People are very familiar with the idea of bookmarking websites – perhaps they don’t have time to read them now, or they think the site will be frequently visited or helpful in the future. Whatever the reason, bookmarks are part of surfing the web for most people.
The way bookmarks are handled by the web browser hasn’t really changed in, well, over a decade. You create a bookmark, possibly specifying where in your bookmark hierarchy you want to store the bookmark. This hierarchy allows us to categorize and manage large numbers of bookmarks. Everyone who first starts using a web browser inevitably ends up with a bookmark list with hundreds of entries in it, making finding what you want difficult. Eventually we start to create folders and sub-folders, placing and categorizing our bookmarks as we make them.
Well, what if things were done a little differently?
The Epiphany project in the GNOME desktop is looking at things a little differently – something they call Hierarchical Bookmarks. The idea here is that when you create a bookmark, you assign it some keywords that you associate the site with. For example if you wanted to bookmark thebside.ca, you could tag it with the words ‘kirk’, ‘family’, or ‘narcisim’. You don’t need to specify a folder in your bookmark hierarchy because Epiphany handles all of that. It will automatically generate a hierarchical structure for your bookmarks based on your tags.
That link to Hierarchical Bookmarks walks through the idea with screenshots.
It’s more than a little interesting because it intersects nicely with a massive amount of criticism the GNOME project receives on a regular basis. The point of the GNOME project is to provide an interface that is usable and intuitive, and to that end they are constantly looking for ways that make software ‘just work’. And this usually means that the user cannot configure it to work in another way. I’m a big fan of this idea, because if it ‘just works’ then most users won’t need to configure anything – as long as the phrase ‘just works’ is looked at properly. And Epiphany here is doing just that – the user can not change the hierarchy of their bookmarks: it is generated and controlled by Epiphany. All the user needs to do is tag bookmarks consistently and go from there.
I frankly am nervous to try it – I’m a bit of a control freak and bookmarks are fairly important to the browsing experience for me. However that feeling of nervousness has been brought up many times before by the GNOME experience and each and every time I’ve ended up agreeing with the change. It’s really just a reminder of two axioms:
- We fear change
- Old habits die hard
The geek in me is excited though – managing bookmarks is a pain in the butt. Even with my super-geek powers I often forget where exactly I put a particular bookmark in my massively-complex folder/sub-folder/sub-sub-folder bookmark structure. If Epiphany handled the placement and offered a quick way for me to find things, I’d love to leave the bookmark managing behind for good.