Margin Notes by Peter Lindberg

Margin Notes by Peter Lindberg

For a long time, I’ve been the sort of person who tends to read and absorb information, without really wanting or needing to scribble notes down. This is probably because my background has been maths and computing, and the elegance of mathematics as a language is in its ability to express big ideas and small in a concise way: no annotation needed if everything you need is there.

More recently, though, I’ve been reading things with, well, more words in them.

Learning how to teach has been an education (pun fully intended) — I’ve started reading a much broader range of material, and a lot of it is quite social-sciencey. This stuff is necessarily quite verbose, and I find I need to take notes and rephrase things in my own way to get the most out of them.

Now, with library books, people seem to get a bit upset if you start scribbling in the margins. I have to keep a notebook in which to jot down thoughts.

Out on the web, the situation used to be much the same: unless a web page specifically included features for commenting, any annotation had to be kept in a notebook or a separate file, leaving you searching through to find what notes go with which page or dreaming up an ingenious indexing system.

No longer!

A while back, Mark Morley pointed me in the direction of Diigo. I’d variously been using Delicious and Magnolia (now defunct, but replaced by the intriguing gnolia) for storing bookmarks, so I thought I’d give this rival service a try.

For a while, I used it just as a bookmarking service, but it wasn’t long before I cottoned on to the real power of Diigo: highlighting and sticky notes.

Using the Diigo plugin for Firefox, or the diigolet (a rather clever little bookmarklet) you can:

  • highlight any part of any web page, in a variety of colours;
  • add comments to your highlightings;
  • add sticky notes to the page.

Now, I can take all the notes I want, and keep them right next to the page they refer to. Great for getting the most learning out of what I read.

But the really exciting thing is that I can choose to make my comments public. And so can other people. And when we do that, it becomes a conversation. I can talk and debate with people all over the world on any website, whether or not that site allows it or not.

And that’s pretty cool. If you want to learn more, check out this video guide or take a look at an annotated blog post.

Now, a few weeks ago, Google got in on the act with their new Sidewiki project, and it’s caused a bit of a stir. It’s not as flexible as as Diigo — it’s a very simple sidebar-type affair — but it does a similar job in terms of turning the web into a conversation.

The big advantage it has is the Google brand behind it. It’s built into a special version of the Google Toolbar and I think we can expect it to make it into the standard version before long; it’ll also be working its way into Google’s new browser, Chrome. There’s an open API too, which means that if you don’t want to use Google Toolbar, there’s this standalone client for Firefox.

So now, I can scribble all over your web page. What are you going to do about it?

On a semi-related note, I’m still looking for ideas and opinions about using a portfolio to record professional development, so please drop by that post and join in the conversation.