I have always loved political cartoons. As a paperboy the first thing I would do was to open up the editorial page of the Louisville Courier-Journal and read Hugh Haynie’s cartoons. I discovered on my own that Haynie would hide his wife’s name in every cartoon. What a Mad Magazine exploit! That was my first exercise in close reading and I have really dug and dug into political cartoons ever since. They were the most effective mashups of text and image pre-internet. I think they still are.
Now we have a tool that helps us to dig even deeper into them–NowComment. They are not the first to bring annotation to images. One of Flickr’s finest tools early on was the ability to add notes to photos. After Yahoo bought them, this feature disappeared. I never knew it was this annotation feature that spurred my use of Flickr until it was gone. (BTW, this feature has recently returned to Flickr. Thanks to Kevin Hodgson for noting this and super thanks to Alan Levine for pointing me to his post about it and the cool Flickr tool, Mbed .)
Now image annotation is back in a format that is even more useful especially to teachers who want students to “close read” images. Below is an embedded NowComment image with a powerful cartoon by Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee. What makes this so useful to teachers is that it allows for others to not only add comments on the image, but also permits threaded discussion of the comments as well. Inside of NowComment further references like documents and web links can be appended for deeper reading. If you use tools that open up the discussion into other digital spaces (Hackpad,GoogleDocs come to mind) then you have the makings of a truly permeable learning space.
That space will look very busy at first. You have to explore a bit. There are lots of features that you don’t have to use until you need them so don’t get put off by the apparent complexity. It is not hard to use. I am happy to create an ad hoc screencast for anyone who wants a bit of a crawl through this particular image. You have to join NowComment to be able to comment. It is free. Frankly, that astonishes me. And…they are just about to add video annotation to the mix. Can’t wait, but for all the other kinds of annotation (text, image) you don’t have to. Play in this sandbox with me. Just click on the link in the upper right hand corner that says “View this document on NowComment”. It’ll be fun. Be a pirate and pillage away. I know I would.