Story of Dan's Bookmarks

Friends and colleagues occasionally ask what web sites I frequent.  Sometimes they ask me as a tech, sometimes as a skeptic, and sometimes as a quirky person.  My links page reflects some things I like, but not my day-to-day surfing habits.  My bookmark page, however, does reflect the sites I use on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

There are several benefits to keeping one's most frequently used bookmarks in this manner.  Initially, I created a simple list of links without any organization.  The purpose was to have access to them from anywhere, even while using a computer not my own.  At work I use office computers; and, as a student, I would often use computer labs or friends' machines.  I cannot not load my own (very large) bookmark file onto all of these computers, so this was my solution.  In these situations, I usually wanted to scan headlines or the weather quickly and did not ordinarily engage in prolonged surfing (for which Opera's hotlist is the best tool yet invented).  I wanted my headlines and weather to be personalized, but no portal site (remember that 1998 buzzword?) offered sufficient customization and intelligent organization in a single, free package.  For example, I read the New York Times; but instead of using its home page, I read its indices of national, tech, and science headlines.  Similarly, instead of Yahoo's home page, I can go straight to the television listings for my cable account and weather for my zip code.

Fortunately, many sites organize such content at the directory level or permit URI database querying, both of which permit a static link to call up dynamic content.  See, for example, the URI for my general television listings at Yahoo, then compare it to the URI for movie listings:

All television listings:
http://tv.yahoo.com/grid?lineup=us_CA04437d&starthour=0&startdate=0

Movie listings:
http://tv.yahoo.com/grid?lineup=us_CA04437d&starthour=0&startdate=0&genres=16

Take a look at the sections of these URIs.  The first part is familiar: http:// specifies the hyper text transport protocol, which is the standard system for transmitting web pages.  The next part is the server name: tv.yahoo.com.  While you are probably more familiar with server names like www.yahoo.com, there is no reason why a computer on the web must be named www.  It could have any arbitrary name, but www is common because it is easy to type.  The last few parts are probably less familiar.  Next, grid is  the name of the database that Yahoo uses to generate the table that lists the television schedule.  The variable lineup identifies my television lineup.  The value of that variable is us_CA04437d, which identifies the Comcast cable lineup that I subscribe to.  The variables starthour and startdate are both set to zero, which tells Yahoo to give me the listings beginning right now — that is, offset by zero hours.  I could get programs beginning 1 (or 2 or 3, etc.) hours from now by changing the zero to 1 (or 2 or 3, etc.).  Similarly, the startdate variable is set to zero, signifying today.  Finally, the movies URI has one additional variable: genres, which is set to 16.  Yahoo identifies each type of television program with a number, and sixteen is assigned to movies.  Different genres have different numbers for identification in this database — e.g., six for documentaries, 22 for "outdoors," and 26 for science fiction.

The point of all this is that by placing these two links on my bookmark page, I can easily see all of what is on TV right now or just the movies that are playing now.  Yes, I have a "My Yahoo" account, and I know how to personalize it.  But, getting the information I want from My Yahoo would require four or more clicks through My Yahoo, and I would have to wait for a bloated web page to load each time.  The My Yahoo home page loads with a lot of garbage that Yahoo does not let you shed through personalization.  There is no substitute for my method when I just want a fast, detailed weather report or to see if Law & Order is a rerun.

With this system, I have only to memorize one URI; and I have access to a great deal of content that is, by definition, highly personalized (because I created it).  The benefits do not stop at portal functions like news, sports, and weather.  I often read technical and scientific papers online, so the reference links (dictionaries, almanacs, maps) are also convenient.  Often, I keep two browser windows open: one for my primary activity and one for references.

Soon after I got started, my one-column, jumbled list of bookmarks had grown to the point where I had to organize it.  After some experimentation, I settled on the present CSS columnar design.  This bookmark system became so convenient that I configured all my web browsers to use it as my default start page.  Today it is my primary method of calling up other web sites.  I still use  conventional bookmarking tools like Opera's hotlist, but digging through deeply nested folders too often is annoying.  Opera's hotlist nickname feature relieves most of this annoyance, but a single mouseclick is often more convenient than using the keyboard.  Using both systems in tandem makes surfing extremely fast.

The last step in the evolution of my bookmarks page was to use my local copy as my default page.  "Local" in this context refers to the copy residing on my hard drive — where I edited it before publishing it to the web server where you are reading this.  While I usually use dedicated software for viewing graphics and text files stored on my computer, sometimes I use my browser for this.  Links to these directories were an obvious addition.  Soon, I realized that I could load the local copy of my default page instead of the copy stored on my web site.  This has the benefit of loading instantly my browser does not have to retrieve it across the Internet.  It is nice having a default page that I never have to wait for.  Also, in rare instances, I boot my computer without an Internet connection.

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