How do you search for information online? Do you go straight to Google or do you go back to your archived bookmarks which you’ve carefully tagged for future reference? It’s the usefulness of this bookmark archive as a go-to source I want to look at here.
Bookmarking is just a form of content curation based on human indexing. I have all my bookmarks in the free version of Diigo (with copies sent to Delicious). A point to bear in mind is that usually bookmarking sites don’t archive full web pages, just the title and any tags you attach to the bookmark. Caching or archiving full web pages is usually a premium paid feature, not surprisingly. Delicious doesn’t support page caching. The free version of Diigo only allows caching of up to 5 web pages per month while the basic package allowing unlimited caching costs $20/year. You can compare all the features of the free and paid versions of Diigo here. Another bookmarking service is Pinboard.in, but they have a sign up fee and then charge $25/year if you want archived copies of bookmarks with full text search.
Advantages of bookmark archive
I’ll need this page again: Bookmarking and caching a web page can be really worthwhile if you’re afraid that at some point in the future it may no longer be present online or it may get ‘buried’ with time and you won’t easily be able to retrieve it again. So it’s used for safekeeping. With a Google search, findability is often not repeatable for specific pieces of content over time, ultimately resulting in more time to retrieve stuff previously found. The paid packages at Diigo and Pinboard allow caching of web pages so that, even when the original page is not available or no longer online, you can still see what the original looked like.
Combine bookmarks with Google search: You can set up Diigo so that from the Diigo search bar, a Google search will show any relevant Diigo bookmarks. But you’ll really only see the real benefit with the paid web page caching bookmarking service when Google can search your archived pages and not just the titles.
Disadvantages of bookmark archive
Free service is limited in terms of search: Searching the bookmark archive will generally only cover the tag name and the article title, unless you’ve cached or archived the whole page. And of course if you haven’t cached the page your archive search may lead you to a bookmark of a page which is no longer online. On the other hand, a Google search is free and will reach the page contents, not just the page titles.
Can you remember the tag you used? If you’ve forgotten the name of the tag or tag phrase you used to archive the webpage it can be hard to track it down again. For example, I use the tag ‘humorous’ for anything funny I archive. I have to remember this is the tag. If in future I forget I used that tag and start to look for tags ‘comedy’ or ‘funny’ in my archive I won’t find the article. Similarly, if I start to tag new items with the ‘comedy’ or ‘funny’ tag, I’ll end up with my humorous stuff spread over three tags.
I try to use two-word tag phrases. For me, tagging everything say WordPress related under the single-word tag ‘Wordpress’ would be inefficient and it would be really hard to track stuff down in there. But even a web page with a two-word tag can be difficult to track down. For example, I’m thinking of changing the theme for this website and I remember that a couple of years ago, I bookmarked a post on a WordPress plugin which allows you to try out new themes on your site privately but still leaves the original theme in place for visitors. I couldn’t decide if I’d tagged the page as ‘Wordpress-tips’ or ‘Wordpress-themes’. In fact, I’d used ‘Wordpress-themes’ but I only found the post by trawling back through the posts with this tag and I eventually found it – Theme Test Drive. So it’s still difficult to search for posts in a bookmark archive unless you’ve cached the pages.
Here’s another problem related to two-word tags – tag inversion. For example, did I use ‘wordpress-backup‘ or ‘backup-wordpress’ when tagging a page last time? So I end up with stuff spread over two different tag phrases. The important part is identifying a tagging system that allows me to put things into categories where I can find them again quickly and that’s not easy. One way to partly get round this problem is to adopt a convention for two-word phrases by using the sequence verb-noun (or in this case ‘backup-wordpress’). That way you can be consistent with tagging and hopefully find articles in your archive more quickly.
Archiving of content ‘just to have it’: I’ve taken this as a disadvantage as it’s all too easy to archive stuff you think you might need at some point but never actually get round to using again. In fact it’s just cluttering your archive of more important useful stuff.
Limited choice: Bookmarking can only cover a very small portion of web pages on a subject. You hope you’ve bookmarked a useful representative page from many available, but you might not have and given time, the information on your bookmarked page may be superseded by up-to-date info on newer pages which you would find with Google search.
So is archiving worth it?
This post Has Search Replaced Bookmarking on Six Pixels of Separation comes down in favour of Google search together with asking friends on Facebook and Twitter. However, a read through the comments on that post suggests that, for many people, bookmarking still has an important part to play in archiving and sharing content.
All in all, when looking for content, you may be better just to stick to a Google search or ask on Twitter or Facebook. Having said that, I think the utility of the bookmark archive is not in searching it, particularly where the pages aren’t cached, rather having a set of definitive useful posts with no clutter and carefully tagged for future reference.
How do you retrieve online information? Do you use a bookmark archive and if so do you have any tips on quickly retrieving information there? Drop a comment below.