Startup has designs on Web documents

Since 1996, the staff at Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine had been looking for a tool that would let faculty and students mark up, in real time, Web-based lecture notes that had been converted to HTML pages.

Until recently, no such technology existed, says David Pilasky, the school's manager and network administrator for biomedical IT.

Then Pilasky read about Vista, Calif.-based iMarkup Solutions Inc.'s iMarkup and iMarkup Workgroup Server products Web page annotation tools that let users with a Web browser "attach" notes and other markups to live Web pages. The markups including sticky notes, freeform drawings (using a paintbrushlike tool), text and highlighting appear as a page overlay and are stored securely either on a user's PC (in stand-alone mode) or on a central server for display the next time the user navigates to that Web page.

IMarkup Workgroup Server requires a Windows Internet Information Server and an Oracle Corp. or Microsoft Corp. SQL Server database to store markup data. Clients need Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher and a plug-in to access the system.

'Perfect Solution'

Cleveland-based Case Western purchased the product to let students annotate Web page content. "IMarkup is the perfect solution for us," Pilasky says. "It's the only one I've found, and I've been searching for years."

IMarkup's products also appeal to business users who want to collaborate about the Web on the Web, according to the vendor. Using iMarkup Workgroup Server's annotation capabilities, Web developers, designers and enterprise users can share thoughts about Web pages in real time, says John O'Brien, iMarkup's president and CEO.

One business that's taking advantage of iMarkup's technology is Omnibility, an Internet development firm in Campbell, Calif.

"Omnibility's problem was finding a way for the marketing and communications people in our clients' companies to communicate [to us] the changes they wanted to make to their Web sites," says Dean Dubbe, Omnibility's vice president of client services.

Before it started using iMarkup's product, Dubbe says, Omnibility had to engage in an often frustrating back-and-forth process with its customers to understand all the changes they wanted made to their sites. "Customers were clamoring for an easier, more efficient way to do business," he says.

"With iMarkup, our clients can describe what they want done in a sticky note on the Web page, and we can look at the note and [make the changes]. It eliminates all the back and forth," Dubbe says. "It was just what our clients wanted, because the faster we are able to implement the changes, the faster they are able to get the newer information to their customers."

Laptop Note-Taking

At Case Western, Pilasky was so pleased with iMarkup that the university bought and installed the client version on the laptops it provided to first-year students in September.

Rather than write hard-copy notes, students can now, for example, go online while listening to lectures and highlight test questions, mark up the text that contains the answers and file the information and markups by category. When it's time to prepare for the test, students can go to iMarkup, see the test questions they highlighted and study the topics for their exams.

The latest version of iMarkup Workgroup Server, released in September, comes with voice annotation. At Case Western, it allows students and faculty to verbally explain information that's too difficult to communicate in writing alone, Pilasky says.

IMarkup is broadening its offerings. Next year, the start-up plans to roll out the iMarkup Document Review Server, a collaboration product that lets authors and reviewers upload, share and review documents.

A Documented Need

IMarkup's mission is to facilitate the Web document development process, according to Andrew Warzecha, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc.

IMarkup's collaborative tool is a useful part of the publishing process, says Warzecha. "The documents are the vehicle, and the collaborations are being placed on top of them," he says.

Users may also find iMarkup's technology embedded into products from independent software vendors and application service providers for annotating, organizing and sharing information.

There are a couple of drawbacks to iMarkup's software that could turn off some users. For one thing, the technology supports only Internet Explorer. It also requires a browser plug-in. "IT has a history of not wanting to deal with plug-ins," Warzecha says.

IMarkup may be the leading vendor in its market by default. Competitor Equill Corp. discontinued its free visual markup service last month, and iHarvest Corp. was recently acquired by content infrastructure software maker Interwoven Inc.

Interwoven Inc

Interwoven plans to incorporate iHarvest's technology into its TeamSite product, says company spokeswoman Kathleen Means. TeamSite lets people use any content creation tool they want, including Microsoft Office products and then gives them an environment in which they can collaborate with one another and test the content so they know it works and looks as it should.

Karen Auman, director of product management at Interwoven, says the vendor's VirtualAnnotate technology will take the ability to mark up a document online to the next level by making it part of the entire content management process. Users will be able to see a revised document with or without any markups. In addition, she says, changes will be layered over the document, so if a user doesn't want to present a certain change to a supervisor, for example, the user can delete that particular layer.iMarkup Solutions Inc.

Some facts about this week's Emerging Company.

640 Escondido Ave. Suite 104 Vista, Calif. 92084(760) 631-4560Web: www.imarkup.comNiche: Web-based productivity tools for collaborative document and Web page developmentCompany officers:

-- John O'Brien, founder, president and CEO-- Marti Colwell, vice president of marketing -- Joby O'Brien, vice president of developmentMilestones:

-- January 1998: Company founded.

-- January 2000: IMarkup stand-alone product shipped.

-- March 2001: IMarkup Workgroup Server launched.

-- September 2001: IMarkup Workgroup Server 2.0 launched with Portable Document Format and voice-annotation support.

Burn money: $6.5 million in private fundingProducts/pricing: IMarkup Workgroup Server 2.0 starts at $2,445 for five concurrent licenses; customization and branding option starts at $1,795.

Customers: Case Western Reserve University, Omnibility and NIS Inc.

Red flags for IT:

-- The technology works only with Internet Explorer browsers.

-- It requires a browser plug-in on each desktop.

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Linda Rosencrance

Computerworld

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