Annotating Web Audio

On a recent walk I listened to Unmasking Misogyny on Radio Open Source. One of the guests, Danielle McGuire, told the story of Rosa Parks’ activism in a way I hadn’t heard before. I wanted to capture that segment of the show, save a link to it, and bookmark the link for future reference.

If you visit the show page and click the download link, you’ll load the show’s MP3 file into your browser’s audio player. Nowadays that’s almost always going to be the basic HTML5 player. Here’s what it looks like in various browsers:

The show is about an hour long. I scrubbed along the timeline until I heard Danielle McGuire’s voice, and then zeroed in on the start and end of the segment I wanted to capture. It starts at 18:14 and ends at 21:11. Now, how to link to that segment?

I first investigated this problem in 2004. Back then, I learned that it’s possible to fetch and play random parts of MP3 files, and I made a web app that would figure out, given start and stop times like 18:14 and 21:11, which part of the MP3 file to fetch and play. Audio players weren’t (and still aren’t) optimized for capturing segments as pairs of minute:second parameters. But once you acquired those parameters, you could form a link that would invoke the web app and play the segment. Such links could then be curated, something I often did using the bookmarking app.

Revisiting those bookmarks now, I’m reminded that Doug Kaye and I were traveling the same path. At ITConversations he had implemented a clipping service that produced URLs like this:

Mine looked like this:

Both of those audio-clipping services are long gone. But the audio files survive, thanks to the exemplary cooperation between ITConversations and the Internet Archive. So now I can resurrect that ITConversations clip — in which Doug Engelbart, at the Accelerating Change conference in 2004, describes the epiphany that inspired his lifelong quest — like so:

And here’s the segment of Danielle McGuire’s discussion of Rosa Parks that I wanted to remember:

This single-page JavaScript app aims to function both as a player of predefined segments, and as a tool that makes it as easy as possible to define segments. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m able to use it effectively even as I continue to refine the interaction details.

For curation of these clips I am, of course, using Hypothesis. Here are some of the clips I’ve collected on the tag AnnotatingAV:

To create these annotations I’m using Hypothesis page notes. An annotation of this type is like a or bookmark. It refers to the whole resource addressed by a URL, rather than to a segment of interest within a resource.

Most often, a Hypothesis user defines a segment of interest by selecting a passage of text in a web document. But if you’re not annotating any particular selection, you can use a page note to comment on, tag, and discuss the whole document.

Since each audio clip defines a segment as a standalone web page with a unique URL, you can use a Hypothesis page note to annotate that standalone page:

It’s a beautiful example of small pieces loosely joined. My clipping tool is just one way to form URLs that point to audio and video segments. I hope others will improve on it. But any clipping tool that produces unique URLs can work with Hypothesis and, of course, with any other annotation or curation tool that targets URLs.

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