Published on 21 January 2013
In the connected age, information clutters up as bookmarked links on our browsers. Settling on credible sources and sifting through those bookmarks later can be a painful process later. Constructing a coherent- and well-researched piece can become that much more difficult. It is easy to forget the source and intent of a particular bookmark, a problem that is magnified during research projects which require coordination between multiple stakeholders.
This week, we will review Annotary - social bookmarking and annotation platform that might be a possible solution to the problem. We will look at its features, interface, and see how it can be of use to you.
Travis Hardman, Annotary's co-founder, says the idea for a solution came to him while working at a social business consultancy that used popular social business tools such as Yammer and Socialcast. Hardman was not entirely convinced about the business value being derived from a "generic social feed." "Such feeds do not realize the value of engagement within an organization," he says. So, he bootstrapped a solution to promote learning and engagement within organizations and launched the Annotary beta in September of last year.
Hardman categorizes Annotary as an evolution in the social bookmarking space. "Call it Delicious meets Evernote meets Yammer," he says. Annotary marries the bookmark organization of Delicious with the highlighting and annotation features of Evernote, all integrated into a Yammer-style social feed so collaborators can easily share research. "The annotation tools give each (research) link a strong context, not just for the user who created the bookmark but for anyone else who views that user's bookmarks," says Hardman.
According to Hardman, Annotary improves on the social flow of existing solutions in two ways. First, the solution's ease-of-use ensures that bookmarking, note-taking, and sharing of research can be done with minimal fuss. Second, the solution brings a semblance of order and permanency to an, otherwise, ephemeral social media stream. "Annotary makes the links that employees share organized and accessible forever, so that just by sharing, the company creates a lasting repository of research," he says.
Hardman says the tool's annotation and social capabilities are a perfect fit for research activities in firms or industries where knowledge is a key differentiator. In other words, lawyers at law firms, analysts at investment firms, and students at universities are equal stakeholders in the solution.
Another important side-benefit that is not immediately apparent is Annotary's use for engaging in thought leadership. "Public collections mean that businesses can attract followers on Annotary, or share bookmarks and annotations on their blog or social channels," says Hardman.
Annotary works as a browser extension for popular browsers, such as Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. Setup is simple: download and install the extension. The menu is available with a single-click of the yellow, highlighted Annotary button in your browser. Menu options enable you to bookmark links, highlight relevant portions, create public and private collections to share with co-workers and the Internet, and comment on other collections. I thought collections were the most interesting feature in Annotary. They are the solution's equivalent of a folder and contain bookmarks related to a specific topic or issue. You can also configure your collection to customized permission levels, including private and public.
By itself, each task is simple and does not require more than a click to accomplish. For example, creating a new collection simply involves entering details including a name and description. Subsequently, each collection is available under the "Collection" link in the main item. You can add or delete existing bookmarks from collections. Similarly, you can also organize collections for specific groups of people, who can either be invited to the solution or drawn from existing users. Annotary also includes the usual features and trappings of existing social networks, including the capability to follow others, like or rate collections and so on.
There are several reasons to recommend Annotary. For one, it simplifies research. In addition, it promotes collaboration. Because information covers such a broad swath of our daily lives, there are several use cases for Annotary. Hardman says the solution finds great use in education. To illustrate his answer, Hardman highlights the tool's use in an educational scenario. In this case, teachers can assign collections to groups of students and, also, collaborate with them. The two-way flow of information serves a dual purpose: collaboration and learning.
That said, Annotary still has room for improvement. Given that Internet Explorer is still popular amongst corporate clients and small businesses, it might be an idea for the solution's designers to consider expanding their supported browser list. Hardman says a bookmarklet for IE is planned in the near future. Similarly, the solution's designers should consider deepening their social media integration by allowing users of other, social networks such as Twitter or Google Plus. This would enable them to leverage their user base and, also, target influential communities within these networks, such as writers and researchers. Finally, I did not note any features to enable me to comment or share another user's public collections with my following. This feature will help propagate information and provide value-add to research organizations and writers interested in focusing or highlighting specific topics.
For a relatively "young" solution, the interface is sophisticated. A top panel enables you to perform the solution's main functions such as creating collections or exploring the solution. A left-hand side panel enables you to view and manage specifics relating to your personal profile, including collections, bookmarks, and network configurations. As I mentioned earlier, performance and configuration of tasks is extremely easy within Annotary and, in none of the use-cases I tried, involves more than two clicks.
I thought the solution had great utility for a broad range of users: business collaboration, education, researchers and writers. It can potentially provide order to your thoughts and browsing. Thus, it can speed up the research and writing process. The addition of a social network, you can connect with FaceBook, allows users to stay connected, contribute, and update other users of their research progress. I am definitely giving this one a try.