Design Social Software

Towards tag-based bookmark management in web browsers?

So since playing with Flickr and working on a little fun project at work on (cough) folksonomies with Mr Webb, I’ve become obsessed with tags and the ways in which they can be used to build better navigational interfaces. Currently I’m interested in how we might use tags for better folder-less bookmark management in web browsers.

The way I see it, most people find the style of bookmark management commonly used in web browsers pretty much totally useless. Once you’ve added the two or three sets of bookmarks that you might use every day the bookmarks section of the web browser swiftly becomes very quickly a wasteland to which links may be consigned and never looked at again. After a while even the simple job of finding a URL that you previously bookmarked becomes so difficult that it is often easier to instead use Google to find the page afresh. Clearly there is something wrong here.

The most obvious thing that is wrong with bookmarks (other than that not enough browsers make them easily searchable) is that keeping them organised is an intensely complicated job. If you bookmark things regularly, it takes almost no time for your lists to grow to be hopelessly out of control. And then we’re expected to organise them into folders. But URLs and links can talk about any subject and can be categorised along enormous ranges of axes – they are much more suited towards databased organisation than they are the simple heirarchies that folders can afford. One URL will seem to fit into your ‘social software’ bin – but also would fit equally wellin your ‘do something about this URL’ bin, and perhaps should also be in your ‘relevant for latest project’ bin. Currently the only solution is to put the same thing in three separate folders – creating three bookmarks and no sense of how they relate to each other semantically. And putting things into multuple folders can be a slow and flow-disrupting process.

To summarise the problems with current bookmarking systems then, we could say that (1) the process is slow and annoying (2) that it requires us to continually refine and redevelop our taxonomies if we’re going to keep track of everything, (3) that URLs can belong in a number of bins and that (4) we can be left with unmanageably large lists. An ideal system would therefore speed the process up of both bookmarking a site and retrieving it later. An ideal system would try to alleviate the problems of categorisation and would work as an a priori assumption that a URL might wish to be stored in multiple bins. An ideal system would not display all the links by default. An ideal system would, in fact, use tags…

Now I’ve not worked through this completely yet, and I know there are some systems that allow the use of keyword addition and searching to a URI (I think it’s either in Firefox or is a simple plugin to it), but I don’t think they’re quite there yet. So let me walk you through where my thinking is at the moment and hopefully some of you guys can take it further or develop it in an interesting way.

So first things first, the process of adding a bookmark. On a mac you can either use a keyboard shortcut to trigger this or you can go to “Add Bookmark” in the main menu. Here’s one suggestion about what you might get when tried to bookmark a site:

Basically it’s all pretty similar to normal really except that you’re immediately given the option to type in keywords/tags that help describe the bookmark you’re trying to make. Now in this diagram I’ve kept in the option to edit the name of the bookmark itself, but I actually think this is a mistake. In the next picture (a mock-up of the preferences screen) you’ve seen that I’ve put in an option to make that name editable or uneditable. I’m thinking of the minimum practical keystrokes and suggesting that a user needs to be able to click on Apple-D and then immediately start typing keywords before pressing return to save the whole thing. Editing the name would seem on the whole to be a waste of time and user effort.

Now by removing the need to edit the name we’ve saved a little time (if we can get away with it, which is at best debatable), but surely adding the tags in by hand must take longer? Well the other thing you could add to the preferences would be the option to pull out the page’s meta keywords description and use them by default as tags (restricting it to the first ten or so, obviously) to create a basic set of tags to work with. Fast typists could turn this option off. If you wanted to really explore extreme possibilities then I’m sure it would be possible for a Google-created browser (for example) to pull useful keywords out of dmoz.

The next problem would be how to present this stuff to the user. Safari by default has a number of views of bookmarks. There’s no need to get rid of any of these – each should be simply a different way of allowing the user to browse through the stored addresses. I would be proposing adding a new browse option to the ones that already exist – one that looked rather more like one of the Flickr tag-views (either top tags plus search or all tags). These pages would not display any URLs by default, just ways of slicing down into the database. Only after clicking on “music” would all the links pertaining to music appear. More interestingly you could then show not only all the links pertaining to music, but a newly filtered set of tags allowing you to drill down still further. And by putting a cancel button by each of the selected tags you could start by looking at things that were tagged “music”, then move to seeing the links filtered “music + country” and then move to all things tagged “country” by deselecting music before moving to “country + Turkey + history” with only a few more keystrokes.

