Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 2

zoho-notebook-logoZoho Notebook helps you organize information into multiple-page web-based spiral notebooks. You can easily combine text, graphics, audio, video, and embedded content from other sites.I have long been a Zoho fanboy, but I continue to be amazed at how forward-looking Zoho Notebook is, and how the drag-and-drop interface let’s you customize the arrangements of objects on a webpage in ways that just can’t be done with Dreamweaver and other html page editors (at least, not in any way that I know of).

As a Web 2.0 tool, you can easily collaborate with others by sharing an entire notebook, individual pages of one or more notebooks, or specific objects (such as images) within a particular notebook page. That granularity in assigning rights is pretty uncommon. As you would expect, you can assign either editing or read-only privileges to your collaborators. There’s even a built-in chat window for exchanging instant messages with distant collaborators.

There is a Firefox plug-in for Zoho Notebook that allows you to take screenshots of web pages. After installing the plug-in, you can right click on any web page to capture the entire page or just a user-defined selection of the page. These screenshots will be inserted into your open Zoho Notebook (must be logged in to Notebook) where you can then re-size, edit, or change the positioning of the object.

Zoho Notebook treats everything in your notebook pages as an object that you can move around anywhere you choose, even creating layers of objects if you so desire. Objects can be pinned in place so that you don’t accidentally move them, or you can leave them ready to be dragged and dropped to a new location with a flick of the wrist (mouse).

When you open a new notebook you start with a blank page. You have complete control over what types of content you add and where you add it. Additional blank pages can be added from the control panel, or instead of a blank page, you can begin with a word processing document, a spreadsheet, or a web page that you want to share. The first two options make use of the Zoho Writer and Zoho Sheet applications  which are integrated into the Notebook interface. You have all of the editing tools from both applications, available right inside your collaborative notebook. If you use other Zoho services (which I do), you can easily incorporate other things such as presentation slides from Zoho show, and even web forms made with Zoho Creator.

There are also some basic whiteboarding capabilities built into Zoho Notebook. I wouldn’t consider it to be a replacement for a full-featured whiteboard, but you can mark up documents and such using these drawing tools.

To recap, the following types of content can be used:

  • Text Boxes, of any size and placement
  • Images, via upload or URL
  • Audio, upload from computer, point to URL,¬† or record with microphone
  • Video, upload from computer, embed from YouTube or similar, or record with webcam
  • HTML, which allows you to include any content that you can normally embed into a Web page
  • A website via its URL, which can embedded onto the page using an iFrame-ish picture-in-picture, or use the entire webpage as a separate page of the notebook
  • RSS feed, which will display in an RSS reader widget
  • A file attachment via URL or upload
  • An embedded document from Zoho Sheet or Zoho Writer which can either be a separate window in a page with other content or the whole page to itself

Zoho Notebook also includes wiki-like history of versions and version comparisons. A new version of the notebook is recorded in history every time that you save a page. You have the option of reverting to an earlier saved version at any time, which allows you to easily correct errors, or simply review the progress that has been made on a collaborative project by the different authors. Even better, each object in the notebook has its own version history so that you can revert changes to that object without changing everything else in the notebook. That’s pretty damn cool.