Stop Organizing Bookmarks

Credit to Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Literally, want to do it in a minute? Jump to the Getting Started section.

The first thing I do when starting a new job is carefully bookmark everything. There’s so much upfront knowledge: documentation, applications, environments, company resources; it’s very overwhelming. In the past, I meticulously kept these organized into folders. Inevitably, they became a mess. As my mental model of the job changed, the bookmarks folder structure failed to keep up. Also — I just got too busy (ie. lazy).

Why Bookmarks Never Stay Organized

The reason bookmarks never stay organized is that they scale linearly. For non-computer scientists, think about your refrigerator. Each bookmark is like a food item and folders are like drawers and shelves. You have a vegetable drawer and a cheese drawer and the milk always goes on the top shelf. The system works for a time, but eventually, you’ll have apples next to carrots, orange juice blocking the milk, and a bunch of stuff in the chest freezer! Such entropy is inevitable. Furthermore, more food = more upkeep (linear scaling). It’s not just your fault, it’s the data structure er.. fridge!

Bookmarks in folders are suboptimal

In computer science, many problems can be improved with sublinear data structures. To extend the refrigerator analogy, imagine a smart fridge with voice recognition.

You: “Hey Fridge — I want Dairy”

Fridge: “You have milk, eggs, and Keefer”

How much more efficient is this than looking for these items? Even if there were 100 items in the fridge, this would still be quite efficient. This is exactly how bookmarks should work. By the way, this data structure is called a Trie.

The Vimium Extension

The Best Chrome Extension

Vimium, or the Hacker’s Browser, is my favorite Chrome extension and one of the best overall productivity tools period. One of its killer features is that all bookmarks can be accessed by type-ahead as shown below.

Type-ahead bookmarks: type the “bitbucket” then drill down into pull requests.

Take a second to appreciate this — I drilled into and found an obscure bookmark in a matter of seconds with zero mouse clicks and no folders. No more trying to remember which folder it’s under (eg. “VCS” or “Codebase” — probably neither…). I now find myself bookmarking way more, even pages I’ll probably never use again. Type-ahead is so efficient that having 1000 bookmarks isn’t much harder to manage than 100.

Get Started In Less Than 1 Minute

  1. Install Vimium as a Chrome extension or Firefox add-on.
  2. Open a browser new tab (click on on the background somewhere to ensure in window focus)
  3. Press the b key to pop up typeahead box
  4. Begin typing your bookmark name
  5. Press enter to select

Optional: Configure particular site settings by clicking the extension icon and entering patterns as shown below. These are regex, so everything between ? and * is a capture group. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry.

Example of disabling bookmark search popup on medium.com sites.

Also, note that Google search results pages may note support Vimium for some users (see here).

Bookmarking Protips

  1. Treat bookmark names as tags and don’t use punctuation and functors (tiny words like “in” and “the”). Here are examples of bad vs. good bookmarks.
  • (Bad) bitbucket.com |(Good) bitbucket home
  • (Bad) fooapp’s dev healthcheck endpoint | (Good) fooapp health dev API
  • (Bad) Citizen’s Bank personal checking login. |(Good) Citizens Checking

2. Vimium lookup is case-insensitive, so feel free to use capital letters.

3. Consider keeping a curated set of bookmarks (using Vimium of course) for your job. It’s a great way to onboard new staff, especially engineers who need immediate access to lots of stuff (see how to export Chrome bookmarks).

4. Chrome can sync bookmarks across your Google accounts. Are you sure you want your personal bookmarks showing up on a work screen share? If not, disable this.

Did I forget something? Other great tips? Drop me a comment!

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