I’ve tried to illustrate what I’m talking about with a few mock-ups, but they’re not terribly good.

Here you can see a detail showing a selected left menu and an interface for selecting an initial tag. The full mock-up is here. Now here’s a detail of one in which someone has selected country, and is prompted to either refine their query further by adding another tag, to cancel their current query (small cross after ‘country’ or to follow a link directly through to the site in question:

The full mock-up for this one is here.

So anyway, there’s a hell of a lot more I could say around this subject and no doubt an awful lot more I could write about it, but I’m conscious of how long this piece is getting and how much attention I’m demanding from people. So I’m just going to swiftly bring this to an end with a few suggestions about how you could move these things forward. Because one of the great things about the tag systems that are used in both Flickr and is that they becoming infinitely more useful when they’re aggregated. There’s any number of ways you could do the same for locally held bookmarks – for a start you could use the social power of Rendezvous to aggregate tags and bookmarks together to create a local taxonomy of URLs which would allow you to say to a friend, “I’ve got a whole bunch of bookmarks on this subject tagged up as social software” and if they were in the room they’d just be able to see them immediately = and perhaps drag them over to their own local bookmarks. And better still – why should this be an action restricted to people physically close to you? Why not socially close? I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why the social relationships that I have described with iChat aren’t a more implicit part of all of my applications. A social networking system that aggregated all the bookmarks of every mac user you keep in touch with (and built around tags) could create a new and significant form that hybridised concepts of presence and zeitgeist and took the concepts that the folksonomy sites are promoting one stage further.

62 replies on “Towards tag-based bookmark management in web browsers?”

Some friends and I were discussing bookmark management after I introduced them to delicious. Not being a regular Firefox user I hadn’t yet explored their ‘live bookmarks’ feature, but it seems like you can use that to subscribe to your delicious feed.
It’s pretty rudimentary; but it does allow me to keep my ‘toread’ or ‘toblog’ collections close at hand (when using Firefox). And it did give me some indication that what I had till then considered a pretty useless feature did have some applications even for those of us who are already using aggregators.

This is really interesting, and it’s lovely to see your thinking in such detail. There’s a couple of things I don’t quite get though. One, isn’t this just a different (lovely and attractive) UI on top of, the MacOS client for
And secondly, this line: “if they were in the room they’d just be able to see them immediately” made me think, if you want to share your bookmarks, isn’t it better to use the web? That way, if you wanted to share them you could show them to anybody, not just people in your office.
In fact, you could subscribe to your RSS feed and tag feed using Firefox’s Sage sidebar extension, and have something very like this already. Probably better to use cocoalicious, from a UI point of view.
But I may have missed the main thrust of your post: sorry if I have.

Interesting ideas. Better bookmarks was one of the reasons I started a blog, and one of these days I’ll revisit and actually sign up 🙂
Just a minor point about the bookmark names – I agree with the default focus being in the tags field because most of the time you’re going to just want to enter tags. However, some sites don’t have particularly useful titles so from time to time you will want to change the name of the bookmark from “Insert title here” or “Main page” or “Photos” to something actually relating to the page…

Good idea Tom.
On a local machine (which is where bookmarks live for most people) the closest we have right now seems to be Quicksilver’s bookmark plugin. It lets you type CTRL-SPACE and the first few letters of what you are looking for and displays bookmarks with title matches. It’s easier than folders anyhow.
Apart from bookmarklets in the bar, I no longer use bookmarks for collecting links because they are unmanageable.

Tags are fun, but I’d really rather have the browser do the work. Perhaps a screen scrape of the data, filtering for the most common words and automatically tagging it?
Once tagged, however, I like your concept of browsing through your bookmarks.

Much of what you’re talking about is stuff I’ve actually already implemented in, aside from the non-local part. You might consider actually trying it out.

