The literary art form of annotation had almost lost its way in the last few decades, but has now reestablished its popularity via the website, Genius. Launched in 2009, under the guise Rap Genius, it has now rebranded itself as simply, Genius. It currently hosts more than a million annotated texts and looks set to be the next crowd-sourced phenomena after Wikipedia. Account holders include powerhouse producer, Rick Rubin, artists like A-Trak and Eminem and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon. We chatted with Max Kotelchuck, who oversees the design and buildout of their new HQ about its popularity.
We think Genius is a genius idea, genuinely. How did Genius begin and develop?
The cool thing is that it originally began as a kind of art project to annotate hiphop lyrics. When I joined, we were still in that nebulous phase between something done purely among friends and a fully functional organization with HR, bookkeeping, and operations.
Were you and have you been amazed by its reception or growth?
It’s been special to see the company grow into what it’s become — and our new office is a very visible manifestation of that journey. To have so many talented artists come through over the years and annotate their work on the site has been surreal. It makes me feel like I’m part of something ascendant.
It seems to have become quite popular with the rap music genre and demographic. Was it intended that way and has it been used in any other ways that you’ve been surprised with?
Yes, Genius originally began as Rap Genius. While hiphop lyrics are obviously still a huge part of our platform, the project has become much bigger than that — our mission is to “annotate the world.” This means that all musical genres and even other forms of texts are on the site. Case in point: my mom loves Junot Diaz , so it was fun to be able to point her and her friends towards
something they’d be excited about.
What’s in store for Genius in the future — how can it be used? You want people apparently to annotate the whole web. Is this true?
We’re really excited about our newest product, Genius Beta — a tool that lets you annotate any page on the Internet. We’ve been collaborating with different campaigns and media organizations — everyone from Hillary Clinton to The Washington Post — who have been using Genius Beta to engage with readers and add a new dimension of conversation to text.
Apparently, Kanye West submitted a mockup of a redesign of Genius. Is this true? What was your reaction to this when it happened?
I thought it was so cool that it happened. Everyone at Genius (including our community) goes insane for Kanye, so we’ll see how it might resurface down the line.