A genome sequence is worthless if it cannot be deciphered; therefore, efforts to describe - or 'annotate' - genes began as soon as DNA sequences became available. Whereas early work focused on individual protein-coding genes, the modern genomic ocean is a complex maelstrom of alternative splicing, non-coding transcription and pseudogenes. Scientists - from clinicians to evolutionary biologists - need to navigate these waters, and this has led to the design of high-throughput, computationally driven annotation projects. The catalogues that are being produced are key resources for genome exploration, especially as they become integrated with expression, epigenomic and variation data sets. Their creation, however, remains challenging.