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The Web may make it easy to communicate with people thousands of miles away and put libraries full of knowledge at our fingertips, but plenty of simple things are still surprisingly hard to do online. Take saving a piece of a Web page. That specific task is trickier than it sounds. A startup called Clipboard is building a simple solution using some rather sophisticated Web technologies.

Clipboard allows users to select and store pieces of Web pages in a cloud-based account. Users can comment on items, tag them, and search them. The site allows people to keep clippings private, share them with specific people, or offer them to the public. The new site has been in stealth mode until today, but it’s now opening up for a private beta test (readers of Technology Review are invited to participate and can sign up here).

The site’s founder is Gary Flake, who previously founded Microsoft’s Live Labs, Yahoo Research, and Overture Research. Flake says that Clipboard grew out of his own needs. He couldn’t find a satisfying way to save and share information he found while searching the Web. In fact, he describes a laborious process that will sound familiar to many Internet users: After finding something interesting online, he says, he would highlight it, hit control-C, open a word processor or e-mail program, paste the content in, and save or send it. “That’s the state of the art for saving things on the Web,” Flake says. “For me, there was a huge void waiting to be filled.”

Of course, plenty of existing services let people save and share things they find online. People often post links to social networks such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, or to dedicated bookmark sites such as the newly revived Delicious. Services such as Evernote allow people to build up a digital memory cache loaded with notes, photos, and saved information from websites.

But when he went through what’s already out there, Flake says, he couldn’t find anything that met all of his requirements. He wanted to save items from the Web in a form that preserved the way they look, so that he could benefit from his visual memory of the page. He wanted the clips to continue to work—links should function and video should play. Finally, he wanted the things he saved to be portable, stored in the cloud, and easy to put there from a browser on any computer.

Flake describes Clipboard as a Web service that sits on top of the Web pages open in the browser. To use it, a person installs a bookmarklet in the browser. However, clicking the button doesn’t take the user to a new Web page—it launches Clipboard’s lightweight JavaScript application. When running, the application lets a user select portions of an open Web page. It then runs an extraction algorithm that analyzes the page and figures out how to write HTML and CSS that will re-create what the user selected.

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Credit: Clipboard/Technology Review

Tagged: Web, cloud computing, data, web pages

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