Loose Wire: Bookmarks Are Dead. Long Live Bookmarks

By | August 25, 2008

Bookmarking, the act of marking a favorite website, has become a much more complicated matter these days. Here’s how to master the art of keeping tabs on the web

By Jeremy Wagstaff

A thought occurred to me the other day, as these things do. Who uses bookmarks anymore?

Not the kind you put in books–although I have noticed they’ve been in steady decline too. I mean the kind you add to your browser to keep a record of a website you’ve visited that you’d like to go back to one day, if there was ever time.

So I dug more deeply. And I found it’s true that people tend not to bookmark as much as they did, but for a range of reasons.

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 a bit more varied now. Websites we regularly visit are, for many of us, now part of our daily Really Simple Syndication feed. If we want to share a bookmark we can do it via StumbleUpon or Facebook. I see a lot more of the latter, recently—always fun to do—and StumbleUpon, if you haven’t stumbled upon it yet, is a rich trove of treasures maintained by some very fun people.

Then there are two other types: saving a webpage you won’t forget and one you’re afraid you might. That might sound silly, but it’s the difference between putting car keys somewhere prominent so you won’t lose them and leaving them somewhere prominent 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—one you’d store inside your browser, as in the old days.

But what happens when you come across something that looks interesting, but not exactly vital? How can you keep them some place you’ll know where to find them later, if you remember they exist?

This is where I think bookmarking becomes more of a useful service. And tagging—labels you add to things to help you find them (think losing car keys, not forgetting you have a car) is an important part of it. But it still doesn’t work that well. Tagging is a great tool—and bookmark storing services like del.icio.us have made it much easier by suggesting tags for things—but I still find navigating my own tags too time-consuming a task.

I don’t think I’m alone. What I’ve noticed that, at least among geeks, we’re turning less to software and more to people to help us find those signposts quickly.

Now, sharing our online day with others on services like twitter, gives us a channel to quickly communicate with a select crowd 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 bookmarks, and bookmarking services, 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 stuff. The answers—automated, human–would merge together and the results would organize themselves into a list.

Which might itself, in true Web 2.0 fashion, 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. Who better to do that then your big network of online friends?

How do you save your bookmarks? Share them with me at the email address below.

©Loose Wire Pte Ltd. Jeremy Wagstaff is a Singapore-based commentator on technology. His guide to using computers, Loose Wire, is available in bookshops or on Amazon. He can be found online at jeremywagstaff.com or via email at jeremy@loose-wire.com.