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Keeping track of your
journeys on the Internet

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I wrote this article for the newsletter "He@lth Information on the Internet", December 1998, #6, published by the Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd., and the Wellcome Trust, and edited by Robert Kiley.


Introduction

I can still remember the day someone spilt orange juice over my Psion organiser (PDA): it was as if I had had a lobotomy. All my telephone numbers and contact addresses were stored in it, and suddenly it did not work. I had no backup, and my old paper address book was now years out of date. I was paralysed. It did however teach me one important lesson: make regular copies/backups of valuable data. There was also a second lesson: if you ask them nicely, Psion can clean orange juice out of the keyboard and bring the organiser out of its coma with its data intact.

Finding your way about the Internet is similar to most of the other things you do. You need to ask the way or find information from directories and search engines, and then, having found a useful information source, you need to file it away. This article will discuss how you can manage this information by effective use of the Web browsers' bookmark manager. For 'power-users' the article will also examine dedicated bookmark utility software and discuss what benefits this software can deliver to the user.

Bookmarks

Bookmarks are simply a way of recording the location of any Web page, thereby enabling you to return to that page without having to remember some long and instantly forgettable URL (uniform resource locator). When you want to return to a bookmarked page, you open your collection of bookmarks, find the bookmark you created, and click on it. The browser automatically remembers the address and loads the page. It is just like using the stored numbers on your telephone.

Both Netscape and Internet Explorer provide easy access to your bookmark collection via the browser toolbar. You can use the Bookmark toolbar icon or your right mouse button to add any Web page to your bookmark collection. Once you have collected a few sites you will need to organise them into discrete subject folders so you can find things more quickly. Figure 1 shows the hierarchical structure you can impose on your bookmarks. New sites can be saved and dropped into these folders as appropriate. Bookmarks can be reorganised at any time, simply 'dragging' or moving the bookmark to another folder. You may however wish to keep a few commonly used bookmarks out of your folders so that they can be accessed more quickly from the toolbar buttons.

Figure One

picture of Netscape bookmark display

Saving your bookmarks

Copying your bookmark file to a floppy disk ensures that in the event of a computer failure, you will be able to visit your favourite Web sites when the computer is resuscitated. Having a copy on disk also means that if you use a different workstation - perhaps you are giving a talk away from your usual place of work - you still have ready access to your key Web sites.

Under Netscape the bookmark file is called bookmark.htm, and can be found in the Netscape directory. Users of Internet Explorer need to copy the Favorites folder, which resides in the Windows directory. This should be done regularly to ensure your back-up copy is kept up to date.

You can also protect your bookmarks and have them available at any time, anywhere, by storing them on a web site. You can use a free service, such as MURL to set up a password-controlled bookmark collection, accessible using any browser linked to the Internet.

Bookmark utility software

The bookmark managers that come with Netscape and Internet Explorer are adequate for handling a small number of bookmarks, and the versions in the latest browsers are much improved over the original ones. However, once you start collecting a significant number - I have over 4000 bookmarked sites - I would recommend investing in bookmark utility software. In addition to being independent of any browser, these utilities also bring improvements in managing, sorting, and saving your bookmarks. Folder-based utilities are available, and Compass is one I like.

Powermarks is a small (450 KB) bookmark utility, designed for use with Netscape, Internet Explorer, and Opera Web Browsers. Rather than storing Web addresses in bookmark folders, Powermarks keeps all your bookmarks in a single list and provides you with a fast and easy-to-use search engine for finding the ones you want.

When you want to bookmark a page you are viewing PowerMarks automatically picks up the address and title of the Web pages from your browser and then allows you to add your own keywords, and notes about the site. All these items are indexed and searchable, and you can search on word stems and use Boolean logic to help track relevant bookmarks. Figure Two shows a simple search of my bookmarks for ones related to Medline. Once a bookmark has been selected it will automatically launch your browser of choice.

Figure Two

picture of Powermarks bookmark display

Another feature of Powermarks is the ability to order the bookmarks by titles, addresses and also by the dates they were created. You can also use the search function to select groups of bookmarks which can then be exported for printing, sharing with friends, or for use on a Web page. Powermarks can also check automatically to see if any bookmarks have changed since you last visited them.

Downloading bookmark utility software

Powermarks can be downloaded from the Kaylon Technologies Home Page at: This product can be evaluated, free of charge, for 20 days. After this time you are required to buy a licence at a cost of $24.95.

For details of other bookmark utilities go to the local mirror of the TUCOWS site at and browse through the Browser Utilities section, appropriate to your operating system.

Conclusion

With estimates indicating that there are more than 350 million pages on the World Wide Web, it pays to hang on to any useful ones that you come across! A good bookmark collection reduces the time (and effort) you subsequently need to spend retracing your steps on the Web in an attempt to find that 'really useful site'. One final thought: don't forget to backup your bookmark file!

This article was written by Roger Trobridge, and any suggestions or questions can be sent to him at gopher@internet-gopher.com

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Roger Trobridge, The Internet Gopher, gopher@internet-gopher.com
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