(UPDATE, Apr. 20, 2005: Furl and Del.icio.us: Almost Perfect Together)
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been using a new free online service called Furl to aid various projects I’m working on. It’s quite versatile and useful, although it’s not perfect. I see a lot of possibilities for this kind of tool. (How do YOU use Furl?)
Basically, Furl allows you to create an online archive of Web pages that you want to save for future reference. Yes, in most cases you’re actually saving the Web page to a new location so if it gets relocated, revised, or removed later, you have a copy of the original version for future reference.
You can sort your furled items into topic-based folders. And (this is the cool part) share selected parts of your Furl archive with others via a syndicated list on your own Web site, hyperlink to Furl, webfeed (RSS), or daily e-mail alert.
Yes, you can also keep your archive private. Yes, you can provide group access to a Furl account. (That’s a bit of a hack, but it can be done.) Yes, you can comment on individual items. I’m not going to spend time here explaining the details of the service; if you’re interested read Furl’s FAQ.
Here’s a quick description of how I’m using Furl, and a list of 10 cool things you can do with Furl…
(MORE: I’ve added these Furl articles: More Furl Tricks, One More Furl Trick: Pre-Blogging, About Furl, File Sharing, and Copyright, and Furl Tricks: Save Exactly and All of What You Want)
…First of all, in case you’re curious, here’s my current public Furl archive. Much of this probably won’t make sense to you, it’s intended primarily for my own personal use. But to decode it just a bit, the topics listed in my archive generally correspond to current projects.
For instance, I have a To-Do folder for CONTENTIOUS (items I plan to blog about), as well as an already blogged folder for CONTENTIOUS. The folders that begin with DW relate to an e-learning project I’m working on about covering drinking water issues. Tipsheet Fodder is ideas for a publication I write for, the SEJ Tipsheet. Other folders such as wikis, webfeeds, metadata, and e-learning, are for topics of current interest to me.
10 COOL WAYS TO USE FURL
This is just a quick list of ideas, and I’ll expand on the best ones later.
- Periodical or blog support: Links die. That’s just the way the Web works. Online publications include a lot of links, and print periodicals list more and more URLs (for stories and advertisers). Creating a Furl archive to support your publication can help preserve the value of older links.
- Discussion group support: Some online dicussions mention a lot of links articles to check out, recommended sites or services, etc. Hunting through archives of postings can be exceptionally tedious, and often fruitless. If you designate a “furler” for your discussion group (someone who creates a Furl item for every link referenced in the discussion), finding those valuable nuggets can be much easier later on.
- E-learning reference: The e-learning experience often yields references to online resources and examples that come from both the instructor (or course creator) and the students. Why not save and organize all that valuable material in a Furl archive, where topics relate to specific sections of specific lessons?
- Editorial planning support: Journalists and other writers who produce stories for publications get their ideas from somewhere often from items they find online. Typically, writers gather their ideas in preparation for a story meeting for each issue, and then sit down in a room or conference call, pitch them, and get assignments. Often in this process a lot of stories get e-mailed, faxed, or printed and passed around the group. That part of the process might be handled more effectively through a Furl archive.
- Project collaboration or committee support: Similar to the editorial meeting described above, in the planning phase of many kinds of projects collaborators or committee members seek new ideas, useful resources, and relevant examples. A Furl archive can be a good way to collect, organize, comment on, and share such material.
- Rudimentary blogging: Many blogs are little more than link filters. That is, the authors mainly link to relevant items, perhaps with a short comment, rather than write article-style entries. If that’s all you want to do with your blog, why not just create and syndicate a Furl archive instead?
- Research support: Journalists, scholars, and others who conduct project-focused on ongoing research can use Furl to support their work. For instance, this is what my “drinking water” folders in my Furl archive are for.
- Telling friends about cool news stories: We all do it see a cool story in the news, copy the text, and e-mail it out to a bunch of your friends. Probably some of your friends are sick of getting those e-mails. Why not offer them a webfeed instead, that they can check out at their leisure in a more organized fashion?
- Online bibliography: Many white papers, research reports, theses, and other documents contain bibliographies or footnotes that feature Web citations. Again, links can die but you don’t want your audience to lose access to the source material. Creating a Furl archive for each such publication can help preserve your source materials for future reference.
- Clips file: Many writers, designers, and others have samples of their work online, and they periodically want to show examples of their work (“clips”) to colleagues or prospective clients/employers. Organizing all this stuff in a Furl archive is a more reliable and convenient way to store and distribute such materials than keeping a filing cabinet stuffed with paper and making lots of photocopies.
isn’t perfect. Here are some of the main points to consider before you invest too heavily in using this service:
- It could die or get screwy. Furl’s FAQ is forthright on this point they could go out of business. Fortunately you can export your Furl archive to secondary storage at a location of your choosing. Depending on what kind of storage is available to you, this may or may not meet your needs. Also, free services are notoriously prone to inconsistent service quality. Expect glitches, and be patient.
- You don’t have full control over security. Furl is their system, not yours. If you want to preserve an archive of pages relating to an especially sensitive topic that might upset your boss, your family, or John Ashcroft’s minions, you might not want to use Furl for that purpose. I’m not demeaning Furl’s security here, I’m just saying that anytime you use a third party system it’s at your own risk.
- It probably won’t stay free of charge forever. Furl is a business. Expect subscription fees to be implemented at some point.
- The interface could be better. It’s a bit clumsy right now. For instance, I don’t like the default display says “filter by topic” they should just show a list of topics to choose from. Play with it for awhile and you’ll see what I mean. But I’m sure the Furl crew is working on that.
- It’s a bit of a copyright gray area. If you furl a web page containing copyrighted content and then make your archive public, are you violating copyright? Good question. I haven’t figured out the answer to that yet. But expect some challenges to arise in this area if Furl gets really popular. (NOTE: See my July 5 update on this: About Furl, File Sharing, and Copyright)
- Furl needs real group access. Right now, only an individual can create a Furl account. However, you can provide access to that account to a group simply by setting up the account with an e-mail address designated specifically for that account. This is easy to do if you have your own domain and can create new e-mail addresses for it, or are willing to create a free e-mail account for it (Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.). That’s not much of a hassle, but Furl should recognize that groups such as project teams will want to be able to access the same archive.
…That’s all for now. I know I didn’t cover all of the possibilities and issues to consider regarding Furl. The point is, this is a cool tool that can be helpful to a lot of people. I recommend checking it out.