Original intent for annotations
When we set out to build annotations, my personal motivation revolved around the idea of making technical content more approachable for readers. Previously writers had 2 options when writing about an advanced technical concept.
1) Spend time building a knowledge foundation for less technical readers in order to introduce a new concept.
2) Assume readers have a knowledge foundation strong enough to absorb the content without additional context.
So annotations enable writers to write as if readers are “in the know”. The primary focus of the piece revolves around the newly introduced concept, not the foundation to understand the concept. Then, they have a tool to fill the knowledge gaps through annotations.
This is still our working theory. But in testing/using the functionality, I’m starting to develop a new theory.
How annotations could impact reading comprehension
I’ve noticed that I have 2 primary “reading modes” when it comes to technical content.
Scan for gems: I often find myself scanning content for new or interesting information. If I find anything, I’ll stop and take a deeper dive into the material.
Fully engaged: If the writer entices me with a good story, they’ll have my undivided attention as I read and think about every word in the story.
If I had to guess, I’d say I scan 10 stories for every 1 story I read through. This gives me exposure to 5-10x more stories than if I were to read every word. One downside of scanning is reading comprehension. The majority of what you read is quickly forgotten.
As I’ve been testing annotations, a 3rd reading mode has started to emerge.
Contributing to the story: Instead of trying to purely extract information from the story as quickly as possible, I find myself looking for opportunities to add to the story.
When I’ve been in “contributor mode”, I’ve found that my scanning speed slows down significantly and even though my intent is to add to the story, I feel like I’m also extracting so much more information in the process. I also find that I become much more emotionally invested in the story so I’d be more likely to share and promote.
Again, still early days for annotations. Maybe my “contributor mode” is due to the fact that I’m involved in building this feature and not an indication of how existing Hacker Noon reader’s habits may change, hopefully for the better.