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Weblog Entry

Re-discoverability

August 24, 2004

Analyzing the way I interact with my browser highlights some downright quirky behaviour on my part, and a findability gap that needs filling.

In my 7 or 8 years on the web, I’ve never used bookmarks. Sites change, URLs go missing, and all too often when I need to find something again I turn straight to Google (prior Altavista, prior Yahoo). The half second it takes to save and categorize a page so I can come back to it later just never seemed to pay off.

Solutions that offer bookmark exporting, sharing and archiving don’t feel like they’re solving anything. That’s too much conscious effort I’d need to spend to save a list of links which may or may not be outdated when I need them.

A solution like TrailBlazer is what I’d be interested in, were it simply an add-on to search my existing browser’s history instead of a stand-alone browser. Searching an automatically-generated list of recently-viewed information is far more useful to me than having to manually save each link I find useful. Anything I haven’t been to in longer than my history covers doesn’t need to take up space when I can find it (or an equivalent) on Google.

So because of my reluctance to take action myself, instead of bookmarks I’ve learned to rely on auto-complete in the address field. All the shortcuts I’d normally create as browser buttons instead get typed as fractional URLs, thanks to Safari’s lightning-quick ability to fill in the most likely match. google.com has become ‘g’, mezzoblue.com has become ‘mez’, etc. etc.

In fact, auto-complete is becoming so ingrained I’ve started clearing my history to influence what pops up. Occasionally a typo here and there will redirect my short strings elsewhere, or manually typing in a longer URL will override the short saved copy. Then it’s time to flush and re-build; because the auto-complete buffers I rely on don’t have that many enries, I can justify a total refresh. It’s a light-weight, disposable, and unreliable system… but it works.

I wouldn’t advocate anyone else getting used to this way of finding things. This reluctance to use bookmarks highlights the problem with re-discovering local information. Google usually works just fine as my backup brain when I need to find a web resource. When it comes to information I know I’ve seen but can’t describe, my local tools just don’t cut it. Spotlight looks great, but does it search the right things?

My quest continues. I’m sure there’s something out there that does this already, that will search local histories and resources to find recently-viewed information. In fact, I’m sure I read about it recently. I just can’t find it.


Reader Comments

August 24, 03h

well, i use a combination of bookmarks (not very well categorised though) combined with automatic bookmark upload/download http://www.splintered.co.uk/experiments/44/ , using my browser history, address auto-completion and google. so, a bit of a mix really…
sometimes, when a site i have bookmarked has disappeared, i try to see if there’s an archived copy at the wayback machine as a last resort too http://www.archive.org

August 24, 03h

I thought I was alone in my “No-Bookmark” world. I have bookmarks for the dailies, but only because of Safari’s “Open in Tabs” feature.

LaunchBar(v4) looks like it shows promise, but I haven’t tried using its browser history indexed features yet. I’m interested if anyone suggests anything else.

matt says:
August 24, 03h

At first I thought it odd that you had such a, well, unique, reason as to why you didn’t use bookmarks. But reading on, it seems you’ve a valid point. Site do always change. Thankfully, the best sites have easy to remember URLs, and normally don’t change without at least letting you know when you head to the old domain. Keep up the good work, though :o)

August 24, 04h

Up until about a month ago, I had been bookmark-free since ~1999 and Netscape 4.x. What changed a month ago? I realized I couldn’t find anything.

Between Google, my browser history, NetNewsWire and LaunchBar, I was still missing things. Where was that example Cederholm published? Where was that one hack which applies only to Opera 5, Firefox 0.6.fish.3 and my toaster? These kind of important but rarely accessed docs kept evading me.

Then I turned to Safari’s bookmarks page. Menu navigation for bookmarks never appealed to me with it’s difficult to manage control and truncated items. Safari’s implementation is as friendly as the window I spend most of my time in because it *is* the window I spend most of my time in.

I created bookmark folders on the left for the main topics like my design articles. You may only need to see how Dan added images to his mini-tabs once a year, but that once a year, you’ll be thankful you have that article and the articles it built off of already listed together in your browser.

