Let Diigo Turn the Net into Your Notebook

I learn better when I’m active as I read. I love to have a pen or highlighter in my hand when I study. It helps me identify points of reference and make outlines of the subject material to get a better grip on a topic. Diigo helps me to do all of that on the Worldwide Web, and version 4.0 has just been released, adding features and making the experience even better.

This article originally appeared on FreelanceSwitch, and is no longer available online. A version of the original article has been saved on the Internet Archive.

Diigo is partly a social bookmarking service like Yahoo’s Delicious, and partly a notation or commenting tool like the new Google Sidewiki. Like a bookmark, it gives me easy access to important sites I’ve discovered in the past. Like a highlighter pen, it lets me highlight points of interest in an article – now in multiple colors. Like a regular pen, it allows me to take notes on a web page. It consolidates all of this in my library on the Diigo website, allowing me to organize the information by list or tag, and share it with my friends and colleagues so we can collaborate.

A Firefox extension brings Diigo’s power to every web page. Unfortunately this means another browser toolbar is installed along with the extension, but most of Diigo’s features are also added to Firefox’s right-click menu, so I normally use Diigo with the toolbar hidden. A bookmarklet (called the Diigolet) and gadgets are available to make the functionality available in other browsers. In this article, I’ll be focusing on how to use Diigo with the Firefox extension installed, and the taskbar hidden.

Social Bookmarking

All web workers will be aware of the value of bookmarking websites so they are not forgotten in the future, and many of you will be familiar with the concept of social bookmarking—especially with the older and more popular service Delicious.

One major advantage of social bookmarking is that your bookmarks are stored online, making them safe from computer crashes, and available on any computer you happen to be using. For your convenience, your Diigo bookmarks can be displayed and searched in Firefox’s sidebar.

A second benefit is that each of your bookmarks can be tagged with as many categories as you like, making it easier to find them in future. This also makes it easy to drill down into your bookmarks, narrowing the search. For example, you might first find all of your bookmarks tagged with the word “software”, then drill down further to the bookmarks that also contain the tag “free”.

A third benefit is that your bookmarks are available to others, and theirs to you. Combined with the concept of tagging, this is essentially a way of indexing the entire Internet. You can add Diigo (and Delicious) to your list of ways of finding useful content on the net. At this stage Delicious is still the more useful service in this regard: with a much greater number of users, it has a much greater number of both tags and sites bookmarked.

If you’d like to try this out, go now to www.diigo.com, and type the word “freelance” into the search box at the top right of the page. Diigo will display a long list of websites that have been tagged with the word “freelance”, along with the number of people who tagged each page with that word. It’s good to see FreelanceSwitch at the top of the list.

Though I now use Diigo, Delicious is still important to me—it is used by more people, so contains many more bookmarks, and I’m reluctant to give it up. I’m glad I don’t have to. Diigo allowed me to import all of my tagged bookmarks from Delicious, and whenever I bookmark something to Diigo, it gives me the option of automatically adding it to Delicious as well. I get the best of both worlds.

Highlighting and Notation

The highlighting and notation features of Diigo are well-implemented, and really set the service apart from its competitors. I love these features, not only because they allow me to be active as I read articles, but also because they help me to start outlining an article while I’m still doing research.

Once you have Diigo’s Firefox extension installed, select the words you wish to highlight, and right click. Diigo has added “Highlight” and “Bookmark and Highlight” to the context menu. Select “Highlight”, and Diigo will highlight the selected words green. You can change the color to blue, pink or yellow from the Diigo menu later.

Once you have highlighted some words, you can add a sticky note. When you hover your mouse over the highlighted words, a Diigo pencil icon will appear above them. When you hover over the icon you are given options to add a sticky note or change the highlight color. Select “Add sticky note”, and you’re offered a dialogue box where you can add a note, or comment on any notes that are already there.

Once you have added a note, the number “1″ will be displayed along with the highlight to indicate there is one note. Hovering over the number will display the note.

I love being able to see my highlights and notes (and possibly other people’s notes) just by visiting the web page. I can share my notes and highlights with non-Diigo users by selecting “Get annotated link” from Diigo’s drop-down menu. This allows me to give others comments on their work without them having to sign up to Diigo.

But besides being able to see my notes scattered around the web on various websites, they are all brought together in one location in my Diigo library. If I’m doing research for an article, I can skip around the web highlighting relevant content, and writing notes to myself about what to cover, and when I visit my page in Diigo I can see it all neatly summarized for me. While browsing my library, Diigo allows me to write further notes.

You could also use Diigo’s highlighting and annotation features to clarify useful tips in an online Photoshop manual, comment about potential improvements for a website you have developed, and highlight things you need to act on in your favorite FreelanceSwitch articles. Diigo caches every page you bookmark, highlight or annotate, so that even if the page is changed or removed in the future, the information you were referencing is safe.

Tags, Lists and Groups

Diigo lets you organize your bookmarks in three ways:

  • Conceptually with tags. Tags describe the concept or topic that the web page is about. Tagging is a way of indexing the whole Internet one page at a time.
  • Functionally with lists. I keep lists of articles to read, topics to write about, lists for subjects I’m interested in, and lists that acts as to do lists and reading lists. Lists are a way to make sure I don’t lose important information among my thousands of bookmarks.
  • Socially with groups. You can share your bookmarks with groups of people with a common interest. For example, there is a group for Freelancing & Self-employment.

These makes Diigo very flexible, and has enabled me to replace quite a few other services I was using.

Being Social

Diigo is becoming increasingly social. With version 4.0, it has simplified its sharing infrastructure with a Twitter-like “follow” model. Here is a brief summary of how Diigo’s social features can help:

  • I can find interesting and relevant websites by searching through the community’s bookmarks.
  • I can share a link with individuals or a group.
  • I can create a group for a subject that I am interested in that others can join, benefit from, and contribute to.
  • When viewing a web page, I can view who has bookmarked the page in the Diigo sidebar.
  • When viewing a web page, I can view others’ public highlights and comments both on the page and in the sidebar.
  • I can follow others with similar interests to myself, and receive a stream of useful content.
  • I can comment on other people’s public notes, answer their questions, or ask questions—right from the web page I’m looking at.

Here is a screenshot of a page containing comments and highlights from others. Note that I can see their comments both in the sidebar and on the web page.

Extended Right-click Copying

We’ve already seen that Diigo’s Firefox extension adds some entries to the right-click context menu. The Diigo features I use most are on that right-click menu, and have nothing directly to do with Diigo.

Like me, you may often need to copy information from websites, but don’t want to paste the extra formatting and tags that can make a mess of your own formatting. Two entries that Diigo adds to the menu really help here:

  • Copy as text
  • Copy with url

I use them every day, and I can’t estimate the effort they have saved me.

And More

Diigo has many more features—getting started with the service is easy, but learning how to get the most out of it is an ongoing journey. Another of my favorite features is Diigo’s RSS feeds: each tag, group and list has its own independent feed.

Are you a Diigo user? What are your favorite features? If you’re not using Diigo, which features mentioned in this article might tempt you to use it? What are your thoughts of social bookmarking in general? Let us know in the comments.

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an Aussie writer, musician, cyclist, and tech geek
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