Implementation Challenges Associated with Developing a Web-based E-notebook - Addendum on Related Work

Yolanda Jacobs Reimer and Sarah A. Douglas*
Department of Computer Science,
University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812
Email:; Web:
*Department of Computer and Information Science,
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403
Email:; Web:

The addendum provides a brief history of the NetNotes development, and discusses relevant research not included in the original paper, responding to comments from a JoDI editor that the paper may have missed some related work in the hypermedia systems field.

We began work on a Web-based electronic notebook system in 1997 as a PhD dissertation (the first author was the graduate student, the second author was the thesis advisor). In one of our earliest publications related to this research, we coined the term Information Assimilation, and we discussed existing support for Web information gathering tasks (Reimer et al. 2000). We also developed an initial prototype called CAJIN (Computer Assisted Journal and Integrated Notebook), which is described in Reimer and Douglas (2001). CAJIN was created to explore the challenges associated with developing a Web-based notebook and to conduct usability evaluations. The process of Information Assimilation and the CAJIN prototype were also presented as a poster and published as an extended abstract at the 2001 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Reimer 2001a). Despite its overall redesign (in terms of both the user interface and the system architecture), NetNotes builds on this early work and is essentially a more robust extension of CAJIN.

A number of other Web-based prototype systems similar to NetNotes have also been developed. One of the most recent systems closely related to this work is the Hunter Gatherer (HG) interface (schraefel et al. 2002). Unfortunately, we only became aware of HG through the 2002 publication, by which time the NetNotes system and our dissertation work had been completed (Reimer 2001b). In their work, schraefel et al. articulate the need for a system that allows users to collect Web information at the component level rather than at the page level (components being elements of pages, such as paragraphs of text or images). With HG, Web users can select components of Web pages as bounded boxes or areas, and then add their components to a collection. The URL of the source page is automatically transferred along with the component, and users can edit their collections by sorting, adding, deleting and renaming components. The HG interface is closely related to NetNotes, and from our perspective, it is undoubtedly a useful tool for Web users. However, the basic architecture of the HG prototype differs fairly significantly from NetNotes in that users do not seem to be able to further edit the content of the components they collect. In fact, the initial HG system uses a reference-based approach whereby all the collected components remain dynamic. Each time a page is loaded, the most current information from the source Web page is displayed. Our view of Information Assimilation is such that users will want to collect Web components as in HG, but then to integrate that information further into their own work processes they will likely wish to change or extend that information. We have also encountered users who wish to maintain static views of Web information so that the data does not unexpectedly change on them when it is modified in the source Web page. The HG designers acknowledge that saving "static" information is also an important feature, and they state that their second prototype does have a "save" option; however, it's not clear yet whether or not HG users will be able to edit that static information.

The primary purpose of another Web-based tool called Nabbit (Manber 1997) is also to allow users to collect Web components and to create new individual pages from those components. Users can gather and save text (both plain and formatted), images, lists, tables and hyperlinks from other Web pages, and they can also annotate their copied and pasted Web selections. However, like Hunter Gatherer, it does not appear as though users can edit the pages once they have been created, modify their own annotations, or add notes to an existing page without having to repeat the copy and paste process. So, once again, Nabbit seems useful for collecting Web information, but it ultimately fails to support the user's ability to assimilate that information further.

The novel feature of the Internet Scrapbook (Sugiura and Koseki 1998), which is similar in functionality to Nabbit, is the automatic refresh of copied and pasted Web components. If users choose to, the Internet Scrapbook will relocate the source of the collected Web components and will update those components automatically in the user's collection. This functionality is like the reference-based approach used in Hunter Gatherer. Like the other prototypes, the Internet Scrapbook supports Information Assimilation in that users can gather and save text, images, lists, tables, and hyperlinks from the Web, but it also lacks edit and annotation functionality.

WebBooks (Card et al. 1996) allow users to gather, organize and save Web information from different locations, but it only provides this functionality at the page level. Users cannot collect portions of existing Web pages, nor can they edit or annotate the information in a WebBook. WebBooks are nice in that they form cohesive "books" of related Web pages, but they, too, ultimately fail to support IA because users cannot personalize or modify that information.

There are numerous other Web information gathering systems that are more loosely related to NetNotes and the work we propose. For example, in TopicShop (Amento et al. 2000) and Data Mountain (Robertson et al. 1998), users can collect and arrange in a workspace thumbnail images which represent individual Web pages. WTMS (Mukherjea 2000) is a Web Topic Management system that collects and displays Web page representations at more abstract levels for the user. The Visual Knowledge Builder (Shipman et al. 2001), or VKB, provides a visual landscape through which users can organize, manage, and share their (not necessarily Web related) information. The MONTAGE system (Anderson and Horvitz 2002) builds a model of a user's Web browsing interests by mining their Web access logs. While systems such as these are important for extending our understanding of how people work and think in the Web environment and otherwise, NetNotes is unique in that it is based on the assimilation of Web page components, which includes collecting, organizing, editing and integrating Web-based information.


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