Genius Beta

Annotate the Internet

Erik Torenberg
Tom Lehman
Ilan Zechory


most upvoted
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius
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
Dan — Co-Founder & CEO, Veromuse
@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).
Yuchen Wang — Founder Of TaggTo
@dumbnamenumbers congratulations for the launch! What's the difference between Genius and Diig? Thanks!
Markus Stefanko — pitchXO
@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.
Tucker Max — CEO, Book In A Box
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?
Ryan Holiday — Author, Ego is the Enemy
@tuckermax We basically asked the same questions
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius

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!
Tucker Max — CEO, Book In A Box
@ryanholiday hahahaha, great minds and what not.
tom meagher — now is good.
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.
Ilan Zechory — Co-Founder and President of Genius
@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
Andy Davis — CEO, Notifyed
About time this existed.
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius

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?))
Erik Torenberg — Product Hunt
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:

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?
John Exley — Sales, Yieldmo
@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.
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius

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!
Nikita Korotaev — Incubating products @ Glocal Partners
@dumbnamenumbers I guess in order for Genius go mainstream it needs to be bundled together with the browser or you'll need to release your own Genius browser or every website should have a turn-on annotation button. What is the long-term plan to increase adoption?
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius

The key to adoption IMO is making the basic annotation reading experience work without any special browser or browser add-on – I should be able to annotate and share those annotations with you even if you've never heard of Genius.

This is why the "" prepend trick is so important – it allows anyone to read and create annotations on any web page just by adding "" to the start of the URL (no plugin required!)

(If you think about it, is kinda like a "cloud web browser" that allows you to bring the Genius browser extension with you everywhere)
Andrew Ghobrial — Head Of Winging It, Denarri
@nikitakorotaev @dumbnamenumbers I can see how that would make it universally accesable, but having to append "" to a url to annotate it is a clunky/awkward user experience for many. You should look into integrating a Genius "social sharing button" type thing to go alongside FB and Twitter buttons, but to annotate.
Ross Currie — Founder, CrowdLoot
AMA: How do you prevent spam? I notice there are 3-4 annotations already on linking to various products
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius
@rossdcurrie the goal is to show you only the annotations relevant to you – so if someone posts some spammy weirdo stuff only people who follow them will see it.

We're working on this now (but it's fine bc we're still in beta! No jk it's not fine we gotta build it!)
Ilan Zechory — Co-Founder and President of Genius
Markus Stefanko — pitchXO
@rossdcurrie @mmmmmnmmmnmmn Hee hee, I had to! But the delete button doesn't show up for non-admins or non-owners - so manual moderation?

Can e.g. site owners moderate their own sites?
Jason Hitchcock — Growth at
@rossdcurrie @mmmmmnmmmnmmn So i need to delete every piece of spam myself?
Chris Hendel — Software Engineer @ Pebble
I really like your (@dumbnamenumbers and @mmmmmnmmmnmmn) enthusiasm in this AMA! Makes me excited to use Genius more. Congrats!
Marc Köhlbrugge ⚡️🔥⭐️ — Founder of BetaList
Me 9 days ago here on Product Hunt: "Imagine a decentralised where you can annotate and share any piece of content you come across." 😂 –
orliesaurus — Lasers handler
@marckohlbrugge hahaha that's awesome, this could work wonders for schools and across education
Mahbod — co-founder, Everipedia
@marckohlbrugge YOUR comment was actually what inspired this! thanks dogg
Seth Miller — Co-Founder & CEO @ Rapchat
This is....genius

I do think Point is onto something similar but it's after more of a closed network whereas I see this as being WAY more open (and better)
Erik Torenberg — Product Hunt
AMA: What would be your advice on company name changes - when and when not to do it and what should people think about? (E.g. Should Product Hunt become Hunt? :P)
Ilan Zechory — Co-Founder and President of Genius

We've changed our name twice - from Rap Exegesis to Rap Genius, and then from Rap Genius to Genius. I'm down to say the first change was obviously good, because no one knows what exegesis is or how to say it or spell it.

We're making progress on the long-term consciousness shift of the second change. Give a talk at a college and you'll hear a tonnnn of "I LOVE RAP GENIUS!"

Overall, as with anything, it's way more work than you think. You guys should become Punt!
Andrew Torba — CEO, (YC W15)
1. What's the best way to ensure quality annotation?

2. How can you build an early community of power annotators similar to the Wikipedia and Quora communities?
Steven Sinofsky — a16z
I think this is an awesome execution of an idea that has long been needed. While there are many ways this can and will evolve, I look forward to seeing the community adding value to complex or nuanced writings with equally thoughtful annotation and insight. Congratulations!
Ryan Hoover — Product Hunt
Congrats on the launch, @dumbnamenumbers and @mmmmmnmmmnmmn. As most people I think know, you started as Rap Genius, a community and site for annotating lyrics. Now you're building a platform to annotate the web. Was this the plan from the beginning and honestly why do we need to annotate the web?
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius
@rrhoover Thanks! This definitely wasn't the plan from the beginning. But we were always obsessed with the notion of web annotation, primarily in the form of our love affair with Google Reader.

