As I’ve mentioned before, two web-based tools I use extensively to keep track of important or interesting online information are Furl and del.icio.us. Both of these tools help me file links that I wish to remember or recommend, and allow me to share that information flexibly.
Over the last few months I’ve developed my own way of using these two tools together. It suits me, and I think it suits the unique strengths of each tool. So in case it’s useful to others, here’s how I use Furl and del.icio.us together…
I need to:
- Save my own collection of web content that is interesting, important, and relevant both to me personally, and to CONTENTIOUS readers in general. I want it saved in an easily searchable form (full text as well as metadata)
- Freely categorize that collection of information in a way that makes sense to me. This includes associating each piece of content according to how I intend to use it (such as projects I’m working on), as well as according to topics of interest.
- Selectively share pieces of content in my collection with my weblog readers and the general public. For instance, most CONTENTIOUS readers would not be interested in information I collect related to environmental issues in my work for the SEJ Tipsheet. I want to be able to give CONTENTIOUS readers an easy way to access the material in my collection most relevant to what I discuss in this weblog.
- Allow custom access. I don’t want to deluge anyone with too much information. Therefore, I want my weblog readers to be able to access only the content I recommend in categories that interest them. For instance, some of my readers have no interest in editing or journalism, but they’re very interested in e-learning and knowledge management. They shouldn’t have to wade through the full onslaught of my omnivorous mind, they should just be able to find out when I’ve posted something of interest to them.
- Access from anywhere. I’m often working on various computers, so I need a web-based solution.
- Keep it simple. I’m willing to tolerate moderate complexity in order to achieve these goals, but not a lot. This can’t take too much of my time.
HOW FURL HELPS
Storage. From my perspective, and for my purposes, the big strength of Furl is that it allows me to save a complete copy of any web page. This is why the service bills itself as “your personal web.” (I think it used to call itself “your web filing cabinet,” or something like that, which I liked better.)
Full-text search. Because Furl saves a complete copy of each web page I want, I can search the full text of my archive. I do this often, since my memory gets jarred in all sorts of ways. If I had to remember how I categorized each item, I’d never find what I want at least not fast.
Metadata. Furl also allows me to label and annotate each piece of content in my collection in very flexible ways. I can create unlimited categories (but alas, not sub-categories yet). I can rate each item, add keywords and comments, etc.
Safety. When I Furl a web page, I’m saving my own copy so if it later moves, changes, or disappears I still have my reference copy.
Although my collection of Furled content lives on Furl’s servers, I can also download it (and its associated metadata all my categories, notes, etc.) to my server for backup. (OK, well, it’s my husband’s server.) So if Furl suddenly goes belly-up or gets sabotaged, I’ll still have my content library.
Optional sharing. I can designate each item I Furl as private or not. This allows me to keep stuff I don’t wish to share with anyone in the same collection as the public stuff. I can still access it all in one place. Also, the “save and e-mail” option makes it easy to notify specific individuals about items I’m Furling, and provide comments as to why I’m telling them about it. I don’t have to get into my e-mail program (Thunderbird) and send a separate message. Only items not designated as “private” are visible in my public Furl archive and its associated feed.
I only designate as “private” Furled items that are very sensitive to me for competitive, client, or personal reasons. Therefore, I publicly Furl many items that probably wouldn’t interest CONTENTIOUS readers. This is why I consider my public Furl archive everything that’s “on my radar,” as opposed to recommended reading for my weblog audience.
HOW DEL.ICIO.US HELPS
Since del.icio.us is a “social bookmarking” tool, the whole point of using that service is sharing and when it comes to sharing a lot of recommended links with a specific audience, I think del.icio.us is a bit better and easier than Furl. (That’s just my opinion, and I’m sure others will disagree.)
I use my del.icio.us page specifically to share links of potential interest to a specific audience: CONTENTIOUS readers. It’s also available to the general public, but that’s secondary to me. I consider that page as an adjunct or “link blog” for CONTENTIOUS.
Consequently, I’ve devised a different list of “tags” (categories) for my del.icio.us page than what I use in my Furl archive:
- Inner focus. My Furl categories (tags) primarily focus on how I use each content item that I archive. This is because I Furl things primarily for my own purposes.
