Onfolio: A Powerful New Web Research Assistant

Managing web research just got a lot easier, and a lot more fun, thanks to a new program called Onfolio.

Search engines are great for finding quick answers, but when you’re doing serious research and want to save and organize your results, you’re forced to use tools that are often clunky, difficult to use, or simply unreliable.

I stopped using bookmarks years ago, after accumulating thousands of them, and having more than half become worthless when pages were moved or deleted. I’ve also tried and then abandoned programs that saved snippets or even whole copies of web pages, despite cool features that allowed me to annotate my clippings and search for them later by keyword.

Why? While all of these tools work well initially, once you reach a certain critical mass of content they tend to get awkward, slow down, or simply take too much time to use effectively.

Enter Onfolio, from the guys who created what I still consider to be the best HTML editor of all time, Homesite (now part of Macromedia Dreamweaver). Onfolio is a toolbar application for Internet Explorer that lets you capture web page URLs, page snippets, images, PDF documents, etc. and store them in folders for easy retrieval later.

Capturing is easy. When you’re viewing content you want to save, simply click the Onfolio toolbar icon, or right click and use the Onfolio save command. This command lets you save just a link or a complete copy of a web page. It’s also smart — if you’ve highlighted just a portion of a page, the command changes to “save snippet.” Similarly, if you click on an image, it changes to “save image.”

When you save something, Onfolio attempts to capture as much information about it as possible, including source URL, copyright, author, keywords and capture date. You can also add your own comments to saved content.

Onfolio stores captured content in “collections” which are folders with descriptive names. You can have as many subfolders in a collection as you like, and it’s easy to drag and drop information between folders to help keep it organized.

To view your saved content, use the “collection browser” which opens up in a side panel on the left side of the browser. On top, your collections are displayed. Click on a folder icon and the contents of that collection are displayed below. Icons show you whether an item is a link, a web page, PDF file, and so on.

You’re not just limited to saving web content. You can cut and paste information from any application into an Onfolio collection.

Collections are searchable, and you can sort search results by relevance, name, type, date, and “flags,” which are annotations created by you to represent priority, category, or any other type of descriptive information for items in a particular collection.

The professional edition of Onfolio makes it easy to share your research with others, in several ways. You can publish a report, which wraps up everything in a collection into a single MHT document that can be viewed by anyone using Internet Explorer. You can also publish your research as a web site, with selected links, comments and content that you’ve captured. You can also automatically include an RSS feed as part of the output.

The best part about Onfolio is that it’s intuitive and easy to use. Other programs have offered similar functionality in the past, but Onfolio is more elegant in design. It’s unobtrusive — the subtle toolbar icon doesn’t take up a lot of space, and the collection browser only opens when you request it. Onfolio also makes it easy to display content saved on your own computer seamlessly with content you’ve retrieved from the web.

Bottom line: If you do a lot of web research, and need a better tool to organize and share that information, Onfolio is a slam-dunk. The only drawbacks to the program: It only runs with Internet Explorer, and only on recent versions of Windows on a fairly powerful machine.

Onfolio is free to try for 30 days. Onfolio Standard Edition is $29.95 and Onfolio Professional Edition is $79.95, which includes Onfolio Publisher for producing reports and websites with captured content.

Onfolio System Requirements

– Pentium III or greater
– 128 MB RAM
– Windows XP, 2000 or 2003
– Internet Explorer 5.5 or later
– 25 MB Disk Space

Onfolio also requires the .NET Framework from Microsoft. During installation, the program checks to see if your computer already has the .NET Framework installed. If not, .NET is automatically downloaded and installed. This is a 20 megabyte download, and takes about 5 minutes to download and install over a high-speed connection.

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