Brainmarks

Album Cover: Wincing the Night Away

"It's like I'm perched on the handlebars of a blind man's bike."
The Shins / Spilt Needles

Posted on March 12, 2006 3:15 PM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

There is no denying that data collection and storage has come a long way thanks to computers and the Internet. In recent years, the idea of tagging and bookmarking has revolutionized the way people save data they find online. While some people store all their bookmarks in one place, like del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia or directly in their browser, there are many, I'm sure, who are like me and store pseudo bookmarks in numerous places.

Before the whole "web too oh" thing caught on, I typically saved links in my browser. In recent years, I've dabbled with del.icio.us, I've stored links I want to share with my blog's readers in my B-Sides, I've certainly stored some links to content in the most appropriate places, and I've saved many a feed entry in my Bloglines account for later reading or reference.

Even though I have all these great folksonomy tools available, my organization is still quite a bit unorganized. Why? Well, I think it's because my brain is the best bookmarking tool I have. I don't have to remember any URIs to access information. I don't have to remember any tags either. The second I need something, it's there in my head and ready to go. It doesn't matter if my computer is turned off, if I'm stuck on an airplane seat, if I've just woken up, if I'm in the middle of a meeting...it's information that is available to me any time and any place.

The problem is, when you combine this ease of access with the frustration that can come out of unorganized data, you're still left with frustration. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been blogging about something, remembered an article or blog post I had read in the past, and then struggled to look for it only to find that it wasn't saved in any of the tools I described previously. Not being able to access the information typically weakened my argument or point in most cases.

So what is the solution to this problem? I don't know. Some people might argue that utilizing a tool like del.icio.us exclusively might solve the problem, but I'm not so sure I can agree with that. For one, there are some things I read that are personal (either professionally, creatively, or just plain personally) that I don't want just anyone to have access to. So maybe use my browser exclusively? Well, right now it isn't straightforward to have access to my browser's bookmarks from anywhere.

The same argument holds for my browser's cache. When I remember that I read something interesting at a link that came from a blog that Robert Scoble linked to, for example, it's really hard for me to figure out how to retrace those steps and find that content. Even if it's cached on my hard drive somewhere (but remember, I don't have access to this anywhere else). Maybe it wasn't interesting enough to bookmark at the time, but now that I've started thinking about something it has become important. My brain may have plenty of useful information, like what colors the page used or maybe even the particular blog template. I may remember I viewed it on Tuesday as well, but just how helpful is this information? Usually my only option at that point is to paraphrase, which I'd rather not do if I can avoid it, especially if I can't link and give credit where it is due.

If what I've been hearing about the Google Drive is true, there may be more options for solving this problem. If my browser allows me to mark any site I read as potentially important (but not necessarily bookmark material), and at the same time gives me all the meta data searching capabilities it can to help me track down information from those potentially important sites, it would eliminate the need for me to be overzealous in my bookmarking habits and also allow me to stay out of my cache (which will typically contain more noise than anything else). If that data ends up on my own Google Drive that is accessible to only me, then maybe I'd be getting somewhere. That of course brings up all the usual privacy concerns, but the gains may outweigh the losses on that one.

Anything that allows me to use my brain to more efficiently find and utilize data is a good thing. I think I've presented more problems than solutions here, but it will certainly be interesting to see how the world of folksonomy changes over the next few years.

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