A Partnership to Bring Open Annotation to eBooks

By dwhly | 9 March, 2017

Logo for EPUB.Today we are announcing a partnership to bring open, collaborative, cross-platform annotation to eBooks. Together with NYU Libraries, NYU Press, Evident Point, the Readium Foundation and the EPUBjs project, Hypothesis will be working to bring annotation to EPUB, the standard format for digital books.

Digital books represent an enormous class of content which at present cannot be collaboratively annotated with others. Combined with the recent work that the W3C has done to standardize annotation, this represents an essential next step in bringing a high quality open annotation implementation to books everywhere.

While formats such as images, video and data are longer term goals, text has been the early focus of annotation at Hypothesis for obvious reasons: nearly all knowledge in every domain is ultimately recorded as text. In the world of digital text, two formats have reigned supreme: HTML and PDF. But EPUB has gained traction and increased momentum as successive versions have enabled essential features like full internationalization and rich media.

As a further sign of EPUB’s growing importance, the standards organization behind EPUB, the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), merged last month with the W3C, the standards body for the Web. Since EPUBs are actually just Web content in a digital wrapper, it makes sense to locate this activity in the W3C.

Hypothesis currently supports annotation of HTML and PDF. For PDF we use Mozilla’s PDF.js, which has enabled PDFs to be rendered into the browser as HTML since 2012. Two popular software frameworks exist that do the same for EPUBs: ReadiumJS and EPUBjs. ReadiumJS is the official EPUB framework of the Readium foundation, closely allied with the IDPF (which is now merged into the W3C). Because the native Readium SDK can support DRM (Digital Rights Management), it is also the choice of many publishers. EPUBjs has also gained a wide following as a clean, simple lightweight EPUB reader for a broad audience with a permissive open source license.

Last year, Fred Chasen of EPUBjs and I demoed a proof-of-concept integration at the IDPF DigiCon session in Chicago, but further work was still needed both within the Hypothesis and EPUBjs codebases before it could be used.

That’s why we were thrilled when last fall the NYU team approached Hypothesis with an interest in accelerating the availability of annotation within the ReadiumJS framework in order to enable annotation for their catalog of open-access digital titles. With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, under their Enhanced Networked Monographs project, NYU is providing financial support and end-user guidance. Evident Point Software, which counts several core Readium contributors among its staff, has been contracted to complete the remaining tasks within the Readium codebase to support the proper anchoring of annotations within EPUB’s reflowable text. With direction from Hypothesis, they will also focus on the several technical requirements needed within the open annotation framework.

“This integration is strategic for us,” said David Millman, Assistant Dean for Digital Library Technology Services at NYU, “and we hope it will be helpful to many more and wider communities too. This effort could have a huge impact on the way people continue working with books, and with each other.”

Yuri Khramov, Founder of Evident Point said “We are very glad to be chosen to work on this integration project. As one of the main contributors to ReadiumJS and the developers of ActiveTextbook, we see this project perfectly aligned with our vision of extending the use of eBooks in education and research.”

Ric Wright of the Readium Foundation, says “We are very enthusiastic about the forthcoming integration of Hypothesis’ annotation support into ReadiumJS and its applications in the educational market and elsewhere.”

Fred Chasen, lead developer on the EPUBjs project, expressed his excitement over the partnership saying “Open and portable ebook annotation opens up the potential for many new online reading interfaces tailored to the specific needs of the annotator rather than just those defined by the publisher. These updates to Hypothesis will allow integration of open annotations across different epub reading systems, with annotations that can be used in Readium, EPUBjs or any other reader that implements them.” The EPUBjs project will also augment its codebase to support the latest advances in open annotation.

Together, our goal is to complete a working integration of Hypothesis with both EPUB frameworks by Summer 2017. NYU plans to deploy the ReadiumJS implementation in the NYU Press Enhanced Networked Monographs site as a first use case. Based on lessons learned in the NYU deployment, we expect to see wider integration of annotation capabilities in eBooks as EPUB uptake continues to grow.

If you’re interested in bringing annotation to ebooks, please contact us.

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