That’s about all I use bookmarks for, just important articles or rarely used bookmarks (the Rasterbator for instance). Beyond that, my important bookmarks are all in NNW because what important site doesn’t have an rss feed?

August 24, 04h

You should try using Stand - http://hetima.com/safari/stand-e.html

Stand has a history searcher, it’s not mind blowing but man it’s handy…

it’s also got a few other handy features - syntax coloring for view source, bookmark searching, saved states…

cheers,
bw

p.s. Speaking of safari add-ons - you’ve used PithHelmet, right? Say goodby to ads…

Mike D. says:
August 24, 04h

Coupla Things:

1. Using LaunchBar will probably cure you of your auto-complete fetish. The behavior you speak of (typing “mez” or “g”) is exactly what LaunchBar excels at. Furthermore, in LaunchBar, you don’t even have to use the first letters; you can type in “blue” and Mezzoblue comes up instantly in Safari. And even further still, you don’t need to type in consecutive letters. “Mzzbl” would do it as well. LaunchBar’s ability to use smart word-matching algorithms makes it the best user-interface enhancement of all time, in my opinion. It will make you use Safari bookmarks more, because it indexes them by page title and not just by URL.

2. For your Dailies, you might benefit from instituting a one-click system via bookmarklet to publish these. Anytime I’m at a computer, home or work, I can click one bookmarklet and the URL/PageTitle I’m currently viewing is saved to a mySQL database which is pulled into the sidebar of my site dynamically and instantly. It takes the pain out of clipping.

3. Do you find that URLs to things you bookmark change that often? I’m just guessing here, but I have about 400 saved bookmarks and I’d be surprised if more than 30 or 40 of them (max) were rotted.

Hans says:
August 24, 04h

Hmmm. I’ve bookmarked nearly every site I’ve been to, yet I never use the bookmarks. Only perhaps once a year do I need a bookmark. Instead, I’ve relied solely on my memory or, as of late, Firefox’s _Tab Extensions_. Just go to tab>load tab session>save current tab session, and all the tabs are saved. Only one problem with this: Somehow the tabs “expire” after a few weeks; after loading a session that has “expired,” 75% of the the tabs will cause an error to pop up: “: is not a valid protocol.” Then my memory or Firefox’s history kicks in, and I re-create the session.

August 24, 04h

I still have a bookmarks list, way too big in fact. But I hardly ever use it.

Instead, I have a local .HTML homepage on my hard disk with links to all my frequently visited sites; each site is abbreviated to a single word or few characters, and categorised in a table-ish format. I either keep it open in my leftmost tab or summon it with a “new tab” gesture, and middle-click the relevant link when I want to go somewhere. In addition, it’s got some smart scripting to automatically POST a login form to sites that require it, and an inbuilt search box with a selection of several engines.

It wasn’t that hard to put together — I’m just amazed that more people don’t have similar custom homepage setups.

August 24, 05h

Sounds like a quest worthy of a http://www.lazyweb.org/ request

justin says:
August 24, 05h

Geez, no bookmarks, ever?! You’re just crazy Dave, I mean how much time do you spend going to Google, typing something to search for and then actually following a link?

At the same time, I never really used bookmarks much until I became a devoted Firefox freek. I’ve since moved my bookmarks.html file through several Windows machines (along with a few rebuilds), and recently moved my bookmarks.html over to my new Linux machine. Same bookmarks, many different computers.

Yeah sure sites change, URI’s die, but core documentation pages never change. If there’s anything I couldn’t do without, it’s the elusive Javascript reference or some programming tip that I spent at least 5-10 minutes (usually more, because I get side-tracked) searching over and over again for (while tweaking my search query).

I surely agree, sorting through a browser’s recent history is a chore in itself, especially when every dang page on a website has the same title! A search plug-in to examine browser history is a great idea.

August 24, 05h

I think Angus’ implementation — especially his “smart scripting” form POSTs — is an important idea. It would be nice to see something similar hit the mass market. Perhaps a browser plugin that allowed you to “record” an HTTP transaction (basically keeping track of the HTTP headers you send) that allows you quick access to sites only accessible through a POST login.

I rarely use bookmarks in the “traditional” sense anymore thanks to http://deli.icio.us. A simple delicious bookmarklet makes saving and tagging a URL much simpler.

