It happens to us all at some time. We’ve read an interesting web page, bookmarked it and tagged it but when we go back to look for that page in our bookmarks sometime later, we just can’t find that exact page again no matter how hard we try. I hate losing things in the real world and get just as mad when I do the same in the digital world. Still, at least in the digital world we have tools at our disposal to make tracking down web pages easier.
Some people would say that bookmarking on a site like Delicious is an old fashioned way of doing things anyway. Better to just do a search on Google or Twitter. They may be right. I just feel that it’s still helpful to bookmark a useful web page and add it to your info archive of great pages so you can call upon it again to refresh your memory of what was said, for example, to use it as a tutorial for a task or to help write a blog post. The other really important aspect is that many web pages aren’t static and can be altered or deleted at a later date. Adding important web pages to a disk archive can get around this.
I thought I’d go through some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned about bookmarking and managing bookmarks which might help. I’ve bookmarked close to 12000 web pages in the 2 years I’ve been using Delicious, the online bookmarking tool, so I have to have an effective way of searching through them otherwise it’s all pointless. You wouldn’t throw paper willy nilly into a filing cabinet and expect to find a page again quickly. You have to file it in such a way that you know how to retrieve it again. So let’s look at how to try and avoid losing bookmarks.
Vital web pages which you just don’t want to lose… ever!
Web pages can get deleted, updated or otherwise removed from the internet. For example, the recent demise of Yahoo’s Geocities will lead to the deletion of 7.5 million web pages. Bookmarks can also be lost if your bookmarking service suffers a data loss as happened to ma.gnolia back in January this year. For vital pages which you must have a copy of, there are a few things you can do to keep a permanent copy:
1) Clip the web page directly from your browser into an organizer like say Evernote or bookmark the page with a research tool like Diigo which bookmarks the entire web page, unlike Delicious. More about that later. It will now be fully searchable within these apps.
2) Save the web page as a pdf and download it to your hard drive, then make sure to back it up. There are a few ways to do this. First, you could copy the URL of the web page to loopApps (choose add URL and paste the URL). Then click the disk image icon to the left of the pdf name and download it to your PC. The second way would be to install a print-to-pdf utility like doPDF which I’ve talked about before. From within your browser, choose Print from the File menu, then, rather than print to a printer, print to a pdf file. You may want to use a bookmarklet like Printliminator or PrintWhatYouLike to extract just the elements of the web page you want before printing to a pdf. If your web page is in fact split over a number of pages where you have to click ‘Next’ to read the full story, you could use a bookmarklet like PageZipper which automatically merges all the ‘Next’ pages into one page before creating the pdf. Once you have downloaded the pdf of the web page, it’s searchable from within a pdf reader like Foxit Reader, it’s searchable using a desktop search utility like Copernic Desktop Search, or again just add the pdf of the web page to Evernote where it will also be searchable there.
3) Saving a web page as a pdf doesn’t always preserve all the formatting, however saving as an mht file will. Then archive it on your hard disk. Rich Menga of PCMech has explained how to archive web pages using MHT files very clearly together with a video.
4) Use a service like backupURL to save a copy of the website online.
They give you a link to the backed-up website, which you could save in your Delicious bookmarks. I noticed that even if you elect to save a particular web page, it saves the whole website as the links away from that page are still active. Not sure about their claim that the link will last forever though. If it’s really important, I’d still back it up as well using methods just mentioned above.
Your vital web page is no longer online
If you’ve bookmarked a page and it’s no longer online and you hadn’t followed the procedures above to save it or backupURL hasn’t worked for some reason, you may possibly be able to retrieve the page at the Wayback Machine. Using this, you can often find pages that have been removed or deleted from the live web years ago. If you find it, save it using the steps I outlined above.
Save web pages to read later
If you’re in a hurry, have found a great site but haven’t got time to read it straight away and you don’t want to lose it, you could save it to read later using the Firefox extension Read it Later or the Read Later bookmarklet. Once you have time to read the web page, you can then follow the other tips I’ve listed to bookmark it, tag it, clip to Evernote or Diigo or save it as a pdf or mht file.
Using tags effectively to classify and group your bookmarks
Giving your web page a really specific tag can go a long way to tracking down that page again. If I can’t find a web page straight away, at least if I can narrow it down to a specific tag category, I can look through those and hopefully find it. When I first started using Delicious, I assigned pages into really broad categories, eg software, internet, computer, windows, backup, making it really hard to track down specific pages with any of these tags. More recently, I’ve been using hyphenated tag phrases to give pages more specific categories. Using the backup tag as the first example down my Delicious tag list, here’s a screenshot of those tags:
Notice that it’s helpful to put the common word first (backup) then the modifier (eg browser) rather than the other way round. This keeps them all adjacent in the alphabetical tag listing in Delicious. I notice that further down the list I have a category driver-backup which I should change to backup-drivers. Obviously, if you have been using both alternatives interchangeably (eg gmail-backup and backup-gmail), this will surely decrease your chance of quickly finding that elusive missing web page. It’s quite straightforward to sort this out by renaming a tag in Delicious. Go to Tag Options at the top right corner and clicking Rename under Edit Tags, fill in the old tag name and the new tag name and then click Save. Everything with the old tag will be given the new tag.
Another possibility for more effective tagging is to use Facette, a Firefox plugin, to force you to be more specific about how you want to categorize each bookmark. Facette is an enhanced version of the Delicious tagging tool and creates a number of additional tags in your Delicious library.
Searching your bookmarks
You can obviously search your bookmarks in Delicious for lost web pages, but remember that this actually only searches the bookmark title, tags and any notes you inserted in the notes field when you saved the bookmark. However, it may be that the vital things you remember about the page aren’t in the title tags and notes but contained within the content of the web page itself. I heard it put very well on an Evernote podcast as tip of the tongue syndrome – where any one of the little hooks or memories you have in your brain about the web page will hopefully be just enough to track down that lost web page. So to find lost bookmarks, it would be much more useful if you could search the content of the bookmarked web page as well. There are a few services which offer this: first Deligoo, but unfortunately, this Firefox extension is not compatible with the latest versions of Firefox; second Delizzy – but I can’t recommend this as it seems a little buggy – it can take ages to log into your Delicious account and read all your bookmarks. As an alternative, you could export your bookmarks from Delicious to Evernote but unless you’ve actually clipped the pages into Evernote, it will just search the headings of the bookmarks and not the content – at least that’s what I’ve found. If I’m wrong, please let me know and I’ll update this.
Another possibility is bookmarking the web page with Diigo which makes the entire page searchable. David Pierce has written a great post on Diigo at MakeUseOf. As with Evernote you can import all your Delicious bookmarks into Diigo.
Another choice is to build a custom search engine to search the full content of your bookmarks. There’s a great post by Sarah Perez at Read Write Web on building a custom search engine to search your Delicious bookmarks. This involves exporting all your Delicious bookmarks as an html file and importing them to a Posterous blog, then linking a Google Custom Search Engine to this to search the content of your bookmarks. Sarah’s post explains the method very clearly. I’ve tried it and it works well. The only real problem is that it’s a little cumbersome constantly updating the list of bookmarks on your Posterous blog.
So to summarize, the best ways to search the full content of your bookmarks for a lost web page is either with a custom search engine or with Diigo. So far I’m pretty impressed with Diigo.
Hope you’ve found these tips useful in managing your bookmarks and tracking down lost ones. Of course if you have other ways of avoiding lost bookmarks and keeping track of your info archive, please drop a comment. I’d love to hear how you deal with this.