This list of resources was created by Anke Geertsma (@annepluus) and Mary Catherine Kinniburgh (@mckinniburgh), Digital Fellow at The Graduate Center, for a series of workshops on Social Reading and Social Writing organized by the Teaching and Learning Center and Digital Initiatives at CUNY Graduate Center in April, 2016. During these workshops, participants annotated the list below with their thoughts on these tools, and we invite everyone to (continue) doing this! ( has been enabled on this page–simply double-click on a word and follow the instructions). 

Social Reading / Annotation Tools

Social reading as a practice far predates the digital age, and includes everything from monastic marginalia in medieval manuscripts to Victorian book clubs. Digital platforms today, such as Goodreads, Kindle, and even Wikipedia also facilitate social reading through reviews, discussions, and recommendations. These platforms may readily be adapted for classroom use, but for purposes of this guide we’ll focus on digital social reading tools for the classroom, which generally take the form of annotation tools for texts, images, or video files.

This list of resources is a living document, and we happily invite comments and contributions. Right now, the focus is mostly on Social Annotation (SA) Tools for text documents (PDF, Word, Epub, websites), although many tools also offer video and image annotation. We’re soon expanding this list to include social writing tools and video and image annotation tools.


A.nnotate is an annotation and collaboration tool for documents (PDF, Word), web pages and images. You can annotate a document or website and then share it with a group. They offer hosting for individuals and small groups and self-hosting for larger groups. A free account lets you annotate 30 items per month, but more than 30 requires a paid subscription. A special education plan offers self-hosting, API integration with other services and Content Management Systems, and a Moodle plug-in, but they charge a fee per student.

A.nnotate comes out of Edinburgh, Scotland, and its developers are scientists with experience in data collection, storage, and reuse in biosciences. We would say it’s great it has its origins in university research but downsides are pricing and design.


Annotation Studio is a very compelling tool developed by Hyperstudio, the digital humanities lab at MIT. It’s free and open source and has a clean design and intuitive interface. It was built with the Annotator editor, an open source Javascript library by the Open Knowledge Foundation. They offer all the standard features such as tagging and flexible group settings, and they’re expanding to include color-coding, heat maps, activity tracking, and the ability to export annotations. They’re also working on a mobile application. We love that it’s designed with (especially humanities) higher ed classrooms in mind, and there are a few great case studies on this site for inspiration.  


Classroom Salon was developed at Carnegie Mellon with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Gates Foundation. It offers quite a lot: document and video annotation and the ability to create tags for students to use and tag other comments with. You can also filter the annotations so you only see a certain amount or those of a particular user. As an instructor, you can set individual and group work times (so students have to work individually before joining a group discussion or have a set amount of time to work on a document). Classroom Salon offers hosting so you can work in their online environment with your class (after creating accounts) or you can integrate it into a CMS.

Interestingly, Classroom Salon can also work as a collaborative writing tool, as you can start with a blank document and have students write and comment on each other’s drafts. You can then print a whole “salon” or copy and save it for future use. Classroom Salon prides itself on its use of data. It identifies “hotspots” of activities and shows trends and data visualizations. It now also offers mobile compatibility. We like its philosophy, “interpretation is social,” and focus on creating community and turning reading and writing into social events. It’s for both K-12 and higher ed.


Co-ment offers text annotation and collaborative writing, so it can also work as a social writing tool. It was developed for use in education and law and offers most standard features, and analytics and the ability to export annotations. Downsides are that it’s not for free and does not have the best design.


Commentpress is an open source WordPress plug-in by the Institute for the Future of the Book. The newer version bundles the plug-in with a default theme. This means that when you want to activate Commentpress on your existing WordPress page, it will “take over” your theme and design. So it’s a great tool when you’re building a WordPress site for a course and can integrate Commentpress from the start but a little trickier when you already have something there. We like that it’s all free and open source and we’re thrilled by the institute’s founder Bob Stein’s commitment to offer an alternative to “company-controlled chat spaces.” Their later project, SocialBook (see below), is more than a plug-in and looks very promising.


Most people are familiar with Diigo and the Diigolet, which lets you highlight, comment and add sticky notes to a webpage. It has expanded to become an online personal library and organization tool but you can use it however you want. Highlights and notes are automatically saved to your Diigo library. You can also choose to view notes from other users and add comments to their notes. Notes can be public or private, just like items that are saved to your Diigo library. It offers a paid subscription but is free for educators, see here. Unfortunately it’s proprietary but design and features are better than some others.

While it does not offer as many features as the Diigo toolbar, Diigolet is a bookmarklet can be set up by a simple drag-and-drop. No download or installation needed, and it works for all major browsers. It allows you to highlight and add sticky-notes to websites.


eComma is a free software module that plugs into Drupal, an open source CMS. As a Drupal module it is free to use and free to adapt. It was developed at UT Austin with funding from the NEH. When you use or plan to use Drupal this might be a good tool with many useful features such as tagging and word clouds and heat maps that display how often tags or comments appear. We love that it’s free and open source but unfortunately it’s only for Drupal users.


eMargin was developed at Birmingham City University. It allows you to highlight, color-code, write notes and assign tags. You can create and share annotations with groups. It’s free to use and easy to set up, which we really like, but it’s not as great in design as proprietary tools like Diigo or Genius.