I think that your ideas are admirable – hierarchical bookmarking is broken – and something needs to happen. I also think dependence on any local system is also part of the problem – I move between multiple computers daily, and yearly. If your new fangled local tagging systems works great, but then your computer dies along with your data, you are back to square 1. I also think would solve most of your problems. I can’t stress how much has changed the way I “bookmark” things. I no longer bookmark items locally – I just popup the tagger, and bam there it is. I have been experimenting with pulling the bookmarks to a local “backup” every time I login to my powerbook in order to seed the aforementioned QuickSilver bookmarks plugin. I also have been experimenting with tagging sites which I visit daily using book:per.pol, book:nyc, and book:blog which I then pull into a “links” page via MagPie RSS (with full caching on to spare joshua the load). I chose those tags on purpose because those are “special” tags which I wouldn’t use on a daily tagging basis. Additionally, I pull in my inbox links via MagPie to populate the bottom of the links page. You could very well create a web interface which is exactly like your mockup, but the interface is constantly improving, so I would start there. Of course, if joshua takes his ball home, all 1300 or so of my bookmarks are toast. Perhaps a solution is some sort of backup, both locally and to another webserver would be a solution, but then you get into a whole ‘nother problem. also allows you to tag your books marks, search them, share them, import/export them. And it even stores a personal copy of the page for you on a central server in case the original site goes down. Definitely worth checking out. also allows you to tag your bookmarks, search them, share them, import/export them. And it even stores a personal copy of the page for you on a central server in case the original site goes down. Definitely worth checking out.

Creating a Folksonomy
For anyone who has struggled to create or use a system to classify objects in a logical fashion, finds that once you add one other person to the system, the system breaks. The more people you add to the system,…

I couldn’t agree more about the problems inherent with bookmarks as they currently exist – but for me the problem was solved instantly with a linkblog. I’ve got the whole of the post body to drop in as much metadata as I want, and the blog search engine to find it again once it’s dumped.
The hardest part for me was letting go of the idea that ‘my’ bookmarks should live on ‘my’ machine – eventually I came to the conclusion that it was a daft hangup. If I’m not online, then the bookmarks are useless anyway, and if I was that paranoid I could run the linkblog locally on my Powerbook.
The two factors that trouble me about social bookmarking sites like is a) what if they become evil and b) how do I protect links that I want to keep private? Both resolved by blogging…

Tim: I provide the beginnings of a way to extract all your bookmarks from delicious in one go, and I will add more. It’s XML and a bit ugly and I’m working on that. I’m not planning to become evil. I haven’t added full privacy partially because I want people to get used to remembering in public, and partially because it’s complicated issue (you don’t want to show anyone, or you only want to show specific people, or you want to show specific groups, etc) and I don’t like to add functionality until I’ve properly thought it out.

working at a computer all day and then coming home to blog has often put me in not only a bind by having a ton of lost bookmarks at home, but all the recent bookmarks I want to blog are at work. has really come in handy here. In addition of keywords, searching, and public viewing of your bookmarks. it also snapshots sites, so if they die, you will still have them. Also, you can set up xml feeds of your links and then add that feed to your blog as a link-blog. I think that might be closer to the funtionality you are looking for. anywy, it’s working for me. Good ideas though.

I like the toolbar for IE. It has a “Diary” button which lets you tag the current page with whatever text you like. Then every time you search A9 (e.g. from the same toolbar, or from a different browser) you can set it to search your diary entries too. There’s a web interface for adding tagged bookmarks too. Now if only it would index the whole page as well as just the diary entry I’d be very happy.

So why limit this to bookmarks? Couldn’t this type of tagging interaction be a service available to all the Mac apps? It could work identically in iPhoto and iTunes at least…
Also, why not steal one more Flickr idea: scaling the tag words?

Simple Web Services Anybody?
There’s a lot of current debate on the growing complexity of Web services (big W) which in general conversation most take to mean the SOAP/WS-*/etc stack. I’d outline it, but Martin LaMonica’s done a great job of that already here….

