Research, Social Media, Technology

A better web-annotating mousetrap?

In browsing through my Google Reader feeds this morning (is RSS inbox zero even an obtainable concept? Would that goal drive one to the brink of insanity?) I came across what appears to be yet another browser plug-in/extension for annotating webpages — ReFrameIt. While I’ve previously written about Diigo and its role in my classes, I know other websites (in particular ProfHacker) have done write-ups on other web-annotating tools like Google SideWiki.

Here’s ReFrameIt’s brief sales-pitch/tutorial:

Moreover, the website also touts the fact that its tool allows one to solve the following dilemma:

Currently, to discuss a specific idea or excerpt from a webpage, one must email the URL, identify the exact location of the point of interest and then explain why it’s interesting. The person who receives such an email often misinterprets what the sender found important because the commentary within the email is out of the context of the specific, critical passage of text. Imagine that this first exchange of information and the subsequent discussions all taking place in a single, adjacent space. Reframe It creates this space and makes communication about external information easy and efficient.

Of course, the above dilemma can actually be solved by any of the web-annotating tools. Nevertheless, in the name of research and constant investigation, I installed the plug-in and began to experiment. My initial impression is that ReFrameIt is extremely cumbersome and quirky. Most immediately problematic was the fact that the sidebar plug-in wouldn’t allow me to sign in using my Google account without opening up an entire new browser window, thereby defeating the convenience of having all my tabs open in one browser window. Once I did get logged in, it was only ReFrameIt’s page itself that seemed to recognize that I was in fact logged in — the sidebar still prompted me to “Sign In.”

When comments did appear in the side-bar they were seemingly random and I found it hard (if not impossible) to tell what highlighted text those comments were connected to. However, it seems that others are also non-plussed with this tool:

Now, in all fairness, my investigation of this tool has been pretty cursory. Perhaps if I use the traditional sign-up method rather than trying to link my Google Account to ReFrameIt, I’d have better luck and find the tool to be more useful. Actually, ReFrameIt’s feature set seems pretty cool, allowing one to (ostensibly) automatically share one’s annotations with others via Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, FriendFeed, and/or via a variety of embeddable methods.

In the process of checking out ReFrame it, I came to realize all the biases I’d developed in favor of Diigo. A small point, but something that makes ReFrameIt less appealing than Diigo, is the way in which ReFrameIt mushes the page on either the right side when making annotations, whereas Diigo doesn’t mush the browser window as one makes annotations through a pop-up dialog box. However, this criticism is rather minor and speaks more to the appeal of the familiar. By contrast, I have no (well, fewer) problems with the way Zotero‘s plug-in squeezes the browser’s field of vision from the bottom margin.

Ultimately, my continued favoritism toward Diigo is most likely attributable to the fact that I’m not only familiar with its interface and functionality, but also that it is a tool and repository into which I’ve invested a lot of time and information (links, annotations, summaries, etc.). The idea of having to recreate all those links, notes, insights, and tags on a new site makes one inherently adverse to switching over. (Though, in praise of Diigo, it made porting over all my Delicious bookmarks and tags really simple, which is something to further recommend it). Moreover, now that I’ve been through the process of establishing Diigo accounts with my students, I also found that Diigo was quite intuitive to set up, install, and start using — an appealing element of a software tool that should not be discounted.

So, for the time being I’m definitely sticking with Diigo for the reasons listed above. Has anyone out there used ReFrameIt or Google SideWiki extensively and found it to be far superior to the alternatives? If so, please share your thoughts. I’m always interesting in finding better, more effective social media mousetraps.

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5 thoughts on “A better web-annotating mousetrap?

  1. Nate says:

    Thanks for the scoop on SideWiki, Clay. Having annotation functionality for PDFs would be really nice, but I don’t purport to have the technical know-how to assess whether that’s even possible.

    I just discovered your blog today and scanned through a few of the posts, and at the risk of sounding like those generic pablum spammers, I found it really interesting and helpful. In particular I liked the idea about annotating the college lectures to add timestamps for later reference.

    Also, I’m in the midst of an assignment with my students where they’re working on writing their own wikipedia entries to complete historical stubs (see more here: https://nkogan.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/historical-research-via-wikipedia/) and we spent a day going over and discussing those guidelines. Ironically, even after reading these and presenting them to one another, many students remained unclear on the fact that you can’t cite wikipedia on wikipedia entries. I expect this assignment to be a challenging, but hopefully rewarding, one for the students. Hopefully I’ll be able to blog a follow-up shortly.

  2. Sorry to hear about your login troubles with Reframe It. Just wanted to clarify that any comment you see that doesn’t have a quote icon with it is in reference to the entire page instead of a specific annotation. Both are possible with Reframe It.

  3. I have read with interest your comments above and I would like to point you in the direction of a concept that we are developing at yaytrail; http://www.yaytrail.com. We believe Yaytrail to be the first web service to provide in-line user enrichment of webpages.
    I can point out how YayTrail differs from the services in your post. Primarily it is in its interface. All previous services rely on two approaches a sidebar in the browser or a layer on top of the webpage.
    We love the idea of a universal, cross-website content platform, a way to ‘mash up’ sites. But we disliked the implementations in these kinds of services. We didn’t like that there’s a big sidebar taking up the screen nor did we like the sticky notes idea either. We think these characteristics have only helped to give web annotation somewhat of a bad name and limited more casual adoption and traction

    So we decided to make a tool that strips away the things we didn’t like about existing services. To do this, we’ve worked on technology that allows the user to enhance pages in-line. The user’s content lives as a native part of the page, not ‘out-of-line’ in a side bar or non-native content layer. In the ‘first layer’ as you put it. We think that gives a different level of control and power to the user, gives a different value to their content, and rids us of the heavyweight UI elements of previous services in one swoop. We let people share their enhancements with others…so you can follow people of interest, and their enhancements get merged into your view of the web.
    We’re still really raw (pre-start-up) but that’s our vision. You can try out our preview ( essentially it’s the concept we are showing at this preview stage) if you wish, with FireFox, also please see our introductory brief at http://www.yaytrail.com/brief/dec09 and what are early users are saying at http://yaytrail.blogspot.com/

    Thanks for your time.

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