In terms of getting from about:blank to point B, a combination of the Sogudi plugin (built into Fireworks) for oft-visited locations, Bloglines, and Delicious serve as my jumping off point.

John Hoke says:
August 24, 06h

As a recent convert to Macs from Unix/Linux, I never used bookmarks per se. When using Linux I used the Galeon browser which has a start page with the last X sites you saw, and typically that was what I needed. Additionally, it had the ability to put a bookmark on that page directly, and remove it later if I didnt need/want it any longer.

Now that I have gone Mac, I use QuickSilver http://quicksilver.blacktree.com/ which I find more useful than LaunchBar for me, a quick key combo, start typing the URL hit enter and Safari does its bidding.

I never understood long lists of bookmarks, coworkers spend hours pruning theirs to the exact feng shuiness of being, literally having 100’s. I don’t get it.

Ben says:
August 24, 06h

I’ve never been one for bookmarks either. I tend to remember the URLs that I visit regularly, or I remember how I got there. Many a time have I browsed to mezzoblue to find something on someone else’s site. I can somehow remember the path I took to get somewhere, but not what the destination was. Of course, I’ve got an unhealthy google addiction/reliance as a result of this way of browsing.

It’s worked for me, and continues to. I am thinking of installing some sort of RSS reader so that I can at least keep track of the stuff that I read daily more easily.

I thought I was fairly unique in my non-use of bookmarks, but it seems I’m not.

Firas says:
August 24, 06h

http://www.recalltoolbar.com

IE only. It’s probably what you came across.

Microsoft Research: Stuff I’ve Seen [PDF]:

http://research.microsoft.com/~sdumais/SISCore-SIGIR2003-Final.pdf

Lots more links at this halfbakery page:

http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Browser_20History_20Diagram

(As a sidenote: I realize you’re probably using Safari, but in firefox/mozilla that functionality you depend on autocomplete for is implemented as custom keywords:

http://www.mozilla.org/docs/end-user/keywords.html

Incidentally, I’ve observed many people use autocomplete as a pseudobookmarks solution. I guess it just seems natural if you never really empty your history.)

Dave S. says:
August 24, 06h

Brian:

Stand may very well have been the one I’ve been reading about. Thanks for the link!

Mike D:

I go back and forth between Quicksilver and Launchbar. Far from curing my auto-complete fetish, I suspect they’ve made me much, much more reliant on it. But neither really cuts it here — though they would if they search the same data Stand does.

Angus:

Tried that once upon a time. Actually, quite a few times. Never worked, and these days the type of sites I’d add go into my copy of NetNewsWire anyway.

Justin:

“…I spent at least 5-10 minutes searching over and over again for (it)”

Sounds like a task Google is better suited for anyway. Rather than save a list of links and try to remember which one *might* have the term I’m looking up, I’d rather just type it once and let Google sort ‘em out. That’s so much of a time-saver it seems like the obvious choice to me.

Ben:

“I spent at least 5-10 minutes (usually more, because I get side-tracked) searching over and over again for”

Sounds familiar. Perhaps that’s a unifying factor across people who don’t bother with bookmarks.

August 24, 06h

I, too, have never really used bookmarks. Having a program like AppRocket (similar to LaunchBar, but for Windows) made me use bookmarks again since it indexed them nicely, but I decided to abandon use after my trial period ended.

I totally depend on Google + auto complete. Add Firefox’s quick searching in the history and you are good to go. One thing I just started doing was adding a folder called “Clips” in my bookmark toolbar. It serves as a perfect temporary space for things that I don’t want to lose track of, but will delete shortly. It works quite nicely.

August 24, 07h

I also don’t ever use bookmarks, and the primary reason is simply that I switch browsers and computers all the time. If there was a single way to ensure that no matter which browser I opened on which computer had my bookmarks available, I’d probably use them. But, being a Mac user at home and a PC user at work, plus having a few “testing” PCs around the house, plus have five or six browsers on each machine (mainly for testing) — trying to keep bookmarks in sync would be an unbearable nightmare.

