WebNotes? Because it seems awfully serious about providing the types of features that allow professional researchers to do online research - and only those features.There are any number of services that offer the ability to annotate Web pages or share finds with friends. So why spend time on
What I noticed most about WebNotes were the features that weren't there, and quite frankly, weren't missed. And that focus on "being a pencil instead of a Swiss army knife" is what makes WebNotes worth a second look.
WebNotes doesn't seem terribly interested in social recommendations or popularity rankings. Where it does seem to have interest, however, is in allowing people to easily annotate and highlight Web pages - and share them with the people who matter to them.
Anyone who has spent a great deal of time doing research by sifting through printed materials will immediately notice that WebNotes offers the two most critical research tools for any bookworm: sticky notes and a highlighter. But it also offers a filing system that allows users to categorize notes and pages under topical areas, as well as the option to share your findings with others.
Unlike other overly complex systems, the tool is incredibly straightforward and easy to use. Once the WebNotes toolbar is installed, it's simple to begin adding sticky notes and highlighting pages. I was impressed with the responsiveness of the app and the ease of managing my sticky notes and highlights.
After you've finished adding notes, you have the option of saving the page for your own reference or sharing it with people via email or link. The best part? The users with whom you share pages don't need WebNotes installed to access your annotations. (To see an example of the annotations in action, take a look at this marked up ReadWriteWeb page.)
Not interested in installing another toolbar? Then the bookmarklet may be more your speed. Once you're logged into the system, the bookmarklet enables a similar set of features - sticky notes, highlighter, and filing - and provides you with access to all of the sticky notes and highlights for your particular pages, whether you saved them with the toolbar or the bookmarklet, at the office or at home.
For a closed beta, the product is pretty solid. I experienced some minor issues - like putting the bookmarklet toolbar away and having to restart my browser to get it to return. But in terms of functionality, the product worked exactly as promised.
Another minor issue I noticed - which likely has more to do with the underlying technology than the tools - was the inability to float sticky notes over embedded objects like videos and widgets. This was unfortunate but it wasn't a show stopper.
Finally, as a regular Skitch user, I found myself really wishing that WebNotes had a simple arrow tool or the ability to circle things. But again, those features would be nice to have - not necessary.
Clearly, the creators - a team of young MIT alumni - have already spent a fair amount of time doing their own research. And the app shows it. For people who use the Web for research this could prove to be a very interesting offering.
I've spent the better part of a week testing WebNotes. I continue to find new uses for it. And I continue to be impressed by how well it works. I'm going to keep using it to see if I can make it a permanent part of my workflow.
Interested in trying it for yourself? WebNotes is currently in closed beta, but we've managed to wrangle a few invites to the service. If you'd like to try it, be among the first 500 users to register for WebNotes using this link. Or visit WebNotes to see demos of the product in action.