Harvesting Knowledge

The Internet is constantly changing and that often means missing links and changed URLs--a shocking experience if you're looking for a valued source. And a bookmark is little help when the dreaded 'file not found' error is all it leads to. Fortunately, personal Web capture tools can keep pages from being swallowed up and available to be accessed anytime.

Like many knowledge workers, Steven Bell, director of the Gutman Library at Philadelphia University, wants to transmit Web pages to his staff and others when he finds something of value to them. He does this by e-mailing a fragment of the article with a link that carries recipients to a Web-based service called iHarvest, where they can read the entire article accompanied by Bell's own annotations and highlighting. "Having the actual page captured refreshes [a reader's] memory about content," Bell says. "Some capture tools have ways to organize the information and index it so I can search."

Cherry pickers

In February, web2one released a free browser plug-in called eNotes, which automates one of the original ways to grab text and images off the net--by cutting and pasting from browsers into Microsoft Word. ENotes highlights, gathers and organizes material from the Web in a "knowledge cart" that the user can view and edit in Word. These clippings include information about when and where the user captured the information.

Like eNotes, iHarvest from iHarvest Corp. of Redwood Shores, Calif., inserts a toolbar into Internet Explorer to provide additional capabilities. This software captures pages to an individual's account on the iHarvest Web site, along with user annotations. The user can send pages or collections of pages to others, complete with the original user's highlights and annotations. A premium account includes the ability to synchronize clips on the user's own computer and browse them while offline.

Serving similar purposes, Organizer from Webforia Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., has toolbar-resident buttons that capture all or part of a page--or just its bookmark--and store it in a repository that has a built-in viewer, search tools, summarization and other functions. Because captured files are stored in HTML format, they can be indexed and searched through outside applications. Captured pages can be set to automatically update from changes to the original online pages. From the repository, saved items can be assembled into annotated collections and presentations by a companion product, Reporter.

"Finding tools that fit the way you work is a big chunk of the battle," says Dennis Kennedy, a partner at st. Louis law firm Thompson Coburn LLP who also writes about technology for attorneys. He uses Clickgarden from st. Louis-based Clickgarden Inc., which integrates the capture function into a suite of tools contained in their own Explorer-based browser, which includes advanced encryption and filtering of ads and cookies. "It allows you to create collections of captured material that are organized by subject or project, then gives you thumbnails so you can see them," Kennedy says.

Bill Sherman, Clickgarden's chairman, says his 20 years of experience in technology implementation have convinced him that individual productivity precedes enterprise productivity. "A bottom-up, one-knowledge-worker-at-a-time approach ensures a complete implementation from the perspective of that individual knowledge worker," he says. Clickgarden clips pages with or without images and can add annotations and delete ads. It stores clips in a compressed, proprietary format on the user's hard drive along with Java scripts, flash modules, style sheets and any added annotation. However, the proprietary format--and the optional encryption--prevents clips from being indexed or searched by a third-party application.

New player Fracta Networks Inc. of Austin, Texas, is even more ambitious. Launched in March, Fracta's Personal Insight Network captures information from the Web or other applications, which it not only organizes and annotates but makes accessible to any device that can access the Web, from networked PCs to cellular phones. Among Fracta's beta users is Austin-based Momentum Software Inc., a custom application developer and systems integrator specializing in Java solutions. Momentum's six-person sales team began using the product in January as a competitive intelligence tool.

"Sales associates used to spend two or three hours to create company dossiers on a lead, but they never had the information I needed," says West Breyfogle, director of strategic development. Now the team gleans leads and information about customers, partners and the industry from e-mail, newsgroups, Web sites or internal documents by highlighting the information, right-clicking and dropping the snippets--or "fracta"--into folders on the server along with insights, notes and a link to the original source. Team members can look up a company by name to see what fractas are in the file

Scaling on up

While all these tools are for personal processes, most include mechanisms for packaging and sharing collections of harvested Web content with annotations and highlighting. Some intended to scale up for enterprise use are adding integration capabilities. Clickgarden's Sherman promises that his product will soon add the ability to store clipped items and collections to Oracle or Microsoft SQL databases. Meanwhile, iHarvest is now promoting a solution called Encopia to incorporate information captured from the Web into existing enterprise workflows and applications.

Similarly, web2one's Schmonsees predicts that in the future eNotes may plug into operating systems to clip from any desktop application and scale from an individual level to an enterprise. "I believe the long-term implications for business are extending the capability to server-side communication to accelerate the human qualities of Web interaction," he says. At the enterprise level, of course, knowledge is of limited use until it is shared, and these tools facilitate the process one person at a time.

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