HooverNotes joint the Mozilla/Shuttleworth Fellowship

New technologies have had a great impact on how people study and learn today. Personal computers and the Internet have since long been established as valuable tools for students, and schools and universities are hard to imagine without them. Nowadays laptops and computers are becoming tools very important at the classrooms for learning purposes. Children are getting used very quickly with the new technologies such as touchscreens, new gaming features like Wii remote among other. The browsers which people use to access at Internet and search information would become the new student tool like the notebooks and pencils.

The Web is miscellaneous

However, the success of the Internet comes at a cost. Information on the Web is miscellaneous, not ordered and pervasive. Relevant information is scattered across different Web pages. With the advent of the Web 2.0 paradigm, an ever increasing amount of content is created dynamically and collaboratively. It is difficult to assess its quality and relevance.

Some years ago, people were used to search information on paper, for example through an alphabetical index such as in encyclopedias. Today people are used to open a browser and look for a term at the search box and then click on the Wikipedia link which normally is at the ten first results of the SERP at Google or any other searcher [Everything is miscellaneous, pp.97]. Web search engines, blogs of experts (more or less) and Wikipedia are the resource sites where people are searching the information. The problem has hence changed from having information at one’s disposal to identifying relevant bits and pieces. For students, this means: the content is there, but it is hard to find and process. An educated opinion on content, readily at hand for a student, would be helpful.

On the other hand, paper-based material for learning purposes still has one major advantage over digital material: using pens and post-its, readers can leave comments, underline significant passages and leave markers for finding relevant sections faster. This allows more profound and more efficient information processing, both for the first-time reader and his successors. Furthermore, the content nowadays it’s not only text but it’s multimedia such as videos, podcasts, pictures or even interactive maps.

Tools allowing to benefit from other people’s use and filtering of the Internet, such as StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us, Evernote, Layers, Mendeley and other tools for collaborative tagging of Internet resources, have been identified as a way to overcome these obstacles.
But though some of these allow for annotating and highlighting Web content and others are seamlessly integrated into Web browsers and other user devices, we haven’t found a tool that combines all of these features. We would like to have a tool where we could take notes without copying and pasting to some kind of editor and hence lose the connection between the annotation and the content.

We want to achieve this goal by borrowing and combining ideas from the aforementioned predecessors to create a best of breed annotation tool for the Web. The outcome of this will be a tool that is not only great for education, but will also appeal to a wider audience.

What is HooverNotes?

HooverNotes is a concept for a platform whose goal is to combine “book-like” annotations with collaborative processing.

The HooverNotes concept was first established for the Jetpack for Learning Design Challenge 2010 [https://wiki.mozilla.org/Education/Projects/JetpackForLearning/Profiles/Hoovernotes] where HooverNotes was a selected finalist and was presented at Austin, TX. The feedback received during the Jetpack for Learning Camp at Austin, TX encouraged us to continue developing the HooverNotes concept.

HooverNotes is a JetPack plugin for FireFox for annotating and highlighting Web content – but so far only locally at the user’s browser. For the Drumbeat Challenge, we would like to turn HooverNotes into a truly collaborative tool backed by a powerful Web application.

These two separate parts of the concept can be described in more detail as follows:

  • The first part of the HooverNotes is a browser plugin allowing the users to highlight and leave comments about Web content related to a topic. Such annotations can span several Web pages. They will take the form of text, hyperlinks, and multimedia content such as videos, images or maps. In this way, the actual Web content will be augmented and enriched by the users – be it for learning or other purposes. This plugin will also inform users if anyone else has taken notes for the URL he is watching at the moment. This will allow users to see annotations for other users on the fly.

    For the moment, there is a prototypical implementation of the plugin for FireFox’ JetPack platform. Though we’re aware that this is a Mozilla call, we’re thinking about implementing similar plugins for other platforms in order to increase our share market. Beyond of those plugins, we are also thinking an application for Google Android, IPad or the IPhone would increase our outreach and bring us closer to our goal of ubiquitous availability of annotations.

