Better bookmarking tools for knowledge management & sharing

Bookmarking tools are an internet utility for saving a URL that you can come back to later. They are useful for all sorts of reasons and scenarios. We use them individually and collaboratively and during the past few years have cycled through a few different tools and workflows.

But even these kind of workhorse apps need to have some kind of killer feature, some element of joyful usability to make them stand out from the crowd.

Most bookmarking tools support some kind of tagging to organise your bookmarks (folksonomies in ye olde libraryspeak). ‘Read it later’ or readability view features have been added to many platforms, as have more social aspects for discovering and sharing your bookmarks. Social bookmarking can be used as a lightweight knowledge base, a way of sharing recommendations and curating knowledge for users.

And the ‘lightweight’ is an important component - we like our tools simple and easy to use. UX matters, particularly if this is something you want to share with your team or your users. We also like open tools and ones that we can customise or manage in a way that works for us.

We rely on bookmarking apps for our newsletter curation (an early workflow is described here). The apps are a vital part of our day-to-day knowledge management toolkit, particularly for those of us who regularly suffer from open tab overload.

But we’re increasingly looking to bookmarking apps as a knowledge sharing tool, and the options available have been increasing at a rapid pace. And as product builders, we’re also always paying close attention to interesting new features that emerge in these kinds of platforms and software products.

Bookmarks in a list without context or adaptability aren't going to be enough to capture or manage knowledge, either individually or within a team.

A linear list of stored URLs trapped within the browser is no longer enough.

Often, using an existing platform for organisational knowledge management can help identify workflows and requirements before needing to roll your own solution.

Getting data out as well as in

Data portability matters. There's no sense locking your intrinsic knowledge into a platform if you can't access it or export it again when you need to. And reuse it in ways that work best for you.

Pinboard is a subscription-based bookmarking service (currently at $22/year and sans tracking and advertisements) but one that we’ve used for a long time mostly due to its stability and the flexibility of the tagging and RSS generation. It also stores a full text version of the page, which is helpful if things disappear.

You can read about Pinboard founder Maciej Cegłowski’s tagging epiphany with the help of the online fandom community - a great demonstration of user-driven feature development.

One of the reasons we’ve stuck with Pinboard for so long is the flexible and powerful RSS support. You can create RSS feeds from any of your tags and, even better, from a combination of tags. This means we can remix our stored content and reuse it - handy for our newsletter creation and for knowledge sharing.

So while, sure, you can export your bookmarks from Pinboard, you can also access them in other open formats too.

Knowledge is for sharing

Increasingly, we're looking for tools to be able to store, curate and share knowledge online. And that sharing part matters. As much as we want to be able to create private bookmark lists, we also want to be able to choose to share our bookmarks when needed.

Raindrop is another subscription-based app with a generous free tier that includes unlimited bookmarks, collections and devices with a 60Mb upload limit per month. There are extra features including 10Gb upload with a permanent library and nested collections on the £28.79 per year Pro tier.

It has a great UI and the part we really like is the easy set up of a public page. You can create and manage a collection of bookmarks together as a team (including media) and then generate a public page for others to access these links - no registration required.

You can keep content private, you can enable access to specific collections by public URL, and you can also invite colleagues to collaborate on specific collections.

Our knowledge is ours

We want to be sure that our privacy is maintained with the software tools we use. Not all software tools are as concerned about this (and some more unscrupulous vendors mine data for other uses) so we only use tools that have a demonstrable respect for privacy and security.

LinkAce was created as a searchable, categorizable bookmarking archive to store all kinds of URLs and keep your browser bookmarks clear of clutter. There’s automated backups via Internet Archive and this is one of the few self-hosted options for free and easy bookmarking.

Zotero is always one to watch. It’s been fascinating to see it evolve from a humble citation browser extension into a full ‘personal research assistant’ platform. Sure, there’s still ZoteroBib for quick bibliography creation, but now you can also organise all of your research in one place. We like it for its increasing collaboration features that let you share your Zotero ‘library’ and create bibliographies together. But it’s standout feature is probably still its openness - no tracking, no dubious intentions.

And it continues to deliver more and more.

Bookmarking anytime, anywhere

With the ubiquitous web comes ubiquitous bookmarking - there's no guarantee that we're sitting at our desks when we encounter an article or website that we want to hold on to. Integrations with social media, with our existing environments (work and play) helps us store and manage cumulative knowledge.

Now owned by Mozilla, Pocket is a bookmarking app with a good free tier and extra functions and no ads on the £3.95 per month or £35.99 yearly premium plans. We talk about it sometimes.

The key feature of pocket has to be its distraction free, customisable reading environment with no clutter. But also the interoperability and ability to bookmark from your phone, from any browser. Even by sending an email.

Beyond the bookmark

When it comes to storing web-based information, there's a lot more than a simple URL to capture. Context matters too.

Toby is a Chrome browser extension that tackles the context of storing bookmarks - you can save and organise your tabs or groups of tabs into 'collections'. And as you drag the tabs into the collection Toby closes the tab for you, and you can open them up again in one click. And these features are collaborative by design too. The limitations of being a Chrome browser extension aside, it is an approach worth watching.

Klobie is a new, light-touch bookmarking tool that extends beyond saving the URL to include note taking and different organisational forms. It’s free(ish) and private, although you can choose to share boards via a private link or make them public.

It’s under development at time of writing, and you can also submit your feedback to the developers.

Better tools for better workflows

No one tool is going to be able to solve all of our problems with creating, managing and sharing organisational knowledge. But that doesn't mean we shouldn’t be asking more of our tools and looking more closely at our own knowledge management workflows. Data portability, privacy awareness and flexibility of how we view and create data is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ultimately though, how you organise your information is personal to you or specific to your organisation (probably somewhere in between), so hopefully you can find something that brings the fun and functionality together for your specific needs.

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