Hypothes.is and Annotation

Law has a lot to do with the analysis and exegesis of texts. It’s usually helpful to learn what someone else has thought about a particular passage in a statute or judgment, and especially valuable to encounter a discussion among commentators. CanLII Connects takes us much of the way there, though it seems as though there’s little back and forth via the comments function. It may be that a newcomer to the commenting field will prove to be useful.

Hypothes.is is an annotating facility. Run by a not-for-profit organization aimed at democratizing discussion, it allows anyone to annotate any web page (or online PDF document) or portion thereof, and, of course, it allows anyone to read these public annotations. This all happens on a “layer” that floats above, as it were — but does not disturb — the web page itself. Users need only download a bookmarklet or use Chrome with hypothes.is installed to enter into this world of marginalia.

Fortunately, Hypothes.is allows for the establishment of groups, whose annotations are available only to members of the relevant group. Here, I think, is the opportunity for legal workers. A group of like-minded analysts would be able to share annotations of a statute or judgment on CanLII, for example, without disturbing CanLII and with apparent privacy.

If you’re interested, you might take a look at a collection of tutorial slide decks, available on Google Drive.

(I’ve put a (silly) annotation on a recent case report. You can see it if you sign in to Hypothes.is and activate it while you’re on the web page for the case.)


  1. I got this helpful tweet from Dan Whaley at Hypothes.is:

    The link he’s referring to is as follows: https://via.hypothes.is/http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abqb/doc/1996/

    So if you’ve annotated a document and want to direct someone to the document and have them see your annotations, put the document URL immediately following https//via.hypothes.is and send them the elongated URL. It works for them, whether or not they have a Hypothes.is account or plugin.

  2. Xavier Beauchamp-Tremblay

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for this interesting post.

    As I just replied on Twitter, I first heard of hypothes.is at the Law Via the Internet conference a month ago and made a note in my to do list to reach out to them. As always, you’re ahead of the curve.

    I think having annotations on the site would solve the “problem” I have discussed earlier this fall (http://canliiconnects.org/en/commentaries/38040) , i.e. that some practitioners may feel that they are prevented from embracing the use of hyperlinks to CanLII in written submissions for fear that they would lose the ability to highlight.

    Our current in-house solution to this “problem” (i.e. using paragraph anchors) is admittedly not necessarily the best user experience.

    When I was still practicing, I often used a little trick where I would run a search on CanLII for the exact sentence I wanted to highlight, and then shorten the URL before sharing with a colleague (e.g. http://bit.ly/1TMfTUR)… but this is even clunkier.

    All that to say that I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with the hypothes.is team and will keep you in the loop of whatever happens.