I believe that I am not the only person who often ends up having multiple tabs open on my browser after a day of falling into research rabbit holes. We click and click and before we know it, we have opened dozens of pages that are too important to close: websites for grant applications, links to register for upcoming zoom talks, or the webpage for that new book that just came out in our field that we definitely need to read. On our phones, we scroll through academic Twitter and Facebook, and we see more links to newly published articles, interesting conferences, and exciting databases that we should check out for our research. We click and click and similarly, we end up with multiple open tabs that we promise ourselves to go back to. Sometimes we even email the links to ourselves, adding to the number of unread messages in our inboxes. Sure, there is the option of creating bookmarks on the browsers. But for anyone who has actually tried organizing the hundreds of links that we have to deal with via browser bookmarks, you would know that it is not optimal.
Is there a solution to the madness of the endless open tabs? When it comes to academic references, most of us do know that we need to use a reference manager of some sort to keep things organized, be it Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote. But reference managers mostly work well with managing information on academic publications, such as books and articles. What about websites, web pages, YouTube videos, and all the other random but important links that we need to keep track of? Is there a Zotero for this kind of information mess? Is there a way that would allow us to finally close all those tabs in peace and finally free up some precious RAM on our devices?
These are questions that I have been asking myself for quite a while. In the meantime, I have tried creating a more streamlined bookmarking process on my Chrome browser; I have tried clipping webpages to note-taking apps like Evernote; I have tried organizing links into databases that I meticulously curated on Google spreadsheet and then later in Notion. I even added images and color-coded categories. But it turned out to be a lot of work.
Experimenting with “MyMind”
Last year, I was able to finally discover an app that seemed to answer my questions about bookmarking. It was called MyMind, and it was a very nice solution to the mess of multiple tabs. You could save web pages with a browser plugin, and they would be stored in “my mind” in the form of “cards,” which presents the saved web content through texts and images. You can also create note cards to store in the database. Like a curated Pinterest board, it collects and presents your bookmarks and notes in a visually pleasing way. However, the free trial version has a cap of 100 cards, which is not nearly enough for anything. The full version of MyMind offers a lot more powerful functions, such as image text recognition, AI image tagging, and auto-categorization. There is also a more advanced search function. You can do full-text searches within the saved web pages and search saved images by color, objects, and shape. But the full version comes at a cost of $119 USD/year (there is also a student plan available), which can become a financial strain for academics, especially for graduate students.
Raindrop.io, a free bookmark manager that actually works quite well
Recently, I discovered Raindrop.io, which is a bookmark manager like MyMind that can help you untangle the mess of multiple opened tabs on a budget. The free version allows you to create unlimited bookmarks and unlimited collections (categories to organize links) synced over an unlimited number of devices. It allows you to upload files such as PDFs and images (100Mb/month with the free version), although it does not have the option to create notes directly in the system like with MyMind. Web pages can be saved to Raindrop.io via a browser plugin on a laptop (I use a MacBook), or through tapping on the Raindrop.io icon on a smartphone via the sharing function.
Links are then saved to your Raindrop.io cloud account which can be accessed via its well-designed application or the web. Collections of links are sharable (via a URL link), and group collaboration is possible. With the free version, the search function is limited but quite useful. You can search by type (such as links or articles), keywords (in titles or descriptions), by date of creation, tags, or by exclusion (add “-“ in front of keywords). With the presentation of the bookmarks, Raindrop.io allows you to view them in various arrangements: as lists and headlines (prioritizing texts), or as cards and mood boards (prioritizing cover images).
What I found to be the handiest feature of Raindrop.io is the embedded preview function. Instead of clicking on the links that you saved and allowing it to open in a new tab/window on a browser, you have the option to view the saved link, be it a web page, a PDF file, or a YouTube video within the app itself. This creates a seamless experience of reviewing saved web content all in one place. For text-heavy web pages, Raindrop.io can recognize if the save web page contains an article. If it does, it gives you the option to preview the page in a text-only format without the distracting formatting and slow loading times of the web format. One additional feature in the preview mode is that it gives you the option to change the background (dark or beige or white), font style (8 different choices), and font size. This really makes the reading experience quite sleek.
For web pages that contain multimedia (such as a YouTube page), Raindrop.io also offers a preview that allows you to directly play the media from the app itself. This is especially useful if you wish to review saved videos without the distractions of YouTube recommendation algorithms and the comment section.
Another function I really enjoy on Raindrop.io is the ability to change the icons of the collections you create. Instead of having a generic image of a grey folder as the icon for all of your collections, Raindrop.io gives you hundreds of emojis to choose from (you can even upload your own). Using a specific and relevant icon for a specific collection of bookmarks can really make different categories stand out.
I also love the option on Raindrop.io to choose and designate cover images for saved links. This is super useful when a link is saved without a cover image for various reasons. In that case, you can choose amongst the images that Raindrop.io was able to capture for you while saving that link. If there are no desired images available, there is the option of uploading one of your own or requesting Raindrop.io to create a screen capture of the web page and use that as the cover image.
Raindrop.io Premium, Is it Worth it?
Raindrop.io also has a premium version priced at $28 USD/year, which is still much cheaper than MyMind ($119 USD/year). In the premium version, Raindrop.io offers full-text searches in the web pages and the PDF files you have saved from the internet, as well as from your uploaded files. You can create unlimited nested collections – sub-categories within already existing categories. Premium Raindrop.io helps you find broken and duplicate links so you can keep your bookmark database decluttered. You can set up automatic backup to a cloud storage such as DropBox or Google Drive. 100Gb/month of file uploads is possible. The most powerful function of the premium version, I think, is the permanent library, which gives you an option to save an entire web page for the (offline) future. This means you would have access to them even if they get taken down later. This would be a great function to have for researchers who work with precarious online content that could disappear or get censored anytime.
Should you get Raindrop.io?
To sum up, I find Raindrop.io to be a very useful tool for managing web content that you need to bookmark quickly for later. Is it a solution to the hot mess of online bookmarking? It is definitely one of the solutions out there amongst quite a few (MyMind, Pocket), and an academic-friendly one at that in terms of functions and pricing. Whether Raindrop.io will stay that way remains to be seen, for we are in an age where apps do come and go. But I do hope that Raindrop.io stays for the long run and keeps on improving, because I quite enjoy using it.
*This post is not sponsored by any of the apps mentioned in the post.
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