Back in the day, for research or study I used to arm myself with a highlighter and a pack of sticky notes and go to marking up pages in my textbooks that I needed to revisit, or I thought were particularly important.
Now the bulk of my research has moved online, and whether I am looking for information for an article for Web Worker Daily or investigating a client solution, I find myself roaming the web and identifying information that may be useful to me.
The problem is keeping track of it all, and pulling it together when I need to use it. Aliza Sherman looked at some options to help with her research back in April, but a startup spun out of MIT might just have what I am looking for with their WebNotes service.
I see WebNotes as the online equivalent of that highlighter and sticky note solution but updated for the way we work on the web, with the bonus functionality of being able to organize, search, find, and aggregate all of those notes together in one place.
WebNotes gives me a conveniently placed toolbar that lets me highlight text or add a note to any web page and then quickly file those notes away.
It’s super simple to use but WebNotes is not a toy or fluff service, and there is no social networking component. It is aimed at serious researchers, those doing market intelligence, bloggers, students, etc.. and it does this really well.
There are a lot of tools and services available for organizing web content. But while tools like Notefish or even Evernote grab the contents and move to another page, WebNotes allows me to make all my notes and highlight information contextually. I can easily view all of my notes within the explorer but then I also have one click access back to the page where I can view my original annotations.
All of your notes and annotations are stored in folders within your account. Folders help define the scope of your research. For example I have folders for things like article topics, client solutions, tutorials, and design inspiration. It’s so easy to create new folders on the fly, highlight something interesting, and then just file it away for later. I can even drag and drop between folders.
When I’m ready to pull it all together, the publish option creates a very handy document that aggregates all items within a chosen folder together for me. If you’re used to a tedious copy / paste process you’ll just love this. Options let me customize what to include and this can then be saved as either html or as a PDF which I can distribute further.
All annotations are unique to your personal account and are not visible to anyone unless you choose to share them. This note sharing can be done on an individual page level. Send an email or create a permalink and even those without accounts or the toolbar can view your notes. I’ve already used this with clients to share suggestions or solicit feedback and it’s really handy.
This sharing process is nice and very useful, and although these shared pages are read only, it hasn’t been an issue for me yet. I’m curious how they might add collaboration features without it getting messy.
While I think the My Notes Explorer is really well done, WebNotes can be used in conjunction with other bookmarking or tagging tools like Delicious. Your notes and annotations appear on the pages no matter how you access them, so if you’ve got pages tagged and organized in another system, you aren’t forced to abandon that work and can still use WebNotes to do your markup.
You also get a custom WebNotes page which mirrors the look and feel of your Explorer and lets you access your information from any web enabled computer.
For large organizations, there are plans for the future to offer a self hosted / managed version to be used internally within your environment.
The WebNotes toolbar is available for Firefox 2+ and IE 6 & 7 but there is also a bookmarklet available which gives you the ability to use WebNotes without needing to install software, or for use in other browsers like Chrome.
There is no charge for using WebNotes during this beta phase, and the plan is for Webnotes to be a freemium tool with an entry level option available for free but with optional premium features also available.
WebNotes launched their invite only beta today and the nice folks there passed along some invites for WWD readers if you would like to give it a shot.
They are eager for feedback so if you’ve got any ideas, be sure to pass them along. For me, I really wish I could change the highlighter color to orange.
How do you research on the web? Is a WebNotes virtual highlighter the tool for you?