On Unconferences and Expectations
Five Things I Learned This Week

The Google Notebook/i-Lighter Showdown

Fighting_rhinos While I believe that the Web is constantly changing how we do our work, I also know that there are certain ways of doing things in the BC days (Before Computers) that will just never change. One of these is my strong desire to use yellow highlighters when I read and then scribbling notes for myself in the margins. A left-over from college days, there's something about cracking open a book that makes me long for a highlighter and a pen.

I do a lot of my reading online now, but that has not removed my desire to use my favorite off-line tool. So the other day I went searching for an online version.

My travels brought me to the i-Lighter, which bills itself as the "online yellow marker that easily and intuitively collects, organizes and shares content." I took a quick look at how it works and then completed my 5-second registration process to download it to my desk top. Then I went hunting for something to highlight.

Figuring out how to use the i-Lighter was easy. Downloading the program adds an item to your main browser tool bar like so:


I can either right-click on the page I want to highlight or use the menu to start and stop i-Lighting. When I turn it on, my cursor turns into a little yellow marker and I was able to satisfyingly highlight the text I wanted to emphasize. So far, I was happy.

The first time I highlighted information, it asked me where I wanted to save what I was highlighting and it let me create a folder for storing the info. This created a document that stored what I was highlighting that I could view later by clicking on "Show My Stuff" in the i-Lighter menu on my toolbar. With me so far?

So I happily highlighted several passages. I also experimented with adding a note by clicking on "Add i-Note" which allows me to move a little pushpin to the place on the web page where I want to add my note and then opens a light yellow box for me to type my notes. Excellent.

But then things started to go a little downhill. First, the page I was highlighting kept freezing and I would get a message telling me that scripts were running on the page and did I want to stop them or let them continue. If I said "stop them" then all my highlighting disappeared (naturally). If I let them go, then the page would freeze up again. I assume this is a glitch that will be handled at some point, but it was mighty annoying for me.

I also had issues when I tried to access the first file I'd created. It basically didn't exist anywhere, even after I saved it several times. So I had to start over with the highlighting and the notetaking to create a new document. Also annoying.

Third, and for me, this was a biggy--what I really had in mind when I went looking for a tool was that every time I would go to a Web page that I had highlighted previously, I would be able to see my yellow highlights and where I'd added notes. Perhaps I'm strange and demanding, but this is what I'd really love to have.

But what i-Lighter  does is create clippings of the pieces I've highlighted and the notes I've added and then creates a document that just saves those pieces, not everything from the page. So it's really more like a way to cut and save information from a web site, rather than to highlight it.

Usually when I highlight a physical page, I can highlight a key phrase or a few words. Not so here--I needed to highlight whole passages in order to have the context available to me when I went back to my notes.

Which leads me to Google Notebooks, another Google app I've been playing with off and on. Google Notebooks essentially does the same thing as the i-Lighter without the cool little highlighter look or the Post-it note icon for posting notes. With Google Notebooks if I see a passage or passages I like, I just highlight what I want to save with my cursor, right click on that information and then select "Note This." What I highlighted will be put into a Google Notebook that I can access either through my main Google Account or through the Google right-click toolbar. I can add notes by editing what I highlighted and using formatting to change the appearance so I can tell the difference. I can also create different Notebooks to hold different kinds of information. Right now I have one on eLearning and one on Solitude (don't ask).

So which application is better? I'm still playing around with both, but for me there were pros and cons to each. Both are pretty easy to use and easy to learn. Both are free. Both help you organize online research pretty effectively.

On the downside, I found it intensely annoying when i-Lighter lost my work and also when it kept freezing up my browser, something that hasn't happened with Google Notebook. Also, the site says that I should be able to use de.licio.us tags for my i-Lighted materials, but that option doesn't show up on my toolbar the way that it says it should on their site. Another option that didn't appear was "Invite a Friend," which I'm guessing is what you use to let someone else contribute to the document you're creating, a feature that's a nice plus in Google Notebooks.

On a positive note, I do like i-Lighter's cool little tools and it was easier to see which pieces were my notes and which was the highlighted portion of texts in the documents I created.

To some extent it's about the "look and feel" for me. Frankly, if i-Lighter didn't seem to slow me down with the scripts running on the page, I'd definitely pick them. But I like to move quickly, so that one detail is actually making me consider using Google Notebooks instead. I'm going to play around a little more, but that's where I'm at.

(Can you tell I needed a break from the proposal I'm working on?)


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I wanted to update you on i-Lighter 2.0 released last month. It's a lighter, faster upgrade and addresses the issues you mention. The new version is web based and requires a small download only for highlighting; you can retrieve your i-lighter from any PC (with MAC soon to follow.) Please uninstall any older version and go to www.i-lighter.com to install the new version. I welcome your feedback.
Marcy Hoffman

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