  • The second part of HooverNotes is a Web application where users can browse, search and “socialize” over annotations and export annotations to different formats: from the browser’s plugin to the cloud. The annotations will be synchronized between the browser plugin and the data store underlying the Web app. The user will have the freedom to export his annotations, both to different file formats (PDF, HTML, perhaps RTF or OpenOffice) and other services. For instance, annotations may be exported as bookmarks to del.icio.us. Annotations may be personal or shared with others through HooverNotes, hence enabling knowledge exchange in a classroom setting. Furthermore, we will implement features allowing users to get to know one another over their annotations. One example for this is the feature of being able to see who else has been doing annotations for a given page. Other features will analyze the annotations and find similarity between users and allow users to get to know one another. At the same time, we will have a defined API accessible via Web services allowing other services to access the data stored in HooverNotes repository. Annotations may be personal or shared with others through HooverNotes, hence enabling knowledge exchange in a classroom setting. Finally, all of those annotations would be stored using standardized languages enriched with semantics and every annotation will have its own URI.


Mike, a history teacher, is preparing a class for 9th graders about Napoleon Bonaparte. He’s preparing an Internet reading list in his blog. The list includes Napoleon’s biography [http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napole%C3%B3n_Bonaparte], the battles of Egypt, Waterloo, some background information about his life on Santa Helena and other relevant material. However, the material contains parts that are irrelevant to this lesson. At the same time, he would like to put the information in the context of previous lessons.

Hence, while his pupils will be given instructions to read the links from his blog, he wants to enhance these Web pages with personal comments, highlighting and related material. To do so, he’s using the HooverNotes FireFox add-on.

The add-on displays a single icon in the status bar. In the background, the add-on checks the configured repositories for HooverNotes Topics for the current URL. Mike is the first to annotate this page; hence, the icon is showing a ‘0’.

Mike clicks on it, and the HooverNotes plug-in opens as a sidebar, creating a new HooverNotes topic. Had there already been other HooverNotes topics, a menu would have opened allowing Mike to select one of them.

By default, the sidebar is located on the right of the FireFox window to allow easier drag & drop of sections selected for mark-up. However, users can also configure it to appear on the left. The experience should be similar at reading annotations in a book but with the power of the links at Internet and the multimedia.

The new HooverNotes topic shows Mike’s icon and username in the top-left corner. Other HooverNotes topics which he was working on before are visible as tabs/cascades. He writes the topic’s title and adds several keywords; “Napoleon”, “Bonaparte”, “France”, etc. All of this information shows in the HooverNotes’s topic ‘title bar’.

On the top of the sidebar, there are icons for the principal actions of HooverNotes – highlight and annotate . If Mike selects some of the HTML in the main window, he can drag it to one of these items he’s creating a new action over his new topic at HooverNotes – either highlighting the corresponding passage, copying it to the sidebar or writing comments about it. In order to create an annotation for another one of the open HooverNotes topics, he would first select and “drag and drop” to the corresponding tab/cascade and then to the icons. All of the add-on’s main functionality can be accessed in three ways: by clicking and dragging and dropping with the mouse, by right-clicking and opening a context menu, and by keyboard shortcuts.
HooverNotes allows querying and retrieving HooverNotes topics by language, keywords, usernames (of creators), exact or URLs from the HooverNotes website. Mike clicks on it and searches for the keyword Napoleon. Resulting HooverNotes topics are ordered; By default, the resulting topics and annotations are ordered by title, author name, author karma and date of last modification. However, Mike can change the sorting.

He continues working on his own HooverNotes and he adds a National Geographic video about the battle of Waterloo he found in YouTube. The video is now associated with the topic and the annotations of the HooverNotes topic; as overlay is activated, the paragraph has a marker indicating that it has been annotated.

Afterthat, Mike goes to Google Maps and, likewise, “drags and drops” a map showing where Napoleon is buried in Paris to the same HooverNotes topic.

Mike continues annotating and in the end, he has created around 30 annotations. HooverNotes within a topic are grouped by the URL to which they relate. They are ordered by the position of the section to which they relate, then by date of modification. Left-clicking on the HooverNotes in the sidebar opens the paragraph in the main browser window. Likewise, clicking on the marker in the main window scrolls the side bar to the corresponding annotation. He can also right-click on the HooverNotes annotation and choose to open the corresponding URL in another tab.

Finally, Mike synchronizes his HooverNotes topic with the HooverNotes repository, making it public clicking at the button “Share-it”. All HooverNotes users can now access his notes. He then publishes a link to his topic in his blog. Students from his class can now access the Mike’s HooverNotes topic in several ways – via the link or using the add-on’s status bar icon, which will now show a ‘1′ through all the Web pages where Mike have been taking notes.

