Hackernoon logoMaking The Case for Integrated File Annotation with Popular SaaS Tools by@pitashi

Making The Case for Integrated File Annotation with Popular SaaS Tools

Jeff Solomon Hacker Noon profile picture

@pitashiJeff Solomon

SaaS and startup guy; currently working on markuphero.com. Previously founded Amplify.la & Velocify

Why is Evernote the only SaaS app that enables users to annotate attached images directly in Evernote? Well it's because they bought Skitch in 2011 and integrated the annotation tools.

While I've stopped using Evernote and switched to Notion last year, I very much miss the ability to just click and annotate any attached file in my notes. Notion doesn't offer this feature and neither do any of the other popular SaaS apps I use every day.


The above image shows how to annotate in Evernote

File Annotation is a Daily Activity

For many people, adding annotations like arrows, highlights, text boxes, callouts and comments to images and PDF's is a daily operation. And there are a ton of tools you can do this with. In fact, one could argue it's a commoditized product category.

Companies like Droplr, Cloudapp, Skitch, Snagit and Markup Hero all have similar offerings for taking screenshots, uploading files and adding annotations.

The problem is they work in a silo. File annotation has become an activity that happens independent of all the other things we do every day. But then we take those annotated files and share them in other SaaS tools. So why should they be separate behaviors? Why shouldn't users be able to annotate files from wherever they're already working. Whether Notion, Asana, Jira, Slack, Intercom or any other SaaS tools -- people are attaching annotated images and PDF's to every day.


File Annotation Use Cases

There are many reasons and opportunities for SaaS applications to offer file annotation as part of their offering. From customer support platforms to project management software, CRM to learning management, and everything in-between. Here are some examples to chew on.

The Customer Support Agent Using Intercom

You're a customer support rep. You write help articles. You create onboarding documents. You build walkthroughs and FAQ's. And of course you're talking to customers all day over chat an email. There are many great support platforms like Zendesk, GrooveHQ and Drift. But you've chosen Intercom as your customer support SaaS application (I chose it because I use it today and know the tool well).

Intercom is a slick tool. They have two primary functions:

  1. Managing support tickets - Here you are responding to customer issues in real time either via their built in chat tools or email.
  2. Maintaining a help portal - Here you are creating support materials and publishing them on a help wiki, just like a blog.

Here's how a typical day might go. A customer for your application is having an issue customizing shortcuts. They submit a ticket and you get notified. You go into Intercom, review the ticket and reply back explaining that shortcuts are set in the

Settings > Options > Shortcuts
section. You could just attach a help document from your Intercom portal, but that will take the user some time to read through and find their solution.

This can be annoying to a user when they just want a specific answer. Instead you decide to paste an image of the settings screen into the chat, and you want to circle the

tab and where to enter the shortcut they want. You already have this image in your Intercom canned responses, but you don't have the annotations. You could copy the image to your annotation tool, make the annotations, copy it again and paste into the chat.

But wouldn't it be simpler if you could just click "Annotate File", then add your annotations and instantly see them reflected?


Similarly, while creating a help document, you could take a screenshot, add some annotations, and paste that into your Intercom support portal. But a month later you decide you want to update that page and specifically you want to make changes to the annotation.


This is going to take some time because you'll need to re-create the image and annotations and replace it in the page. Wouldn't it be easier if you just clicked on the annotated file, re-opened it directly in Intercom, edited your annotations and clicked save. Um, yes, it would be way easier.

The Product Manager Using Notion

Say you are a product manager at Loom and you're a master at nailing product-market fit. You use Notion every day to create product requirements documents and organize your customer development research. You are working on a scope document for a new feature โ€” adding tabs instead of sections to the Loom personal library.

You have a detailed scope document with images and functionality descriptions. And now you need to add some annotations. One click, open the annotation tools, make the markup, update the file in the document instantly. So effective.


The Teacher Using Google Classroom

You're a high school english teacher using Google Classroom or one of the other dozen learning management systems like Canvas or Schoology. A student submits an essay homework assignment in PDF format. You get a notification from Google Classroom that a student assignment needs grading. You can easily use the grade feature and add comments in your LMS, but you want to give some more constructive feedback to the student. You could download the PDF, open it in Acrobat (if you have the expensive version) and try to add arrows and boxes and highlights (really really hard and confusing).

Instead, wouldn't it be nice if you could just click the annotate PDF button, open the document in a modal, add your feedback and markup, and save it back to Google Classroom for the student to see. You would never even leave your LMS, fast, easy, efficient.



The Project Manager Using Asana

You're a project manager working on a big project to launch a public roadmap. You've done a ton of research on roadmap platforms like ProductBoard and ProductPlan, but you've decided on the lesser known product roadmap software, Feedbear. The tool offers you a bunch of configuration and you want to show your recommended customizations inside the Asana ticket you created. Bam! One click and it's done.


The Content Marketing Manager Using Airtable

You're a content marketing wiz and you use Airtable to manage your social media and blog posting schedules. You have a great post prepped and your editing team wants to make some recommendations on the images you picked. They go into the line item, see the attached image and add some annotations directly within Airtable.


Let's look at one more, a little outside the box.

The eCommerce Store Owner Using Etsy

Etsy isn't a SaaS product, not exactly. But it is used by millions of sellers and buyers every day. One of the great aspects of Etsy is the ability for buyers and sellers to communicate using the built-in chat functionality of the platform. Imagine you find a great seller offering unique custom keychains that you think your significant other is going to love. They have a dozen designs, but you want something just a little bit custom.

You imagine taking one keychain design, but adding your own image and messaging. You can try to explain this to the seller in chat and maybe they understand, but it would be much easier with some annotations on the product image.

Incidentally I experienced this exact situation, with a keychain, for my girlfriend for Christmas. What if you could just click and add annotations directly in the Etsy chat window? Me likey.


You get the picture, and the list of use cases goes on and on. Sure, any of these SaaS companies could build annotation tools from scratch directly in their platform. But that's a lot of work, it's not a core competency and the features will always take a backseat to the core product. So in the end, the users aren't given the best annotation experience and tools they want. The simpler solution would be to integrate best-of-breed annotation tools.

A Solution for Integrating Annotation Tools

A quick search on Google for returns a bunch of possibilities, but a deeper dive into the results proves that there is nothing simple. Nothing turnkey. Certainly nothing free. And nothing that will address all the use cases I've described above.

At Markup Hero, we're testing a new API that enables any SaaS app to integrate our image and PDF annotation tools with a few lines of code.

Read more about our file annotation API to see how it works. And let us know what you think or if you want to test it out.

Jeff Solomon Hacker Noon profile picture
by Jeff Solomon @pitashi. SaaS and startup guy; currently working on markuphero.com. Previously founded Amplify.la & VelocifyTry Markup Hero


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