By Phil Butler

WebNotes Puts A Sticky On The Annotation Game

By Phil Butler

wnlogo1Is there room for another annotation tool on your toolbar? WebNotes is an invitation-only beta designed to be a simple, trim research platform. The development has a couple of advantages that make it a viable competitor to Diigo and other annotation tools. Being narrowly focused on research, and emerging from basically an academic atmosphere, WebNotes might just have the “jump start” others have yet to take advantage of. WebNotes has invited SitePoint readers to their beta — follow the link at the end of this post to claim your invite.

I consulted for Diigo last year, and consider it a great annotation tool. But, while Diigo, Fleck and a few others show promise, none has seen market-wide acceptance. Research is still largely about people applying personal methods (reading, writing, correlating) to the task. Relieving this pain point is what a research tool must do, and do well.

The One, Two Approach

The research process should ideally be done efficiency and accurately, this is where tools like Diigo and WebNotes should help. Adding social aspects or other features should be a secondary consideration. A superior tool that changes people’s habits, or engaging a focused niche are the only good approaches to this end. WebNotes, unlike Diigo now, is focused on this “tool” aspect. Over-engineering adjunct features, without producing a superb tool, is not simply a Diigo problem.

Any user, regardless of their expertise, can simply join WebNotes, download the plug-in, start annotating, and then organize and publish their work. It is a no-frills proposition. WebNotes CEO and Co-Founder Ryan Damico addressed this for us in a chat last night:

“WebNotes is deeply concerned with productivity. We began by determining exactly which features academics and professional researchers needed most and set out to build our core product around them. Whereas other services concentrate on social bookmarking and community building, we are focused on creating a professional research tool of unmatched quality and reliability. As we continue to develop WebNotes with these same values, we look forward to releasing premium editions with advanced tools for intensive research.” – Ryan Damico, Co-Founder & CEO

Download the plug-in and start highlighting

Download the plug-in and start highlighting

Adding sticky notes, sharing via email or permalink, and other useful tools help, but in practice, capturing the needed text, and putting it in condensed form is what a research helper should do first. WebNotes is like one of those ugly fat yellow pencils from grade school. When all the mechanical ones, the pens and the thin pretty ones fail or get lost, the old standby will write when you need it to.

domain=”category” nicename=”community-web”

Drag and drop via organizer side bar

After organizing data via the sidebar tool, or on the user’s WebNotes workspace, publishing to PDF or HTML is a simple click away. As you can see from these images, this is not rocket science. It is just an elegantly simple tool to help gather and correlate data into versatile notes.

And finally a nice PDF published

And finally a nice PDF published

Is Simplicity Enough?

Obviously not, unless WebNotes can capitalize on using their academic contacts to promote the “marginal” research tool I mentioned earlier. Clearly, starting from simple and building a very refined core tool will help attract a larger user base, but WebNote’s variant – though easy and effective – is decidedly not the “end all” needed to capture the research community.

The problem for many startups is one of “paying the piper”, or having a model in place to viably monetize. WebNotes appears to be focused on premium paid services, which is smart given the niche user issues here. However, I do not think the current tool is of such a caliber yet, and even a very refined one will have to have fairly broad acceptance for it to be viable. Realistically, all of these tools are little more useful than copying and pasting annotations into a workspace or some other editor. In my opinion, without a “new age” interface, advanced editing, object oriented or other organizational aspects, and perhaps even more advanced “tool” capabilities, any annotation platform may be unmarketable.

About WebNotes

A team of MIT alumni in Cambridge, MA started WebNotes to revolutionize the way people collect, organize, and share information on the Internet. The client side of the development utilizes JavaScript and Flash to communicate to an ASP.NET web service. There, user data is stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database utilizing NHibernate. For more information about WebNotes, readers can contact them via email.

Get your red-hot WebNotes Tokens Here!

  • Alex Shalman

    Having done some research myself in my Masters program, I can certainly appreciate a service that makes finding, collecting, and sharing information easier.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

    • Hi Alex, Glad you stopped by. if these guys do it right, and I think they will, a really good tool will be directed at researchers. It is too bad others have not focused hard on this. People will use stuff that makes their lives and work easier.



  • Ryan Damico (CEO, WebNotes)

    Phil, thanks for the great review. WebNotes is trying hard to stay focused on the needs of serious researchers, and we would love to hear from anyone who has suggestions, complaints, or any other feedback for us.

    Don’t forget to click on the Beta invite link above and try WebNotes out for yourselves!

  • Joey

    I know that niche can be everything when doing business online, but I can see potential outside of the ‘academics and professional researchers’ niche. As a designer and front end developer I have to be educating myself constantly to stay current. I use like crazy but often times I forget why I preserved a certain article or can’t remember what piece of it I wanted. So I could see myself using WebNotes to make sure I don’t loose information and highlight pieces of articles. But I have a lot of plugins already that help me with productivity, do I want another one? I don’t know. Do I want to pay for this? No. I like the potential but I think there should a be two tiered pricing scheme, one tier being free.

    • Hi Joey, Valid insight man. the rub for so many sites will be how they achieve grease for the wheels. As you know, being an expert developer. these things are getting more common and sometimes easier to develop (with money that is), but if we all want to have jobs, there has to be some better thinking.


