PDF Wish List

Jul 9, 2008 by

I am reading and trying to organize about 200 papers as part of my dissertation research. I have almost all of them as PDF files, and I would not be printing them, except that I need to be able to annotate them easily and the Adobe Acrobat software is not really ideal.

I’ve been looking for a way to store all the PDF files for the papers on the Internet and annotate them while the papers are online. Then, from any location (school, home, a conference, or wherever) I could log in, and continue reading where I left off. If I had the ability to add keywords, notes, and a citation in addition to basic annotation tools (pen tools, highlighting tools, etc) then that would be perfect.

My search has yielded several “almosts” but no homerun.

Screencast – I can upload PDF files here, and save keywords and descriptions with the files, but they can’t be annotated without downloading the files (and then reuploading the files). Can’t we just add the SnagIt tools to Screencast?

PDF Hammer – I can upload PDF files here, and it’s a really nice interface, but there is no ability to annotate the files with highlighting or handwritten notes while they are online. You can “upgrade” to the professional version (called nitro), but as far as I can tell, you still have to edit the files offline and then reupload them.

Adobe Acrobat – My recent experience is with Acrobat 8 (9 just came out). Acrobat can do the annotation of pdf files, but the tools are clunky and its all offline – I like the tools on Windows Journal a lot better for annotation (it’s what I use in class with my tablet). Why can’t I do all of this on the web?

Windows Journal – great annotation tools, but it’s not online, it’s not cross-platform, and it doesn’t print to PDF properly (see previous post).

If we had my wished-for online PDF editor, we could also post a PDF version of a paper and have all of the students make notes and annotate it as they read it. Students would benefit from seeing each other’s comments and learn from each other’s note-taking habits.

Know of something that satisfies all the requirements?
1. Highlighting tools
2. Hand-written notes (from tablet input)
3. PDF files
4. Keywords
5. Text-based notes
6. Space for citation
7. Folders to organize files in
8. All of this is accessed online without downloading the document

Please let me know!

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  1. SplineGuy

    I have done most (if not all) of your suggestions through a combination of different packages.

    1. Zotero (for citation management)
    2. Foxit Reader (for free annotation, highlight, text and pen)
    3. Google Docs (uploading the annotated pdf)

    The remaining problem is when I what to add new annotations to a pdf, I have to download it, annotate, upload it again.

    Otherwise, I’ve not found an easy free way. Check out a.nnotate.com for a not-so-free alternative.

  2. Maria H. Andersen

    a.nnotate.com does look like what I am looking for – but gosh is it expensive! Don’t know if I can afford that!

  3. Robert

    Can you purchase some server space, upload all your PDF’s to the server, create a web site that links to them all, and then use Diigo? I think Diigo does most/all of the stuff you wanted, but only if it’s a web page. Don’t know if it works for PDF’s that are opened from links on a web page.

    Also, I think Scribd (www.scribd.com) will do everything but the annotations. Scribd also lets you embed PDF’s into a web page using a flash viewer.

  4. fred

    A.nnotate.com isn’t that expensive – you get a free account, a free allowance for uploading a few documents each month and then it’s a few cents per page for hosting additional uploaded PDFs / word docs – cheaper than printing out documents on paper and writing on them. You get an unlimited number of annotators on any document for no extra charge.

    [from one of the a.nnotate developers… You can also run a server in-house for everyone in your college / university (unlimited users / documents) – see A.nnotate educational]

  5. Maria H. Andersen

    Thanks for the tip – I will check out the educational version. Is there some way to use my own server space to run A.nnotate at a discount? I have a few spare gigs of my own, and our college is not too keen on providing us with server space.

    I just ran the numbers on about 2500 pages of documents (my dissertation research) and I can’t justify paying for one more online tool at that price.

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