Why is HooverNotes not just yet another annotation application?

A number of similar applications – among others, e.g. Evernote, Layers, WebNotes, QuickNote, and Google Notebook – exist already. However, we found these wanting:

  • A number of FireFox plug-ins allow writing notes in the form of post-its or 140 characters notes. Most are text (tweet) notes and some includes video and images.
    • HooverNotes will allow HTML text with embedded multimedia and hence offer a richer experience. It has been conceived thinking of an e-learning context.
  • Other annotation tools only allow annotations for a single page.
    • HooverNotes offers the possibility to create threads, called topics, of annotations spanning multiple pages (URLs).
  • Some of the competition charges money for using the full functionality.
    • For users, HooverNotes is planned to be completely free of charge. Annotations are a clear indicator of users’ interest; we will investigate how much income would have to be generated by advertisements in order to sustain HooverNotes for the public. Another model may be to permit a given number of annotations for free for any user, but offering premium services for a modest fee.
  • Other plug-ins store annotations locally as personal bookmarks and it is not possible to share and collaboratively improve your annotations.
    • HooverNotes is designed as a collaborative tool and has been conceived for sharing and synchronizing annotations. Online accessibility is a key feature of our concept.

Our goals

  • create a (in our case the second version) browser plugin which allows people to highlight Web content or PDFs from a URL; to take notes from Web content but also from PDFs, pictures, videos, maps among others related with a URL.
  • generate a URI for every annotation to identify it and access to it through the HooverNotes searcher and at last instance at Google.
  • no walled garden HooverNotes’ repository:
    • to allow annotation interoperability with other annotation platforms such as Delicious, Evernote, Mendeley among others.
    • to use open Web standards and apply semantic Web (RDF, FOAF, Oauth 2.0, among other) and Linked Data technologies at the annotations in order to improve the knowledge of the system related with the notes and allow to the users access to it.
    • offer access to the HooverNotes user profiles users with Google account, Facebook account, Twitter account, etc. Nobody would have to create a new user account at HooverNotes.
  • create a community in order of sharing multilanguage topics and notes at Internet.
  • to allow users to look for topics or annotations through a searcher and the ability of importing those notes or topics to the HooverNotes at the browser and interact with the annotations in contact with the real Web content.

The roadmap

  • From July to October: as we have the Jetpack for Learning experience and feedback from the first alpha version of HooverNotes, our first goal is to create HooverNotes beta plugins for Mozilla Firefox (using the new Jetpack SDK) and Google Chrome. (Both Web browsers represents almost the 40% of the browser’s usage nowadays [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_web_browsers])
  • From November to February: as we have to store all the annotations, during those months we will design and develop the first version of the HooverNotes repository. The scalability of the system will be on the most important point.
  • From March to May: On the one hand we will create a tester-community to insert notes into the HooverNotes. And on the other hand we will continue developing the HooverNotes repository features as well as improving the user experience in order to have a beta version able to be used during the next iteration.
  • From June to July: We will open the HooverNotes repository to the users in order to resolve possible bugs, improve the user experience and receive feedback.

Who we are

The HooverNotes’ team is the original Jetpack for Learning Design Challenge 2010 team composed by:

  • Philipp Rossmanith. Philipp is a computer science engineer from Germany. After a 4 1/2 year studying and working at Växjö University, Sweden – which 3 and half years working with CeLeKT, the CEnter of LEarning and Knowledge Technology, Philipp decided to move at Barcelona. Currently, Philipp is a software architect (J2EE) with emphasis on business logic tier and SOA. And he has interest in research and development and open source products.
  • Marc Pous. Marc is a computer science engineer from Barcelona. In 2005, Marc went to Växjö, Sweden, during an Erasmus exchange program. Afterthat, he worked as PHP developer and then as researcher since today. He also has cofounded a travel blog with some friends [http://www.3viajesaldia.com]. His main interests areas are human-computer interaction, the Web, the open culture and applications of artificial intelligence into the society.
  • Miguel Dahbar. Miguel is an industrial designer from Argentina. Ten years ago he came to Barcelona for working designing interactive interfaces besides software or harware. Miguel is one of the best interface and interaction designers we have ever known.

As we strongly believe on HooverNotes which previous version was developed on our spare time (nights and weekends), we are looking for some fundings in order to work full-time on this new approach of HooverNotes.

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