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Summary:

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 […]

WebNotes LogoBack 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.

WebNotes Toolbar

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.

WebNotes ExplorerAll 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.

WebNotes Page

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?

  1. Google has a similar product: Google Notebook (google.com/notebook)

    As with most Google products, it works great! UI is very clean. Notebooks can be shared with multiple Google Users.

    … but it lacks intergration with the rest of the Google Universe. I cannot access my notes directly from Gmail or GDocs, for example.

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  2. I find Diigo is much more robust and useful

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  3. Thanks for the sharing this product. I just installed: it is very easy to use, very intuitive.

    But I currently use evernote (for storing) and Diigo (for bookmarking) and I am trying to understand the advantage of WebNotes over either of these products? e.g., Diigo lets you annotate and hightlight.

    Thanks, David

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  4. Reminds me of Awesome Highlighter. It’s exactly that. http://awurl.com/HAMTW2b47

    It’s good tho, I like it better than Diigo because it’s easy to share your highlights, it’s more lightweight and I don’t HAVE to install a toolbar… Really hate toolbars.

    I would like to see a public folder with RSS output.

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  5. [...] WebWorkerDaily » Archive WebNotes Offers a Virtual Highlighter for Web Research « "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." [...]

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  6. I think it would be fair to say that Diigo is the most popular and
    robust web annotation tool on the market today. With over half a
    million registered users, It has been continuously refined over the
    past three years.

    ————

    So it would be helpful to compare any new entrant in the space to
    Diigo. If webnotes is aiming at serious web surfers, then I must say
    that side-by-side comparisons would show that Diigo is a much more
    powerful (and mature) tool. For example, Diigo provides rich tagging
    capability as well as folders for better information organization, and
    provides group annotation for better collaboration; Diigo automatically caches
    the page so it is always available to you; Diigo allows you to search
    the full-text of your collections, or just within your highlights;
    Diigo allows you to easily extract your research findings or publish
    them to blogs …..

    ———-

    One could argue that webnotes’ is simpler because of less features.
    Well, if you want real productivity, I should like to argue that it
    just falls far short of what Diigo enables. In addition, Diigo’s rich
    functionality has been designed with painstaking care so that you
    – Hide quoted text –
    will be completely comfortable just using a subset of the features to
    begin with. For tools that are really simple, I would say delicious
    and google notebooks are hard to beat.

    ————-

    Diigo team continues to dedicate itself to make Diigo the best tool
    for research productivity and knowledge sharing. (In the meantime,
    other web annotation tools such as fleck, i-lighter, jump knowledge,
    trailfire, etc have essentially stopped development or simply
    shut-down, to the best of my knowledge. )

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  7. Ginnk

    Diigo does provide a bookmarklet. So you can highlight and sticky note, tag and share, etc without a toolbar instalation

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  8. @Wade:

    We really appreciate your comments on WebWorkerDaily, Mashable, Read Write Web, LouisGray.com, etc. At WebNotes, we have the utmost respect for Diigo and the social annotation tools they provide. They have a great product for consumers interested in social annotation and facilitate a wonderful intermediary service for those who wish to discuss articles and build communities around their annotations. We certainly wish them the best of luck as they endeavor to create greater value for their communities.

    Before I begin my response to Wade’s assertions, we should first realize that the annotation market is largely untapped. Web researchers make up far greater numbers than Diigo’s 500k users, or the dwindling audiences of the other social annotation sites. A recent survey by Forbes and Gartner noted that over 60% of C-level executives got a majority of the information on which they base their decisions from the internet. Millions of researchers are currently surfing the web without a solution to fit their needs. Part of the problem is that they haven’t yet found the right solution; the other part is that they haven’t yet been educated about a better way to research. Here at WebNotes, we strongly believe that all annotation sites can greatly expand our respective market shares by increasing the education available to the public.

    That said, we agree completely with Wade and believe that everyone should compare both Diigo and WebNotes. Use both and pick whichever one resonates with you. We are confident in our design choices and feel that there is most certainly value in simplicity, intuitive interfaces and ease of use. So how about it bloggers? Which do you prefer? Research analysts should do the same. Spread the word to your colleagues. Anyone who has ever needed to research online should view this as the perfect time to learn a better way to complete such a task.

    Most of all, let us know what you like, what you need and what you hate. We are trying to make a product that is perfect for you and the louder you are, the better our products become.

    Thanks for your help!
    Ryan Damico

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  9. [...] ‘WebNotes Offers a Virtual Highlighter for Web Research’ by Scott Blitstein, WebWorkerDaily, 10 December 2008 [...]

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  10. Thank you to to everyone for your comments. I was only vaguely familiar with Diigo and initially dismissed it based on the description of it as a community building tool.

    I will take a second look and see about doing a comparison.

    SB

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