October 30, 2005

Furl versus other social bookmarking services

Posted in Software, Usability at 9:30 am by mj

For quite a number of months–since January 2004, according to my archive–I have preferred, and advocated for, Furl over Delicious. There were several reasons for this. I thought the UI was better; Furl includes full-text search; finding other people or articles related to my interests was easier; and it was much easier to create personalized, ad hoc hierarchical taxonomies.

This latter point is important because, in most contexts, I am more of a “hierarchical” minded person than I am a “bundle” minded person. (One big exception I’m realizing now is with bug databases, where hierarchy interferes with usability, and bundling is much more useful and intuitive. I may be convinced that the same applies to bookmarks. We’ll see.)

From an implementation standpoint, then, I’ve been hoping to see–or create–tag-based systems with many of the advantages that Furl has.

But lately, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with some of Furl’s limitations, and have considered switching to Delicious or Simpy. (Somebody at work also tells me that The Shadows is good, though I haven’t used it.) In fact, the thing that is keeping me tied to Furl during my busy times at work is really the lack of tools to import my Furl archive into any other social bookmarking service. Which, as far as I can tell, is certainly not Furl’s doing, since they provide their own XML export.

Here are what bother me most:

  1. Filing into multiple categories is hard. At first, this did not bother me, but as time has gone on I realize just how hard it is to apply multiple topics to an item using a select box. That I cannot change the size of the select area, which means I have to manually scroll through all my topics 4-at-a-time, which is more problematic since any ad hoc hierarchy is really a flat space, is a hindrence. More often than not, I don’t even try anymore, which means my bookmarks become more difficult to navigate later on.
  2. When I use the bookmarklet to “Furl” an item, and it has already been Furled, I get a nice little popup that tells me it has already been Furled. But then the edit box doesn’t reflect any of the information–like rating, or topics, or comments… and if I Furl it again, it’s a distinct item in my archive. All bad.
  3. Related to the above, editing (e.g., moving from “to read” to whichever proper category) is too difficult. Leaving aside my objection above, even going into my archive and trying to edit an entry requires so many clicks and contextualizing that, again, I usually don’t do it. So I still have things in my “to read” topics that I’ve already read, because it’s just too difficult to manage them.
  4. Recommendations–one of the things I thought was a huge advantage of Furl over other sites in the beginning–are not dynamic enough, and stabilize over time. It looks like their algorithm is not tuned to weight recent interests more, or to randomly boost certain recommendations every week, or any of a host of other things that could be done. What’s worse, their people recommendations–what they call “Furlmates”–has no management function. With article recommendations, I can Furl it to make it go away; or just click delete and it will go away. But with people recommendations, there’s no way to make a recommendation go away, whether I like that recommendation or not.

As far as I can tell, the people at Furl have rested on their laurels. Maybe this is Looksmart’s fault, or maybe it isn’t. But Furl has not added any new functionality, or enhanced their existing functionality, in the time I’ve been using them. They’ve modified their UI a bit, but that has usually been to display the “Looksmart” brand more prominently. (Such as when they recently changed their submit form to add a bigger logo, which meant the size of the popup was too small to fit the whole form, and they neglected to change the size even on their “Tools” page. I pity the foo’ who don’t know Javascript.)

What’s the positive? The positive to this is it’s a great learning experience for me to see what it’s like, as a user, for a service you initially love gradually degrade relative to their competitors, not as a result of doing anything wrong, but just for being content. My employer has historically had the same problem, and sometimes, when you’re on “the other side,” it’s hard to really understand what’s going on in the minds of your most loyal members.

Plus, I think those of us who have used Furl, and not just followed the pack into Delicious and their imitators, have a different–and maybe better, in some respects–perspective on social bookmarking and related services.



  1. As far as I know, Furl is not being worke don any more. On the other hand, the latest Simpy release has some nice features for collaborative bookmarking even: http://www.simpy.com/simpy/ReleaseLog.do#release-2005-10-31

    disclosure: I am “Mr. Simpy”

  2. mtj said,

    Wow. Mr. Gospodnetic himself commented in my blog. It’s all been worth it! 🙂

    I didn’t know Furl was not in active development. I believe I first learned about them from one of the Lucene lists, and just figured they’d continue development after their payday^H^H^H^H^H^Hacquisition.

    I’ve been leaning toward Simpy, and reading your blog. (You have great data, by the way.) What is the impediment to importing Furl bookmarks? As I said, that’s really what’s keeping me away.

  3. Re Furl and continued development. Not likely. I work with a person who used to work for Looksmart, so I got a bit of info from there. Plus, the original Furl guy is gone.

    As for Furl bookmark import…. you mentioned the XML export. That may be the format Simpy could support and import. What else do they provide? Any APIs? I can’t even find their export feature on the site… certainly well hidden.

    If you need help moving your stuff to Simpy, feel free to email via http://www.simpy.com/simpy/Contact.do

  4. Oh, just found the link to export – http://furl.net/export.jsp

    You should be able to use one of these:
    # Internet Explorer favorites format
    # Mozilla/Netscape bookmarks format

    Then save that file, and upload it to Simpy via http://www.simpy.com/simpy/BookmarkUploadTools.do

  5. […] Earlier, I wrote that I was becoming disillusioned with Furl. Otis Gospodnetic–Simpy founder, Lucene contributor, and co-author of the fantastic Lucene in Action–wrote in to suggest I use Furl’s export as Mozilla Bookmarks to import into Simpy. […]

  6. choc said,

    Thanks for the tips folks. The export to Simpy went simply smooth. The past year or so, Furl takes about three to four minutes to save a page to my favorites, heaven-forbid I am running a memory intense app….you can then make that 10 minutes for either firefox or my app to respond.

    And, just like mtj…I kept using Furl because I needed to find a way to export smoothly.

    Simpy looks light and fast in comparison.

    Thanks again…I’m bookin again.

    Know anyone in need of Ubuntu/Linux assistance…send them on a search for chocbar31 on Simpy. Lots of good links saved there.

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