Too many things to read!

Posted on 16 April 2010

While I’m posting this article to the “Historical Perspective” section, I do not know if I’d ever actually posted it to Anthurian. So, while some of the content may be a bit dated (“Firebird”, anyone?!), it’s points are still very relevant and valid for me today.

Despite having access to sites like Delicious, I still struggle with managing and maintaing my bookmarks. Currently, there are 8869 bookmarks in my Delicious account and I still have the problem of training ot maintain 2 sets of (offline) bookmarks between my work and home computers. And, this morning, I’ve started with 8 tabs already open in Firefox. So, while the technology has advanced and the options have increased, Is still seem to be in the same place I was over 6 years ago.

OK folks, I’ve officially got too many links to read and am starting to get a bit of information overload! I’m trying to get through it all so that I don’t just drag the hyperlink to my desktop and forget about it. Unfortunately, out of the 12 tabs I have open in Firebird, I’ve only read 2 of the articles. Of course, that’s not counting the pile of bookmarks that are starting to clutter up my desktop.

Personally, I would love to find a better way to collect up, archive, and collate all of the links to “interesting” information that I find during my travels on the Web. Mozilla/Firebird’s bookmark sidebar goes a long way towards providing me with some of the functionality I want, but I would like some more options. Ideally, I’d love to have these options as an integrated part of my browser but with some limitations. For instance, I don’t want the bookmarks options to be overwhelming or the cause of unneeded bloat. For those reasons, I’m not totally opposed to looking at third-party options as a solution — should the right solution come available. To Mozilla’s credit, the various third-party Extensions that I have installed have never hampered my Firebird browsing experience, they have actually made it better, causing me to look to this community of developers for answers. I’m not so sure what that system would look like but here are a few of the items on my wishlist:

  • Improved Sorting and Categorizing: There needs to be a better way to sort and view your bookmarks so that they don’t get “lost” in an arbitrary folder hierarchy. I tend to try and organize my bookmarks by topic but run into difficulty categorizing many of the things I am interested in, especially blogs or sites that cover a myriad of topics. Is How Stuff Works a reference site or just something cool to read when I’ve got some downtime? I could put it into two folders, but that’s not efficient.
  • Personal Popularity Tracking: Certain sites tend to be my “favorites” due to the sheer amount of time that I spend on them. Having the ability to track and organize these sites based on the time spent and the number of times visited might be helpful. Certainly there are links that I only visit once and bookmark for future reference (say, to a whitepaper, for example) but there are other sites I bookmark and then come back to about once a month or so. Other sites, like Google News, Slashdot, or Metafilter, I visit more than once everyday.
  • More Intuitive Hierarchical Structure: I don’t think that we should toss out the current options for organizing bookmarks together. I like having the ability to group bookmarks together into folders although may haphazard categorizing sometimes has trouble coming up with folder titles that acurately describe their contents. For instance, I have a “Fun” folder that contains bookmarks to sites that, pretty much, share nothing in common. At some point I wanted to bookmark a Web site, or a specific Web page, that couldn’t be shoe-horned into my other folders, so I just dropped it in the “Fun” folder. I have a “Misc.” folder, too — and that has links to more bland, boring sites that I don’t consider particularly “fun”.
  • Automatic Link Deadheading: Luckily, there are services like the Google cache or The Internet Archive, but those are no guarantee that bookmarked links live forever. Their content may, but the path to that content will probably go through a twisting path of archival searches that few people are likely to undertake. I go to The Internet Archive for fun and hardly ever for any research reasons, while the Google cache is not an oft-used tool, either. To remedy the fact that sites and links expire over time due to various reasons, I suggest that the proposed bookmark system have an automated way to verify each bookmark and then quietly remove the out-dated ones. There should definitely be an option to alert the user anytime a bookmark was being removed, but by default this option should be turned off so users aren’t startled by annoying pop-ups. Silently, the system should connect to the Internet (through the browser on Port 80, HTTP), check each bookmark’s target, remove if dead, and on to the next. Ideally — if this were a world tailored especially for me and I had little to no concern about privacy, bandwidth, security, or the rest of the Internet — I would want the system to try and connect to it’s primary link target and if an error is received, send out a link search to The Internet Archive in order to update the link with a more permanent solution. This is about where we start entering the realm of almost total fantasy since searching The Internet Archive returns a number of links to archived versions of the desired URL. The HTML pages and content on each of the search results is archived at various dates over the years ranging from 1996 until the present. For an archive search on a site like Yahoo!, the number of results returned is simply overwhelming. Having a system which could automatically discern the exact one you’re looking for — especially if the date you created the bookmark does not correspond to any date in the returned list of link archives — entails a bit of ingenious coding and ESP. So, let’s not cry over the lost and simply cut them loose. If done unobtrusively, they won’t be missed.

My biggest worry about a bookmark tracking application or plug-in would be the potential for misuse and abuse. One thing that I would have to insist on would be a strong privacy and security policy. Not only because of the demographic information that could gleaned by tracking a person’s interests and habits, but also because of the fact that this system would integrate with the browser — possibly one of the most-used, yet least-understood, pieces of software available to the end user.

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