Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Case Of The Disappearing Bookmarks

I switched my primary home browser to Firefox a few months ago and have been quite satisfied. Tabbed browsing, drag-and-drop opening of links, and overall stability have all been easy (and addictive) to get used to.

I had also built up a vast collection of bookmarks, which I treated as essential to my view of the information continuum. These bookmarks did enforce a certain pattern to my online experience, but I felt them essential.

Yesterday was an aggravating, exasperating, frustating, fucking bad day - I opened Firefox when I came home from work to find it looked somewhat odd. All my bookmarks were missing. Not hidden, not tucked away in some place on my hard drive - just gone - completely.

I tried browsing around to a few familiar sites, but it felt a bit strange, like I had somehow lost my bearings. Visiting a site would remind me of a related trail I usually take from there, I'd move my mouse pointer over to the link bar or bookmarks menu to find it empty. I felt fragmented, incomplete.

Some research told me this problem of disappearing bookmarks was not uncommon. Firefox uses a file on the hard drive to store the bookmarks, and apparently it is possible that the file gets swapped out with a 'default' profile if the computer is shut down while Firefox is still running as a process.
We know that sometimes when you close Firefox, it isn't removed as a running process. In fact, we've seen reports of multiple instances of FF running in Task Manager. Based on everything I've seen to date, when you close FF and it is not ended as a process in Task Manager, re-starting FF (without a reboot) loads a new default profile. Now exactly what is preserved from the old profile and what isn't I can't say; but if this happens, your bookmarks are "lost" - FF essentially created a new profile with default bookmarks.

One of the first things to do, is to close FF, and make sure that there are no instances of FF running in Task Manager. Then, the user should start ProfileManager so that a dialog pops up asking which profile to use. If there's more than one (and they could all be called Default), then it is likely that the old bookmarks reside in one of those profiles.

Another procedure is to find the bookmarks.html files that exist on the hard drive. There are explicit instructions for where these would reside, but in consideration of the fact that some people may log on as a user (XP) and sometimes they may also log in as Admin, the easiest thing to do is to do a comprehensive search for the file across all folders


Unfortunately, all the searching I did was of no avail in finding my personal, large bookmarks file. It seems to be truly gone.

A simple technical solution to this would be to have the browser use a database storage format for the bookmarks, or to auto-backup the bookmarks file regularly, but that is neither here nor there for someone suffering the loss.

After much desultory browsing, I visited slashdot.org early this morning. Some bloke was offering a new, open-source, social bookmarking service called de.lirio.us, building on the popularity of the de.licio.us service. I decided to check out both services, which I had not done till now.

I've created an account on de.licio.us - it is a liberating experience - I cannot believe I did not do this sooner. A fuller analysis of it's convenience and ability to tap into other people's mind-maps shall have to wait, but I am quite excited about the experience, and having to build up my audit trails of the web from scratch.

The newer service, de.lirio.us, is next up - while it is evidently a close clone of the other, it promises to see rapid growth, with it's open-sourced, creative-commons-licensed model - although some phenomenal utilities have been developed around de.licio.us with the help of their API - a hefty load is available at absolutely delicious

This could happen to you - don't waste time blaming the archaic browser architecture of bookmark files - switch over now to the delicious pleasures of web bookmarking.

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution/Howard Rheingold Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means/Albert-Laszlo  Barabasi Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology/Howard Rheingold Twelve Van Gogh Bookmarks (Small-Format Bookmarks)/Vincent Van Gogh Firefox Secrets/Cheah Chu Yeow Firefox Hacks: Tips & Tools for Next-Generation Web Browsing (Hacks)/Nigel McFarlane

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