For the longest time now, Evernote has been the go-to service if you want to conduct any research on the web. And why not, with the plethora of options that it offers. But personally, I’ve found that it lacks the simplicity to let me use the app to collaborate with others. Evernote is great for power users and I swear by it, but every time I’ve worked in a project group with others who aren’t that tech-savvy, it’s a stumbling block and we end up switching back to a long Gmail thread that’s messy and hard to keep a track of.
That was the main reason Annotary piqued my interest when I came across it. The simplicity it offers is unparalleled in other apps, be it Evernote, Scrible or anything else. And when I actually did work on an assignment with a tech-challenged friend using Annotary, he didn’t find it the least bit intimidating and is now using it as his default bookmarking service for all, irrespective of research projects.
Head to Annotary and sign up for a new account, or log in through your Facebook. Then you will be prompted to install an extension depending on the browser you are using. Currently, Annotary supports only Firefox, Chrome or Safari – no love for Internet Explorer here, despite its large install base; and that pretty much means Windows 8 users will need to use Annotary in a desktop browser and not as a Modern app.
When you come across a page that you want to bookmark and annotate, just click the Annotary icon to open up a toolbar.
You will get options to give the page a title, add notes if you want, and select the collection (or category) you want to save it under, with an option to create a new collection if you want to. And that’s pretty much it, you’re ready to start highlighting and adding notes.
I ended up using the Notes section as a space to fill in tags to be able to find the article more easily later when searching for it.
Highlights and Notes
Once the page is saved, the little ‘pen’ in the toolbar will let you highlight any text you want. Click on the highlighted portion and you’ll get a little sticky note next to it. Start typing! The note can be moved around anywhere, resized, and deleted. You can also close the note for a smoother reading experience, and can call it back up by clicking the speech bubble icon near your highlighted portion.
It’s really annoying that Annotary doesn’t let you highlight or annotate photos or videos in any way. I can understand that the print medium lends itself to highlighting only text, but on the web, rich multimedia should be something one can highlight.
As a workaround, if I want to comment on a photo or a video, I highlight the nearest word and drag the sticky note closer to the media.
The Annotary toolbar also lets you share these highlighted web pages with anyone, either through social networks, email or just as the custom URL made for each page.
Creating Collections & Groups
At its core, Annotary is a bookmarking service aimed at helping you better organize your favourites. So the ‘Collections’ feature is basically like a bookmark folder, wherein you can save multiple pages related to a certain topic, research project, or a category.
You can share entire collections with your friends or browse around through other people’s collections to come across more pages that you may not have stumbled upon otherwise.
The web app also lets you create groups of friends so that sharing with a select bunch becomes easier. I found this feature extremely useful when working on projects. I just have to add in the details of the group, send out email invitations to everyone, and add the relevant collections. It couldn’t be simpler.
Finding Others’ Annotations
For me, the best part about Annotary was that you could see annotations by other people even if you didn’t know them. This happens in two ways.
First, the Explore section lets you go through the most recent or popular collections/bookmarks made using Annotary. So you will come across many pages, complete with their owners’ annotations so that you know the reason behind that bookmark.
Second, and more interesting, is the ‘Highlights by Others’ option in the toolbar. Suppose you bookmark a page and open up your Annotary toolbar. If another user has already bookmarked that page, you will be able to see their annotations!
Don’t worry, you can choose to make this private if you want, but I found it really cool that I could virtually collaborate with a stranger, leading us on uncharted paths of creative exploits.
Of course, this second feature is the one that also comes in handy for research groups, since you can see what others are annotating more easily, filtered by user.
So is It Worth It?
Annotary gets a lot of things right, but it is still wanting in some aspects. For example, the lack of being able to add notes to multimedia is a big letdown. Additionally, I would have liked the option to colour-code notes, like Scrible allows for.
Still, Annotary is a lot easier to use than both Evernote and Scrible, making it much more accessible for novice users as well as people who simply want a no-fuss service for bookmarks and research projects.
But if you ask me, the hero of Annotary is the ‘Highlights by Others’ feature that takes collaboration to a new level.