Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bookmarklets (p2): How To Best Manage Them

Last week we covered a brief introduction and description of what are bookmarklets, their benefit and how they're typically added to one's browser.

This week, I wanted to go over how to best organize your bookmarklets in a manner that maximizes their use and usefulness.

You've now collected a decent number of bookmarklets, but like the rest of your bookmarks, they're all over. Create a new sub-folder in your "Bookmarks Toolbar" folder in Firefox, and "Favorites Bar" in IE, and move all your bookmarklet links into this folder. You can even create sub-sub-folders to help you organize your collection by category, functionality, etc.

For me, given the sheer number of bookmarklets I've collected and/or created, organizing them in folders was a must. Creating a Google-specific folder helps me find those bookmarklets in a snap. Similarly, having a QA-specific folder helps me with those tasks when they're needed. Honestly, I could use a few more folders like a blogging-specific one, a social-media-specific one, a print-specific folder and I'm sure one or two more.

Bookmarklets Folder on the Bookmarks Toolbar

Once you've created the "bookmarklets" folder within the "Bookmarks Toolbar" (along with any sub-folders you need) you now can organize the links by dragging & dropping them or by sorting them alphabetically from the "Organize Bookmarks..." option. The latter, my personal choice, requires that you keep that in mind and have the discipline to name each one as you add it accurately.

Organize Bookmarks

Organize Bookmarks - Sort by Name (Alphabetically)

Now that you've organized and are managing your bookmarklets as you like, the rest is gravy. Since they're now on your "Bookmarks Toolbar" and in one easy to find folder ("bookmarklets"), you simply find & click the bookmarklet of choice to run it on the page you're on.

Allow me to go down a relevant side point briefly ...
As a collector of free alternatives to commercial software, I've downloaded one of the free software options out there to allow me to print to PDF. Personally, I use PrimoPDF. In basic terms, it installs as a printer and you simply print the page you want to it. Instead of it going to a printer and ultimately be on paper, it saves what I sent it as a PDF file. Given how I like cloud computing and all, I simply add it to my Dropbox folder and access that print out from anywhere I have an internet connection including my phone.

But what if you didn't (or couldn't) install something like PrimoPDF? There are websites out there that allow you to do the same thing. Amongst such web sites is PDFDownload.org. The site simply allows you to convert any web page you're on into a PDF file. You can save it on your hard drive, put it in your Dropbox folder to access from anywhere, read it later (on a plane), etc. PDFDownload.org even provides the bookmarklet for you. Unfortunately, they also provide you with an add-on, but if you've read the bookmarklet introduction, you'd know why I don't recommend add-ons or toolbars at all. I have taken their provided bookmarklet and made it into a pop-up window instead of a new window/tab. This made it easier for me to continue doing my thing while it's "working." I've also slightly changed its name and added a keyword --In this case, I gave it the keyword "pdf." Keywords?

Keywords are something specific to Firefox; although IE gives you an option to create a shortcut key to use in a similar but less useful fashion. As your bookmarklet collection grows, you'll find that you use 20% of them more frequently than the rest. And despite your organized folder structure and naming convention, it's still hard to find the one bookmarklet you want to use; especially if you have similar bookmarklets that do the same thing but in different ways, and you find yourself using one more than the others.

Unlike regular bookmarks, your browser cannot associate image icons with bookmarklets as these are simple JavaScript commands and not web addresses. And unlike IE, Firefox, doesn't allow you to manually add an image icon. Personally, I don't care about the image icon much.

Bookmark Keyword Use in Firefox

Right-click the properties of any bookmarklet and associate a keyword that defines the action or task associated with that bookmarklet. In the PDF example above, I have set "pdf" as the keyword for my Download PDF bookmarklet. Now whenever I need to save a web page in PDF format, I simply type pdf in the browser address bar and hit Enter - there’s no need to hunt for the bookmarklet in the bookmarks toolbar.

One of my frequently used bookmarklets is a URL-shortner, which allows me to post sites, images, etc. of interest with ease on Twitter. The bookmarklet, which is provided by the service (bit.ly), is located alphabetically towards the top and is easily accessible. However, I'm more of a keyboard person than I am a mouse user; and it's therefore easier for me to type the bookmarklets' assigned keyword "shorten" than it is for me to navigate with the mouse to the Bookmarklets folder and then down to the link itself.

Like typing "pdf" in the URL, typing "shorten" in the URL, while I'm on a page I'm visiting, automatically shows bit.ly right nav with the URL, the title & shortened URL in the field and a button (if I'm already signed on to bit.ly with my account) to post directly to my Twitter account ... without me having to leave the page I was on.

Bit.ly as a service is down right awesome. You can get stats of how many people clicked on the shortened URL you created allowing you to measure effectiveness among other things. I highly recommend it for all social media users, but especially for Facebook and Twitter users. Heck, I even use it when I want to link to something when I'm answering & participating in forums. Again, it's a good way of measuring your effectiveness on domains and URLs you don't own. As I normally do, I digress.

One of the biggest advantages of bookmarklets is that at the basic level, they are bookmarks/favorites. That means that any tool that syncs your bookmarks for you across different machines & locations will automatically sync your bookmarklets as well. The same cannot be said about add-ons & toolbars (not with the same ease any ways).

My favorite bookmark-sync tool, hands down, is Xmarks. Formerly known as Foxmarks, Xmarks syncs all your bookmarks (and bookmarklets of course) across all computers. As a fan and advocate of cloud computing (with some personally-put restrictions), Xmarks simply puts all your bookmarks & bookmarklets into the cloud so you can access them from any other computer connected to the internet. In addition to online backup, Xmarks is available for Firefox, Internet Explorer (IE) and Safari; so if you add a bookmarklet in one browser, it will automatically become available in your other browsers as well.


Xmarks has many other features that go beyond the scope of this bookmarklet-specific post. One worth mentioning, however, is that Xmarks offers profiles allowing you display certain bookmarks at certain locations (you may not want certain bookmarks, for example, to automatically be shown and/or available at work). For me, this is an absolute must, since bookmarklets I have created cannot become property of the company I work for; or disputed at any point to be so. Should you leave a workplace for which you had a profile location, you simply disable that location in your profile and they're gone once you sync up.

Now that I've covered what are bookmarklets, how to use them (at a high level) and how to best manage & organize them, I hope to see you next week when I dive a bit more into the topic and perhaps offer some useful ones for your collection.

Next week's post, and part 3 of this series, can be found here.  ▣

Click here to see other Tuesday posts (including the current one).

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