Enter ShiftSpace. A simple plug-in to the Firefox web browser, ShiftSpace (currently at v0.14) has been annotating the web for a few years now, and has morphed into a pretty stable wee script, containing multiple ‘Spaces’ for users to ‘Shift’ webpages. Users can annotate pages using the ‘minor’ Spaces by highlighting certain words or terms, and adding sticky notes to certain sites – both useful for group work and note sharing – or go the extra step and work with two major Spaces – SourceShift and ImageSwap.
ImageSwap lets users switch out certain images or logos and replace them with others – you can, for instance, Shift otago.ac.nz by replacing the pictures of happy graduates with a picture of a burning sofa, as seen above. (Or a kitten, if that’s still your thing.)
SourceShift, alternately, is a blessing for anyone with rudimentary html skills, and enables users to freely alter the source code of a given website, adding annotations like videos (copy and paste the embed code from YouTube), pictures, or additional text. Once you’ve made a Shift, you can save it – anyone coming to the site in future will have the option to view your Shift, create their own, or view the page it its original format.
While there’s scope for abuse, ShiftSpace isn’t all about hacking or parody. For example, searching for “falun gong” on google.com will give a different result than google.cn, as Falun Dafa is censored in China. ShiftSpace includes a note on the Chinese results acknowledging that they have been censored, and offers the uncensored top search results of falundafa.org. ShiftSpace lets viewers stake a layer of freedom over the web, even over proscribed content.
Public annotation can, I think, be an art form in itself – assuming one draws a similar distinction to that between vandalism and street art. The already-vocal commentariat can be let loose from the bottom-of-page confines of comment threads, and respond directly to the page’s content, on the content. We can, with the simple addition of a layer in a browser window, return to the panoply of views that the internet purports to represent.
A How-to Guide
(Instructions and all links are also on shiftspace.org/install)
- Download and install the Firefox browser.
- Head to shiftspace.org/install and click on the link to install ShiftSpace, then refresh your page, update to the latest version, and you’re good to go!
- While browsing, you can call up the ShiftSpace console and view all public Shifts made by other users, then toggle them on or off.