Even Tastier Del.icio.us

by Phil Hollenback
(originally published on newsforge.com november 2004)

In my previous article, I introduced some of the exciting new tools people are using to manage information on the Web. One of these is del.icio.us, which is best described as a social bookmark manager. The concept of del.icio.us is simple: every time you come across an interesting site, use a bookmarklet to type in a few keywords about the page, and save it to del.icio.us Web site. All saved bookmarks are public and everything is available through RSS feeds. Like any useful tool, del.icio.us has attracted a number of extensions and improvements as people figure out new ways to use it. Here are a few of those tips, tricks, and tools for del.icio.us that I have found particularly useful.

First, a word about how I researched these tips and tools: I used del.icio.us! del.icio.us includes the ability to search for bookmarks marked with an entire set of words and not just one tag. It may be possible to use this functionality through the the del.icio.us Web interface (although I couldn't find it), but it's easy enough to invoke it manually by using plus signs in the del.icio.us URL. For example, to find all bookmarks tagged del.icio.us and extensions, I used the URL http://del.icio.us/tag/del.icio.us+extensions. The one small quibble (or perhaps enhancement request) that I have about this search mechanism is that it currently implements only the intersection operator, returning pages containing both tags. I would like to see the developers add support for unions and negation, so for example I could search for all bookmarks tagged del.icio.us AND extensions but NOT tagged firefox.

In my daily Web browsing, the del.icio.us addition I use the most is nutr.itio.us. Basically, nutr.itio.us is an expanded del.icio.us posting bookmarklet that adds intelligence to the posting process. The most useful feature of nutr.itio.us is that it knows the most common del.icio.us tags associated with whatever page you are attempting to bookmark. This saves you the work of coming up with all new tags; if the page has been bookmarked by others, you can simply pick from the existing tags. On many browsers (but not Safari), nutr.itio.us will auto-complete tags from the popular tag list as you type in your tags. You can also select from tags that you have used before.

One problem I find with the standard posting bookmarklet is it is easy to end up with multiple virtually identical tags on your bookmarks. For example, will I tag this piece of writing with article or articles? nutr.itio.us helps with this by allowing you to pick from the tags you have previously used and see a history of your bookmarks right in the posting page. This, combined with the ability to see the list of tags that others are using for a page, goes a long way toward keeping your tags consistent. One downside to nutr.itio.us is that it tends to be slower than the default del.icio.us posting bookmarklet since it loads much more information every time you use it. I find this a small price to pay for its added functionality, but if you are entering only a number of simple bookmarks, you may want to stick with the standard bookmarklet.

Note that nutr.itio.us does not work by default with the Pith Helmet ad blocker for the Safari Web browser on Mac OS X. Follow my instructions for fixing this if you happen to be running on that platform.

I wrote about pasta in my previous article, but it is so useful that I want to mention it again. If you want to convert plain text to del.icio.us bookmarks, pasta is the way to do it. I like to post things like code fragments and random thoughts through this tool. It's appropriate for any text that you think you might want to refer to in the future, but you don't know when you might want it, and you don't need to be reminded about it.

Extisp.icio.us brings the Flickr tag visualizer to del.icio.us. Give it a del.icio.us username and the extisp.icio.us Web site builds a graphical map of that user's tags. The larger the tag, the more times the user has tagged something with it. It doesn't provide the most useful interface to del.icio.us right now, but with additional enhancements it could be quite powerful. For example, currently the tag words are scattered across the screen randomly. If similar tags were grouped together, the interface could help you sort through tags quickly and discover similarities between tags. For now, extisp.icio.us is really more of a technical demonstration than a useful tool.

Another class of del.icio.us tools is on the client side, both browser-based and standalone. I've discussed the del.icio.us extension to Firefox, which provides an easy way to post bookmarks to del.icio.us in that browser, in my previous article. It offers several features that are not obvious at first. For example, it gives you a toolbar icon that you could use in place of the bookmarklet, and thus save your bookmark bar for real bookmarks. There's also a decent del.icio.us sidebar which allows you to browse all your tags right in your browser without opening up your del.icio.us user page.

Another Firefox extension that has been getting a lot of buzz recently is Foxylicious, which integrates del.icio.us with your traditional Firefox bookmarks by importing all your del.icio.us bookmarks into the Firefox bookmark manager. Thus you can access your del.icio.us bookmarks though the standard Firefox bookmark menu. This differs from the standard del.icio.us extension for Firefox, which provides a separate sidebar to view your del.icio.us bookmarks in a similar interface. Unfortunately, the extension's mapping between tags and bookmarks does not work well. Each tag becomes a folder in your bookmark list, and the contents of the folder is every bookmark with that tag. Thus if you tag a bookmark with five words, it will show up in five different bookmark folders. I find that somewhat confusing. Still, it's nice to see people exploring alternative interfaces to del.icio.us.

The Firefox del.icio.us extension or Foxylicious would be even more powerful if they could do things like display the tags associated with whatever page you happen to be visiting in some sort of status bar. Also, Foxylicious currently requires you to manually update the bookmark list with your del.icio.us bookmarks from time to time, instead of automatically performing this housekeeping task. Still, these sorts of limitations are not unexpected given the youth of these tools and of del.icio.us.

Cocoal.icio.us provides a tag browser and posting interface in a standalone Mac OS X application (and continues the somewhat awkward naming conventions of del.icio.us tools). This tool is worth checking out if you work on a Mac, since it gives you the familiar Cocoa interface found in all the standard Mac applications. Notable features include a clean display interface that allows you to easily view your tags and bookmarks, and an easy-to-use search interface. Clicking on a bookmark in Cocoal.icio.us results in the page being loaded in a browser pane right inside the application, which is a nice piece of integration.

My one big enhancement request for Cocoal.icio.us (and for the del.icio.us Firefox extension and any other tag viewer) is drag-and-drop organizing. If I see a bookmark listed under an incorrect tag, I want to be able to drag it to move it to a different tag (or alternatively, to assign a new tag to a bookmark by dragging the bookmark). This would be consistent with how Mac OS X applications generally work. However, this is perhaps a minor point. As it stands, Cocoal.icio.us is a useful tool for any del.icio.us user running Mac OS X.

Rounding out the list and keeping to my goal of offering tips, tricks, and tools for del.icio.us, here's a final tip: back up your bookmarks! You would feel pretty dumb if for some reason the del.icio.us server exploded tomorrow and all your saved bookmarks disappeared. Fortunately, it's dead simple to use wget to suck your links into a local XML file on a regular basis. Follow the instructions on this page for a robust solution. This will work on any Linux, Unix, or Mac Os X system. Windows users must of course make the appropriate adjustments and invoke the incantations necessary for their platform.

Although del.icio.us has been around for the better part of a year, it's just now gaining recognition as the useful utility it is. One way to judge the level of community interest in something like del.icio.us is to see how many other tools are built around it. By this measure, del.icio.us is obviously very popular. There are many more enhancements I have not even mentioned in this article. While many of the add-ons (and indeed, del.icio.us itself) are still rough around the edges and lacking certain features, they are absolutely usable right now. Once again, a collection of related bits and pieces on the Internet adds up to a constantly evolving and very useful whole.


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