How to Highlight the Internet
My grandma Dorothy circles sentences in the local paper with a ballpoint pen, cuts the story from the page, and then carefully folds and mails us her highlights. Highlighting is not a new idea. Highlighting is a natural, profoundly personal way to pass along a story. However.
Today’s janky digital highlighting tools grossly under-deliver on highlighting’s promise in the networked age. Bummer. We need a simple system that works everywhere, one that is built, like the web itself, to get better as it gets bigger.
Say hello to Highly.
Hankering to highlight? Test drive Highly without creating an account. It’s free and available for iPhone, iPad, Chrome and Safari.
What It Ain’t
What an app doesn’t do is as important as what it does. Highly doesn’t do a lot of things.
It’s not a “read later” service; Highly is for reading the important parts now. It’s not a “reader view” page-cleaner; Highly is for direct markup on the interactive, wonky, sponsored-and-subscribed-to published web. It’s not a web clipper; Highly is for keeping the best spots on a page, not the best pages in a spot. It’s not an annotator; Highly is a transparent layer above the story, not a deep one beneath. It’s not messaging; Highly is for sharing ideas you love in the apps your friends and coworkers already use. It’s not domain-dependent or publisher-powered; Highly is for readers.
Use Highly to share highlights. Plain and simple.
In Situ Highlights
Highly highlights are a persistent layer on the web. On. The web.
When you highlight with Highly, you’re marking up the story, itself, for good. The next time you, your friends, or anybody with Highly visits that same story, your highlights will reappear right where you made them. This “direct” approach offers a few advantages over the popular screenshot and gussied-up-copy-paste methods mostly used today.
An Obvious Advantage: Context
Whereas excerpts are often too little, and the full text can be too much, highlights in context are the Goldilocks-ian “just right” way to explore a story. Ideas are oriented within the broader narrative, and the reader is free to flow between points-of-interest and deep detail. Context is invaluable. Context is table stakes.
A Non-Obvious Advantage: Compound Interest
Each new in situ highlight makes the whole story more useful for every future reader. Friends’ highlights give you a trusted, personalized filter for the entire web. Public highlights accrue to make any story more approachable, understandable, debatable, and human. Screenshots are disposable, but highlights are forever.
And Sweet, Sweet Speed
Happily, direct highlighting means you don’t need to stop reading and fuss with tabs or apps to share your highlights. Highly lives in your browser, phone or tablet, and it’s accessible within darn near every app and website (including favorite feeds like Twitter, Medium, Flipboard and Pocket). If a story has a URL, you can highlight it.
Simply highlight and share, right where you’re reading.
Words with Wings
Use your highlights to frame, package and deliver key points to others quickly. You’ll add value by removing noise, and nobody but you needs a Highly account to make this happen. (Friends can see your highlights without joining.) It’s simple to:
- Email a summary. Send your highlights, and people will actually read them. (Nobody reads the links you share.)
- Start a group chat. In whichever app your friends already use.
- Post the money quote. Go ahead, you earned it, you read the whole thinkpiece! Show friends and followers an idea, not a headline.
- Point at something.
“Good art is pointable. Something complex occurs, and you can’t quite explain how you feel about it. Instead, you find the appropriate book, song, poem, whatever, then point to it, and say ‘That. That is how I feel.’ It’s a shorthand that stands in place of your own words. It speaks for you.”
— Frank Chimero, Portraits.
Use your personal collection of highlights to quickly reference or revisit ideas. Use insights mined from your collection to understand how and where you spend your time online, and adjust your behavior accordingly.
Useful Today, Magic Tomorrow
Think of Highly as an app with a few modes. The essential tools are available today and are awesome when just one person has Highly. (Spoiler: That person could be you!)
- Single-Player Mode. Save standout ideas in situ, and revisit them anytime by returning to the story (they’ll be there) or your own collection.
- Multi-Player Mode. Spread the ideas you care about in direct channels like email and messaging, or in public places like Facebook and Twitter.
As highlights accumulate atop the web, new network-powered benefits will come online.
- Niche Mode. Follow readers (available now), topics, and stories you care about. This might be your new morning newspaper.
- Heatmap Mode. Use the highlight layer as a lens for the web, and use highlights from people you trust to help you decide where to spend your attention, or not. This is a superpower.
It’s human nature to share the important parts first.
When we convey a story to friends, we always start with the best part, the thing that stuck with us. Then we add detail, gauging our audiences’ interest until they’re all-in, or all-done. Idea by idea, we rebuild stories for our friends using highlights as the basic unit. A material well-suited to the task, highlights are stupendously efficient and inherently personal.