What are your methods for keeping digital information from the web organized?
February 6, 2008 11:45 AM   Subscribe

How do you manage to organize all that useful information you find on the web on a daily basis?

Let me explain my situation. I've got a desktop full of dozens of links, text files, and images on essentially random subjects. Some of the common ones are Metafilter answers, blog entries, and research links, all which seem valuable enough to warrant keeping. My desktop frequently gets so cluttered that I need to throw everything into a folder to keep my sanity, and from there most of it gets lost and forgotten. I've tried a couple of online bookmark services, but my archive has become so large, I'm hesitant to add anything that seems remotely important for fear of losing it. Plus I don't like to save an entire link when there are only one or two snippets on the page I'd like to save.

So I got to thinking about it, and I'm pretty sure anyone who reads Metafilter frequently enough must know what I'm talking about. Even if your system isn't perfect, maybe you can share your best practices with other readers for what I imagine is a pretty common problem. Or if you know of any good applications you find useful for keeping track of all the digital 'stuff' we all save, I would really appreciate it.
posted by gigabyte to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
del.icio.us for all links. You can minimize the effects from an "excessive archive" by just getting into a habit of properly and extensively tagging everything. So you might have a large archive of things tagged "youtube", but only a subset that would be "youtube" and "music" and "jazz", for example.

And for images and little snippets of text/quotes, I started up a tumblr log. It nicely fills that kind of void between the full-on weblog posts I'd make and the simple "here's a link" things I'd save on del.icio.us.
posted by mkn at 11:54 AM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, I have the exact same problem.

I use the bookmark route (using the google toolbar), but a lot of time I see a good article through google reader and just "star" it, so everything is not together as it should be.

I'd be interested in a similar system. Bonus: a searchable system, rather than just being tagged based like google toolbar seems to be.
posted by andrewdunn at 11:55 AM on February 6, 2008

Thanks for the great ideas mkn. I would be interested to know if del.icio.us searches page content or just tags. I hadn't heard of tumblr but I'll give it a try. An online solution is probably ideal, although I'd certainly go for an offline application that can hold everything I'm trying to save.
posted by gigabyte at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2008

I use google notebook for snippets, links, and for more permanent, important stuff, 37signals' backpack.
posted by mphuie at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2008

I also have this problem, and keep meaning to try Read It later. It seems pretty good and even has offline browsing in beta.
posted by zazerr at 12:00 PM on February 6, 2008

del.icio.us. Definitely designate one tag as "read_later", or something like that.

Bloglines lets you save articles with the "keep as new" box. (Google reader has stars)
posted by chrisamiller at 12:03 PM on February 6, 2008

I've got the same problem and has resorted to information managers, virtual scrapbooks in which you can drop snippets, web archives and files and (failing organisation) at least be able to search them. Unfortunately almost all of my experience in on the Mac.

The state of the art there is DevonThink, which has some very clever classification and association functions in addition to search. There are other, less high-powered albeit cheaper choices including Yojimbo. However, I'm troubled by these systems using proprietary storage, sticking everything in their own custom database. What happens if it gets corrupted or the software stops getting supported? Also it would be useful to access the data with other tools. For those reasons, I'm currently using EagleFiler, which 'stores' documents by just sticking them in a set of folders and indexing those.
posted by outlier at 12:04 PM on February 6, 2008

Do you have a Mac? If so, Yojimbo could be exactly what you've been waiting for. I use it for a number of randomly useful things (self-link warning).
posted by travis vocino at 12:07 PM on February 6, 2008

I hugely recommend Furl.

1. It caches every page you save, which allows for full text searches of your websites. It's also good for news stories that expire or go behind paid walls.

2. Integrates into Firefox nicely.

3. Private or public bookmarks. You can default to private only if you wish.

4. The save window allows for keywords, topics (tags), description, and a "clipping." By highlighting text on the page before you click "Furl It!" in your browser it automatically saves what you clipped to the clipping box. You can also mark items as read or unread. Search searches all of these.

5. You can fully export everything if you wish, including saved pages.

To see it in action, look at my archive. The look of the site is bad now, but I highly recommend it, especially for the cache and full text searches.
posted by ALongDecember at 12:09 PM on February 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

all which seem valuable enough to warrant keeping

OK, this is where I step in. I tend to build my browser up to 20-40 tabs over the week and sometimes the browser crashes and doesn't restore my session. I keep collecting these tabs because the information is not worth bookmarking but I do want to read it. So I go on and on, Firefox gets up to a half-gig of RAM and my machine bogs down. Time to reboot! Oops, I lost my tabs!

I used to fear this situation but now I realize I'm in an information glut that I can't satisfy. More things appear to be valuable information but aren't. Want to know how I know? When I lose my tabs, I can't remember what was in them. If by some chance there was something specific that I did want to cover, I have a week's worth of history in my browser to search and browse. I have to do that maybe once a month or for a maximum of 1% of all the tabs I lose, and that's an extremely generous estimation.
posted by rhizome at 12:15 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I read it in Google reader, I star it and go back weekly or bi-weekly to see if it's something I should bookmark for multiple re-uses, etc.

For bookmarks, I use Firefox with the Foxmarks extension, that way if I'm one on computer it syncs my bookmarks to my other computer. I have a special folder in my Bookmarks Toolbar called "z-Investigate Further" so that I can go in there a week or so later and cull the stuff that ended up not being that important, or moving them to other bookmark folders as necessary.

