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The New Wave of Bookmarks

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Mary Ellen Bates, Bates Information Services, Inc.


Logo for Bates Information Services, Inc.2 March 2005. Every good researcher maintains at least a small collection of bookmarks of her favorite Web resources. It's the virtual equivalent of the "ready reference" shelf of books that librarians use to answer the majority of their questions. And some researchers (you know who you are) have bookmark files that run into the hundreds. While it is nice to have handy access to key resources, it can be difficult to manage and, more importantly, find information buried in a large bookmark file.

Social Bookmarking

A new solution to this problem is Furl, a "social bookmarking" service. What is social bookmarking, you ask? The idea is similar to the social networking services such as LinkedIn or Orkut, or Amazon.com's "people who bought this book also bought these books." If other people have bookmarked the same site you just bookmarked, perhaps you would be interested in seeing the other sites they bookmarked as well.


You can, in essence, build your own mini version of the Wayback Machine.


I am not convinced that this is an efficient resource discovery technique, but the features of Furl have certainly caught my attention. In a nutshell, Furl lets you bookmark pages to the Furl site, annotate the bookmark, and assign keywords ("controlled vocabulary" to us librarians) to the bookmark. Furl not only stores that information in your "My Archive" area of its site, but it also archives a copy of the page as it exists when you bookmark the page.

Whoa! That means you can, in essence, build your own mini version of the Wayback Machine. While the personalization features of MyYahoo, MyJeeves and other search engines offer some annotated-bookmark features, these are generally tied to marking pages found through a Web search results page, and none of the my-[search engine] archives the full text of the page being bookmarked.

What else can you do with your "Furled" pages? You can run a search of your bookmarks, which actually goes out and searches the current version of all the bookmarked pages, not just your annotations of that page. Work with me here: What that means is that you can build your own searchable version of the Web, or at least that corner of it that you are particularly interested in. (If the search terms don't appear in any of your Furled pages, Furl returns the first 300 search results from a LookSmart Web search.)

You can also choose to search the universe of Furled pages not just your own, but those of all other Furl members. The search results page shows the links to Furled pages and a snippet showing your search term in context, the number of other Furl members who have Furled the page (an interesting indication of the relative influence of that page), and a link that lets you add that page to your own Furled bookmarks. One more click and you can see comments people made when they furled the page; it's a potentially useful perspective into what other Furl members are thinking. Interestingly, the results of an entire-Furl search are relevance-ranked based on PeopleRank (note the similarity in naming to Google's PageRank). The more Furl members that Furled the page, the higher its PeopleRank.

So, What Do I Use Furl For?

Later Reading. I see a thought-provoking article and think, "hmm, looks interesting, but I'm not going to have time to read it in the next few weeks. It's likely to disappear from this newspaper's site before then. Rather than print it off, I'll just Furl it and read the archived copy later."

Web Research. I am conducting Web research and want to save a large collection of white papers, reports or other resources. While I can save them to my own computer, I want a copy on another server that I know is backed up daily.

Later Use. I see a Web site that I know I will need to use in a month or two. My short-term memory isn't what it used to be; I would rather Furl it, with a long note reminding myself of why I care about this, than try to find it a month from now.

Presentation Backup. I am preparing for a presentation that includes demonstrations of Web sites. While I can build an HTML page of the URLs I want to show, loading the bookmarks on Furl ensures that, even if the site I want to show is down, I can show the archived page from my Furl collection. I can even filter my Furled bookmarks by topic; for a recent presentation, I loaded all my bookmarks into Furl and tagged them with a topic name of "Melbourne 2005". When I started my talk, I just filtered the bookmarks for that topic and the attendees never had to see my other Furled bookmarks.

Sharing. I want to share my personal view of the Web with others. While I could always set up a blog, a different approach is to let my friends and colleagues subscribe to an RSS feed of the Furled bookmarks (and my associated annotations) I chose to make publicly available.

I can think of a number of other uses for Furl, but I encourage you to head over there and try it out yourself. One suggestion, though: While you can set the default so that your Furled bookmarks are marked private, play nice and publicly bookmark the resources you value and that do not violate confidentiality (or disclose anything to competitors). For example, if your company is considering entering a new market, it would be best not to disclose the bookmarks pertaining to that market. For other bookmarks, though, share them with others. The continuing value of Furl is not only in its personal Web features, but in the shared knowledgebase and recommendation system of the social bookmarking network.

Note that another social bookmarking service that has gotten some good reviews lately is del.icio.us. It offers some nice features if you are interested in seeing what other people have bookmarked, including an RSS feed of bookmarks added to del.icio.us on a specific topic. However, as Joshua Schachter, the creator of del.icio.us concedes, "This system is pre-pre-alpha; many features have yet to be added. Additionally, many, many bugs remain. Please be careful." (That sounds like those signs you see in gift stores: you break it, you buy it!)

My primary objection to del.icio.us is that there is no straightforward way to keep your bookmarks private. The strong default is to share your bookmarks and their associated "tags" with other subscribers. While I understand that this is the way that a social bookmarking system grows, to virtually require that all bookmarks be public reduces the system's usefulness for many researchers. If Schachter adds the ability to set the user default to private, rather than public, bookmarks, and if Del.icio.us gets past pre-pre-alpha, it would be a real competitor to Furl.

2005 Mary Ellen Bates all rights reserved.


Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services, a research and consulting business based in Boulder, CO.


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Created: 2 March 2005
Revised: 18 October 2007 (no text revisions)
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/archive/social_bookmarks.html

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