

In order for annotation to become pervasive, it must be integrated with countless applications, technologies, libraries, products, web sites and more. We must take annotation to the boundaries of the web, at the interface with what exists and what is being created. We’ve already identified many of these places and many integrations are already underway—but many remain: image formats, video players, authoring platforms, readers, journals, popular sites, etc.

In many cases, we already know the developers who can tackle these integrations or enhancements—oftentimes they are the creators of the applications themselves. What’s needed is a relatively small amount of funding to facilitate the integration work itself. The individuals often are already eager (and even planning) to do the work, but schedules and the demands of producing sustainable income can preclude a timely focus on the annotation effort.

The leverage that this small amount of funding provides can be considerable. With grants as small as $2-10k, key software integration will be performed that can open up entirely new use cases and integrations with important, usually open-source, software platforms and libraries. Because these individuals are already passionate and active in these projects, the grants are probably small compared to the funds that would be necessary to solicit commercial bids from third-party contractors for this sort of work.

The Solution

We propose a grantmaking process that would solicit and receive proposals to expand the existing universe of open source software that implements or works with open annotation. Funds will be distributed as grants that come with only limited obligations, described below.

Applicants would agree that:

  • All of the design elements and software produced as a result of their work would be made open source on a maximally permissive license (MIT, BSD, Apache, etc) without restrictions on subsequent use (including commercial).
  • The software will be made publicly available either directly or via a popular open-source software repository.
  • The software will be well documented.
  • They will blog about the work they’ve done, describing the purpose in doing it, the particulars of the effort, the result and the future opportunities.
  • They will agree to provide basic support to the developer community for a year after the award.

Applications would not need to relate to any particular annotation platform or technology, but only to generally integrate or provide annotation functionality and be open source in nature.

The Fund

$50k annually, contributed by and other donors, all as non-profit, charitable donations. No commercial benefit will return towards donors. We’d like to thank Jeff Brody at Redpoint Ventures for his generous contribution to our initial fund.

Application Process

Applicants should submit a one page summary overview of their proposal to The summary should cover:

  • The overall goal of your larger work
  • How annotation figures in your proposal
  • The team members that would do the work
  • The relevant product, service or code library that any work would affect.
  • The end product code, feature or product that would be produced as result of the grant.
  • Where the final blog post summarizing the work will be published.
  • A rough sizing in terms of development time required to complete the effort.


The award would be judged by a number of those in and around the open source, knowledge and annotation communities.

Already, key individuals have agreed to participate, among them:

  • Phil Desenne — Annotation Lead, HarvardX / edX
  • Randall Leeds — Lead Developer,
  • Rob Sanderson — Co-Chair, Open Annotation Community Group, Stanford University
  • Doug Schepers — Developer Relations, W3C
  • Nick Stenning — Lead Developer, Annotator, Open Knowledge Foundation

We will continue to expand this list as appropriate to be more representative and inclusive within the community.


Small grants will be made directly to individuals, or in some cases small organizations (with a 10% overhead limitation), in amounts ranging from $2k to $10k depending on the work to be done and other considerations outlined below. Funds will be paid 50% upfront upon award and 50% upon completion when code and documentation are committed, any necessary pull requests accepted and a summary blog post written.

Awards are made on a rolling basis, after review of existing applications. Grant amounts are based on a combination of the applicants’ assessment of difficulty and the judges assessment of the utility of the proposed integration, difficulty and novelty in illustrating new use cases for annotation.

Launch Date

The fund launched on:
April 1, 2014

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