Plus, I have a good memory. :)

Kevin N says:
August 24, 07h

I’ve been bookmarkless for years. But early this year, I started using bookmarks and ordering/arranging them properly (by folders and separators) in Firefox.

Why? Because, I keep forgetting site URLs that interests me that I want (also need to) comeback later. Searching for that obscure domain.com/~userwithwierdnames type of urls is cumbersome. Relying to the browser history won’t help either, it gets deleted or lost at one point or when I switch machines.

Right now, I may have a gargantuan size of bookmarks that I may not use or click on, but I feel that I’m more efficient with these than with nothing. ;)

If I could get a utility for Firefox that checks for broken URLs in by bookmarks, I’m happy.

August 24, 08h

I am a Safari lover, with Saft and Stand it is one excellent browser. But a really nice integrated feature that I love about Firefox is the sidebar. You simple tell the sidebar to display history or bookmarks. At the top is a search field which live searches through whichever one you have displayed. I have used the search history many many times before, it is a wonderful feature. I really wish Safari employed something similar.

August 24, 08h

Bookmarks also don’t work for me.
I rely on auto-complete, Firefox’ Google based “I’m Feeling Lucky” functionality and recently also on Furl - http://furl.net/
Furl is similar to del.icio.us, but it also saves a copy of the page you “furl” (= no linkrot). Other advantages are: excellent full text search functionality, several (optional) metadata fields, import and export functionality and, of course, remote access to your Furl archive.

August 24, 08h

Hi Dave. :)

It’s true: most browsers do bookmarks badly. One of the reasons I fell in love with Phoenix v0.2 back in the day was that I could put drop-down folders in the link bar (turned out I could do this in IE, too; it’s just harder). This made organizing on the fly a lot easier than opening a modal dialog or dragging through a narrow Favorites menu—a related point to your Fitts’ Law article a few days ago.

Mark Pilgrim enlightened me about the usefulness of blogs relative to bookmarking content:

http://diveintomark.org/archives/2004/05/01/essentials#comment-5710

Since then, I’ve been following this pattern: if I find a useful site and it’s dynamic (news, blog, etc.), subscribe to it in my news reader—I’ll decide if it’s still worth reading later. If it’s static (referential), link to it on the blog—I can search through those by date or keyword. If it’s dynamic and not subscribable, dump it into bookmarks—maybe one day I’ll stumble across it again after it finally gets a news feed. ;-)

Josh says:
August 24, 09h

Have you tried Camino yet? It has bookmarks similar to Safari but with search that will search both bookmarks and history together and finds stuff pretty fast and on target.

August 24, 10h

Ever played with http://a9.com/ ? It’s the Amazon-meets-Google search engine approach. You get to keep your regular Google search results, but it also keeps a running history of your searches to refer back to later. And being a web site, it stays with you wherever you go.

Lee says:
August 24, 11h

I have hundreds of bookmarks. Why? Well, I often search out obscure topics, which means trawling throuh pages and pages of Google results, checking large numbers of links, plus I pick up tips to sites from all over the place.

To find them again, without use of bookmarks, bearing in mind that I may not be back for 6 months would involve replicating the hours it took to harvest them, or find the site that gave me the link, not always easy or possible.

Mine are all ordered in folders and subfolders, so, hopefully, I don’t have a problem finding them.

August 25, 01h

I’ve found http://del.icio.us combined with a couple of URL bar search keywords to be quick and useful:

http://naeblis.cx/weblog/DeliciousAddresslets

Have tried beating with stick, to no avail..

26
Tony says:
August 25, 02h

Take a look at Safari Stand found at http://hetima.com/safari/stand-e.html. I picked up this link via http://www.hicksdesign.co.uk/journal/554/new-safari-stand-features.

August 25, 06h

I used to hate bookmarks, and I still hate traditional setups. I just can’t get my head around them.

But on Opera and now Firefox (because Opera can’t get through the new corporate firewall), I find folders full of categorised bookmarks on the personal toolbar invaluable.

I can open a folder-full as a set of tabs, which is great for catching up on all my blogs at once. Or I can scan through quickly and pick out the individual one I want.

The only problem is that they need periodic trimming, tidying and categorising or they can spiral out of control.

