Keeping track of what you like

Time spent online costs money – whether you are watching Time-Keeper’s seconds tick away in an internet caf� or surfing on a broadband connection in the office when you should be doing something that brings in cash. If you are anything like me you fear that a lot of time spent online is wasted. I sit down at my computer in order to start writing this article, do some heavy programming on my web site, find out the latest news, or email my mother. What actually happens is this – I end up searching Google for that really interesting and useful anecdote I vaguely remember from a couple of weeks ago. It would be really cool to put it in an article or tell my mum. Google goes on to list hundreds of completely unrelated pages, one of which captures my attention. The next thing I know I have spent an hour jumping around the web without getting
any nearer to completing my important task. I can barely remember what I have achieved in the past hour. Time has been wasted, and time is money!

This problem is always going to arise when I am looking for something new. Surely there must be a way of keeping track of what I already know I want to find.

Bookmarks, or Favorites (sic) as they are known in Internet Explorer, are links you store within your web browser. You add your favourite pages, and can then access them from the Favorites menu. It is a feature built into web browsers since the very start. Somewhere along the line Google became so good at finding pages that I no longer felt the need for bookmarks. Sadly, these days I find Google less useful and wish I had bookmarked pages.

Creating a bookmark is really easy. When you are on a page you want to bookmark, just press CTRL and D – the link and page title go straight into your Favorites menu. You can a list of your bookmarks open on the left hand of your screen by clicking on the Favorites button on the toolbar (marked with a star). Your bookmarks can be arranged into folders, making it easy to find just what you want. Netscape and Mozilla use the more sensible name Bookmarks instead of Favorites – they work in exactly the same way.

You can also add bookmarks as buttons to the Links toolbar in Internet Explorer. To do this click on a link keeping the mouse button held down, and drag it to the Links toolbar.

Unfortunately, browser bookmarks are only really useful if you have your own computer. If you use an internet caf� to surf you won’t be looking at the same browser on each visit. Luckily, a number of web sites allow you to store bookmarks and access them from anywhere. Unsurprisingly, Yahoo! offers bookmark storage where you can upload bookmarks from your browser, in effect backing them up. Unfortunately it is not clear how you share them with other people. Another service worth a look because it is designed for sharing bookmarks is – very strange address.
You can see my list of bookmarks at Not very long at the moment!

Bookmarks are great for visiting the same sites on a regular basis. But you can go a step further where all the information you regularly need is available at a single bookmark!

Many sites today, particularly news sites, publish in a format called RSS. This creates a special web page with headlines and summaries for each article that appears on a site. These RSS news feeds are designed so that the information on them can be extracted by computers and displayed in different ways. A number of sites exist which pull together RSS news feeds from different sources and display them all in a single place, often summarising them on a single page. NewsIsFree specialises in bringing together the latest news from the sources you want. You can subscribe to news from the BBC, CNN, and thousands of others and see all the latest stories from them all on a single page. Bloglines also pulls in news feeds, but displays them in an email style way. NewsIsFree is better for finding established news sources, but Bloglines makes it easier to add RSS feeds you find for yourself.

There are also programmes which download RSS feeds to your hard drive, allowing you to view the contents offline. This is useful if you only connect to the internet occasionally – you can download the news headlines all at once and then read them while you are disconnected. Feed Reader is one such programme, available for free.

A site that has an RSS feed will often have a small red or orange box, or just a plain link with the letters XML or RSS in it – click on this to see the feed. Copy the address of this feed into NewsIsFree or Bloglines to subscribe to it.

All this is supposed to save you time. However, if you are anything like me you might end up adding every web page you visit to your bookmarks and subscribing to every RSS feed you find. Hopefully someone will soon come up with something that helps me make a favourites list of my Favorites.

Useful Links

Originally published in Arusha Times 311


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