Diigo, known for its social annotation, finally went public yesterday. The service aims to turn the web writable allowing users to privately or publicly annotate any website they visit, in turn making a “participatory and interactive media” for its users. I must say that even though I have had an account for Diigo’s private beta since I last reviewed it late December, I have been anticipating its launch. So much has changed since my last review including social bookmarking enhancements, new annotation tools, tools built for bloggers, and more.
It’s only been one day since the public launch and I have already seen mixed comments about the service ranging from extremely happy to down right brutal, but both sides with some strong points. My say? I think it’s a great service because once you start using it, you will realize that it is much more then just bookmarking. Diigo has features that can please just about anyone. You can bookmark a site, take notes, save snippets of text and graphics, highlight sentences on a site, and even share notes on a site with others. If you are a writer, Diigo will allow you to keep your notes and highlights organized and allow you to write a blog post and publish it, all within the service. Diigo also makes it easier for users to bookmark and annotate by providing them with a browser extension (Firefox, Flock, and IE), or if you prefer, a bookmarklet (Diigolet) so you do not have to install anything. The hard part though is standing out as the unique and powerful service that Diigo is and not appearing like it’s just another Del.icio.us clone.
To further illustrate my point of Diigo being more than just bookmarking, let me give you an example scenario. Currently, I’m working on making an online store for my company and I’m beginning to research shipping and handling for our products. I searched around the web and found an article with helpful information so I bookmarked it with Diigo. Being that I bookmarked it, I was then able to highlight the strong points of the article and add notes to the areas that I wanted to add input to. Now, the next time I visit the site, all my notes and highlights will appear (assuming I have the Diigo toolbar enabled). But lets take this a step further. I’m not saving these notes just for myself. I made the notes to share with my partners and that is just what Diigo allows me to do. I locate my bookmark in Diigo and forward the bookmark to my friend which provides them with my notes in the email along with a link to the article I annotated. Now, this link that they receive in the email is special because it allows them to view all my highlighted text and notes on the page without being a Diigo user. Even more so, if they do have an account with Diigo, they can add notes in reply to my notes and highlight text themselves on the article! Now that’s teamwork ;-).
I have decided that because Diigo has such a wide range of features and, from what I can tell, most people feel it is simply a bookmarking service, the best way to describe Diigo is by showing how it differentiates from the crop. So, I am going to go over the main features of Diigo one by one to show what exactly Diigo is capable of. Be sure to also check out the Demo Tours and Features Overview at Diigo’s website.
Diigo has all of the basic social bookmarking features. You can bookmark any site, add a description and tags, and allow others to comment on your bookmarks. Now, remember, Diigo isn’t built specifically for bookmarking but for annotation. With that said, you can attach highlighted text and notes to any bookmark and even simultaneously bookmark to other social bookmarking services, such as Del.icio.us, Blinklist, Shadows, RawSugar, and more. Why would Diigo allow you to bookmark to other social bookmarking services? If I had to guess it’s simply because many people are already comfortable with services they use, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need Diigo for its annotation. I can use Diigo for annotating a page and then bookmark it to Diigo and Del.ico.us and because the notes are saved to Diigo, the next time I go to that website from my Del.icio.us bookmarks, the notes will be there. You don’t have to use Diigo for its bookmarking – entirely optional. You may also import your browser or Del.icio.us bookmarks to Diigo and export them when needed. Publicly saved bookmarks can be found in the community section along with a tag cloud to navigate through them.
Annotation – Content Highlighting and Notes
The key feature of Diigo is annotation. Users can bookmark a page and highlight text and images on the page to take note of. Highlights on a page by the user will then save and appear as a blue dashed underline whenever they visit the site again. Hovering over a highlight will bring up a menu where the user can optionally add a note to the highlight and make the note private or public. Highlighted text with notes attached to them will appear as a solid underline in blue. Also, if you browse to a site that other Diigo users have highlighted or added notes to, you will see their highlights on the page (if saved publicly) colored in orange.
Being able to bookmark and annotate a page is very helpful. In terms of research, you can bookmark and annotate all the sites related to the topic you are researching. When your done getting all the information you need, select all the bookmarks in the “My Bookmarks” area and select in the top right drop down, “Extract highlights.” This will then grab all your notes from all the sources you’ve saved and display them on a clean page for you to look over and print. This is a great tool for bloggers as well. Gather up all your sources for a post your working on, add your notes, and when ready, select all the bookmarks and blog about it using Diigo’s built in blogging tool (explained below).
I personally prefer blogging straight through my WordPress installation, but for those of you that want to take notes, gather sources, and easily publish a post to your blog, Diigo may be your solution. Diigo allows you to add multiple blogs to your account, verify them, and easily publish a post, however you may only publish and cannot manage old entries. What I like is that while you browse the web and you come across a site talking about a specific topic you want to expand on, you can right click and select, “Blog This,” which will then direct you to the blogging area where you can write your post along with that site being your source. The other method is by simply going to your bookmarks section and selecting a bookmark, or multiple bookmarks, that you want to write about and then selecting the “Blog This” option from the top right drop down menu. All the sources, highlighted text, and notes will be included in the post document, which you can easily remove if needed, ready for you to write. It’s not an entire blogging platform, just a simple publishing tool that works.
Browser Toolbar and Bookmarklet
The Diigo toolbar, available for Firefox, IE, and Flock, brings most of Diigo’s features right to your browser. The toolbar allows you to easily bookmark websites, highlight and note pages, search documents for keywords, search terms in a page using your favorite search engine, and it even brings all bookmarks right to the toolbar. The toolbar also is what makes it possible for you to see highlighted text and notes that you and other users have made on websites you visit. Bookmarking a site is as simple as clicking the Diigo button and filling in the tags and highlighting just involves you highlighting the text you want to save. One of my favorite features is the “QuickD” button (not in the above screenshot) that I recently came across. The QuickD button allows you to save a bookmark to Diigo with one click without needing the original Diigo popup to appear and adds a default tag to it (you may also fill in tags in the search box of the toolbar to tag it) so you can just click and go.
What if you don’t want to install an extension to your browser? That’s fine because Diigo also provides it’s user with Diigolet, a browser bookmarklet that allows you to easily bookmark and annotate any website as well as view annotations on pages left by other Diigo users.
The last feature I want to bring up is searching. Diigo provides you with two main options when searching (Search Tag and Search Full-Text) as well as advanced search options. Searching by tag is nothing new but great to have so you can easily find bookmarks that other users have saved under a specific tag. But performing a full-text search is something that I haven’t seen in related services. Because Diigo stores a cache of every website you bookmark, it can index all of the content and your annotations, making searching much like a normal search engine. You can search in all public bookmarks or your bookmarks only, search for words specifically in a highlight that has been saved, and even find text in comments that Diigo users have made.