Getting Organised

Bookmarks dotted about all over the place. A account that rarely gets used. Various clever Firefox extensions. My miniblog. My custom start page. My blogroll(s). Bloglines. The sites I “use”, the sites I visit, the useful sites, the information sites, so many sites, so much information and so many ways of filtering and accessing them these days, I’m getting a bit overwhelmed. Aren’t you?

So I put aside a couple of hours* and fired up my web browser with the aim of getting better organised, wasn’t sure HOW exactly, but figured the organic “leap in and start” approach would serve me best. I think it did.

So let me talk you through the process, or better still, roll up your sleeves and try it yourself. As with most things the way you work and use the various technologies will differ from me, but hopefully this will be useful to someone. Always remember that YMMV.

* took a lot longer than this but you can do it in stages if you want.

The overwhelming feeling was one of getting back to basics and sorting out my bookmarks/favourites seemed like a good place to start both because it was the largest chunk of work, and because it’s an area I use less frequently than before so having it better organised seemed to make sense. If you are anything like me you’ll have hundreds, maybe thousands of these dating back a LONG time, one key question here is “how many do you actually use?”. The prevalence of search engines is rendering bookmarks obsolete (to a degree) and influenced my thinking here quite radically.

First I used Bookmark Bridge to export all my Firefox bookmarks to .URL files (the same format that Internet Explorer uses) and merged them with my old IE favourites removing all folder structures along the way. I now had all the bookmarks I’ve ever collected in one large folder with no structure and hundreds of .URL files (683 to be precise). A quick visit back to Firefox to delete all the existing bookmarks there to give me a blank canvas, no bookmarks, to start with and then the big task.

Back to the folder and I started the slow process of going through them all, one by one, deleting the ones I didn’t think I’d use again and organising the ones I was keeping. I created a new bookmark (folder) structure to hold the sites I was keeping with the caveat that I’d only be “bookmarking” sites that are “useful/often used/essential” – online banking, currency converter, weather info, dictionaries, wikipedia, web design stuff and so on. In another folder I put all the “viewed once/interesting/may revisit” sites, we’ll come back to that folder in a moment. It sounds bad but it wasn’t, a lot of sites were easy to identify from the URL or title, and it was fun visiting sites I’ve not seen for a couple of years.

After that everything else got deleted and as I was fairly harsh that meant a LOT of bookmarks got the heave-ho. Typically they were sites I hadn’t visited for years or were sites I knew I could Google to find in the future. I was quite happy to trim as much of the debris as I could and it was quite liberating to watch the number of sites whittle down to the bare minimum.

Once that was done, it was back to Bookmark Bridge to load the newly organised bookmarks back into Firefox.

Back to the “viewed once/interesting/may revisit” sites which are now sitting in a separate folder – called TO BE DELISHED as it happens – in my Firefox bookmarks. Now, for those that don’t know, Firefox stores your bookmarks as one HTML file (buried away down in C: Documents and Settings[USERNAME] Application DataMozillaFirefoxProfiles[profilename] in case you were wondering). So first thing is to take a copy of the bookmark.html file and edit out all the other bookmarks except the ones in my TO BE DELISHED folder. Then, using the fabulous loader I added all the “viewed once/interesting/may revisit” sites to my account. With that done, and the sites safely tucked away in my account, I could now delete the TO BE DELISHED folder from my Firefox bookmarks.

And that’s the bookmarks done. They are now organised with the commonly re-used sites in my bookmarks – always available as it’s on my PC, and sync’d between work and home using the Bookmark Sync extension – and the other sites that I stumble across are now posted to my account using the wonderful Lazy Sheep bookmarklet. As a final (and possibly over-anal) step, I use Foxylicious to keep a local sync of my account (which stores the’d sites as bookmarks which are then sync’d between work and home! I did say it was anal).

Since I first drafted this post, I’ve added a few folders to give the bookmarks some structure but beyond that I’m quite happy. The next possible step is to add them ALL to, using the current folder names as tags to make finding them easy. Not done that yet, and might not to be honest as all I’d be doing is using the sync’d bookmarks anyway, why duplicate what I’ve already got?

Start page
Then I tackled my browser start page, something I use heavily because, to be frank, I have a short memory span and if something isn’t constantly in my view I tend to ignore it.

Now this could get a little confusing so it’ll be best if you have a quick glance at my start page (image generated by the lovely Screen Grab extension).

My start page is a mixture of static links, some of which mirror bookmarks, and a few blogrolls. The longest list you can see is the same as the one that currently appears on this site, but there is also a blogroll for photoblogs, the sites I’m “auditioning” (must think of a better term, that’s awful), and a “private blogroll” which is basically the more common sites that everyone links to anyway. I’m also giving away a few secrets on the right-hand side, as that’s where most of the content for the miniblog comes from.

Anyway, I ended up not doing much to this page. It’s something I’ve been using, in various forms, for the past ten years or so and is so ingrained in the way I use the internet that I couldn’t do without it. I removed a few sites, added a couple, re-jigged the order of a few sections but largely this didn’t change much. Phew!

Still reading? Well done. Almost there.

RSS Feeds
I was on a bit of a roll at this point so I decided to be bold and just delete every subscription in my Bloglines account (yes, I took a backup first) and only add in sites that I use… then I realised that I don’t really use RSS feeds as I still prefer (call me old-fashioned) VISITING sites and looking at the pretty design and pictures. Instead I’ve whittled it down to a few linklog and tag feeds and will probably start using it more to monitor “search terms” than any specific site. It’ll be the area which I’m happy to leave quite open and uncontrolled, and which I’ll dip into every now and again.

That is until such times as RSS finally “clicks” with me, which I must admit it has yet to do. I understand the technology but it seems an awfully soulless way of communicating. Is it just me?

So, as well as having deleted a lot of old/dead information, I now have the following “information stores” which each deal with different types of information and have different usage patterns:

  • Browser Start Page – Frequent/Daily accessed sites; Blogs, online applications and accounts.
  • Bloglines – Infrequently accessed sites, an open capture area.
  • – my “miscellaneous” bookmark holder.
  • Miniblog – some crossover with account but not much, only for things I want to ‘comment’ on.
  • The Blog – my “diary”, brain dump area, etc etc.
  • Flickr – for the photos, obviously.

This system is working for me, so far, but there is one more thing which I’m introducing.

I have a habit of glancing over a linked article/site and thinking that I should bookmark it for later, you know, just in case. Well I’m going to be a lot more judicial about my decisions, and hopefully whilst I won’t be bookmarking/storing as many links as before the quality will be a lot more consistent. That way I won’t have to repeat the exercise of sifting through xxx links of chaff to find the good stuff I REALLY want to keep. Couple that with a fairly regular clear out of bookmarks and whatnot and I feel much more in control of the information than previously.

In closing I think there is actually more behind this post than I realised. The simple fact is that I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without Firefox and some very clever extensions, and some very nice web services. Both aspects have changed the way I use the internet, and whilst I am now kinda tied in to a certain way of “working” in this system, the important thing for me is that it’s MY system. I designed it, created it, tailored and tweaked it to my needs and the way my brain works. I really have rediscovered the web over the past year or so, although hopefully this streamlining of how I use it will leave me feeling a little less informationally overloaded than I was before.