StudyBlue has the hippest layout since Tumblr and an excellent flashcard feature, to boot.If you’re looking for a browser-based note-taking and flashcard tool, StudyBlue may be your new favorite site. Because the service is targeted specifically at students, it’s organized in ways that closely mirror the binders of notes that it hopes to replace: data is organized by classes, and the two content options (note and flashcards) closely mimic their analog counterparts. However, unlike paper-based notes, these are accessible from any browser and can include rich text, sound, and images.

The easy-to-use interface and text formatting tools are strong points for the service. Sign-up takes thirty seconds, and only requires visiting the site’s front page and clicking an email confirmation link. The formatting tools work just like they would in a desktop text editor, but they focus on what’s useful for note-taking: lists, indentations, colors, and super- and subscript. I know that the science, tech, math, and engineering students I know have trouble taking computer notes because equations are difficult to type out. The dedicated super- and subscript buttons could make typing out STEM equations worlds easier. StudyBlue has nailed a feature that is rarely implemented as well or as cleanly as it is with the service. There is also a non-English character button, but cycling through it to get to the right Greek letter is probably less efficient than just learning the keyboard shortcuts for the letters.

The flashcard options are interesting. They’re clearly targeted at students who have to memorize vocab terms–there’s a “word” field and space for the definition–but clever students could surely hack this (for instance, incluidng equations instead of definitions). The flashcards also allow for audio recordings (useful for foreign language) and images. The cards themselves are saved into decks, which operate like a traditional stack of index cards–they’re kept together, and can be shuffled. Students get the option of seeing the definition field or the vocab term field first when they enter into the site’s study mode.

The site is clearly geared towards students with smart phones–especially the flashcard feature. This is clever, since most students with smart phones (or other internet-enabled devices) are more willing to carry those than a bulky deck of index cards. Instead of creating an app for the site, StudyBlue has just made a mobile version of the website. This is a bummer if you aren’t constantly connected to a wifi network and don’t have a data plan, but most people with tablet devices are smart phone users and for them it matters much less aside from the inconvenience of not being able to click on an app button.

The service is free, but users can upgrade to StudyBlue for $4.99/day, $9.99/month, and $59.99/year. The paid version allows students to print their notes and combine their note card decks with other users online. Though this is a nice feature, it doesn’t seem to justify the cost.

For day-to-day notetaking, I’ll probably stick with my beloved Evernote because my professors are fans of handing out PDF readings and StudyBlue isn’t designed to handle that. However, Evernote has no flashcard service, and it’s something I desperately need–StudyBlue seems like well-designed way to circumvent my hatred of index cards and my messy handwriting while still learning my vocab terms.

UPDATE: This is a little unrelated, but you should take the time to visit StudyBlue’s blog.  They have a great post up today about academic ethics intersecting with our new methods of digital learning. It’s a solid read.