Earliest Web Annotation Proposal [...]

People talked a decent bit about annotation on the www-talk list in the early 90s. The first lengthy treatment I can find of it is in a post by Dave Raggett in November 1992 (although he references earlier conversations). Raggett outlines a number of types of annotation, some structured around newsgroup-type functionality and others more focused on document markup affordances. Types include:

  • Linked replies or related documents, which would be stored in separate documents that are associated with the root document dynamically at runtime.
  • Page annotations, which would work much like modern page annotations, with highlights, sticky notes, and the like.
  • Revision history, which would include a standard set of check-out/check-in metadata to prevent accidental overwrites.

See Ragget’s November 1992 note. (www-talk)

The earliest web annotation roadmap for a product I can find comes from James Whitescarver on the www-talk list in December 1992. Talking about the release of his new curses client for the World Wide Web he states:

We plan to impliment group hypertext using a mail server to suppliment the HPPT access protocol. Readers can contribute anchors to a text via mail to www at the server machine. Our browsers will support this transparently. Later we hope to participate in a broader effort to include SGML tags to support forms, for truely interactive hypertext. (html)

Note again the idea here — the assumed activity of the reader is adding links, a process that was very common in hypertext of the time which often broke permissions into the roles of reader-annotator and author.

The update method here is also rather interesting — the browser hosts a mail client in the background which can send annotations via email to any server understanding the method. Neat.


Jim Whitescarver is one of the unsung heroes of the Internet. See Birth of the Form.

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