I have gone through several stages of this and so far nothing has stuck as ideal, but I think I am inching towards it.
To start off, I have to confess that while I love the internet and the web, I loathe having everything in the browser. The browser becoming the OS is what seems to be happening, and I hate that thought. I like to keep things locally, having backups, and control over my documents and data. Although I changed my e-mail provider(s) several times, I still have all my e-mail locally stored from 2003 until today.
I also do not like reading longer texts on an LCD, so I usually put longer texts into either Wallabag or Mozilla’s Pocket to read them later on my eInk reader (Kobo Aura). BTW, Wallabag and Pocket both have their pros and cons themselves. Pocket is more popular and better integrated into a lot of things (e.g. Firefox, Kobo, etc.), while Wallabag is fully FOSS (even the server) and offers some extra features that are in Pocket either subject to subscription or completely missing.
Still, an enormous amount of information is (and should be!) on the web, so each of us needs to somehow keep track and make sense of it :)
So, with that intro out of the way, here is how I tackle(d) this mess.
Historic overview of methods I used so far
Hierarchy of folders
As many of us, I guess, I started with first putting bookmarks in the bookmark bar, but soon had to start organising them into folders … and subfolders … and subsubfolders …and subsubsubfolders … until the screen did not fit the whole tree of them any more when expanded.
- can be neat and tidy
- easy to sync between devices through e.g. Firefox Sync
- can become a huge mess, once it grows to a behemoth
- takes several clicks to put a bookmark into the appropriate (sub)folder
Then I decided to keep it flat and use the Firefox search bar to find what I am looking for.
To achieve that, when I bookmarked something, I renamed it to something useful and added tags (e.g.: shop, tea; or python, sql, howto).
This worked kinda OK, but a big downside is that there is a huge amount of clutter which is not easy to navigate and edit once you want to organise all the already existing bookmarks. The bookmark panel is somewhat helpful, but not a lot.
- easy to search
- easy to find a relevant bookmark when you are about to search for something through the combined URL/search bar
- easy to sync between devices through e.g. Firefox Sync
- your search query must match the name, tag(s), or URL of bookmark
- hard to find or navigate other than searching (for name tag, URL)
Several years after that, I learnt about OneTab from an onboarding website of a company I applied to (but did not get the job). The main promise of it is to loads of open tabs into (simple) organised lists on a single page. And all that with a single click (well, two really).
This worked wonders for (still does) for decluttering my tab list. Especially when grouped with Tree Style Tabs, which I very warmly recommend trying out. Even if it looks odd and unrully at first, it is very easy to get used to and helps organise tabs immensely. But back to OneTab…
The good side of OneTab is that it really helps keep your tab bar clean and therefore reduces your computer’s resource usage. It is also super for keeping track of tabs that you may (or maybe not) need to open again later, as you can (re)open a whole group of “tabs” with a single click.
As a practical example, let us say I am travelling to Barcelona in two months. So I book flights and the hotel, and in the process also check out some touristy and other helpful info. Because I will not be needing the touristy and travel stuff for quite some time before the trip, I do not need all the tabs open. But as it is a one-off trip, it is also silly to bookmark it all. So I send them all to OneTab and name the group e.g. “Barcelona trip 2019”. If I stumble upon any new stuff that is relevant, I simply send it to the same Named Group in OneTab. Once I need that info, I either open individual “tabs” or restore the whole group with one click and have it ready. An additional cool thing is that by default if you open a group or a single link “tab” from OneTab, it will remove it from the list. You can decide to keep the links in the list as well.
In practices, I still used tagged bookmarks for links that I wanted to store long-term, while depending on OneTab for short- to mid-term storage.
- great for decluttering your tabs
- helps keep your browser’s resource usage low
- great for creating (temporary) lists of tabs that you do not need now, but will in the future
- can easily send a group of “tabs” with others via e-mail
- no tags, categories or other means of adding meta data – you can only name groups, and cannot even rename links
- no searching other than through the “webpage” list of “tabs”
- as the list of “tabs”/bookmarks grows, the harder it is to keep an overview
- cannot sync between devices
- (proprietary plug-in)
About two months ago, I stumbled upon Worldbrain’s Memex through a FOSDEM talk. It promises to fix bookmarking, searching, note-taking and web history for you … which is quite an impressive lot.
So far, I have to say, I am quite impressed. It is super easy to find stuff you visited, even if you forgot to bookmark it, as it indexes all the websites you visit (unless you put tell Memex to ignore that page or domain).
For more order, you can assign tags to websites and/or store them into collections (i.e. groups or folders). What is more, you can do that even later, if you forgot about it the first time. If you want to especially emphasise a specific website, you can also star it.
An excellent feature missing in other bookmarking methods I have seen so far is that it lets you annotate websites – through highlights and comments and tags attached to those highlights. So, not only can you store comments and tags on the websites, but also on annotations within those websites.
One concern I have is that they might have taken more than what they can chew, but since I started using it, I have seen so much progress that I am (cautiously) optimistic about it.
- supports both tags and collections (i.e. groups)
- enables annotations/highlights and comments (as well as tags to both) to websites
- indexes websites, so when you search for something it goes through both the website’s text, as well as your notes to that website and, of course, tags
- starring websites you would like to find more easily
- you can also set specific websites or domain names to be ignored
- it offers quite an advanced search, including limiting by data ranges, stars, or domains
- when you search for something (e.g. using DuckDuckGo or Google) it shows suggested websites that you already visited before
- sharing of annotations and comments with others (as long as they also have Memex installed)
- for annotations it uses the W3C Open Annotation spec
- stores everything locally (with the exception of sharing annotations via a link, of course)
- it consumes more disk space due to running its own index
- needs an external app for backing up data
- so far no syncing of bookmarks between devices (but it is in the making)
- so far it does not sync annotations between different devices (but both mobile apps for iOS/Android, and Pocket integration are in the making)
Status quo and looking at the future
I currently have still a few dozen bookmarks that I need to tag in Memex and delete from my Firefox bookmarks. And a further several dozen in OneTab.
The most viewed websites, I have in the “Top Sites” in Firefox.
Most of the “tabs” in OneTab, I have already migrated to Memex and I am looking very much forward to trying to use it instead of OneTab. So far it seems a bit more work, as I need to 1) open all tabs into a tab tree (same as in OneTab), 2) open that tab tree in a separate window (extra step), and then 3) use the “Tag all tabs in window” or “Add all tabs in window” option from the extension button (similar as in OneTab), and finally 4) close the tabs by closing the window (extra step). What I usually do is to change a Tab Group from OneTab to a Collection in Memex and then take some extra time to add tags or notes, if appropriate.
So, I am quite confident Memex will be able to replace OneTab for me and most likely also (most) normal bookmarks. I may keep some bookmarks of things that I want to always keep track of, like my online bank’s URL, but I am not sure yet.
The annotations are a god-send as well, which will be very hard to get rid of, as I already got used to them.
Now, if I could only send stuff to my eInk reader (or phone), annotate it there and have those annotations auto-magically show up in the browser and therefore stored locally on my laptop …
Oh, oh, and if I could search through Memex from my KDE Plasma desktop and add/view annotations from other documents (e.g. ePub, ODF, PDF) and other applicatios (e.g. Okular, Calibre, LibreOffice). One may dream …
hook out → sipping Vin Santo and planning more order in bookmarks
P.S. This blog post was initially a comment to the topic “How do you organize your bookmarks?” in the ~tech group on Tildes where further discussion is happening as well.