19 May 2009...4:08 pm

Tuesday Two.Oh! Tools for Group Projects.

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Tuesday Two.Oh! is not meant as an endorsement, but as an exploration of the tools that are out there. Click at your own risk. :)

Today on Tuesday Two.Oh! we’ll be taking a look at a tool that allows group annotation and editing to documents online. Many of us are often in need of tools to help us collaborate with colleagues and coworkers who may or may not share the same physical workspace. The internet is changing the way we collaborate; being able to share and get feedback online enables quick edits and changes allows for quick and painless completion of many projects that may have taken much longer with conventional collaboration tools.

Let’s take a look at A.nnotate:

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From the site: “Realizing that databases could add to but were very unlikely to supplant written text, the developers of A.nnotate started from the other end. They began working on ways to let authors enhance texts with a structured annotation layer that would enable some of the results to be processed automatically while keeping references back to locations in the original text for each assertion. Sidestepping efforts towards automated natural language processing they focussed instead on how the author interacts with the system, with the aim of enabling authors to add structure and value, rather than just mechanically re-expressing what was already there.”

This tool has a wide variety of potential uses: scholarly articles may be uploaded and annotated to enhance research, documents may be collaborated on by receiving feedback in real time, and photos and artwork can potentially be critiqued in minute detail.

A.nnotate has a free element to individual users, but with greater us of the site, group rates and site licenses might be required. The prices vary from just over $5, to over $2,000 for a site license. Deciding which account you would like is simple and straight forward:

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Once you have decided on an account type, you will sign up using your email address. A confirmation email will be sent to the entered address, simply click on the link and your account has been validated. I did not have to wait for my confirmation email, and the whole process was simple and easy. The email you will get provides you with a password. I went back to A.nnotated and chose my own specific password using the “account” tab once I had logged in.

After you have logged in, you will be brought to your personal Homepage. Once you have uploaded a few documents, all of your current activity will appear on this page. It will look like this:

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Navigation on A.nnotate is very easy. They simplify site links into 6 basic links that are present on all pages if you are logged in. This makes clicking between site elements simple. The six links are:

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Clicking on documents will take you to the page in which you upload, organize, and sort all of your A.nnotated documents. The organization here is the familiar “folder” system in which you can create unique folders and subfolders. The page will look somewhat similar to the home page:

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Let’s move on into the more detailed features of A.nnotated. When you’re in the folder view, you have two options: upload or snapshot.

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“Upload” refers to documents that you upload to the site. These can be Word docs, pictures, PDFs, and Excell documents. “Snapshot” refers to a snapshot of a webpage. This means I can enter a link into the snapshot menu, and I will be able to make observations and annotations on any webpage. This would be useful when collaboratively building a website.

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For example:

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This is an interesting and highly interactive feature that has a lot of potential uses.

For a brief tour of the site, I invite you to watch my guided walk-through here.

The final element of A.nnotate I would like to draw your attention to is the sharing feature. This option will appear when you are looking at a document.

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You can click on “Share” and invite as many people as you would like to look at a specific folder. The share option looks like this:

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In closing, one of the things I find most intriguing about this site is the level of interactivity with any document. I can envision myself conducting a search in an Ebsco Database and uploading the PDF for annotation as I read the article. I think that this tool could be very useful in education, both for teachers making observations on students work, as well as for students who are involved in research.

The addition of a webpage snapshot feature only increases the appeal of this site. My professional life often involves sharing documents with colleagues and collaborators state-wide. I find that my inbox gets crowded rather quickly, and a 2.0 tool like this will enable phrase specific editing.

The draw backs that I see would involve pricing. I know that many of the groups that I am professionally involved in might not have the money to spare for a product like this, and at this point in site exploration I am unsure what the sharing capabilities are of users that are not signed up for the service.

I have to say that the potential of this tool is extensive.

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