Sunday Selection 2011-04-03

Happy April everyone! I hope you all had a fun April Fools and that you took any jokes at your expense in good spirit. Laughter is the best medicine and all that. Without further ado, here’s this weeks Selection.

Around the Internet

Why I Chose Typekit Businesses, business models and the psychology and ethics behind it all continue to interest me. This is one designer’s description of why he chooses Typekit over the other web-based type delivery services. There aren’t any long charts or big numbers, it’s more personal and honest.

The Holy Trinity In the process of making plans for actually going to graduate school, I’ve been spending some thinking about what I want to research and what motivations and goals are. Apart from the technical things I’m interested in, I’m starting to believe that what we need more than ever is a “philosophy of computation” — ideas and concepts that define computation and our relationship to it at a higher level. Robert Harper’s recent blog post is a milestone on that journey.

This Hack was Not Planned Another gem from the man, the legend, the hacker _why the luck stiff. Not matter how much we talk about agile processes and software development methodologies, sometimes we just need to sit down and churn out a neat hack. This one is for the knife-edge hacker in all of us.

From the Bookshelf

Rework When I read and reviewed this book almost exactly a year I was perhaps less than charitable. I stick by my point that it is largely the best material pulled from their blog, but after a year I’m seeing it from the eyes of someone who hasn’t recently been drinking the 37signals kool-aid non-stop. There are powerful and useful ideas distilled into a very potent form. If you’re looking to start a business (or even just a new project) but are unsure how set yourself apart from the Jones’ this book should give you some really good ideas.

Software My reading has gone up a lot in the last few months and I’ve been making a conscious effort to track everything I read. Since most of my reading is online, I’ve been using an excellent bookmarking service called Pinboard. It’s not free and it’s not overflowing with social features, but it stores and organizes your bookmarks and does it well. If you’re someone who reads a lot online and you want to keep track of what you’re reading, the $9.29 signup fee is a small fee to pay. (The price goes up based on the number of people who sign up, so hurry. It was a bit over $6 when I joined.)

Why bookmark?

Yesterday I came across a cool little web service called Pinboard which claims to be “social bookmarking for introverts”. It’s a simple, no-frills bookmarking service that combines a very clean design with a simple bookmarklet to do a good job at helping you save and share your bookmarks (if you want to). I currently use Diigo for my bookmarks, which I moved to from Delicious about a year ago. The only reason I moved was because Diigo let me store a longer excerpt as the description. I don’t use any of the fancy highlighting or social features that it has to offer. However, as I considered trying out Pinboard I realized that I don’t really use bookmarks at all.

In the last few years tl;dr has apparently become a major problem. People supposedly don’t have the time to read long articles or posts on the Internet. Services like Read It Later and Instapaper (which I sometimes use) have evolved to offer a way to save things they find online for later reading on the variety of Internet-able devices that are now available. To some extent Pinboard and bookmarks in general address that problem as well. However, I don’t have that problem myself. Though I subscribe to a fair number of RSS feeds and keep a regular eye on Twitter, I do manage to find the time to sit and read larger posts and articles online. Generally I do this in the “down-time” between classes or when I’m working at the IT helpdesk, when I know I’ll get interrupted and so don’t want to start anything that will require concentrated attention. I signed up for Instapaper a few months ago and have the app on my iPod, but I can’t say I’m a regular user. If I find something interesting in Google Reader that I can’t read right then, I’ll star it and come back to it later in the day or the next. When I bookmark something, it’s generally so that I can find it later and even then the only time I go back to my bookmarks is to find stuff to post on a Sunday Selection (or share with someone else). Truth be told, I’ve generally considered the bookmark bar in browsers to be a waste of screen space.

All that considered, the question I have is: why bookmark? Personally, I can’t really come up with an answer. Any site that I think I would visit regularly, I grab the RSS feed and pipe it to Google Reader. I only use a handful of web-services: Gmail, Facebook and Twitter on regular basis and with autocomplete in the URL bar on Firefox and Chrome it takes me about the same time as it would for me to type it in and hit enter as it would to click on a bookmark in the bar. The only real reason I can think about is bookmarklets for services like Tumblr and Readability and even then, I generally use a browser extension for that (the Chrome extensions are often just the spruced up bookmarklets).

I guess being able to save sites and articles you like would be a good idea, in theory. But in practice I rarely go back and look at what I’ve already read. I’d be interesting in knowing how many people who use bookmarks regularly actually go back to them. Back in the day, before I had 24/7 broadband I used bookmarks as a sort of long-time cache: instead of saving pages, I’d bookmark them in Internet Explorer with “read offline” (or whatever it was called) enabled. But since I have a rather more dependable Internet connection nowadays, that’s no longer a real use case. In the same way that I don’t really care about saving my Twitter feed, I don’t really care about saving bookmarks anymore — they’re both meant to be ephemeral and impermanent and I’m fine with that. Whenever I do need to recall something a combination of Google or Google Reader is generally enough to find what I want.

At this point, I’m really interested in knowing why other people use bookmarks. Do people really go back and check things they read before? Is it mostly just a “read later” buffer? Are journalists (bloggers included) the only people who really use bookmarks anymore (so that they can refer back to their sources)? Or is it just some form of social inertia from when there wasn’t RSS or Twitter and so having a fixed link to a website you visited often was a good idea? There must be some reason why sites like Delicious and Diigo are going strong and newcomers like Pinboard can actually charge users a signup fee for their service. If anyone has ideas, evidence or even just theories explaining any of this, do let me know.