A Parable: Links, Bookmarks, Favorites, My dumbass browser, and Web 2.0’s new killer app. (its a firefox extension).

Scotts feed

    rssLinkList(‘http://www.edtechpost.ca/mt/index.xml’,5,false,false);

Brians feed

    rssLinkList(‘http://weblogs.elearning.ubc.ca/brian/index.rdf’,5,false,false);

My longest title ever, yay! (and maybe longest post ever, way too long to read in its entirety). Recent events have compelled me to throw these topics into one long, ranting, and opinionated blog post. Yes I’m talking bookmarks, browsers and using ‘the web’, but hopefully this will speak beyond the distinctions of this tool or that, this browser or that, and into the realm of “why am i using ‘computers’ anyway?, what are the benfits?, and how much time am i wasting figuring all this out?”.  This will be particularly relevant for users (like me) that use multiple computers and have to manage information between them.

It has always seemed to me a large part of the burden in knowledge work, is the amount of time spent working the tools, configuring, setting up, testing, upgrading, importing exporting, and in general managing the technology itself.  This is always secondary to the ‘actual’ work.  I tell myself this is part of my job, to figure these things out and disseminate the information so other people do not have to go through the same  frustrating activities, but I just KNOW there are many office workers out there spending waaay too long deleting old emails, filtering spammers, putting ‘stuff’ in folders, and in general not doing their job. This problem is compounded when you work on several different computers, (home, office, laptop, cafe) and in the case of managing bookmarks (or favorites) becomes most annoying.

I remember the old days (sometime before oct 2004), before social bookmarking tools like  del.icio.us and furl came on the scene (and changed the whole concept of what bookmarks could be and how we could use them), I used a little something called linkagogo. Its still around and now, its social! My original use for this tool was to get over the problem of bookmarks that were stored on one computer, not being accesible from any other.  With linkagogo, I posted all my links “on the web”, and I could reference them from anywhere, from any system. This had an unfortunate side effect of me being much less discerning about what I bookmarked, and led to more time spent managing the sudden increase in bookmark traffic,  but it was fun.

Then they introduced a feature that just blew me away. Some genius figured out a way to synchronize the bookmarks in your browser across different computers.  I believe the projects was called BookmarkSync or Sync2IT. not sure.  The effect was, when I saved a link at work in my toolbar (the fastest and easiest way to bookmark anything) I could go home an lo and behold there was the link, in my browser at home. Right where i left it at work… kinda. Having your entire bookmark collection available online was one thing, but there is a much smaller collection of links that I need to use more regularly, like everyday, several times a day in fact. For instance, links to current projects, webmail clients, my company homepage, favorite music stations etc.  I like having quick access to these links and do not want to go to some website, login, sort through the system till I find the link. I want it right there in my browser. My life was so much better with bookmarksych!  Unfortunatley the party didn’t last long, the system was buggy as all get up, became frustrating to setup, required too much work under the hood, and i seem to recall they wanted money for this service which really turned me off.

The benfits of this capability quickly became overshadowed by the boom in social bookmarking. Now it was the public SHARING that was the important part of saving links. By aggregating the sum totals of what everybody was looking at you could aquire better links for one thing, share them, set up social networks and that was so much fun.  Unfortunatley it did nothing to solve my earlier problem of managing the bookmarks in my browser across different machines. In fact, with these tools my bookmarking REALLY took off, as I could easily bookmark EVERYTHING i saw that was even remotely interesting, and I was confident that is would reside somehwere in my account and could be easily found again should I ever need to.  Like THAT ever happens. I love these tools dont get me wrong, but lets face it, what goes into delicious, very rarely ever comes out again except perhaps as an RSS feed or ‘blog post’ in an aggregator somewhere.

So now getting to the present day, the firefox extension Foxmarks has saved the day! The original functionality I craved is back and it has never been simpler, (or cheaper).  Basically you install the extension, (on each of your computers) set up an account, and the system will continually check the changes to your browsers bookmarks and update the synch file that is stored on their servers.  You will be oh so pleasantly surprised to find changes you make at work to be mirrored on your home machine, almost instantly.  I think I’ve already covered how useful I find this myself, but I am curious of others peoples experiences. Does this sound like a good idea to you?

It seems that moving bookmarks around is not so difficult after all.  Well then why, why, WHY is it such a problem for the big players in the social bookmarking game? (namely del.icio.us and furl ) to provide working import/export funtions? Both of these services claim that you can import and export your bookmarks so easily. And its true, I am able to take furl or delicious bookmarks and export a file that can be imported into my browser. fine.  But what about moving between services? Why does importing into delicious seem to be so horribly busted? It seems almost intentional to me, and maybe this is still something they are working on, but I honestly cant figure out why it would take so long.  Is there no demand from users? Do they not want people to leave one site in favor of another perhaps?

I have tried using the import/export features of both tools in a myriad of ways, using both browsers, and del.icio.us will just not import a bookmark file, wether its generated from a browser, from FURL or from anything. Earlier this year, Scott was going on about how much this sucked, I could not agree more.  Brian recapitulated the problem in march, and although several solutions emerged, they all involved programming and sh*t which I am just not going to do. Jim posted on his recent success in this activity, specifically to move links from FURL to del.icio.us, and it seems like he has just used the default functionality provided by the respective sites.

