Wednesday, March 16, 2005

iMarkup to make a comeback?

There's an interesting article in Slate this week, discussing a piece of software called iMarkup that made a big splash in 2000, was bought by Microsoft, and then was promptly never heard from again. In basic terms, iMarkup lets a person go to a web page, mark it up like one would mark up a paper document (highlighting various phrases, adding "StickIt" notes, inserting commentary, etc), then save it as a proprietary file. Then, whenever this file is made available to another person who has iMarkup, when they go to that page themselves they'll see the commentator's markups too. Paul Boutin, the article's author, opines that iMarkup never really took off because it was mistakenly marketed as a collaborative business tool, when in fact it's easier in a work environment to simply type up one's comments in a separate document and email it to a co-worker that way. In the days we live in, though, Mr. Boutin has offered an intriguing new use for iMarkup; namely, so that bloggers, especially political ones, can offer commentary concerning the contents of another webpage, without the reader having to hop back and forth between the original article and the blogger's commentary.

Granted, Mr. Boutin opines, a number of big changes need to happen before something like this is viable; iMarkup needs to be embedded into browsers, for example, or available as a free plugin, to make it as convenient as possible for the general public to use. Also, Mr. Boutin rightly points out the thorny legal issues involved with such an activity; would such a markup be considered a legitimate journalistic reference? Or would courts treat it more like they do the DJs who sample music, as an illegal use of copyrighted material? It's all very interesting to contemplate, I think; those who are interested should definitely check out the original article, which includes screenshots of iMarkup in action.