I got all shirty at first, but actually he’s right. It’s not that people don’t bookmark, it’s that the purpose of bookmarking is less obvious now than it used to be.
The point of bookmarking stuff is, presumably, to
- save stuff you want to go back to
- save stuff you want to share
- save stuff you don’t want to forget exists
- save stuff in a place alongside similar stuff
- save stuff as a regular port of call
These have all changed in recent years.
RSS killed the bookmark
5. has largely been taken over by RSS. Why visit a website when it will come to you?
Sharing killed the bookmark
2. can be better shared via Google Reader—sort of—but now increasingly in things like Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed. And of course StumbleUpon, digg.com etc. We are more interested in just pushing stuff out there in a timely fashion—no use in sharing something if everyone else already knows about it. These links are as likely to be fat cat videos or news stories as much as services, products and more ‘permanent’ links.
Which leaves what?
1. and 3. are slightly similar. But saving something you won’t forget and something you will are slightly different—the difference between putting car keys somewhere you wont’ forget them, as opposed to putting car keys somewhere so you remember you have a car.
An online equivalent is your bank account website, say: You’re unlikely to forget you have a bank account, but you might forget the address—or hate typing in the address again. Whereas a cool new tool for collecting the email addresses of people who share your middle name might sound like something worth visiting again, but chances are you’ll forget it exists unless you save it somewhere.
So, saving something you go back to regularly makes sense as an in-house bookmark. I use the bookmarks toolbar in Firefox for these links (removing the name to save space):
and then I use the Google Browser Sync to make sure these look the same over different browsers. (Although I just noticed that it’s no longer available for download. What happened there?)
So that’s 1. dealt with. But this doesn’t really make sense more infrequent bookmarks, or bookmarks you’d just like to check out at some future date. The screen real-estate is finite, after all.
This is where I think bookmarking becomes more of a useful service. And tagging. But it still doesn’t work that well. Tagging is a great tool—and del.icio.us has made it much easier by suggesting tags for things—but I still find navigating my own tags too time-consuming a task. And adding them into clouds etc just seems like something someone else should be doing for me.
This is where we also get onto 4.—saving stuff so that it ends up alongside similar stuff. What I mean by this is that we may not be able to remember all the social tools we’ve come across that allow us to, say converse with other people who share the same middle name, but we know we saved it somewhere. So when we add another bookmark we want to be able to be sure that it somehow connects to those other bookmarks we’ve saved, but quickly and without too much pain.
An option here is PersonalBrain, which is another way to save bookmarks in a way that makes not only finding them easier, but also guarantees, through the web-like links, that you’d find connections with other bookmarks (or bits of information) that you’ve saved:
But it’s not perfect. Like del.icio.us, it requires pruning and management, and while it’s easier enough to add links—just drag ‘em in—it’s not as fast as one would like.
Indeed, I suspect that what we’re really talking about is speed. We want to be able to save stuff in a way that makes search and retrieval fast and painless. We want to be able to find what we’re looking for, and also be reminded that something is there for us to find.
Hence the Google solution, or the ask-my-buddies-on-twitter solution that a lot of Mathew’s commenters have talked about.
Perhaps the real change we’re talking about is the one that twitter has wrought. On the one hand it’s forced us to be more concise. It’s also enabled us to quickly communicate with a select crowd—the people we commune with on twitter—who are, at least for now, as cooperative and helpful as the early denizens of the net. So why bother rooting through your del.icio.us tags when you can tap into the wisdom of the twitter crowd?
That is what these services—and products like PersonalBrain—have to compete with. I’m guessing that what will evolve is a combined service where a request that is sent via twitter—anyone remember the name of that service that lets you talk to people with the same middle name?—would simultaneously search your own databases of links and saved data: your Google Reader shared items, your del.icio.us tags, your browsing history, your friends’ browsing history and tags. The answers—automated, human–would merge together and the results would organize themselves into a list.
Which might itself become a new form of content.
So, in short, bookmarks are dead, long live bookmarks. They are still the best signposts we have for getting around the web, but we have moved beyond the idea of needing to save them in some order. What we want know is to be able to find them quickly—and to be able to have what we find put in a broader context.
Does something like this exist already?