tech

Advanced Internetting: The Bookmarklet

tl;wr: bookmarklets are awesome, and you should use them.

When I was home for Christmas, I discovered that my brother didn’t know what bookmarklets were. This sort of blew my mind, because he is a pretty savvy internetter. I use bookmarklets more than any other bookmark I have. The fact that he had no idea what they were made me realize that maybe they aren’t commonly known and used. Which, frankly, is a shame.

They’re called bookmarklets because you treat them just like any other browser bookmark (or favorite or whatever you call them), only instead of taking you to a specific page, a bookmarlet will perform a specific function on the page you’re currently on.

The simplest example I can think of is the reddit bookmarklet. When you’re on any webpage and you click the reddit bookmarklet, it grabs the URL of the page you’re currently on, and sends it to the reddit story submission page. You fill out the rest of the form, and BAM, you’ve submitted a story to reddit. You don’t need to copy the URL from the address bar, open a new tab to reddit, then paste the URL into the submission form. You just click a button.

The reason I love bookmarklets so much, is that my favorite ones perform the same or similar functions to browser extensions. Every time you install an extension in your browser, you’re slowing your browser down. Bookmarklets don’t consume resources until you click on them. Maybe that’s true of a well-designed browser extension, but it isn’t guaranteed. I have 9 bookmarklets saved. The number of extensions I would have to have installed, were it not for bookmarklets, would more than double.

Since bookmarklets are almost all exclusively tied to a given website, it’s hard to recommend any without also recommending the site they’re tied to. That said, there are some sites I use because of how good their bookmarklet is (tumblr, for example). These are the bookmarklets I use the most often (in order of use), and I guess I’ll have to include a description of the site to which they’re tied.

  1. tumblr – I read a TON of content every day, and I like to share the best of it. To do this, I use tumblr. My favorite thing about tumblr is how smart it is when it comes to defining posts. You can create a quote, link, photo, video, etc post, and the required fields are smart enough to change based on which kind of post it is. The bookmarklet will not only grab the URL you’re on, but if you highlight text on the page, it will automatically consider it to be a quote post (this can be changed, if that wasn’t your intent). If you click the photo tab in the pop-up window that opens to create the post, it will load tumbnails of each of the photos on the page, so you can just click the one you want, rather than having to grab the image’s source URL.
  2. readability – Readability serves several functions, but the thing I use it for is sending web pages to my kindle. When I come across a page that I want to read, but it’s either too long to read on a computer screen without my eyes bleeding, or I just don’t have time to read it at the time, I use this bookmarklet to save the page to my readability queue. It’s essentially a short-term bookmark service. HOWEVER, you can set readability up to send your to-read queue to your kindle. Every day, I get a digest of all the pages I flagged to read later sent to my kindle.
  3. pocket – pocket is a service very similar to readability, but I use it for stuff I want to go back to later, but I DON’T want to read on my kindle. This is usually stuff that isn’t exclusively text. It’s usually stuff that I need to be at my computer to fully appreciate, like a tutorial on some programming thing, or a photo-essay that will take too long to look at while I’m (likely) supposed to be working. The pocket bookmarklet just saves the URL to my pocket queue.
  4. reddit – I already mentioned this, but this bookmarklet is for submitting stories to reddit. I use this one most often for submitting links to talk about on the podcast.
  5. evernote – Evernote is a GREAT note-taking application that I’ve used for a long time. Their bookmarklet will scrape the webpage you’re on and put its text into a note in one of your evernote notebooks. I use this one most often for how-tos that I want to be able to reference later. It also remembers the URL, so you can find it later.
  6. google reader – The majority of my non-work browsing happens inside google reader. (If you aren’t using an RSS reader, you are doing The Internet wrong – perhaps there’s a post in there?) When I do happen to stumble across a website I’m not already subscribed to that I want to add to my reader feed, I use this bookmarklet. It finds the RSS feed URL for the site you’re currently on, and allows you to subscribe to it through google reader.

In order to start using any of the bookmarklets above, you should be able to just drag them into your browser’s bookmarks menu or toolbar. I don’t think any of them are tied specifically to me. And if you click one and don’t have an account there, it should be smart enough to help you find the sign-up page. If I’m recommending the bookmarklet, then I’m obviously also recommending the site itself, too. They all have the Charles Thomas seal of approval. :p

There are some other bookmarklets I use, but they aren’t particularly interesting. It’s worth noting that there might be web services you use all the time that have their own bookmarklets that I either don’t use or don’t know about. I know Twitter has one for sharing links, for example. Be sure to keep that in mind in your internet-travels.

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