Rethinking the User Interface For Bookmarks — Two Different Purposes May Require Two Different Interfaces

Bookmarks are useful as FAVORITES in a menu for quick access to websites and as a large INDEX of marked websites with valuable content.
The reasons for saving bookmarks have evolved with the development of the web. Currently, there is a lot of discussion on the web about tagging of bookmarks. The discussion has two primary reasons: 1) frustrating experiences with organizing large amounts of bookmarks in directories, and 2) new online services for sharing tagged bookmarks within a community. It seems all users of online services for tagging of bookmarks, photos, etc. would like to have a new bookmark manager that supports tagging and can synchronize the local bookmarks with the online service. However, I think the necessary rethinking of the interface for bookmarking is not only a decision between hierarchy and tagging paradigms.
The redesign of graphical interfaces for bookmarks must address two different purposes. One is a menu for quick access to websites and the other is a personal index of marked websites. Both concepts are important for the interaction with the web and have been kept in one interface over time. But it may be better to have two separate interfaces.
The menu’s purpose is fast access to frequently visited websites. In principle, its function is similar to program menus or to sidebars with collapsible groups of items or submenus. Both have a very simple directory structure that provides not only the items but serves also as an visual reminder for the items and their shortcut keys. Menus and sidebars with the most frequently used bookmarks on the top level and a few more grouped in submenus or folders are good examples for this concept. The name FAVORITES emphasizes the concept very well that has been very beneficial for organizing a limited number of bookmarks in my sidebar.
Bookmarks without the high visibility in the sidebar or in the menu are a “permanent history” of marked websites. This personal INDEX contains bookmarks that have been saved because they were interesting or valuable. Searching this INDEX can provide pre-selected information very quickly. Tagging seems a perfect tool to categorize these bookmarks for the INDEX in a very flexible, quick, and simple way. Important for the interface of the INDEX are quick adding of bookmarks, simplified editing (e.g. Flat Bookmark Editing), and fast search for tags and text (title and description).
My own bookmarks file has the FAVORITES at the beginning of the bookmarks file to be visible in the sidebar and the INDEX as long flat list of tagged bookmarks below the FAVORITES. Unfortunately, this structure has affected the response time of Firefox (details) and it is not useful at all to have a large file of bookmarks listed in the menu nor in the sidebar. To solve this problem and to tailor the interfaces for FAVORITES and the INDEX more specifically to their purpose it seems reasonable to have separate user interfaces for the FAVORITS and the large INDEX. I’m sure if their data should be separated but it may be easier to have a file for the FAVORITES that just contains titles and URLs in the order of the menu while the content of the bookmarks is saved in the INDEX.
Important for the FAVORITES is that bookmarks can be manually ordered and that folders can be used to organize and collapse groups of bookmarks. The FAVORITES could contain dynamic or “LiveFolders” for dynamic search results of the INDEX, e.g. a selection by tags using a link structure chrome://browser/content/bookmarks/bookmarksPanel.xul?search=favorites+firefox. But the primary purpose needs to be visual feedback and quick access to websites. The manual order of bookmarks can be as important as in regular menus.
Important for the INDEX is the excellent support for tagging and Flat Bookmark Editing (screenshot). A new but very useful concept for entering tags are “tag clouds” combined with dynamic recommendations as the del.icio.us POST interface (screenshot) demonstrates. I hope very much that some time soon we will have for the sidebar a form like Flat Bookmark Editing and that opening a website loads simultaneously the bookmark when available so that I can change tags and make notes and annotations. This type of tools that do not require to open and close a dialog became very common for graphical editing, e.g. Photoshop, Gimp. Firefox’s Find in websites and in bookmarks as well as Flat Bookmark Editing demonstrate how this concept of avoiding dialog windows can improve the usability of web browsers too.
A redesign of the user interfaces to add, edit, and use bookmarks is a great opportunity to introduce new concepts and increase usability. Improved user interfaces for bookmarks including “dialog-free” annotations of websites could result in an interesting tool for information management and may pioneer the way we will use tagging and other meta-data in the future.
Related blogs:
The Evolution of Bookmarking — Bookmarks, Firefox, and del.icio.us
Firefox Hacks :: Improve the Usability of the Bookmarks Manager
Firefox Hacks :: Tagging Bookmarks
Firefox Hacks :: Search Simultaneously in Firefox, del.icio.us, and Archived Bookmarks

My related bookmarks at del.icio.us …

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