Meep Meep

August 22, 2008

Bookmarks for the Disorganized

Filed under: Evernote — meepmeep @ 6:54 pm +0000

These days, bookmarks and tagging seem to be all the rage in the Firefox world.  Mozilla recently announced the winners of the Extend Firefox 3 contest, and lifehacker has an article on that.  Four of the 13 are bookmark- or tagging-related.  While these are certainly useful to many people, they’re probably much less useful to those of us who are disorganized.

To properly use bookmarks, they must be correctly organized into bookmark folders and be tagged with the appropriate keywords.  As you add more bookmarks, you must continually sort them into the proper folder and insure that you’re consistently using the correct tags.

As for me, I have a hard time doing this.  While I can make an initial stab at sorting my bookmarks into various and sundry folders, it’s hard to keep up with new bookmarks.  I tend to bookmark, and bookmark, and bookmark.  After a long while, I have a daunting pile of bookmarks that dares me to organize it.

Tags add another whole new dimension of work for me.  I also use del.icio.us, as it’s a great way of sharing links between browsers.  The problem that I eventually had with del.icio.us is that you have to be religiously consistent with tagging.  Sometimes, I’d leave off a tag when tagging a URL, or I’d add another useless tag.  My del.icio.us account has nearly 1300 bookmarks, and around 370 tags.  Too many of these tags have only one bookmark associated with it.  That’s not good.

Another problem that I have with del.icio.us is that it turned into the “great bookmark black hole” for me.  I’d put bookmarks into it, and I could never find them again.  All too often, when I searched for a bookmark, I could never find the bookmark, because the keywords I used didn’t appear in the tags, the URL or the bookmark title (they would appear in the web page, but del.icio.us doesn’t record that).  I generally don’t use the “notes” field because it’s too much work for me to maintain.  Searching was also not as fast as I’d like, although it’s fast enough for many people.

Now, I want to emphasize that del.icio.us is a great service.  Used properly, it’s wonderful, and many people love it.  Unfortunately, for me, I’m too disorganzed to use it properly.

Computers are supposed to make life easier.  I shouldn’t have to spend time on mundane tasks such as organizing bookmarks.

That’s where Evernote comes in.

Evernote is a program designed to save notes — in text or picture form.  While it’s not designed as a replacement for bookmarks, it has a number of features that make it attractive:

  • You can save part or “all” of a web page into a note, and the web page URL is automatically recorded.  (Although I say, “all”, it doesn’t quite get everything.  Evernote records most of the text, but the formatting is often lost.)
  • If the bookmarked page goes away, you can still have the important web page text available (assuming that you copied it into Evernote).
  • You can easily synchronize between multiple PCs and Macs.  Your notes are also accessible via a web browser.
  • When you synchronize, everything gets mirrored into a local database.  You don’t need an internet connection to view and search your notes.
  • With a local database, searching is fast.
  • Evernote can even search for text in images.
  • An iPhone client exists, although it does not mirror notes locally.  With the iPhone, you need an internet connection to access your web-based notes.
  • If you still want to use “bookmark folders”, you can organize notes into different “notebooks”.  However, you don’t get hierarchical folders with this, as you can’t put a notebook inside of a notebook.
  • You can still use tags, if you’re feeling brave.

The big advantage here is that you can easily copy the important parts of a web page into a note, and Evernote takes care of automatically recording the URL for you.  You generally no longer have to tag URLs (but the feature is there, if you still want to do that), because the web page text acts as tags.  You don’t care if words like “the”, “and”, or “you” get indexed, because you’ll probably never search for them.  Instead, you’re going to search for the real keywords, like “bookmark” or “iPhone”, which should be, hopefully, part of the web page text.  This makes searching really easy, and, if you should find yourself without an internet connection, you can still view the important text.

These days, I no longer bookmark.  Instead, I blindly copy large chunks of web pages into Evernote (the entire web page article, if I can manage it).  Not only does this make it easy to search, but it also gives me a copy of the important text/images, if the page goes away, or if I happen to be somewhere without an internet connection.  Once I find the note I want, there’s a little icon for me to click, to bring me back to the original web page.

Side notes:

  • Evernote is free, as long as you don’t upload/synchronize more than 40MB of data per month (synchronization is done via Evernote’s servers).  If you go over the limit, you won’t be able to synchronize until the next 30-day cycle.  While this is enough for many people, it won’t be enough for others (it wasn’t, for me).  If you need to synchronize more than 40MB/month, you can upgrade to a premium account for $5/month or $45/year.  With a premium account, your limit is increased to 500MB/month.
  • The free Evernote accounts are synchronized using an unencrypted link.  If you’re simply recording public web page text, this generally isn’t a problem.  However, if you want the synchronization to be done via SSL, you have to upgrade to a paid, premium account.

Now, Evernote isn’t a 100% replacement for bookmarks.  Although I no longer use the pull-down bookmark menu, I do put frequently-used bookmarks onto a toolbar.  If I use a bookmark frequently, there’s no real need for me to put it into Evernote.

Also, some people may find that they’ll still want to organize notes into notebooks, and tag them.  While blindly dumping notes into Evernote is great for searching, you have to remember that a note/bookmark is there before you can search for them.

For example, when I first started using Evernote, I copied over as many of my del.icio.us link as possible.  While going through this long list, I encountered bookmarks that I’d totally forgotten about.  These were interesting bookmarks, and I’d completely forgotten that they were there.  Being able to search is all well and good, but, if I don’t know that something is there, I can’t search for it.

That’s where notebooks and tags come in.  If I just blindly dump notes into one notebook, it’s hard to browse them.  However, if I use multiple notebooks and tags, I have some semblance of a chance to encounter long-lost interesting notes.  This does, of course, require maintenance.  Right now, I’m trying to use as few notebooks/tags as possible:

  • The vast majority of notes go into a generic “my notebook”.
  • Some of the more interesting notes go into various “interesting” notebooks (as few as possible).  These exist only so that I can find interesting stuff by browsing, later.
  • New notes are automatically put into a default notebook called “Unfiled”, so that I can easily see how large the daunting pile is.  Fortunately, the majority of these get dumped into the generic notebook, and so sorting is simplified.
  • I use very few tags.  The few tags I use happen to be tags that have little or nothing to do with the note text, such as “To do” (basically, to-do notes) or “Wishlist” (things that I’d like to buy someday).

For more information, see the Evernote home page at www.evernote.com (check out the YouTube video introduction).  It was also recently featured on G4’s Attack of the Show (via the Evernote blog).

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