10 Cool Things to Do with Furl

(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.


This is just a quick list of ideas, and I’ll expand on the best ones later.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

10 thoughts on 10 Cool Things to Do with Furl

Comments are closed.

  1. Furl It!
    Amy Gahran of Contentious just introduced me via her blog to a very interesting site: Furl.net. I’ve been using del.icio.us -that is its web address – for some time now. I even display the latest entries from My del.icio.us on TravisSwicegood.com….

  2. Medical translation weblog
    Sonja Tomaskovic (excuse lack of diacritics) has a medical translation weblog, mainly in English but with some German and Croatian. The weblog was originally here , where there are older entries (there may have been an earlier stage still). It’s…

  3. I am enjoying Furl without knowing what del.i.cio.us. is or does. Furl is easy. It’s relatively uncluttered. I am using it to organise narratives that will be accesible to other researchers. It is my collection of footnotes and sources, to be fleshed out with text at a later date. On that basis it would be nice to see organising tools: a method of creating/importing a classification scheme, a method of sequencing links. A blog inverted.

    Given that this is much the same as items 4, 7, 9 & 10, and that it’s been a few weeks since the post, I’m wondering if there are any tools that can assist the process I’ve described.

  4. …………’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’…………..

    There is no ‘GREY AREA’ as you suggest, that is only because someone does not take the trouble to look it up. You’d better believe it when I say that where specific copyright notices are on display on a web site, downloading, using the material – particularly images – in any way whatsoever is abusing the copyright of that ‘author’ UNLESS it is out of copyright ie 70 years after his/her death. If you doubt what I say take a look at the current USA prcatice of fining people for misuse of copyrighted images upto $50,000.

    The Internet does not have any different rules that allow theft of material on the spurious assumption or assertion that you are doing the author ‘a good turn’.

    In the same way that if you leave the front door open to your house – or cell – whichever applies, that is NOT an open invitation for anyone to enter and help themselves to your property. If someone does, then that is theft and is accountable in law. Insurance companies would never pay up because of ‘get out clauses’ stipulating evidence of break in. There is a widely held belief that one set of copyright rules applies to everyday life and another should apply to what is available on the internet.

    Amongst other things, the Internet is a shop window for goods and if those goods are ‘chained down’ the owner is making it very clear that they are not there to be removed. If I place something on the net then remove it, in no way would one of your bloggers be a legally entitled to reproduce it ANYWHERE, should they so wish, using their pirated version. What you are inplying is that people should help them selves to material – any material, and push it around as they wish instead of confining it to their own use – not so on under the present law and a very dangerous assumption to make in the present climate.

  5. This is a nice post. I’ve been noticing furl and spurl and delish a lot more recently and its definitely an interesting field, if not one that is brand new. Back in 1999-2000 there were plenty of these types of services, and most of us who remember the past will also remember that free things don’t last, and that the only real control that you can have is if you are running the service yourself. That’s why I think a nice php package that allows you to do it yourself, to run a bookmarklet that updates your dynamic private/public online bookmarks site is essential for freedom and longevity of your data.