The Bleeding Edge Research Library would be ever so much more efficient were it not for the fact that so many of our books suddenly take it upon themselves to disappear from the shelves.
We are speaking figuratively here. Most of our “books” aren’t printed and bound volumes. They’re Web pages that don’t have a physical presence on a bookshelf, and they can spontaneously de-materialise in a way that printed books generally do not, taking with them a good deal of research effort.
One study suggests that the half-life of a Web page is less than two years. And even if the information isn’t abruptly removed in a re-design, they can sink in the Google index to the point where they are impossible to track down ever again.
The Bleeding Edge Research Library has had more teeth-gnashing experiences with wandering Web sites than we care to remember, and we have made several attempts at developing a fool-proof retention system. We quickly abandoned bookmarks or “favorites” as a tool. They seem to breed in much the same way as coathangers; they’re difficult to organise; they don’t provide sufficient detail for easy back-tracking and they have the same regrettably brief life span as the average Web page. Clicking on a bookmark or “favorite” and arriving at a 404 “Not Found” error code can mark the beginning of a tedious and untilimately unsuccessful bout with Google and profound despair.
Too often the browser history sparks another adventure in time-wasting for anyone but the most casual of Web users.
The fact that some researchers apparently default to cutting and pasting to Microsoft Word or PDF documents suggests to us that these people have a level of patience and spare time that is vastly superior to our own.
The flatfile database Info Select (miclog.com) is a much better solution, allowing you to highlight a page and hit a Quick Launch “transporter” icon to save all the links and images. But in recent years InfoSelect has accumulated ever more not-entirely-useful features, and become increasingly costly, to the point where, at $320, we’re finding it hard to recommend it.
Enter iCyte, a free service that organises and prolongs the life of Web-based research, and simplifies collaboration and information-sharing.
The man behind iCyte is Stephen Foley. When we last saw him, in the late 80s, he was running a small shop on the ground floor of Owen Dixon Chambers in Lonsdale Street. Ostensibly, the shop was selling the first of the so-called portable computers from Toshiba (we bought a T5100 from him, with an 80386 processor and an orange plasma screen), various peripherals and software. In fact Stephen was teaching the Melbourne law profession how to use technology.
From there, he went on to develop transcript analysis and annotation software, before joining the developers of the market-leading LiveNote Technologies in the UK. Now based in New York, he and his iCyte team , backed by former LiveNote chief Graham Smith, are intent on extending the functionality lawyers use to manage enormous piles of documents to the Web. They just might change the way a lot of us work with information.
Download and install iCyte on a PC or Mac in either Firefox or Internet Explorer and you gain a new toolbar button in your browser. It’s an impressive button which completely eclipses bookmarks and history tools.
Click on it, and it will save whatever Web page you’re viewing, with any highlighted text, as a public or private project. You can insert tags and attach notes and annotations (called “cytes”). You can share projects with friends and colleagues. For families, it could completely replace the refrigerator door as a project management device.
Before he discovered iCyte, Jared Osborne, a local government community planner on climate change, found it difficult to sustain his workflow. “I had a whole bunch of bookmarks for important pages, and I’d copy information into a Word document, then go back and copy the link, paste the title and the author, find a critical bit of information and add it to the document. It was a stop-start operation, and when I was reviewing my research, it was a constant puzzle having to work out what bit of information on a page was important.”
He was also increasingly frustrated by disappearing information, particularly on government Web sites – the result of regime changes and departmental restructuring.
He’s found iCyte allows him to keep track of his information, and his thought processes.
Over the past few months he’s been watching the iCyte interface take shape. “I really like the way they’ve set it up. When you search on users or a project, it all comes together. It reminds me of the simplicity of iTunes.”
It reminds Bleeding Edge of a library.