Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bookmarking for Genealogy

I use a variety of resources in my research. The trick is to record the resources in a way that makes them easily accessible when I need them. Another consideration is sharing these resources with others, as a way of making a contribution and paying it back to the genealogy community. This brings up the subject of social bookmarking and how the new technologies can be applied to genealogy. Below the fold I  describe some of the techniques I use to record and share resources, including how I make use of a social bookmarking site.

 One obvious tool is the bookmark list. Since the number of online resources has increased dramatically. I have a very large bookmark file, which I try to keep organized. But given the volatility of the internet, many of the links are stale and it’s too much effort to try to track them down and keep them current. And given the large number of bookmarks, looking for a link is tedious and I don’t like giving up screen real estate for a bookmarks sidebar. For my most used sources, I keep them on the browser toolbar. Firefox has a folder called Bookmarks Toolbar, which appears on the toolbar. Any subfolders appear as a row of buttons on the toolbar. I have buttons/folders for Obits (newspaper obit links), Genealogy (frequently used links for FamilySearch, IGI Index, Missouri Archives, Godfrey Library, etc.), Families (links to genealogy web sites by fellow collaborators researching releated families),  Web Tools (Ajax translator, Get Lat Long,, PDfmyURL, etc.), DNA (my DNA project and various tools), and Blog (various blog tools).

Classic bookmark organization was originally based on folders. To find a source requires a guess as to the folder containing the link. I can use Xmarks to keep the bookmarks synchronized between laptop and desktop, and between browsers, but my ability to share with other researchers is limited. On my website, I attempt to share my relevant research sources on a page titled “Resources”. This was originally a web page of links extracted from my browser bookmark file, which of course just makes the problem of stale links worse. Now, as part of the development of “social bookmarking,” there are several alternative ways to bookmark and share sites and to organize the bookmarks, based on tagging and ranking. Bookmarks have moved from a file on my computer to the web where they are easily shared.

One kind of social bookmarking is based on user ranking. I started looking at social bookmarking after my daughter recommended Stumbleupon. The concept of Stumbleupon, Digg and other such sites is users recommend web sites they like. Recommendations show up on Stumbleupon, other users view the sites and vote whether they like the site. Sites rise and fall in the ratings based on voting, and the sites select suggested pages based on your history. Whether this would work for genealogy is doubtful, unless the site was restricted to genealogists. I seriously doubt my daughter and her friends would care for the kinds of web sites I tend to bookmark, and they certainly outnumber genealogists on these types of bookmarking sites.

Another type of bookmarking is based on tagging, where tags are assigned to a bookmark to describe or tag the contents of the site. Modern browsers like Firefox have added tags to bookmarks, but I still have hundreds of untagged bookmarks stashed away in folders, and these folders are located on my PC. Fortunately, there are social bookmarking sites that support tagged bookmarks in a web environment that makes sharing with others easy. One of the oldest of these is delicious and I really like and am using their site. They are a Yahoo! Company so if you have a Yahoo account it is trivial to establish a bookmark page. The user interface is clean and easy to navigate, it’s trivial to add a new bookmark, and there are lots of other useful features.

I have integrated my delicious bookmark page into my genealogy web page by using one of their tools, the linkroll. I split my Resources page into three parts: one containing some direct links I wanted to retain, a second for my delicious linkroll, and a third for my genealogy library powered by Library Thing. The linkroll is created by inserting some javascript that accesses my delicious bookmark page and creates and displays a linked list of my most recent bookmarks. You can see the linkroll here. In addition, there is a useful Firefox add-in that adds a three button toolbar. One button allows you to bookmark the currently viewed site, another goes to your delicious bookmark page. The third button brings up a side bar with your delicious bookmarks, integrating them nicely into the browser. Finally, other delicious users can join your network, allowing them to be notified when you add new bookmarks. I have found delicious to be a very useful tool for genealogists.

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