I know Google Reader nostalgia has reached a Tickle me Elmo level of meme, but still.. it was a great product! And what made it so great was you could say what you wanted to say about the EXACT PART OF THING that was funny or weird or whatever.

We were so obsessed we built a Google Reader clone called (which you can use and it's pretty cool!)

Anyway, how cool would Google Reader be if, in addition to a feed, it followed you around the Internet and you could always see what your friends / famous people were saying about stuff?
Ouriel Ohayon — appsfire, CEO/ isai (VC) co-founder
@dumbnamenumbers @mmmmmnmmmnmmn @rrhoover Can you imagine what PH will looks like once Genius comments will start to pop all over the place :)
Corley — COO @ Product Hunt
@dumbnamenumbers and @mmmmmnmmmnmmn first, awesome Twitter handles. 😄

If you plan is to annotate the web, then you need users of all types to be able to easily and quickly get to annotating. What's your plan to make this as easy as possible?

Why do you have the friction of signing up before you get to test and play and prove the value of annotating the web in the first place?
Tom Lehman — Co-founder & CEO, Genius
@corleyh Thanks! I keep trying to get Ilan to change his to something equally funny but more legible, but, you know, "Ilaners gonna Ilan"..
Ryan Holiday — Author, Ego is the Enemy
Hey Tom, I think you guys crashed at my house last SXSW. Will it ever be possible for annotations to battle each other out? I always hate discovering an old song (or I guess article) and find that a line has already been annotated. It's like finding that a Wikipedia editor "owns" a page and you can never put in your two cents. What if it was like Reddit where people could vote for the best ones in popular annotations?
Ilan Zechory — Co-Founder and President of Genius
@ryanholiday Thank you Ryan, your house was perfect. Cute goats, great library..

Yes, there will be multiple personal annotations per line, and also the possibility of multiple personal annotations *plus* a collaborative "Genius annotation" - this is a very important subject to us. We should talk about it offlie
Ryan Holiday — Author, Ego is the Enemy
@mmmmmnmmmnmmn Yes, anytime. Shoot me an email?

Loved the platform the two times I used it (plus the old one too)
Jose Casanova — Full Stack Entrepreneur
I've been waiting for the chrome extension for a while, glad you finally launched one!

It'll be interesting to see how content on Wikipedia gets annotated. How will Genius stay on top of quality control for such content?

EDIT: Someone is already exploiting this:

How will you prevent this from happening in the future?

Also, links aren't clickable (ie: Hackernews) if they're highlighted.

Overall, great job!
JohnOsborne — Co-Founder,
@dumbnamenumbers This is really sweet. Nicely done. How are you guys thinking about annotations that are layered on pages that are changing across time? Are annotations linked to a specific page at a specific point in time?
Sam Bauch — Maker
@dumbnamenumbers @johnosborne Tom spoke about this at the Code Genius event in February in Brooklyn -

Mahbod — co-founder, Everipedia
Is it true that the product is called "Genius Beta" because the founders of Genius are extreme beta males? (that's what I heard..)
Guillaume — VP Products @ Bandsintown
@dumbnamenumbers Congrats on the launch! Do you plan on allowing users to make annotations private to a selection of friends/colleagues?
Mahbod — co-founder, Everipedia
@dumbnamenumbers @gdelaserre giving that option would defeat the purpose of the whole thing...
Guillaume — VP Products @ Bandsintown
@dumbnamenumbers @mahbodmoghadam or give it another entirely new purpose :) ok...i guess that means no
Malcolm Ocean — Founder, Complice
@dumbnamenumbers @gdelaserre @mahbodmoghadam I don't think it necessarily would. Some pages are going to get totally swamped by annotations that are... let's just say... not so genius ;)

It would be nice therefore to be able to share and follow specific ones.
Miles Burke — Founder, 6Q
AMA: 1. what stops the browser makers taking your idea and building it in to their product and starving you of reach? 2. Will there be an opt out mechanism for site owners who don't want comments on their sites?
orliesaurus — Lasers handler
Needs more upvotes, this is great I was looking for something like this the other day...The universe has some weird ways of working its magic on us!
Malcolm Ocean — Founder, Complice
This is probably not worth caring about right now, but I thought I'd give the very specific feedback that when wearing blue-blocker glasses for melatonin purposes, the yellow highlights on white background are totally invisible.

The glasses basically zero out the blue channel of RGB, making #FFFF00 and #FFFFFF look identical.
Jason Hitchcock — Growth at
How does this system handle trolls and highly partisan content? I can imagine content people disagree with getting covered with nasty comments that are upvoted by supporters.
Mahbod — co-founder, Everipedia
@jasonhitchcock I have spent the past year being a troll on Genius - and TRUST ME - they hunt you down really quick!!
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