In 2009, Rap Genius
was launched as a site that collected lyrics to rap songs and crowd-sourced annotations for every word, stanza, and reference in each song.
Here's an example: In Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," the lyrics "Uh, and when I wake up / I recognize you're looking at me for the pay cut," are annotated with "This reflects Kendrick’s perception of the industry; they want him solely for economic purposes, and not because they care about him. This speaks to the metaphorical significance of the album as a whole in the sense that Kendrick writes and raps for himself, rather than some type of superficial gain or yield in the industry."
By 2014, the site re-launched and re-branded to become Genius
, which is an expanded version of its 2009 iteration, now annotating literature, other forms of media, news, and even websites. For big media sources like the NYTimes or the Wall Street Journal, this means that people can add annotations to fact-check an article, or to embed related links and videos to provide readers context. Now, you can even add "genius.it/" before any web address to "annotate the web," as Genius puts it. And it doesn't stop there. Genius also has a subsection called "News Genius," where a Genius Staffer named Leah—whose full-time job is to annotate the news—handpicks news articles from across the web and...usually tears it apart.
In this Washington Post article
annotated by Leah, she points out the multiple ways in which WaPo columnist Robert Samuelson tries to argue that the gender pay gap is exaggerated in the media, usually marking his arguments as erroneous or incomplete. Some of the annotations are fact checks (e.g., Samuelson states that gender employment patterns are at 92%, which Leah notes was reported as only true for millennial women by WaPo in March). Other annotations are a little more casual (e.g., Samuelson says, "Women earn only 79% of men's average hourly wages. Who could favor that?" to which Leah replies with just "Lol!")
If you haven't heard of Reply All, it's a podcast hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, and the episode from two weeks ago (Baby King
) talked briefly about the implications of being able to annotate everything on the internet.
Genius' foray into news article and website annotation raises lots of questions about how it might affect the online publishing world. On one hand, it might encourage media outlets to be more careful about fact-checking for fear that they might get called out (and publicly shamed). On the other, those same media outlets might get a deluge of comments that are more along the lines of "Lol!" or "this is stupid" or even ad hominem
attacks on the author or subject of the article.
No one seems to have annotated the New Learning Times website
just yet, but what it people did? What if people wanted to complain about what they felt to be an unfair EdLab Review, or if they wanted to add their two cents about how a Research Digest was incomplete in its summarization of a research study? Would you welcome the comments, or feel like people were encroaching upon the NLT space without permission?
Here's an excerpt from the podcast (but I would highly recommend listening to the whole thing! It's always funny and thoughtful, and their Yes-Yes-No segment is one of my favorite bits in the podcasting world):
PJ: Well, it does feel. . .my problem is like I feel like Genius is being a little overly literal. They’re like, “Look it’s not on your site. What’s the big deal?” And like, it feels different. It feels like notes from an editor who’s pretty hard on you. But an editor that kind of nobody asked for. So there’s something about somebody being like, “You have some turn of phrase that’s sloppy.” ... And they’re like, “Do you literally mean that?” that feels like a kind of behavior that just, like, you’re like, “No this isn’t my favorite thing in the world.” But I also think, like, you published it. People should be allowed to criticize it.
ALEX: I feel like anything you put up on the internet people are going to criticize... And even though this feels the same, it’s like you have to know where this unique URL is and you have to go to it. And you have to kind of look for it... If people are looking for a Slate article they’re not accidentally going to stumble upon the Genius annotation of that Slate article .... So in my opinion it’s sort of like, yes, they’re people out there criticizing you in a way that feels like a comments section on your website, but it, it, it’s functionally the same as someone on a forum somewhere criticizing you. And you don’t have any control over that.You never had any control over that.