The only problem I have with is the tagging function. Training as an archivist means that I like to tag things, however, we have sets of tags and categories already laid out (e.g Library of Congress). When tagging your bookmarks you should a) be able to pick keywords that you used before instead of typing them and b) see how others have tagged the URL. If 100’s of people tag a URL differently how can you be expected to find the info you are looking for. Imagine if every library had a different method of describing books – in one a CSS book is tagged as “programming”, in another as “web language”, and maybe another as “page layout” (and yes many times it is done this way – and it still drives me nuts)
I am not calling for a set keyword list, but if this is to be a true social bookmarking scheme then the tags should be social as well. If you see that 1000 people tag a URL under “CSS, Programming, Box Model” then would it not make sense that you do as well? This way you can start to classify the URL’s into a scheme that everyone can use.
This of course does not mean that you can’t add your own. Maybe a way for private tagging and public tagging. This way you can keep your own strange way of categorising your bookmarks, and a public categorisation system as well.

archdata, you have a good point – there are times when strict classification systems are needed. Libraries and books are one of them. But web pages don’t fit into neat little LoC, Dewey, whatever ontology of classification. The power of tags, are not the tags themselves really, but the connections groups of tags make to each other and the algorithm which links them. Perhaps at some point, a bug/feature would be to “clean up your tags” along a socially (collectively) ontology. So that your “CSS, Programming, Box Model” problem is “solved.” I’m not sure if anyone would want to really do that, and to me, it strikes exactly against the nature of tags and should not happen. Perhaps a sythesis of tags and strict ontology could work. Right now, I am working on a project where we use a strict, industry standard system, and a user-centric tagging system. Hopefully it would be the best of both worlds.

archdata, offers a posting interface that you would find quite pleasing. By providing shortcuts for re-using popular tags (your own and the world’s), it encourages a sort of organic collaboration on tag selection.
Joshua has indicated he’ll be providing these functions in the standard posting interface in the future.

I think that both Hans and plemeljr have it right but let me clarify some points. If you think about it – there is a book for every LoC subject that any webpage could fit into, from programming reference to Personal Journals (but maybe not – read on). Before I go into the system let me give an example to clarify the issue. I donít have access to the LCSH at the moment so I am just pulling these out of the air.
Say you want to plan a birthday party for your kids? (not that I have any but stick with me)
You could collect books/webpages from under subjects such as Arts and Crafts, Party Planning, and maybe Costume Design. All these have LoC classifications, that help you find the books/pages. They are of course cross references and multiple subjects – these all aid in the finding of the information. However, the user doesnít care once they have found them and piled them all up (or stuck them all in a folder). Once they have collected all these sources/references they would apply a personal tag, perhaps ëBirthday Party Ideasî.
This personal tag/subject heading would not be available to the outside world (or it could be, just in a different place). Even with the personal tag/subject, you still have all the data from the original classification available in case you require more sources.
The LoC and similar systems (like the CSH we used up here in Canada) is used to find things, used to categorise and create a finding aids. When you look at some user lists from how are you to find anything of interest if everyone uses something different to classify and organise their bookmarks publicly?
I see a system working like this :
You bookmark a page and the systems looks to see if other have bookmarked this already. If it has been bookmarked (by 1 or 100ís of people) it presents you with the subject headings that they have assigned to the page. There could be one set of classification (such as Computers, Programming, Languages, Reference, CSS, Box Model Hack) or multiple ones. You can accept or add your own. If it has not you classify it as best you can. At the same time you also add your personal tag/subject. One goes into the system and your personal set stays with you.
The system will keep watch over how this bookmark is used. How do most people find it using the classification system? How many different classifications are there? How many people have classified as a, or b or c. If people find one particular bookmark by always going to ìComputers, Programming, Languages, Reference, CSS, Box Model Hackî then the system can start to drop the other less used classifications down (not get rid of them, but just give them less prominence).
This basically creates a social system where as a group we create a catalogue of sites, classified and structured. However, the system also allows for personal classification. You should be able to put bookmarks in personal categories such as ìNeed to Do Something About Theseî and ìThings that make me giggleî and so on. With both systems attached you get the best of both worlds a system for finding sites (and since all these sites are personally reviewed they are of a better quality than say a general Google search), and a personal systems that meets your needs.
Of course I donít think that LoC may be the best choice, but why recreate the wheel when the work has been done. Imagine going to a library catalogue and not only getting the books but web pages also. The reason that something like LoC and similar systems is useful is that it is extensible. You can add Subject Headings when there is not one that fits your needs. In this case the social nature of the systems vets and weeds out the really dumb and confusing subjects headings.
I think this is long enough and if you want we can continue over email. I know that this needs work and tweaking, but I think that with a systematic classification and a fuzzy personal tagging you get the best of both worlds.

