Five Ways to Mark Up the Web

In 1999, Eng-Sion Tan and two friends launched Third Voice, a browser plugin that would let anyone make annotations on webpages. The intent was to encourage freer speech on the internet, but many slammed it as “Web Graffiti.” The company eventually shut down.

The idea of web page annotation didn’t die with Third Voice, though. New services, each with unique features, have carried on.


A must have for researchersdiigologo100.png
Diigo is a research tool that lets you share bookmarks and annotations on web pages using a browser plugin or bookmarklet. Notes are anchored to highlighted text and bookmarks save a cached copy of the site. Diigo will also let you save to multiple other bookmarking services (all the big ones) and email your annotated pages to friends who don’t have the plugin. We covered Diigo earlier.

Diigo has some advanced search functionality built in as well. With Diigo, you can search for the highlighted words on the web with any of four search engines, social bookmarking systems, on blogs, within the current site, amongst inbound links, and seven different content verticals (TV, stock sites, etc.). Diigo also lets you post links to your blog through posts, or a “linkroll” widget listing your most recent annotations.


Bare bonesflecklogo100.png
Fleck is the most basic of the annotation services, letting you simply post public or private text notes on a page. Notes can be posted by using a browser plugin or by ajax when Fleck feeds web pages through its servers and adds the necessary annotation code. Permalinks to annotated pages can be emailed to friends and posted to blogs. We covered their launch previously and expect the company to be rolling out more features.


Have your way with any webpageshiftspacelogo100.png
ShiftSpace is an opensource browser plugin (FF only) being developed by NYU’s Interactive Telecommunication Program and is pretty close to internet graffiti. The plugin allows their users to annotate and remix a website saving it as a communally editable alternate version revealed in your browser by pressing Shift + Space. ShiftSpace allows users to leave notes, highlight text, change images, and edit the page source. It kind of reminds me of the web page analysis plugin Firebug, which allows you to carry out live edits of any web page. For web surfers with the plugin, modified pages are marked with a small ShiftSpace icon (ยง) in the bottom left side of the screen.

Modified pages are called “shifts”, and if made public, are shared on the ShiftSpace website. Users can subscribe to the shifts of users they like via RSS. The ShiftSpace team also plans to implement “trails”, which are hyperlinked collections of related shifts.


Subscribe to only the annotations you wantstickislogo100.png
Stickis is a web page annotation service that lets you subscribe to content “channels” from your friends and the community via a browser plugin. We previously covered their launch. You can also view notes without the plugin when they are served by proxy through Stickis’ website. Channels can consist of text and image sticky notes, RSS feeds (blogs), and even specialized data channels for web services such as OpenTable or Yelp. Every note you make is also stored on your personal Stickis blog, which leaves a trackback to itself if you annotate a blog.

When you subscribe to a channel, it stays with you while surfing the web in a collapsible sidebar, suggesting content based on what page you’re on. Specialized channels, like OpenTable or Yelp, pop up reservation options and restaurant reviews when you visit a page linking to a restaurant. Other content channels populate the tray with notes based on an analysis of a the URL and the note’s tags. When you click on a note, it brings up the notes on the page along with comments on the note made by your friends.

Stickis parent company, Activeweave, also recently announced BlogRovR, a simpler version of Stickis that feeds you blog content from your favorite bloggers as you search surf the web.


Create and share tours of the webtrailfirelogo100.png
We covered Trailfire’s launch last August. Since then, the social website annotation service has developed considerably, recently announcing some more of the social features it originally promised.

Trailfire is an IE and Firefox plugin that lets you post notes (called marks) right on top of a webpage and string them together with hyperlinks (making “trails”). The plugin consists of a note button for leaving marks and a sidebar for managing your trails. When you arrive at a page you’re interested in marking up, you click the mark button, which pops up a little ajax balloon with a text editor inside that you can position anywhere on the page. In the editor, you can compose a message out of text, images, and hyperlinks. You then title the mark and select which trail (group of notes) it belongs to. Trails can be posted public or private and commented on. When a trail is posted, you follow it by just clicking next.

traifirescreen.pngThe new version of the service will now include the ability to make friends and share with them, follow all the trails made by a user, gather your friends into groups, and allow trails to be edited together by multiple users (wiki trails).

Compared with other annotation services, Trailfire has expanded in what I find to be a more effective way. Unlike services like Diigo, and Stickis, Trailfire has really helped its exposure by not requiring a sign-in or download to see annotations unlike Stickis and Diigo (to see notes). Fleck matches this simplicity. For people without the plugin, Trailfire serves the annotated sites through its servers, embedding ajax notes within the page. Trailfire will now also let you add notes to a page through their proxy by a newly released bookmarklet.

Secondly, Trailfire has implemented personal trail pages that consists of a numbered list of each of the links in the trail along with a thumbnail of the website. This has enabled search engines to index their pages and generate a fair amount of organic traffic. One such example was an April fools trail on the site, which received over 168,000 uniques on April 1st, due in large part to search engine traffic.