Andy says:
August 25, 07h

I seem to be using the same kind of system, without really knowing it. I do have some bookmarks, although I rarely use them and I rely on auto-complete for URLs too. I also seem to be like Ben in that I know where to find a link to a site I need, but not the actual site.

Maybe it’s not quite as un-common as prevously thought, or maybe we’re just some crazy eccentrics…

29
Jeremy says:
August 25, 07h

http://www.furl.net/index.jsp

August 25, 08h

That’s the beauty of RSS!
With NetNewsWire, I can stay updated with all the sites I regularly visit, and I don’t have to actually visit the site to see if they changed.

About the other sites, that don’t have RSS… they should!

But I’m the same way with bookmarks, especially because I use IE, Firefox, and Safari, and just bookmark URLs in whatever browser I happen to be using, I forget what browser I bookmarked the URL!

Keith says:
August 25, 08h

Sounds like you’d be an advocate for www.commonname.com Dave :)

Roger says:
August 25, 08h

Nice to know that there are others who work the same way I do. I used to use bookmarks waaay back in the mid nineties, but for the last several years, I find that whenever I do save a bookmark, it just sits there, unused, forever. Memory + autocomplete + Google + the search feature on my own site (which in a way acts as a huge bookmark list) is what I use, and it works pretty well ;)

33
Eric Thompson says:
August 25, 09h

I use elaborate hierarchies of bookmarks in Opera for sites I definitely want to visit often, but I’ve found that the history sidebar with its instant title/url search is very handy for those “what was that page?” moments, if you set a long history.

Bill says:
August 25, 10h

Since I use the FireFox plugin - Sage - to aggregate blogs I use bookmarks a bit more than I used to - but of course, not in the normal fashion. I have an rss directory of bookmarks including good ol’ Mezzoblue and use Sage to read your (and other sites) RSS feed.

Occassionaly I will bookmark an item here or there, but it is just for a short while, like a note to myself to read this when I get the chance, then I delete the bookmark.

I have one persistant URL and that is for a software updating system at work we use to deploy updates to client systems. Its all web-based and I can never remember the address.

Narayan says:
August 25, 10h

Bookmarks function less as URL shortcuts for me as they do a to-do list for browsing. I imagine if you use RSS readers more than I do (which is to say, if you use RSS readers, you use them more than I do), such apps accomplish the same task.

I used to use bookmarks to store URLs to articles that I knew or thought I’d need to reference again in the future. Though my primary browser is Safari, I sometimes end up checking something in Firefox and end up using that for a while as well. One thing that enables this easy back-and-forth is a program for OS X called Bookit, at

http://www.everydaysoftware.net/bookit

This allows me to sync bookmarks across browsers and between machines, and allows for all my bookmarks to appear similarly across browsers (groups, etc). Collecting and sorting bookmarks from multiple browsers keeps my list fairly short and forces me to organize and cull on a regular basis (approx. once every 2-3 months).

As for information retrieval, I’ve taken to printing webpages to .pdfs (this has made me love websites which have print-media stylesheets) and storing those .pdfs in a program called DEVONthink, which indexes contents of .pdfs (or RTFS, which are a little easier to work with). DEVONthink is kind of like a pre-Spotlight Spotlight (in fact, its technology has been referenced in many articles about Spotlight). So if I want to do a search for virtualhosts, it’ll bring up everything from web articles I’ve saved to my own .conf files to the apache docs (which I’ve thrown in there for good meaures).

http://www.devon-technologies.com/products/devonthink/overview.php

Working this way affords me two luxuries: referencing things quickly when I’m offline (which I increasingly prefer) and freeing me from having to clutter up my bookmarks with a bunch of articles whose URLs would probably change the next time I needed them anyway.

36
Jonathan Berckhalter says:
August 25, 10h

Server-side bookmarks anyone? http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?t=41742

I haven’t tried it, but have been meaning to since I often use four computers on any given day - Mac & PC at work, Mac & PC at home.

August 25, 10h

I don’t use bookmarks.

I place the links on my website.

38
Ondrej Valek says:
August 25, 11h

What about combination of these two ways:

Using some feature/plugin, which would automagically bookmark those sites where you spent more than 30 seconds or so, and offering them in popup, when you type adress/keyword sorted by number of visits?

