Pinterest – Clean, Visual, Social Bookmarking

If a social service is going to grab me, it has to have two things, in varying degrees: utility and visually appealing design. If it has visually appealing design, but only a bit of utility, then I may play around with it for the sheer beauty of it. If it has tons of utility, but crappy design (I’m looking at you Twitter), then I will still play around with it, but might avert my eyes a bit. Pinterest has a healthy dose of both criteria.

What is it? Pinterest is an online scrapbook / pinboard / visual bookmarking / social network. Now that is an eyeful! The idea is to use Pinterest to save beautiful, useful, interesting things, but I can imagine it moving beyond that for your own personal use. Create a profile, mark your interests, and start pinning stuff. Save your web finds (called “pins”) on “boards”, which resemble a page or bulletin board. Organize and share your pins and boards and browse those created by others, tagged with your interests. You can use a bookmarklet to “pin” from across the Web, or you can upload your own images (super simple with the iPhone app for saving stuff while on the go).  You can re-pin something that someone else has pinned – pin-etiquette suggests that you should credit the original pinner with the save. Thus, the site is also social in that it encourages you to browse others stuff and interact via the repinning and crediting functions. You can also comment on pins, “like” someone’s pin and share your own pin with another user who might also like what you are saving.

Another cool feature is the ability to open your boards up to other contributors. Say you have a firm and you want some ideas on how to decorate the lobby. Each member of your firm assigned to designing the lobby could create Pinterest profiles. Open a board called “Lobby Design” and set your contributing members loose on the web.

Fit out your website with a Pinterest badge to encourage people to visit Pinterest and marvel at your design sense. Or add a “Pin it” button to your site in the hopes that other Pinterest users will reward you with a “pin”.

Even their FAQ is visually appealing. Way to go Pinterest – the “pin”nacle of design and utility!

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Are You In Sync?

A touted benefit of cloud life is open access to your information from multiple access points. Files in DropBox can be had from your desktop, your mobile phone, your laptop, the library’s computer, your work set up.

But, how about syncing your key browser settings? Do you ever find yourself frustrated trying to find one of your favorite links from a different computer / browser? How about visiting a site you rarely access on a computer you don’t frequently use and being forced to wrack your brain to remember your password

for the site? Oftentimes, the inability to find the link or say the magic word at the gate shuts down your elegent plan.

There are two very capable third party services that can assist you in your time of need. Xmarks (link here) will sync your bookmarks across browsers and LastPass (link here) will provide similar service for your passwords.

First, Xmarks, previously Foxmarks, works with Firefox, Chrome, Safari and IE. Install Xmarks on each computer you use, and it seamlessly integrates with your web browser and keeps your bookmarks safely backed up and in sync. It will sync across browsers too, so if you use Safari, Chrome and Firefox on one of your computers (or more than one) like I do, you can still find all your favorite links no matter which browser you find yourself. It has aspects of Delicious and Diigo’s social bookmarking, with the ability to see how other Xmarks users mark and rate the sites that pop up in your search results when you hover over the little Xmarks icon.

It also incorporates aspects of the Firefox extension “Similar Sites” – if you click on your Xmarks button on your browser bar while on a site, it will show you detailed information about the site you are on and other sites similar to it.

All of these features beg the question: why would you use your built-in browser bookmarking function, when you can save once and access your marks on whatever machine you happen to be using?

How about them passwords? I swear they are the bane of my existence. While 1Password does a pretty able job for me, it still requires me to open my phone, my app and type in the information into the site I happen to be visiting on an unfamiliar device. With LastPass, you simply need to remember one password in order to unlock access to all of your passwords.

LastPass offers (for free) one-click access to all of your passwords, automatic form filling, and secure note storage.

Like Xmarks, LastPass can sync across browsers on your same device or over many different devices. Your data is stored on your main PC – LastPass simply gives you access to that data from anywhere.

For a dollar a month, which really is peanuts in the overall scheme of things, you can get LastPass for your mobile operating system of choice, multifactor authentication for USB thumb drives, YubiKey support, and, for those burdened at work with IE and a firewall greater than the Great Wall, IE anywhere access without the need to download software. Premium users also avoid ads and get priority support. But, bear in mind, if the most important feature is mobile, you can still access Lastpass on your mobile phone by going to their mobile site.

Mobile tools like Xmarks and LastPass can make your web life a whole lot easier. Move beyond your browser’s built-in bookmarking and password saving tools and you will wonder how you ever lived without these able, third party sync options.

Zootool: When You Want To Corral Your Web

More content means more overwhelm. It really is true. Sometimes you are surfing aimlessly and see something you want to save for later. Sometimes you are engaged in pointed search and you see something off topic that you know you need in another matter. Or sometimes, you are researching and need to snip and collect the efforts for later assimilation and aggregation.

Delicious and Diigo are the main players in the social bookmarking realm. Evernote and OneNote are competitive products in the notetaking / notebooking realm (OneNote is an off-line tool, while Evernote is everywhere).  Zotero is the academic option, offering full citation and archival benefits.

If you are a visual learner, you might want to try out Zootool (link here). Unlike FFFFound, which is limited to web images, Zootool will allow you to snip and save pretty much everything but audio.

It offers a function similar to Delicious or Diigo, but with visual rather than pure text entries. You can organize content in packs (instead of folders or, as in Evernote, notebooks). The original URL is saved, and you can edit the identifying information and tag your content accordingly. There is URL shortening, and the ability to share with social networks (such as Twitter, Delicious and Friendfeed), and quick-blogging sites like Tumblr. There is a social aspect to the site, in that you can follow others and publish links to your other on-line outposts.

The result is your “zoo” – a series of visual “files”, with tags and links, organized by type accessed by tabs marked “all”, “images”, “videos”, “documents”, and “pages.”  If you click on the image, you can either download the doc, navigate to the page or pull the image or vid. You can further organize and identify your content in packs, titling the packs accordingly. The interface is easy and intuitive.

Zootool upports more than 30 video plattforms, Slideshare and Scribd Documents and employs a special reader for Wikipedia-articles and RSS feeds. Zootool can also accompany you on the got with a mobile version for the iPhone.

With any archiving, bookmarking service, one has to be concerned with backing up the informatinon. Zootool is web-only. I haven’t yet determined the best way to create a redundant system to protect against loss of saved snips, other than possibly saving everything over to Delicious.

Furthermore, with its visual bent, Zootool does appear to be aiming for artistic types or those primarily interested in images. Nonetheless, as a visual person, I find Zootool’s interface far easier to scan than Delicious. It could definitely serve a purpose, particularly with respect to combining your docs, video and image snips all in one place.

I have to chuckle, though, at the logo. Color scheme is similar to Evernote but, in place of an elephant, insert a rhinoceros.

Hat tip to John Hicks at The Hickensian.