Service helps users take Web notes

Sharing late-night epiphanies about Romeo and Juliet just got easier.

ReframeIt.com, founded by Robert Fishkin ’07 and Ben Taitelbaum, is a Web program that enables users to scribble in the margins of over 30 billion web pages. Launched Oct. 8, the program allows a community of users to generate their own scribbles and footnotes in cyberspace, Fishkin said, and has been met with catch-fire interest, despite initial doubts.

“We are creating mass public discussion on a line-by-line basis,” said Fishkin. “We have competitors, but most of them ask permission of the site before allowing users to work there. We don’t.”

The free Reframe It margin enables users to highlight any passage or image they wish, and comment on it on a separate, coordinated Web page. Comments will neither appear on nor change the original Web site.

Right now, the company earns its money by charging for private use in groups composed of over 10 members. In the future, Fishkin said he hopes to increase revenue through advertising and licensing of the product to educators.

Fishkin said he hopes that the project will increase transparency on the Web and help users to identify inaccurate information.

“It’s amazing just realizing the scope and diversity of people who want more transparency,” said Fishkin.

Yale professor Douglas Rae, a family friend, said Fishkin has been working on the project since high school.

“He was reading Hamlet and it occurred to him that other famous writers must have read Hamlet as well,” said Rae.

Fishkin began collecting the works of such authors as Tolstoy, curious about the private literary thoughts of other great writers, Rae explained.

Matt Lerner, a ReframeIt user, was at first worried that navigating the system would prove difficult.

“I was very concerned that there would be some kind of learning curve, but I didn’t have any problems at all,” said Lerner. “I was very impressed with how user-friendly it was.”

While the idea for the site is Fishkin’s, as a philosophy major he found that he lacked the technical capabilities to actualize his vision. So Fishkin reached out to Ben Taitelbaum, now the company’s lead engineer.

“I do the back end of the infrastructure,” Taitelbaum said, “and really I’ve found that what is hardest for us is figuring out which ideas are the core ones. Bobby has so many creative ideas that we have to decide which ones we have to do now, and which can wait till later.”

The site’s features include “Noted Authorities,” where users can view comments made by writers who have penned books or blogs on a particular subject. Users will also have the ability to create groups, which may be designated public, restricted or private.

For Fishkin, the hardest part has been figuring out how to make his idea not only practical but enjoyable for users.

“I found after the first six months … that building something functional is not sufficient,” he said, “but building something that is elegant and beautiful and humanizes people is a lot more difficult.”

Now that the Web site has actually launched, the company faces new challenges, Taitelbaum said. He said a large influx of users requires extra work for the Web site engineering team.

But of these myriad new users, not everyone is so impressed.

“Honestly, there are already so many blogs and posts and discussion forums that I don’t want to know even more about what people have to say,” Adrianne Smits ’10 said after hearing about the site’s concept.

The final co-founder of Reframe It, Inc. is Chief Technology Officer Brian McKinney.

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