The Megaphone

Introducing Annotum: a scholarly publishing platform built on WordPress

Today we helped launch a new WordPress theme called Annotum.

Annotum was built for scholarly journals and publishers to have a robust, WordPress-based platform for authoring and publishing. This theme also serves as a possible alternative as users transition from Google Knol to WordPress.

Crowd Favorite worked in conjunction with Solvitor to ideate, design, and build the theme and experience. We also worked with Automattic (at WordPress.com) and Google to help make the transition process a success.

Learn more about Annotum:

We’re very excited to see the positive initial feedback and reactions to the Annotum theme and looking forward to the evolution of the project amongst publishers everywhere.


When I asked some of the largest players in the web and WordPress space to recommend a top WordPress development shop, Crowd Favorite was among the most highly recommended. And for Solvitor, the experience of working with Crowd Favorite on the Annotum project was nothing short of remarkable.

Crowd Favorite not only brought extremely resourceful, efficient, and talented engineers and designers to the project, they also contributed substantial product, web, and particularly WordPress expertise — adding useful, elegant features (within scope and budget), championing the user experience, and doing all this with an agile flexibility and pragmatism in handling changing requirements that made working with them a genuine pleasure.

Crowd Favorite offers fair pricing, a robust set of project management and collaboration tools, and a deep willingness to see that their customers, both the direct client and the ultimate users of the systems they build, are happy and productive. I would not hesitate to trust any content management, technology or WordPress project of any size to Crowd Favorite, and I offer them my highest, unqualified recommendation.

— Carl Leubsdorf, Solvitor


Custom authoring and workflow

We had specific needs for authoring that included multiple Authors (Contributors), peer Reviewers, Editors, and Publishers that all played unique roles and had specific capabilities in the authoring process. We introduced the ability for WordPress to support multiple Contributors (an Author and her Co-Authors) defined on a per-article basis. Contributors can create their own articles and invite others to participate in the authoring process.

In addition, new users can be invited to create a WordPress profile and begin editing immediately. We also created a series of workflow statuses: for example once an article is “Submitted for Review”, Annotum notifies the journal Editors that they can now select Reviewers to leave their rating and comments on the article. Then, the article can be Approved and ready for publishing, Denied, or the Editor may Request Revisions to start the workflow back in “Draft” status.

Everything-friendly export formats

Through a series of transformations, we are able to store and present the content from the WYSIWYM editor in three formats: XML, HTML, and PDF. The XML is checked and enforced against the tag hierarchy and rules then stored upon save or publish within WordPress. At this time, the code also performs mapping from XML to semantic HTML5 and displays on the front-end (when browsing the article). We then have a custom PDF stylesheet applied to the HTML and the result is passed to dompdf which generates a PDF on-the-fly. Here’s the best part: Annotum can import Kipling DTD XML allowing decentralized authoring and publishing.

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Publishing is not limited to English, and neither is Annotum. In addition to right-to-left language support in the theme itself, string localization is available throughout Annotum’s features, screens, and messaging. Simply change your language via WordPress and Annotum can adjust accordingly.

Customize your colors and logo

Knowing this theme would be available on WordPress.com and to a large audience, we wanted to make sure it was easily customizable. Luckily, WordPress has a “custom header” feature we could leverage for users to upload, crop and set their own logo. We also built a color picker that could define custom color “zones” throughout the site. If you didn’t like the default dark blue, you can pick from another preset color scheme or create your own. We also built Annotum Sans as a child theme to show how easy it easy to customize the theme to meet your own stylistic needs.

Structured XML editor in TinyMCE

The National Library of Medicine has defined a robust set of XML tags which many scientific journals and publishers follow so their articles and data can be taken anywhere that supports the tag library. Until now, there hasn’t been a great, open source editing tool that enforces these XML rules when authoring. Annotum has a custom subset called the Kipling DTD.

The difference between a standard WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and a WYSIWYM (what you see is what you mean) editor is that the content is being defined and described at the same time. It’s the difference between adding header tags through a document and instead defining sections, with titles, and paragraphs within those sections. Or put differently, a paragraph beneath an image may or may not define the “caption”, our updates to the WordPress rich text editor (TinyMCE) make it so the WYSIWYM is explicit about that caption.

Scholarly journal platform

Annotum introduces journal-specific features to help both authors and readers alike. Co-authoring means multiple users can contribute to an article. PubMed ID lookup allows for easy insertion of references to existing PubMed content. Inline references automatically link and appear as footnotes and give authors a central listing of all their citations. The equation editor from Google’s Closure JavaScript library is a drop-in tool for generating and previewing sophisticated LaTeX equations for inline and embedded display.

Logo and theme design

From the beginning we knew that Annotum was going to be modern, clean, and web-based but with roots in traditional journal and paper publishing. We designed two clean themes that gave publishers a new, beautiful look and feel to accompany their content. For the overall “Annotum” concept, Solvitor came up with the (clever) name and we helped translate it into the ‘paper a’ logo.

WordPress.com compatible

Developing for WordPress.com is familiar territory, so we knew the right way to build a theme that could include all the features that Annotum offers in an environment that is secure and highly scalable. We worked closely with Automattic to make sure the code was both secure and allowed for some features, including user mapping, to receive special handling on WordPress.com


Special thanks to: Solvitor, Google, PLoS, NIH/NLM/NCBI, and Automattic.

About the Author

Devin Reams was a manager at Crowd Favorite who helped lead the project management team and assist with product development.