This morning the world's first web browser tool for annotating and sharing both PDF and web documents online was launched by Web Notes.

WebNotes Pro, a web-based highlighting and sticky note research tool for professionals, corporations and educational institutions is a hosted solution that allows users to compile information from multiple online sources faster and more effectively than other software.

Back in the day when Adobe launched Acrobat, everyone lauded the dawning of the age of digital documentation. The PDF would be a universal platform that could convert any type of document (Word, Excel, Jpegs, etc.) into a document visible by everyone. The Pro version offered sticky notes and a highlighter intended to irradicate the excessive use of paper shuffling by giving users a way to share notes digitally.

Ten years and ten bazillion pieces of paper later, the PDF (while certainly useful) has done little to change office behavior.

According to a study published this month by Lexmark & O'Keefe, the federal government alone wastes $440 million annually in unnecessary printing. 

When asked why, respondents most frequently cited the ease of reviewing and sharing documents and a preference for editing and annotating a hard copy. The average employee prints about 30 sheets of paper and discards 10 of those sheets each day.

Add when you add it all up, you get one massive waste machine -- 6.6 billion sheets of paper printed unnecessarily. According to Information Week (citing the nonprofit Conservatree):

...each tree contains enough wood for 8,333 sheets of paper, so the U.S. government may waste 788,743 trees worth of paper annually. The state of Iowa mandates forest reserves must contain 200 trees per acre, so this represents 3,944 acres or 6.2 square miles of forest annually wasted by unnecessary printing.
What is the solution? Well digital documentation. 

A vast majority of employees (70 percent) said they would like to have a digital documentation policy in place, but since so much research happens online, there doesn't seem to be a handy tool for digitally marking up a web page and then sharing (and organizing) that marked-up digital document with coworkers.

This is the void that the new Pro version of Web Notes hopes to fill. 

The tool can be downloaded onto your Firefox or Safari browser so it is one click away. When you find a document online you can pull down the WebNotes tool and add sticky notes and a color-coded highlighter. The marked up document can then be shared in a collaborative shared file system.

Will it save 4,000 acres of trees per year? 

Well user behavior is a hard thing to change, especially if offices do not enforce a paper printing policy. That is the first step.

But with the availability (finally) of a universal, web-based annotation tool, it is at least a possibility. And with the added benefit of increased productivity (beta testers indicate that they are 75% faster using the tool) there may be an added incentive -- saving time.

NOTE: Web Notes just offered MNN readers a special discount on the software (it is free for first two weeks). You can check out the offer here:

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