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So Del.icio.us! Intelligent Tagging for the Mac User

by Giles Turnbull
07/18/2006

Editor's note: In this article, you'll learn about del.icio.us, a glorious, minimalist, tag-tastic bookmarks database. It was designed to be a "large-scale outboard memory," with added sharing smarts. It works like this: you take all your digital stuff--mainly URLs now, but color definitions and audio files have found their own special homes on the site too--and throw it into your del.icio.us account. Thanks to tagging and searching, you can find your stuff easily later. And you can find other people's stuff too. Here's what you need to know.

Try to think back to the early days of the Web. Back when browsers were a new thing. Imagine what a great idea it was when somebody said: "Hey, let's make a system that lets people remember the URLs they've been to; we could call it bookmarks or something."

In those days your bookmarks said a lot about you. People would export their bookmarks as HTML and turn them into a "My Bookmarks" or "My Links" page on their websites.

But bookmarks were also a pain. You had to manage them. Keeping a clean collection was hard work; you always ended up bookmarking stuff that you were never going to visit again. (Remember, this was pre-Google; search wasn't always going to be very helpful then.)

And bookmarks were even more troublesome if you used more than one computer, or more than one browser. Then, storing bookmarks in a file on a computer was no help at all, and synchronizing bookmarks across computers, across networks, even across platforms, was just nothing but hard work.

Then somebody had another great idea: "Hey, let's abandon bookmarks on the computer and store them on the Web. Let's make it incredibly simple for people to get to them from any browser, on any computer."

Joshua Schachter has had several great ideas. He built Memepool, then built a little online bookmarks script and stuck it online at Muxway.com. People kept needling him about it, asking how they could get a Muxway of their own. The result was del.icio.us.

In this article, I'm going to take a look at various del.icio.us helper apps for Mac OS X that have sprung up in the wake of it becoming such a popular service. Some of these apps are designed to make your del.icio.us account available on the desktop; others are intended to make posting new items possible without having to use the web interface.

Posting Made Easy

Pukka is a $5 posting assistant. It lets you log in to del.icio.us with several accounts, and post to each of them from your desktop. It does this one thing and it does it well. It comes with an easy-to-add bookmarklet that automates stuff like including the URL title and putting any selected text into the comments field. When you start adding tags, a drop-down menu of existing tags appears, Google Suggest style, to make it that little bit faster.

Pukka screenshot
Figure 1. Pukka

Pukka's nice, but Cocoalicious is free and offers all of Pukka's features plus a few more.

In Cocoalicious, not only do you get the chance to create new posts, but you also have a backup of your entire del.icio.us "linkstream" (for want of a better word) on your desktop. This is searchable, and all previously stored links are editable via the Info sheet.

This means you can go back to old links and change their descriptions, tags, and titles, even make them private if you wish, without having to use your browser.

After all the gushing good stuff we've said about del.icio.us, why do some avoid it?

Well, the del.icio.us post page can sometimes be slow, especially if you have a very large number of tags for it to display underneath the posting form. Also, people's browsers tend to be busy little apps these days--running a web email client in one window, perhaps playing some audio or video in another. There are lots of times when farming off a task like del.icio.us account management to another app might be a good idea.

Cocoalicious screenshot
Figure 2. Cocoalicious

Cocoalicious also comes with a bookmarklet that does the same job as Pukka's, and has a built-in WebKit browser for instant viewing of any chosen URL. Your stored URLs can be viewed by date as well as description, and it has a neat Ratings feature that turns tags-as-stars (*, **, ***, etc.) into iTunes-style ratings for each link.

The one thing it can't do (but Pukka can) is cope with more than one del.icio.us account. Pukka's helpful drop-down menu lets you flit between accounts with ease, making multiple account management very swift. This offers another advantage over the browser, where you'd be forced to log out and log in again to achieve the same effect (or use a separate browser for your additional del.icio.us account, at which point the whole point of simplifying things starts to break down somewhat).

A third option for quick posting is From Concentrate Software's Postr. This app offers more choice in another way, in that it allows posting not only to Flickr but also to a bunch of similar social bookmarking services on the Web (for example, Furl and OnlyWire).

Postr screenshot
Figure 3. Postr

Postr is beta and free. It comes across as an app intended for advanced users. It's scriptable and offers the facility for adding more link-sharing services of your own, for which you'll need knowledge of things like API URLs. Not one for newbies, but certainly worth a go if you like to spread your link love around different sites.

