Elgan: Why bookmarking is obsolete

A tiny start-up in Paris has come up with a better way to save, view, organize and share online content.

Since the Web first came online in 1991, it has grown and improved beyond anyone's predictions. Unlike the gray background, mono-spaced text and ugly graphics on the Web in those early years, today's Web is rich with video, interactive applications and other useful and distracting goodies.

But even after all these years, the way we find, navigate and save content on the Web works pretty much like it always did. Here's a page with text. Some of the words are hyperlinked, so when you click on them, you open another page. If you want to save something, there's a wide variety of tools that help you do so, but most people use the bookmarking feature built into their browsers, or social bookmarking sites.

But now there's a conspicuously innovative new option. A service called Pearltrees from a small company in Paris gives you a new way to organize your stuff online. Instead of bookmarks organized with long lists, Pearltrees puts your links into a dynamic, sharable web of connections.

The service is functionally similar in some ways to social bookmarking sites, but its core function is "curation," which Wikipedia defines as the "selection, preservation, maintenance, and collection and archiving of digital assets."

Described by one blogger as a social bookmarking tool based on "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," Pearltrees looks a bit like Google's "Wonder Wheel," but it isn't used the same way.

The Pearltrees interface is appealing and intuitive to use. Round objects called "Pearls" form the basic unit of content.

Let's say you're following the World Cup soccer tournament. When you find World Cup-related articles you like, Web sites you enjoy, Twitter feeds from fans attending the event or Wikipedia pages of your favorite players, you can save these links in Pearltrees. Each link is represented as a "Pearl." Put related Pearls together and you might create a container circle, called a "Pearltree," and name it "World Cup." When you click on it, you see your collected Pearls, which fly out and organize themselves into a halo of content around the organizing Pearltree.

Maybe you follow several sports. In that case, you might create a Pearltree called "Sports," then inside that Pearltrees called "Soccer," "Basketball," "Bowling" and so on. You could then go ahead and drop your "World Cup" Pearltree into the "Soccer" Pearltree.

Sports could be just one of your many interests. You might also have Pearltrees for "Politics," "Work" and "Music" -- whatever your interests are.

This structure is a lot like nested folders -- the kind you might have on your PC. It can be as complex and deep or as simple and shallow as you like. It's up to you.

Once you've got this going, you can simply drag any Pearl and drop it on any Pearltree. You can move things around however you like. New connections are formed automatically and instantly. You can get rid of Pearls by dropping them into the trash can.

As you collect hundreds or thousands of Pearls, you begin to see the value of Pearltrees' navigation. You can navigate through all of those pieces of content through a set of connections you created yourself. Drill down, or expand out with intuitive ease.

Collecting and organizing links is the basic functionality. But Pearltrees does a lot more.

For example, you can go Pearl-diving to find other people's Pearls through searches. When you do that, your search results appear in the form of other people's content Pearltrees, which come flying in from all sides of the screen. The hits aren't chosen at random. It's a popularity contest. The "most connected" Pearls are most likely to be offered up.

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