Final questions:
Have you been able to import a bookmark file into del.icio.us  (ideally taking the tag info with it)?
Do you ever expect to want to do such a thing?
Do you want to stop managing your bookmarks altogether as badly as I do and get on with your work?
Can I get a w00t! w00t! for Foxmarks?
Bueler?… Bueler?…. Bueler?….

My cassette collection (my first flickr group)

Rods Tapes

My cassette collection feed

    rssLinkList(‘http://www.flickr.com/groups_feed.gne?id=23071868@N00&format=rss_200’,5,false,false);

Fading Waypoints feed

    rssLinkList(‘http://te.chni.ca/waypoint/?feed=rss2’,5,false,false);

My research thesis has begun in earnest, and spinning off from my previous work this year on tagging, I am testing the idea of using the photo sharing site flickr, as a means to gather data that can used to specualte on designing in the realm of “the new media“. (I am favoring that term these days over web 2.0, social software etc. just because, well… frankly i’m sick to death of hearing those terms.)

This project is taking place in a flickr group called My Cassette Collection.

About My cassette collection

What are these things good for anymore?

Cassette tapes hold a special place in our media history. Most importantly they hold memories, of people, places and times in our lives that are ever fleeting.

This group is a place to share these stories, using a picture of your tape collection as a guide.

I have compiled a beginers startup guide to assist those that would like to participate, but know little or nothing about online photo sharing or flickr.

Thanks to the thrind for being among the first of my comrades to contribute to the project and to give me a link from is blog. Bigups pal! His tape cassette collection is still relatively intact and he has noted what looks to be an interesting mix, the…

“I am Fucking Insane”; mix tape of songs that GET STUCK IN YOUR HEAD. Includes Billy Squier, the theme from Highlander, and many other favorites.

My project is more about the collection itself, how it is organized, displayed, stored etc. than it is about specific mixes. It is interesting to observe however what things bubble to the surface when users are given a labelling task.

So far, 24 members have joined this pool, and many of them had already posted the pictures to flickr. All I needed to do was ask that they add those pics to my group. It seems gaining new members will be somewhat slow and arduous as this is a realtively obscure topic. The (now) subculture of cassette taping and mixtapes is out there, and I am promoting the group around the internet on Yahoo Discusson groups and, and music communities like last.fm, but if anyone knows of other venues where “tapeheads” like to hang out online I’d love to hear from you.

Other problems so far: Getting people to join and use flickr. This potentially limits the scope of my target group too much. I dont necessarilly needa specific tool to gather the information I need. How does using this tool affect the results? HOw would it differ If I relied on something more conventional like email?

Torn between the big G and 30 boxes

30 boxes feed

    rssLinkList(‘http://30boxes.com/rss/50404/Jasontoal/410a2481b0473906b1842b9b2626af6e/1/’,5,false,false);

google calendar feed

    rssLinkList(‘http://www.google.com/calendar/feeds/jason.toal@gmail.com/public/basic’,5,false,false);

Yes it’s true, believe it or not I’m calendaring the web 2.0 way. That is, sharing and making available all kinds of personal information about me and my whereabouts on the web to whomever cares enough to look. I suspect it will come in handy for making plans with friends and family etc. but really, I am just trying to get my life organized, particularly my summer as I’m heading into thesis writing mode and need to keep a very tightly managed schedule. NOT my speciality. But there are a couple of new services I hope will make this process less painful.

First some context. The first thing that you may find unusual is the very idea of sharing your personal schedule on the web, and I couldnt agree more. Why would anyone want to do that? This is more common than you would think these days, and sites such as meetup.com and upcoming.org have built up large user bases just because they provide the means to share upcoming events. Typically this serves the purposes of inviting/luring others that may be interested. The benefit to sharing this information, is that you may actually pique the interest of total strangers but those that have a genuine interest in the subject of the event, so this works really well if you are trying to start a club or bring together all the ‘railroad model builders‘ in your town for instance. Yes, the information is typically ‘public’, but in the case of each of the tools I mention, that is always optional.

A new breed of web calendars are taking things a bit further in that they are (potentially) useful to input and manage all your personal events as well, aiming to provide users a means to organize their lives. Outlook killers is really what they are, which is one of the reasons I am so happy. 🙂 see.. happy. I dont know, maybe Mac users already have some awesome calendaring tool going on, but for these of us shackled to PC’s this is a godsend.

Last Month 30boxes came on the scene as announced here , and I have been blissfully adopting it as my new PIM solution. I cant even begin to get into the many features, and honestly do not want to as they are covered so well by others. Suffice it to say, its cool, its shareable, it has RSS and AJAX comin out the yingyang and an elegant and fully featured interface. (but not TOO fully)

Today of course, all the buzz is about the big G’s calendar solution. Some announcements here, here and here that give this some context in terms of the bigger picture, a la the battle w/ micro*****, but although tempting, i’ll refrain from commenting on THAT. (already running out of steam on this post as it is).

The fact is that Im a big fan of google services, too much so sometimes. At first look, this seems to be no exception. It too is cool, shareable, AJAX and RSS driven, clean elegant etc etc etc. but it presents the biggest problem for me which is user adoption. Which service will I give my clicks too? Sure the integration with gmail is nice, desirable even, but do I really want to commit ALL my interactions to the big G? Isnt there room for the little guy to get in there too? At this point it almost doesnt matter as I can easily copy information from one to the other verrry easily, the way it should be. Of course if my wordpress aggregator liked google feeds better I would be more conflicted, so for now 30 boxes wins! yay!