What if instead of e-mailing a link to a news story, you could circle what you think is important before passing it on; rather than bookmarking a page, you could slap on a sticky note?

The funny thing is, that kind of Web page annotation software has been around since before Netscape. Yet hardly anyone uses it, and none of the top browser makers has embraced it.

In 2001, Microsoft bought Web page markup technology from a company called E-Quill but hasn’t incorporated any of its features into Internet Explorer. The iMarkup toolbar, which debuted to rave reviews in 2000, hasn’t gotten much buzz since. You can still get iMarkup—a 30-day trial is free and it costs $39.95 if you want to keep it after that. One screenshot says it all: You can highlight parts of a page, post sticky notes, draw freehand, and insert arrows, links, file attachments, and sound bites. Taking notes on the Slate home page won’t change what other surfers see. But when you revisit the page, iMarkup will remember what you wrote and slap your notes atop the live site. In one simple step, you can e-mail your annotations (or a screenshot of your annotations) to a friend. Using a free iMarkup plug-in, they can then view your notes overlaid atop the live site.

After playing around with iMarkup for just five minutes, I was convinced that it’s a useful tool. But after a few more days of tinkering, I realized that Web page annotation has flopped because it doesn’t offer a compelling reason to change how we use computers. You could take notes in iMarkup, but it’s more straightforward to jot down your thoughts in Word. You could also use it to collaborate with colleagues, but it’s easier to send an e-mail or instant message. Then it hit me—there is a compelling reason to scribble on Web pages and news stories. This is the killer app for political bloggers.

Every killer app needs a killer name. Creating a new product by writing all over somebody else’s article is kind of like making a mash-up. Let’s call it newsmashing—that’s just nerdy enough to catch on.

Why is newsmashing better than today’s blogging techniques? Currently, political bloggers write a post by taking a snippet from a news story, an op-ed column, or another blog post. Then, they copy, paste, and indent the most partisan, disingenuous, and inaccurate passage onto their own blog and add a bulletproof rebuttal right below. The problem with this technique is that it makes the readers do all the work. First, they need to pop the original piece open in another window to “read the whole thing.” After that, they have to flip back and forth between the original and the rebuttal to make sure the blogger isn’t getting the facts wrong, leaving out a key detail, or quoting something out of context. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to read blogs if you could look at the critique and the original argument at the same time?

Think back to college. When you got a term paper back, it only took a few seconds to spot your transgressions—all you had to do was look for bright red ink, passages highlighted in yellow, or the dreaded “See me” sticky note. You didn’t have to flip back and forth—you could read the whole thing, as it were, in one stomach-twisting glance. The one advantage of my Jurassic day job as a print magazine writer is that when my editor scrawls “HUH?” across an entire paragraph, I don’t have to click any hyperlinks to get the point.

More here.