Bring order to your online bookmarks

New online bookmarking apps can improve how we collect, corral and control the information we find online.

A new breed of online tools may give power users better options for bringing order to their bookmark collections.

By Beverley Head

Ross Dawson is one of Australia’s best-known futurists. He constantly scans the global technology landscape, identifying trends and best-in-class solutions.

Yet when it comes to bookmarking his online information discoveries, Dawson admits he uses Twitter as a giant dumpster for everything he finds interesting. He shares the information with his 32,000 followers, and if he ever wants to find something again he goes dumpster diving… because it’s there, somewhere.

Dawson’s problem points to the fractured and fragmented bookmarking market. The “favorites” (or “bookmarks”) functions in web browsers often fail to meet the needs of mobile power users with multiple devices.

That means people use several systems and clunky workarounds to keep track of information. Dawson has used del.icio.us, and relies on Instapaper to collate information he wants to read when he’s flying and offline – but he is yet to find a single tool that meets all his bookmarking needs, hence the Twitter dumpster.

Hunting and collecting

There are early signs, however, that new online bookmarking apps can improve how we collect, corral and control the information we find online.

The just-released Linklocker, for example, is a US$12 a year service that lets users privately store and comprehensively tag information found online. Users retain control of their information and only share what they want to share. The service can be accessed through an extension on Chrome, Safari or Firefox browsers or through a “bookmarklet” (a bookmarking app).

Stash and Refind are another two online solutions in the final stages of development, which plan to up the ante in terms of what bookmarking allows.

"People use multiple systems and clunky workarounds to keep track of information."

Stash, for example, lets users set “read me” alerts for particularly important content, and automatically categorises information so that web pages are stashed as recipes, music, files, films and so forth.

Refind, meanwhile, has been designed to leverage search. Bookmarks saved to Refind via the browser bar or a bookmarklet can be found when needed through a Google search – which also reveals who else among your contacts has saved the same information.

If they can really make bookmarking simple but effective, and avoid cluttering the application with adverts or charging too much for their services, these new bookmarking start-ups could be onto a winner.

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From Mosaic to Pocket

The rise of mobile technology may have spawned a batch of bookmarking apps and services, but back in the internet’s early days, bookmarking was only something that came as part of your browser. The first bookmarking tool emerged in 1993 with Mosaic 1.0, an early web browser. At that time, invariably the PC was the tool used to access the web, and it was a simple issue to click and store bookmarks on a single machine. When Microsoft launched its Internet Explorer browser, it renamed bookmarks as “favorites”.

Instapper lets you save web content to view later on different devices or offline.By 2004, the tech world had shifted. Consumers were mobile, accessing the internet from phones and laptops. The term “social search” emerged, as people shared what they had discovered through social bookmarking. It injected the intelligence of the crowd into finding information: if a thousand people had bookmarked the same article, then it was probably worth a read.

Del.icio.us was one of the pioneers of social bookmarking but after a series of ownership changes, including a spell under Yahoo’s control, its users endured poor support and development, and some buggy releases. It currently seems to be on an upward trajectory, but with a new class of bookmarking tools in the wings, the competition will be fierce.

The popular Pocket service (originally called Read It Later) is also meeting its competition head on. Now a decade old, Pocket has 22 million registered users and is integrated in more than 1500 apps. Like Instapaper, Pocket syncs information across multiple devices and provides access to it even when you’re offline.

Pocket’s now mining the content that its users find and offering curated information services based on what its users are collecting.

Navigating the array of options

Bookmarking’s chief problem isn’t lack of choice; it’s the need to navigate through a complex array of bookmarking options to find the one that meets your needs.

In the analogue world, people use a fabric or cardboard bookmark to note their position in a book, or turn down its pages, or attach sticky notes, or pencil notes in the margins. It is a case of personal preference or using what is to hand.

In the digital world, you may be keen on the new Microsoft Edge features that let bookmarkers write notes on the top of a stored web page, or you may be excited by Instagram’s latest release that allows users to tag and save their favourite posts in a private repository. You may want a highly specialised bookmarking tool developed for specific applications. Then again, like Dawson, you may be happy to dumpster dive until something better comes along.

The big bookmarks

Read next: 10 tech tools to change your workday


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