I won’t Read It Later

Tech Life

Ineffectual bookmarking

I’m sure you’re familiar with an expression that is used more and more frequently — email bankruptcy. If you don’t know the meaning, as usual the Wikipedia is your friend, although I like the more direct definition in the Urban Dictionary: When you are so inundated with email, both genuine email and spam, that you have to delete everything and start over again.

Well, I’m about to declare bookmark bankruptcy. The other day I was browsing all the bookmarks I saved in Safari since day one and, despite my repeated attempts to organise them, the whole picture is just a big, sad mess. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and the next move is indeed a bold one: I will erase my Bookmarks file and start anew. Of course, I won’t just throw everything into oblivion’s whirlpool and get rid of more than 6 years of accumulated links. I’m willing to carry out a preliminary step that is probably going to be painful and somewhat time-consuming, but I hope it’ll be worthwhile: sifting.

Then, after isolating a core base of links (mostly shortcuts to places I frequently visit on the Web), I’ll start again with a different approach to prevent this kind of almost uncontrollable growth. The goal is to use Safari’s Bookmarks Bar basically for bookmarklets, and to have there just a couple of bookmark folders: one for the aforementioned core base of links, another as a temporary parking space for bits and pieces I’ll use in future articles.

This different approach is actually something I’ve been refining these past months, and not entirely consciously. One day I simply started noticing a shift in the way I handle interesting material I encounter in my daily Web surfing. Instead of hoarding and filing things indiscriminately into Safari, I was doing two things:

  1. Outsourcing’ (for lack of a better term): which means I used some other application or service to save useful stuff or interesting links.

    a. an important quote inside a blog article went in a specific note inside Notational Velocity called Ideas for morrick.me (or one of my other blogs/projects, depending on the material);

    b. if one of the people I already follow made me discover an interesting blog written by someone I did not previously know, I would add it in my feed reader (NetNewsWire on the Cube, Google Reader + Reeder for Mac on my MacBook Pro);

    c. everything I’ve liked on Tumblr is on Tumblr. Whenever I read something worth citing, I’d reblog it. If I encountered some picture I really really wanted to save, I’d save it on my Mac (or in Dropbox directly, so it’s available on all of my devices)…

    and so on and so forth. I think you get the idea.

  2. Not Reading It Later: this, I think, is the heart of the matter. I’ll expand on this in a moment.

Nodes of interest, Decentralisation

This is what Point 1 is about. By letting other applications and services handle some of the things I’m interested in reading or responding to in some way, I have noticed that I manage to find that stuff again more quickly and efficiently. If browsers had better bookmark management tools (something I’ve already complained about time ago), then it would be easier to have a centralised management of bookmarks/favourites where everything is in one and only place. But since browsers start to show their limits when you have thousands of items in your archive, filing things in different places (mind you: a limited number of very selected different places — see examples above) in my experience actually leads to a better organisation, not to more confusion. In the end, all the various pieces of information are of different kinds, so it’s just logical that they be managed using different tools. I call these places ‘nodes of interest’. If I want to read tech news from trusted sources, I’ll go to Reeder or NetNewsWire and I’ll save the occasional good link there, not in the browser. If I’m writing an article and need to insert a quick link to a well-known Mac product or service or developer website, I’ll go to Notational Velocity in a specific note where I store a bunch of frequently used links. And so on.

Defusing the Read It Later routine

I’m probably one of the few geeks around who doesn’t really use Instapaper. I have nothing against it, it’s just that it has never really found a place in my workflow, and it’s unlikely it’ll find one after I start my ‘bookmark reboot’. You see, come to think of it, the main factor that led to my bookmark bankruptcy is the ‘Read It Later’ routine: a lot of stuff I’ve bookmarked over the years was filed away for the purpose of reading it later. Let’s save this bit, it might come handy, it might be useful. What really happened is that 90% of the time I’ve never gone back to that bookmarked stuff. It’s been the same as if I filed it in a ‘Read It Never’ folder.

So, what have I been progressively doing? Reading things now. If I stumble on something interesting, chances are I’ll read it at once; as I said, the only things I really save for later are bits and pieces for reference in future articles. If what I find distracts me from the work or activity I’m currently doing, I’ll keep it open in a browser tab. Sometimes stuff remains in browser tabs for a few days. This, for me, creates a subtle urgency to handle the unread discoveries as soon as possible and get rid of the open browser tab. After I’ve read something, I deal with it either by dismissal or by sending it to the appropriate node of interest. Generally, my list of ‘stuff I really cannot read right now but I’ll deal with it soon’ never exceeds five items. The rule is that if a sixth item gets in the queue, I have to handle one in the current list, so that there’s always a maximum of five unread items.


This is roughly the method I’ve been applying recently in an effort to improve my bookmark management. I know it may look convoluted or counter-intuitive, but that’s because it’s really easier done than explained. As I said, after handling the multitude of links accumulated in Safari, I will refine and systematise this approach to avoid ending up with hundreds and hundreds of links to sites I’ll never visit again, or articles/essays I’ll never have time to read later.

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  1. dvsjr says

    Excellent post. Had this experience myself. Considered and noodled with instapaper and utilities like evernote and yojimbo. Still looking.

  2. I have lot of bookmarks too but most of them are reference material for my work or my hobbies and so I have to keep them.
    The “read leater” folder is huge but only a minimal part of my bookmarks: probably I could delete it and won’t lose anything important.
    I find Instapaper very useful, probably because I have a Kindle 3G and this way I can access all my important articles and read them when I have time. Also Instapaper autopost some of the newer articles on my Kindle via Wi-Fi so it’s like a weekend magazine for me.

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