Genius Beta

Annotate the Internet

#3 Product of the WeekApril 08, 2015
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1 Review3.5/5
My co-founder Ilan and I are psyched to share an early look at the future of Genius / the Internet with y’all! As you probably know, Genius started as a project to annotate hip-hop lyrics. We’ve since expanded beyond music into annotating all kinds of text — literature, political speeches, the Bible, etc. Now we’re embarking on our biggest challenge yet: annotating the entire Internet and in doing so fulfilling one of the fever dreams of the early web. Not many people know this, but when Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina were building the first version of Mosaic, they included a feature that allowed users to annotate web pages, but ended up scrapping it for technical reasons. Here’s how to use the Genius Beta: To annotate any web page, just add the prefix “” to its URL. For example, check out the annotated version of this very page: For an even smoother experience, you can annotate with our Chrome extension, bookmarklet, or iOS app. So check it out and remember: this is beta software! We need your ideas and feedback to make it truly great. Post your thoughts and questions in this thread and let’s work together to make the annotated Internet a reality! Much love, Tom & Ilan, Genius Co-founders
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@dumbnamenumbers Hi Tom & Ilan, why did you opt for the sticky button on the right side of the webpage rather than stick to the button next to the address bar? Seeing that button light up to know it's been annotated would be useful and less intrusive (don't necessarily want to see that every page has been annotated and stuck with the side button).
@dumbnamenumbers congratulations for the launch! What's the difference between Genius and Diig? Thanks!
@dumbnamenumbers It's cool, we have added it to our pitch academy - if the pop up would be a bit more friendly though ( e.g. not just 'this is for beta testers' ) and maybe even include an option for anonymous annotations we could even use it as our support tool! Like I'd want to have it on our front page, so customers can ask direct questions on specific parts - or we could annotate features in more detail.
I've always been fascinated with your company, and always wondered where you guys are going. Annotation of the web is a great next step. A few questions: 1. Do you see this annotation layer as being the "plaza" of conversation around articles and other things on the internet? Or a supplemental layer of content? 2. How do you intend to sort out the valuable annotations from the nonsense? Who do you let in to annotate and not? 3. It seems to me like annotations fall into the Wikipedia problem--who watches the watchers, who edits the editors, who annotates the annotators? What is your plan to deal with that issue?
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@tuckermax We basically asked the same questions
@tuckermax 1) Hopefully both! It's cool when artists use annotations to explain the backstory behind their words, but IMO the coolest annotations come from the interplay between the creator of the work and others who were more indirectly involved – for example, the producer of a track, the subject of an article, the source of a quote, etc. The beauty of annotation is that it lets you get right up in the author's words and say whatever you want rather than being relegated into the comment section / free speech zone, 2) Great and important question! This is in many ways "the" question – are we going to be the Internet's annotation layer or the Internet's garbaggio layer?? We don't have all the answers yet, but it'll likely involve stuff like: your relationship to the annotator (do you follow them, e.g.), the annotator's relationship to the thing being annotated (are they the source of the quote), annotation upvotes, who upvoted the annotation, etc. 3) Coast Guard? But yeah we have this complicated hierarchy of moderators, editors, etc. It's like feudal Japan!
@ryanholiday hahahaha, great minds and what not.
This makes Genius a lot more convenient! Super excited to use this in my day-to-day browsing. First impression: the annotation box is a little visually overwhelming. Lot's of gray buttons all over the place.
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@thomasmeagher I feel you on this! Lots of grey boxes. We're working on designing an "annotation unit" that looks and feels natural and works consistently across different contexts - on our website, on other websites, in a feed of annotations of people you follow, on mobile, etc. Stay tuned
About time this existed.
@mrandydavis Word! Though ours is FAR from the first shot at this – there's a whole Wikipedia page chronicling previous attempts. But I agree it's "about time this became part of the fabric of the Internet" (*fingers crossed emoji* (why doesn't that exist?))
Tom and Ilan will be here at 9am PST to do an AMA - let's ask great qs for them! I have a couple below Also - just released a podcast with them: Q's: 1) How have you thought about building this new product while at the same time growing from Rap Genius into Sports Genius, Fashion Genius, and other verticals? Is it two separate products? 2) What are your biggest KPI's when evaluating the success of the beta?
@eriktorenberg Listened to your podcast with them on the subway on the way to work this morning. Strong interview, you asked hard questions, and I liked their stories. I've enjoyed following the maturation of the founders here alongside the maturation of the company. I like that they seem to have mostly remained themselves and not become some muted, tamed, "PR-fake-face" version of themselves. Excited to play with some of the new annotation features.
@eriktorenberg 1) will always exist as a store for documents and media that have no other natural home on the Internet (the biggest example of course being song lyrics). But for texts that DO have a natural home elsewhere on the Internet, we don't want to force people to come to our website to read the annotations – instead we want to bring Genius annotations to wherever people are experiencing media and culture, and this new beta is one of our first baby steps in that direction. 2) I'm a big fan of the Aaron Sorkin / West Wing school of software development – if you can get 17 people obsessed with the product it's gotta be pretty good!