Using ReadrBoard at the GovLab

In-line content annotation platforms, like the popular Rap Genius, allow people to collaborate around content by bringing their diverse input and knowledge to bear in a targeted way. Because they allow users to comment on and react to content with a great deal of precision, in-line annotation-tools allow for previously unattainable levels of publisher-reader interaction. Through quantitative and qualitative analysis of input, content-annotation tools can help institutions and publishers get smarter about how to target and make use of online commentary, input and feedback.

To encourage discussion, engagement, and collaboration around our work, the GovLab is using the Web-based annotation platform ReadrBoard to experiment with opening our content to public annotation in the following areas:

What is ReadrBoard?

Many people prefer to print texts so that they can pour over them as hard copies, finding it easier to make fine edits when they don’t have to scroll up and down their screen. ReadrBoard essentially digitizes this unconstrained annotation process. Rather than reading through an entire article and leaving comments at the bottom of the page, ReadrBoard allows users to directly comment on and “react to” content – be it a word, a sentence, a paragraph, photos, videos or an entire page.

For some examples of how this works, see how Readrboard is already being used by ProPublica, the Duke University Chronicle, and Racialicious Blog.

How does it work?

See the video below:

Highlighting text or hovering the cursor over an image will result in a “What Do You Think?” pop-up, which allows a user to “react” using fields that a moderator can set, or which users can create on their own.

(For example, in this page, we’ve pre-included these reactions: “This is great!” and “Please clarify!”)

This functionality has the potential to be incredibly useful for generating collaboratively produced, community-based content. Below are some examples of how the GovLab plans to (or has already started to) use ReadrBoard.

How We’re Using It

Public Engagement: The Living Labs ICANN Project  

The GovLab provides research support for the ICANN Strategy Panel on Multistakeholder Innovation (the MSI Panel), which has been charged with:

  • Proposing new models for broad, inclusive engagement, consensus-based policymaking and institutional structures to support such enhanced functions; and
  • Designing processes, tools and platforms that enable the global ICANN community to engage in these new forms of participatory decision-making.

In proposing new models for engagement in ICANN, ReadrBoard is a tool that the Panel could suggest to ICANN for use in encouraging greater global participation in ICANN’s decision-making processes. For example, ICANN forms Working Groups based on Issue Reports. Using a tool like ReadrBoard during the drafting of those Issue Reports could help to align the priorities of various stakeholder groups in ICANN. Detailed public commentary on ICANN Issue Reports could reveal where different types of expertise match with different kinds of discrete topics within an Issue Report. Allowing for precise in-line commentary in ICANN Issue Reports encourages targeted engagement around content and enables more direct dialogue with various audiences, facilitating the consensus-building process that defines ICANN’s multistakeholder model.

To experiment with how an annotation tool like ReadrBoard could work, the MSI Panel will use ReadrBoard to collect and analyze commentary and feedback on draft proposal content that Panel publishes online. Specifically, ReadrBoard will be used during the “Proposal Development” stage of the MSI Panel’s brainstorming initiative to:

  • Distill feedback and commentary on blogs into categories. This allows GovLab to get a sense of what issues, questions, and topics matter most to people when it comes to ICANN’s work coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS) across borders.
  • Pose questions to online readers. ReadrBoard allows for the proposal of discrete questions that readers can answer. These answers are then categorized into answer headers, which automatically become “reaction categories,” or tags, allowing other users to vote on them rather than articulating their own answers.
  • Publish annotatable content across multiple sites. For example, all ReadrBoard reactions to the same content published in multiple places can be collected in one centralized repository. ReadrBoard has a data-analysis dashboard that can be used to determine which phrases, sentences, or paragraphs get the most engagement, and what kinds of comments are most frequent.

Learning Out Loud: The GovLab Smarter Governance and ExpertNet Research Agendas

By opening its research to public annotation, the GovLab seeks to harness the concept of “learning out loud.”

For example, the GovLab’s Smarter Governance and ExpertNet Research Agendas have been outfitted with the ReadrBoard plug-in. As the GovLab progresses through its iterative action-research methodology, the use of ReadrBoard on its research agendas allows diverse input from the public, which will help identify areas to focus on and issues that may present challenges. To that end, reactions on the two agendas currently include: “Great”, “Problematic”, “Important Question”, and “Minor Question”.

Through this online dialogue, the GovLab can co-create the content it publishes in collaboration with the public. While commenting at the bottom of the page is useful as a way for people to give lump-sum and general reactions to a publication, being able to ask questions and make comments on specific lines of text or even on specific words and phrases will significantly help with determining challenges and priorities in the GovLab’s research agendas.

The use of ReadrBoard will provide the GovLab with a grounds for experimenting with collaborative research initiatives that are crafted with public input, commentary, and feedback.

What’s Next?

The GovLab Academy is another area in which the GovLab can leverage ReadrBoard annotation. The GovLab Academy is an online training community that uses technology and innovation to tackle public problems. The Academy wants to build courses with the input of subject-matter experts and with the input of the public: we want you to tell us what you’re interested in!

This, again, is an example of “learning out loud”. Users of the Academy can be students and teachers at the same time by pointing the GovLab and, more importantly, their peers in the direction of useful, interesting, and relevant content. For example, an Academy user might react to an article posted under the Academy header “Big Data” by commenting with several other articles that are informative. In this way, content on the Academy is enriched via an open peer-produced learning experience.

Where else would you like to see in-line annotation used for GovLab content? Where else do you see ReadrBoard being useful? The GovLab invites your reactions to this page!


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