- Outer focus. My del.icio.us tags are intended to help other people find the information they want from my collection of recommended links. In others words, my del.icio.us tags focus on how others might use the information I’ve collected.
This distinction is not absolute, of course. My Furl archive contains some purely topical categories, while my del.icio.us page has a few tags that mean a lot to me but probably very little to others (such as arranging-ideas).
Because of this difference in focus, I have fewer Furl categories than del.icio.us tags. Also, I tend to designate multiple del.icio.us tags to each item, but only one Furl category to each item. This is because of Furl’s excellent full-text search function I feel less need to categorize extensively than with del.icio.us, and little or no need to rate specific Furled items. Again, that’s just me. Other people handle it differently.
I like that on del.icio.us, my full list of tags always is visible on the right-hand side of the page (the “all tags” column). When you click on any category that column, it displays a second column of “related tags.” For instance, if you click on my content-style tag in the “all tags” column, you’ll not only see a list of every item I bookmarked with the content-style tag, but a list of every other tag associated with all my content-style items.
So what? Well, this gives you a greater sense of the connections I perceive between various topics. It’s kind of a sideways view into how my twisted, omnivorous mind works. Plus, it might encourage you to explore other topics in my tag list which did not initially command your interest.
Connecting to other people. Both Furl and del.icio.us will show, for each item in your collection, how many other people have bookmarked/saved the same item and then connect you to them.
I find this useful in both services. (I’ve encountereed some very interesting people, information, and ideas this way.) However, I think del.icio.us makes these connections between people just a tad easier than Furl. Del.icio.us shows right in the main listing of recommended links the number of other del.icio.us users who have bookmarked that same item, and allows you to jump right over to those other collections. In Furl, you only see that information once you’ve already zeroed in on a particular item in an archive. It’s a minor difference of emphasis, but to me it matters. Again, that’s just my opinion.
Drawback: Field constraints. Unfortunately, the form used to bookmark an item in del.icio.us allows the entry of only very limited information: link URL, short description (default is whatever’s in the page’s (title) tag), extended description (only up to about 250 characters) and tags (which you have to type in, you can’t pick them from your list, so typos happen).
Often I’d like to include a link indicating where I found out about a particularly good item (such as in another weblog), since I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I can do this in Furl’s ample “comments” field, but not usually in del.icio.us since the “extended” field is so very small. It’s more important to me to use those precious 250 characters to explain why I think a particular link is worth visiting.
Oh well, can’t have everything…
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So here’s my current process for when I find a web page I wish to recommend to CONTENTIOUS readers:
- Save my own reference copy. I Furl the page to make sure I have it for future reference. If a work of content spans several pages, I Furl each relevant one. (Sometimes there’s a printer-friendly version, so I Furl that instead since it’s complete on one page.) If my only intended use for that page is to recommend it to my readers, I categorize it as contentious-blogged. This is usually a very quick process, since usually full-text search is all I need to find what I want later.
- Add it to my recommended reading list. I then add a link to that same page on my del.icio.us page. Here I take the time to make sure the “description” is indeed descriptive and indicates the source as well as the topic or nature of the target content. I also take the time to indicate why I’m recommending that page either a short excerpt or a brief comment. I also take the time to add all the relevant tags from my list.
The result is that I have two ways of accessing and sharing my collection of treasured content: one that works well for my own use, and one that (hopefully) works well for my weblog audience.
I’m sure I’ll refine and modify this process over time. If you have suggestions or observations, please post them below. Also, I’m not promoting this process for anyone else only you can decide whether it sounds good to you. I’m just explaining how I use these tools.
In a perfect world, Furl and del.icio.us would combine so I could handle this all through a single system. That would be nice. But in the meantime, I’ve found a system that works well enough for me and isn’t too demanding.
I’d like my audience’s perspective, though:
- Do you read my del.icio.us page of recommended reading? (Either on del.icio.us, or just my five most recent additions presented in the right-hand column of CONTENTIOUS) If so, is it useful to you? Do you focus on certain categories?
- Do you scan my Furl archive? (Either though occasional visits, or by subscribing to its feed) If so, why? How do you use it, and what do you think of it?
Thanks! Enjoy! Experiment!