Microsoft unveils Thumbtack for sharing Web snippets

Microsoft unveiled an online service that can be used to collect and share bits of information from various Web pages.

Microsoft's Live Labs on Wednesday introduced a new service that lets users collect snippets of information from Web sites and share the collections with others.

A user investigating vacation ideas, for example, might find Thumbtack helpful. Once users log into Thumbtack, they can copy a portion of a Web site, perhaps one that describes a hotel in a particular city, and paste it into a new collection in Thumbtack. The information appears in Thumbtack as an item in a box that can be placed anywhere on the collection page or as an item in a list. The user can continue browsing online for other hotels, similarly cutting and pasting relevant information into the Thumbtack collection.

Thumbtack gadgets add additional details to each item. For example, clicking on the address gadget automatically looks for addresses in the items and displays them on a map on the side of the screen.

Users can share collections with other people in a couple of ways. The "share" button opens a small window where the user can enter e-mail addresses to send the collection to. Or, the "publish" button creates a URL for the collection that the user can cut and paste to send to someone via e-mail or instant message, or embed in a blog.

Users can also comment on and tag each item in a collection.

An additional feature that users can choose to download, the Thumbtack bookmarklet, automatically pastes onto a Thumbtack page all text that a user copies while browsing.

Thumbtack works in Internet Explorer and Firefox, but it lacks some features when used in Firefox, Microsoft said.

The concept behind the service is reminiscent of Search Together, a Microsoft Research project that lets people collaborate on searches by sharing links and comments about the links with other people.

It's also similar in concept to Mozilla's Joey, a defunct project that let people copy and paste portions of Web pages onto a single page that they could access from their mobile phones or another computer.

Thumbtack is also like other available services, including Google Notebook. But Thumbtack developers think their service has a difference. "Thumbtack stands apart in its ability to introspect on incoming data in order to automatically classify it and extract structure from it using machine learning," according to the FAQ about the service.

In addition, Thumbtack offers users more freedom, in that they can arrange content on a page any way they like, the FAQ notes.

Live Labs is a group at Microsoft that builds online services that may or may not become official Microsoft products with ongoing support. The Live Labs blog post about Thumbtack did not specify whether the offering is a short-term trial or an offering to be supported over the long term.

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