Bookmark management: An idea for a centralised solution

Scattered bookmarks

There’s a problem I’ve been trying to keep under control over time, with mixed results, that usually gets much worse when I’m busy: webpages and links I save for future reading or future reference don’t end up in the same place, but get scattered here and there. Perhaps you’re more organised than I am, but lately my ‘bookmark situation’ has become a sorry mess. At the moment, here’s a list of the places where I keep saved bookmarks:

  • Safari’s Reading List
  • Safari’s Bookmark Bar and Menu
  • Firefox’s Bookmark Toolbar and Menu
  • Starred articles inside Reeder
  • Google Chrome Bookmarks
  • Pinboard
  • Instapaper
  • I have a couple of notes inside Notational Velocity, where I keep a few links for quick access and reference.
  • I still probably have old bookmarks saved inside other browsers I now use only occasionally, like Camino, Stainless, Sleipnir.

Maybe I should try harder and focus on using just one of those places to store bookmarks, and that’s actually what I do when I browse and read leisurely. When I’m busy it’s a whole different matter: tabs open in Safari, tabs open in Firefox, Notational Velocity always open, feeds always at hand in Reeder. It’s easy to quickly add something interesting to Firefox’s Bookmarks instead of passing the link to Safari’s Reading List; or to parse headlines in Reeder and instinctively send to Instapaper (or star) a useful article I may want to read at a later moment or to keep for future reference. Not to mention all the previous stuff accumulated over time and saved in different places.

A centralised place

Sometimes I think: it would be great to simply right-click on a link, or invoke a system-wide service, to send such link to just one single centralised place. I know there’s already an Add to Reading List service, so I could probably stick to this shortcut as often as possible. If you don’t save many bookmarks, it’s probably your best option for keeping everything in one place and synchronised across devices/platforms thanks to iCloud. But when you have thousands of bookmarks, I’m not sure that Safari’s Reading List is the best solution. While having thousands of webpages saved for offline reading may be a handy thing, the interface for browsing them and organising them is lacking. (Not to mention the huge local cache that would result.) Reading List is a feature that’s meant to be used à la Instapaper more than like a regular bookmark manager, such as the one built in Safari and other browsers, or like an online service such as Pinboard.

What I’d love to see implemented in OS X is a sort of central bookmark database, living outside of Safari, accessible as a system-wide service, and manageable through a standalone application (let’s call it Bookmarks, in typical Apple naming style).

  • Every time you want to save a link, you could do so by sending it to the Bookmarks app via a contextual menu command, via the Services framework, or via a keyboard shortcut.
  • When you want to access a saved bookmark, you could just open the Bookmarks app and search inside it, click on the link, and have it automatically opened in Safari (or your preferred browser). Or, if you remember an article’s title or part of it, you could search it in Spotlight and open it in Safari.
  • The Bookmarks app, being a standalone bookmark manager, could be used to keep all bookmarks organised in folders and with tags. Ideally, most of the tags would be machine-generated, retrieved from the websites themselves (a lot of articles you read online today already have tags at the end), but of course you could add all the personal tags you want.
  • When adding a link, a small panel could pop up, ‘library card’-style, showing Title, URL, and a Tag field, giving you the option of adding tags, shorten the title, etc., much like Pinboard’s interface. Through the app’s preferences you could specify a keyboard shortcut for adding links quickly and another for having the aforementioned pop-up panel appear every time you want to save a link.

Across devices

And now imagine a first-party Bookmarks app on iOS that syncs with the OS X counterpart via iCloud. You could quickly save a link in the Bookmarks app via 3D Touch — simply force-press on the link and Send to Bookmarks could appear as a pop-up menu. On iOS, the panel for adding tags and customising the bookmark could look like the card-style interface that appears when you use iOS’s service to share something to Twitter:

Sharing a link

Interaction with other iOS apps would be similar to what currently happens with Safari’s Reading List. You could send any link to the Bookmarks app using share sheets, and there could be an intelligent clipboard feature in the Bookmarks app that detects links copied in the clipboard and offers to add them to the database when you open the app directly (a behaviour I’ve noticed in Pinboard iOS clients and other similar apps).

But what’s the point? There’s already Safari’s Reading List

I know, and perhaps that’s enough for a lot of people. My idea is to have something a bit more flexible and customisable, that lives outside of Safari and merges the functionality of Safari’s Reading List and Safari’s bookmark manager, and that can work as a single, centralised place for managing all the links you want to save and keep for future reference — but in a way that’s more visible, less subtle than the current Add to Reading List service. And having a standalone bookmark manager, separated from Safari, doesn’t mean losing integration if you want to keep using Safari’s Bookmarks Bar. Bookmarks you place there would be mirrored behind the scenes and kept in sync with the ‘Bookmarks Bar’ folder inside this hypothetical Bookmarks app.

If you want to save entire articles to be read offline, you could tell the Bookmarks app or service either when you add the link (e.g. by ticking a Save for offline access checkbox) or later, from inside the app, when you’re managing your saved links. Or, if you prefer third-party solutions, you could always send a link to Instapaper, Pinboard, or whatever ‘read later’ service you like — but you’d be always sure to have a copy saved in the system’s central bookmarks database. You wouldn’t end up with bookmarks scattered across different apps and services, not knowing where exactly you saved that article or resource. (Needless to say, during the initial setup process, the Bookmarks app could import all links saved elsewhere, warning you in case of duplicates, merging tags as necessary, you know the drill).

Now, I’m not a software developer. This of course is just an idea off the top of my head. It certainly needs refinement, and maybe it wouldn’t fit in your workflow, but I believe it would really be a nice solution if you’re in a similar rut as mine with regard to bookmark fragmentation.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!