Re-discoverability

August 24, 2004 4PM PST

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 That’s too much conscious effort I’d need to spend to save a list of links which may or may not be outdated when I need them.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.