The Amazing UX of Bookmarking Tools
Tools like Pocket or Evernote are actually ridiculously simple, when you think about it. You could recreate what they do with a pencil and some post-its.
But the simplicity of bookmarking tools is deceptive. Their value is not in what they do, but how they do it.
Bookmarking tools are all about repackaging a simple functionality and delivering it as an absolutely flawless user experience.
And each one does it differently.
Saving Content — Pocket
The best thing about Pocket is its simplicity. A single click on the Chrome extension to save a page to your Queue. Easy.
Clicks to Save: 1
Saving Content — Evernote
Evernote gives you two options for saving content on-the-fly. The first is the Chrome extension. One click to open the tool, one more to save.
Clicks to Save: 2
Its one more click than Pocket requires, but this tool also has a lot more functionality. Most valuable is the ability to bookmark a screenshot. You can also choose different clip types, organize to notebooks and add annotations.
Your second option for saving content is to click the Evernote Helper in menu at the top of your screen.
The brilliance of this tool is its speed. Evernote has clearly grasped that notes have to happen in seconds.
I’ve started taking notes straight in my URL browser because something important was being said and I didn’t have time to open another application.
Evernote Helper is at the ready no matter what application you are using. You can also start a recording or take a screenshot with one more click. And because you can come back to an unsaved note (the text stays in the window after its closed), you don’t even have to hit “Save to Evernote” — at least not right away.
Clicks to Take a Note: 1
Accessing Content — Pocket
Pocket is perfect for getting to a recently added item. When you go to your Queue, the last few pages bookmarked will be right there staring you in the face.
A lot of the time, this is exactly what you’re looking for.
Clicks to a Recently Added Item: 0
This is a great system if you’re not adding a ton of content. Or if you’re managing and deleting items regularly.
But what happens when you’re adding several items a day and coming back for them not the next day but the next year?
This is where tagging — your second navigational option — comes in handy. Tags are the be-all-end-all of bookmarking. They make things findable. They’re descriptive. They create connections between content.
I love that Pocket makes tags visible straight from your Queue.
This not only reminds why I added the bookmark, it also give me a way to navigate content I added a while ago.
What Pocket does not do is let you view a bunch of tags at once. Clicking on “Tags” gives you a small popup that shows up to 8 tags at a time.
You can click on a single tag, but there’s no way to filter results using more than one tag (i.e. show me everything tagged with “book” and with “memoir”).
This is where Pocket’s simplicity is a limitation.
Clicks to a Tagged Item: 2 (But you gotta scroll for it!)
Accessing Content — Evernote
Evernote does a better job with the tag index. Clicking the tag icon takes you to a screen-length page of all your tags. For each one, you’re told how many items use that tag.
I like that this window is bigger and you can see more tags at once. But I still wish I could see more tags at a time. Most people use a lot of tags, and making them visible reminds you what’s tucked away and makes it easy to get to.
Clicks to a Tagged Item: 2 (Again, you have to scroll.)
Another problem with Evernote is the split screen between the content list on the left and an individual item on the right.
It seems backwards that visual priority is given to the individual note (more than two thirds of the screen), while the list of items is shoved to the side. For me, Evernote is about finding, not reading. I want to be able to skim bookmarks and their metadata, not the long-form content contained by each. (Although this would be a perfect interface for something like Feedly!)
Its also a lot harder to browse by recency when you can only see 4 or 5 bookmarks at a time. Which is too bad, because 40% of the time, what I’m looking for is in my last 10 bookmarks.
I prefer the full-page Queue of Pocket where you can see up to 12 items at a time and the tags that are used.
Evernote’s Notebooks feature is another way to find content, but I find that as soon as you start amassing a large database of content, tagging is the only way to go. And neither Pocket nor Evernote has quite mastered this.
Summary: Evernote vs. Pocket
Pocket: Wonderfully simple. Great for short-term, small volume bookmarking. As indicated by the word “Queue”, its first in, first out — super easy. But as soon as you need to dig for an item added a while ago (i.e. first in, last out) it gets a bit harder.
Evernote: Lacks the simplicity of Pocket’s UX (especially when it comes to adding a bookmark with a single click), but makes up for it by allowing you to save notes, screenshots and voice recordings as well as articles. Evernote also makes it easier to build and organize a large database of content, though they haven’t completely figured out tags.
As overall products, Pocket and Evernote are my favourite bookmarking tools.
But since while we’re talking about stellar bookmarking UX, it is worth mentioning individual features on other tools.
Instapaper’s Multiple Bookmarklets
Instapaper lets you save content into folders, either from within your account, or…. by creating a different bookmarklet for each folder.
This means that a single click will not only save but organize your bookmark — something neither Pocket or Evernote does.
IFTT is where bookmarking UX goes off the charts.
IFTTT (If This Then That) isn’t a bookmarking tool itself, but it allows you to sync content between different bookmarking accounts using events as triggers.
For example, if I just want to quickly bookmark an article for later, Pocket is the easiest option. But I also know that Pocket isn’t great for long-term storage. If I want to come back to that article much later, its going to be easier with Evernote.
IFTTT lets you save content with one tool and access it with another using “recipes” that link your accounts. For example, IF I favourite something in Pocket, THEN it will be saved to a notebook in Evernote.
You can also specify certain tags that should be added when an item is saved through the recipe.
IFTTT lets you combine the strengths of different bookmarking tools into one awesome super-tool.
As consumers, we demand good UX in most products, but in particular when it comes to bookmarking tools.
Probably because the whole point of these bookmarking is to make us faster and more efficient. A single inefficiency in the taskflow basically nullifies the value of the entire product. So for bookmarking tools, the UX really is the product.
It may seem ridiculous to be thinking about bookmarking tools in this level of detail. After all, their role in our lives is pretty mundane.
But I love that these products are so obsessed with accommodating human behaviours and needs. Its a wonderful feeling to have tools that understand exactly what you need before you do yourself.
Who doesn’t love being empathized with? — even if it is just by a bookmarking tool.
Leave your comments! What are the tools or products that just get you?