Genius is another popular but proprietary tool like Diigo. It started as an annotation website for rap lyrics but has grown substantially and now includes a literature section and web annotator (in the form of a Chrome extension, bookmarklet, Javascript code for developers, and even a WordPress plugin). You can also simply add in front of any URL to annotate and see other Genius annotations.

If you want to create a group for your students you can consider signing up for a Genius educator account. They offer many great features and appealing design but unfortunately it’s not possible to make your group pages completely private, which is line with their commitment to openness and collaboration. Also, their focus is more on K-12.

HYPOTHES.IS / ANNOTATOR PROJECT is a non-profit organization that offers a free, open software tool built on the Annotator project (like Annotation Studio). They’re working with a large group of developers, publishers, academic institutions, and researchers, and are actively expanding their reach and functionality. Their site has an expansive education section, with many tutorials, model assignments, and great student and teacher resource guides. We really like this article by Jeremy Dean,’ Director of Education, on 10 ways to annotate with students. comes as a WordPress plug-in, and unlike Commentpress it can easily run on an existing coursepage. You can indicate which pages you want the annotation tool to work on and create different groups. You can also use the Chrome extension, or copy and paste any URL to their main page to start annotating. We love their principles, commitment to openness, transparency, sustainability and community, and the ease-of-use and flexibility of the tool.


This is a very compelling tool designed by the Poetic Media Lab at Stanford University. It was designed specifically for humanities classes or classes in which close reading, active engagement and discussions are very important. Free and open source, you can download the code from Github and run it on Drupal.

Interesting features include the “sewing kit” which allows students and instructors to find, search, and filter by category, tags, or document, the option to create “threads,” and the “dashboard,” which shows students and instructor data on their online activity. This is especially great for instructors who are looking for ways to track and evaluate their students’ online activity. Students can also write longer responses or even entire essays in Lacuna with the “response” function.

We like the design, with annotations popping up as you hover over the text, the ability to create and organize by tags, and the granulated privacy settings. It’s compatible with most tablets and smartphones and once you’ve created your classes, uploaded your texts, and added student users, it functions much like an LMS for annotation.


Marginalia is an open source Javascript web annotation system developed at Simon Fraser University. It offers a plug-in for the Moodle CMS. We like that it’s for education and is free and open source, and if you’re a developer you can download the code for your website but otherwise you can only use it on Moodle.


Medium is more than an annotation tool. It’s both a social writing (online editor) and annotation tool for the Medium community that also curates content on your homepage. Their aim is to create a network of readers and writers on the internet, with users generating, sharing, and commenting on content. Its CEO was one of the founders of Blogger and Twitter. It might not be the most obvious choice for your classroom but they have recently partnered with the Education Department (K-12) to spur innovation so it’s interesting to see where it’s going.


Nota Bene was developed at MIT by the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. It has been used in several classes at MIT since 2009 and is still being developed. Unlike Annotation Studio, which came out of the humanities, Nota Bene focuses more on sharing homework and replacing notetaking for science classes. You can upload lecture notes in PDF format so students can ask each other questions and indicate what they don’t yet understand. It falls a bit short in design but is a relatively easy tool to use.


Ponder calls annotations “micro responses” and works with color-coded, pre-set tags or “sentiments” that show three different levels of responses, from emotional to analytical to cognitive. Students can for example tag something with “whao” or “{shudder}” and then explain this response in a note attached to the tag. Instructors can also create themes for the students, so they can for example tag a certain passage as “character development” or “foreshadowing.”

Ponder comes as both a Firefox and Chrome extension and iOS app. It’s for free for up to 6 classes a semester but you have to pay if you also want to annotate PDFs and video. Adding co-instructors, analytics, and Dropbox and Google Drive integration also means you have to upgrade to a paid package. It has a clean design and strong functionality, and if you like the idea of “sentiments” as a way to get students to connect to a text, this might be a good tool. They list examples from both K-12 and higher ed. Downsides are that it’s proprietary and freemium, and does not include video/PDF annotation in the free version.


Like Medium, Scrible offers a bit more than just annotation. They market their product as the “missing productivity app for modern digital work.” With a Google account you can set up a library and organize and annotate web pages. They have a section for education with a free but very basic teacher account (you have to pay for extra features such as sharing and analytics). Great design and interface but proprietary, freemium, and for web annotation only.


SocialBook is from the Institute for the Future of the Book, founders of Commentpress. It’s a very promising annotation tool for text, audio, and video but it’s still a work in progress. They invite you to try it out for free and give feedback and suggestions. We share their views on sharing, openness, and the future of reading, which you can read on their blog. SocialBook’s pilot project was Open Utopia, a complete “annotatable” edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, run by Professor Steven Duncombe. Click here for a great article on social reading and Open Utopia in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Even though SocialBook doesn’t yet have all the features and support for audio/video it wants to offer later on, it’s still a great tool to try out with all the functionality you need for collective bookmarking with your students. And you help improve the tool by giving feedback and sharing your assignments.

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