Joshua: I wasn’t implying that *you* had any imminent plans to turn evil 😉 but there’s always that risk when you hand your data over to someone else. I guess the question is what balance you need to strike between the obvious utility of something like and rampant paranoia…

Brilliant, and bang-on, Tom. This is exactly what I’ve been chasing Matt Haughey to do at Metafilter (especially for Ask.Me) for a while (no doubt to his immense annoyance), using exactly the same new-canonical examples of and Flickr, both of which make my nipples hard.
In a bitwrangling way, of course.

Late night thoughts on browsing the Iraq tag on Flickr
One of the most striking developments in the web over the last year has been the sudden popularity of sites like Furl, Flickr and, where users can categorize the data or photos they save with keywords, more colloquially called tags. Everybo…

I’ve been use the Sage plugin for Firefox for quite a while (live bookmarks borrow a lot from this). The idea of extending the bookmark metaphor seems like a very good one but in reality I don’t find live bookmarks nearly as useful as Sage, I certainly can’t see many people replacing their existing RSS readers. Extending bookmarks with metadata/tags on the other hand seems like a fantastic idea because it gives more flexability for storing and finding content but in a way that isn’t restrictive.
I also never liked the IE method of storing each bookmark as a file within the “favourites” folder and its subfolders. Having one single (XML?) file which could be standarised for storing bookmarks would make it a lot easier to distribute storage and availability of bookmarks. Obviously most of what your talking about is targeted at Safari, but even on OS X I’m a firm user of Firefox so a standardised bookmark format would be a great way that work like this could be used by any browser.
I’ll be following this with interest…

Have you tried Simpy? It addresses both of your worries (privacy + export/backup).
Rowan & archdata & plemeljr:
Same as above? Give Simpy a try, it offers just that – recommendations of tags used by community for any link that Simpy knows about. You can choose to go with those, come up with your own tags, or a mix of both.

A dream delicious client
A little over a month ago I mentioned my contemplation of tag based bookmark management. Since then I have made a commitment of sorts to move my links to Lately, instead of working though my bookmarks and uploading the links I want to keep…

I’m a little embarassed about my trackback appearing three times for this post. I not sure how that has happened and I don’t mean to spam you – please delete where appropriate.
Sincere apologies, Ollie

I think it would also be very useful to incorporate a way to search based on hyper- and hyponyms (more and less generic versions of words). That way if I have something categorized under “nosering” I’ll still find it if I search for “bodypiercing” or somesuch. The other way around is less useful, but I can still imagine it being useful in some circumstances, especially if I have something tagged in a way which I don’t quite remember.
The data for this could mostly be taken from WordNet, but it would need to be possible for users to add things to it, as “nosering” and “bodypiercing” are probably not in WordNet at all. A hierarchy of tags, in a way, except that a tag can have multiple parents.

links for 2004-10-22
said the gramophone (categories: tunes) fat planet _ new international music (categories: tunes) Resolution dependent layout (categories: css design layout) What the Bubble Got Right Over the long term,…

Tom, this is a great idea; I’m the guy who implemented Live Bookmarks in Firefox, and I have plans to do some heavy reworking of bookmarks after 1.0 ships. One of the things I’d like to do is unification of history and bookmarks — with keywords/tags, you could even have a rough scoring of sites based on the site-provided keywords and the keywords you already have for your bookmarks. I’ll have to reread your ideas here once I have time to draw up a plan in the next few months.

