The Future Of Bookmarks

24th October 2005 · Last updated: 5th October 2016


There's a lot of web talk at the moment regarding the future of the browser's humble bookmark (or 'favorite' if you're using Internet Explorer). Most people agree the current method of storing and retrieving bookmarks is a mess. Anyone who's spent any length of time on the web will know that attempting to bookmark several useful sites, or even parts of a page such as a comment, leads to folders of countless junk links. And when you try to find something you bookmarked ages ago, can you? Often I find myself trawling up and down lists too long to fit the screen height, struggling to find a nugget of the web I bookmarked once, but now seems to have vanished. The culprit is often the title it was saved under. If this bares no relation to the content, as often happens, then all hope is lost in attempting to relocate the bookmark.

But stop! Browser makers are on the case. Firefox 2 or 3 may include a radical overhaul of bookmarks. This will probably rely on a tag-based system, meaning you can search for any bookmarked link based on a key tag word. Each bookmark may then go in one or more categories, meaning you can list each category as well without having to do a search.

Other ideas being proposed include generating the key tags automatically from the web page when it is bookmarked. Even forums are now starting to use tags to make it easier to find posts. The downside is taking the time to add the right tags every time.

I now want to look at the differences between Firefox (1.0.7) and Opera (8.5) as they stand today. Some people don't realise that both these browsers already allow you to apply keywords to bookmarks. The reason is that it allows you to go straight to a site just by typing the keyword into the address bar. So instead of typing in "" I can just type in "mi", because that's what I defined as the keyword in the bookmark's Properties window. I could also have used "m", or "mike" or any other combination of characters.

The good news is that both Firefox and Opera also come with a search field that allows you to type the start of a word, then the program will display all the matches it finds in your bookmarks. So typing "can" will match "Candy" and "Canada". But here's where the differences appear between the browsers. In Firefox, the search only looks for matches in the title of the bookmark. So if a page about Firefox was stored as "Exciting New Browser" it won't find the link. However, Opera also looks in the address, keyword (called "nickname" in Opera) and description of each bookmark. (And it's blazingly fast at searching too.) This means any of the following will match a search for "can", resulting in a filtered list shown on screen containing only these bookmarks:

  • Can You Believe It?
  • Fred's Dancing Troupe (where the description includes "can can")
  • Completely Amazing Nonsense! (where the keyword/nickname is "can")

Of course you can narrow down the search by typing more letters, such as "cana", which will only find the link to Canada, and not the others.

It struck me that you could take this further and define a set of tags for each bookmark, using a comma separated list typed into the description field of each bookmark. The only drawback is that the description field is already being used in Opera, to store the meta tag description text, if found on a page. But I find that text rarely useful, and often either full of unwanted keywords aimed at boosting the site's ranking, or irrelevant messages the webmasters thought were cool. Here's an example instead of how you could use the description field to create a set of tags for a bookmark:

Mike's Place
coffee, food, internet cafe, miami, 42nd street

You could even put the phone number in, or the names of employees you know there. How this works in practice I'm not sure yet, as I only thought of the idea today. Maybe better use of bookmark folders is all that's required, though even those can stretch to dozens of links per folder. I like the idea of using tags, because it means a bookmark can be in many different categories. For instance, in the above example, Mike's Place might also be found under a search for any site with "miami" in the description, but you probably wouldn't want to make a folder just for "Miami", unless you had a lot of links to go in it. I'll probably give this idea a go soon and see how it works out — though it means wading through a heck of a lot of bookmarks! My point is merely that the future of bookmarks may already be here...

Further Reading

Comments (2)

Comments are locked on this topic. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment.

  1. Anonymous:
    Very interesting discussion. Placing tags in the decription field hides them completely within the bookmarks manager because you cann't see it. It is a little bit easier with the Flat Bookmark Editing extentions for Firefox but you still have to click on the bookmark in order to see the tags. I place the tags at the end of the title field:

    Posted on 4 November 2005 at 5:31 am
  2. brianlj:
    Although the Description field doesn't show up in the bookmark lists, it *will* show up as a Tooltip if you hover. Along with the created date and last-visited date.

    I have to say that although you /can/ create folders and sub-folders in Opera's Bookmark system, I no longer bother with all that faff. When I bookmark a site, I just make sure that the Description is relevant. On this page here, for instance, I'd probably add 'CSS' and 'menus' at the end of your own description.

    Then, as you describe, when I want to find a bookmark, I just start typing stuff into the search box. Doesn't take me more'n a few goes to find anything I've ever saved. ;-)

    BTW, you wanna know a neat trick with nicknames? If you normally go to mikeindustries by pressing F2 mi [Enter], try using Shift-F2 mi

    Yep. As soon as you type the i, Opera takes you to blog. :-)

    Posted on 11 November 2005 at 11:28 pm