Better Bookmarking: Taking Bookmarks To the Next Level

Would you like an easy way to store Web addresses and share them with your students without having to print them on the board or post them to the school Web site? Do you have one list of bookmarks at school and another at home? Or maybe you have heard about social bookmarking and want to know what the buzz is all about.

Browser Provided Bookmarking Tool

Web browsers Firefox, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator all provide a tool for saving and categorizing Web addresses. This tool is handy and beats scribbling down a URL on a scrap of paper or a PostIt™, but has limitations. The file of bookmarks is stored on your hard drive. So if you move to another computer or you want to share your list with someone else it may not be convenient. You can save your bookmark file and then transfer it via Email or removable media, but this takes time and can be tedious if you want to do it frequently. Then there’s the frustrations of trying to find a bookmark you saved three weeks ago in one of your many folders. Fortunately, other options are available.

Internet Based Bookmarking Tools

There are many on-line tools for filing bookmarks. These tools allow you to save your bookmarks to a Web server and access them from anywhere via the Internet. All the tools are free and only require you to register before storing bookmarks. The easiest way to save bookmarks is with a “bookmarklet” you can download from the tool’s Web site. A bookmarklet is a button for your browser that executes a Java script. Just click the new button when you visit a site that you want to save. A popup window displays for you to enter pertinent information about the Web page. Then you can go on surfing without ever leaving the page you were bookmarking. There are more than fifteen such tools, and each is different. We will consider three, Backflip,, and Furl.

Social Bookmarking

Each of the three tools allows you to see what other people are bookmarking on particular topics. This is what makes them “social.” All three tools highlight popular links on their homepage. So you can see the hot topic or hot site of the day. The sites encourage sharing of data in other ways too. lists a hyperlink under each of your items showing the other users who have saved it. You can easily click to see what else they have bookmarked. Furl’s recommended sites encourage this shared knowledge building by displaying sites others have bookmarked that are similar to yours. All three sites also offer the ability to subscribe to another user’s public list of sites.

Founded in 1999 and privately owned, BackFlip is run by volunteers. BackFlip stores URLs in folders much like a browser, but lets you build the folders collaboratively with other people.

Fields to fill in for each entry

URL – automatically fills in with the address of the page you are bookmarking

title - automatically fills in with the title taken from the page you are bookmarking, but you can edit the contents

description – any comments or information about the item

folder – name of the BackFlip folder where you choose to file this item. Folder names can be multiple words. An item can be put only in one folder at a time.

Search and categorization

  • search utility searches the title, description, URL and text of the Web page
  • can use quotes to search for an exact phrase
  • search utility recognizes the Boolean operators AND and OR
  • on-line help offers additional details for how to handle capitalization and truncation in


All your saved items are private by default, but can be shared in two ways. You can choose to share a folder with a select group of people and allow them to add bookmarks to your folder. Or you can make the folder public to everyone.
Founded in 2003 and purchased by Yahoo in December 2005, claims over 300,000 users. bills itself as a social bookmark manager. Many people go to the site to see what other Web users are bookmarking and never create their own profile.

Fields to fill in for each entry

tag — a one word descriptor that you attach to your bookmark. You can have multiple tags for a single bookmark. will suggest tags and also displays a list of the tags that you have used for other pages.

description (required) – automatically fills in with the title from the page you are bookmarking, but you can edit the contents

notes – any additional information

Search and categorization

  • search utility searches the description field, extended description field and tags
  • automatically searches other people’s items for your search term
  • can sort links by their tag
  • can also group tags in a “bundle.” For example if you have Emily_Dickinson, Maya_Angelou, and Robert_Frost tags, you could group them for a class poetry project in the bundle “poetry.”


Your list of sites is automatically public with no privacy option. When displays your sites it also lists how many other people have saved that site. You can quickly access other people’s lists through the hyperlinks that provides.

Created by LookSmart in 2003, Furl has the most fields to complete and an advanced searching and sorting tool.

Fields to fill in for each entry

title – automatically fills in with the title from the page you are bookmarking, but you can edit the contents

topic (10 provided and users can create their own) – this is similar to the folder system except you can file an item under multiple topics

rating (1-5) – a personal evaluation of the site

keywords – single word descriptions of the site, similar to tags

comments – your thoughts about the entry

clipping - an area for you to copy a selection from the site and save it. If you have text highlighted when you click the Furl It button, the highlighted text will be automatically pasted into the clipping field.

mark as private, ‘mark as read’ – Furl gives you the option to display an entry only in your personal view of your archive. If you don’t mark an entry as private, others can view it in your archive.

Search and categorization

  • search utility searches keywords, full text of Web site, comments, and clippings
  • filter by topic or date can be added to a search
  • search utility recognizes AND and OR as Boolean operators
  • on-line help provides syntax for more advanced searches including exact phrases
  • also has sort tool which organizes by title, date stored, topic, rating and views (how many times someone else has viewed an item from your archive)


You choose whether you want your saved pages to be public or private. Furl gives you a list of recommended sites “that may be of interest to you based on what you have Furled.” This gives you a quick way to see what other people, who might have similar interests, are Furling in their public archive.

Database or Spreadsheet

If you don’t think Internet bookmark tools are for you, try storing URLs in a standard spreadsheet or database application. The advantage of this solution is that you have complete control of the categorization of your data. You can create as many fields for sorting as you need (topic, title, date found, relevant course or lesson, APA bibliographic entry). You can also use multiple word categories and create a hierarchical system. However, unless you have access to your own Web space, you must save the file to a local storage device (hard drive, pen drive, etc.) and access it from that device. If you want to share it with someone else they need access to your file.

Which One is Right for Me?


If you move from computer to computer or want to develop a list of Web sites with a group of friends, colleagues or students, then any of the Internet-based bookmark systems gives you the highest availability.

Student Access

However, if you want to use a tool to collect bookmarks for your students, you might want to choose a tool like Furl or BackFlip that allows you to mark some entries private. Otherwise students will see the bookmarks for the poetry unit, but also the bookmarks you are collecting about your favorite sports team and the unit for next month.


The collaborative capabilities of BackFlip are very powerful. If you are studying current events, for example, you could create a folder in BackFlip and invite all your students to contribute and comment individually from home or school. Then you could discuss the contents of the folder as a group. You could keep the folder private from other users to prevent any concerns that someone outside your group would interfere. You could also build a set of links with colleagues teaching the same subject.


For the serious Web researcher the categorization currently available in the Internet based tools may not be advanced enough. A database or spreadsheet can be customized to meet your needs for research projects.

Mix It Up

If you only occasionally bookmark sites and successfully find them when you need them with your browser, you might want to stick with it. You can still go to a social bookmarking site like to benefit from the collective activities of other Web users when you are looking for something or are curious about the current buzz.

In the end you may find that any one solution is insufficient for all your needs. So don’t be afraid to use FURL for a class project, Internet Explorer Favorites for fun personal links and an Excel spreadsheet for a graduate research project.

Email:Laura Fogle