Here’s a radical thought. Use Topic Maps for organizing bookmarks instead of just a hierarchy. Actually its not that radical, tom passin Built somthing like this already.
Topic Maps are useful because they convey more information we can use. A simple hierarchy of tags/keywords isn’t very descriptive. for instance if I have a bookmark to Eclipse, I might might have “IDE Java Windows OSX Linux” as the keywords. Now it would be MUCH more useful to be able to say “this is a boomark to Eclipse which is an IDE for Editing Java which runs on Windows, OSX and Linux”. This sort of information is easily expressible as a topic map. Topic maps can also be merged. Thus I might publish my topic maps and becuase topic maps define a way to make sure that what I mean by “Java” and “IDE” are the same thing as what you mean (even if you use different names), you can merge my bookmarks into yours and knowledge is transfered.
In fact, if one could build this (and I think someone could) it would turn bookmarks into a transferable knowledge management system.
And that would be SUPER cool.
Related links:

A huge grab-bag of links for you.
Portland Studios is just goregous. Wondeful art. Downtown is where I want to live. Left Justified, a good new blog. [Delicious Monster][url4} is an interesting library manager for Mac OS X. The more I use it, the more I…

A huge grab-bag of links for you.
Portland Studios is just goregous. Wondeful art. Downtown is where I want to live. Left Justified, a good new blog. Delicious Monster is an interesting library manager for Mac OS X. The more I use it, the more I…

Powermarks from has been bookmark paradise for me for a long time now. It does amazing stuff, including syncing to multiple browsers via a central server account. The only thing missing is the public sharing. If someone could hook these two apps up, bookmark anguish would be wiped from the earth.

Better display of image feeds in RSS readers
Now that a bunch of my feeds are Flickr photo feeds, it occurs to me that my RSS reader needs to be able to differentiate between those and regular, mostly text feeds. What I’d really like is to be able…

A dream delicious client
A little over a month ago I mentioned my contemplation of tag based bookmark management. Since then I have made a commitment of sorts to move my links to Lately, instead of working though my bookmarks and uploading the links I want to keep…

A dream delicious client
A little over a month ago I mentioned my contemplation of tag based bookmark management. Since then I have made a commitment of sorts to move my links to Lately, instead of working though my bookmarks and uploading the links I want to keep…

I’ve been in bookmark & email hell for a long time, thankfully gmail has saved me on the email front with its labelling & filtering, Is there something for bookmarks that uses dynamic labelling & filtering like gmail? I want gmarks 🙁

Picasa – Flickr for your desktop?
Being a total Flickr fan (so much so I might even pay for a year’s subscription soon!), one of the great things about it is the way you can tag photographs to designate them a certain category, in much the…

Powermarks by Kaylon is the real deal. Unfortunately, it is Windows only, and the author says on his site that he has no plans to change this. If this app were ported to other platforms, then I think we’d all be happy. I’ve tried emailing the author but got no reply. So close and yet so far . . .

Another great feature would be weighted tags. Those tags that are used most often or have the most links would be in a larger font or in a different color or both to bring in both quantity and popularity. I think this would be very helpful indeed.

Editing the name would seem on the whole to be a waste of time and user effort.
I disagree – even when looking in dynamic bins you need to be able to identify what you see in some meaningful way – that’s where the name comes in, as it’s the atomic level of reference from the user’s perspective. Moving from naming to tagging is a tab key away for many users, and maybe UI’s just need to communicate that fact better to novice and intermediate users.

A dream delicious client
A little over a month ago I mentioned my contemplation of tag based bookmark management. Since then I have made a commitment of sorts to move my links to Lately, instead of working though my bookmarks and uploading the links I want to keep…

There are actually a few ways how you can use the current Firefox version for tagging:
It doesn’t have the wonderful post interface of but you can search simultaneously in tagged local bookmarks and in
Regarding the development of browsers, I agree that it is time to rethink the user interface for bookmarking:

Piggybacking on this thread: I’m actually working on an application along those lines and looking for a talented programmer to program it (I’m a stanford mba, so I don’t know much else than business 🙂
Contact me at NOgregnetwork@gmail.comSPAM (remove the NO SPAM parts). Time is obviously of the essence

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