Additionally, I will occasionally *gasp* print stuff out and file it if it's an especially helpful article/blog post.
posted by po822000 at 12:27 PM on February 6, 2008

Honestly, I've stopped trying to save and categorize every "interesting" thing I find on the web. It takes too much work and stresses me out too much. Yeah, I can't remember that really cool link that would have changed your life, but somehow you've managed to survive. Let it go and move with life.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:34 PM on February 6, 2008


It has a free version, and a more capable for-fee version. It can store whole web pages, just selected clips, or links. It can store image and text. If you have a tablet PC, it can OCR your handwriting and store those as notes. You can assign all your little bits that you saved into categories, or tag them. And then you can search them...
posted by tuxster at 12:43 PM on February 6, 2008

Delicious is great for bookmarking, but I don't want to rely on being online to access everything. So...

In my Documents folder, I have a folder for each area of interest. For example: Photography, Web Design, Photoshop, Graphic Design, Magic, Inspiration, Business Info, Fun Stuff, etc.

I usually save things to my Download folder, then move things a couple times a week, but I could download right to the correct folder if I wanted.

If I come across information that's not a PDF or other downloadable format, I have appropriately named text files that I paste info into. If you have have a Mac, get Xnippets and you can copy text directly to a Xnippets file via the Services menu, and move it into your main document later. I'm sure there is something similar for Windows.
posted by The Deej at 12:48 PM on February 6, 2008

I created two private, in-my-Mac wikis using Tiddlywiki. One is for business info; one is for personal.

For example, I'm considering living abroad a bit. So I have a tag called Expat and tags and records for the different countries I'm considering. Instead of bookmarking a page that has one useful paragraph about the cost of health care in Denmark, I copy the useful paragraph and paste it into the appropriate wiki record ("tiddler"). I'll often include the page's URL, too. There will be other paragraphs or notes from other pages in that same tiddler.

This has been way more useful than any bookmarking system I've tried, because I capture just the info I need and easily add it to related info. The main drawback is that it's a slight pain to include an image in the wiki.
posted by PatoPata at 12:48 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I use delicious for bookmarks, vi.sualize.us for images, tumblr for things I want to share, and tiddlywiki for any info I want to reference later (ie. recipes).
posted by bradbane at 1:04 PM on February 6, 2008

My suggestion is to stop trying to preemptively sort out what is "important." Instead, read it and move on without doing anything more than perhaps saving a bookmark to a folder labeled "read later/misc stuff" or something like that.

Only save, categorize, and file when it is for a specific and immediate project. Writing a report on beekeeping in the Ukraine? Set up some folders, start looking at sites, follow links and blogs and articles, create sub-categories... and when you have produced that report (or built your hive, or whatever it was that you needed that information for) file all those links and pdf's and so on away deep on your hard drive and move on to the next project.

It's like highlighting in a book. On your first read-through, everything looks important, and if you have a highlighter in hand everything gets highlighted. Look at it later, and all you see is an undifferentiated mass of yellow. On the other hand, if you are reading with three very specific questions in mind, and highlight for those three things only, there will be a few splashes of yellow here and there, drawing your eye instantly to those important points.

Basically, I'm saying that since you don't really know ahead of time what is important, don't worry about it. Learn instead how to find, sort, and use information quickly and efficiently, and count on all the resources at your fingertips for finding what you need, rather than trying to become your own mini-library in an ad-hoc fashion.
posted by Forktine at 1:06 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dittoing del.icio.us and furl (yahoo have introduced a function akin to furl with their My Web).
Assuming you're using Firefox there are two handy add-ons:
Add Bookmark Here, which lets you bookmark a page into any given folder very easily (it's THE essential add-on, for me), and
ScrapBook, which saves pages on your local machine (saving to furl means less local clutter, but furl can be a pita in losing your logged-in state)

But actually I like Forktine's answer best.
posted by anadem at 1:30 PM on February 6, 2008

I really, really, really (really!) like Google Notebook. It's really only useful with the accompanying browser extension.

But once you've got it set up, it's cool; you can 'note' images or blocks of text, saving them in a central store with the page's URL and a field for comments. You can define multiple 'notebooks' for different subjects (I don't bother) and it keeps everything in order by date added. As of fairly recently, you can tag notes and sort them by categories.

It also exports notebooks to Google Docs (from which you can export to .doc files or a variety of other formats) and you can share your Notebook with others.

About the only thing it's missing is full integration with Google Bookmarks. When you get right down to it, there's no reason why 'bookmarking' (saving URLs) and 'noting' (saving arbitrarily-defined text or photos) ought to be any different. Having them in a central store, with tags and the ability to share and analyze them, makes sense. I think Google is closer than anybody else in doing this.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:25 PM on February 6, 2008

Delicious for stuff I want.

But stuff to read? I've been using instapaper and bookmarking it for later to read on my iphone.
posted by filmgeek at 2:31 PM on February 6, 2008

There are other, less high-powered albeit cheaper choices including Yojimbo. However, I'm troubled by these systems using proprietary storage, sticking everything in their own custom database.
posted by outlier at 2:04 PM

It's not proprietary. It's an SQLite database. SQLite is about as open as can be.
posted by justgary at 2:46 PM on February 6, 2008

3rding Google Notebook. I use it for exactly what you're describing.
posted by jasminerain at 5:28 PM on February 6, 2008

Thanks for all the excellent suggestions. I can't believe I hadn't heard of some of these applications and websites before. I'm trying out a few ideas and I'm feeling much more optimistic about organizing all this stuff that's cluttering up my desktop.
posted by gigabyte at 10:38 PM on February 6, 2008

2nding yojimbo
posted by LC at 2:59 PM on February 7, 2008

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