To help students with online research, Boston-based company WebNotes created a web-based highlighting and "sticky note" tool that allows users to compile information from multiple web pages to organize and share their findings.
"Users can capture information that’s important and share it with other people," said Ryan Damico, chief executive officer and co-founder of WebNotes. "We’ve been able to create a robust tool for academics and professionals to use for research."
Damico and his partner Alex King began developing WebNotes about two years ago after seeing a need for a product that allowed students to annotate web pages for research purposes–and especially group research.
Damico said he has seen other web-based annotation services, but most are based within social networking tools and create problems with productivity.
WebNotes is the free, basic version of the tool, which allows users to highlight text and attach virtual "sticky notes" to web pages as they browse the web. WebNotes Pro, which costs $10 a month, allows users to highlight in multiple colors and to annotate PDF files as well as web pages. The WebNotes tools can be installed as a toolbar or as a bookmarklet (a small computer application stored as a URL in a web browser) if a user doesn’t want to download software to his or her computer, Damico said.
While viewing a web page, WebNotes Pro allows users to make annotations by either highlighting passages in different colors or adding sticky notes to the document.
"All of the annotations are automatically saved to the WebNotes account. And it’s web-based, so you can see your annotations from any computer," Damico said.
WebNotes not only allows users to save and share annotated web pages more easily, but it helps cut down on printing costs, Damico said.
"We’re not just improving research, but we can help the environment and save people money at the same time," he said, adding that most employees say they print so many web pages because they need to physically annotate the document and place it on someone’s desk to share. Damico said WebNotes addresses both of those needs.
Users were able to participate in an invitation-only beta version of WebNotes beginning in December 2008. Dan Morrill, program director of computer science and information systems at City University of Seattle, said about 10 students in his department used WebNotes on a trial basis for two quarters beginning in January. The school already plans to purchase the tool July 1 with the new fiscal year.
"I was looking for a product that would make writing papers easier for students and make our lives easier from a research perspective," he said.
Morrill said students used the tool for group projects, papers, and presentations.
"It’s an easier way to share information," he said. "We [faculty] even used it when we were applying for grants. We found the information on the web, annotated the pages, and sent them to our grant writer."
WebNotes also has organizing, sharing, and reporting capabilities, with which users can organize annotated web pages in searchable folders, eMail annotated pages, and produce automatically generated reports in PDF or HTML format, Damico said.
In the future, Damico hopes to expand the software’s ability to generate citation lists, something he said was requested by beta users.
"The future will depend on the feedback we get from the users," he said.