The quest for purging my bookmarks

06 Jan 2023
7 minutes

I started 2023 with a major purge in my digital corner. After moving my password vault from LastPass to Bitwarden, removing hundreds of dead entries and switching authentication from Authy to my Yubikeys wherever possible, my eyes rested on my browser bookmarks tab. Soon, I realized I had a problem.

Spending so much time online and working in a field that involves computers, I see lots of content. I search forums and GitHub, browse Hacker News and Reddit, scroll through Twitter (I mean, these days it’s Mastodon), and more. I can’t say it’s 100% time well spent. But sometimes, I find stuff I want to save for further reading or taking action.

Over two decades I tested many solutions for saving content, but I struggled to stick to any for more than a few weeks. Sooner or later I would miss features or encounter paywalls, and I had doubts throwing money at a problem was a way to go.

I stuck with the simplest, most accessible solution: the bookmarks bar in my browser. I quickly developed muscle memory of dragging and dropping anything I found interesting to my bookmarks bar.

And I have been living that way for more than eight years.

In January 2023 I woke up to my browser bar containing dozens, if not hundreds, of unsorted links I never touched again.

I hate looking at a mess I create myself. The problem is I get used to it too quickly. I can go on just fine, but operating in a clean distraction-free environment awakes my creativity. Only one day of slacking is what I need to create a new pile of shame somewhere around me. And I won’t even notice until it grows substantially.

I could wipe all my bookmarks without reading. But my past self saved those links on purpose. It felt wrong to nullify years of my effort just like that.

Sheesh. What to do. What to do.

But first, the curious case of YouTube

There’s more content than a lifetime to consume; that’s a fact. To effectively manage streams of information in front of me, I must curate a lot and ignore even more. And I’ll shamelessly say I’m relatively good at this, but it requires effort and creativity.

Let’s talk YouTube.

I exclusively use the subscriptions tab and ‘Watch later’ folder to save interesting stuff. I also have watch history turned off. Also, I ignore videos below a certain length, no matter the topic, and I do not watch Shorts. That’s my personal preference.

I’m very picky about subscribing to YouTube channels. Whenever I do it, I will try to watch all the content this channel has produced since its start. I give each video one watch. When I’m done with one video, I hide it from my subscriptions tab. I do the same to uninteresting videos. Catchy title, but the content fails to keep me hooked? Hide it. Video looks boring right from the title? Hide it.

If I encounter an interesting video on a channel I’m not subscribed to, I add it to ‘Watch later’ folder. From now on, it’s a race against time. Videos go private or get deleted all the time, but dead links stay in my ‘Watch later’ folder. Therefore, I’m motivated to keep this folder tidy so that nothing sits there for too long. And since I try to be very particular about what I watch, the stuff I save for later is usually valuable.

That system sounds like lots of work because YouTube is obnoxious with its algorithms. It’s impossible to keep anything organized without external tools. But I wanted something simple and device-agnostic that relies more on my muscle memory than fancy features in one specific browser or app. I always have something interesting to see, even when none of my subscribed channels posts anything new.

Years of keeping YouTube manageable taught me how to maintain chaos. So I can do something about the chaos in my bookmarks, right?

Easy picks

I had to start somewhere. And the best start is to get some small successes.

I deleted all Stack Overflow threads, forum posts, GitHub issue links and documentation pages. Most of those were very specific to situations I had in the past, so I should have deleted them long ago.

As for documentation - it will always be there for as long as the tool it covers does exist. No point in hoarding it.

GitHub projects: use stars and lists

We’re not done with GitHub yet. I noticed GitHub introduced lists as a beta feature. So it’s now easy to organize starred projects.

I wasn’t eager to star projects on GitHub because it would effectively create another pile of shame. GitHub stars don’t pay developers’ bills anyway. But now, it’s a slightly different story. I think twice before giving stars on GitHub if I can’t put it on a list of mine. My lists on GitHub are still work in progress, but they look very neat and relatively easy to browse.

Numerous links in my bookmarks covered some specific tidbits and included reusable pieces of code, such as project templates, file boilerplates or CSS starting points. I created repositories on my GitHub profile to archive code samples and keep reference links in the readme files.

If the post’s author had made a GitHub repository themselves - awesome! I no longer had to do that myself.

Tech specifications: can I action on this?

Another category of links was tools and specifications of various emerging standards, such as JSON Resume or security.txt. Those I can’t easily keep on GitHub without losing track of them.

My answer was simple: implement or forget. So I added security.txt files in some of my sites even though I don’t need them. It required little time and effort. And JSON resume is something I’m going to explore at some point. Until then, I moved it to a GitHub issue on my homepage repository.

If I have no interest in implementing any specific spec or tech, either now or someday, then it’s easy to delete it with no regrets.

But what about the rest?

Are we done yet? Not even close. The journey barely even started.

What remained can be classified into a few groups:

  • opinion pieces or journalism that requires dedicated time chunks to read
  • links to interesting tools that aren’t on GitHub or can’t be starred easily (and I don’t find following organizations on GitHub useful)
  • blog posts. But I’m rarely interested in just one post. I often check what else the author has to say. Sometimes I end up with a desire to binge-read whole blog archives.
  • small chunks of non-technical knowledge that spark my curiosity.

Those are tough nuts to crack, and I haven’t found reliable ways to tackle them. But here are some of the ideas I’m exploring.

Posting on social media

I started my own tag on Mastodon, called #purgingMyBookmarks. Each day I post 2-3 links with a short commentary of mine. To keep it interesting, I follow a rule: I don’t post stuff I didn’t read or have nothing to say.

Repurposing my Kindle

I own a few devices I can use to read. And one of them is Kindle Paperwhite. I don’t use it often because I have too many unread paper books around. However, Kindle has a simplistic web browser and can receive external files, such as PDFs. Maybe that’s the way to go.

The component I’m missing here is a simple way to convert whole blog archives into something more resembling an ebook than a webpage.

Bring RSS back

I remember Google Reader. To this day I’m annoyed they killed it. But that was when I had a single computer, and my phone had a postage-stamp-sized screen. These days I consume more content on my 12-inch tablet than anywhere else.

The problem with RSS these days is that I need a solution that will work across all of my devices (okay, at least two of them). Some readers look promising, and I just have to explore them more.

And uhm, I don’t know. Newsletter?

Another idea I’m exercising is creating a newsletter.

The problem with posting links on social media is that I keep the volume low not to overwhelm my followers if they haven’t filtered out my hashtag. In case of the newsletter, I could speed up the cleaning process since it’s perfectly fine to post more links in a single publication.

But I have never created a newsletter before. I’m a little scared of all the unknown unknowns around this.

guess I have a new 2023 resolution

And that’s where I am. I unintentionally created a new journey for myself, and I’ll have to get it done someday. Wish me luck?