Making Annotations Work

“Fast is better than slow”, one of the Ten things (Google) knows to be true concludes that users prefer the fastest, simplest method. We at Stipple wonder, if this principle holds (and we believe it does), why have annotations, a tool designed to make discovery faster, largely failed to gain wide user acceptance?

What are annotations? They’re in use everywhere on the web today — Facebook people tags, hyper-linked green words on news sites and the word boxes atop many of your favorite YouTube videos. Annotations are supposed to quickly and easily give context to images, videos and other content, saving a user time and eliminating guess work. Though widely in use and designed to save time, many users find annotations products annoying and spend more time shutting off and avoiding them rather than using them.

We believe in the promise of annotation, yet tremendous tension between current annotation products and web users. So, we set out to build Stipple as the fastest, friendliest way to label and view the content of pictures on the web.

Our early thoughts on annotations done right:

1.Manners: For annotations to become a well-liked tool on the web, they will need to ‘learn their place’ and stop being impolite — to speak only when spoken to. If a user wants to reveal information, then the annotation should react quickly and display relevant and useful information, but only if the user has initiated the display of the annotation.

2. Go away (as fast as you came): Annotation products all seem to appear super fast, requiring nothing more than a brief touch of the annotated object with your cursor. Getting rid of annotations seems to be another matter. Annotations which open windows that can only be closed with a mouse click, are asymmetrical and a poor way to treating web users. Let the reader control the label and close the window when a reader moves their mouse away.

3. Remember, you’re a guest (on someone’s site): Annotations live on publishers’ web properties. Annotation products need to be ‘good guests’ — don’t spam, brand or unnecessarily clutter a publisher’s site.

4. Private people use the public web: Stipple, like all web services, learns a lot of information about user behavior via their interaction with photos. We will be great web citizens and are committed to protecting the personally identifying information of our users.

5. Stop Selling and add value Like the worst of used car salesmen, most annotations are always trying to sell you something rarely allowing you to just look around and discover. There’s tons of content in photos that needs to be revealed and a lot of it has nothing to do with a product or an advertiser. Not only are we okay with that, we support it. Stipple provides value-added services for photo labels, including captions and information labels today. We have a bunch of features coming soon that have nothing to do with commerce, rather providing great to tools for publishers and photographers.

Well-executed labels provide information, utility and an enjoyable user experience. This is how we envisioned and ultimately built Stipple. We welcome each of you to join the conversation and help us do our small part to build a better, richer web.