Annotation: Kami vs

This semester I have begun using Kami (previously Notable PDF) so that my students can annotate scholarly articles I’ve uploaded in pdf. This has worked well. But Kami has ads (yucky Google-style sidebar crap), so I’ve just asked my department to purchase the $50 upgrade to remove them.

In the process of realizing payment was required to prevent Kami ads telling me and my students about the “early signs of a heart attack!”, I took a second (third?) look at, a service with more of an educational/edupunk attitude.

Some distinctions follow. (Keep in mind that Kami is just for pdfs, while also does web pages. There are many tools that allow you to annotate web pages by adding a layer. Crocodoc, which I used to use happily, is gone. Many other annotation plugins that are for private, browser-based use. And Diigo is just more than I need.)

Kami has bigger font and is better on phones and mobile devices. It’s showier, with lots of big buttons for the features, and you can have your photo showing next to your posts. PDF rendering is a bit better in Kami.

kamientry fits better on the page and its annotation panel retracts. The toolbar creates wiki-like coding which is awkward – even bold and italics look funny in draft mode.


However, in Kami, though you can write and draw on the pdf, there is no formatting at all available in the annotations. How can I make a point without italics?

Kami, as noted, has ads or you pay. is free.

Both seem to have good support. Within minutes setting up my free account, and then again when I paid, Kami contacted me. Within minutes of creating a group in, they contacted me.

Embedding in an LMS page
Kami works in an iframe in Moodle. doesn’t seem to. Kami works using the Redirect tool in Canvas., despite the https designation in via, forces a new tab in Canvas. (Sorry, I don’t have gloves on so I didn’t touch Blackboard.)

Tracking students
Neither system (nor any annotation app, to my knowledge) works with LTI or inside the LMS, so I have to track manually. Kami allows me to upload pdfs of the articles right into their system, then any student with a Kami account can have their name on their annotation. For students who post as a “guest” I request that they sign their annotations so I know who posted. I have to remind them. lets you see public annotations on the page, but you must have an account to annotate, so there will be no “guests” to track.

How annotations work

In, the annotation area appears as a slide-out panel. It automatically posts any highlighted text in the annotation box, and allows for nested replies, which could generate true discussion. In Kami, the annotation panel takes up some real estate on the right of the screen, with the document zoomed out on the left (you can zoom in). Replies have a grey background and are attached below the original annotation post, but are not nested.

In, the “via” proxy feature allows me to make any web page available for annotation just by adding to the front of the URL. So I thought I’d try on the open textbook I just adopted, The American Yawp. If you sign in with, you’ll see that the page (I looked at Chapter 8) has already been annotated, obviously by other students. You can see it without an account at

But I can create a “group” for just my class, and everyone must use the drop down at the top of the annotation entry box to select the group name. This limits the page to just those in the group, both viewing and making annotations. Kami doesn’t need groups since the URL of my uploaded file is only shared with my students.

In, I can also upload a pdf of the chapter, and put in front of it, and have a fresh (OCR, not quite as clear, but totally workable) copy only my students can work with. This also means that any pdf I upload will work, and it can still be hosted on my server, although the annotations are hosted at

Coding my own webpages

In, for my own webpages, I can add the code into the page like this:

The annotation panel then appears on the page. This is good for my primary sources, which are all in HTML anyway. I also can make web pages with pictures from the open text, and we can discuss them. There is no such feature with Kami.

Privacy and copyright

In, at the bottom of the annotation entry window it shows the Creative Commons license as Public Domain, meaning

“You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.”

I do not use this cc designation on my own work – I use NC (non-commercial) and SA (share alike). I am uncomfortable with the idea that others could use things I and my students write, and sell them. However, on the FAQ it says:

Annotations made privately or in a group are the property of the individual user (“All rights reserved”) and are ?not? in the public domain or licensed under Creative Commons.

If I make a group, things are more private so long as everyone remembers to use the drop down for the group So I figure I’ll use groups for I do not know who “owns” Kami’s annotations, but I have inquired.


Although Jeremy Dean of indicated to me that it wasn’t yet completely mobile-friendly, on my phone worked much better than Kami.

So I’m sticking with Kami for this semester (even in a History of Technology class there’s a limit how many things you can ask students to sign up for). But’s flexibility, nesting, and server-side Javascript makes it a serious contender for next year, though the iframe incompatibility is a definite issue.

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