01 September 2006

SchoolTools III: FURL and Other Social Bookmarking Tools

by Bruce Fulton

Welcome back! I trust your summer break was as great as you wanted it to be and you're now busy cruising through your classes this semester with celerity and zest. You're on your own if you need help grabbing the gusto, but if your problem is not enough time, then read on for more cool school tools that will help you work smarter and faster. Best of all, they're free!

If you didn't get a chance to play with RefWorks, our last issue's School Tool, be sure to take the time to review my article and play around with it. If you'll recall, it organizes your bibliographies and makes citation work really simple. And by the way, it's free to you because our library pays a pretty hefty chunk of change to make it available, so I hope you'll all take advantage of it. We saw how you could use online databases like OCLC WorldCat (for which the library also ponies up to make life better for you) to grab bibliographic information automatically and then make really great looking reference and footnote lists. Give them a try and don't forget to drop the library a thank-you box of chocolates sometime before you graduate!

Unfortunately, RefWorks is not so automatic when it comes to managing citations for web-based resources. For that, you'll need a different kind of tool, one of the so-called social bookmarking applications that feature export functionality. The idea behind the social bookmarking applications is that you use a web-based tool with centralized storage to bookmark web sites you find. Just add some keywords of your own choosing and share what you find with others (or optionally keep them private). The central application keeps track of how many times a site is bookmarked and what words are used to describe it. It's a way to find new things sites other like-minded people have found, and to organize your own list of sites a little more intelligently than you can with browser-based bookmarks, which can only be accessed from the computer on which they're stored.

Much has been written about social bookmarking (see this or that) so I'm not going to spend time deconstructing the whole genre. In fact, I'm only going to talk about a small piece of the whole pie, and not the big piece at that. It will be worth your time to take a look at this or that so take a look. There are at least a couple of dozen popular services out there now, and they all have unique features that add functionality to the basic concept. Del.icio.us (yeah, just go ahead and pronounce it "delicious") is possibly the best known of these, but I use FURL most of the time because of the ease of converting and managing my bookmarks with RSS and especially because of its rich bibliographic export feature. The best part is, it stores a personal copy of the web page for you so if the link goes dead later, you still have the information!

Unlike the free tools the University or the library provide through student fees and budget allocations, the social bookmarking tools are free for you because they're paid for by advertisers or managed by a company that wants your business. A few offer premium subscriber services. FURL, free to you and pretty much ad-free on the bookmarking end, is actually part of the LookSmart search portal. They use the things you bookmark, in part, to return search results to customers who do see ads.

Getting Started:

So, let's get to the tool. First of all, you'll need an account. Just go to http://www.furl.net and sign up. You'll need an email address, a username and password, and you'll get a confirming email you need to use to validate your address. That's all there is. Next, visit the Get Started page that shows you a couple of different ways you can add FURL to your browser. They have a tool bar you can download, or easier yet, just drag a link to your browser bookmarks list. Most popular browsers for Windows, Linux and Mac platforms are supported.

Now, start surfing. When you find a page you want to save, click the FURL button on your browser. If you have a pop-up blocker, you might need to hold the control key or use some other recommended method as explained in the FURL Help guides. You'll see something like this:

Screen Shot

FURL will do as good a job as it can picking up the title, the URL and a clipping if you have some text highlighted when you run FURL, but check it all out and make sure that it is what you want. Then, give it a rating if you like, select a topic or enter a new one, and add some keywords if you like. As with RefWorks that we looked at last time, you can be creative about your topics, so if you're doing research for a class, go ahead and make IRLS501 a topic. Or, create a topic for a paper you're working on, or whatever you like. That's it! Furl has saved the entire page for you along with the title, URL, access date and some other info you don't see here. There's one peeve, though - FURL won't handle PDFs directly, even if displayed in your browser. I get around that by FURLing the referring page and then saving a copy of the PDF to my computer. You can also edit the entry to refer to the direct URL.

TIP: Since FURL is saving the page, you might want to bookmark the "print me" url of magazine and newspaper articles that are more than one HTML page so you get the whole thing.

Cleaning Up the List:

Now let's take a look and see what we have. Go to http://www.furl.net and log in if necessary; then select My Archive. You can, of course, filter by topic, keyword, date or other parameters:

Screen Shot

I'll let you play around with the different options and organization tools. For now, click on the Edit icon (in the middle, with the pencil) for one of the resources you've saved.

Screen Shot

If you're lucky, the author will have included tags for author, publication date and source. The fact is, though, most people don't put metadata in their web pages so you'll probably have to enter the information manually. I wish FURL would let you add these at the first on-screen pop-up, but for now, edit mode is the way to make sure your references are solid.

Creating Your Bibliography:

When it comes to making a bibliography, you have a couple of options. Start by Selecting the My Tools tab and then Export. Doesn't this look interesting? Mmmm...

Screen Shot

You can get a bibliography directly just by selecting a topic and then MLA, APA or Chicago Style format. FURL will create the bibliography on a new web page and you can cut and paste it into your document. Sweet!

Screen Shot

What you'll probably want to do, though is select RIS/EndNote citation format. Why? Because RefWorks can import it! As you can see, the FURL bibliography might need a little massaging to get it the way you want it. If you pull it into RefWorks, you can manage your print and web citations all in one file and create a single bibliography or citation list. Just save the FURL export, start up RefWorks, and then use the RIS/Endnote import filter to place the items in the Refworks folder of your choice.

Other Fun Things:

FURL also makes it easy to add your resource list to a web page. A wizard will ask you a few questions and then create some code you can cut and paste into your HTML that will dynamically update your website with your resource list -- even as you keep adding resources:


Take a look at the Webliography on RSS and Podcasting I've been working on to see an example of how this can be used.

Also Noted:

As I mentioned earlier, I usually use FURL because it saves a copy of the page and has the most flexible tools available for generating a bibliography. Another tool I've used, though, is Connotea. According to their web site, "Connotea was created by Nature Publishing Group's New Technology team. The ideas behind it come from del.icio.us, a general collaborative bookmarking service. Connotea takes this concept and adds extra features to tailor it to the needs of scientists." Functionally, it works very much like FURL, with a browser button and pop up screen. Geared more toward scholarly publications, it can potentially grab more bibliographic information as show in this screen shot:


Unfortunately, it doesn't know about too many publications, and when it doesn't, it is a bit less flexible than FURL. Take a look at the journals it supports; if you're hitting those, consider Connotea. Connotea doesn't create bibliographies automatically, but it exports in RIS/Endnote format just like FURL. You'll still need RefWorks for the heavy loading. And nothing says you can't use all of these tools, each for the purpose they serve best.

That's it for this issue. If you have any questions, send them on. Or, if you've got a great idea for a cool school tool, let me know. Until then, keep on citing!


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