Product Development and Internet Marketing

The innocuous bookmark has been a fixture in my life for going on 6 years now. I find it interesting how many reporters and business people seem to suddenly "discover" that bookmarks are ineffective and that people have a hard time simply getting back to the sites they like.

The Times has a non-article on this subject today titled New Ways to Revisit Web Sites which can be summarized as "bookmarks suck and there are a lot of untested hypotheses for what is better."

The fundamental problem with bookmarks is that they're trying to solve two very different problems with one tool. The more common usage of browser-based bookmarks is to quickly navigate to the user's favorite sites on a regular basis. The less common usage is for creating a personal archive. These two uses have very different user profiles and are currently being accomplished in very different ways.

Quick Navigation

Although there is little research on this subject, from personal experience watching people interact with their browsers I believe a large percentage of users see bookmarks as a method of quick navigation. This usage profile is characterized by:

  • Bookmarks placed within the "root" directory of the list (e.g. not organized).
  • Bookmarks placed within a top folder labeled something like "Daily" or "Hot"
  • Little need for advanced tools, annotation, sharing, etc.
  • High satisfaction with the tools built into the browsers

    A number of other solutions satisfy the quick navigation requirement, including the browser's links toolbar and autocomplete features (which is discussed in the Times article).

    As far as I'm concerned, this problem is solved. It is the second problem that causes all the confusion.

    Personal Archiving

    Personal archiving is a much harder problem to solve and to date none of the browsers has made much progress. There was a study at some point (reference?) that found that 1/3 of all Internet users have more than 100 bookmarks; this has always been my guesstimate for the archiving audience. This archiving usage profile is characterized by:

  • A large number of bookmarks organized into nested folders
  • Annotation needs
  • Search needs
  • Desired portability between computers
  • Desired backup
  • Sharing with colleagues (rare)
  • Publishing on a website/XML (rare)

    The archiving audience has been the subject of business plans for some time. There are a ton of shareware plugins for the browsers, online bookmark sites like my company, Blinkpro, and random ideas like the Brain, all of which are essentially about archiving stuff, organizing it, and accessing it at a later point.

    I believe that the emergence of blogging and XML will effectively kill the archiving functions of bookmarks. In a sense, blogging is a form of bookmarking, with the most common format for a blog entry consisting of a link, its category, and some annotation. With creative modifications of currently-available blogging software a motivated user can create a bookmark archive which satisfies all of the user requirements listed above within a very attractive web-based interface.

    I also believe that this convergence of bookmarks and blogging is the real impetus behind Google's purchase of Blogger. Imagine every link on Google including an "Add" button, linking directly to a hosted private blog organized by category. Links or categories could be marked as "Public" and displayed on a custom blog page (google.com/members/ari) with advanced features for paid members only.

    With the standardization around XML and the heavy competition in the blog tool arena there's also a good chance that multiple offerings for blog/bookmarking and whole new ideas will develop.

    January 22, 2004 1:23 PM