Diigo Offers “Social Annotation” Tool

Combining bookmarks with sharing, tagging, annotation and very powerful search tools, Diigo is an appealing, evolutionary step forward in how we find, consume and share information on the web.

The whole concept of involving people in the discovery and categorization of information has been gaining traction over the past couple years, evolving from social bookmark sites like Del.icio.us and Shadows to more elaborate web page saving and annotation tools like Looksmart’s Furl and Yahoo’s MyWeb—and of course, many others.

As I’ve watched the evolution of these various tools, I’ve found them useful but always lacking in one way or another. Some were simply awkward to use. Others were easy to use but never really grabbed me strongly enough to continue using them on a regular basis.

Diigo, launched on Monday, doesn’t really break new ground with the services it offers, but combines a number of really useful tools and tasks into a simple but powerful interface. It’s also a pure-bred web 2.0 service, offering easily customization (via Ajax) to more fully suit your own individual needs.

The name “Diigo” is an abbreviation for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff.” Diigo combines a number of features into a single service that’s accessible through either a toolbar or a less-powerful bookmarklet, including:

  • Bookmarks, which can be saved locally or to several popular online favorites-sharing services
  • Web page saving, with annotation and tagging capabilities
  • A simple blog publishing tool
  • An impressive, flexible search toolbar

To use the service, sign up for a free Diigo account, then download the Diigo toolbar (available for Internet Explorer, Firefox or Flock). As I mentioned, if you don’t want another toolbar there’s a bookmarklet available though I wouldn’t recommend this as lacks many of the features of the toolbar.

Once you’ve installed the toolbar, you’ll see a screen offering a guided tour or flash tutorial (the flash tutorial is quick and painless), or a feature to import your current browser or del.icio.us bookmarks into Diigo. If you’re like me, your browser bookmarks are likely out of date and poorly organized, so I’d hold off doing this. It’s actually easier to revisit your favorite sites and save them again using Diigo later on.

To bookmark a page, simply click the “Diigo” button on the toolbar. This generates a dialog box that displays the title and URL of the page, with forms that allow you to add your own tags, specify whether it’s a public or private bookmark, and a form to add a comment about the page.

These bookmarks are stored on Diigo servers. You can also simultaneously save the bookmark to other services including del.icio.us, Furl, Yahoo’s MyWeb and others, but be sure to set these up using the “Options” button on the toolbar ahead of time; there’s no way to add or selectively choose these services as you’re in the process of saving a page, unfortunately.

An even more powerful way to use this feature is to highlight text from the page to save it with the bookmark. You can highlight multiple sections or an entire page.

Diigo’s search capabilities are powerful enough that you might be persuaded to switch from your current toolbar. The default is Google’s web search, but you can easily select Yahoo, MSN or Ask using a drop-down menu. You can also change the default engine and the drop-down order of these web search engines by dragging them around on the search menu customization screen.

Want other web search engines? It’s easy to add your own favorite search site by using the “add custom engine” feature.

In addition to searching the web, Diigo offers numerous other specialized searches. Of course, you can search over your own bookmarked sites, scanning the full text of saved pages or just the tags. Advanced search is even more powerful, offering several filters limiting searches to URLs, annotations, titles, comments and so on. The advanced search form is an Ajax pop-up that’s there when you need it, rather than a separate search form—a nice touch.

Additional search options let you select popular blog, local, entertainment and other specialized search sites. As with the web search engines, you can re-order, delete or add you own personal favorites to the list.

A really nice feature is the ability to restrict your search to the site you’re currently viewing. This is the feature I use most on my preferred search toolbars, and one of the compelling reasons for getting rid of them and adopting Diigo as a default search toolbar.

Diigo also has some nice sharing and community features. When you save a bookmark, there’s a tab that lets you instantly email the bookmark to someone else. A “forwarding” feature is even more powerful, allowing you to send full pages, annotations or multiple pages.

All tags you create can be subscribed to using RSS, so people can be updated in real-time whenever you save anything using a particular Diigo tag.

In all, I’m quite impressed with Diigo. Its combination of useful features and slick interface offer compelling alternatives to other bookmarking, web research and search tools. Definitely worth a look.

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