  • Kristen Nicole

    Like the range of options for browser/PDF use, etc. Wonder what integration will come in future versions, for other web-based or desktop services?
    And good point about the monetization factor. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to check it out.

    • Thanks K, I know how many of these suckers you have tested :)


  • Hey Phil, I really like the idea of being able to take notes while putting together an idea without losing what I’m trying to do while being sidetracked with an often tedious job of find a doggone notepad and pen.

    You just scored two points, fella!

    • @ Saboma and Scary, I am glad you guys see the utility this quickly. As you illustrate, the utility of such tools can be simple top more elaborate. I never would have thought of what you suggested until now. One could just as easily gather items or parts of a recipe or tool list etc, and make a pdf to print out…hmmmm. GREAT idea.


  • Internet is Scary

    Hmm, I’d never considered using WebNotes before but this has peaked my interest. I wish I had known about this while I was still in college!

  • I can see utility for this tool even in our profession, you know Phil? Those many times when we had to make website audits and reports for our customers and we had to waste time on screenshots, copy-paste, etc… oh, this is a time-saver for me!

    • Mig you are so right! I am actually thinking of a bunch of ways in which this might be used as people are describing them. Research after all does not necessarily mean Atomic :) I am thinking of all the times you had to create those docs, how time consuming, painstaking almost. Hmmm.


  • phoenixfireball

    Looks fairly interesting, but it doesn’t really solve any issues I am currently having though I can understand why some people are incredibly excited about such things.

    • Hi Phoenix, If you would elaborate, maybe the development is about to add, I know this is coming soon?


  • Charles Knight

    Hi Phil,

    Just downloaded my copy of WebNotes (and Diigo and Fleck -whew!).

    I’ll check’em out and get back to you.

    I have also enlisted the aid of our star researcher, medical librarian extraordinaire Hope Leman.

    Heaven help them if she doesn’t like it!

    Charles Knight, editor
    Every known SEARCH tool

    • Charles,You are the best man. This will be interesting and, as you say, perhaps a do or die for WebNotes perhaps. I still owe you the search story of a lifetime my friend, I have not forgotten.


  • Hope Leman

    Hello, all. Phil’s overview and all of the comments above are edifying.

    Charles is very kind. I will write my colleague at Next Generation Science, Walter Jessen, to suggest that he take a look at WebNotes. He is a working scientist and would be a good judge of such a tool. We learn about such tools in my library school program at the University of Pittsburgh.

    We shall see what we shall see.

    • Hope, This is fantastic! I sent you an email with regard to the overall inquiry, and look forward to where this all leads us. WebNotes is a very good example of budding innovation that can, if the tumblers fall correctly, help a great many people. This is something the Web has been waiting for these last few years. An “on the ground” tool that adds real value to people’s lives. Whether it is WebNotes or some similar innovation, the bottom line is, this Web is supposed to take us beyond. Thanks for your effort in this so much. Good luck with the testing and I am sure many will be watching.


  • devmaster

    i-Lighter allows users to highlight, annotate, email, send a tweet, post to blog, organize, retrieve and share all this using wikilights all at one time. But I agree that companies need a revenue model that is sustainable and is not predicated on google ads. We have developed partnerships that have begun to generate revenues and are building a solid company along with a stellar product.

  • Sueblimely

    I am a regular user and real fan of diigo for its bookmarking organization tools, adding highlighted text and images to bookmarks and its sharing features. It is a shame it has not gained wide appeal. I do not use it for adding inline notes. I tried Fleck for a while too but I much prefer using OneNote to store clips along with their URL. I do like the look of WebNotes folder organization and publishing tools though and will give it a go.

    • Hi Sue and Devmaster,

      The space does have some good candidates with potential. Diigo has become a refined product and a social sharing destination, while i-Lighter gained some acclaim for its variant as well. I wish I had time to work on these projects or just had my own to develop, there are some simple things (simple ideas but hard to create) that would pretty much end the debate over which is what. I think if WebNotes or any of the others would just do some research , and then figure out exactly what is needed, then develop it, this game would be over.

      Sending annotations via Twitter or turning an annotation site into Facebook is not going to produce a tool that can do what it should. Thanks for your input, I really do appreciate it.

      @Sue in particular, I know you will make a particularly good beta tester, as you have probably tested all the best tools out there in your business and personal endeavors. As you say, OneNote is another fine example of an effective and simple tool. I wish one of these entities would, ahhh, well, I will save that suggestion for another time. Thanks for sharing with us Sue, and please let me know how WebNotes compares gal.


  • Anonymous

    i-Lighter allows users to highlight, annotate, email, send a tweet, post to blog, organize, retrieve and share all this using wikilights all at one time. But I agree that companies need a revenue model that is sustainable and is not predicated on google ads. We have developed partnerships that have begun to generate revenues and are building a solid company along with a stellar product.

  • This kind of web interaction could be priceless when you are working with someone from across the world or when you just want to share and get thoughts asynchronously. Be it educational research or just pure fun.
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  • moo

    very good article !!!
    thanks you very much


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