In August Tim O’Reilly asked is linking to yourself the future of the web? He was referring to a trend to self-link rather than link out to an obvious external page that would be more appropriate. For example, rather than link to O’Reilly’s article above, I could have linked Scott’s coverage on Webmonkey. It’s debateable which is more useful, but it’s obvious to me that the user expects the original.
I noticed this same self-linking when I was researching the 8 Simple Tools for Better Bookmarking. Several of the sites, which aimed to generate discussion about the bookmarks, forced users to first visit a comment and meta-data page. For example, here’s an intermediate page on Twine:
I got to this page from a web industry twine. I chose the story from a list of other links by clicking its headline. I expected the headline to go to the original article, not this overview page. I’m not denying that such a page has value. It provides a good summary and a place to discuss the article. But many users will want to read the original before reading or writing comments.
It takes an extra effort for me to click through to the intermediate page, then find the full link way down the page. Worse, it breaks my expectations.
Twine is not the only one with this issue. Social bookmarking site Clipmarks and developer site dzone link to an intermediate page. Diigo links to itself only from front page stories.
Each of these services may have a perfectly good reason for self-linking. If the purpose is to encourage users to participate in discussion, this is the wrong way to to it. Consider the popular communities of Digg and Reddit, where comments for each entry thrive despite not linking as obviously to the internal page.
The headline links to the article, as expected, but there’s always the “comments” link if the user has something to say, or wants to read the discussion. One reason Digg and Reddit have a community may be because they don’t stand in the way of users and the content that the community gathers around. Let your users out of your box. Tear down the walls and don’t force them into internal pages. You may just see better results.
[Disclosure: Reddit is owned by CondeNet, the parent company of Webmonkey and Wired.]
Over the last week, I’ve been checking out some new tools for social bookmarking and looking back at some old favorites. A lot has changed in the two years since our social bookmarking showdown. Users expect more than just saving bookmarks. We want to share them with friends, put them on our blog, and incorporate them into the other tools we use every day.
Before we get to the list of tools, here is the criteria I used to rate them:
It can quickly store my bookmarks — get in and get out.
It provides ways for me to share and syndicate my bookmarks.
It archives the page, or the portion that is of most interest to me.
It helps me discover new content.
Best bookmarking tool: Ma.gnolia – An old-timer of social bookmarking, Ma.gnolia has continued to innovate. Its API has led to several applications and the open sourcing of its code could lead to many more. You can add or join groups, which maintain collections of links on shared interest topics. As always, Ma.gnolia looks nice and it’s easy to use quickly. There’s only one other tool I looked at that saves the entire page, something Ma.gnolia has done for some time.
Best new bookmarking tool: Diigo – Though intended as a group research tool, Diigo works just as well when used on its own. It has a bookmarklet that can be used in any browser, but its main use is as a browser toolbar for Firefox and IE. In addition to normal bookmarking, you can highlight text and add floating “sticky notes” to the page. This sounds like additional fluff that can get in the way of quick use, but it is remarkably fast and later lets you view just your highlighted text. Since it is meant for collaboration, it has great group features, which can help you discover new content or fellow users.
The remaining six tools are displayed in alphabetical order.
Clipmarks may be the most social tool I reviewed in the Better Bookmarking series. You can follow others, similar to Twitter. Then you receive a stream of the latest content shared by those you follow. Like a couple other tools I looked at, Clipmarks lets you highlight the text or images of most interest to you. That makes for a livelier stream than just a list of links. Plus, Clipmarks packages everything in a chrome that, while sometimes slow, can be added as a widget anywhere on the web.
Delicious is the granddaddy of social bookmarking. It’s still super fast and has some admirable tools for sharing and syndicating. Outside of a recent redesign, not much has changed since Yahoo bought the site in 2005. That means it hasn’t become worse or better. Enough people still use it that it’s still useful for getting a feel for what’s popular.
Friendfeed is a popular newcomer that some might not even call a bookmarking tool. Its core functionality is to combine your many feeds from various websites into one location. Additionally, the service lets you inject links directly into your single feed and each item has its own comment thread. Add to that topic-driven public and private rooms, and Friendfeed has many of the features I’d want in a bookmarking tool.
Iterasi is a Firefox extension for saving entire pages, not just bookmarking. It still meets many of the criteria I outlined above. If you don’t want to enter details, you can quickly save a page with a single click. Plus, it has many sharing and syndication features, my favorite of which might be embedding an archived page within another page.
Snipd is a brand new tool from this summer’s Y-combinator funding. It’s short a few of the criteria, but it performs its core functionality beautifully. Snipd uses a bookmarklet that lets you highlight pieces of content — text, images and even videos. The outcome is a stream of content that looks like it took more than a few clicks to create. I’d like to see more social features and an API, but this is an awesome tool for a summer’s worth of work.
Twine is the first product from a well-funded company working hard on the Semantic Web, which helps make information equally understandable by machines and humans. You can use Twine to bookmark, but the real power comes from its interest groups on the site, where you can discover new content and people with similar interests. If Twine’s trajectory continues, I’d expect to see them top this list next year. One feature I’d love to see is text highlighting. Why not just buy Snipd?