Dave L says:
August 25, 12h

I actually use bookmarks for my searching; I take advantage of Bookmark Keywords in Firefox. It expedites my searching by allowing me to search (better) right in the address bar. Google is pre-bookmarked on install, so you can simply type “google <search terms>” and get the results. You can edit/assign keywords for any bookmark in its properties. Here are some examples of sites that allow this kind of searching:
http://www.wormus.com/leakytap/Internet/CustomKeywords

Cam says:
August 25, 12h

I’m not as bookmark phobic as Dave, but I love autocomplete and Google. I’ve lost a few too many good sites to depend on that method completely though.
One funny little side note, though… when I worked in Japan, one of my Japanese co-workers remarked how odd it was that I always typed in URLs, and so did the other person in the office from Canada… It really emphasised the fact that latin-character only URLs are probably only easy to remember for a minority of the people around the globe using the web. (It also emphasized the fact that up until recently, even a lot of medium sized Japanese companies got sold into sub-domain style hosting where they don’t buy their own unique URL…)

41
Steve Dennis says:
August 26, 01h

I’ve been finding myself using Opera’s history panel, which has a real-time Quick Keyword Find.

August 26, 01h

You know what I’m imagining - Your browser history all saved in a google database with the google engine powering your search.

Ok thats a scarey though, Google with my entire history…!

But then it could have other benefits, such as tailored seaches in the main search etc… but scarey!

They’ve done it for email…

Will K says:
August 27, 02h

I’m the opposite: I use tons of bookmarks. Firefox lets me put folders on my bookmark bar, and depending on how I am working at the moment, I can pull down a needed link in a heartbeat, which lets me surf quickly when I am using only a few, selected sites. I have different categories, some for web development, another for color-related sites, another for food-related sites (I love to cook), still another for local stuff, etc; I have another called “Blog This,” for the obvious use, which I go and clean out regularly (which is the only drawback to this method that I can see, other than link rot).

September 01, 04h

I’m relying more and more on bookmark keywords, ie: when I first open Firefox, it’s muscle memory to type in ‘xmouse’ [enter] [ctrl+t] ‘mail’ [enter] (which loads up my website, a new tab and then my email). I also have several other keywords set up: wplocal takes my to my localhost-hosted WordPress login, wp takes me to my online WordPress login, gmail takes me to my gmail account login, hackers takes me to the WP hackers archives, plesk takes me to server admin section login, and so on. Obviously the sites I visit (rather than use, if you see what I mean) frequently, which are mostly weblogs, I tend to use Bloglines or URL-matching (as you have described) to get there.

I tend to avoid mouse usage, unless it can be done quicker that way, which is why I like keywords, and not clickable bookmarks.

September 02, 02h

In reference to comment 11: “I think Angus’ implementation - especially his “smart scripting” form POSTs - is an important idea. It would be nice to see something similar hit the mass market.” - well Opera has a Wand button. Visit a site with a log in form and you can click once on the button to log in.

A home page of links is what I use for some sites I check regularly. It’s ideal for working with multiple browsers as you can set them all to display the same page!

Opera’s keywords are an ideal solution to bookmarks. Like David House (comment 44) I have set up keywords for a wide range of websites. For example “mb” takes me straight to this site.

I have also started using Opera’s built-in Notes panel, which allows you to copy text from a page and double-click on the note later to return to the page. It’s superb for ‘bookmarking’ pages where I’ve posted a comment, so I can return to the exact page to check for updates. Plus notes allow you to type in many lines of text, so you can add more detail than a bookmark allows.

I wouldn’t advise using Google for finding sites. What if it goes down, as happened recently? Plus if there’s a lot of internet traffic, it’ll slow you down. Plus you might get multiple search results to wade through. Sounds too much like a guessing game to me. Much better to bookmark a single link and use a clear folder mechanism to store it.

I believe the Omniweb 5 browser uses thumbnails of each site in its bookmarks. That sounds like a great idea as one problem with bookmarks is remembering what they refer to. (Some sites use obscure titling.) However, browsers like Opera also store the ‘favicon’ so you can tell at a glance which bookmark you want.