Monday, September 27, 2010

No More Xmarks: Now What?

Update: Xmarks is not dead after all.  Crisis averted.  Yay!  I'm keeping the post as-is below both for historical reasons and because it's still good information.
Xmarks just announced that they are closing up shop because they can't find a sustainable way to make money.  Earlier, I did a post on this blog comparing Xmarks and Firefox Sync.  It appears that now the option has been taken away from us.

What I ended up doing between the two services was using Firefox Sync for keeping everything in sync between my Firefox installations (bookmarks, passwords, etc.), but using Xmarks to keep bookmarks non-Firefox browsers synced, and also to share a few bookmarks folders.

As noted on the Xmarks shutdown page, there isn't a good replacement for inter-browser sync out there.  The closest I can think of is Delicious, but that site is built around sharing, not synchronization.

On the other hand, Delicious does an excellent job sharing bookmarks.  Since I was only really sharing one folder on the web with Xmarks, I installed the Delicious add-on for Firefox and imported that folder's bookmarks.  I made them public and gave them a unique tag, so that they could be shared as a collection

I've used Delicious for a while, mostly to collect links that I consider share-worthy.  I did this using the bookmarklet.  For a while, I was importing them into Facebook.  This appears not to be working anymore.

The Delicious add-on didn't work in Firefox 4 beta (which is what I'm running on my laptop).  I installed it, and (after banishing the toolbar and other annoying features) attempted to "import" the folder in question according to this guide.  It simply didn't work.  Literally nothing happened.  The "Import to Delicious" button was in black text on a mostly black toolbar at the top of the window, so they clearly haven't started integrating with Firefox 4.

I still have Firefox 3.6 installed, so I loaded it up, selected the folder, and clicked the button.  Nothing appeared to happen, but this time the bookmarks were uploaded.  Annoyingly, the "imported" column still shows nothing for those bookmarks, but at least it worked.  Well, sort of.  It didn't upload any of the tags I have assigned to the bookmarks locally to the cloud.  It just tagged them "imported".  Maybe this is expected behavior.  If so, there should be an option to upload the tags as well. 

Clearly, I'm not going to be using the Delicious extension for a while, but I don't know that I'll ever use it to keep all of my bookmarks in sync.  Delicious wants you to adopt their system of organization and interaction, and I'm not ready to do that.

At this point without Xmarks, I'm without a good solution to the following problems:
  • Cross-browser syncing - Google will sync Chrome; Firefox Sync will sync Firefox; Windows Live Mesh will sync MSIE; but only Xmarks syncs between all three.Bookmarks profiles - Some bookmarks only need to be on certain computers.  Profiles allow you to selectively unsync the ones you don't need on computer A and B, while still keeping them on computers C and D.
  • Bookmarks history - Xmarks allowed you to restore bookmarks from any point in your account history.  This came in very handy when I deleted more than I thought I had while cleaning up and only found out about it months later.
  • Bookmarks sharing - Yeah, Delicious will let me share collections of bookmarks, but, at least currently, it's a pain to do so.  I've disabled the Delicious add-on.  I intend to keep the list up-to-date, but I will have to do so on the Delicious website, not from my bookmarks collection in the browser, and the two versions of the list will become out of sync.  The Delicious bookmarks also aren't sorted, and there's no way to store an introduction to them: the tag is just a tag, and contains no meta-data.
  • Bookmarks favicons - It seems nit-picky, but it's a huge inconvenience if you re-install operating systems a lot.  Hopefully, the Firefox Sync developers will solve this one.  It's most annoying for toolbar bookmarks, because for me those are icon-only.  With Xmarks, all favicons are synced along with the bookmarks.  When you first sync with Firefox Sync, the toolbar icons all look the same.  In order to get the favicons to load, you have to visit each link.
  • Bookmarks browsing from non-synced machines - I don't sync my bookmarks at work.  I can't access my bookmarks from other people's browser installations with Firefox Sync.  Xmarks gives me access to all of my bookmarks on the web, and I can even make changes and re-organize using the web interface.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My letter to Groupon after creating an account

Dear Groupon,

I like what you do.  Thanks for being there and doing it.

I signed up in order to take advantage of a recent deal.  In my e-mail inbox, there was a welcome message with the following: "Every morning, you'll find one exclusive deal waiting in your inbox. We can't wait to help you discover huge discounts on all the cool things to do in your city."

Wait, what!?!  No.  No no no no no no.  Nowhere in the account-creation process did I knowingly authorize you to send these deals to my e-mail address, much less every single day.  That's a horrible default behavior, and if I let companies do that my inbox would become an impenetrable pile of junk.

Now, I realize that many people who sign up aren't familiar with RSS readers, or Twitter, or other, more organized methods of receiving periodical offers. E-mail is fine for those people.  It is NOT fine for me.  My inbox is precious.  No offense.

Now relax.  I do know that I can unsubscribe from your e-mails, and I have done so using the link provided in the fine print of the aforementioned e-mail.  What upsets me is that I needed to do this.  I thought surely there would be a setting in the "My Account" preferences to easily manage this.  Nope.  Surely it's in the FAQ?  Alas, no.  Sticky forum post?  Apparently not.

In fact, unsubscribing using the legally-mandated link in the e-mail was the very last thing I tried, because I shouldn't have to do it from there.

Maybe I made a mistake, and I simply missed the checkbox in the sign-up process.  If that's the case, then the checkbox needs to be bigger, and other options, such as RSS, Facebook, and Twitter need to be offered.  More to the point, you need to start thinking of your business as more than a mailing list. 

Violating my trust by signing me up for a mailing list is not the best way to begin a customer relationship.  Please, rethink your account sign-up process and default behavior.  The "How Groupon Works" page made me think I would get to choose how I would be notified of new deals.

Meanwhile, keep offering those great local deals.  I look forward to an increasingly net-savvy Groupon.