Towards real bookmarks/favorites

A Bookmark

It occurs to me that bookmarks would actually be useful if they acted like real bookmarks and helped you get back to somewhere specific — somewhere more precise, for example, than a URL. Bookmarks like we know them today aren’t bookmarks at all, and indeed that’s why we renamed them in Flock. Favorites imply interest or attraction: it’s how you express “this is interesting or important to me; I’d like to be able to return to it or share it with others.”

But up until now, and this is most likely due to technical limitations, bookmarks have classically referred to a specifc URL or URI — some place on the web that you presumably want to go back to, sometimes often. But that’s more like marking the corner of the chapter you’re on than specifically helping you get back to the head space you were in, the thread of the discussion you were participating in or to a specific moment in a multi-step process.

Think about it like this: Favorites should be used to express interest, Bookmarks should be used to help you resume whatever it was you were doing before (reading, writing, browsing). Bookmarks should be stateful; they should remember not only the X and Y coordinates of a webpage but geographically where you were sitting when you were looking at the page. Bookmarks should retain temporal data about when you accessed the page first, last, most recently, for how long, for how long over time and whether your view has remotely changed since you last made a visit.

Bookmarks should be tools for getting things done; the task of remembering or restoring state should not lie with the user, but with the bookmark capturing tool. So if I want to bookmark the way I’ve setup my browser tabs, sidebars, topbars, input fields, textareas, video playback status, and so forth, I should be able to do this. OmniWeb partially offers this with their Workspaces feature. If I want to bookmark a workflow or series of actions that I take repeatedly, that should be possible. Obviously, I should be able to bookmark people, events, reading lists or other sources of syndicated content to be aggregated later.

While I’ve got a lot of ideas about how Flock is going to do all this, I’ve been watching with eager interest Mozilla’s plans for Places and Bookmarks in Firefox 2.0+. Frankly, the designs look a lot like what’s in Flock already, as well as where we’ve already been planning on going with Favorites. Firefox will be removing hierarchical management and adding Labels (not suprisingly in line with Picasa’s labels interface). Who knows, there might be a great opportunity for Flock and Firefox to begin collaborating on feature design here?

Regardless, it’s becoming more and more clear to me what a bookmark should be and what a favorite should do. I’d be interested to hear what other people think of this distinction and how this might help you get things done. Remember, Favorites are like starred emails in Gmail or fav’d photos in Flickr. Bookmarks should be more stateful — like resuming a computer that’s been put to sleep. Does this idea have legs?

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

3 thoughts on “Towards real bookmarks/favorites”

  1. Yeah for real bookmarks!

    The other thing that I’d like to have are pages that scroll uniformly so that it is easy to find your place after going to the next screen and provide enough context that you can verify your position. If you can’t see the last sentence you read, there is no way of know you scrolled the correct amount, but if my last line is some place in the middle of the page, and it takes me a while to find it, I am distracted from what I am reading.

  2. sure, it has really strong legs.

    all we’ve done with bookmarks over the years is to extend the real-world metaphor into the ‘net. historically speaking, it was for a good reason. *everyone* uses a paper bookmark or folds a book’s page for future retrieval. and when we do so, we consciously recognize that we’ll have to backtrack from that generally framed coordinate in order to regain our “place” in the read.

    we’re moving into the brave new world of web 2.0, where we’re comfortable making more concious attempts to serve early adopters (and the full-set of explicit tasks behind the goal-directed, human interaction with the interface), so as you so aptly point out, we need to think progressively.

    so… in the real-world, are we (generally speaking) taking the time to record a note of sorts into the corner of that folded page or bookmark, reminding us about what we were thinking about at the time we dropped off from a read? no, it’s too much cognitive dissonance to bother with in the first place, so we all drop back a page to overlap and re-enter. but could that concept somehow be managed via technology (labels specifically)? possibly. would it only be more helpful if the user digested the entire object previously, as opposed to picking back up in the middle of a post or video? possibly.

    i tried to hop over to the description of Places at moziilla, but the page is down. it sounds like you’re heading in a really smart direction, chris.

  3. Thanks Sean… I hope so — time will tell of course, and the more feedback I get, the better and more relevant solution we can build.

    @Ray: I think that’s part of what I meant by proposing “stateful” bookmarks… taking book-based bookmarks one step further and helping you get right back to what you were reading before… but applying this to digital media. …which is also what Sean talked about!

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