Using Your Bookmarks

There are several apps built for bringing your del.icio.us apps closer to you. They all provide much the same functionality, by downloading a copy of your links stored to date and then periodically checking for new ones.

You can probably guess what Delibar does; yup, it puts your del.icio.us account in your Menu Bar.

Delibar screenshot
Figure 4. Delibar

This Universal Binary (requires OS X 10.4) is released for free and as open source, although donations are accepted. It sticks a familiar del.icio.us icon alongside all the others in your Menu Bar; one click and up pops a list of all of your tags. You can browse by tag, either by mousing or fairly obvious keyboard controls (typing a tag's name will jump to it directly).

One feature that really stands out, though, is Delibar's export of all your bookmarks to HTML. The code is clean and the embedded CSS makes everything look nice and neat.

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Figure 5. Delibar's HTML export (Click for full-size image)

Kevin Wojniak's Menulicious is a very similar application and performs almost identically. It lacks the swish HTML export but in all other respects does what Delibar does. Menulicious is freeware and a Universal Binary.

Ian Henderson's delimport offers something a little different. Quite simply, it sucks your del.icio.us account into something Spotlight can index and search. All of the data you'd expect (URL, description, tags, title) gets imported and Spotlight will find it all (as will Spotlight-powered third-party apps like Spotlaser and MoRU).

This is particularly nice if you've got files on your hard disk stored with similar metadata (perhaps Spotlight comment tags) to that in your del.icio.us account. Spotlight will find them all and keep them grouped; you could even have del.icio.us links turning up in appropriate Smart Folders. This is potentially a very useful trick, merging your online bookmarks repository with your local filesystem.

Sync with Your Browser

Despite the obvious benefit of having your bookmarks stored for you online, some people find it useful to have them locally in their browser's bookmarks file as well. Perhaps just for backup, perhaps for convenience; whatever the reason, there's no need to fret about getting everything synchronized. There are apps out there that offer easy transfer of large numbers of URLs, in both directions.

Christina Zeeh's delicious2safari does what it says it will; extracts your del.icio.us links and inserts them into your bookmarks at a location of your choice. The as-yet-unreleased version 2.0 looks like it will include all sorts of extras, including an option to import to Camino.

Safarilicious works in the opposite direction. Give it a bunch of Safari bookmarks and it will upload all of them to a del.icio.us account. What's nice is the smart way it helps out--for example, it'll tag all the new del.icio.us entries with tags made from your bookmarks folders. If you have a folder called "funny," then everything in it will be tagged "funny;" bookmarks in a sub-folder called "dilbert" will also be tagged appropriately.

Safarilicious offers a great deal to people who have not yet caught the del.icio.us bug yet, to newbies starting out with fresh accounts. Newcomers often don't get the value of del.icio.us (or similar services) because they haven't built up a body of links with which they can start "playing," and in which they can see the value of the tagging, searching, and sharing. Safarilicious offers a great way for newcomers to leapfrog this step and start seeing the cool stuff sooner. Be warned, though; in my test run it performed fine, but I had only a handful of bookmarks to upload. Judging by the comments on the Safarilicious home page, it can get slow with large numbers of links, and crashes are possible. Back things up before use!

Firefox users needn't feel left out. As you'd expect, there are extensions that make del.icio.us a much more integrated experience. Foxylicious syncs your Firefox bookmarks and a del.icio.us account. It asks you to specify a folder into which it can save stuff from del.icio.us, and will delete anything and everything that's already in that folder. This could, of course, wipe all your existing Firefox bookmarks, so make sure you pick the destination folder carefully. Foxylicious is pretty good at throwing up plenty of warnings, so you should be OK.

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Figure 6. Foxylicious bookmarks (Click for full-size image)

Once everything's synched, Foxylicious can update itself daily, and there's an option to do a fresh full sync--in which case the del.icio.us side is considered the most up-to-date and will be downloaded in full. Once again, everything stored on your hard disk will be deleted and replaced. One nice touch in Foxylicious is the option to have all the local bookmark folders labeled in lower case; won't matter to many people, but for those of us who care about these things it's very welcome.

This isn't the only del.icio.us-related extension by any means. There are several sidebars available (VeryDelicious, for example); have a search through Firefox Add-ons for more.

Other Tips

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.


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