A Closer Look at Google Notebook

Google’s new Notebook tool lets you clip text, images or search results and save them in online notebooks that you can share with others. How does Google’s new tool stack up against the competition?

Web research tools have been around since the first web bookmarks allowed you to save a list of favorite URLs. These types of tools are designed to help you save, organize and revisit content you’ve found on the web. Some are simple clipping tools; others allow you to create searchable databases of web content with lots of bells and whistles.

The Google Notebook, like most of Google’s recent product offerings, leans toward the simple and sparse. To use it, you need a free Google Account and must be logged in. Then you need to download a browser extension to enable the service.

Google Notebook is currently only available for Internet Explorer 6 (not the beta version of IE 7), or Firefox 1.5+. Users of other browsers can’t use the tool, though Google says it may make versions for Safari and Opera available later.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the browser extension, simply highlight content from web pages you want to save, right click and select the “Note this (Google Notebook)” option. The content you selected is saved, with the source URL automatically captured as well. This works even if you don’t highlight any content—it has the same effect as bookmarking a page in Google Notebook.

Once you’ve saved a chunk of content, you can annotate it with descriptive text in the Mini-notebook window, but unlike many other web research tools, there’s no way to add tags or other meta data.

You can create as many notebooks as you like, giving each a descriptive name, and within notebooks you can create sections to help you organize the content you find. You can also move clipped content around in your notebook, or move it from one notebook to another simply by dragging it—a nice touch for compulsive organizers.

Once you’ve created notebooks, you can access them in two ways. In the lower right corner of your browser, you’ll see an “Open Notebook” tab. Clicking this opens up the “Mini-notebook” window that appears when you clip content to the notebook. You can also select “Go to full page view” from the actions menu.

The full page view lists your notebooks in the left pane, and displays the contents of the currently selected notebook on the right pane. The full pane view also features a search box that lets you search the contents of your notebooks, public notebooks or the web.

By default, notebooks are private. You can share a notebook by clicking the “make public” button, which makes it visible when anyone searches other public notebooks.

How does Google Notebook compare with other web research tools? It’s probably closest to Furl, a Looksmart-owned service I reviewed back in 2004. Google’s slick Ajax interface makes Notebook a tad easier to use than Furl, but on the other hand it’s easier to make a copy of a complete web page with Furl. Google Notebook tends to favor snippets of content, rather than saving cached copies of web pages. Clicking the link Google Notebook associates with each of your clips sends you to the original web site, where the content may or may not have changed.

Yahoo’s MyWeb lets you save copies of web pages, and offers the ability to add your own descriptive tags to content you save. MyWeb also offers more control over sharing of your saved material, allowing you to share with everyone or a specific list of contacts.

Ask’s MyStuff offers even more options, including the ability to create photo albums from your own pictures and those you’ve found on the web, blog or otherwise share your stuff.

Microsoft’s Onfolio, part of the Windows Live Toolbar, lets you save and organize copies of web pages on your own computer, rather than as an online service—particularly useful if you need to refer to your web research while offline. The downside is that it’s only available for Internet Explorer at this point.

Two other web research assistants reviewed in SearchDay include eSnips (review), and ContentSaver, (review)—one of the most extensive web research managers, with lots of bells and whistles that most of the other programs mentioned here lack.

If you really like the community based sharing approach, check out Clipmarks, a service that combines a clipping service with an active user group that comments on clips and rates them.

The bottom line with Google Notebook: It’s a useful, unobtrusive service that will be most useful for quick, informal web research projects where you want to quickly gather up links and snippets of content (for example, I used it in researching this article). If you’re looking for something you plan to use heavily, I’d suggest taking all of the services mentioned for a test drive, and pick the one that works the best for your own needs.

For more information on Google Notebook, visit the overview page or the Google Notebook FAQ.

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