Like many information workers, I rely to a large extent on the internet, and the web in particular, for research. But it can be like navigating a labyrinth - even with a search engine - and the challenges do not stop there.
Once I find golden nuggets of information I often want to save, copy and sometimes share them with others. I typically use cut and paste for this although it merely copies the words and not the way they are displayed, inc-luding alongside images. It is also a bit hit-and-miss if complex data are involved.
I often need to go back to the original information source to check context or follow another hyp-er-text link, but retracing steps on the web can be surprisingly tricky simply using browser bookmarks (see below) and favourites. Even then, the information I am seeking may no longer be there.
So I set out to investigate a new kind of browser tool designed to ad-dress such problems. Two, iCyte ( www.iCyte.com ) and Iterasi ( www.iterasi.com ), are both free and share a similar ap-proach to enabling users to capture, store and share web pages exactly as they appear, at a particular point in time. You can save any web page and return to it any time, from anywhere, even if the web page owner later chan-ges or deletes the whole page or part of it. If I am tracking how a fast-moving news story develops on a website, I can record a snapshot and then track how it chan-ges over time. It is a valuable tool for researchers, lawyers and others con-cerned with how events unfold.
Iterasi, which launched in "beta" or test form early last year and is a free service, works on both Windows and Mac-based machines and allows users to capture a copy of an entire web page, including images and web links, at any moment in time. If you want to track how a particular page changes over time, Iterasi now includes a built-in scheduler that returns to a website on a regular basis (set by the user) and save pages automatically.
Once you create an online account, Iterasi lets you save pages in two ways. The easiest is to use what it calls a "bookmark-let" - a toolbar menu item that works with all the main browsers. When you click on the bookmark-let, it runs a snippet of computer code in your browser, grabs the URL you are viewing and sends it to Iterasi's internet datacentre. Iterasi's hardware goes back to the web page and saves it into a private or public Iterasi archive, which can then be viewed from any web-based PC.
Alternatively, Iterasi users can download and install a more powerful browser add-on that features additional commands and works with either Internet Explorer or Firefox and sits in your browser's toolbar.
ICyte works in a similar way but features a simpler and more intuitive interface. Once you sign up online, just download and install the browser add-on, which installs a small iCyte button in the browser toolbar (iCyte works with Windows, Mac and Linux mach-ines running Internet Exp-lorer 6 or 7 and Firefox 3 and 3.5.)
You can save a snapshot of a whole web page or a section of highlighted text and/or images within a web page by clicking on the button and creating what iCyte calls a "cyte". Rather like using a highlighter pen and paper, highlighted text in a saved page remains highlighted when you review the page later making it easy to find and keep track of the bits you want to keep.
When you create a cyte, you can add it to an existing project or create a new one. You can also add tags and notes to the cyte to make it easier to search your personal database of saved web information later. "Projects" are accessible from a "My View" page on the iCyte website. From there, the contents of cytes making up a project can be moved into another project, e-mailed to colleagues, ex-ported to Microsoft Word for editing or, if the cyte is a table, ex-ported to an Excel sheet file - all with no cutting and pasting.
You can also add pages and text you have found to existing public projects. For example, the iCyte community already includes a project on climate change. If you find a new document you think is relevant to this topic you can save it as a cyte and add it to the climate change project. Similarly, if you are working with others on a particular research topic you can create a shared project that all team members can access and contribute to.
Users can manage their cytes, which are stored online, by signing in and clicking on a "Manage Proj-ects" link, which includes the option of creating or changing projects, designating public and private levels, and adding notes or adding people to a project.
I have already found many uses for iCyte, including keeping records of online transactions, capturing receipts and compiling research.
Best of all, it is free, easy to use and powerful.
The pros and cons of relying on bookmarks
In spite of some drawbacks, bookmarks work well as shortcuts to frequently used websites, especially if they are used with one of the free tools available.
These include Xmarks, ( www.xmarks.com ), which synch-ron-ises bookmarks across several PCs, and Delicious ( www. delicious.com ), a social bookmarking service that allows users to tag, save, manage and share web pages from a centralised source.
Clipmarks ( www.clipmarks.com ) lets you clip exactly what you want from a web page and then save, print, e-mail or post it on a blog. And Offline Downloader ( www. offlinedownloader ) enables users to download an en-tire website to browse it offline.
But if you bookmark every page of interest your list will become unwieldy. A more fundamental problem is that bookmarking saves only the link to the page, but most pages change over time and some disappear. Bookmarks and favourites take you to where information once was but not to the information itself.
Similarly, saving a URL or web address does not always work - if, for example, the page is locked in a site that requires a log-on.