Using Evernote as a Bookmark Manager

Some time ago, I got sick of my huge bookmark library and dealing with synchronizing it across every browser I have, especially given that one of my few disloyalties to the Apple ecosystem is that I use Chrome instead of Safari, which doesn’t sync in any way with my iPhone. To fix this problem, I signed up for the remarkably good Pinboard service, and used its tools to import my Safari bookmarks. Pinboard was entirely satisfactory, and I recommend it to anyone who wants an easy-to-access online repository of bookmarks. Having all my bookmarks online and available from any computer (i.e. my wife’s PC or other computers when I was a guest at someone’s house) turned out to be quite useful, which was surprising to me.

Where Pinboard didn’t work as well for me is that I clip a great deal of web content to Evernote to keep as notes or research. This meant that I had at least two places to look for what were, essentially, the same thing. (With one just being a little richer in content than the other). Despite Spotlight and the great (and free) delimport utility which let me search both sets of data at once, this wasn’t possible on my iPhone, and seemed simply overly difficult.

So I decided to switch to Evernote as my one and only place to keep track of interesting web content. Evernote was my pick of the two (Pinboard offers a service that will archive and make searchable the content of all of your bookmarks) because it offered local access to all my content, and since it also has a great deal of other valuable information, it lets me easily aggregate combinations of useful information, not only bookmarks.

Since Pinboard and Evernote both excel at import and export of various data sources, it was relatively trivial to put all my Pinboard bookmarks into Evernote. I then went the extra mile and built an AppleScript that went through all of those imported bookmarks and pulled the original web content, which I first “cleaned” using Instapaper’s web viewer, ensuring that I only had the core content and wasn’t storing ads, comments, and navigation menus.

This has worked quite well for me, especially with the Evernote Chrome extension that shows clippings from individual sites as I navigate them and also shows me if I have any notes matching search terms when I search Google or Bing. This makes it stupid simple to find content that I’ve clipped or bookmarked but forgot I’d done so. The addition of the Clearly extension makes it easy to clip only the core content from web pages when I bookmark them (a habit I’ve gotten into, since it ensures the content will survive later deletion/updating or changes in its URL, and also makes it fully searchable). Having all of these pieces of information in one place is, as I expected, very useful, and makes bookmarking a much more useful tool than it ever was before, since I can search it, access it anywhere, and associate it with all sorts of other content through tags and folders.

There are two ways in which it is sub-optimal, however: Firstly, Evernote doesn’t directly launch URL bookmarks in a useful fashion, so I end up searching, opening a note, and then clicking its URL. This leaves me with an open application and selected note, and changing my currently selected note, in order to do what is typically a one-click action. Secondly, Evernote is getting very, very, full. Searching for almost any common search term brings up a dozen or more matching notes. It also falls short in giving me quick access to URLs for sites I visit regularly, so I’ve gone ahead and put those into my browser toolbar and manually updated them in Safari to make sure they get to my iPhone. Since I don’t plan on changing my email service, bank, or favorite social networks any time soon, this works just fine. Auto-completion in the browser has made these bookmarks fairly unnecessary anyhow.

I’ve found two useful work-arounds: I tag anything that I feel is really just a “bookmark” with an un-creatively-named tag of “bookmark.” This makes a search for bookmarks easier, although there’s certainly other clipped content with associated source URLs that are also useful as bookmarks. I have also created a few smart folders which narrow down to notes with URLs and one for notes with the bookmark tag. These don’t bypass the problem of opening bookmarks, but do make it substantially quicker to filter out irrelevant content. I’ve also become accustomed to deleting (or just not clipping) URLs from notes I clip from the web if I’m really just keeping them as reference and I don’t think I’ll ever need to re-visit the site. (e.g. code snippets)

So, do I recommend this approach? Absolutely. It changes bookmarking into research, reference, and a sort of bibliography for my projects and general life.

I’ve also, as you might guess if you’re a regular reader of this site (rather, if you’re THE regular reader of this site – Hi, Mom!), built a few AppleScripts to make my life easier by easily importing original HTML content into notes (with or without Instapaper’s involvement), and also one to export my Evernote bookmarks so that they can be indexed by LaunchBar, and opened without having to launch Evernote at all.

Click here to get the scripts.

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Written on February 9, 2012