How to make Furl better (so I’d start using it more again)

Furl, I love ya, but…

First, the good news: I love Furl. I really do. I have for several years. It’s long been one of my favorite social bookmarking tools because it includes several features beyond basic item tagging and descriptions:

  • Archiving: Furl saves a complete copy (or at least, it attempts to, and lets you know if that attempt fails) of every web page you bookmark there. So when you search your archive, you’re not just searching the metadata, but the complete document. As a journalist and general research hound, I’ve found that immensely useful.
  • E-mailing: I can e-mail a link and comment to people I know as I bookmark something in Furl. Google Shared Stuff allows this, but other popular social bookmarking services (like del.icio.us) don’t.
  • Optional privacy: I can mark Furl items as private or public — and I can specify private to be my default setting.
  • Ample comment space: Furl allows me lots of space to record notes about the items I’m bookmarking, or to clip quotes from the content. No ludicrously tight character limits like the appalling 255-character ceiling on del.icio.us.

…Now, the bad news: In the last six months or so I’ve been using Furl less and less — even though I still believe it’s a superior service — mainly because the site’s not keeping up with state of the art user interface issues. That is, I’ve found that it’s getting progressively more difficult to use Furl, compared to del.icio.us and Google Shared Stuff.

Furl, because I love you and I want to see you thrive, here are my tips for how you can upgrade your service…

1. AJAX, please! Right now, Furl’s interface requires too many clicks, which makes it time-consuming and tedious to use. For instance, if I choose an item from a drop-down menu, I shouldn’t need to click a separate button to confirm an implement my choice. The whole interface needs to be smarter and faster, like the overhaul Surveymonkey did recently. AJAX could help a lot here, I think.

2. Optional tie-in to e-mail address book. Often I mainly want to bookmark something because I want to recommend it to one or more specific people I know — and I correspond with a LOT of people. Right now if I want to e-mail someone for the first time an item I’m saving in Furl, I must manually find and add their e-mail address to my address book in Furl. Contrast this with Google Shared Stuff, which automatically ties in with my Gmail address book and can usually guess who I want to e-mail with just a few keystrokes.

Yeah, there are privacy issues here — so this should be completely optional with a heavy privacy policy and no spamming. But I’ve gotta admit, often saving the time it takes to retrieve, copy, and paste an e-mail address leads me to choose Google Shared Stuff over Furl.

3. Sub-topics. Furl calls tags “topics,” which is fine. However, since its archiving and other features make it a great tool for research projects, it would make sense for users to also be able to designate sub-topics.

For instance, I routinely use Furl to gather and process leads for the articles I write for the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Tipsheet. I have leads I’m going to pitch as stories (fodder), leads related to active assignments, leads for completed stories, and “backburner” leads we didn’t use but that I don’t want to forget about. Rather than have separate “Tipsheet this” and “Tipsheet that” topics in an increasingly unwieldy one-level menu, I’d rather have a “Tipsheet” topic with subtopics related to my procedural steps — and maybe sub-sub topics related to specific environmental issues covered. The more I use Furl, the longer and more complex my topics list gets, and the less I want to use it.

4. Active vs. inactive topics. Often I set up a Furl topic related to a project — and eventually that topic is finished or goes away. Yet the topic remains in my menu. I’d like to be able to designate topics as “inactive” so they’re still in my archive, but not cluttering my day-to-day menu.

5. Improve Furl-It button Firefox performance. I’m an avid Firefox user on Mac. I don’t know if other people are having this problem, but for the last several months, whenever I click the Furl-It button it opens a pop-up window UNDER my active window, forcing more clicks just to get to the window. Also, about every third time I use this feature I find I need to log in to Furl again. More steps = less Furl usage, sorry.

6. Simple interoperability with other services. I use del.icio.us daily because it offers the “daily blog posting” service that generates my linkblog posts on Contentious.com and other blogs. That’s fine for keeping useful content coming to the blogs when I don’t have time to write much — but I would greatly prefer to archive in Furl a copy of everything I’m bookmarking in del.icio.us. Furl does allow you to import del.icio.us bookmarks, but it’s a lot of work and is not updated automatically. Why can’t these two great services just play nice?

7. Groups. Sometimes when I’m researching a topic online, I’m not working alone. I’d like to be able to use Furl as a collaborative tool with my fellow researchers — and have the option of making saved items available to a specific group, as well as only to me (private) or to everyone (public).

    …Those are the main improvements I’d like to see. And Furl, if you don’t want to lose me, I really hope you pay attention. Also, Furl, I’d love to hear more about what upgrades you do have planned.

    What about my fellow Furl fans? Have you been using Furl less in favor of other services? If so, why? What kinds of upgrades might draw you back to Furl?

    I do hope Looksmart isn’t slowly starving this great service. I’m frankly kind of worried that’s what’s happening. If so, please just be honest about it, so your loyal users can decide what to do. But if Looksmart is still serious about Furl, I hope they get serious about keeping pace with growing expectations for user experience.

    7 thoughts on How to make Furl better (so I’d start using it more again)

    1. Pingback: contentious.com - Social Media Tradeoffs

    2. Amy –

      Furl isn’t going away. We’re making it better as I write this. AND, we’re taking your comments to heart; they made it through the whole organization. The Furl team loves and needs thoughtful input from loyal folks like you. I promise you’ll see some BIG improvements very, very soon.

      Patrick

    3. Hi Amy –

      Furl isn’t going away. On the contrary, as I write this, we’re making improvements that should make you very happy very soon.

      Your comments were awesome and really resonated with our whole team.

      Thanks for Furling!

      Patrick

    4. This is a great post. I’m playing around with Furl today and leaning towards switching from Delicious, but the lack of a tag hierarchy (subtopics, tag bundles, etc) is a serious problem.

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