Twine is a bookmarking service with a lot more going on than just storing links. You can still do that with the Twine bookmarklet, but the site itself is where you’ll find the most value.
Like Diigo, Twine is organized into interest groups, which it calls twines. Though the service is in private beta, there have already been 17,000 twines created. The top 100 tilt toward technology.
Behind the scenes, Twine tries to make sense of the items shared with it. Where it can, it adds tags of its own, and categorizes places, people, and organizations as best it can. The attached screenshot is from a bookmark announcing the SXSW conference. The orange links were added by Twine.
Most of what is added to Twine are bookmarks, that is not all it takes. You can attached documents in the web interface or via email. Twine also distinguishes images and videos from standard web links. Lastly, you can create original content with a rich text editor. Twine’s CEO Nova Spivack eats a little of his own dog food by blogging with Twine.
When anything is added to Twine, it defaults to private, unless you choose to share it with one of your twines or a friend who you’ve added as a connection. There is not another way to flip a bookmark from private to public, though that feature is in the works. The current solution is to create a Twine specifically for your public bookmarks.
Nova Spivack shared his vision for Twine with Webmonkey:
“Where other bookmarking tools let you add some tags and description, we’re taking your bookmarks and turning them into a knowledge base… we want to be the smartest tool for social bookmarking.”
Twine is useful at several levels. It is a place to hold bookmarks (you can import from Delicious to get started), a site to share information with others, and a way to discover content. An upcoming version of Twine will have full text indexing of links, though I’d also like to see them add Snipd-like highlighting. Twine will also release an API at the beginning of 2009.
The future of Twine, Spivack said, is part user-facing website and part framework to build on top of. Maybe that’s why they’ve raised nearly $20 million and some have said the company behind Twine could be worth $1 billion. The concepts behind Twine are moving into the Semantic Web, which helps make information equally understandable by machines and humans. Tim Berners-Lee sees that as the future.
Twine is currently in private beta, but Webmonkey has invites for our readers. If you’d like one, you can find my email address in the sidebar.
Diigo is a browser toolbar that makes it easy to comment on pages, save sticky notes and highlight text, as well as create a simple bookmark. The toolbar is available for Firefox and IE, though there is a lighter bookmarklet for other browsers.
When you use the Diigo toolbar, you enter comments and other text into a browser interface (a pop-up bookmark form, or the Diigo sidebar). The process of “annotating” a page feels fast, because most of the work happens in your browser.
Everything you enter is stored on Diigo’s servers. Everything you enter is available to other Diigo users, unless you choose to make it private, or only available to friends. That annotations are public means that Diigo is a good research tool, even without people you know using it. The Diigo public groups feature is a way to find topics that are of interest to you.
Where I Diigo would be most useful is with a group of people researching together (or friends who enjoy sharing sarcastic comments line by line, like a textual Mystery Science Theater for the web). Though I cannot imagine giving up the horizontal space of browsing with the toolbar open, giving it a try does change the browsing experience. Diigo does not require you to keep the toolbar open, but doing so lets you discover other Diigo users’ takes on the current site you’re viewing. For example, I learned that comments about YouTube are only slightly better than YouTube comments themselves.
I have some issues with the Diigo defaults. The toolbar takes up most of an entire horizontal bar in Firefox, with a dozen buttons when it installs. Saving a page is split amongst four of those buttons, including individual interfaces for bookmarking, highlighting, and commenting. Also, be sure to check your Diigo settings. There are seven different email choices, most of which default to send you messages.
Though I’m impressed with the speed and usefulness of Diigo as a toolbar, I might choose the lighter bookmarklet over the feature-heavy version. It can be used in many of the same ways, but only activates when I ask it to.
Clipmarks is a simple bookmarking Firefox extension that is tied to a much larger collection of user’s shared bits of saved pages. Like Snipd, which I looked at yesterday, Clipmarks lets you save not just URLs, but pieces of the page.
The process of clipping information feels a little slower than other services. To add a comment or tags, you need to wait for a pop-up window to load. I expect a Firefox extension to use a non-web interface. All the functionality of Clipmarks seems possible via a bookmarklet, which could then be used in other browsers.
The real fun of Clipmarks comes from consuming others’ clips. You can follow users, similar to Twitter. Then those you follow are called “guides” and you can see a stream of the latest content shared by them.
Browsing clips, with its chrome-y interface, also feels a little slow. Luckily, Clipmarks has a wealth of RSS feeds. Following individual people or all your guides through an external reader is easy.
Connecting to other services is another area where Clipmarks really shines. Give it your Delicious or Magnolia credentials and your clips will also be posted to that service. For someone with many links stored on Delicious, it’s nice to know I don’t have to give up my old standby just to enjoy what’s new in bookmarking.
Similarly, you can clip pages directly into a blog post, email to friends, and share your clips in a Flash widget. Despite complaints I’ve had with speed, Clipmarks does get the social part of social bookmarking.