Sunday, June 22, 2008

A tale of two highlighters

The idea of highlighting important parts of a Web page and sharing the annotated pages with friends is a good one. So good that lots of start-ups have tried it.

None of them have captured a particularly wide audience. But that’s not deterring two relatively recent startups: The Awesome Highlighter and Markkit. Both products take a new tack in the highlighting wars: they stick to highlighting and avoid grafting a clunky social network or bookmarking service onto their application (e.g., Clipmarks, Diigo).

The Awesome Highlighter is profiled in a Techcrunch piece today (mysteriously written by one “Guest Author”). In the comments to that piece, an “annoyed” anonymous commenter complains:

This looks like a copy of http://markkit.net/ which was launched several months ago. Looks like this will get exposure and be successful due to a TC plug.

Nic Cubrilovic, a TechCrunch blogger, quickly responded:

markkit actually seems like it is implemented a lot better, I can’t get awesome highliter to work on any sites that requrie a login (nytimes, wsj etc.)

I’ve given them both a try this morning, and I’d tend to disagree with Nic. In overall polish and functionality, Awesome Highlighter beats Markkit pretty handily.

First, Markkit does what it sets to do, but it doesn’t do much. Add their bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar, then highlight your text.

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Your rather plain shared page is then available via an awfully unruly URL and no RSS feed. There’s no option to add sticky notes at all.

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Now compare that with Awesome Highlighter. Use either the Firefox add-on or a bookmarklet to highlight the page and ad sticky notes.

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Using the toolbar you can change the color of your highlighter and share with a number of different services, including Del.icio.us, Tumblr, LiveJournal, and Facebook.

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Your highlighted page is shared to slim URL (http://awurl.com/pvnwiv96461), and you can view all your highlights on a page that includes an RSS feed.

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That’s a much more robust feature set than what Markitt offers. Unfortunately, in my tests with Awesome Highlighter, I coudn’t get the sticky notes to show up (even on sites that didn’t require a log-in). I’m not sure whether that’s a flaw in the app or a problem with my NoScript add-on. But given the overall sophistication of the site, I’d expect the Awesome Highlighter folks to iron out the kinks. I’m cautiously impressed with what it could be.

Personally, I like the idea of a stand-alone highlighter / sticky-note service that’s compatible with my existing bookmarking service (Del.icio.us). But it’s worth asking the question: why do I even need a highlighter? I can already bookmark a site, quote text, and share it with either Del.icio.us or Tumblr. And what about tools like Scrapbook, that provide robust archiving and highlighting functions but have no social functions? I use all these tools regularly, and I’ve not ever missed having a social annotation tool.

Maybe if Awesome Highlighter can figure things out, I’ll discover a need for marking up Web pages. Until then, I continue my search for the perfect NoteMarking tool.

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