Cool Web Research Tools

Some terrific Web research tools have surfaced recently. One's an old favorite, now available for Firefox as well as for Internet Explorer. Another's an extension for Firefox itself, while the third is a new offering from Google. All of these tools help you gather, organize, and search information about stuff you find on the Web in a far more useful way than browser bookmarks alone can do.

The first is Powermarks from Kaylon Technologies. I can't remember how many years ago I first discovered Powermarks, but it immediately became a favorite for its ease of use and lightning-fast search capability. Powermarks is essentially a bookmark manager with a built-in search mechanism. Add the Powermarks toolbar to your browser and you can insert a Web page's URL and description into your Powermarks database with two quick clicks of the mouse. You can add your own keywords for each page you catalog, which makes it easy to personalize your searches later on. To search, simply start typing a keyword; as you type each keystroke, the list of entries displayed by Powermarks shrinks to show only those that match. I currently have 876 entries in my Powermarks database, each with multiple keywords, and the search mechansim responds to my keystrokes as fast as I can type. In other words, finding a reference is quick and easy. Double-clicking any link in the Powermarks list opens that page in your browser.

AFAIK Powermarks was originally available only for Internet Explorer, but it now supports a variety of browsers and a beta version is available for Firefox 1.5.x. I'd regretted losing the browser integration with Powermarks when I switched to Firefox as my everyday browser some time ago, but with the new Powermarks toolbar for Firefox it's great to have it back again. And unlike browser-specific bookmarks, Powermarks uses a its own database with all browsers, meaning anything you add to it from one browser is also available when you run Powermarks from any other browser. Kaylon also offers a free 'NetSync' account that enables you to backup and synchronize your Powermarks bookmarks over the Internet.

The second tool is a relatively new extension for Firefox called Scrapbook. I've only begun playing with this one, but at first glance it looks really useful. Scrapbook enables you to save a Web page or fragment of a Web page to a collection on your local machine. Scrapbook is integrated with Firefox via an item on the main Firefox menu and also via additions to the Firefox right-click menu, which enable you to easily capture a page or a snippet from a page you're looking at in your browser. You can organize your Scrapbook entries into folders and view them using a treeview. The Scrapbook treeview is integrated into Firefox and opens in the left-hand panel, just like bookmarks and history do. Scapbook has its own search capability, allows you to add freehand notes, and offers other features as well. If you're a Firefox user, this one is worth checking out.

The third tool I want to mention here is Google Notebook, which I've also only recently started using. Like the other tools, Google Notebook facilitates collecting and organizing information from Web pages. It adds an item to your browser's context menu that you can use to add Web page clippings to your Notebook. Google Notebook works with both IE 6 and Firefox 1.5. It stores the information you gather on Google's servers instead of on your local machine, meaning a Google account (e.g., Gmail) is required, but because of this you can access your Google Notebook(s) from any machine. This is really useful if you consistently work on two or more computers. Your Google Notebook(s) can be public or private. To get a quick sense of what Google Notebook can do, spend a couple of minutes on the overview page - a couple of pictures are worth a thousand words.

When you're doing Web research, the problem isn't finding enough information, it's organizing and remembering the information you do find. Tools like these are making the job a whole lot easier.

Tags: , , , ,